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The Point With Greta Van Susteren

The Moonlighting Governor: Should Jesse Ventura Cease His Extracurricular Activities?

Aired March 29, 2001 - 8:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: He's a full-time governor, who's made his mark on his state, and the nation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSE VENTURA, GOVERNOR, MINNESOTA: We shock the world!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But that's only his day job. Now Governor Jesse Ventura is rubbing some Minnesotans the wrong way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want you to walk one day in my shoes. One day...

VENTURA: I would like you to walk one day in mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is a governor who is using his position as governor to become a celebrity. And not only a celebrity, but to make a significant amount of money on the side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight's POINT: the moonlighting governor.

Plus, a new name for "Puffy."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Puff Daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Puff Daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Puff.

SEAN "PUFFY" COMBS, PRODUCER/RAPPER: Sean Puffy Combs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Puffy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Puff Daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Puffy Combs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Puffy cheeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Combs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And maybe a new friend.

THE POINT. Now from Washington, Greta Van Susteren.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: He's halfway into his term, and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is still having a great time being Jesse Ventura. He's learned to deal with state business. He's even dabbled in national politics. But now, some Minnesota lawmakers say it's time the governor was pinned down -- when it comes to his extracurricular activities.

Tonight's "Flashpoint": the moonlighting governor. CNN's David Mattingly looks at a developing cage match that could be more confining than a wrestling ring.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VENTURA: So help me god.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the moment Jesse Ventura took office as governor of Minnesota in January '99, it was clear that life in the statehouse would be strictly politics unscripted.

VENTURA: They told me we want to hear from your heart, and we want to hear from your soul. So that's what you're going to get today. I'm not changing.

CROWD: Jesse! Jesse! Jesse!

MATTINGLY: With just 37 percent of the vote, the former outrageous professional wrestler and outspoken radio personality won with a grassroots campaign of reform. And for 26 months, he's pursued his agenda in a way that's classic Ventura: combative and bigger than life.

STEVE GEIMANN, SOCIETY OF PROF. JOURNALISTS: Jesse is unlike any elected official in the country today. He has used the media, he has used his personality, which I think anybody would agrees, is a very forceful personality, to maintain this image of an outsider, the reformer, the person who defied the odds and became an elected official.

MATTINGLY: Ventura followed through on promises to cut taxes and limit spending. He grappled with the legislature, using the veto a record 29 times in two years. Last year he introduced his big plan: a sweeping proposal to improve education funding, public transportation, and health care. And all the while, using his mastery of the spotlight to promote state business internationally.

VENTURA: Amazingly, today we couldn't even get into the room, there was so much media over there. And if I played a part in doing that, if my say -- quote -- "celebrity status" -- helped create that -- good. Good.

MATTINGLY: But it hasn't all been good for the celebrity governor.

SCOTT HARSHBARGER, PRES. COMMON CAUSE: Here is a governor who is using his position as governor to become a celebrity. And not only a celebrity, but to make a significant amount of money on the side.

MATTINGLY: Moonlighting for Ventura, according to one state newspaper's estimate, is a $1.5 million career. There's the announcing job with the XFL.

VENTURA: I wasn't hired because I'm the governor. I'm hired because I'm Jesse "The Body."

MATTINGLY: Before that, a daytime soap cameo, and a brief but loud stint as referee for the WWF.

VENTURA: As long as you're in this state, you hold no power here. It's very simple. It's "The Body" rules. It's my rules or the highway.

MATTINGLY: Then there were the action figures and the book deals -- two of them. The first, "I Ain't Got Time to Bleed," 14 weeks on the bestseller list.

HARSHBARGER: You'd hope that he'd want to be governor full time. That's why he ran for the office. That's what the people of Minnesota elected him to do.

MATTINGLY: In a direct attack on Ventura's second jobs, a move to outlaw gubernatorial moonlighting is in the works.

VENTURA: Of course I'm going to be attacked by the political insiders, because you have to remember, I upset their apple cart two years ago.

MATTINGLY: Just over halfway through his term now, and Ventura is as combative as ever. His favorite sparring partner is the state news media.

When the "St. Paul Pioneer Press" launched a cartoon called "Venturaland," Ventura fired back. Recently, Ventura ordered reporters to wear credentials labeling them "media jackals." It was a jab promoting his new book "Do I Stand Alone."

VENTURA: I'm glad your newspaper's going to make money off me now with your cartoon. Maybe you'll write an editorial dealing with that.

HARSHBARGER: If Jesse Ventura is trying to distract the press, the media, the public from the important issues in Minnesota, he's not succeeding on that score. Although he is doing a very good job, I think, of mixing up the waters just a little bit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And don't look for smooth sailing any time soon. Ventura's talking about reelection. According to recent polls, about half of Minnesota's voters said they would vote for him. And his support among independent voters is now registering a whopping 72 percent, something any governor would love to have.

