Gov. Ventura flexes tourism muscle

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CHICAGO -- Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura is changing his nickname to Jesse "The Tourism" Ventura and pledging to provide travel agents with "whatever you want" in the way of assistance "to include Minnesota in your travel planning."

Ventura was in Chicago May 3 on behalf of the Minnesota Office of Tourism to try and lure more people from Chicago to vacation in Minnesota. A media mob followed the former professional wrestler as he walked down Michigan Avenue. Later he spoke at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.

Asked why anyone would want to travel to Minnesota, Ventura responded: "Because I am there. You can come and look at the people who elected me governor. I have warned them that if they see people staring at them, this is what is happening."

Ventura said "half a million" people from Chicago visit Minnesota each year "and we want to expand on that."

Ventura said Minnesota has great public golf courses "where you won't have any trouble getting in"; fishing; the city of Duluth where a new fresh-water aquarium is opening soon; bald eagles, and the Mall of America.

Minnesota Office of Tourism director Steve Markuson, who leaves the job May 15, said Ventura is the first Minnesota governor in recent memory to support funding tourism in the state.

"We had not received a budget increase in 12 years," until Ventura became governor, Markuson said.

Ventura helped push through a tourism office budget increase from $8 million a year to $10 million a year, said Markuson. With that increase the office was able to increase its media promotion budget from $2.5 million a year to $5 million a year, he said.

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