BY DOUG JENNESS
ST. PAUL, Minnesota - "The free ride is over!" That was the buzz phrase of Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura's State of the State address on March 2 .
Ventura, recently elected on the Reform Party ticket, stressed personal responsibility, rather than government- financed social programs, as he has since his election campaign last year. "The state of the state," he said, "is jeopardized by this weak notion that taxpayers must step forward to provide nearly unlimited resources to anyone who faces adversity."
A few weeks before, the governor made front-page news during a confrontation with 150 college students rallying at the State Capitol for more state money to reduce tuition at Minnesota state colleges. He challenged a single mother who explained that she needed more assistance to help support her family while attending college. "I don't want to seem hard- core," Ventura responded, "but why did you become a single parent? Is it government's job to make up for someone's mistakes?"
In an extensive interview with the Pioneer Press, Ventura elaborated on this issue. "What gives you the right to have children? Yes, you have that right. But do you have the right then to expect the government to pay you for those children?... You don't have a right to welfare. Welfare is charity." He contended that "we have to create a new mind-set, we have to reeducate people" to be more self-sufficient.
Right-wing columnist Mona Charen cheered Ventura's aggressive handling of the students' demands. "Perhaps you must have once been a Navy Seal," she wrote in a February 16 syndicated column, "or perhaps you need a wrestling career to supply the requisite courage, but Gov. Ventura met these protesters with the kind of brio rarely (never?) found in politics today."
Slashing workers' hard-fought gains
Ventura states more bluntly (in a more "muscular fashion" according to Charen) than most Democratic and Republican politicians, the goal to substantially slash social benefits and entitlements that are the conquests of hard-fought battles by working people.
In order to take another big step to maintain their declining rates of profits, the employers need to tear apart Social Security, Medicare, and many other social programs. This has been clearly signaled by the Clinton administration. In his State of the Union address President William Clinton proposed, in the name of "saving" Social Security, reopening the idea of privatizing it and gambling retirement benefits on Wall Street's stock market.
At the governor's conference in Washington, D.C., last month, Ventura was among the most vociferous in demanding fewer restrictions from Washington on the use of federal funds by state governments and even eliminating federal aid for education.
In U.S. politics, for many generations, arguing for greater "states rights" has been tantamount to permitting more inequality, less rights for working people, and more restrictions on organized labor. As it was the clarion call for segregationists in the South for many years, today it is the call for permitting state governments to disburse federal funds unequally at the expense of Blacks and other oppressed nationalities, immigrant workers, and other particularly oppressed layers of workers and farmers.
Some journalists have expressed surprise that Ventura's proposed budget for Minnesota includes fewer cuts than his public statements in favor of throwing responsibility for child care, education, and other social needs back onto the family, the church, and private charities would suggest. In fact he opposes vouchers or other schemes promoted by the previous Republican administration to direct public funds to private schools.
Ventura recognizes that a head-on attack on government- funded programs can't be immediately implemented today. His goal is charting a course to help "reeducate" people to accept this road - a road that growing sections of the capitalist ruling class are beginning to think will be necessary. But moves to overturn Social Security and other working-class conquests will generate widespread resistance from working people.
This is what's behind beefing up and militarizing local police forces and increasing attacks on democratic rights. Ventura's tough-guy image then goes hand in hand with his proclamation that the alleged "free ride is over." His Bonapartist course, far from being an anomaly, is pointing in the direction that many in capitalist ruling circles believe will be necessary to crush a resistant working class.
Insists on right to pack a gun
It is in this context that Ventura, a former member of the Navy's elite SEAL unit, last month pressed for approval to bear a concealed gun anywhere he goes, including the State Capitol.
After getting the police chief in the suburb of Maple Grove, where he lives, to issue him a gun-carrying permit, state law still barred Ventura from carrying a weapon into state buildings. In an unusual move, he was exempted from this restriction, however, by the signed authorization of the public safety commissioner, a state official whom he had just appointed.
During a radio interview, Ventura asserted that as chief law enforcement officer and commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard he should be able to carry a weapon as he sees fit.
As he often does, Ventura trumpeted again his experience as a SEAL when he was in Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association winter meeting. He was asked by reporters about a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Chippewa Indians are asserting their right to fish without state restrictions in areas covered by treaty rights.
"If those rules [specified by long-standing treaties] apply," the tough-talking governor stated, "then they ought to be back in birch-bark canoes instead of with 200-horse-power Yamaha engines with fish finders." He asserted that he also had a "natural heritage" giving him rights to fish those waters with his methods. "My heritage as a frogman," he said, "is DuPont fishing. I would question why I can't DuPont fish," that is tossing a grenade into the water and gathering fish stunned by the explosion. The SEALs referred to it as DuPont fishing, he said, a reference to the company that made the grenades.
In a March 2 letter to the governor, Marge Anderson, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of the Chippewa, slammed Ventura's racist remarks. "Although your lack of knowledge on the subject was almost amusing (I don't know any Band members with 200-horsepower Yamaha engines and fish finders, as you claimed), your attitude definitely was not.
"It seems," she continued, "American Indians have joined single mothers and struggling students as the latest targets for your verbal body slam."
While Ventura acts like Indians are a privileged sector of Minnesota's population, the opposite is the case. By many social and economic measures - infant mortality, unemployment, income, and education - they are among the worst off of the state.
Ventura also lobbed a few grenades at the Irish. Following the governors' conference he shot into New York for an appearance on the nationally syndicated David Letterman show where he contended that whoever designed St. Paul's streets "must have been drunk.... I think it was one of those Irish guys. You know what they like to do," he said, pretending to hoist a drink. This glib remark provoked considerable controversy in Minnesota, and many people criticized the governor for smearing the Irish with this timeworn stereotype.
The outrage was sufficient enough that he was forced to issue an "apology," in which he criticized Minnesota residents for their lack of humor.
Meanwhile, the turnout for March 2 party caucuses for St. Paul city council and school board elections showed a dramatic growth for the Reform Party. The Republican turnout remained about the same as two years ago and the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party attendance was considerably lower.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home