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Gov. Jesse Ventura announced Tuesday he won't run for re-election. Ventura made his announcement on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program, ending months of speculation over whether he'd seek a second term. Ventura said he wants to protect his family's privacy. But he says he made his decision before news coverage of reported parties thrown by his son at the governor's mansion. Ventura's decision changes the political dynamics of the governor's race, and may entice former Minnesota Congressman Tim Penny to jump in.
Nearly four years after the former professional wrestler-turned-radio talk show host "shocked the world" with his surprise victory, Gov. Ventura says he doesn't want the job anymore.
"You've got to have your heart and soul into these types of jobs, you've got to want to do it," Ventura said. "And I view it as no different - I did four years active duty in the Navy, at a federal level, I did four years active duty as a mayor, at a city level, now I've done four years of active duty at a state level. That's 12 years of public service that I've given right now in my life."
Ventura says he made his decision before leaving on a trade mission to China, but waited to announce it until his return. He says it was not a reaction to news reports in which former employees of the governor's mansion told of cleaning up after parties thrown by Ventura's 22-year-old son Tyrel. But Ventura was clearly angry with the former employees, saying they lied and betrayed him.
"I don't like the fact that they're somehow portraying that the first lady and I are somehow bad parents," Ventura said. "I will tell you on the record that my son's behavior is exemplary. He's 22 years old. He's a man, he's an adult. He can consume alcohol if he wants to. I behaved far worse at his age."
Ventura says he thinks a public official's family should be off limits. He says he didn't campaign with his wife Terry or his two children when he ran for governor four years ago.
Ventura says he now plans to return to the private sector, although he wouldn't say what he'll do. He says he won't have to reveal his decisions after his term ends.
"I won't have to answer to the press any more, I won't have to justify anything I do any more. I'm going back to the private sector."
Ventura says he thinks he would have won, if he had chosen to run again. The gubernatorial candidates who are in the race disagree. DFLer Roger Moe, the Senate majority leader, said during a campaign stop in Duluth that Ventura would have had to defend his record.
"And he would have had a very difficult time justifying some of the things that he had proposed. Certainly this tax plan - which he said would bring double-digit tax relief to everybody in the state - this area of the state knows that that's not what happened," Moe said. "So, he would have been entirely different, and he would have had a very difficult time getting re-elected."
Ventura cited his property tax reform plan as one of the accomplishments of his term. The plan shifted most of the cost of K-12 funding from local property taxpayers to the state. Ventura also touted the rebate checks - dubbed "Jesse checks" - that were mailed out three of his four years in office. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty, the House majority leader, credited Ventura for tax relief. Pawlenty says he'll now try to appeal to Minnesotans who voted for Ventura.
"If you look at the places where he did particularly well - there's lots of them, and I don't want to stereotype - but they tended to be places where folks have modest incomes, Anoka County, parts of Dakota County, my hometown of South St. Paul. Those are areas where we're going to have a message that says, 'Look, I don't think you're about...the liberal left. I don't think they embrace the politics of the liberal left," Pawlenty said.
The third major party gubernatorial candidate - the Green Party's Ken Pentel - says he now becomes the independent voice in the race. Like Ventura's Independence Party, the Green Party rejects special interest money. Pentel is a field organizer and lobbyist. He says he's the political outsider in the race, because he's never held office.
"People that are not decided on their political party or their affiliation now have a clearer choice than they did before. Preceding Jesse's announcement, they might have divided their vote among the Green Party and the Independence Party somewhat," Pentel said.
The Independence Party is now scrambling to find a gubernatorial candidate, with less than a month to go until the filing deadline. Ventura says he wants former DFL Congressman Tim Penny to run as an independent. Penny, a former Ventura advisor, says he's seriously considering it.
"I thought that the governor was very well-positioned for re-election, because he was essentially going to be opposed by the partisan Republican and partisan Democrat leader from the Legislature," Penny said. "That's part of the problem, there's too much partisanship on so many issues."
Penny says he'll try to make a decision by the end of next week.
Ventura says if Penny doesn't run, he doesn't know who he'll support - he says he won't vote for either Moe or Pawlenty. He says the two leaders put their political aspirations ahead of good policy during the last legislative session, when they rejected his budget-balancing plan for one that relied on one-time money and accounting shifts.
"They put their own personal agenda ahead of the state's agenda. I saw that very clearly, and neither of those candidates in my opinion will make a good governor, because their own personal political agenda will come first."
Following Ventura's announcement, several Midday callers urged the governor to reconsider his decision.
"You're making a mistake! We voted for you the first time around, and you have run this state like we've raised our children - do what you say, say what you do, and be accountable for your decision! And that kind of honesty you can't find in the political arena anymore," said one caller.
"We will be writing your name in, unless another third-party candidate comes around. We support you in your wanting to protect your family, and hope you won't hold it against us when we elect you as a write-in candidate," said another.
Other callers weren't as complimentary.
"He showed no respect for those public officials that go and give time out of their lives to try and make the state work. He made no attempt to make the state work...he was disrespectful to the press, he called the media jackals. Well, guess what? The jackals brought the jerk down with their story on Tyrel," one caller said.
"I'd like to know where Governor Ventura was when everyone was throwing up in the people's house," said another.
"I voted for him, and within that first year, I was more and more depressed and I saw the true face of what I voted for. It's Jesse number one and Minnesota number two. And he had so much potential," another caller said.
Ventura had said his wife's opinion would be a major factor in his decision. First lady Terry Ventura joined her husband in the studio, and said she supports his decision. She compared being first lady to giving birth - there's a lot of pain, but the end result was important.
Ventura says the past four years have been a fun ride.
"Like the Grateful Dead, what a strange trip it's been. But we move on, and our lives will continue, they won't end here," the governor said.
"I just can't wait to have him home again," said Terry Ventura.
As Ventura left the studio, he said he felt like Richard Nixon. He said we "won't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore."More from MPR