Ready To Rumble

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Jesse Ventura wakes up on another below-zero morning in St. Paul, Minn., and looks around the room.

Yep. He's still in the nine-bedroom, seven-fireplace Tudor mansion. He must still be the Governor.

What a week!

The man who used to drop people on their head for a living, and is now doing the same to the two-party system, puts on a pair of lime green Lycra shorts, a white T shirt and some New Balance sneakers. He still doesn't know what's behind every door of the sprawling three-story Governor's manse with the four-room kitchen, but he knows the gym is somewhere upstairs.

His wife Terry, who was much more comfortable on their horse farm, is on a treadmill when Jesse gets there. She tells him how to kick-start the other one, whose dashboard rivals the space shuttle's.

While working up a 20-minute sweat, Jesse ("the Body") trashes the press, talks budget strategy, shares foreign-policy views and taunts a former pro-wrestling nemesis named Jerry ("the King") Lawler.

"I hope we're not over [teenage son] Ty's room," the First Lady of Minnesota says as the floor quakes under her 6-ft. 4-in., 260-lb. husband.

"It's all right," the sweaty Governor responds in a voice as muscular as his 18-in. biceps. "He's woke us up enough times."

Nearly 2 1/4 centuries into the American experiment, it's not always clear which way the Republic is headed. But in a year that began with career politicians wrestling in Washington and a career wrestler politicking in Minnesota, we may finally have found True North.

On Monday the Reform Party Governor and former wrestling bad boy in a feather boa asked Minnesotans to continue setting a national example for civic participation (roughly 60% of registered voters cast their ballots in November, in contrast to 36% nationally) and ended his inaugural speech with the Navy SEAL rally cry "Hoo-yah!"

On Tuesday he met face-to-face with the house speaker, a Republican, to partner a proposed $1 billion tax rebate.

On Wednesday he appointed three department heads--one Democrat, one Republican, one Reform Party member.

Ventura, who pulled off a stunning upset in November by tapping into public disgust over militant partisanship, is all over the place. He's a third-party Governor who has Republicans running one chamber and Democrats the other, so nobody knows how it will all work.

And so far nobody cares.

Shaved heads have become a fashion trend. Nearly 14,000 seats for the Jan. 16 inaugural party at the sports arena were gone in little more than a day. Jesse action figures are on order. Business has picked up at Navy recruiting centers. Thirteen hundred business leaders gave Ventura a standing ovation. A college crowd yelled for a band to get off the stage so the Governor could come out. The World Wrestling Federation rushed out a commemorative video titled The Mouth, the Myth, the Legend. And a capitol lobbyist said Ventura doesn't have the foggiest notion how government works.

It was all so fat and wonderful you almost wanted to move to the Minnesota tundra and forget questions about whether Jesse can govern or whether tripartisan politics will be a fetid swamp. You also wanted to forget that Jesse kept speaking in bromides and stuck to a schedule of at least one head-smackingly dumb remark daily, reminding everyone that hoo-yah! is awfully close to yahoo.

His own advisory committee wondered whether to muzzle him after Ventura mused that his wife ought to collect a state paycheck for running the mansion and planning soirees. But Jesse's appeal to voters was that he comes unwrapped, so the advisers left him to his ways.

Columnists will be ever grateful. During a one-hour call-in show on radio, Ventura, who's been a small-town mayor and a Twin Cities shock jock, said he liked tackling issues with a philosophy he calls KISS. It stands for "Keep it simple and stupid."

In a visit to the University of Minnesota, Jesse talked about honesty and integrity to thousands of raving students and then abruptly shifted gears: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." It was Jesse's wrestling slogan, and it might work in poker and horse racing, but you hoped someone was around to begin heart massage on the university regents.

"I think the very fact that Jesse won because of his celebrity is most distressing," says Steve Schier, a political-science professor at Carleton College. "There was this generational appeal for a wrestler by young voters who never cast a ballot before. It was not clear if they cared whether he could do the job."

There are no great mysteries here, professor. Here is exactly what voters care about:

Nothing going on in American politics connects with them in any way. They turn on the television and can't tell if they're watching a Hair Club commercial or another impeachment hearing. They listen to the crafted drone of national and state party blather, and their eyes roll back.

Then comes Jesse.

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