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Pure Jesse

After talking with his hunting and fishing buddies, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura thinks the state would not be out of line if it raised hunting and fishing license fees as much as $5. "It doesn't bother us a bit if that goes up, as long as it is ...

After talking with his hunting and fishing buddies, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura thinks the state would not be out of line if it raised hunting and fishing license fees as much as $5. "It doesn't bother us a bit if that goes up, as long as it is used for hunting and fishing," Ventura said on behalf of his buddies. Speaking at the State Capitol with a group of editors from the Up North Newspaper Network Wednesday, Ventura said that when his buddies buy a round of drinks, they spend more than $5 and think nothing of it. "Right now hunting and fishing are a bargain," he said.
Using another analogy, the governor asked, "What does it cost to take your family to a movie these days?" By the time a family buys popcorn and soft drinks, he said, the cost of a few hours at the theater is more expensive than a year's worth of hunting or fishing. "If (legislators) only raise the fees a buck, I think they are shorting themselves," he said.
Dressed nattily in a brown suit and necktie, the governor was assisted in his discussion by his Press Secretary John Wodele and his Director of Policy Management Wendy Wustenberg. The governor always answered the editors' questions first, but occasionally his aides would amplify his remarks. For example, when the governor was asked about Sen. Doug Johnson's bill to give financial aid to northern Minnesota businesses hurt by a lack of snow in recent winters, the governor ducked by saying he would have to look at the bill. Wustenberg joined in, however, calling the snow bill "another Band-Aid." Wustenberg said, "What we need to do for rural communities is infrastructure."
Ventura then picked up on that theme, saying that the key to maintaining rural Minnesota's viability as a place to live were roads, wastewater treatment and most importantly telecommunications. "The Twin Cities are fine (in that regard)," he said. "We're up to snuff. We can compete globally. Rural Minnesota cannot."
In turn, that led the governor to comment on his troubled appointment of Steve Minn to be Commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development. Minn's appointment has been voted down in a Senate committee. The governor claimed that his administration has made more progress in the last year on developing a telecommunications plan than the Legislature has made in five years. "Steve Minn has been an integral part of that," he said, adding that if Minn's appointment fails to pass the Senate, "The great losers will be rural Minnesota."
The governor said that he may not be able to find someone as qualified as Minn if his nominee is not confirmed by the Senate.
During the free-wheeling discussion, the governor touched on a number of subjects. Among them:
The state bonding bill
The governor said his recommendation to hold state bonding this year to $400 million is based on a long-term vision. Coming in the wake of $1.4 billion of bonding requests from state and local governments, there has been considerable grousing about the governor's proposal. The proposal includes nothing for Duluth or for any of the Greater Minnesota campuses of the University of Minnesota. However, the governor defends his position by looking at the last 10 years and pointing out how much has been spent in all parts of the state over the decade.
Ventura noted twice that the state is $2.4 billion in debt because of past bonding, and thinks the state's AAA bond rating could be hurt if the debt keeps going up. He told his staff he wanted to see what could be accomplished with a $400 million cap, and said he wanted only those projects that would have a statewide impact. "We're going to be prudent, and we're going to be lean and mean," he said.
He also expects that he will have to be flexible to get a bonding bill approved in the Legislature. "If I came in at $600 million, (legislators) would take that as a sign they could come in at $800 million," he said.
Making his pitch for his project, a unicameral legislature, Ventura noted that last year, the conference committee came out with a higher emergency bonding bill than either the House or Senate alone.
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The BWCAM
The governor said that the state will provide funds to prevent or fight fires in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness where a large section of forest was blown down during a storm last July 4. "You've got kindling sitting up there, waiting to go up. We know that," said Ventura.
The Reform Party
In the wake of resigning from the Reform Party last week, the governor said he was waiting for the state Reform Party to make a decision on whether or not it was going to disaffiliate from the national party as well. If it does, Ventura said, he would work with the state party to form a bonafide third party movement. If not, he will become an independent. The governor said he is not interested in forming a national third party.
Unicameral
The governor said Minnesotans were congratulating themselves for leading the nation in voter turnout last year, with 60 percent of eligible voters participating. However, the governor called 60 percent "pathetic," noting that the state needs to do better. He thinks one way to improve interest in the election is to put unicameral on the ballot.
Ventura's unicameral initiative is believed to have enough support for passage in the House of Representatives, but is thought to be six to eight votes short of passage in the Senate. The governor said he had no specific strategy for gaining the extra votes, but said that he has almost unanimous support everywhere he goes for allowing Minnesotans to vote on a constitutional amendment in November. As for putting it on the ballot, the governor said, "Ultimately it comes down to (legislators) looking in the mirror. They're all up for re-election this fall, and I'm not."
Light rail transit
The governor admitted that his light-rail transit proposal to build a line from downtown Minneapolis to the Twin Cities airport and to the Mall of America is a dead issue. "I'm on to commuter rail, St. Cloud down to here," he said.
A year in office
Asked what he has learned after his first year in office, the governor quickly replied, "I'm a whole lot smarter. You couldn't get the education I've gotten here at Harvard or Yale." He said the year has made his belief in the unicameral system even stronger than it was initially. "It's user friendly," he said. "The current system is insider friendly."
The second issue he would like to see eliminated is the two-year election system for the Legislature. "Everybody needs to get re-elected so they put on these Band-Aid approaches," he said. "As governor I need to take a look at 15 to 20 years from now."

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