The election of Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota lingers as a mark against the state, even more embarrassing than having elected Al Franken to the U.S. Senate. Even so, you can rely upon it being cited as evidence in any given debate regarding the viability of third parties.
“Jesse won,” the argument goes. No further context or substance is provided. We’re to believe that, because Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota sixteen years ago for a single term, third parties have been vindicated as a effective means to engage in the political discourse. It couldn’t possibly be that Ventura’s election was a fluke, an exception to the rule driven by his celebrity. No. Third parties are legit, brother, and you’re a tool of the establishment if you say otherwise.
It’s all fairly childish, and I say that as someone who voted for Jesse in that 1998 election. I was 19 years old, hardly world worn, motivated more by novelty and a vague sense of rebellion than critical thought. I remember thinking that this was really going to shake things up. Jesse’s going to get in there and use common sense, like a normal person, not one of these stupid politicians that’s in it for themselves. I bought into the slogan, “Don’t vote for politics as usual.”
Jesse’s term as governor was unusual. I’ll give him that. Lacking a legislative caucus to work with, being third party and all, he wasn’t able to get a whole lot done. He ended up launching a light rail boondoggle which continues to expand like a fiscally insolvent cancer throughout the Twin Cities metro. He didn’t legalize prostitution or weed, like he floated during the campaign. He did manage to eliminate the state’s vehicle emissions tests, which was cool. For the most part, however, Jesse’s term as governor was just a feather in his personal cap which utterly failed to “shake things up.” The term was such a dud that Jesse himself grew bored of it and threatened to retire early to let his lieutenant governor take the state for a spin.
I recall all this today, Election Day 2014, in a longshot attempt to sway any who may be seriously considering a third party vote. You’re not going to change “politics as usual,” whatever that is, by casting your vote for a third party candidate. First of all, whoever the candidate is, in whatever race, anywhere in the country, they’re going to lose. Okay. So there’s that. It’s a complete waste of your time. But more to the point, even in the freak occurrence where they win, what then? What’s one legislator without a caucus going to achieve? What’s an executive without legislative support going to accomplish? If Jesse Ventura’s term as governor of Minnesota stands as any indication, the answer is nothing.
Vote like elections have consequences, because they do.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)