The Education Of A Governor!

The Education Of A Governor!
Posted by FoM on June 13, 1999 at 06:52:06 PT
By H.J. Birchcrek
Source: Hemp Times Magazine
Jesse Ventura turned the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial election upside-down and became a national populist folk hero. But will this super-star-turned-statesman remain a true-blue hempster?
It was the spring of ‘94 when Jesse Ventura launched a new career as a radio-talk-show host on KSTP-Minneapolis, four years before he decided to run for governor of Minnesota. Even then, he knew the standard rap about hemp:“It’s terrific for food, fuel and fiber,” he was saying. “You can make paper from it. George Washington grew it, and we should be growing it, too.”The audience was built-in for Jesse “The Body” Ventura, fondly remembered as a burlesque “arch-villain” of the pro-wrestling circuit, ex-Navy Seal and Hollywood action-movie star, and most recently mayor of Brooklyn Park, MN. So with his first two Minneapolis radio shows, he treated listeners to a lively discussion of hemp and the War on Drugs, thereby rocking the Twin Cities market and, needless to say, galvanizing the hemp community. This gravelly-voiced, shoot-from-the-hip wordslinger was emphatically calling for an end to hemp prohibition-though at first he appeared to be presenting it as a fairly nebulous issue of civil liberties, rather than a methodical project in alternative-crop development for the good of Midwestern agriculture and industry.HEMP JOHN’ ON THE LINEAs luck would have it, Ventura soon discovered that one particular member of his listening audience happened to be an extremely informed hemp advocate, and upon this caller (who shall remain modestly anonymous) Ventura himself promptly bestowed the moniker, “Hemp John.”Ventura gladly permitted this expert caller to commandeer the airwaves of the heartland two or three times a week, to educate Ventura’s fan base on the foolishness of ignoring hemp. Hemp John’s relentless pursuit of the hemp agenda both impressed and amused Ventura, who chuckled in amazement after one stem-winding diatribe: “It always gets to hemp with John. The world goes to hemp with John. I mean, you can be talking any subject on the face of this beautiful Earth, and John will somehow get it to hemp.”Behind the scenes at the station, Ventura’s fax machine crackled with late-breaking news on the hemp legalization front. Hemp John even made it his responsibility to drop by KSTP with selections of novel hemp products for Ventura to examine. More often than not, on the very next program Ventura would extol these hempen handicrafts in his inimitable, aggressively positive Ventura-esque style: “Hemp John sent me this hemp hat here. I wore it all weekend. Yeah, the one made out of hemp-it’s very good. Hey, let me tell you people something! It’s a very, very good material.”A clutch of chocolate-covered hemp seeds dropped off by Hemp John for Ventura and his crew to sample live on the air made for a memorable broadcast. After knowledgeably letting his listeners in on hemp’s nutritional value, the host began asking some embarrassingly standard questions: “Now, is this legal? If I eat this, Hemp John, can I go to jail? What will I be like at the end of the show? I’m not saying it’ll make me wild, it’ll make me mellow maybe-but if you eat these, will you fail a drug test?”The discussion continued with Ventura crunching the treats-”Not bad, not bad!”-and tweaking any hemp nay-sayers among his listeners, declaring, “This is going to be the happiest day at KSTP Talk Radio in ages!”So Hemp John initiated a more methodical “Hemp 101” curriculum to advance Ventura’s off-air education. Authoritative hemp volumes made their way into his hands-Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes and Chris Conrad’s Hemp: Lifeline to the Future, to name a few. Ventura also received his own personal copy of the classic 1943 USDA film Hemp for Victory, touting the glories of domestic US hemp production in the struggle against the Axis. Ventura went beyond being politically converted to being genuinely fascinated. All of this he gobbled up, and more, and used for broadcast material.Soon, the future governor’s promotion of industrial hemp was going way beyond talk radio. Ventura presently became a full-fledged advocate for the industrial use of cannabis for commercial products. Over the years he’s even participated in hemp protest rallies, often bringing along his high-school-age son.Ventura has openly espoused a libertarian attitude toward the criminalization of consensual “crimes,” advocating sensible “regulation” of behavioral offenses like drugs and prostitution, for example, as opposed to knee-jerk prohibition. The explosively positive reception these attitudes received from listeners throughout the Midwest, fed up with government hypocrisy and intrusion into people’s private affairs, led Ventura into heavy politics.BENCH-PRESSING THE FLESHVentura went off the air at KSTP in ‘96, returning to the airwaves on a new station, KFAN, in early ‘98. Once again, Minneapolis-St. Paul was listening to his clearheaded, populist politics over the radio. But this time the ex-pro wrestler had a surprise for everybody. Jesse “The Body” Ventura was gearing up for a run at the governor’s office as the Reform Party candidate.His ultra-faithful listeners cheered him on and did everything they could to advance his pro-education, anti-taxation candidacy. It went over swell. When Ventura was on the campaign trail, marching in a downtown St. Paul parade last summer, the chant of “JESSE! JESSE! JESSE!” echoed down the streets. This kind of voter enthusiasm had Ventura confident he could win the 1998 gubernatorial election, despite polls that rated him no better than an also-ran.The national media resolutely ignored him. Jesse Ventura for them was nothing but a freak candidate, a dumb pro-wrestler shock jock who could be expected to show