In these days of passionate, often bitter political division, a good old fashioned, no disqualification cage match between two governors could well be just we need to bring unity the country. I’m not 100% sure if Tennessee’s Governor would be up to such a challenge, but in 1998, people in the state of Minnesota were probably pretty confident in their governor’s chances, thanks to the election of former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura.
I’ll admit, I know far more about 70’s and 80’s pro wrestling than I should. As a youngster growing up in a small Arkansas town of 5,000 people, the hobbies were limited. For example, when this location was announced for the 2011 NAGC Communications School, I immediately thought of the “Minnesota Wrecking Crew” tag team of yore. Now that you’ve lost all respect for me as a professional, I’ll move on, but I will say scripted entertainment isn’t as far away from our daily lives than you would think. Have you ever seen “The Bachelor?” Come to think of it, wouldn’t “The Bachelor” be much more entertaining if a jilted contestant performed a pile driver on her prospective beau? Think about it.
Today, the NAGC Communications School kicked off with John Wodele, who served as Jesse Ventura’s press secretary during his wild ride to the Minnesota Governor’s office. Ventura’s campaign was a textbook example of a successful “anti-political” political campaign, and prompted sales of merchandise featuring the slogan I used as the title of this post.
Highlights from Wodele’s presentation:
- He wasn’t originally part of Ventura’s campaign, but joined in the winter of 1998 after traveling around the country.
- A stranger at a roadside stand in Florida asked him about Jesse Ventura. He realized at that point that Ventura might be on to something.
- Strangely, later that day, a former Congressman called him and asked if he’d be interested in working for Jesse Ventura.
- Ventura caused a furor when he issued media passes with the title “official jackal” under the reporter’s name.
- “It was a grueling four years, but it was invigorating and fascinating.”
- He once found out at the last minute that Ventura had agreed to appear at a pro wrestling event.
- Despite all the quotes and controversies, Wodele said that Ventura put together some good policies on public health, transportation and others.
- The downside was that Ventura’s policies and message would often get muddied by Ventura’s controversial statements.
- He once sat in with Ventura in an interview with Playboy for all but 10 minutes. In that 10 minutes, Ventura made offensive quotes about religion, obesity, and suicide. Ventura would not back off or apologize because he truly believed what he had said.
- After that interview, he received 280 media calls in one day and Ventura's approval went from 78% to 30%.
- Wodele wrote a letter about Ventura for the public and media, describing the kind of person Ventura was and how his background contributed to these views.
- The two went on a tour of small towns, doing radio and print interviews about policy. That helped Ventura regain some good will.
- Following Sept. 11, 2001, a memorial service drew 35,000 people. Unfortunately, Wodele says that Ventura lost his focus on policy because he was consumed with 9/11.
- Ventura visited Cuba, but he and Fidel Castro didn’t like each other.
- “I’ve never met a man more honest than Jesse Ventura, but he was so honest that he was too revealing with his comments.”
- "To this day, I consider Jesse Ventura one of my very best friends."