David Mattingly, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: The governor's record may speak for itself, but he isn't talking, at least, not tonight. Governor Ventura turned down our request for an interview. So, we turn to a veteran Ventura watcher: Pat Kessler is the chief political reporter for Minneapolis TV station WCCO.

Pat, thank you for joining me tonight.

PAT KESSLER, WCCO POLITICAL REPORTER: Glad to are here, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, Pat, do the people of Minnesota love him, hate him, or something in between?

KESSLER: Well, it's a little bit of both. It's like a love-hate relationship I tell people. I love him; he hates me. That's kind of how Minnesota voters are reacting to this governor. He's very, very provocative and Minnesota voters are very tolerant. They like the job he is going in office, but they have some real questions about his outside activities.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are the questions? I mean, is he doing his job as governor?

KESSLER: The roads are plowed, the crops are going to go in, and Minnesota voters are getting tax rebate checks every year. So, yes, the business of government is going on. But they question the ethics of the governor in many of his other dealings: his moonlighting as an XFL commentator, his book deals; all of that is being questioned very seriously by the voters here in Minnesota.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Pat, if he is doing his job -- do the voters in Minnesota, are they the type of voters that care whether or not he has these extracurricular activities, as long, as you say, the roads are plowed? Do they really care if he's the most colorful governor in the country and doing things you don't really expect of governors?

KESSLER: Well, I think people really enjoy the notoriety; I think that is true. But if the economy goes south, as it appears to be going here in Minnesota, as well as around the country, we may have a different view from the Minnesota voters.

Until now, we have been doing very, very well in Minnesota, not just with Governor Ventura but the previous governor as well. So, things have been going very well. When the economy's going well, the voters are again, very tolerant of what our governor does.

His behavior, though, outside this office, during the legislative session -- which is going hot and heavy right now -- is raising some questions; and about half the Minnesota voters in the polls I have seen indicate they have some questions.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, he's got this it seems seemingly so a battle with the media in Minnesota, making you wear or at least suggesting you wear a media jackal badge. By the way, do you have one?

KESSLER: Well, you know, I have one. I have refused to wear it, but just for you, Greta, I did bring it along. This is it. This is our Media Jackal Pass. I am designated as an official Jackal. It was a joke on the side, but on the back are many rules that -- forget about the First Amendment -- so it was a very, very tough controversy with the governor. He has since rescinded his order that reporters wear these.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is the most interesting rule on the back of your new badge, Pat?

KESSLER: We must wear it around the governor at all times and it can be revoked for any reason, including presumably, a negative story on the governor and there are many in his view -- negative stories -- done all the time by the Minnesota media.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is this good humor and good fun between a politician and the media? Of course, no politician is too shrewd in picking a fight with the media. Is it good humor or is it a real war?

KESSLER: Well, a little bit of it is some of this bad boy wrestling shtick that the governor brought to office. Voters consider that a breath of fresh air in this state, but some of this is very serious. The governor gets very annoyed when we look into some of the personal things he does. Contradictions of any politician we that report, the governor considers himself not a politician.

We treat him like any other politician and the contradictions we report then, he gets very upset about. But I do believe he really loves this give and take with reporters; he needs us as a foil, just as he has through his entire career.

VAN SUSTEREN: Last 20 seconds: predict, will he be running for reelection in Minnesota? Will he be reelected or even does he have his sights on the White House?

KESSLER: I think if the election were held today, he could win this in a three-way race. We have a three-party system here in Minnesota now. I do not believe he is seriously interested in the White House, because I think that he would rather finish this up, try for another term here and then, figure it out later.

But no White House, but possible leaning strongly toward running again for governor.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pat, thank you very much. Pat Kessler. Thank you. We have to take a quick break. When we come back, a man who doesn't want Jesse keeping his extra pocket change. Is he a killjoy, or a hero?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back. Tonight's "Flashpoint" is the moonlighting governor, governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura. Joining me now are Republican state representative Tim Pawlenty who is the majority leader of the Minnesota House. Jack Uldrich is in Governor Ventura's cabinet. He's deputy director of the Minnesota Planning Agency.

Tim, first to you. What do you think about your governor's moonlighting?

TIM PAWLENTY, MINNESOTA HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think that our governor is a media supernova, and I think when people elected him, they knew they were signing up for something unusual. The moonlighting, though, perhaps was a step over the line, and I think it's not a technical conflict of interest or anything like that, but it is bad judgment. I think when people elect a governor, they more or less expect him or her to be around full-time.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, what are you doing about it? Anything?

