The back cover of Jesse Ventura's new book claims that he chose not to run for governor again in 2002 "despite the highest approval ratings in state history."

Jesse was never very good with numbers. Or history.

He enjoyed high approval numbers early in his four-year term, up to 73 percent. But by the time he decided not to seek reelection, in 2002, his approval had fallen to the low 50s. That's not 73 percent, but it's good enough to win, and Jesse might have won a second term running against DFLer Roger Moe and Republican Tim Pawlenty (who won with just 44 percent of the vote).

Jesse seems sure. He brags that he could have won a second term, but it would have required him to defend his record in office and in the public arena, where he debased himself and his state with clownish and self-enriching acts such as serving as a referee at a wrestling event that also featured a character known as "Mr. Ass."

Even with a referee shirt, it was hard to tell who was who.

I wasn't surprised when Jesse announced he wasn't going to seek a second term. He liked being the outsider, not the incumbent. He liked the limelight. But not the spotlight.

He says as much in his new book, his fourth, called, "Don't Start The Revolution Without Me!" It's a rehash of favorite topics (Castro, the Kennedy assassination, the media, etc.), plus a sprinkling of recent Big Ideas (Mexico, Iraq and a dark fantasy about running for president in 2008 and being shot).

A part of him, Jesse admits in the book, written with a fellow Kennedy conspiracy buff, Dick Russell, misses "being at the center of attention."

A part of him? All of him.

After all, this is a man who claims to be a recluse and wants to get away from it all, but who publishes his every thought. If you want to read his latest ideas, however, you'll have to plunk down 25 bucks when the book is released this spring, because Jesse's not about to share his thoughts with the jackals of the press. At least not the press jackals of his home state.

The local jackals know too much about him.

Friday marked the ninth anniversary of his taking the oath of office, a happy occasion marked by a true buzz of excitement as 1,000 citizens jammed into the Capitol and made it, at least briefly, seem as if it belonged to everyone.

Nine years? Seems like 90.

Nineteen-Ninety-Nine is so last century. Ventura, taking a crash course in governing, hired some of the best and brightest people government has seen. It was a time of surpluses and bridges that stayed up, a time when people expected Minnesota to work and when governors would not dare to try to dismantle it.

The pity of Jesse's one term is that his personal quirks and grudge-match reflexes got in the way of his accomplishments and undermined his authority. When he decided to get out and exploit his political celebrity, his supporters felt abandoned. They were.

"Don't Start the Revolution Without Me!"? That's rich.

Jesse never wanted to be part of anyone's cause. He was always about just one man.

New book is a piffle

The new book won't change that bottom line. It may not even change his bank account.

It's a piffle we can file under, "More Mush From The Wimp."

Jesse "reveals" that he met with CIA agents after he took office (it sounds about as sinister as a fan-club meeting between FBI agents and a NASCAR driver), says he told President Bill Clinton to bomb the Israel-Palestinian problem (Clinton considered the source) and imagines a weird scenario in which Jesse and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. make a run for the White House that ends with an assassination attempt that leaves Jesse in a coma.

How can they tell?

The final words of the book, while uncredited, are lyrics from "Hotel California," by one of Jesse's favorite rock bands, the Eagles:

"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!"

The meaning? Like Jesse, it's a mystery. But maybe it makes sense if you remember another line from the song: "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device."

At 56, dividing his life between a compound in Mexico and another in Minnesota, Jesse Ventura is trapped in a netherworld of his own making: Off the public stage, and so far out that his repeated attempts to explain himself and remind us of his former importance seem pathetic.

He came. He conquered. He quit.

Nine years ago, he shocked the world. Now, he bores it.

Nick Coleman •