Ventura was born James George Janos, on July 15th, 1951, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Bernice Martha (née Lenz) and George William Janos, both of whom were World War II veterans. Ventura has an older brother who served in the Vietnam War. Ventura has described himself as Slovak; his father's parents were from what is now Slovakia, and his mother was of German ancestry. Ventura was raised a Lutheran. He attended the now-closed Cooper Elementary School and graduated from Minneapolis' Roosevelt High School in 1969.
From December 1st, 1969, to September 10th, 1975, during the Vietnam War era, Ventura served in the United States Navy. Ventura graduated with BUD/S class 68 in December 1970 and was part of Underwater Demolition Team 12
Ventura has frequently referred to his military career in public statements and debates. He was criticized by hunters and conservationists for stating in an interview with the Minneapolis StarTribune in April 2001, "Until you have hunted men, you haven't hunted yet."
In January 2002, Ventura, who had never specifically claimed to have fought in Vietnam, disclosed for the first time that he did not see combat. However, Ventura, who was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines, was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal, which was given to military personnel who took part in the contributions to the war effort in Vietnam.
Near the end of his service in the Navy, Ventura began to spend time with the "Dago" chapter of the Mongols motorcycle club, in San Diego. He would ride onto Naval Base Coronado on his Harley-Davidson wearing his Mongol colors. According to Ventura he was a full-patch member of the club and even third in command of his chapter, though he never got into trouble with the authorities. In the fall of 1974, Ventura left the bike club to return to Minnesota. Shortly after the Mongols entered into open warfare with their rivals, the Hells Angels.
In Minnesota Ventura attended North Hennepin Community College in the mid-1970s. At the same time, he began weightlifting and wrestling. He was a bodyguard for The Rolling Stones for a short time before he ventured into professional wrestling and changed his name.
He created the stage name Jesse "The Body" Ventura to go with the persona of a bully-ish beach bodybuilder, picking the name "Ventura" from a map as part of his "bleach blond from California" character. As a wrestler, Ventura performed as a villain and often used the motto "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!" Much of his flamboyant persona was adapted from "Superstar" Billy Graham, a charismatic and popular performer during the 1970s and '80s. Years later, as a broadcaster, Ventura made a running joke out of it claiming that Graham stole all of his ring attire ideas from him.
In 1975, Ventura made his debut in the Central States territory, before moving to the Pacific Northwest, where he wrestled for promoter Don Owen as Jesse "The Great" Ventura. During his stay in Portland, Oregon, he had notable feuds with Dutch Savage and Jimmy Snuka and won the Pacific Northwest Wrestling title twice (once from each wrestler), and the tag team title five times (twice each with Bull Ramos and "Playboy" Buddy Rose, and once with Jerry Oates). He later moved to his hometown promotion, the American Wrestling Association in Minnesota, and began teaming with Adrian Adonis as the "East-West Connection" in 1979. In his RF Video shoot in 2012 he revealed that shortly after he arrived in the AWA he was given the nickname "the Body" by Verne. The duo won the promotion's World Tag Team Championship on July 20th, 1980, on a forfeit when Verne Gagne, one-half of the tag team champions along with Mad Dog Vachon, failed to show up for a title defense in Denver, Colorado. The duo held the belts for nearly a year, losing to "The High Flyers" (Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell)
Ventura continued to wrestle until September 1984, when blood clots in his lungs ended his in-ring career. Ventura claimed the blood clots were a result of his exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam. Ventura did return to the ring in 1985 forming a tag-team with "Macho Man" Randy Savage & Savage's manager (and real life wife) Miss Elizabeth. Often after their televised matches Ventura would taunt and challenge fellow commentator Bruno Sammartino, but nothing ever came of this. He also participated in a six-man tag team match in December 1985 as he, Roddy Piper, and "Cowboy" Bob Orton defeated Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer, and Cousin Luke in a match which was broadcast on Saturday Night's Main Event. The tag match against the Hillbillies came about after Piper and Orton interrupted Elmer's wedding ceremony and Ventura, who was under instruction from Vince McMahon to "bury them", insulted Elmer and his wife during commentary of what was a real wedding ceremony at the Meadowlands Arena by proclaiming when they kissed "OMG they look like two Carp in the middle of the Mississippi River going after the same piece of corn" (according to Ventura the wedding was real as at the time the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board would not allow the WWF to stage a fake wedding in the state of New Jersey, so Stan Frazier (Uncle Elmer) and his fiance agreed to have a real in-ring wedding)
In 1987, while negotiating his contract as a WWF commentator, Ventura waived his rights to royalties on videotape sales when he was falsely told that only feature performers received such royalties. In 1991, having discovered that other non-feature performers received royalties, Ventura brought an action for fraud, misappropriation of publicity rights, and quantum meruit in Minnesota state court against Titan Sports. Titan removed the case to federal court, and Ventura won an $801,333 jury verdict on the last claim. The judgment was affirmed on appeal, and the case, 65 F.3d 725 (8th Cir.1995), is an important result in the law of restitution.