PAWLENTY: Well, there's a piece of legislation before the Minnesota legislature that's coming up on the House floor probably in the next few weeks that would prohibit a governor from having this type of outside employment. We're making it prospective, so it wouldn't directly and immediately affect Governor Venture, but think as a general proposition, if you're going to be governor, it's probably a full-time job, and we think you should full-time time and energy to it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tim, I'm going to have to go with the governor on this on, I got to tell you, because if the voters in Minnesota don't like it, let the voters toss him out, but I don't think this one is for the legislature. Aren't you stepping on the toes of the voters?

PAWLENTY: Well, you know, it's a fair argument, I think, when people could say, if you don't like it, vote him out. We do have restrictions in Minnesota about who can serve, and the age, and requirements, and conflicts of interest, and the rest, so I don't think it's much of a stretch to say, you know, we want to regulate to some degree outside employment and outside interest, but you know, it's a fair point that you make. And for this governor, he's probably so unique that we're not going to have this issue again, at least not any time soon, so maybe you don't need to legislate everything that could be common sense, but there's enough people here who are concerned about it. As Pat said earlier, there's at least a half of Minnesotans in a recent poll that said they are concerned about, so it's a fair issue, it's a legitimate issue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, what about it? Moonlighting for the governor? Should it be allowed or not?

JACK ULDRICH, MINNESOTA PLANNING AGENCY: No, it shouldn't be allowed. I mean, I think, Greta, you had an excellent point that this is going to be settled in the court of public opinion. The Minnesotans knew when they elected Jesse Ventura that they were electing an unconventional politician.

The fact of the matter is, he is doing his job, he's doing an excellent job, and this no way inhibits his job as governor. And I think -- I don't know what poll Tim and Pat are citing, but I have only seen one, and over 60 percent of the people approve of his job as an XFL commentator, and even more approve of his job that he's doing as governor.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, if he has too much -- if he has some spare time on his hands, though, aren't there some other things he can he do for the people of Minnesota?

ULDRICH: I tell you, he is working really hard. I mean, he has the most innovative tax reform plan anywhere in the country. He's introduced sweeping telecommunications reform, he's trying to push campaign finance reform.

But you know who killed it? The House Republicans. They didn't even give it a hearing. And this governor really is working hard. He's traveling the state -- and again, I -- this does not in any way impede his ability to do his job. In fact, if you want to look at it, I mean, this governor doesn't do any fund-raising, and yet almost all other elected officials spend inordinate amount of time raising money. And yet, no one seems to complain about this. This governor is doing it three hours a week, I don't think it's effecting his job at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tim, is there a little bit of sour grapes on the behalf of the Republicans about this governor? You know, if he's doing job, number one, and number two, he's really put Minnesota on the map. I think everybody in this country knows where Minnesota is as a result of this governor.

PAWLENTY: Yeah, you know, I think there's a fusion of entertainment and politics and news, and he's kind of feeding into that. Maybe it's the next evolution of that; it's been going on in American politician for a long time. He has certainly capitalized on that, and there are a lot of things we agree with him on, he's been a good governor in some respects.

But you know, the idea that it's sour grapes -- I don't think so. I don't think people knew that when he came to office that he was going to have this level of outside activities. I mean, this just isn't a hobby or an occasional thing, I mean, it's millions and millions of dollars, potentially. And the magnitude of it and the intensity of it I think is more than what people bargained for. And again, if this economy turns sour or continues to go sour, I think people's patience for the entertainment is going to wear thin.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, is there entertainment in this governor? Is he really a celebrity?

ULDRICH: He is a celebrity. And again, I mean, the people of Minnesota knew that when they elected him. I want to...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that only test, though? Is that the only test, what the people of Minnesota knew when they elected him?

ULDRICH: No, I don't think it is, but I want to address another point that Tim brought up. I really think that this is a political hatchet job. The fact of the matter is, if they were really serious about this issue, why don't they make the law apply to themselves? They really are singling out the governor, and the fact of the matter is, a bill hasn't even been introduced to this effect in the Senate. This issue isn't going anywhere in Minnesota, and the fact that we are talking about this instead of tax reform and telecommunications reform, campaign finance reform, is really a travesty.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask Tim: does it -- does the rule apply to members of House in Minnesota? Can you have a second job, a moonlighting job?

PAWLENTY: Yes, we can, and we do. Most of us -- we have a citizen legislature, and we do have outside employment. I think the difference is nobody has viewed the legislature in Minnesota as a full-time position. I think there has been an assumption, an informal assumption, that the governorship is a full-time job.

And again, I don't think it's a technical conflict of interest, I just think it's probably bad judgment on his part, and when people...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you are trying to legislate bad judgment, because it seems that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. I mean, Jack does make a good point. If the legislature has second jobs, and the governor is doing his job, how can you really object to him having another job? Plus, isn't it the voters who make the decision? Don't they employ him, and not you?

