Barkley to Jesse: Senate job is easier than being governor

Then-Gov. Jesse Ventura, left, listens as Dean Barkley talks to reporters at the Capitol in St. Paul in 2002.
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Then-Gov. Jesse Ventura, left, listens as Dean Barkley talks to reporters at the Capitol in St. Paul in 2002.

Will he or won’t he?  With the filing deadline Tuesday afternoon, we’ll soon know whether Jesse Ventura will enter the U.S. Senate race. He is supposed to announce his decision on a CNN interview with Larry King that airs at 8 tonight.

Dean Barkley, the man most responsible for creating the Independence Party in Minnesota and likely Ventura’s most trusted political adviser, keeps nudging his old friend to run. Last Thursday, for example, he faxed Ventura a copy of how many days the Senate is NOT actually in session.  NOT counting weekends, senators have roughly 70 to 75 days off a year.

“I sent him the schedule and told him, ‘This is how much a Senator has to work. It’s not as tough as being governor,”’ Barkley said.

MinnPost: What would it take for Ventura to defeat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and DFL challenger Al Franken?

Barkley:
He’d have to run.

MP: Could he finance a campaign on such short notice? (In the governor’s race of 1998, when Ventura got 37 percent of the vote to defeat Coleman and DFLer Skip Humphrey, Ventura had the benefit of public financing. There is no public money in Senate races.)

DB:
laughing: He won’t put his own money in the race. That’s a given.

MP: So where would the money come from?

DB:
He’s one of the few people who could simply put up a website and he’d have people from across the country contributing.

MP: But this race may become the most expensive Senate race ever run with Franken and Coleman each spending $16 million. Can Ventura find that sort of money?

DB:
  He doesn’t need to. He’ll get so much free press that they could each spend $60 million and it wouldn’t matter. I think one of the hardest things we’d have to do is find enough time to handle all the requests for interviews he’d have.

MP: So how much would Ventura need to raise?

DB:
“I’d say $1 million to $1.5 million. If we could give [Bill] Hillsman [who handled Ventura’s advertising campaign in 1998] a million bucks for the media campaign, that would do it.”

MP: Would he have the support of the Independence Party?

DB:
If  Mr. Williams [the IP’s endorsed candidate Stephen Williams] would decide to stay in the race, there’d have to be a primary. I went to the convention and urged them not to endorse, just in case Jesse would run. But they wanted to endorse.

MP: Would a primary be a problem?

DB:
You wouldn’t think there would be a problem, but you never know what dastardly deeds the DFLers and the Republicans might pull. If they don’t have opponents in their primaries, they might vote in our primary.

MP: Would there be an effort by his opponents to keep Ventura out of debates?

DB:
I don’t see how they can keep him out of the debates. He’s polling 25 percent. Can you imagine what would happen if they [Franken and Coleman] tried to keep him out of the debates? We’re still a major party. He’s polling great. I think what you’d see is them holding as few debates as possible because they know they can’t handle him. What are you going to do? Do you attack him? Who attacks him first? So many things to worry about.

MP: Many of the issues in the Senate race — such as the economy and health care — are very sophisticated. Does Ventura spend much time studying these issues?

DB:
He’s no idiot. He knows what he’s doing. He’ll be just like he always is. He’ll be brutally honest and he’ll tell people what he thinks. If he doesn’t know about something, he’ll say he doesn’t know. People overlook things they disagree with him about because they know he’s being honest with them. People yearn for the truth, at least the truth as Jesse sees it. They also know he’ll put smart people around him, just like he did when he’s governor. He’s not afraid to listen to people.

MP: Is he a little more clear on Iraq than the other candidates?

DB, again laughing:
I’d say so. He says if we could march our soldiers in, why can’t we turn around and march them out? Incredibly simple.

MP: Why can’t candidates from the two major parties be so honest in their opinions?

DB:
They always end up bringing in the consultants from Washington and they end up looking just alike. Fortunately, we don’t have any Washington consultants.

MP: Ventura seems to have a special dislike of Coleman. What’s that about?

DB:
It goes back to the State Fair [of 1998].  Coleman was condescending to him. They were at the fair and Coleman came up to him and said, ‘Oh Jesse, oh Jesse, you’re getting the big crowds here but you can’t win.’ Totally condescending.”

MP: Does his record as governor hurt him or help him?

