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Ventura slams money-tainted politics

The Minnesota governor states his views and has members of a national ethics group roaring with laughter.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000

TAMPA -- Since taking office, he has auctioned off his Porsche on eBay.

He has hawked no fewer than three books, starting with I Ain't Got Time to Bleed.

And now he's signed up to broadcast games of the new Xtreme Football League during his spare time. He'll get paid for that bit of moonlighting, but he's refusing to tell Minnesota voters just how much.

Think Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura did more listening than talking during the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws conference at the Hyatt Regency Westshore on Wednesday?

Think again.

Ventura, in fact, was the keynote speaker.

Members of the national ethics group roared with laughter at the governor's jokes and applauded when he veered from his 15-page text.

The group supports laws that would hold elected officials to high ethical standards and, for many in the audience, Ventura's call for campaign finance reform hit the mark. But the former wrestler, who used to wear a feather boa and go by the nickname "the Body," didn't limit himself to that topic. He was, as ever, topical and pointed, reeling off a string of zingers on a variety of subjects.

On the election madness in Florida: "I did tell people I was coming down here to give the Florida Supreme Court the opportunity to pick me and end it all."

On the revelation that Texas Gov. George W. Bush drove drunk 24 years ago: "My goodness. If it gets to the point when the president has to be perfection, we won't have one. I'll admit I inhaled."

On the Xtreme Football League: "Please don't judge it. All these people are judging it. Just because they see "X,' they automatically think it's porno."

On the National Football League: "When was the last time they didn't have a station break when they didn't focus in on cleavage?"

Minnesota media have learned to always have a reporter with notepad and pen in hand near Ventura, and the governor illustrated why Wednesday. Even his call for campaign finance reform was biting.

He told the audience that his father thought all politicians were crooks.

"My father used to say to me: You know how you know they're all crooks? Because they spend a million dollars for a job that pays $100,000 a year."

Emphasizing his point that too much money has poisoned politics, he pointed to the U.S. Senate campaign of New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine, who spent more than $60-million of his own money to get elected.

"Personally, I couldn't vote for someone who did that," Ventura said.

The Minnesota governor called for the inclusion of more third-party candidates. He pushed for closing "the soft-money loophole," which allows people to donate unlimited amounts to political parties that turn around and give that money to candidates. And he called for giving candidates more timely public assistance.

Those comments resonated with audience members.

"All of us could relate to what he was saying," said Cecily Collier-Montgomery, a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Office of Campaign Finance Reform.

Conference participants crowded Ventura after his speech, asking him for autographs and posing with him for pictures. The governor smiled through that but was considerably less cheerful during a news conference that followed.

He disagreed with any suggestion that his outside opportunities wouldn't be as numerous if he were not a former wrestler and sportscaster who is now an elected governor. And he disagreed with any suggestion that he disclose more about those outside activities now that he is governor.

"Why should I have to?" he asked.

Ventura said Democrats and Republicans are not questioned as closely as third-party candidates are by the media.

"The press," he said, "is dishonest."

Ventura did say he has learned that, when he talks, he speaks for all Minnesotans. What then, a reporter asked, of his upcoming broadcasting gig for the XFL? Is he speaking for Minnesotans then?

"No," he said. "I'm Jesse the Body then. I can tell the difference."

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