Call him Jesse “The Mind” or Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the former pro-wrestler and Minnesota governor talks to me about his latest book, DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODicans, crazy tax policies, and why he’s more Occupy than Tea Party.
Monday afternoon, two p.m. in Minneapolis, three p.m. in New York. On the phone with Jesse Ventura.
Kenneth Rapoza: I’d recognize that voice anywhere.
Jesse Ventura: [chuckles, signature Jesse] It’s a hard one to miss. Good to talk with you today, Ken.
KR: This morning on The Takeaway, Joseph Stiglitz was talking about income inequality and the growing inequality of opportunity in the U.S. You’re a Vietnam vet. Are we more divided now than we were then, at least politically speaking?
JV: We were more divided then. The true turning point as a nation was when the National Guard shot four students dead at Kent State. We’re divided, but they haven’t shot anybody since.
KR: Would you send your kids to war today?
JV: I’d be a conscientious objector. You’re going to war for corporations, not for people. Smedley Butler, a general in the Marine Corp., said that about our interventions in Central America. It’s a very well known critique about U.S. wars.
KR: I’ve heard it many times. But there’s a different kind of division now, not just politically right and left. We’re seeing a class division creep in. The rich really are getting richer – way richer in fact – and the middle class are definitely getting poorer. I was surprised to see, but you write a lot about that in your book. You’re a one percenter. What’s it all look like to you in Minnesota?
JV: Well, for one, our property values have dropped by over 20% but my property taxes haven’t. Why is it that our homes are worth less and middle class Minnesotans are worth less but are property taxes aren’t coming down?
KR: I don’t know. You tell me. You were the governor.
JV: Not anymore. And I don’t miss it one bit. That’s all policy decisions at the state level. I gave taxes back when I was governor. They can’t even balance their budget and its state law to do so. You know where our taxes go?
KR: Let me guess.
JV: Well, a lot of it went to bailout out banks and the rich. During the last Great Recession or whatever you want to call it, I’ll have to quote the Wall Street protesters, the 99 percent lost money. But the rich made money. They got wealthier thanks to policies that helped them get wealthier. They didn’t get wealthier because they are smart investors.
KR: You’re right about that. Even Citi says so.
JV: You want to hear something funny about taxes?
KR: Is that a joke, like a Polish man walks into a bar?
JV: No. But it’s laughable. I’m learning to paddleboard. In Minnesota you need to get a license to paddleboard because the board is over nine feet long. So you have to pay a fee. And you have to wear a life jacket.
KR: Please tell me Jesse “The Body” isn’t wearing a life jacket on a paddle board.
JV: If I showed up with a life jacket to protect me from the wake of a boat that’s maybe a foot high I’d be laughed out of the lake. This is the stuff politicians can agree on. These are the kinds of policies we the people get.
KR: They must have hated you in Minnesota. An independent who doesn’t have to raise money because getting publicity for you isn’t a problem.
JV: I’m one of the few people who actually made money as governor. I spent less money to get elected than I earned. Everyone else pays a million dollars to get paid a hundred and twenty grand. When I was governor, I was up against both parties and they vetoed me all the time. On that front they were united. They vetoed my balanced budget because they thought it would make my re-election bid less likely for the voters so they could turn to one of the two gangs again. But I didn’t run. That surprised them. And now they have around a $5 billion deficit, worse than Wisconsin.
KR: What do you think about [Wisc. governor] Scott Walker?
JV: I think he beat [Tom] Barrett because he had more money. Whoever gets the most bribe many can put the ads on TV. And now with Citizens United and SuperPACs unleashed, these groups can lie about their favorite candidate and the politician isn’t held responsible for the content. I think every politician should wear a NASCAR race suit at this point.