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Insights: Politics—Doing Right by the People

Tired of politics as usual? So is the governor of Minnesota
| By Jesse Ventura | From Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

In forty-nine years I have seen and done a lot.  

Life from the jungles of Southeast Asia, from the center of a professional wrestling ring and from behind a talk radio microphone seemed pretty exciting. But then I was elected governor of Minnesota, wrote a book and did a Playboy interview. Will life ever be the same? I don't think so.  

Why? Because it's just my nature to live on the edge, and as long as I'm on the edge, life will continue to be exciting. I'm not going to change. I'm going to be a good father, a good husband, a good friend to my Southside buddies, a good citizen, a good governor, and have a good time doing it.  

I like to stir things up, keep my sense of humor active and enjoy a good confrontation and a good Cuban cigar.  

Did you know that in the year after I was elected governor nearly 23 million people visited Minnesota? At first, many thought the crowds were coming to get a glimpse of me. Not true. I figured it out. They were actually curious to see just who these Minnesota people were who could elect Jesse "The Body" Ventura as their governor.  

Seriously though, it's not rocket science. Minnesotans elected me because they were sick and tired of having to choose from the same old radical left and the same old radical right. As a result of some very progressive election and campaign finance laws in Minnesota, the environment was ripe for someone like me to expose the tired old thinking of the Republican and Democratic parties.  

With same-day voter registration available in Minnesota, I was able to engage young and disaffected voters and urge them to go to the polls. With public financing available to major-party candidates, I was able to have just enough money ($600,000) to compete with the traditional-party candidates ($4.3 million combined).  

And I won.  

And you know what? If the two major parties would ever have the courage to trust the American people, the same scenario could take place on the national level.  

But as long as Congress and individual states keep a stranglehold on ballot access and allow the buying and selling of candidates, third-party movements will only be able to produce fringe candidates unable to compete in a system designed to keep the two major parties in control.  

On the day of my election in Minnesota two years ago, almost 16 percent of the people who voted registered that day, and most of them cast their ballots for me. And incredibly, Minnesota had a total voter turnout that year of 61.4 percent (the national average was 36 percent).  

Can you imagine if we had same-day registration all over America and a legitimate three-way race for president?  

I have the utmost respect for Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush, but under our current primary system, a fraction of the American people decides who will be our candidates. You get the predictable and the conventional and as a result an apathetic and unengaged electorate.  

Now, put a legitimate, electable third-party candidate in the mix of the general election and just watch the people engage.   We need to do right by the people. We need to bring government back to common ordinary citizens. We should trust the people. Candidates need to talk straight to the people.  

Today's formula is simple: two parties--two candidates--and a bunch of baloney. Pander to the left, pander to the right, spend millions in "soft money" trashing your opponent, kiss up to special interest groups and lobbyists and pass it all off as a "grass-roots campaign."  

Think about it. How would the people react if a candidate for president of the United States spoke the plain truth and didn't measure every word against how many electoral votes might be swayed?  

During my campaign I was allowed to participate in several statewide televised debates, and I can still see the major-party candidates hauling these thick briefing books and notepads to their podiums. I was always empty-handed. At one of the debates one of the organizers, in an attempt to be helpful, handed me a notepad and pencil. "Here," she said, "you might need this."  

"No thanks," I replied. "If you tell the truth you don't need a long memory."  

I say what is in my heart and let the chips fall where they may. I think that is what public service as an elected official should be all about. Our service should be temporary, and then we should return to the private sector. If I were worried about re-election I would feel paralyzed in this job.  

I like being honest. When someone asks me a question, my natural instinct is to answer it, and answer it honestly. Our current political system is not one of honesty--it's one of self-preservation.  

I think most politicians go into the business well-intentioned. But the system corrupts. Once elected, it's no longer about voting your conscience, it's about preserving the power of the political caucus. Tow the party line or else you (and your district) will be forgotten forever.  

Imagine, with my provocative and blunt style, how difficult it would be for me to serve in a Congress dominated by the two-party system.  

I believe that we have too many laws. Why? Because the political caucuses continuously try to out-tough each other on the crime issue until yet another law is passed, put into a book and then not enforced.  

I believe that we should tolerate alternative lifestyles. Who am I to tell anyone what to do in his or her private life? Who am I to tell people if they can or cannot serve their country?  

I believe we have too much government and too little parenting.  

I believe in self-sufficiency and that government is not a charity.  

I truly believe in the separation of church and state.  

I believe in capitalism. I believe that our economy is global and that if we don't trade with China we are selling ourselves short and will regret it forever.  

I hate embargoes. Sure, partly because I'd love to have easy access to Cuban cigars, but mostly because embargoes don't work. Fidel Castro's regime has outlived the administrations of nine U.S. presidents. In the meantime the Cuban people suffer and our businesses don't have the opportunity to buy and sell with a neighboring country. And for what? Electoral votes in Florida? For goodness sakes, we have normal relations with Vietnam, but not Cuba. I don't get it.  

I believe that the American people are sick of pandering and are desperate for some candor from their elected officials. What could be better than policy over politics or science over emotion? I couldn't care less how many electoral votes Florida has, but I do care about the people of Cuba.  

When I end my day as governor of Minnesota, I want to be able to go home and relax. I want to look in the mirror and know I have been true to my innermost convictions.  

And, of course, I'd like to sit in a patio chair and enjoy a good Cuban cigar.    

Jesse Ventura is the governor of Minnesota.