Jesse Ventura Biography

Born in Minneapolis, James George Janos served six years in the U.S. Navy before becoming a professional wrestler. As Jesse “The Body” Ventura, he was one of the American Wrestling Association’s flamboyant “bad boys.” In the mid-1980s, he retired from the ring. After a brief stint as a wrestling commentator and actor, Ventura ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park in 1990. He won and served until 1995. Then he returned to broadcasting, hosting a radio call-in show on a local sports station.

In 1998 Ventura, the Reform Party candidate, narrowly won a three-way election to become Minnesota’s thirty-eighth governor. His victory over St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman and state attorney general Hubert H. Humphrey III shocked the nation and burnished Minnesota’s longstanding reputation for third-party politics.

Departing from partisan norms, Ventura’s commitments defied convention. He appointed commissioners and judges from a variety of political affiliations and backgrounds. Notwithstanding his limited political experience, Ventura’s clear expectations and hands-off approach to managing the state’s executive branch empowered many public servants. Despite few legislative allies, he supported gay and abortion rights, called for a unicameral legislature, opposed public-sector unions, pushed through property tax reforms, advocated for light rail in the Twin Cities, provided citizens with a tax rebate, and created an endowment from tobacco-settlement monies.

Reform Party infighting pushed Ventura into the Independence Party in the middle of his term. Politicians in the major parties continued to struggle with his unconventional approach, often overriding his vetoes. Yet Ventura’s ability to translate complicated policy into everyday language endeared him to many citizens. The economic downturn of the early 2000s challenged state leaders, as surpluses turned to deficits. Rejecting talk of another term as governor or pursuit of higher office, Ventura did not run for re-election. After a brief stint as a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, he returned to the entertainment industry, hosting a number of television shows. Since leaving office Ventura has written several books and remains politically active.