Will he or won't he? That's the question Minnesota residents, political junkies across the nation and even wrestling fans are asking this week amid hints that Jesse Ventura will return to politics, this time seeking a Senate seat in his home state.
Ventura, whose eclectic jobs include Minnesota governor from 1999-2003, book author, movie actor and wrestling champ, turns 57 on July 15--coincidentally the same day as the filing deadline for the Senate seat. Living part-time in Mexico, Ventura says he hasn't yet decided what he will do.
If he does take the plunge, he would face incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken of "Saturday Night Live" fame. Ventura talked to NEWSWEEK's Hilary Shenfeld on Friday. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: You're thinking of mounting an independent campaign for the Senate in Minnesota. Why now?
Jesse Ventura: It's wide open, and I've watched these presidential debates, and they're avoiding subjects that I think are ultra-important.
The deficit. Both parties are equally responsible for it. It's over $9 trillion now. A baby born today is [already] $30,000 in debt.
When did you get the itch to get back in?
As soon as the two parties chose their two senatorial candidates. I find it just bizarre that with the presidential approval rating less than 30 percent and congressional rating even less that Franken's trailing by double digits, so clearly he's not electable. With Coleman, you have a guy I call the quintessential chicken hawk. When it was time to serve his country, he was a chicken because he protested the war and stayed out of fighting. And then he came back all this time later and he's a hawk for the war. That hypocrisy is why I would want to come back and beat him.
When will you decide?
I will soul search and decide, probably on Monday morning. It's all about my family. Do I want to subject them to political office again? Do I want to change my lifestyle? As an independent you're held to a higher scrutiny. You want an example? I wrote a book when I was in office and the Minnesota press accused me of profiteering off the office. Three months later, John McCain came through on a book tour and they heralded him. He's a senator, right? Barack Obama wrote a book, didn't he?
So … no?
Right now I'm living the dream life. My attitude when I'm in Mexico is I wake up in the morning with nothing to do and I go to bed half done. I don't wear a watch. When I live down there, I do nothing according to time. I eat when I'm hungry and go to sleep when I'm tired. I live half the year in Mexico, I'm surfing. I live an hour from pavement and an hour from electricity. That's a big change between there and Washington. When you reach a certain age in life, time becomes more important than money, and I think that happens in your 50s.
[The Senate seat] is available and it's now, and I think they're beatable. I'm getting all these Minnesotans coming up to me every day telling me to run. It's out there again, the groundswell. People want someone to go out there to shake up Washington. I keep saying to myself, if not me, then who?
What will help you decide?
I'm meeting today with close, key people to discuss strategy and discuss if we were to move forward with a campaign, what do we want to do here.
Is money a factor?
I will not spend the money that these people will spend. I live by simple creed that my father told me years ago. My father once said to me, "All politicians are crooks." I said, "Come on, Dad, how can you make a blanket statement like that?" He said because they spend a million dollars for a job that pays $100,000 a year. It's based completely on panhandling and bribery. I despise that. I have a standard rule that I will not spend more than I make. The Senate pays roughly $170,000, so that would mean I would have the ability to go to a million bucks. Coleman and Franken may spend as high as $25 million combined. Imagine how angry they would be if I won again.
What would your platform be?
The economy. We've got to get our hands around the throat of this deficit. I would not vote for any bill unless it was revenue-neutral. That means if something cost $2 million, I would take $2 million out of the budget. And the [Iraq War]. People are finally starting to feel the pain over this war. Now our economy is in the toilet and the war has played a major role in it. We should have never gone in. This was a war built on fraud. Also, I would work on finance reform. I want to pass a law that you can only accept money in the state you're running in, because that would weaken these two federal parties.
What have you learned about dealing with the press over the years?
I don't worry about it because I deal with the simple philosophy that if you simply tell the truth then you don't have to have a good memory. If I'm going to get in trouble, let me get in trouble at least for telling the truth.
What have you been up to since leaving the governor's mansion?
Surfing. I wrote a book. I taught a class on third-party politics at Harvard as a fellowship professor in 2004, teaching all four grades, freshman through seniors. Playing golf. I still dabble in Hollywood. I worked on a movie this summer called "Woodshop." I play the woodshop teacher for students who have to come in on Saturday.
You moved to Baja California in 2005. Why?
I discovered it on vacation. I took it over Florida because the humidity is less and I don't want to be in snow anymore. I live there six months a year, and I live six months in St. Paul.
You had a severe blood clot in your lungs in 2002. How's your health now?
Pretty good, other than the aches and pains of a bad back from wrestling.
When you decided not to seek a second term as governor, you cited unfair media scrutiny of your family as one reason. Are you going to yell at me if I ask what your wife, Terry, and kids Tyrel, 28, and Jade, 24, are up to these days?
Terry takes care of me, that's work. She answers the phone, she schedules me. My wife is probably the best agent in the world for me. My kids are doing fine. That's all I'll say about them. I shield my children completely.