What a long, strange trip it's been
By Ashley H. Grant
ST. PAUL -- For Jesse Ventura, public service was never enough.
He craved the spotlight, fans and money.
All three fell generously upon him during his four years as Minnesota's governor, fetching him both fame and infamy as he raced from book tour to movie cameo to sports commentating.
Ventura doggedly defended his moneymaking ventures, snarling that he didn't give up his rights as a citizen when he was elected.
Many people disagreed, and several tried to keep him from moonlighting -- or at least to report his earnings. But ultimately, Ventura did whatever he wanted and likely earned himself millions.
Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, who had a hand in most state policy initiatives during Ventura's four-year term, paused when asked about Ventura's legacy.
"It will be some of those other, more highly covered by the media events that will stick in people's minds," she said. "And I think that's a darned shame."
But while Ventura complained loudly about public scrutiny, he also courted it through many of his ventures.
He released a tell-all autobiography soon after taking office. In it, he bragged about losing his virginity as part of a teenage bet and admitted he used marijuana and steroids.
He detailed a visit to a Nevada brothel during his days as a Navy SEAL, telling of a prostitute who offered her services plus $10 for a belt he was wearing made of machine-gun shell casings.
"I'm probably one of the only people in the world who's gone into a Nevada ranch and been paid," he wrote. "I used that $10 to go to another one."
After the book furor died down, Ventura stirred things up again with a Playboy interview in which he called organized religion a "sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."
In the same interview, he suggested that lives could have been saved in the Columbine school massacre if someone at the school had had a concealed weapon, joked that if reincarnated he wanted to return as a size-38DD bra, and said some drugs should be decriminalized.
"Every public leader has a right to a private life," said Marcia Avner, director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. "But some of the things he did had enough public play that they created an image of him that distracted from the role of leader."
Perhaps the biggest distraction was Ventura's short-lived career as a color commentator for the XFL, an upstart football league that promoted scantily clad cheerleaders as much as the game itself.
The now-defunct XFL paid Ventura $320,000 in expenses during his 13 weeks as a commentator for charter flights, limousine rides, meals and lodging.
State law, however, didn't require the governor to report outside income, and he didn't -- not for the XFL job or any other. Experts say he likely earned millions during his time in office, but the only income that's public information is the $120,000 he made annually for serving as governor.