Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Letting Jesse Be Jesse

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Letting Jesse Be Jesse

Article excerpt

The music had ended. But the sounds of Zoltan Kocsis's bravura performance of Liszt's First Piano Concerto were still airborne as the audience pressed toward the exits of Minnesota's Orchestra Hall, carrying a retired Minneapolis newspaper columnist (me) toward an unprogrammed encounter with an angry woman who wanted to unload her wrath.

She had no time for intramural talk about Kocsis and Liszt. The target of her furies was a politician named Jesse, a.k.a., The Body. This is Jesse Ventura, the talk-show gadfly, the muscular Midas of politics, elaborately paid football analyst and, incidentally, the governor of Minnesota. This is a man of mind- bending, oddball portfolios that now include one that could only have done justice to a paranoid Roman emperor. Jesse's latest is an attempted act of revenge against nosy reporters at the state capitol. He wants each to wear a credential badge identifying himself or herself as an "Official Jackal."

"What are you going to do about Ventura?" the woman demanded.

I told her I'd rather talk about Liszt. I also told her that mothballed columnists have less clout than live ones. I did say that Ventura was probably an improvement on Nero. He's made more money being goofy and he hasn't yet threatened to throw newspaper reporters to the lions.

He is, though, only halfway through his four-year term.

There are a couple of truths about Ventura that may have escaped people around the country who've always pictured Minnesota as a haven for normalcy and admired its stolid acceptance of 10-foot snowbanks. They want to know how these people could have elected a noisy cowboy to run a once-orderly ranch.

The first surprise about Minnesota is that it is not predominantly appalled by a pro wrestler governing the state, at least by this pro wrestler. The reason is that Minnesotans don't expect normal behavior out of Ventura as a governor. They do expect normal governors to avoid using the public office in a candid grab for outside money because of its visibility and whatever power it has.

Ventura candidly grabs for outside money.

His take so far may run into a million dollars, culminating in his current role as an analyst (actually, as a barker) for the XFL telecasts orchestrated by Vince McMahon, the promoter whose pro wrestling vaudeville gave Ventura his first forum.

The wardens of bedrock political values in Minnesota - principles that thrust Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale into presidential politics - are uniformly outraged by what they see as Ventura's sleazy misuse of the office. But they do give him credit for changing the Main Street dialogue in Minnesota. It used to be that when two Minnesotans got together they talked about when the ice would melt on Lake Minnetonka. …

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