DB:
Helps him. All he has to do is say, ‘Remember those Jesse checks?’ Remember how we lowered the cost of license?  Do you like the light rail line? [Ventura pushed hard for it.] He even tried to change the way we fund road and bridge construction. Had we done what he wanted, there would have been more money and, who knows, maybe the bridge wouldn’t have fallen down. But the Legislature voted down his plan.

MP: Does he bring baggage into this race?

DB:
This would be so much easier than the last time, it’s not even funny. He knows he’ll have to talk to the local press again. He understands that … I really think the biggest problem would be finding time for all the media requests.

MP: What about the, ummm, unusual hairstyles he’s opted for of late? Would those have to change?

DB:
He’s gotten rid of the facial hair … Actually, I sort of think he looks like Benjamin Franklin now.

MP: What do you envision if he gets into the race?

DB:
  I see him on a motorcycle in the [University of Minnesota] homecoming parade and the kids going wild. Kids love him because he’s not afraid to buck the system. And I have this idea for a t-shirt. On the front it says, “Two Parties’ Worst Enemy,” and there’s a picture of Jesse. On the back it says, “I’m back.”

Doug Grow, a former metro columnist for the Star Tribune, writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 07/14/2008 - 01:33 pm.

    Well here’s one LONG-time Democrat who is no longer a Democrat who will vote for Jesse in a heartbeat. Didn’t vote for him for Governor but certainly will vote for him for Senator. The Democrats had a perfect candidate for the Senate in Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, but they threw him aside. Enough!

  2. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 07/14/2008 - 11:44 am.

    This is exactly what we don’t need: someone who wants to be our U.S. senator and DO LESS.

  3. Submitted by ALAN PERLMAN on 07/14/2008 - 06:16 pm.

    Jesse was the greatest embarrassment in Minnesota political History, bar NONE! When he did happen to say something with common sense and thought behind it or introduced a plan that made sense, he was only carrying out the script as produced by Barkley and/or Tim Penny, his very significant handlers while Governor. Vintage, negative Ventura, such as we will hear tonight, and heard throughout the second half of his term as Governor, were the only true thoughts and pronouncements that came strictly from the idiot. Fooled us once . . . shame on him. Fool us twice?? Not if he was the only one running!

  4. Submitted by Patrick Guernsey on 07/14/2008 - 11:13 pm.

    Well, today Jessie proved with out a doubt that professional wrestling is FAKE!

  5. Submitted by Ed Day on 07/14/2008 - 07:14 pm.

    Barkley’s right: If Jesse’s in it, he’ll win it.

    Eric, you forget that in addition to a share of the anti-war vote, Jesse will also get a share of the “I hate taxes cuz government sucks” vote from Coleman. Combined with defectors like Gregory and 100 percent of the folks who wouldn’t vote if Ventura weren’t in the race, and The Body cruises to an easy 40 percent victory.

    Jesse’s a walking soundbite, a tough talker with a tough-guy persona who’ll successfully deflect all criticism by whining about being victimized by the bullying RepubliCrats. No one else could get away with this. He’s the perfect candidate.

  6. Submitted by Joanne Engelking on 07/14/2008 - 07:55 pm.

    Jesse Ventura running for the Senate is the best way to split the Democratic vote and assure a win for Norm Coleman.

  7. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/14/2008 - 05:04 pm.

    Doug, you missed one question: is Ventura concerned that he would be splitting the anti-war vote and guaranteeing a Coleman win? As a follow-up, does Barkley know which champagne the Coleman campaign will be popping the corks on to celebrate Ventura getting into the race?

  8. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/14/2008 - 05:05 pm.

    Gregory, it’s a shame you can’t be as gracious as your candidate.

  9. Submitted by Joe Gardner on 07/25/2008 - 07:37 am.

    I know that Jesse isn’t running. This comment is after this article was posted. You say Jesse was an embarrassment? Let me tell you this. I lived in Ireland. I was asked where in the US I am from. Told them Minnesota. They immidiatly said, Jesse’s State! They loved him there. Why? Because he put his foot in his mouth and made people talk. I believe he knew, at times, that he was doing this. He was colorful. Good. Better than the bland we have running today. I don’t care what they say, too much. Just get a real debate going. Dean. I am glad you are running. Be colorful. Be the one that brings up points that the other 2 parties don’t bring up. When they start flinging mud bring that point up. Tell people that these 2 children can’t play well together and that is why nothing good is getting done. They will get to gether about steroid use in sports but won’t talk about things that need to get done.
    Do what ever it takes to get people to talk and believe that you can do a better job. Tell people that if they vote for you it is not a wasted vote.

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