Back in The Ring
Jesse Ventura Pens a New Political Memoir
Jesse Ventura, a Harley-driving, gruff-talking former professional wrestler, was anything but conventional when he led an otherwise quiet Midwestern state from 1998 to 2003. But five years removed from the governor’s office, the man dubbed “The Body” has gone mainstream like so many former politicians before him by putting out a memoir-manifesto in the middle of a heated campaign season.
Ventura, who campaigned for Minnesota’s top job under the slogan “Retaliate in ’98,” says his latest book, “Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me!,” is not an attempt to kick-start a comeback in 2008. But in an interview, the former wrestling champion hinted that he may have another fight in him.
“I haven’t fully ruled that out. You know, the filing deadline is July,” Ventura said, turning his eye to the competitive Senate race between incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and former “Saturday Night Live” star Al Franken (D). “I’ve already beaten Norm Coleman, so that should scare him, and Al Franken is nothing but a carpetbagger. I’ll bet he doesn’t even have a Minnesota driver’s license.”
“Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me!” is a chronicle of Ventura’s travels, from the wrestling arena to the state Capitol and from Brooklyn Park, Minn., to the Mexican peninsula of Baja California, where he and his wife, Terry, now spend part of their time. Ventura narrates his book from the road, driving an RV from the Midwest to Mexico as he recalls his election in 1998, his one and only term as governor and his take on the state of politics today.
“It isn’t a matter of it being too hard to stay out of the game, it’s a matter of being patriotic,” said Ventura, whose first two books were best-sellers. “Being patriotic means you do criticize the government, you put their feet to the fire.”
Ventura wrestled Minnesota’s top job from the major-party candidates with 37 percent of the vote in 1998. His third book comes as Minnesota is enveloped in a tight Senate race and the state capital of St. Paul is preparing to host the Republican National Convention this summer. The timing seems more than just coincidental for the former celebrity wrestler, who has stayed out of the limelight since leaving office in 2003.
Indeed, Ventura suggests the ultimate 2008 political retaliation: a run for the White House on the World Wrestling Entertainment Independent ticket, announced after a staged match with WWE chairman Vince McMahon, who would be the campaign’s main money source. Ventura takes it one step further in the final pages of his book, announcing attorney and environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as his running mate.
“The hell with the Democrats and the Republicans. The people want a WWE candidate!” Ventura writes, boasting his credentials as a former mayor and governor. “I am qualified to be president. I’ve been there at every level but the federal, and how many governors become presidents? Lots.”
WWE broke its attendance and ticket sales records at last month’s WrestleMania, something of a championship for the wrestling world. Nearly 75,000 fans packed the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, grossing more than $5.85 million in ticket sales. The popular sport draws thousands of fans at its live matches and on television, and after looking at those numbers, Ventura’s fantasy of launching a White House bid from the WWE ring almost sounds like it could work.
“I can’t beat [the national parties] conventionally. I can’t go into this and be competitive by doing it their way. They’ll destroy me too quickly. They’ve got to be tricked, fooled,” the 56-year-old writes in his 312-page book.
Ventura, who switched his moniker from “The Body” to “The Mind” when he was sworn in as governor, touts his independent streak and condemns the two-party system that he says shuts third-party candidates out of the process. He criticizes Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom he supported during the 2000 presidential race, calling the Senator “an arch conservative who still supports the Iraq war.”
The former governor also recalls the dramatic events surrounding the 2002 plane crash that killed then-Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who at the time was in a tight campaign against Coleman. Ventura subsequently decided to choose a member of the Minnesota Independence Party to serve the remainder of Wellstone’s term.
Ventura blasts career politicians throughout his book, co-written with Dick Russell, and claims the best elected officials sway between terms in office and stints in the private sector.
“Was I really Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, a guy who struts around with bleached blond hair, six earrings, and feather boas around his neck? Of course not. That’s a total creation. So was the politically fabricated life of Mark Foley, the now-disgraced Republican Congressman from Florida,” he writes.
Ventura, who filmed movies and hosted a talk-radio show in between his stints as Brooklyn Park mayor and Minnesota governor, is preparing to launch a television show, though he would not mention any details. He has no plans to campaign for any candidates this cycle or start any kind of advocacy group. Instead, Ventura is taking a short break from surfing in Baja to rally the kind of independent voters who first elected him to office.
“I can’t live with this apathy,” Ventura writes. “I have to stand up and talk about it.”