Heavyweight Guv Wins Plaudits

Jesse Ventura filled the house in January, as heÂ'd done for years as a professional wrestler - only this time, at his inauguration ceremony, he dressed in his Sunday best. Sworn in as MinnesotaÂ's 37th governor, the man who had won spectatorsÂ' hearts as Jesse "The Body" Ventura, had entered a new ring.

Now six months later, as CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Phil Jones reports, politicians are weighing in on his progress to date.




A member of the Reform Party, which promotes among other things "fiscal responsibility and accountability," Ventura headed into uncharted waters with his bid for governor. His promise to end politics as usual not only drew a young constituency to the ballot box, but also attracted what he refers to as "disenchanted voters."

Ventura couldnÂ't have come to power at a better time. The only political challenge in Minnesota as the year began was how to divvy up a huge budget surplus; taxpayers ended up with a $1.3 billion refund. And now at the six-month mark, members of some legendary Minnesota political families give Ventura high marks.

"He made good appointments with regard to commissioners from both sides of the political aisle," said Skip Humphrey, son of the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey and one of those defeated by Ventura. "They were able to work with the legislature. He did a good job."

"I think weÂ've had one of the most successful sessions at the start of the administration in the history of Minnesota," declared Ted Mondale, son of former Vice President Walter Mondale and recently appointed by the new governor to head a powerful agency that controls metropolitan development. "When these laws kick in that were just passed, [the public is] going to see a $700 check for each individual. You are going to see smaller class sizes in schools they go to, and a teacher thatÂ's happy because theyÂ've just got a contract increase. IÂ'd give him an A."

John Hottinger, majority leader in the Democratic-controlled Minnesota Senate, opined: "I'd give him a B-, but a better grade would be incomplete."

Steve Sviggum, speaker of the state's Republican-dominated House, was even more candid. "Let's say he took the course pass/fail, and he passed." He added, "Whenever someone has the approval rating that he does, you feel the squeeze."

Reporter Dane Smith, who covers the governor for the Minneapolis Tribune, awarded Ventura a B. "He positions himself as a mediator," said Smith. "Look at his priorites: mass transit, lower class size. He got maybe eight of the 10 things on his list."

While Ventura wins grudging praise even from some critics, he is under attack from those who claim he campaigned as a fiscal conservative and has governed as a big spending liberal. (Though some protestors requesting more government assistance mt with the governor's confrontation.)

"HeÂ's all show and no dough," said Darrell McKigney, a member of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and lately the governorÂ's No. 1 antagonist.

"ThereÂ's a reason why Jerry SpringerÂ's the most popular show on television, and the National Enquirer is the most read newspaper," said McKigney. "ItÂ's entertaining and unfortunately people want that in politicians. And I think that could be a dangerous trend for politics in Minnesota and across the country."

After retiring from the ring in 1986 following a successful wrestling career, Ventura became an actor. His biggest screen role was in 1987's Predator, (also featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger) where he uttered the memorable line "I ain't got time to bleed." Ventura borrowed that punchy phrase to grace the cover of his autobiography, just published last month.

Ventura, who worked as a radio talk-show host and served a term as Brooklyn Park, Minn., mayor from 1991 to 1995, recently made it clear on his weekly radio show that taxpayer champ McKigney bothered him.

"I think McGigney or McKigney, whatever his name is, that big load - you know this guy, who ainÂ't never ran around the block before in his life," Ventura said. "You want to blast me, get ready. YouÂ'll get it back," he declared.

The governorÂ's sometimes aggressive political style got him in trouble at the time of this spring's Littleton, Colo., school shootings - leaving the impression he thought concealed weapons were all right in schools. He apologized, saying he meant only uniformed officers should have weapons in schools.

In Washington at a press dinner, MinnesotaÂ's best-known humorist, Garrison Keilor, had his own critique of Ventura.

"He got angry at me because I wrote about him," said Keilor. "But he got elected saying he could only promise his best, and I would have to say heÂ's kept his word."

The governor wonÂ't admit that his critics get under his skin, but his wife of 24 years, Terry, described as "the stabilizer" in the family, admits that some of the verbal attacks bother him.

"It wouldnÂ't matter what kind of job you have," she said. "If people were viciously attacking you, and sometimes it was really uncalled for, I think you would get hurt and angry."

"Certainly I'll make mistakes, but rest assured I will do the best job I possibly can," Ventura said in January. "I think that's all we ask of anyone in life."

What grade would he give himself? "IÂ'll just go on a pass or fail [method]," said the governor. "I think thatÂ's the easy way for me to do it, and we definitely passed," he said.

When asked if some politicians are wary of tangling with his popularity, Ventura replied, "maybe IÂ'll give 'em credit for being exceptionally smart."

There is one thing, though, that's starting to worry even some of VenturaÂ's clsest allies: the governor's growing merchandising ventures. There are Jesse action dolls; a videotape, Citizen Jesse; a CD of his best speeches and comments; and of course the tell-all biography. The concern is that all this may start to look like greed.

Ventura says heÂ's taking the profits from his book - which reveals his youthful indiscretions involving sex, steroids, and marijuana - because he made the deal before becoming governor. But other profits will be used for charity and possibly, Reform Party politics.

"Jesse Ventura is not gonna make a dime off anything that the nonprofit organization raises," Ventura said. "I will personally get nothing from it, other than name recognition."

After six months in the governor's seat, recognition is not a problem. When the fledgling governor travels to the White House, reporters want to know if heÂ's there sizing it up. HeÂ's not running for president in 2000, but he wonÂ't rule out a 2004 bid.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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