I met him by the elevator at the Bonaventura Hotel. He was wearing his Navy Seal T-shirt and was limping. Ventura is a big, strong man, and the limp made him appear vulnerable. Before I said anything he said, “I had a hip replacement two months ago, that’s why I’m limping.”
We got back into the elevator to go to the 5th floor, then up the escalator to the 6th, and walked half way around to the Mandarin West Chinese restaurant. He ordered sweet and sour pork and pork fried rice with some eggrolls and we got right down to it for the next three hours. Later that night, he said, he was going out on the town with Harry Dean Stanton.
Talking—or rather listening—to Jesse Ventura is entertaining as hell. You want to play Devil’s advocate, to challenge him on everything he says, but then you begin to watch the clock—because there are so many topics to discuss.
After five years in the private sector, where he grew a beard, got a house down in Baja, and scuba dived with Robert Kennedy Jr., he’s lost none of his sense of outrage and anger over the world as he sees it. Presidents lie, governments lie, conspiracies exist…and he’s sure he’s right because he’s gone from the outside looking in to being on the inside looking out. He’s slept in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House as a guest of President Clinton. He’s had an hour alone with Fidel Castro, talking about who killed JFK. He left office unappreciated and saddened by the unpatriotic greed of his state’s workers who went on strike a few weeks after 9/11. And he’s come back, like some ancient prophet, to tell us all. To tell us all.
Q: You claim you were silenced for three years because of the contract you signed with MSNBC after you left the governorship. What happened?
JESSE VENTURA: I made huge money, enough so I don’t have to work again if I don’t want to. It bought my house in Mexico. I was not let on the air because I opposed the Iraq war before it was going to happen. I was going to speak out against it. They did the same thing to Phil Donahue. He was the only guy who opposed the war and they fired him. He had the highest rated show on MSNBC. Have you ever heard of a network pulling their highest rated show? Never.
Right after MSNBC hired me, Eric Schwartz took me to the Super Bowl in San Diego that year, and when we left in the limo he said to me, “Some peculiar thing happened after we hired you. I got a call from two people very high up in Washington demanding to know why we were giving you a national forum.” He wouldn’t tell me who those two people were. The Democrats and Republicans might be dumb but they’re not stupid. They saw what I did in Minnesota. I had a statewide radio show and I won the governorship with only having to raise $300,000. They knew if I got a national forum on a TV show it could very likely set me up for a presidential run, because I have the credentials to do it. And it was part of a master plan in case I wanted to do it.
Q: What about returning to radio?
VENTURA: They didn’t have control over that, but no one would hire me. I even went to the Sirius satellite people—they were all excited, they had just hired Howard Stern, they were going to come at me with a big contract, and all of a sudden they just disappeared.
Q: So you wind up being out of sight/out of mind for the last three years, and now a lot of magazine and newspaper editors don’t take you seriously. Do you feel you have to earn your way back into the media’s consciousness?
VENTURA: The book reinvented me for about the fourth time. I’ve been told my career’s been dead three or four times. Then I go out and reinvent myself.
Q: How come you found such a small publisher for this new book?
VENTURA: My first two books were N.Y. Times national bestsellers. When Dick Russell and I did this new book, I let him handle it. Simon and Schuster had the last book and the right of first option to this one. They turned it down, even though we didn’t ask them to put up one cent up front. 24 publishers turned us down. Isn’t that peculiar? Especially since with this book I didn’t ask for front money. My first two books I got a half million up front on both of them. We got desperate. We thought, what’s going on here? It isn’t like I didn’t have a track record. We finally found this brand new company, SkyHorse, out of New York. I didn’t care about the front money, I didn’t need it, I wanted the book out.
Q: You end your book with you and Robert Kennedy Jr. running together and you get shot. That’s a pretty sensitive subject, considering Kennedy’s father and uncle were both assassinated. Did Kennedy know about this?
VENTURA: The publisher was scared of that so we called Robert who gave us permission. We told him what we were doing. He and Dick Russell are close and Dick laid out what I was doing. He said, ‘We don’t want to offend you; it’s a subject that would clearly make you uncomfortable.’ Robert laughed it off and said, ‘Go for it.’
Q: Do you think you and RFK Jr. could ever really run for president and vice-president?
VENTURA: If he wanted to make the change and if he was truly for the country I don’t think he’d have a problem with me at the top of the ticket. I would need to be at the top because I’m Independent. We talked about it. I said, ‘Robert, you’ve got to quit the Democrats.’ I asked him: ‘Do you want to be president?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I told him if he stayed with the Democratic Party it’s meaningless. If he ran as an Independent it would have a huge impact. A Kennedy leaving the Democrats? If Robert would make the case that both parties are destroying the country and it was time to venture into new territory he’d have to run as an Independent.
Q: You actually had a plan to run as a stealth candidate in 2008, getting your support from the World Wrestling Federation. How serious were you?
VENTURA: I was dead serious. Vince McMahon told me at one time that if I ever went for the presidency he’d back me 100%. So I met with McMahon and said, ‘I can’t beat these guys conventionally. But I’ve got an angle: We say that the WWF doesn’t like any of the candidates, so they decided they’re going to produce their own and become their own party: the World Wrestling Entertainment Party. Naturally the world will think it’s going to be you. I come in at the eleventh hour and go, ‘Bullshit, McMahon represents corporate America, give the people another choice.’ We have two other wrestlers wrestle each other and the one representing me wins, and I get the nomination. At that point, at this year’s WrestleMania, I declare that this is a real candidacy and we’re off and running.’ Vince had the mechanism. He has people in every state that could quietly get ballot access of all fifty states. It would have freaking worked. Because the public would have thought it was just Jesse going back to wrestling. Well, it turned out McMahon deceived me and lied to me. When push came to shove, he either didn’t have the courage to do it, or for whatever reason he wouldn’t do it.
Q: And you called him to push this idea?
VENTURA: Yes, but he never called me back. He dissed me. Next year’s the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania. Get ready. Because no matter what he does, I won’t call him back. What goes around comes around.
Q: Seriously Jesse, did you really think you had a chance in this election year?
VENTURA: Did you see the poll on Larry King [in April, 2008]? He asked ‘Should Jesse Ventura be running for president?’ The end result was 85%. Over 15,000 people weighed in, where the normal polling is more like 800. That’s remarkable.
Q: So, you would want to be the next president?
VENTURA: No. I don’t want to be president in ’08, because the next president is going to spend four years cleaning up Bush’s mess. You’re not going to be able to do any new initiatives because you’re going to have to deal with Iraq and the economy.