Nearing the end of his wrestling career, Ventura began an acting career. He acted in the 1987 movie Predator, whose cast included future California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and future Kentucky Gubernatorial candidate Sonny Landham. Ventura became close friends with Schwarzenegger during the production of Predator. He appeared in two episodes of Zorro filmed in Madrid, Spain, in 1991. He had a starring role in the 1990 sci-fi movie Abraxa, Guardian of the Universe, and supporting roles in The Running Man, Thunderground, Demolition Man, Repossessed, Ricochet, The Master of Disguise (in which he steals the Liberty Bell), and Batman & Robin – the first two and last of these also starring Schwarzenegger. Ventura also made a cameo appearance in Major League II, as "White Lightning". He also appeared as a self help guru (voice only) in The Ringer trying to turn Johnny Knoxville into a more confident worker. Ventura also had a cameo in The X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" as a Man in Black alongside fellow 'MiB' Alex Trebek. In 2008, Ventura was in the independent comedy Woodshop, starring as a high school shop teacher named Mr. Madson. The film was released September 7th, 2010.
Following his departure from the WWF, Ventura took advice from a former high school teacher and ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota in 1990. Ventura defeated the city's 25-year incumbent mayor and served from 1991 to 1995.
Ventura ran for Governor of Minnesota in 1998 as the nominee for the Reform Party of Minnesota (he later joined the Independence Party of Minnesota when the Reform Party broke from its association with the Reform Party of the United States of America). His campaign consisted of a combination of aggressive grassroots events and original television spots, designed by quirky adman Bill Hillsman, using the phrase "Don't vote for politics as usual." He spent considerably less than his opponents (about $300,000) and was a pioneer in his using the Internet as a medium of reaching out to voters in a political campaign.
He won the election in November 1998, narrowly (and unexpectedly) defeating the major-party candidates, St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman (Republican) and Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III (Democratic-Farmer-Labor). After his victory, bumper stickers and T-shirts bearing the slogan "My governor can beat up your governor" appeared in Minnesota. The nickname "Jesse 'The Mind'" (from a last-minute Hillsman ad featuring Ventura posing as Rodin's Thinker) began to resurface sarcastically in reference to his frequently controversial remarks. Ventura's old stage name "Jesse 'The Body'" (sometimes adapted to "Jesse 'The Governing Body'") also continued to appear with some regularity.
After a trade mission to China in 2002, Ventura announced that he would not run for a second term, stating that he no longer felt dedicated enough to his job to run again as well as what he viewed were constant attacks on his family by the media. Ventura accused the media of hounding him and his family for personal behavior and belief while neglecting coverage of important policy issues. He later told a reporter for The Boston Globe that he would have run for a second term if he had been single, citing the media's effect on his family life.
Governor Ventura sparked media criticism when, nearing the end of his term, he suggested that he might resign from office early to allow his lieutenant governor, Mae Schunk, an opportunity to serve as governor. He further stated that he wanted her to be the state's first female governor and have her portrait painted and hung in the Capitol along with the other governors. Ventura quickly retreated from the comments, saying he was just floating an idea.
In political debates, Ventura often admitted that he had not formed an opinion on certain policy questions. Ventura frequently described himself as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal." He selected teacher Mae Schunk as his running mate.
