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  In Minnesota, Pomp and Pep Rally

Jesse Ventura is sworn in as Minnesota's governor. (CNN)
By Jon Jeter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 1999; Page A2

ST. PAUL, Minn., Jan. 4 – Jesse "the Body" Ventura was sworn in as Minnesota's 38th governor today. In the end, the tough-talking ex-wrestler did not rappel down the granite walls of the State Capitol's rotunda, as he had threatened, but no one seemed truly disappointed: The nation's most celebrated and unlikely governor has become a Minnesota folk hero, if only because he makes anything seem possible.

Ventura's quixotic third party campaign and upset victory over two established career politicians electrified this state and the air has been supercharged ever since. Despite Ventura's less-than-spectacular entrance today – he strolled confidently to the dais in a dark double-breasted suit – his inauguration was unlike anything Minnesota has ever seen, equal parts pep rally, carnival and pomp and circumstance.

Nearly 2,500 people braved unimaginably cold weather – the temperature did not climb above zero – to attend the inauguration, the largest gathering held at Minnesota's State Capitol here since the Minnesota Twins won the World Series in 1991.

The crowd of admirers included Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.); aging professional wrestlers and Navy SEALs; Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appeared in three action movies with Ventura in the mid-'80s; reporters from as far away as Japan; young men in dreadlocks who had never paid attention to politics in their lives; and balding war veterans who turned their back on politics long ago.

It was Ventura's ability to reach out to indifferent and even unregistered voters – 60 percent of the state's electorate voted in the general election, the highest turnout in the nation – that was the key to his victory, pollsters say.

"So with that in mind, I want you all to remember, we cannot fail, we must not fail, because if we do we could lose this generation, and we dare not let that happen," Ventura said in his 10-minute speech.

"The reality of the situation is it's those young people, it's those disenchanted voters that we've reached out to and brought back to the system. So that's the challenge before us now. To keep those young people involved. To keep opening the arms of government and make it citizen-friendly. To bring the people back to respecting their government."

Outside the rotunda, Greg Copeland stood wearing bulky layers of T-shirts and a corduroy hunting cap with oversized ear flaps. Although an odd testament to Ventura's appeal and words, it was the look Copeland was going for in his attempt to drum up support for a new reform-minded group founded in the days after Ventura's election.

"The idea is to build on this wonderful energy created by Jesse Ventura and organize people," said Copeland, 46, while passing out fliers to something called the "Crow's Ball."

"The media didn't elect Jesse Ventura. The experts didn't elect Jesse Ventura. The people elected Jesse Ventura," he said.

Ventura's inauguration begins the "tri-partisan" era in Minnesota. With Republicans controlling the state House, Democrats controlling the Senate, and no Reform Party politicians in either chamber, it remains unclear how such a deeply divided state government will function, a question Ventura himself acknowledged.

"Is Jesse Ventura up to governing? Can Jesse Ventura do the job?" he asked rhetorically in his remarks. But he has given remarkably few answers to either question since he was elected three months ago and again today, he promised only to do the best job that he could.

"Whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, a Reform Party or whatever party you might be, we are all Minnesotans," he said, then finished his speech with a phrase from his days as a Navy SEAL. "Now we move forward to do Minnesota's business and we will do it to the best of our ability. Hooya."

Despite his widespread popularity, Ventura is a man of contrasts: the son of a steamfitter and a champion of the working class who just signed a $500,000 book deal and whose tax-cutting agenda is stridently conservative. He portrays himself as a tough-talking law-and-order politician but impressed many voters with a sensitivity for gay rights and his proposal to treat drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a criminal problem.

"He's not your typical politician," said Kevin Johnson, a childhood friend. "He's hard to pigeonhole and I think people like that because it makes him seem like he's really putting some real thought into these issues."

The inaugural ball is scheduled for Jan. 16, billed as the "People's Ball." Nearly 14,000 tickets were sold in less than 48 hours. And just what is the attire for a bash in honor of a 6-foot-4, 260-pound pro wrestler who once belonged to a biker gang and favored army fatigues on the campaign trail?

"Tux, tennis shoes, biker leather, whatever you feel comfortable wearing," said his wife, Terry. But "if you want to wear a black tie, nobody is going to point fingers or make fun of you."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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