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Ventura wrestles with 'tripartisanship'

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Up here in Minnesota, people take pride in their innovations. Everything from Scotch Tape to Betty Crocker's cake-mix-in-a-box to the first Internet search engine has emerged from this tundra in America's heartland.

Now comes an unusual political innovation: three-party rule. Four weeks into Reform Party Gov. Jesse Ventura's term, some people write off this tripartisan setup - Republicans control the House, Democrats have the Senate, and Mr. Ventura sits in the governor's chair - as some kind of frost-induced fluke.

But others think it's perhaps an antidote to the partisanship in Washington - or at least a warning to Democrats and Republicans about what can happen if rancor outpaces productivity.

The new game in Minnesota is that "no one wants to be the odd duck out," says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. With three parties dancing around each other, there's less chance of one-on-one confrontation.

So far.

"No one wants to be the skunk at the garden party," Dr. Schier adds. Indeed, tripartisan government brings a kind of wary balance. There's a lot of talk in this snow-covered capital about working together. But behind it is a harsh reality.

The thing the other parties "need to watch out for," says Governor Ventura, leaning forward at his desk with a hint of a scowl, "is that I will take my case to the people." And, he adds in his deep, rumbling-engine voice, "my popularity is very high right now."

Steve Sviggum, a part-time farmer and the new Speaker of the House, also talks about working closely with Ventura and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (or DFLers as they're known here). But he too understands the three-sided dynamic.

Ventura's "biggest problem would be if [Senate majority leader] Roger Moe and I come together and shake hands," Speaker Sviggum says. "He would be out of it completely."

Ventura's report card

So what are the results of this unique arrangement so far? Well, a $1 billion tax cut, for starters.

Just days after his inauguration, Ventura and legislative leaders agreed to turn the state's big surplus into a big tax cut. Ventura wants to give the average middle-income family a check for $779 by August - a plan that would amount to the biggest sales-tax cut by a state in United States history.

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