Monday, November 9, 1998

Venturing Forward

Let me start by saying I voted for Norm Coleman. I know it's an example of my political superficiality but the sole reason I voted for Norm was because I figured he was the best candidate to get a baseball stadium built. I personally believe a child can learn more by going out to watch a baseball game than they can by going to school. But that's just me. I voted early by absentee ballot and admit that I had a change of heart after my ballot was cast. Right after Jesse Ventura said he was in favor of legalizing prostitution I said, "Now that's a guy I could vote for." Not because I necessarily agree that is a good solution to that particular problem, but because we finally had a candidate who was willing to say what he believed and not what he was told was what the voters wanted to hear.

For me the governor's race was the least interesting of all the state constitutional offices. I thought Ken Pentel of the Green Party was clearly the best candidate. He was a bright, practical and articulate candidate but he wasn't on my side of the stadium issue. Besides I've reached a point, like many, where I truly feel government has little ability to offer effective solutions. It is all just a matter of politics.

What happened last Tuesday was quite astonishing. I spent the day problem solving voting equipment in various precincts in northern Hennepin County. It was clear during the day that anybody who doubted that Mr. Ventura had struck a nerve had greatly underestimated his speak from the heart message. Precinct after precinct was packed with people- and many who have seemed to be the least interested in elections- young people.

Thus during the night while I was down at the Hennepin County Government Center helping accumulate results, it wasn't much of a shock what was happening. The people of Minnesota (at least the 37 percent that voted for Jesse) clearly saw this candidate as something other than just another politician. That during the campaign he was less than specific about what he'd do if elected didn't seem to bother them. That his communication style of talk show radio host speaking his mind regardless of the obstacles it will create in coalition building ( a necessity in accomplishing anything in the political system) actually appealed to many. It was a campaign rooted in anger and it touched a nerve in many people.

What Jesse was clearly about is less intrusive government. Yet there was a contradiction: how could voters vote for him and also overwhelmingly vote for government protection of our right to hunt and fish? (Likewise how could voters vote to abolish the State Treasurer's office and yet not vote for the only treasurer candidate who was for that issue?)

By election day I think like many, my view of Jesse as this eccentric fringe candidate who had no ability to be our next governor drastically had changed. Why not Jesse? What we have had is no longer working if for no other reason than no one seems to believe in it. To see people energized by a candidate, by a campaign rather than turned off into indifference was quite refreshing. After all the line between professional politics and grass roots efforts is just as great as the line between professional wrestling and other sports. It gets a bit disheartening to see all the professional campaigns that run slick candidates with slick advertising saying their person is for lower taxes and less crime (like anyone would want otherwise). As we lose our belief in government we just want it to be entertaining like anything else in our culture.

Yet there still is a bit of trepidation about what we have done. During the day I was partnered with a woman who was the type who seemed to love the sound of her own voice. I've never seen a better example of a person who talked a lot and said very little. By the end of the evening I was more than a little glad to get away from her. I wonder if at the end of four years we will have tired of Mr. Ventura's act in the same way? Sure it's refreshing now to have a candid candidate but he still needs to follow through on what his campaign was about. What did mama always say? "It's much easier tearing something down than it is building something up;" Jesse was an effective critic of the status quo. It will be important that he offer a viable alternative. If you energize people and then disenfranchise them, their cynicism doubles and you usually don't get another chance.

I did find the first area our governor-elect has to do something about: crime in the streets. At 4:30 a.m. post election day, I wandered out to my car parked on the streets of Minneapolis. Upon inspection I noticed someone had broken my passenger side window. They had not taken anything but it was a rather disheartening scene to come back to. It was a bit nippy driving back in the chill of the twenty six degree air and I have a feeling I will be picking up shards of glass from my car for a while. I was cursing to myself all the way back home. "If only we had a baseball stadium there'd be more people on the streets, more activity, less crime and this senseless act would never have happened," I said trying to console myself as I was quickly losing all feelings in my ears.

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