ST. PAUL -- At 2:30 Wednesday afternoon, six newspaper reporters filed out of an interview with Gov. Jesse Ventura in his residence and three more headed in for another. Radio reporters came next. TV had gotten their own interviews the day before.
Though cloistered for much of the legislative session, Ventura is now in the midst of a full-press court, suddenly talking to all comers about the unfinished work at the Legislature.
His message: The lawmakers are a meddling bunch, controlled by special interests, who wasted months trying to ban soda pop in schools instead of doing their budgets. They should, he says, be punished by going without pay in a special session, foregoing fund-raising and being forced to vote on a plan to cut their numbers and power in half.
"They should be doing what they're hired by the public to do," Ventura said in a Wednesday interview, echoing a theme he has repeated since lawmakers admitted they would not be able to get their budget passed in time for the session's midnight Monday constitutional deadline. "I've done what I was hired to do."
Ventura hopes to use the stalemate to change the legislative system; He says he may make lawmakers vote on allowing a statewide vote on a unicameral legislature in exchange for calling a special session.
He began his criticism in earnest last week in a talk to the Minnesota Meeting of business and political leaders, where, referring to legislators, he said: "It's no wonder people don't trust their elected officials."
He continued the theme on talk radio programs and private interviews even as leaders in the Capitol held late-night and early morning meetings to resolve their differences.
"I just don't think it's the most professional thing to do," House Speaker Steve Sviggum said of the blame game. "He's got a supercharged bully pulpit. No doubt about it."
Indeed, Capitol observers say it's hardly a fair fight.
Political analyst D.J. Leary, an editor of the newsletter "Politics in Minnesota", said all governors have an inherent public relations advantage over the 201 legislators and their leaders, and this governor more than most.
Leary said even if the Legislature hadn't adjourned without managing to pass eight of nine budget bills, "He'd have still taken the opportunity to take them behind the woodshed and whack them a few times, because that's what he does best."
Leary isn't blaming Ventura.
"They made the rope for him and tied the knot," he said. "He just put it over the tree."
But Dean Alger, an advocate for cleaner campaigns and author of the book "The Media and Politics," says Ventura's super-sized microphone distorts reality by overlooking the importance of the Legislature.
"Ventura gets such an enormous amount of attention in the media. It really is an unbalanced picture," he said.
Alger defends the Legislature. "I don't want to suggest it's just political stuff in the low-grade sense. This stalemate is the consequence of people who believe deeply in what their doing. It's a consequence of divided party government."
Alger isn't sure Ventura's criticisms are having an impact, but Leary disagrees.
He says that, particularly in rural areas of the state, he hears plenty of agreement with Ventura.
There's a different standard of reference in rural areas, Leary says. "If a guy has six days of sun and good weather and can't get your crop in, everybody says they're nuts."
Political leaders and the analysts downplay the idea that the stalemate will cost individual lawmakers their jobs in the 2002 elections.
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