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Ventura releases report card on performance
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Gov. Jesse Ventura talks about his administration's performance during an interview Monday. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
Gov. Jesse Ventura says he's pleased with a new report card that gives his administration an average score of seven out of 10 on his key initiatives. Shortly after taking office, Ventura unveiled his "Big Plan." Monday's "Big Accounting" finds significant success on tax reform, transit, and trade promotion. But the scoresheet also shows missed opportunities. Lawmakers say they governor could have been more effective if he'd developed better relations with legislators.

St. Paul, Minn. — Ventura says his administration's self-report is unique in Minnesota government -- and he says it's more than self-congratulation. The ratings were prepared by policy experts both inside and outside Ventura's administration, and range from smart-growth initiatives to welfare reforms to workforce development. Ventura says report or no report, he's done plenty during his time in office.

"Property tax reform, light-rail transit, affordable housing -- which we've done more for in the last four years than many, many years -- the lab buildings, trade and tourism, the rebate checks -- I don't think you'll ever see those again where you actually get a check in the mail. You never saw them before I got here, and I can pretty well be certain you won't see them after," Ventura says.

The "Big Accounting" gave particularly high marks to the health care endowments created from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlements. Other strong scores went to trade promotion, advances in light-rail transit, and inspiring Minnesotans to participate in their government.

But there were less successful initiatives as well. The governor's plan for updating the state's telecommunications infrastructure never got off the ground. And his proposal for a one-house, or unicameral, Legislature was snubbed by lawmakers. Ventura says public support for unicameralism simply never materialized.

"You have an apathetic public out there that doesn't realize that in order to change government, you have to change the system in which government operates. And they don't educate themselves, apparently, on that aspect," says Ventura.

Even in areas where the governor scores highly, he has detractors. Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, says Ventura may have succeeded in reforming the tax system -- he earned an 8.5 -- but Pogemiller says Ventura's property tax reforms were actually a step backwards.

"Because of the shift from high-valued homes and commercial property to low-valued homes, it's making the property tax system even more regressive than it already was," says Pogemiller. "And those least able to pay are now going to pick up the burden for our schools. And I think that's a bad direction to go."

Pogemiller, who chairs the Senate tax committee, says Ventura's property tax reforms are slowly being dismantled by local governments and school districts, who find themselves approaching property owners to carry a greater share of the tax burden.

Pogemiller does give Ventura credit for the tobacco endowments and for promoting transit options. House Republicans, however, take a different approach.

Former House Majority leader and now Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty says the state may need to spend money from endowments to balance the budget. And though Pawlenty supported Ventura's tax reforms, the incoming governor says GOP lawmakers should get a share of that credit.

State Rep. Dan McElroy, R-Burnsville, is leaving the Legislature to serve as the new finance commissioner. He says Ventura should get credit for managing an effective executive branch. But he says he thinks the governor's combative manner led to many dead ends.

"I think there were some opportunities lost, because of the failure of the Ventura administration to build bridges with the Legislature and create any sense of cooperation, collaboration, joint venture with the legislative branch. It was more of a battle than it needs to be," McElroy says.

Ventura, however, says he saw no reason to develop personal ties while performing the state's business.

"I had no personal friendship with anyone elected here, that I know of. I'm leaving this office, still with no personal friendship of anyone that I know over here. And I don't believe there's nothing wrong with that," says Ventura.

Although the report indicates numerous areas for more work and reform, Ventura says he has no regrets about his decision not to seek re-election.

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