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Election year motives could influence legislative session
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
January 24, 2002
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Perhaps more than in any other year since Gov. Ventura took office, politics will dominate the 2002 legislative session. Politicians are eyeing this year's governor's race, lawmakers are supposed to re-draw the state's political districts, and all 201 legislative seats are on the ballot this November. Politics will influence votes on issues ranging from abortion to taxes.

One thing is for certain: Gov. Ventura will be the biggest target of partisan jabs this session. He plans to keep everyone guessing about whether he'll run for re-election until this summer. Declared and potential opponents need to assume he'll run again, and Ventura realizes they'll try to take him down.

"I know what it's like to be the New York Yankees," Ventura muses. "When you're the defending champions, or the Lakers, you get the feeling of knowing what it's like to be the front-runner, and when you are the front-runner, you're going to take most of the shots because they have to dethrone you."

Ventura has already taken shots from both sides of the aisle. When he announced his plan to address the state's nearly $2 billion projected budget shortfall, Republicans and Democrats agreed on one thing: a label for his proposed tax increases.

"The governor likes to name things after himself and once in awhile take credit for certain things that he does. You'll remember we had the Jesse checks. Well, I think we should refer to this bundle of tax increases as the Jesse taxes," Rep. Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, declared. He's the House Majority Leader, and has already declared his intention to run for Ventura's job.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, is weighing whether to run for governor. Moe told reporters in mock seriousness that his use of the terms "Ventura deficit" and "Ventura tax increases" are merely intended for the benefit of the Capitol press corps.

"The only taxes that have been proposed to be raised were offered by Gov. Ventura. And so just for making it easy for you, we'll call them the Ventura tax increases," he said.

Ventura says because of those comments, he now considers Moe a candidate for governor. "Ever since he called it the Jesse deficit, that told me he's running," Ventura said.

Ventura questions whether Moe or Pawlenty can put election-year politics aside. He says he will, and says he won't make decisions based on getting re-elected. If Ventura does run again, he's sure to face criticism for his decision to raise taxes on gasoline, cigarettes and some services in his budget plan.

As a candidate, Ventura pledged not to sign any tax increase. He says he made that promise in a time of surplus, and it shouldn't apply now.

The chair of the political science department at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Dan Hofrenning, says Ventura may be able to get away with that argument.

"Conventional political wisdom would suggest that breaking a no-new-taxes pledge would hurt a governor politically. But Jesse Ventura doesn't always live by conventional wisdom," according to Hofrenning.

Hofrenning says Ventura doesn't appear to be suffering politically from the budget shortfall, unlike his predecessors Al Quie and Arne Carlson, whose popularity took a hit during deficits. But he expects plenty of attempts to blame Ventura for the shortfall.

Beyond the budget, politics is likely to push controversial social issues to the forefront. Expect floor votes on abortion, concealed handgun legislation and domestic partner benefits. And the political overtones are most evident when it comes to redistricting, the Legislature's requirement to redraw political maps to account for population shifts in the 2000 census.

Blois Olson, co-publisher of, says the matter will probably be determined in the courts. He says it's highly unlikely a Republican-controlled House, DFL-controlled Senate and Independence Party governor can agree on a plan.

"There's too much at risk for 10 years of elections for them not to take a chance and go to the court and see if they can get a better boundary drawn," says Olson.

Olson says Ventura is smart to delay a re-election decision until after the session, because he would be subject to even more criticism if he's a declared candidate. He'll be dismissed as a lame-duck governor if he decides not to run.

Olson says the bigger political pitfalls are for Ventura's Independence Party, which will scramble to find a gubernatorial candidate in July if Ventura decides he doesn't want the job any more.