Minnesota's Surprise Choice Still Working Out K-12 Details

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Although he was admittedly fuzzy on the details of his plans for his first months in office, Minnesota's governor-elect, former professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura, has assured the state's education advocates that he is a friend of the public schools.

Mr. Ventura, who took 37 percent of the statewide vote last week to win a stunning victory in a three-way race, has said that after working to cut taxes, improving public education will be one of his top priorities.

But first, the 47-year-old candidate of the Reform Party founded by Ross Perot says he needs to bone up on the ABCs of governing.

"I feel like I'm Rodney Dangerfield," Mr. Ventura told local reporters during a postelection press conference, referring to the comedian who jokes about getting no respect. "It's time to go back to school."

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State education groups say they are just beginning to feel their way with a governor-elect whose win caught nearly everyone--including Mr. Ventura--off-guard. Fresh from a populist-style campaign in which he stayed away from specifics, saying he didn't want to make promises he couldn't keep, Mr. Ventura must assemble a transition team, an administration, and sketch plans for a budget proposal.

Mr. Ventura--who now says he wants to change his nickname from "The Body" to "The Mind"--placed "a lot of emphasis on just getting elected," said Richard J. Anderson, the executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association. "I think probably the governor-elect is just starting to think about the meaning of governing in the state of Minnesota."

Throughout their shoestring campaign, Mr. Ventura and running mate Mae Schunk, a 36-year veteran teacher and administrator now working as a teacher of gifted and talented students at St. Paul's public Phalen Lake Elementary School, have opposed vouchers and backed local control of schools.

Mr. Ventura, who attended the Minneapolis public schools and whose two teenage children now attend public schools in a suburban Minneapolis district, has said that he plans to defer to Ms. Schunk's expertise on such education-related matters as selecting a new education commissioner. A former Navy Seal and Vietnam veteran, Mr. Ventura also served as mayor of Brooklyn Park, a city of 65,000 outside of Minneapolis, from 1991 to 1994. He is currently a radio talk show host.

With a Republican majority in the state House, and a Democratic majority in the Minnesota Senate, it is still unclear where Mr. Ventura will cultivate legislative support for any forthcoming proposals, Mr. Anderson said.

In an education platform released on the Internet before Election Day, Mr. Ventura outlined a plan to reduce class sizes without raising taxes. Through closer monitoring of school budgets and stricter enforcement of the state's current law on class-size reduction, Mr. Ventura said "every public school in Minnesota will have a 17-1 student-teacher ratio (or better) in grades K-6."

But while those intentions may be admirable, the complexity of the state's school funding system would make such a plan difficult, said Judy E. Schaubach, a co-president of Education Minnesota, the union recently formed by the merger of the state's National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates. Even so, Mr. Ventura's election is not a "gloom and doom scenario," Ms. Schaubach said.

Unlike outgoing Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, who supported school vouchers, and the GOP candidate, Mayor Norm Coleman of St. Paul, who finished second, Mr. Ventura is clearly behind public education, Ms. Schaubach said. "As bizarre as it is, at least he has the same basic values" as teachers' union members, Ms. Schaubach said. "He does believe in public education, without a doubt."

Vol. 18, Issue 11, Page 15

Published in Print: November 11, 1998, as Minnesota's Surprise Choice Still Working Out K-12 Details
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