Q: You’ve been criticized as not having done very much as governor. What were some of your lasting accomplishments?
VENTURA: I revamped the entire property tax system of Minnesota, to where the state picked up 100% per pupil for education. My other huge accomplishment was putting in the first light rail line. I look like a genius now. It passed when I was in, though it wasn’t finished until I got out of office. But you want to know how I’m treated there now? We would not have light rail if it wasn’t for me. That was my baby. The day that they dedicated it, the very people who opposed me were the ones dedicating it. They sent me a form letter the month before to come to the dedication, with one ticket. Not even one for the First Lady. So when they asked me the day before if I was going to attend, I said, ‘No, I have other things to do.’ I wasn’t going to let them embarrass me or treat me like shit.
Then the next thing they did to me: President Fox came up from Mexico. I invited him to MN. We made a consulate trade thing in Minnesota because the Mexican population is the fastest growing in the state. When Fox came, while I was out of office, the day before again they called and told me I could come and sit in the crowd. I said ‘No thank you, I’m busy, I won’t be there.’
Right now I will not attend anything sponsored by the Minnesota government in any way, shape or form. I’m busy. I don’t go to the state speeches, which governors traditionally go to; I was offered to be co-chair of the 150th anniversary of Minnesota’s becoming a state, I turned it down.
Q: Knowing what you know now, would you work differently as governor?
VENTURA: No. I would have been even more hard lined. I had a split house—the Republicans controlling the House, the Democrats the Senate. Up until the last year, whichever one I sided with prevailed. The last year they got in bed with each other and no matter what I did, they were going to oppose me because it was an election year.
VENTURA: Yeah. And the media didn’t report accurately what went on. Here’s what happened: when they disregarded my last budget and submitted their own, which I vetoed twice and they overrode my veto, they cut my office budget 11%. The other offices were all run by the Democrats or Republicans, those cuts were 1%. Why wasn’t the media reporting that?
My job was to do what was essential for the people’s business. The governor’s mansion was not essential. But the people were fond of an old building from the turn of the century that was nothing but a money pit.
Q: When did you decide not to run again?
VENTURA: Two or three weeks after 9/11. The reason was the state workers of Minnesota. When I got there I made a point of personally visiting every office; state workers told me they had worked there 25 years and had never seen the governor in their building. I thought I had a great rapport with them. But the Democrats own the unions, and when I offered them a pay raise and an expansion on benefits and they still went out on strike what bothered me was they did it ten days after 9/11. The U.S. was at war then, we were under attack, how could these people be so selfish? I thought back to WWII and the sacrifices our country had to make. And here these people are so greedy they’re worried about a dollar an hour raise? The final straw was one week after 9/11 we had 50,000 people who came to the capital in a show of unity; we were a country united by this tragedy. We took the cards written by these people to bring to New York and pass them out, and the Minnesota unions attacked us in the media saying we were cowards to run off while they were on strike. I came back and told me wife, ‘I don’t want to be the boss any more.’
Q: When you went down to New York after 9/11, didn’t your wife stay there without any media attention?
VENTURA: Terry went to work at Ground Zero for ten days and no one knew it. She said, ‘You served your country, I never did. So I’m going there.’ We kept it from the media because we didn’t want the media to believe it was a stunt. She was working in the chow lines. The people she worked besides didn’t know she was the First Lady of Minnesota. The Salvation Army put them up at a hotel near the site.
Q: Once you decided against running for a second term, was it a relief?
VENTURA: Yup, because I stopped talking to the media. I didn’t bother any more.
Q: Why did the press turn on you as much as they did?
VENTURA: They turned on me immediately because they were embarrassed. They’re supposed to be the experts. Not one person in the Minnesota media predicted that I would win. When I won the public began to look at the media because they didn’t see it coming.
Q: What about the way you behaved towards them?
VENTURA: I didn’t say a word about them until they started manipulating my quotes. It showed me that the press is in the back pocket of the two parties. When I wrote my first book the Minnesota press accused me of profiteering. Four months later John McCain comes in on a book tour and they heralded him. How come I was held to a different standard?
Q: You were in a class by yourself. You had action figures made of your character. You were a different animal.
VENTURA: But here’s the sad part. You can’t find any of their criticism over policy. All of it was personal.
Q: When did you make reporters wear jackal buttons before they could see you?
VENTURA: That was a few years later after it had deteriorated so badly. I decided to get these bastards. If they wanted to come to my press conference in my residence, they had to use my credentials: Media Jackals.