On this date 25 years ago: Jesse Ventura shocked the world

On this date 25 years ago: Jesse Ventura shocked the world

On this date 25 years ago: Jesse Ventura shocked the world

The election of a former professional wrestler and Hollywood actor as governor will always stand out among the most remarkable events in Minnesota history. It happened on Nov. 3, 1998, when, in Jesse Ventura’s words, “the American dream lives on in Minnesota. We shocked the world!”

As a Reform Party candidate, Ventura won a three-way race for governor against formidable foes Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and former Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey, the son of former Vice President and Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.

The first year of Ventura’s governorship was filled with travel around the country to late-night talk shows, network morning news programs and the White House. He also embarked on trade missions to Japan, China, Mexico and Cuba.

In the legislature, he worked with Republicans and Democrats to cut income taxes, reduce license tab fees and increase funding for education and health care.

He also got high marks for recruiting a talented group of commissioners to fill the Ventura administration cabinet. But 25 years later, Republicans and Democrats still debate Ventura’s legacy.

“I think there was a lot of hope that he could bring together the best and the brightest and get Republicans and Democrats in his cabinet,” said Brian McClung, who worked for Republican Governor Arne Carlson, Ventura’s predecessor, and for Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who followed Ventura. “Ultimately Jesse’s downfall was that it was all just about Jesse. He wanted to sell books. He wanted to be an announcer for the XFL. He wanted to go out and make money while he was governor.”

Former DFL Senator Jeff Hayden, who didn’t serve in the legislature until after Ventura left office, says while Ventura did accomplish some things by compromising with Democrats and Republicans, many of the budget decisions they made created years of budget deficits.

“We went through a lot of pain with this kind of common-sense approach,” Hayden said. “I think what Governor Ventura figured out is that the work of the job is a lot harder than he thought it would be.”

Ventura chose not to run for re-election in 2002.

You can hear more about the 25th anniversary of his remarkable election on “At Issue” with Tom Hauser on Sunday morning at 10 a.m.