Q: When you were governor, didn’t you try to bring gambling to Minnesota?
VENTURA: In Minnesota we had a battle over new stadiums. Everyone wanted to go after all the Indian casinos. Well, I met with all the tribes, seven of them, and asked if they’d have any problem if the state opened up a sports book in all of America. They said it was a completely different gambling, wouldn’t affect them in the least, go ahead. So I got the blessing of the Native Americans. I went to the attorney-general and told him what I wanted to do. The Feds had passed a law saying that no other state besides Nevada could have sports book. I want to do it in Minnesota, they can shut us down, and we can challenge it in court for being unconstitutional. I couldn’t get any of the boneheads to do shit. They had to oppose me because no matter how many good ideas I had, if I became too successful there could be more of me. They had to work against me and let the people suffer. And that’s what I truly saw…what these parties are about. They don’t care about the public, it’s all about their power and their position, the public be damned.
Q: Is that why we’re importing lead toys from China but not cigars from Cuba?
VENTURA: You mean, how come we’ll trade with China and yet we have an embargo with Cuba? It’s because when Castro came in he threw out our corporations. China’s welcoming our corporations. Who runs the country? Corporate America. You know the definition of fascism: when corporate America teams with organized religion and takes control of the government. Think we’re in fascism right now? I do.
You’ve got corporate America teamed up with the evangelical Christians, they’re trying to make Christianity the official religion.
My wife made me clear about what’s happening now with people’s mortgages. That’s exactly what they did with the family farm a decade ago. They put out all these weird loans to the poor farmers, the farmers got caught with them and couldn’t make the payments and they foreclosed and corporate farming came in and bought all the land. Family farms are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Q: You would drop the embargo against Cuba if you had the power. One of your heroes, Che Guevera, is still featured prominently on walls and posters over there. You have a Che Guevera mirror in your house. Does he give you strength?
VENTURA: I also have a big flag of him outside on my patio in Mexico. I read his biography and at times it made me self conscious and uncomfortable, because I thought I was reading about myself. How he was, what he believed in. Che had wanderlust. He couldn’t stay in one place too long.
Q: Neither, apparently, can Muhammad Ali, who you once visited and he levitated in front of you. True story?
VENTURA: I swear to God, we all saw him do it in the middle of a linoleum floor. He had nothing around him. One of his people asked him, ‘Do you feel strong enough to levitate?’ He shuttled to the middle of the floor and when I looked, both feet were off the floor. There were five state troopers with me and Harvey McKay. And when we left we all looked at one another outside and asked, ‘Did you see what I saw?’ If it was a trick, he did it exceptionally well. If it’s not, then he really is The Greatest. I want to go to my grave believing Muhammad is The Greatest.
Q: Of all the people you’ve met, who was most impressive? Castro, Clinton, Bush…
VENTURA: Muhammad. None of the others levitated.
Q: Ali went to jail rather than be drafted in the army during the Vietnam War. You’re a proponent of the draft, aren’t you?
VENTURA: If I became president I would try to pass a law that said the minute we vote to go to war, the draft is automatically implemented. And I would put one other caveat in there: everyone who votes to go to war must pre-designate a family member who will begin immediate military service. If you vote to go to war you need to feel a little of the pain and discomfort of it. The problem today is we have all these politicians who don’t have a dog in the fight. Bill Walton said to me the way to end the war is to bring back the draft. Because nobody’s feeling any pain. The soldiers today are poor guys who looked at joining as a way to get to college or get a better job.
Q: If there was a draft now, would you encourage your children to go to Iraq if drafted?
VENTURA: No, I’d help them go to Canada.
Q: Lots of fast food places in Canada. You saw the film Super Size Me and it changed your eating habits, didn’t it?
VENTURA: That proves one person can have an impact on society. I have not eaten in a fast food place since. I felt guilty that I actually took my children there. We have labels on packs of cigarettes that warn us that if you use this product you can die of cancer. There should be a warning at McDonald’s and other fast food places that you cannot survive on this food alone, that you need to supplement your nutrition.
VENTURA: It helped restore my dream in America. I came out of office a bit cynical and I got to work with the best and the brightest young people at Harvard. I only went to high school and here I was a professor at Harvard. Only in America. I still carry my I.D. It says ‘Harvard Officer.’ That means faculty. I can get in anywhere: library, sporting events.
Q: You taught “Wrestling, Then Politics.” How do the two compare?
VENTURA: I did a class on Third Party Politics, and that happened to be one week. It was how wrestling prepares you for politics. Think on your feet, follow Murphy’s Law that anything than can go wrong , will go wrong; being comfortable in front of a microphone, being able to talk—in wrestling the money is made at the mike, pissing everybody off so they’ll pay their money to see you; and in the world of wrestling, the wrestler may not be who you think he is, and that pertains to politicians too. What both portray in public may be vastly different than what they’re like in private. Both play roles.
Q: You say that wrestling is staged, not fake. What’s the difference?
VENTURA: Fake is something that isn’t real. If I were to pick you up and body slam you, you’d say that’s real. At halftime at basketball games they’ll bring out a trampoline and a guy will do flips off them, and he’s called a trampoline artist. I used to do the same flips, only I landed on the cement floor outside the ring: and I’m called a fake? In wrestling, you must be well trained, because if you screw up you could kill your opponent. If Montro Man jumps off the top rope with that elbow, if he’s off by two inches, you’re dead. Wrestling is ballet with violence.
Q: Did you have any wrestler friends?
VENTURA: Only two: Superstar Billy Graham and Steve Strong, who painted my portrait at the Capitol.
Q: Is Al Franken a friend of yours? He’s running for the Senate in Minnesota—will you endorse him?
VENTURA: No, he dissed me in his book. He nailed the shit out of me and I had a showdown with him on an airplane we were both on. I was a civilian and I got in his face. I said, ‘I didn’t appreciate the bullshit you wrote about me.’ He said, ‘What was it?’ Which told me either he didn’t write the book or he’s a chickenshit. I walked out of the [Senator] Wellstone funeral because I was offended that they turned it into a political rally and he wrote that nothing should offend me because I went to a brothel when I was 19 and getting ready to go to Vietnam. I wasn’t married. A friend and I went to one of those Nevada places. I was from Minnesota, I didn’t believe they existed. To be frank, I didn’t know if I’d be alive….I wanted to get laid. He said because of that I had no right to be offended over anything. You mean I didn’t have the right to be offended over a funeral being turned into a political rally? Pleading with us Independents to vote Democrat? It was sickening.
Q: How do you feel about him as a candidate?
VENTURA: He’s a carpetbagger. He hasn’t lived in Minnesota for thirty years. He just moved in for his own political gain. I challenge him right now to show his Minnesota state driver’s license, and if he has one, at what point did he get it? I’d also challenge him if he were to lose this race, would he continue to live in Minnesota?
Q: Who would you like to see as Senator?
Q: But you’re not running.
VENTURA: I still can. Filing date’s July. I’m considering jumping into the senate race. That would scare the shit out of ‘em. Because I’ve already beaten [Republican candidate Norm] Coleman. And Franken knows in his heart that I can whip his ass too. He has no experience.
VENTURA: I don’t know. Four years is a long way. But talk to me in two, because that’s when I would have to start moving on it.