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A Year after Landing, Ventura Leaves Big Political Imprint ; from Personality Politics to a Solid Legislative Record, Minnesota'sgovernor Builds a Third Way to Govern

Article excerpt

OK, so you probably already know that Minnesota's governor used to wear pink boas in public. You're perhaps aware he used to strut around a wrestling ring and throw atomic elbows for a living. And maybe you've heard about the now-famous Playboy magazine interview.

But did you know that Jesse Ventura, who won election one year ago this week, also brokered the biggest tax-cut package in his state's history? Or that he single-handedly revived a wonky national debate over which legislative system - one house or two - makes government more efficient?

It can be hard to see past Governor Ventura's oversize personality, but it may be even harder to dispute the notion that his dbut has already left an imprint on America's political landscape.

Some analysts say Ventura's impression is neither deep nor lasting. But others - especially those who see in Americans a thirst for something other than the staid, two-party status quo - put him on the edge of a grand experiment in three-party politics.

"There's a whole block of citizens who are really hungry for something else," says Denise Bostdorff, a communications professor at The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. They want "someone who's going to be candid - a candidate of candor" who isn't beholden to special-interest groups and doesn't say what pollsters tell him to.

In many ways, the brash, unencumbered Ventura fits that bill.

Already, his tell-it-like-it-is bluntness is being emulated by politicians nationwide, including presidential contenders. And here in Minnesota, the Reform Party governor even managed to pull off a fairly successful, if not terribly ambitious, legislative session.

When Ventura stuck his proverbial thumb in the eye of the political establishment last November and won the governorship, a few people looked at him as the savior of politics, although most didn't get past the pink boa.

Four months later, after some of the buzz died down, he was getting credit for orchestrating a compromise between Minnesota's Democrats and Republicans over a tax-relief package worth $2.9 billion.

It meant every state resident got a check for an average of $630. And Ventura designed the plan so the federal government probably won't be able to tax some of those rebated dollars. That won him kudos.

Ventura supporters also tout that education is a big priority - and is the only budget area to get a real increase. Everything from child care to higher ed got new money.

"Boosting education spending - oh, that's certainly a profile in courage," says a sarcastic Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

Indeed, the consensus is that Ventura's agenda has been, at best, cautious. …