The Man Behind the Mind

Budget brawls and bulldog farts. Shock jocks and Satan's Cheerleaders. Jesse Ventura stars in the season's political blockbuster, but First Flack John Wodele directs the show.

Wodele is standing off to the governor's left, arms folded, fighting back yawns. When one reporter asks how Ventura feels about the tax cuts in the package, he repeats, "Again, structural balance will be of utmost importance."

"Does this give you new faith in the bicameral legislative system?" wonders another.

Ventura pauses. He looks irritated. He doesn't answer. Then he starts to grin, and there's a glint in his eye. The steam seems to be lifting. His head twitches. Maybe the briefings are starting to pay off. With Wodele close at hand, the governor deadpans: "Ask me about my singing."

 

Words are Wodele's business. He spends his long days crafting them, delivering them, clarifying them, restating them, and repeating them. His words find their way into the mouth of the governor and onto the front pages the next morning. Some words float by and are gone, and others linger, like the ones that roll endlessly across his office computer screen: "There's a semi coming, but I think we can make it."

These aren't Wodele's words. He picked them up more than 20 years ago, down in Wabasha. As he recounts the story, Wacker Schurhammer and Duke Dugan were old buddies, both in their 70s. Duke had cancer and was going for treatment in Rochester, and Wacker would drive him to his chemo sessions. One morning the old pals started the day at the Kellogg Municipal Liquor Store, a favorite hangout, at 8:00 a.m. They headed out on State Highway 42, coming, as they always did, to the intersection of U.S. Highway 61, where they had to cross four lanes of traffic.

Wacker to his pal: "Duke, how does it look?"

Duke: "Wacker, there's a semi coming, but I think we can make it."

They didn't.

Duke died instantly. Wacker wound up in the hospital. Wodele came by for a visit, where Wacker recounted Duke's last words before they pulled out into traffic.

The words have never left Wodele, who still repeats them to this day, sometimes in response to a reporter's question, sometimes just as a cautionary rule for living the kind of life he's chosen: "I think everyone has been in the position where there's a semi comin'. It's a good reminder to stay on top of your game--there's a lot of semis out there."

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