up at the televised debate in tights and try to body-slam his opponents.To everyone’s surprise, he was none of this-and more! Following the first debate among the top three contenders, Jesse Ventura came across as articulately and intelligently as the Republican and Democratic candidates. He made no ideological errors, said nothing that could be misinterpreted, and gained the mantle of credibility necessary to compete. Nobody “won” the debate, and all three looked equal in stature. The result was that Jesse Ventura “looked” like the victor, because Jesse Ventura surprised everybody with his legitimacy.The third and final debate was held only four days before the general election, and provided some curious moments. By the debate’s end, Republican candidate Norm Coleman (currently Mayor of St. Paul) had repeated “Jesse, you’re right” dozens of times-which must have left voters wondering whose opinion really mattered more. And if Jesse Ventura actually was so “right,” then why should they vote for the Republican?“I would allow the farmers of Minnesota to diversify. I would allow them to grow industrial hemp.” The highlight of the debate occurred when candidates were asked what they would do to remedy the current farm crisis in Minnesota. Ventura was given the opportunity to answer first, and shocked everyone: “I would allow the farmers of Minnesota to diversify. I would allow them to grow industrial hemp.”He went on to patriotically cite Hemp for Victory, and enumerate a good long list of products for which hemp could be useful. The other candidates responded to this crucial farm-rescue question with flaccid, run-of-the-mill policy statements. The Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey III, wasn’t able to spout any anti-hemp propaganda because his running mate for lieutenant governor, Senator Roger Moe, had been the chief sponsor of a bill to legalize industrial hemp in the legislature’s 1997 session. Norm Coleman might have been expected to respond with some anti-hemp law-enforcement doublespeak, but clearly no one had bothered to brief him on hemp, and he may not have been sure even what it was.It’s a moot point now. Jesse Ventura rocked the political world last November with his victory. Everyone said it couldn’t be done, can’t be done, wouldn’t be done, especially in Minnesota, especially against a Humphrey, especially in a contest with a strong Republican candidate, especially against the estimated $12 million his opponents would spend. But it was done.VICTORY FOR HEMP?Now it’s time to watch Jesse Ventura, to see if he’ll act upon the statements he made when he was running for office. He has the power and the ability to appoint people to key positions. He can move to change current Minnesota law.Moreover, the hemp issue has proved itself an issue of the people. The majority of Minnesotans know hemp is not that big a deal. It’s not a “killer weed.” They know that in just the last couple of years, times have become harder for the Midwestern farmer than at any time since the Great Depression. But the people also know it will take a courageous politician to run the hemp gauntlet.Presently, Senate File 122, introduced to the state legislature in February by Sen. Moe, would clear the way for the cultivation of industrial hemp. It’s considerably tighter than the hemp bill that made its way through the 1997 legislature, only to be vetoed by former Governor Arne Carlson. And this time it has a companion bill of sorts, from the Republican side. In a comprehensive bill to rescue Minnesota’s beleaguered farm industry, besides new rules on crop insurance and mortgage settlements, Republican Sen. Kenric Scheeval has quietly slipped in a crucial provision implementing registration procedures for hopeful hemp-growers.Don’t expect anything soon-like seed in the ground by summer. Sen. Moe says, “If the bill passes, the Department of Agriculture will have to set up a registration program and work with local law-enforcement officials, who may have concerns to establish the program. I doubt that these details will be worked out before planting this year.”When asked if he thought the new governor would sign the bill, Sen. Moe replied, “Given Governor Ventura’s comments during his campaign and on recent forums, I would guess that Governor Ventura would be supportive if a bill comes before him.”It’s not a done deal in Minnesota, though. There are still plenty of special interests in industry, politics and law enforcement who remain steadfastly opposed to industrial hemp, and they specialize in behind-the-scenes string-pulling. It’ll be interesting to watch what sort of people Gov. Ventura appoints to positions like the state Drug Policy Office, Department of Agriculture and Board of Pharmacy-all of which are offices that will be instrumental in allowing farmers to cultivate hemp.But for now, Ventura has the lead in the hemp sweepstakes, much as he does in populist politics. In February, barely a month after he was inaugurated, Ventura returned to his old stomping ground at KSTP for a two-hour stint fielding calls from his new constituents. Among the first callers was none other than Hemp John himself, who wanted to make sure that the new governor hadn’t softened his pre-election stance on hemp.Ventura replied without hesitation: “Well, I tell you what. My head of agriculture and I sit in the same boat. I’ll sign it. This is industrial, it’s used for many, many things. We both agree it would be a diversified product that farmers out there could put into use. Yeah, if it gets to my desk, I’ll sign it.”For added emphasis, Hemp John also asked the governor whether he knew where the first commercial Canadian hemp crops were headed. When Ventura asked where, Hemp John replied, “The US.”In amazement, Ventura responded, “Really!”He paused thoughtfully and added, “Don’t worry. If it gets to my desk I’ll sign it!”
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