PAWLENTY: Again, I think that's a fair point, Greta, and we are going to have this bill up on the House floor. I think if you look at it, it's probably going to be a very close vote. It's not necessarily going to pass into law, but I think it's a fair debate, and it's an important issue to say should you have a governor of the state of this size making millions of dollars on the outside.

And again, not a conflict of interest, but is that the kind of dedication or focus that we want to have our governor bring to the position? I think many Minnesotans at least are concerned enough about it to raise the issue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jack, I'm not going to let you off the hook so much just because I happen to agree with you on this particular point. So, let me ask you this: what's your governor's short suit? What does he need to improve on?

ULDRICH: I mean, I think that he has to improve on -- and he really has done it this session -- is going out across the state, traveling, meeting with citizens, trying to really sell his tax plan, telecommunications plan...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me stop you right there. If that's where he needs to improve, maybe he should take some of his moonlighting time and start traveling across the state as you suggest?

ULDRICH: He is -- as I said -- he is traveling across the state. I don't think too many citizen really want to hear any elected official at 8:00 on a Saturday night. Again, I don't think that his job as an XFL commentator is at all impeding his ability.

PAWLENTY: Well, Greta, given the ratings of XFL, it may be a moot issue, and we can just maybe chalk it up to experience and move on. I'm not sure how much longer the XFL is going to be around.

VAN SUSTEREN: And that may be a very good point. We'll have to watch the ratings on that.

Jack, how much is Governor Ventura going to be around? I asked Pat -- is he going to run for re-election?

ULDRICH: You know, today, I would say he is. I mean, he has said that if he doesn't get his tax reform campaign, finance reform, some other political reform issues -- some of which Tim Pawlenty is supporting, I want to acknowledge that -- but if those don't pass, I think you will see him run again.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's been his biggest mistake, Jack?

ULDRICH: His biggest mistake? I mean, I would say that sometimes his skin really -- or his skin is a little too thin. You know, he jars with the media a little bit too much, he takes some things a little too personal. But overall, I think he's doing an excellent job and so do the people of Minnesota.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why is that a mistake, Jack, if he's winning that -- if he's winning at least -- the likelihood of re-election and he seems to be winning the PR war to some degree, why is it a mistake to have a fight with the media like that?

ULDRICH: Well, I -- I mean, I think it sorts of distracts from a lot of the serious public policy issues that he is pushing. I mean, it's much easier for reporters to report on this issue, to report on the media passes than it is really to sort of delve into the complicated policy matters, the telecommunications and tax reform.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tim, what's his strength?

PAWLENTY: His strength is he's an enormously entertaining individual. He knows how to work with and around and over the media. He's entertaining. He understands the modern media in terms of sound bites. And there's a gut sense that people have that he's telling you the truth, that he's speaking from his. You know, may not always agree with him, but he's not another one of these typical politicians.

And in a three-way race, in a three-party environment in Minnesota, if he does run for re-election again and the first one to 33 percent wins, he would be very formidable.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tim, do you think he's -- that he's honest in his views or do you think he's manipulative?

PAWLENTY: I think he's honest. You know, he is street smart. He is somebody who sometimes, you know, reacts to something on a gut level and has to refine it a little later. I don't think he's dishonest or disingenuous, and I think people like that. They have a lot of disagreements sometimes about his policies, but they think he's not a typical mealy-mouth politician. And he's kind of fun and entertaining, and I think they'll give him a lot of latitude as long as the economy stays good. But if this economy goes sour and you're getting laid off, pretty soon it isn't so funny.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, everyone's watching the economy for all the candidates and politicians across the country. But we have to end our discussion on this note.

My thanks to Tim Pawlenty and Jack Uldrich.

Next -- next, did he or didn't he? Only his image-makers know for sure. THE POINT returns after a break and our quick "MONEYLINE Update."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back. We want to bring you up to date on what's going on, on Capitol Hill. We had expected tonight a vote on the McCain-Feingold Senate campaign finance reform bill, and that vote now will take place a Monday, not this evening.

Well, have you received your invitation yet?

Tonight's "Final Point": Let's party. You may not have known him before his recent trial and acquittal, but you do now, famous rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs. To celebrate the verdict, he's crafting a new image, complete with a new name. Puffy is out. "P. Diddy" is in. And while his new image is supposed to be toned-down, Puffy -- we can still call him that until the 1st of June -- tells MTV that he may have a ceremony to commemorate his new name. And he says the invitation list would include -- ready for this -- former President Bill Clinton.

Combs calls Clinton a survivor and says he likes his style. My take: I like the concept. If P. Diddy doesn't work, maybe he could try this name: The Comeback Kid.

Let me know what you think. Send an e-mail to askgreta@cnn.com. That's one word, askgreta.

I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. Next on Larry King, Rock Hudson remembered. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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