Jesse Ventura

Body-Slamming the Environment?

After the Minnesota legislative session adjourned last May, former professional wrestler and current Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, took to the airwaves. He began making the national media rounds, not as a new governor, but as the celebrity author of a new autobiography called I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed.

Ventura has been making headlines since his surprise upset victory last November as Minnesota’s first Reform Party governor. Some 500 people showed up at a book signing in Washington, and 200 made it to a Barnes and Noble in more blas? New York.

But while Ventura was pressing flesh around the country and bantering with the press about a possible presidential bid, some people back home in Minnesota began to feel a bit neglected. State environmental leaders say that, so far, Ventura has a decidedly mixed record on their issues.

In statements during the campaign, Ventura said broadly that “humans are very wasteful with our natural resources” but he also criticized state recycling programs as inefficient. “It’s a little hard to judge,” says Ginny Yingling, director of the Minnesota North Star chapter of The Sierra Club. “He’s made extremely good appointments to key agencies, like the Department of Natural Resources and the Met Council [which oversees urban development]. On the other hand, he has a fondness for motorized recreation, like snowmobiles and jet skis. “We’re still waiting to see where he stands on some issues.”

In the first legislative session, the governor could not be pinned down. Heavily promoting light rail to ease traffic congestion, Ventura took the media along on a bus ride from the suburbs to downtown Minneapolis. Soon after he took office, however, he became the owner of one of the biggest sport-utility vehicles on the market. He also signed into law both the repeal of a $50 tax on noisy, polluting personal watercraft (he owns five) and a ban on trail-eroding snowmobiles (he doesn’t own any).

Ventura, who rarely uses prepared texts, answered a question on his environmental views with this comment: “I believe very strongly in taking care of our environment, but I am also a realist. Until someone can convince me otherwise, we humans are still number one on the food chain…You have to find a happy medium between saving the environment and doing what is required to go through life day by day.”

The new governor will be required to act on such pressing issues as a wolf management plan, funds for river cleanups, state energy and forestry policy, a possible feedlot moratorium and air pollution standards. Environmentalists like Yingling are hoping that the Reform Party’s “people first” stance will carry over into protecting Minnesota’s natural legacy.