Lacking a party base in the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate, Ventura's policy ambitions had little chance of being introduced as bills. Initially, the residents of Minnesota feared Ventura's vetoes would be overturned. He vetoed 45 bills in his first year, and only three of those vetoes were overridden. The reputation for having his vetoes overridden comes from his fourth and final year, where six of his nine vetoes were overturned. He vetoed a bill to require recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Nevertheless, Ventura was still successful in several initiatives. One of the most notable was the rebate on sales tax. In each year of his administration, Minnesotans received a tax-free check in the late summer. The state was running a budget surplus at the time, and Ventura believed that the money should be returned to the public.
Later, he came to support a unicameral (one-house) legislature, property tax reform, gay rights, and abortion rights. While funding public school education generously, he opposed the teachers' union, and did not have a high regard for the public funding of higher education institutions. Additionally, Ventura supported the use of medicinal marijuana, advocated a higher role for third parties in national politics, and favored the concept of instant-runoff voting. He also opposed the death penalty.
In an interview on The Howard Stern Show, he reaffirmed his support of gay rights, including gay marriage and gays in the military, humorously stating he would've gladly served alongside homosexuals when he was in the Navy as they would've provided less competition for women. (Later, on the subject of a 2012 referendum on amending the Minnesota constitution to limit marriage to male-female couples, Ventura elaborated "I certainly hope that people don't amend our constitution to stop gay marriage because, number one, the constitution is there to protect people – not oppress them", and went on to relate a story from his pro wrestling days of a friend who was denied hospital visitation to his same-sex partner.)
Ventura was elected on a Reform party ticket, but he never received support from Ross Perot's Texas faction. When the Reform party was taken over by Pat Buchanan supporters before the presidential elections of 2000, Ventura left the party in February 2000, referring to it as "hopelessly dysfunctional". However, he maintained close ties to the Independence Party of Minnesota, which also broke from the Reform party around the same time.
During the first part of his administration, Ventura strongly advocated for land-use reform and substantial mass transit improvements, such as light rail. He made the light rail project a priority, obtaining additional funding from the Minnesota state legislature to keep the project moving. The Hiawatha Line was completed in 2004.
During another trade mission to Cuba in the summer of 2002, he denounced the American economic sanctions against Cuba, stating that the sanctions affected the Cuban public more than it did its government.
In his book Independent Nation, political analyst John Avlon describes Ventura as a radical centrist thinker and activist.
Ventura, who ran on a Reform Party ticket and advocated for a greater role for third parties in American politics, is highly critical of both Democrats and Republicans. Ventura described both parties as "monsters that are out of control" who are concerned only with "their own agendas and their pork."
Despite having been a supporter of third parties as governor and having voted for Ralph Nader in 2008 as a protest vote, although he did vote for John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election, Ventura has since declared he no longer supports the third party movement and advocates that all political parties, including third parties, be abolished. Feeling that the two-party system has corrupted the government, Ventura has expressed concern that if a third party became as successful as the Republicans and Democrats, it "will likewise have to corrupt itself. If you already have a two-headed monster, why would you need three?" Ventura still remains an independent and has indicated in the event he runs for political office in the future, he would not run with any political party.
Ventura greatly disapproved of some of the actions that took place at the 2002 memorial for Senator Paul Wellstone, his family, and others who died in a plane crash on October 25th, 2002. Ventura said, "I feel used. I feel violated and duped over the fact that the memorial ceremony turned into a political rally". He left halfway through the controversial speech made by Wellstone's best friend, Rick Kahn. Ventura had initially planned to appoint a Democrat to Wellstone's seat, but he instead appointed Dean Barkley to represent Minnesota in the Senate until Wellstone's term expired in January 2003. Barkley was succeeded by Norm Coleman, who won the seat following the political backlash that resulted from Wellstone's memorial service and indirectly helped Republicans achieve a net gain of two seats in the U.S. Senate and eight in the U.S. House.
After the legislature refused to increase spending for security, Ventura attracted criticism when he decided not to live in the governor's mansion during his tenure, choosing instead to shut it down and stay at his home in Maple Grove. Critics pointed to the loss of jobs for several working-class people at the mansion and the extra cost of reopening the mansion later.
In 1999, a group of disgruntled citizens petitioned to recall Governor Ventura, alleging, among other things, that "the use of state security personnel to protect the governor on a book promotion tour constituted illegal use of state property for personal gain." The petition was denied.
