Jesse 'The Body' Ventura bodyslams national Reform Party
Minnesota governor says national party stymies growth
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN)-- Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura stayed true to his word Friday afternoon and severed his ties to the Reform Party's national organization, saying the party's entrenched establishment operates in such a way that growth within its ranks has been stymied since his 1998 election.
Ventura was the so-called 'third party's' highest elected public official. Rumors have persisted for days that he had had enough of his dealings with the national organization, and was intent on walking away.
"I am announcing today that I am disafilliating myself from the Reform Party," Ventura told a clutch of reporters outside the Minnesota statehouse.
Gov. Jesse Ventura
"I believe the national party is going in the wrong direction, and is becoming what we in Minnesota do not want it to be," he said.
Ventura said he would recommend that the Reform Party's Minnesota chapter revert to its one-time status as the "Independence Party of Minnesota," a longstanding third party that operated within the state prior to billionaire Ross Perot's 1992 founding of the Reform Party.
"My first priority is Minnesota," he said.
Ventura's frank pronouncements come just one day before the Reform Party's National Committee meets in Nashville, Tennessee, to consider ousting the party's national chairman, Jack Gargan, who is a close ally of the flamboyant former professional wrestler and Navy Seal.
The developments are the latest in a running battle between Ventura and his
supporters and those of party founder Perot. The two sides have disagreed on virtually everything since Ventura secured the keys to the Minnesota governor's mansion two years ago.
The two party factions couldn't even agree on where to hold the party's
national convention this summer. The Perot group wants Long Beach, California,
while Ventura wanted the convention held in his home state of Minnesota.
|Watch Gov. Ventura's statement|
Ventura accused the party of working behind the scenes to sabotage Gargan's work as chairman, saying the national organization has provided him with no assistance, and has gone so far as to conceal vital records from him.
"There is a small group of power brokers that will not allow the party to grow nationally," he said. "They're not allowing the party to grow (beyond) the little elite group that runs it."
According to former Reform Party Chairman Russ Verney, the split between the Minnesota organization and the national party widened last year after Ventura made a number of controversial statements in an interview with 'Playboy' magazine. In the interview, Ventura called for legalization of prostitution and
decriminalization of drug use, and characterized organized religion as a "sham
and a crutch for weak-minded people."
Verney accused Ventura of trying to run the party through "intimidation and
bullying." Of Ventura's departure, Verney added, "We'll miss him, but we'll move on."
Bantering with reporters Friday afternoon, Ventura -- who eschewed the buttoned-down look of the average politician for a leather and wool Rolling Stones tour jacket -- brazenly referred to Verney as "Russ Varmint" and "Russ Vermin," and said Verney and the national party hadn't a leg to stand on when claiming credit for Ventura's political success.
"He can say what he wants," Ventura said. "I would challenge him to say how he or the national party helped any small party in any election."
Ventura scored a shocking victory in Minnesota in 1998, when he overtook his Republican and Democratic candidates -- after deep, early deficits in state polls -- to win the race. He employed an unusual mix of charm, daily bus trips and a sophisticated grass roots infrastructure to attain the governorship.
"The national Reform Party did nothing -- zero -- to get me elected," Ventura said Friday.
Many Perot supporters now want former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan as the party's nominee in 2000, while Ventura and his backers have promoted billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump.
Buchanan, former host of CNN's "Crossfire" program, dropped out of the
Republican race to seek the Reform Party nomination last year. CNN has learned that Trump plans a news conference early next week to discuss his immediate political plans. His advisers tell CNN he is almost certain not to seek the nomination.
Ventura said he could not stay in a party that wants Buchanan as its nominee because, though he has nothing personal against Buchanan, their philosophical differences could never be bridged.
"I hear he's getting support from (Louisiana-based Republican and onetime Ku Klux Klan operative) David Duke," Ventura continued. "I can't be part of that."
As for Trump, Ventura said Friday that "the Donald" has blessed his decision to withdraw from the party. "What Donald does now is his choice," Ventura said. "Maybe he'll be a candidate for the Independence Party."
Whoever the Reform candidate is -- and Perot himself could still jump into the mix -- he will face an uphill battle, since the party at this point is only on the ballot in 21 states. But that could change in coming weeks.
Perot has remained silent throughout the controversy.
Perot, who has run for president twice on the Reform Party ticket, has not indicated whether he will seek the nomination again.