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'The Body' Exits Political Ring

In her latest Political Points commentary, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch looks back on the political career of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
So now we won't have Jesse Ventura to kick around any more. Even sadder news we won't have the Broadway musical, "The Body Ventura" which was in the works. No dancing Navy Seals. No singing debaters. We may never hear "Retaliate in '98" or that other classic "Hoo-Yah" which had already been written. With characteristic bravado and bitterness Ventura went out last week attacking the press for invading his privacy and comparing himself to Che Guevera, Martin Luther King and the Grateful Dead.

While in office he appeared in "Batman and Robin" and "The Young and the Restless." He gave an interview to Playboy saying religion was for the weak minded. He wore a feather boa at his inaugural and wrote a book detailing his experiences with prostitutes He labeled reporters,jackals and legislators gutless cowards. Now they are saying he's perfect for cable.

What he wasn't perfect for was governing Minnesota. His surprise 37 percent victory in 1998 and celebrity stature started him off with sky-high poll ratings. In his first year he was able to broker a deal with the legislature to cut taxes and gave people property tax rebates. He was an advocate for light rail transit and battled the legislature successfully to fund it.. And businessmen say that he was unusually effective on trade missions to China and Mexico, opening doors which a more subdued governor might not be able to open.

But as his term went on, the battles with the legislature grew fiercer and fiercer. He loved to bash legislators and became passionate about a very stupid issue - combining the State House and Senate, a move guaranteed to make enemies over process rather than policy. And the issue fell flat with the voters. He started vetoing bills and the legislature starting overriding those vetoes. It happened 12 times in four years. In the previous 60 years in Minnesota, Gubernatorial vetoes had been overridden only 6 times.

Eventually the string ran out. The surpluses eroded and so did Ventura's popularity. By the end he was governing, or rather not governing, alone. He proved the potential weakness of independents. Without parties to back them up they can become isolated. Without popular support there's no leverage on other elected officials follow their lead.
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Not all independents suffered that fate. In Maine Governor Angus King is completing his second term and has been able to forge alliances with the state legislature. His first term was particularly successful and he sailed to reelection with 59 percent of the vote in 1998. Vermont's Jim Jeffords, the Republican-turned-independent whose switch allowed the Democrats to take over the Senate continues to be wooed by both parties and wields more power now than when he was a partisan..

Many of the celebrity independents of the '90s have faded from the political scene. Ventura and Ross Perot are gone, Pat Buchanan is going back to TV. Ralph Nader is still Nader, though a lot of liberals have become disillusioned with him. The Green Party continues to have strength in certain places and is fielding candidates in Minnesota, Massachusetts and Maine who may not win but will have an impact on the outcome of several races.

In Minnesota , former Democratic Congressman Tim Penny, a Ventura ally. is leaning toward carrying the independent banner for governor. Unlike Ventura, Penny is a serious, even dour person who has a track record in public service. A poll out this weekend showed him with 23 percent, trailing the Democrat Roger Moe by nine points.

The concept of "independence" is still popular but translating that into effective governance is very difficult. Jesse Ventura said last week that he planned it to re-invent himself again. Too bad he forgot during his last incarnation to make himself into a serious and effective leader.