Looking at them — Jesse “the Body” Ventura and Angus King — you’d think the two men have nothing in common other than the fact both are very popular independent governors of cold weather states that claim to be the home of legendary logger Paul Bunyan.
Ventura is a massive, bald-headed man who served as a Navy SEAL during Vietnam, rode with a motorcycle gang, was the hated villain on professional wrestling circuits for 15 years and has appeared in six movies. On his arrival here last weekend to attend the National Governors Association convention, the Washington Post reported that Gov. Ventura generally packs a gun, causing considerable consternation among the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies. A lawyer, former U.S. Senate aide, public television talk show host and energy entrepreneur, King seems a much gentler man, although he does sometimes don a leather jacket and ride a Harley-Davidson like “the Body.”
Jesse has tattoos.
One presumes King is unmarked.
Those differences aside, a bonding seems to have taken place.
“Maybe I should shave my head. He gets more attention than I’ve ever got,” said King between work sessions at the NGA. When the Republican and Democratic governors ran off to separate caucuses, King and Ventura held a joint press conference next to the Washington Monument. As King began talking about his successful candidacy back in Maine, Minnesota reporters “started laughing.”
“They said Jesse’s speeches sounded word for word like what I had just said. We arrived at the same place, coming from different places. But fundamentally, we’re the same,” King related.
Look for Ventura to visit Maine sometime soon and for King to take a reciprocal trip to land of the Twin Cities, Vikings and domed football stadiums. Jesse Ventura, who Monday drew the largest luncheon audience at the National Press Club since Walter Cronkite’s retirement speech, talked about the budding relationship.
“Angus King of Maine and I are part of a new beginning … we are the start of tri-partisan government,” said Ventura. Going back to their press conference, Ventura said, “What was amazing, as Angus spoke, was that his answers to the Minnesota reporters’ questions were the same as my own.”
“If the two parties don’t wake up and end their bickering there are going to be more Jesse Venturas (and Angus Kings), rest assured. And that’s not bad,” he said.
When he first ran for public office as mayor of Brooklyn Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, Ventura said the local Republican and Democratic organizations joined forces and mailed a joint letter to voters denouncing him as the “most dangerous man in Brooklyn Park.” After the election, which he won in a landslide, there were overtures from the same Democrats and Republicans asking that “the most dangerous man in Brooklyn Park” join their parties.
“What I learned from this is that (to the parties) all that matters is that the ends justify the means. What you stand for doesn’t count, only that you are one of them,” he said. The recent impeachment vote could be taken as proof of that. Of the 535 members of Congress, less than a dozen crossed party lines to vote their conscience on one of the most important votes of the 20th century.
When they met with President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore at the White House, King voiced his two cents on one of the issues that divides Republicans and Democrats along ideological fault lines. Democrats prefer big, Washington-directed education programs. Republicans hold fast for local control and non-public school options. During the middle of Clinton’s sales pitch for a major school construction initiative, King interrupted:
“With all due respect, Mr. President, it is the special education programs that are driving the education budgets of Maine towns and cities.” When that program was begun, Washington picked up 40 percent of the cost. Federal subsidies now account for only 7 percent of the mandated program. King said Clinton took him aside after the meeting and confessed that he had gotten flack for the special education problem everywhere he visited during his post-impeachment victory lap through New Hampshire.
Ventura got in his own lick when Vice President Gore used the word “bi-partisan” once too often. I reminded him, Ventura said, that it’s a “tri-partisan” political world these days. When people in Washington talk about “bi-partisan,” said Jesse, “I look across the aisle at Angus King.”
“We lock eyes and wink at each other,” he said.
As Humphrey Bogart said to the French cop, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
John Day is a columnist for the Bangor News who is based in Washington, D.C. His e-mail address is email@example.com