From the November, 1998 edition of High Times comes Dan Skye’s one-on-one with Jesse Ventura, who celebrates his 69th birthday on July 15.
High Times: How did you make the transition from wrestling to politics?
Jesse Ventura: I lived in Brooklyn Park, MN. I sent my kids to public school and paid taxes. We had a little wetland in the neighborhood and we lived in an old part of Brooklyn Park where we all had ditches. Houses had been there for fifty, sixty years and the city wanted to come in and give us curb and gutter, storm drainage—all that stuff—but we as a neighborhood felt that money could be spent in a better way. Why spend money if no one’s complaining and no one has a problem? Yet they were going to do it and reassess all of our properties. Well, when you build a storm sewer, the water has to go somewhere. There was a little wetland that bordered on a neighborhood park, about a block from the Riverview grade school. They were going to pump the storm water into there where there was real wildlife.
Four hundred and fifty of us decided it was inappropriate. We didn’t feel we needed this, and the wetland would have been ruined. All of us signed a petition saying that it was unacceptable but we were voted down by the mayor and the city council, 7-0.
Now I might have accepted 5-2, I might have accepted 4-3, but 7-0 is slam-dunk. I got a little upset over that. I started getting more involved in local Brooklyn Park politics. Then, when I was involved with another unrelated issue, the 20-year incumbent mayor angered me, and just off the cuff, I said, “You’re going to make me run, aren’t you?” The council laughed and said, “You could never win.”
Well, I ran and I won all 21 precincts. I beat the mayor 65% to 35%, and he even had the backing of both the Democrats and the Republicans in a nonpartisan election. I served four years as mayor, from 1991 to 1995.
How would you describe yourself politically?
Fiscally conservative and socially moderate to liberal. That kind of keeps me from both parties. You can’t be fiscally conservative and be a Democrat, because they’re tax-and-spend, and you can’t be socially liberal and be a Republican. I always use the cliché: “I don’t want Democrats in the boardroom, and I don’t want Republicans in the bedroom.”
You have two parties now, in my opinion, at extremes: an extreme left and an extreme right. And most of us—about 70% of us—sit in the middle. I think we’re without a party and that’s why I’m a member of the Reform Party.
The polls say your name recognition is second only to Hubert Humphrey Jr., one of your opponents.
Yeah? I would even question that. They’re probably only asking registered voters. Right now, I’m polling anywhere from 15-24%. My key to winning this election is to bring out 20% of those people that have quit voting and to have them come back and vote for me. If that happens, I’ll win.
Before I ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park, a city of over 50,000, only 2,500 voted. The incumbent mayor won with 1,411 and beat an opponent with 1,100. When I ran against the incumbent mayor, 20,000 voted. I’m very proud of that, because I believe people should vote. In this campaign, if there’s a large voter turnout, I’ll win.
What issue is most important in your candidacy?
Taxes. In the polls, taxes and education are nearly equal in importance for voters. I know taxes from being mayor. But as mayor, you have a school board, a whole other element of government. I didn’t deal with educational issues. So to counter any criticism of my qualifications, I’m running with the most qualified Lieutenant Governor around, Mae Schunk. She’s a 36-year educator, 22 years in the St. Paul public-school district. She’s an award-winning teacher, innovative, and has established many current, successful learning programs. I needed someone to fill in the blank on education. I believe a governor should delegate power. When I win, education will be in her lap. She’s prepared and ready for it.
What angers you most about politics?
Career politicians and an unfair playing field totally slanted toward incumbents. I believe in term limits. After I served as mayor of Brooklyn Park, I felt the city was turned around. I did what I felt needed to be done. So it was time for me to move on and go back to the private sector, which is what people should do.
People must scoff at your candidacy because of your pro wrestling career.
I don’t see why people would even use that as a measuring stick. Ronald Reagan was a former actor. Fred Thompson, the US senator, is a former actor. Sonny Bono was a former actor. I’m an actor too. I’ve done films. I guess people think you’re not smart if you’re a pro wrestler. I would counter that and say, “Most of your pro wrestlers today are college graduates. How can you be stupid and make a million dollars a year?”
It’s like every other business. Why question a wrestler’s intelligence? They’re not stupid people.
What do you think about the state of wrestling today?
Well, Ted Turner got involved with his World Championship Wrestling organization and, in a way it’s more high-powered, but there aren’t as many jobs. In the early days of wrestling, you had 26 territories and they employed many more people. But those have gone by the wayside. Now you’re down to two major money-making operations. I don’t like it because there’s no opportunity today for anybody. I’m banned from both leagues and I’m the best announcer in wrestling.
Why is that?
Because I had a disagreement with Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation. He wouldn’t talk to me about it so he left me no recourse but to use the court system.
What was your disagreement about?
My voice and likeness were on 90 videotapes and I was told that nobody received videotape royalties. I accepted that as the truth. Later I found out it wasn’t true.
So, it’s an ego thing. I beat him, he’s the boss and he doesn’t have to hire me, and he won’t. As far as the WCW goes, well, Hulk Hogan’s the boss down there. He’s Jesse “The Body” now. He needed to get rid of me because he wanted to become me. And he has. So here I am, the best announcer in wrestling, who can’t get a job in the two major wrestling organizations because of politics, envy or whatever.
What do you think the appeal of wrestling is in America?
It’s adult soap opera—ballet with violence. It’s like going to an action film, only it’s live on stage. It’s like going to watch Rambo in the jungle, only it’s in a ring.
But ballet dancers aren’t screaming epithets at each other. Don’t wrestling audiences realize it’s all staged?
How do you know? You assume it is. You don’t know. How do you know that if I went back to WCW right now, I wouldn’t kick Hogan’s ass for what he did to me? You don’t know. That’s the intrigue. You don’t know. You think you know, but you don’t know. It’s the element of doubt that’s the draw.