During his tenure as Governor, Ventura drew frequent fire from the press in the Twin Cities. He referred to reporters as "media jackals," a term that even appeared on the press passes required to enter the governor's press area. Shortly after Ventura's election as governor, author and humorist Garrison Keillor wrote a satirical book about the event, spoofing Ventura as "Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente," a self-aggrandizing former "Navy W.A.L.R.U.S. (Water Air Land Rising Up Suddenly)" turned professional wrestler turned politician. Initially, Ventura responded angrily to the satire, but later, in a conciliatory vein, said that Keillor "makes Minnesota proud". During his term, Ventura appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, in which he responded controversially to the following question: "So which is the better city of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis or St. Paul?". Ventura responded, "Minneapolis. Those streets in St. Paul must have been designed by drunken Irishmen". He later apologized for the remark, adding that it was not intended to be taken seriously.
While Ventura has not held public office since the end of his term as governor in 2003, he has remained politically active and has occasionally hinted at intentions of possibly running again for political office. In an interview on CNN's The Situation Room on April 7, 2008, Ventura said that he was considering entering the race for the United States Senate seat then held by Norm Coleman, his Republican opponent in the 1998 Gubernatorial race. A poll commissioned by Twin Cities station Fox 9 put him at 24 percent, behind Democratic candidate Al Franken at 32 percent and Norm Coleman at 39 percent in a hypothetical three-way race. However, Ventura announced on Larry King Live on July 14th, 2008, that he would not run; Ventura's decision not to join the race was partly rooted from a fear of a potential lack of privacy for his family, a concern that contributed to his refusal to seek a second term as governor. Al Franken ended up winning the election.
In his 1999 autobiography I Ain't Got Time to Bleed, Ventura suggested he did not plan on running for the presidency but did not rule out such an idea. He spoke at Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's "Rally for the Republic", organized by the Campaign for Liberty, on September 2nd, 2008. At the event, Ventura implied a possible future run at the U.S. Presidency. At the end of his speech, Ventura announced before a live audience that if America proves itself worthy, then "in 2012 we'll give them a race they'll never forget!" In 2011, Ventura expressed interest in running with Ron Paul for the 2012 presidential elections if the latter decided to run as an independent. On November 4th, 2011, Ventura said at a press conference about the dismissal of his court case against the Transportation Security Administration for what he claims are illegal searches of air travelers, that he is "thinking about" running for President. There had been reports that officials from the Libertarian Party have tried to persuade Ventura to run for the presidency on a Libertarian ticket although the party chairman Mark Hinkle said, "Jesse is more interested in 2016 than he is in 2012. But I think he's serious. If Ron Paul ran as a Libertarian, I think he definitely would be interested in running as a vice presidential candidate. He's thinking, ‘If I run as the vice presidential candidate under Ron Paul in 2012, I could run as a presidential candidate in 2016."
David Gewirtz of ZDNet wrote in a November 2011 article that he thinks Ventura would have a chance at winning, if he declared his intention to run at that point and ran a serious campaign, but that it would be a long shot.
In September 2012, Ventura announced on several shows, including Piers Morgan Tonight, The View, The Alex Jones Show, and The Howard Stern Show that if a grass roots movement gets him national ballot access in all fifty states and Puerto Rico, as well as access to participate in the presidential candidate debates, he will "seriously consider" running for president in 2016, as an Independent.
Ventura was succeeded in his office on January 6th, 2003, by Republican Tim Pawlenty. He began a cable television show in October 2003, on MSNBC called Jesse Ventura's America. The show was broadcast once a week, on Saturdays, unlike many MSNBC shows which are on five nights a week (this show was originally planned for five nights a week as well, but MSNBC executives changed their minds). At the time of its airing, Jesse Ventura's America was the only national television show filmed in Minnesota. Among his guests were Charles Barkley, Gray Davis, Arianna Huffington, Rob Kampia, and Kathy McKee. However, the show was short-lived and ended on December 26th, 2003, only a couple of months after it began. Although MSNBC executives said the show was cancelled because the show was too expensive to make, Ventura argued that the show was shelved because of his opposition to the Iraq War, saying that MSNBC did not want him becoming a prominent opponent to the war.
