Long white hair spills wildly from beneath the cap of the most unconventional governor in Minnesota’s history as he takes a measured but highly unproductive swing at a golf ball. He shanks it into the rough along the left side of the fairway.
During a particularly aggravating stretch at the private TPC golf course in Blaine, Jesse Ventura managed to hit two trees in three shots, yet eventually score a bogey, just one over par. A few holes later he came within 15 inches of hitting a hole-in-one.
The former governor’s golf game, like his politics, can be all over the place, unpredictable, hard to watch sometimes, but impossible to dismiss. Now the state’s most independent Independent is contemplating his next shot.
Another run for governor? Or the White House? Or maybe back to Mexico for good, if the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overrules the $1.4 million defamation award he won over a passage in the best-selling book, “American Sniper.”
In recent weeks, Ventura has said that he is open to running for vice president on Donald Trump’s ticket. Politico carried the report, though there’s no invitation from Trump’s people.
Ventura also said he has been invited to next year’s Libertarian Party convention and is pondering the idea of running for president on that ticket, even though he would not join the party.
“I would challenge the American people to make history with me,” he says, “and elect the first president since George Washington, the father of our country, who does not belong to a political party.”
Wes Benedict, executive director of the national committee of the Libertarian Party said last week that Ventura stands a chance of winning the party’s nomination, because he is well known, “has an independent streak in him” and supported Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate in 2012.
“More than a few have said we should see about getting him to run,” Benedict said.
Ventura also has not ruled out seeking a second term as governor, 14 years after leaving office. “People come up to me every day and tell me to run for governor.”
A political comeback may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, said Larry Jacobs, a political-science professor at the University of Minnesota who was frequently critical of Ventura’s tenure as governor.
“This is Jesse Ventura time,” Jacob said, noting that both major parties are being challenged from the outside by Trump and Bernie Sanders, the independent who is running for the Democratic Party nomination.
While Jacobs doubts Trump will win the Republican nomination next summer, he says a presidential run by Ventura on the Libertarian ticket could have an impact on the debates and the issues that are discussed.
But watching Ventura, 64, alternately grimacing and grinning along the 18-hole championship golf course, fishing ball after ball out of a water hazard (“I haven’t paid for a golf ball in 15 years”), one wonders if he has the heart for another campaign.
“Now you see what I do in my retirement,” he says, laughing. “Play golf and work out. Write a book once a year. And do my Internet show.” Not to mention his winter sojourns to Mexico where he has a beachfront home on the Gulf of California.
“Unlikely” is the word he uses to describe the possibility that he will run for office again. But he adds, “I would never close the door on the future.”
Defying the odds
The former professional wrestler is still largely the same outrageous Jesse who burst onto Minnesota’s political scene. He drove to an interview at Keys Cafe in White Bear Lake in his 2003 “450 horsepower rompin’, stompin’ all-wheel-drive six-speed Porsche.” He brags that it can go up to 190 miles per hour and recalls a short and fast ride he gave newly elected Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in which he said he lost Pawlenty’s two State Patrol bodyguards.
Ventura has a history of defying the odds. In 1998, his Independence Party campaign “shocked the world” by defeating DFLer Hubert Humphrey III and Republican Norm Coleman to become Minnesota’s 38th governor.
He shrugs off the disbelief about an alliance with Trump, even though he has denounced Trump’s immigration policy on his Internet show, and, unlike Trump, strongly opposes U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.
Asked if it would be a problem to run with a man he disagrees with, even if Trump is a friend, Ventura said, “I’d be there to fight him over that and show him why it’s an idiotic policy to begin with.”
Ventura says with relish that Trump’s candidacy is wrecking the Republican Party. “I think it’s far more important to destroy the two-party dictatorship of this country than any other issue. … I’m glad what he is doing to the Republicans as much as I’m glad what Bernie [Sanders], the Independent, is doing to the Democrats.”
Then he adds another reason Trump should put him on his slate:
“Wouldn’t I be the best insurance policy Trump could have? If he picks one of the regular Republicans, then if they bump him off, who becomes the president? Their hand-picked Republican. You got to pick somebody who is worse than you to ensure your safety.”
Jacobs said Ventura has name recognition, a network of people and would attract media attention. “Those of us who have followed Jesse for awhile have learned our lesson not to count him out,” Jacobs says.
A Libertarian ticket would appeal to the “fed-up, not-taking-it-any-more voter,” he says. “My sense of Jesse these days is he is kind of restless again and he is ready to mix it up.”
‘I don’t do the Internet’
For now, Ventura’s political views air on his weekly “Off the Grid” TV show run by Ora TV, an online television network owned by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
Ventura says the program reaches up to 4 million viewers, but he has never watched it, he said. “I don’t do the Internet.”
Ventura also doesn’t own a cellphone. He’d like his tombstone to state that he never owned one. “In 20 years I’ll be unique,” he said.
Ventura and his wife, Terry, are advisory board members of Wishes & More, a Minnesota-based charity that provides experiences and gifts to children facing life-threatening conditions. In an annual fundraiser, Ventura agrees to play a round of golf with the highest bidder and two friends.
About a week ago, Ventura was out on the TPC golf course with this year’s high bidder, Brian Whipps of Eagan, a patent attorney, who won the auction with a $700 bid. Whipps brought along two other patent attorneys and they got their money’s worth.
For five hours, Ventura entertained them with nonstop banter, describing how he used to escape the press when he was governor by going to the private course, where reporters couldn’t follow.
“We used to call it the Blaine field office,” Ventura said, chuckling.
As for the golfing, “I’m not that good,” he told the lawyers. “I’m a bogey golfer.” But his 92 was the lowest score in the foursome.
Getting beat by the ex-governor didn’t phase Whipps, who described it as an “awesome” experience. “His stories are unbelievable.”
‘I am on the rebound’
Beyond his political future, if any, the other big question in Ventura’s life is the fate of the $1.4 million he won from the estate of the late Chris Kyle, author of “American Sniper.” Ventura sued Kyle over a passage in the book about a confrontation with a former “celebrity” Navy SEAL, later identified as Ventura. Ventura insisted that the altercation never occurred, and the jury agreed.
The case is now on appeal to the Eighth Circuit. Ventura says legal fees have cost him $1 million, and he has yet to see a penny from the jury award.
“It’s been horrible,” he says. “But I am on the rebound.”
If the court rules against him, there won’t be any more summers fishing for free golf balls in Blaine.
“If I lose the appeal, I will then move to Mexico permanently,” he said. “It will hurt me so bad financially that I can live off much less money down there than what it takes to live off here.”
Assuming he is not running for office, of course.