NORTHFIELD -- Eighty-three and retired, Wilbert ''Wib'' Eckardt would just as soon leave political discussions to the earnest students who frequent the cafes and coffee houses of this college town.
But he's ready to talk when it comes to Gov. Jesse Ventura's idea for morphing the state House and Senate into a single, smaller governing body -- the signature plan of his administration.
''It's a money-saving proposition, and I think it's a good idea,'' said Eckardt, who used to work as a purchasing agent for Carleton College. ''Whether or not people can get over the idea of having two houses, like they've had for years, I don't know.''
Ventura has traveled through central Minnesota in recent weeks to promote unicameralism, which he thinks would make government more efficient, more accountable and less expensive.
Opponents believe such a system would weaken the checks and balances that slow the progression of bills through the Legislature and foster debate. They note that Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral system.
Changing the Legislature from two bodies to one would require an amendment to the state's constitution. The House and Senate would first have to agree to a referendum before voters would have the chance to decide in November.
On a bright weekday morning inside Bagel Brothers in this city's downtown, rolled eyes and sighs often met questions about the presidential race, third-party politics and tax cuts. But few were silent about Ventura's most fundamental idea for changing the way Minnesota is governed.
''I think if unicameralism was such a wonderful idea, people in other states would have gone for it by now,'' said Mary Ann Brown, a driver for Pavek Transit who ferries special education students to schools in the area. ''I just don't see it getting very far.''
Diane Beumer and Carole Graham, Northfield residents and, like Brown, drivers for the special education students, also oppose unicameralism. But they admit to distaste for the messy partisan politics that persuaded Ventura to go after the two-chamber system.
''The Democrats and the Republicans do bicker too much, and I think everyone is sick of it,'' Beumer said.
Down the road about three miles in the village of Dundas, Ventura was holding forth on his weekly radio show as construction workers in stocking caps and overalls took a break at L&M Bar and Grill.
''They should just leave the Legislature the way it is -- it's worked for a hundred-some years,'' said Tom Wicks, 26, of Austin, who was putting steel roofing on a nearby building with a crew from Twix Construction.
Co-worker Marc Feuerhak, also 26 and from Austin, disagreed.
''Any fewer lawmakers anywhere is a good idea,'' he said. ''It would stop politicians from tying things up in the House and Senate. If it streamlines things, it can't be a bad thing.''
Some students at Carleton College said they were intrigued by the idea, in part because of their attraction to Ventura's unconventionalism, which he displayed last fall in a whimsical speech at the school's convocation.
''It sounds good, and it kind of goes along with a lot of the other things he is talking about -- more citizen participation, more direct democracy, less bureaucracy,'' said Scott Hynek, a junior from Cody, Wyo., who voted for Ventura.
Heather Ristow, a senior from Rochester, N.Y., said she would need to know more about unicameralism before deciding whether to support it. But, she added, ''if it would make things more fluid and representative, then I would be for it.''
Back at Bagel Brothers, 13-year-old Elizabeth Goodney and friends Katherine Frey, 16, and Katya Block, 12 -- on break from the Village School of Northfield -- had plenty to say about Ventura.
''That World Wrestling Federation thing was stupid.''
''That Playboy interview was silly. Come on!''
''What's with all these celebrities wanting to be president?''
They weren't sure about Ventura's proposal, but they had studied enough civics at their charter school to know it would mean a big change in the way laws are created.
After thinking about it for a minute, Elizabeth decided such a big change might not be a great idea.
''Sometimes you don't want to pass laws because they, well, they suck,'' she said. ''But this way they could pass them, anyway, and that is not good.''
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