On October 22nd, 2004, with Ventura by his side, former Governor of Maine Angus King endorsed John Kerry for President at the Minnesota state capitol building. Ventura did not speak at the press conference. When prodded for a statement, King responded, "He plans to vote for John Kerry, but he doesn't want to make a statement and subject himself to the tender mercies of the Minnesota press". In the 2012 Senate elections, Ventura endorsed King in his campaign for the open Senate seat in Maine, in which King won.
In November 2004, an advertisement began airing in California featuring Ventura. In it, Ventura voiced his opposition to then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's policies regarding Native American casinos. Ventura served as an advisory board member for a group called Operation Truth, a non-profit organization set up "to give voice to troops who served in Iraq." “The current use of the National Guard is wrong....These are men who did not sign up to go occupy foreign nations”.
On December 29th, 2011, Ventura announced his support for Ron Paul on the Alex Jones Show for the 2012 Presidential Election as "the only anti-war candidate." However, after Mitt Romney became the presumptive nominee for the Republican party presidential candidate in May 2012, Ventura gave his support to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson on June 12th, 2012, whom Ventura argued was the choice for voters who “really want to rebel.”
In September 2012, Ventura and his wife appeared in an advertisement calling for voters to reject a referendum to be held in Minnesota during the November elections that would ban same-sex marriages in the state. The referendum was defeated.
In a brief interview with Alex Jones in September 2006, Ventura began expressing doubts regarding the events behind the September 11 attacks. Ventura expressed concern over NORAD's response to the four commercial airliners that were hijacked and compared it to the response to the plane crash that killed professional golfer Payne Stewart in 1999, in which fighter jets were scrambled to intercept Stewart's jet. However, Ventura did not state that he believed the government orchestrated the attacks, but did argue that the government has contemplated false flag attacks in the past, citing Operation Northwoods as an example.
In April and May 2008, Jesse Ventura, in several radio interviews for his new book, Don't Start the Revolution Without Me, reiterated his concerns about what he described as some of the unanswered questions about 9/11. His remarks about the possibility that the World Trade Center was demolished with explosives were also repeated in newspaper and television stories following some of the interviews.
On May 18th, 2009, when asked by Sean Hannity of Fox News, how George W. Bush could have avoided the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Ventura answered, "Well, you pay attention to memos on August 6th that tell you exactly what bin Laden's gonna do."
On April 9th, 2011, when Piers Morgan from CNN asked Ventura what his official view on the events of 9/11 was, Ventura said, "My theory of 9/11 is that we certainly – at the best we knew it was going to happen. They allowed it to happen to further their agenda in the Middle East and go to these wars."
In August 2009, it was announced that Ventura would host TruTV's new show Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura. "Ventura will hunt down answers, plunging viewers into a world of secret meetings, midnight surveillance, shifty characters and dark forces," truTV said in a statement. On the program, which debuted on December 2, 2009, Ventura travels the country, investigating cases and getting input from believers and skeptics before passing judgment on a theory's validity.
According to TruTV, the first episode drew 1.6 million viewers, a record for a new series on the network.
The second season of the series debuted in October 2010 and aired 8 episodes through December 2010.
A third season began airing in November 2012.
In January 2011, Jesse Ventura filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration for being subject to controversial pat-downs. Ventura, who received a titanium hip replacement in 2008 that sets off metal detectors at airport security checkpoints, has asserted that these pat-downs violate citizens' Fourth Amendment rights. Ventura's attorney has claimed that while he is not seeking any monetary compensation, Ventura wants an acknowledgment from the court that his rights were violated and that the TSA halt future pat-downs on him. Ventura stated that as a former politician and a military veteran and posing no threat, it is inappropriate for him to be subject to pat-downs.
The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2011 under the ruling that Ventura should have filed the lawsuit in the Court of Appeals. In related comments to the media following the lawsuit's dismissal, Ventura stated he believed America had become "fascist" for the secret ruling and subsequent mainstream media blackout. The former Governor said he would seek dual citizenship in both the United States and Mexico, having lived in Baja California Sur for a number of years. He also said he no longer felt patriotic and would raise a fist during the playing of the national anthem at public events. Ventura has declared he would no longer fly commercially and has repeatedly stated, "I love my country, not my government" in post-press-release interviews. The ultimate outcome of the TSA constitutional matter remains undetermined, and Ventura has not stated whether he would continue his lawsuit.
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