- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Jesse Ventura angrily sits down at his desk in the state capitol as he plots to stick it to the Democrats, Republicans and news media all of whom he holds in utter contempt.

He wants to poke his finger in the eye of the political establishment just one more time before he leaves office and ends his tumultuous term as an unlikely governor with more grudges to settle than as the professional wrestler he once was.

Mr. Ventura did just that this week when he called a news conference at 10 a.m. Monday, the very same time that Walter Mondale and Norm Coleman began their critical, campaign debate only a few blocks away. In a surprise announcement, he named his former campaign manager and chief political adviser to the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Not only did Mr. Ventura's decision trump the news value of the 11th-hour Senate campaign debate between the two major party candidates, it threw a monkey wrench into the Senate's delicately balanced political power struggle, if only temporarily.

Mr. Ventura has sworn undying hostility against the two major parties and the news media for what he sees as their unfair treatment of third-party candidates, especially his own self-styled Independence Party.

After Wellstone's death, Mr. Ventura told his allies he would probably appoint a Democrat to fill the unexpired term until the voters had elected a new senator. That would be only fair, he said, because Wellstone was elected as a Democrat.

Then he said he might name a "John Q. Citizen" to the opening. Resumes poured into the capitol from would-be senators. But former Rep. Tim Penny, the Independence candidate for governor, urged him to wait until the voters had spoken and then name the winner to the seat.

"I was strongly contemplating taking Tim Penny's advice until the debate, when they refused to let Jim Moore participate," Mr. Ventura said. Mr. Moore was the Independence Party's Senate candidate "and had just as much right to be in that debate as they did. That angered me. It offended me," he said as he rocked back and forth in his large gubernatorial chair.

As soon as he heard that the debate's media sponsors had chosen to ignore his party's candidate, Mr. Ventura decided to get his revenge.

He scheduled his news conference just as the debate was getting underway and announced that he was appointing Dean Barkley, the mastermind of his third-party gubernatorial candidacy, who had himself run for the Senate twice and failed.

Mr. Ventura said he had decided that, in the rough-and-tumble world of third-party politics, he was going to promote his own party. As far as he is concerned, the people in the two major parties and in the news media are thugs, or as he calls them, "street gangs." "The only difference between them and street gangs," he said, "is the Republicans and Democrats wear Brooks Brothers suits. They don't abide by the rules, they don't play fair. We in the Independence Party have had major party status now for 10 years, yet they don't give us equal time. They don't give us equal access, the way that they do the Democrats and Republicans."

Mr. Ventura is a political oddity who took on the two major parties in 1998, with Mr. Barkley's guidance, and beat them at their own game. He called for tax cuts, became a champion of free trade and identified with "the little guy" who goes to work each day, punches a time clock and enjoys a beer or two at the local tavern before heading home.

His election shook the foundation of the state's power structure.

Soon, he was appearing on all the Sunday news talk shows and there was talk, which he eagerly promoted, of running for president on a third-party ticket.

But it wasn't long before his blunt, sometimes bombastic and eccentric style, not to mention his venomous war with the news media, began to eat into his popularity. Earlier this year he said he had had enough of the media's attacks on himself and his family, and would not run for a second term.

He forcefully insists that, if he had run, he would have won. "I did a little barhopping the other day and they treated me like a rock star. 'Why don't you run again? We still support you,' " he recalled.

A libertarian on social issues, he said he hates both major parties equally, but he appears to side more with the Republicans on economic policy.

He is a self-identified "fiscal conservative," who thinks workers should be allowed to invest some of their payroll taxes. He is against trade tariffs and other market barriers and ridicules Mr. Mondale as "an elitist who sits on big corporate boards and then says he's for the little guy." Mr. Ventura doesn't say what he plans to do next, but, narrowing his eyes, he vows that "I'll be as dangerous as ever."

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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