Jesse Ventura, as Reform Party candidate, was an outspoken advocate of government reform. Now, as the Minnesota Governor goes to Florida to speak at a conference on government ethics, it’s time to evaluate his record.
Conference attendees will undoubtedly hear an exciting speech, perhaps an inspirational one. But they would have been better served to hear Ventura speak two years ago, before he became Governor.
Before, Ventura had a clear, unambiguous voice. He made the case that big money is corrupting the process; politicians should serve the public, not themselves; and that we need reform.
Now, despite his protestations, he has picked up many negative traits he once attributed to politicians:
- Using his office to line his pockets. This includes a book deal for “upper six figures,” an estimated million dollar WWF referee gig, another book deal, and now a position as color commentator for XFL football. No former pro-wrestler can rake in that kind of money, only a “former wrestler, turned governor” can.
- Hiding behind legal technicalities and popularity ratings to justify outside money making, while ignoring concerns of the state ethics officer who advised against it.
- Attacking critics, instead of responding to legitimate questions about his actions.
Has Ventura helped or hurt reform efforts? Both.
He has continued to be a powerful voice for reform. But, during his first two years in office, he did not lend support to any of the campaign finance proposals languishing in the Minnesota legislature that needed his help. Nor did he offer such initiatives of his own.
His administration finally appears to be developing significant campaign finance reforms to introduce in January. But these efforts are undercut by his continuing quest for outside personal income.
In reform issues, Ventura has a split personality. He is Dr. Jesse and Governor Hyde. “Dr. Jesse,” with vocal support for reform, is distinct from “Governor Hyde,” who takes advantage of his office with questionable private deals.
I’m not making up this split personality. Governor Ventura has acknowledged it himself, telling students about his XFL broadcasting job, “It will not affect Governor Ventura at all because it will be the re-emergence of ‘Jesse the Body.’ But I can separate the two.”
Unfortunately despite his claim that he can separate his personalities, they are a problem. On one side, when he visits Minnesota high schools, he does an excellent job promoting respect and responsibility. But, when offered a big paycheck, his message changes to one of disrespect and irresponsibility. This is exactly the “attitude” that makes him so valuable to the XFL and other outside financial partners.
To the Governor, making perhaps ten times his gubernatorial salary through these deals, all this is a purely private matter. If other politicians can find ways to parlay public office into lucrative deals on the side, he offers tacit encouragement, suggesting those who criticize him are jealous.
Jesse Ventura’s marketability and financial success require him to convince people that he is not a politician. Perhaps because of his distinctive style, Ventura may be the most believable politician ever to claim he is not one.
This Dr. Jesse/Governor Hyde duality makes neutral observers give Ventura both high and low grades as governor. He is a likeable person and has done many things well in public office.
I strongly support the reform message that Jesse Ventura spoke of as a candidate, a message I think he still believes. But I wish he would remove the ethical blinders, cancel his lucrative outside gigs, and put real energy into the reform agenda. Then, I would proudly call him “the reform governor.”