When you wrestle, you spend every day of your life in pain. You become almost oblivious to it. You accept it as part of the business. I’ve had knee surgery. I’ve dislocated my clavicle. I’ve had my back blown out so bad my wife had to put my pants on for me, because I wasn’t capable.
It bothers me when people say, “Oh, it’s fake.” Well, how do you fake a body slam? Let me slam you once and you’ll see. It’s not fake. It happens. To me, fake is when you imagine something. Wrestling is real. You’re seeing it.
OK. You always wrestled as a bad guy. Did fans believe that Jesse “The Body” was truly bad at heart?
In the old days, I was wrestling for the Northwest heavyweight championship in Portland, Oregon. It was two out of three falls, and back then, you had to go back to the dressing room between falls because there was advertising to do. I won the first fall and lost the second. After the second fall, I went out and noticed that the rental cops changed and Portland police were taking me to the ring. In the dressing room I asked the promoter, “What’s going on? Why are Portland PD taking me to the ring and not your rental security?”
He said, “There’s been a death threat. They said if you win the title, they’re going to kill you.” He gave me the option. He told me we can stop it right now. But I said no. I’m taking my shot at the title. Besides, my view is the guy who calls isn’t going to do it. It’s the guy that doesn’t call.
In Eugene, Oregon one time, the cops were walking with me, and we were halfway to the dressing room when a fight broke out. The cops’ job was to get me to the dressing room, but I said, “Go. I’m OK.”
I was almost to the dressing room when this guy came around the corner of the stands and says, “Ventura, you son of a bitch, I’m going to stick this up your ass.”
He had about a 12-inch hunting knife and he was coming at me. I’m naked. I got tights on. Nothing. I figure I’ll give him an arm or something—you’re going to have to sacrifice—it ain’t like the movies. Well, fortunately, this other guy dropped out of the bleachers. He was a plainclothes cop who was there watching the matches with his kid. He looked down, saw it and dropped down behind this guy and cuffed him like that.
Was your career fun?
It was exciting. And for me, an ex-Navy Seal, it was fun. It gets your adrenaline going. That’s what it was like in the good old days of wrestling. It was exciting. Me and Adrian Adonis, the East/West connection—they got so mad at us in Sioux Falls, SD, the fans broke the dressing room door in half trying to get at us. The police were out there with night sticks beating them off. That’s how bad they wanted our asses.
You have an extremely popular radio talk show in Minneapolis. Why have you caught on here?
I’m myself. I’m Jesse “The Body.” And I wish they’d let me go further. I wish there was no FCC. They tell us the airwaves are free, yet we have a governing body that controls the airways who aren’t even elected. It’s like taxation without representation. They hold stations’ licenses in the palm of their hand and they’re not even elected. If you have free airwaves, why not give the people the freedom to turn the station if they don’t like what they hear.
Your severest critics call you a reactionary who incites the worst elements in people. How would you respond to that?
I’m here to entertain. And if entertainment means bringing out four different sides to a subject or six different sides, or even ten, so be it. I just try to bring out all sides to all issues and stimulate people to think about them. If this brings out the worst, wouldn’t it also bring out the best in people?
You’ve discussed hemp on the air. What’s the response?
Oh, I get calls where people will disagree with me. My attitude is, it’s here and it’s not going away. Let’s not talk about whether to make it legal or illegal, let’s talk about the monetary potential. Why aren’t we taxing it? Why aren’t we making money off it as a government? I say, tax the hell out of it. Then lower my taxes. I’m sure that people who smoke pot recreationally would prefer to pay high taxes on it rather than be considered criminals. The only way you can tax it, is to bring it above board. You can’t tax an illegal substance.
It seems to me that God put everything here for a reason. I don’t think the reason cannabis is here is so we can destroy it. I think it is utterly despicable that you have law enforcement and politicians telling us what people can or cannot use in the matter of pain, their own health. All the indicators that it helps people with chemotherapy and cancer, and AIDS, are there.
My mom, who’s gone now, lived through the prohibition of alcohol. And in her elderly years, she said to me one day, “You know, this prohibition of drugs is identical to the prohibition of alcohol. The only thing it’s doing is making gangsters rich.”
Unless you eliminate demand, you’re never going to eliminate supply in America.
Canada’s growing industrial hemp right now. What’s holding us up?
We’re not educated. The minds of average people are being filled with perversion from the DEA and from law enforcement that this plant is somehow the Antichrist or something. People don’t realize it’s a very multifaceted plant, that it should be used rather than eradicated. I can’t understand why every environmentalist wouldn’t get on board for it. I’ve suggested industrial hemp and legalizing it. I challenged the attorney general to lead the charge in decriminalizing this so that we can look at this as an alternative energy source, a clothing source, a paper source—everything it can possibly be used for. But they avoid it like the plague. I suppose it’s unpopular and politicians think they’ll never win another election.
But let’s go back to my first thing I talked about. If Jesse Ventura loses this election simply because he comes out and says we need to look at industrial hemp, so be it. At least I’m honest to myself and, you know what, it won’t destroy me. I’ll simply go back to the private sector and continue earning a living like I always have.
If you win the election, what would you like to accomplish in your four years?
I’d like to lower taxes. I find it despicable here in Minnesota that we now work until May 16th, our tax-freedom day. We work in Minnesota from January 1st to May 16th to pay the government.
I’d like to move that back to a more appropriate day. What day you think would be more appropriate? How about April 15th? I think that’s a very appropriate date. I don’t think the government should be able to tax you past the day they collect it from you.
Governors and these kind of people want to leave legacies and put their names on buildings. I want people to think back and say, “You know, when Jesse was governor, I don’t even remember the government being around.” That’s the legacy I’d like to leave.