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Jewish World Review June 11, 2001 / 21 Sivan, 5761

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Consumer Reports

Ventura faces government shutdown -- ST. PAUL, MINN. - Independent Gov. Jesse Ventura, facing a governmental shutdown over a budget dispute with the divided Minnesota legislature, sat behind his massive desk at the state Capitol the other day and in effect dared his adversaries to pull a Newt Gingrich.

The governor was referring to the 1995 federal shutdown, when then House Speaker Newt Gingrich defiantly let President Bill Clinton proceed with cutting government services rather than yield in their budget fight. Clinton successfully placed the blame on Gingrich and the Republican-controlled Congress, and Ventura clearly believes he can do the same to his recalcitrant legislature, especially the Democrats who control the state Senate.

As he spoke, the governor had just called a special session of the legislature for today for its leaders to find a way out or face the political consequences. "Only 10 percent of the people blame me," Ventura said, citing the latest television poll. "What does that tell you? If you go back a little bit, when Newt tried to cut the president, who got beat up? It wasn't the president."

Ventura went on: "The people know I got my budget in on time," referring to a state law setting a deadline for its submission to the legislature. It was the failure, he said, of the Democratic Senate and the GOP-controlled House to negotiate out sharp differences on tax relief, education reform and other proposals he backs that had led to the impasse.

"This is them not doing their job," Ventura insisted. "If they want to change government and give me power over the legislature, I'll be happy to support that. If they want to give me a hammer to where, if they can't get it done, we just do it my way or the highway, I'll go for that."

The legislative leaders, obviously, are not interested in yielding their power to any executive, but they don't want to be saddled, either, with the blame for a government shutdown. Ventura's chief budget opponent, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, says, however, that his side doesn't intend to be steamrollered into backing the property tax relief the governor wants without increases in education money the Democrats seek.

Moe's strategy is to adhere to Ventura's call of the legislature into special session but then immediately recess indefinitely to permit talks between the Senate Democrats and the House Republicans to go forward, thus leaving Ventura out of the negotiating loop.

Yet Moe understands that Ventura holds strong cards in the public-relations battle by virtue of his office-and his particularly high profile as a celebrity governor. Concerning the possible government shutdown, Moe says: "Nobody has the stomach for this. I think everybody will get the blame. Certainly he (Ventura) has a bigger pulpit than we do."

Moe notes that Ventura until last week had insisted he would not call a special session until a budget agreement had been reached, so that it would sail through with no disruption.

In calling the special session without an agreement, Moe says, Ventura apparently sought "to put pressure on us, but he has kind of cut himself out of the negotiations. He's obviously frustrated with our progress, but that doesn't change the dynamics any. Every other governor I've worked with made sure he had an agreement before he'd call one. I don't know why he's blinking now."

Ventura doesn't think he's blinking. With the same supreme confidence he has shown since his surprise election in 1998, he says the people of Minnesota are with him. And he warns of the devastation a shutdown would bring, including inability to guard the incarcerated and patrol the highways. Maybe, he says facetiously, "we will have the legislators play host to prisoners…rack them up and put them in the basement and give them three hots and a cot."

No doubt, it won't come to that, but Ventura says he has no emergency funds to pay government employees, including himself, without legislative appropriations. With the fiscal year ending June 30, he says labor agreements will require him to send out layoff notifications soon.

"We have to look at what are my powers," he says. "Do I declare marshal law? Call out the National Guard to fill these vacancies?" He obviously hopes it will be his legislative foes who blink in the end.

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05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
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05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
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05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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