Gov. Jesse Ventura has come under fire from lawmakers for taking vacation time during the legislation session and for agreeing to provide color commentary during broadcasts of the upcoming Xtreme Football League. It now appears he's combined the two by stumping for the XFL this week while out of town. The governor has said the extracurricular activities won't interfere with his policy agenda, but some legislators think otherwise.
WHEN GOV. VENTURA announced his XFL position last fall, he pledged the games would require a minimal time commitment.
"I'll be working only Saturday nights," he said at the time.
But this week, he's traveled out-of-state to spend at least part of his time promoting the new league. The governor spoke by teleconference to reporters attending the Television Critics Association meeting in Pasadena, California. The subject: The upcoming XFL season. Ventura spokesman John Wodele said earlier this week the governor's vacation did notinclude XFL work. Wodele now says he's not sure how Ventura is spending his time.
"As far as I know, he's vacationing. If he's doing anything else, I'm not aware," he said.
Wodele notes that neither state law nor the Constitution addresses the issue of how much vacation time elected officials can take. But Ventura's moonlighting has been a sore point for several legislators.
Following the announcement of the XFL contract, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe requested the attorney general's opinion on whether the governor had violated state ethics laws. Attorney General Mike Hatch replied that Ventura is covered by the state ethics code, but didn't discuss whether he had violated that code.
On Thursday, Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, introduced legislation to prohibit constitutional officers such as Ventura from accepting outside employment. Krinkie says he's disappointed that Ventura has taken off time to promote his new job.
"In this situation, the question is where are the priorities? Is the first priority and only priority the business of the State of Minnesota? Or is something else coming into the equation that has a higher priority that's not just Saturday night?" Krinkie asked.
Ventura's absence comes on the heels of his State of the State address, in which he outlined an ambitious plan to reform the state's tax codes. Wodele says the governor's critics should focus on the administration's policy proposals, and worry less about how he spends his free time.
"The fact to the matter is is that he is Jesse Ventura and he governs and is an unconventional type when it comes to politics and leadership. But I would state that style has resulted in some very, very positive public policy advancements and successes at the state level," Wodele said.
Gustavus Adolphus political scientist Chris Gilbert says it's difficult to govern in absentia. Gilbert says it's unusual for a governor to outline a major policy direction without backing it up with an aggressive lobbying effort. He says Ventura's absence during this period could handicap his chances for success.
"Not following through on that in the end will reflect more on the governor than it will on the Legislature. And in particular when there are so many aspects of what the governor does from his perspective outside of the job of being governor - the XFL and other things - that also sort of sets up in people's minds some reasons why, perhaps, we may look back and say he wasn't as effective as he could be," Gilbert said.
Gilbert notes, however, that opinion polls continue to show solid support for Ventura. A recent Star Tribune poll indicates the governor's approval rating remains above 70 percent. But the same poll shows Minnesotans evenly divided on the advisability of Ventura's outside engagements.