A wrestler turned politician "shocks the world"
Details of his life story were repeated early and often during and throughout his gubernatorial campaign. Born into a working-class family in Minneapolis, James George Janos served six years in the U.S. Navy before embarking on a career as a professional wrestler. Going by the name of Jesse "The Body" Ventura, he was one of the American Wrestling Association's "bad boys," a flamboyant, bullying sort who often spouted the motto, "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." After retiring from the ring in the mid-1980s, he worked as a wrestling commentator and appeared in a few movies. He ran successfully for mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in 1990, and served until 1995. After that first stint in politics, he had a radio call-in show on KFAN, a Twin Cities sports radio station.
In 1998, the former wrestler, talk-show host, and Navy Seal was elected to be Minnesota's thirty-eighth governor. Running as a Reform Party candidate, Ventura claimed 37 percent of the vote, besting St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman's 34 percent and Minnesota attorney general Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III's 28 percent. The pugnacious, earthy persona he crafted in his earlier careers served him well throughout the campaign, as he denounced politics as usual and managed to present his self-described lack of knowledge of key issues as a virtue. He was the voice of the people, a candidate for those who were tired of bipartisan gridlock and ready for a fresh start. When he rode into his postelection party on a Harley, pink feather boa streaming, Minnesotans knew that, for better or worse, change was in the works.
In the end, it was Ventura's talent for grabbing headlines, rather than his strong leadership while in the governor's office, that resulted in lasting change. He was a player on the national stage, and because of him folks across the country saw Minnesota in a new light. If we--the mild-mannered, cautious citizens of flyover land--were capable of voting a mouthy, independent candidate into office, what might we do next?
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