GRANITE FALLS (AP) -- A handful of union members confronted Gov. Jesse Ventura here Thursday, urging him to play a role in the contract dispute that threatens to put thousands of state workers on the picket line.
About 19,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and another 10,500 Minnesota Association of Professional Employees members are set to strike Sept. 17 after rejecting contract offers.
Dennis Blumke, AFSCME's Council 6 president, approached the governor as he walked toward City Hall in this southwestern Minnesota town.
"I asked him if he was going to take a support of our contract negotiations because our negotiations at this point have stalled," said Blumke, who works for the DNR Fisheries in Spicer. "I asked him if he'd take a more active role in that."
Ventura told Blumke he wouldn't tell the lead negotiator how to do his job. But he also said his staff will try to craft an agreement to help avoid the strike, which could idle 60 percent of Minnesota's government workforce.
The governor got a sunnier reception in Appleton 35 miles northwest, where a throng that included the high school jazz band and cheering third-graders turned out to greet him.
"It's always fun to get out of the office," Ventura told a packed crowd at the Apple Cafe. "We in St. Paul know that Appleton is here."
Mayor Ron Ronning said townspeople just wanted to enjoy the governor's visit.
"We just wanted it to be a fun day for everybody," Ronning said. "It was a good day for Appleton."
Not since Rudy Perpich was in office had a governor visited the city near the South Dakota border.
First to greet the governor when he got off his tour bus was Tianna Tosel, a 7-year old and the reigning Little Miss Appleton. She rushed up to Ventura and posed with him for a picture. Sixth-grade girls squealed, one saying after a handshake with the governor, "I'm not going to wash my hand for a week."
Lac Qui Parle Superintendent Bob Munsterman called it a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" for many students to meet a governor.
"It's good for them to see that he's a human being and not untouchable," Munsterman said.
Ventura walked up and down the main business area of town, shaking hands with nearly everyone who stood behind the yellow police tape. About two blocks were cordoned off for security reasons.
Scott and Shari VanBriesen, owners of the Apple Cafe, said they were thrilled their restaurant was chosen for Ventura's visit. One table full of regulars joked that they'd had their spot in the diner staked out a month ago in preparation for Ventura's visit.
The Liebe Drug Store put Jesse Ventura action figures in the display window to prepare for the visit. They sold two the day before.
In New Ulm for an evening dinner speech, Ventura was treated to bratwurst, red cabbage, sauerkraut and German potato salad, and serenaded by New Ulm's Concord Singers.
He spoke on one of his favorite subject, tax relief, and urged people in the crowd to become government watchdogs, to "continue the revolution that we started."
On the Net:
AFSCME Council 6: http://www.afscmecouncil6.org
State Department of Employee Relations: http://www.doer.state.mn.us
On-cycle contributions from The Journal of New Ulm; The Independent of Marshall; The West Central Tribune of Willmar; KWLM-Radio, Willmar.
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