Much has been made of the fact that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are basing their campaigns on an appeal to the anti-establishment mood of some voters. Occasionally that inspires people to think about an election in my home state of Minnesota when an anti-establishment candidate won the race for Governor. Of course, I’m referring to Jesse Ventura.
As someone who lived through that debacle, there are a couple of things I’d like to say about it. First of all, Ventura ran as a Reform Party (i.e., Ross Perot) candidate and was able to win a plurality (not a majority) of the vote in a three-way race. Unless either Trump or Sanders choses that option, the comparison ends there.
Some Sanders supporters are also pointing out that Ventura won that three-way race based on the fact that young people turned out in droves to vote for him. While I would suggest that the last thing Bernie Sanders should want to embrace is a comparison to Jesse “The Body” Ventura, it is also important to keep in mind that the surge in the youth vote came at the last minute and was made possible by the fact that Minnesota allows same-day voter registration. I knew some of the young people who took advantage of that. It was not a well-thought out decision. In a time of peace and prosperity (1998), they did it on a lark – with not much to lose.
Overall, the governorship of Ventura was not the disaster many of us worried that it would be. He didn’t really do much – but then, there were no real crises or challenges to deal with at the time. As a member of a third party, Ventura got almost no cooperation from the parties in the state legislature – with one exception. At the time, Minnesota had a substantial budget surplus and Republicans were more than happy to join Ventura on tax refunds that began the process of wiping it out (furthered, of course, under Governor Pawlenty). That was all fun and games until the Great Recession hit in 2008 and made mincemeat of the state budget – with no reserves to draw on.
After four years Ventura got bored and moved on. While he recently claimed that he would run if Sanders fails to get the Democratic nomination, he shares much more in common with Donald Trump when it comes to personality and a craving for the spotlight.
Far be it from me to tell anyone else what do to, but I find it odd that people who say that they’re looking for authenticity in politics would chose a candidate from the scripted Orwellian-named “reality TV” shows or a professional wrestler with the motto, “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!”