Memories of Gov. Jesse Ventura's one-day stint as a well-compensated referee for the World Wrestling Federation's Summerslam are probably not what the governor will want Minnesotans to recall as his gubernatorial legacy.
The rough-and-tumble event, though popular with wrestling fans, featured scantily clad women and plenty of vulgar language. On a good-taste scale, the event was about on a par with the sort of entertainment Ventura was involved in as a pro wrestler. The difference is that Ventura's price tag as an entertainer is much higher since the people of Minnesota elected him governor. Wrestling experts quoted in the Star Tribune at the time said the governor could make more than $1 million for his appearance.
Now Ventura has secured another lucrative, part-time job, as a color commentator for the Xtreme Football League's broadcasts next year. The job will require the governor to be out of town for about 10 days during a period that will overlap with the 2001 legislative session. The XFL is a joint venture of the World Wrestling Federation and the National Broadcasting Company.
When Ventura signs a contract to broadcast weekend football games during a time when his subordinates will be putting in extra hours to push his legislative program it doesn't say much for his commitment to those programs or to his job as governor.
There is no reason Ventura has to become a stuffed shirt as Minnesota's governor but his behavior and his judgment should be held to a standard. Accepting the XFL's broadcasting offer fell below the mark that Minnesotans expect of their full-time governor.
And in a typical Ventura demonstration of his thin skin, the governor took a cheap shot at Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, who dared to ask whether the governor might not have violated the state's code of ethics. Ventura responded by bringing up a 1996 grand jury indictment against the DFL leader for allegedly running some campaign operations out of his Capitol office. The criminal charge and a civil suit against Moe were dismissed, but Ventura offered his own legal interpretation of those events, stating, "I believe he was let off the hook because of a technicality."
Ventura's comments about Moe were hardly the portrait of a public official who was willing to tackle criticism head-on. Rather, it was a blatant attempt to deflect criticism of his own ethical choices.
The choice is Ventura's. He can be an entertainer or a governor. The times when he chose the celebrity path (the Playboy interview in which he badmouthed church-goers, his controversial autobiography) were probably low points in his tenure as governor.
We'd like to see him spend more time being governor and less as an entertainer.
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