Republicans have assailed DFL Gov. Tim Walz for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past six months, while Walz says the state would be worse off if Republicans were in control.
The governor likened the GOP strategy to, “You don’t want to get cancer, don’t ever go check out that lump you’ve got. Just make sure you just ignore it.”
Republican lawmakers say that’s untrue and they take COVID-19 seriously but believe Walz’s regulations have done more harm than good. The Star Tribune broke down key issues in the state’s pandemic response to see what would be different if Senate Republican leadership was in charge.
The differences are vast. From face masks to distance learning to business operations, Walz has set rules to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The top Republican in the Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, said he would do away with those regulations, which he said are hurting children’s education and the economy and leaving citizens without any real say.
Instead, Gazelka said people should be encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing, hand washing and masks. But he said individuals, business owners and school officials should be able to make decisions based on what they believe is best.
“We do think it’s serious,” he said. “We also recognize we should try to follow the guidelines, but they should be more guidelines than this top-down mandate.”
The two sides have butted heads in special sessions called every 30 days to review the governor’s emergency powers. Those powers have allowed him to make unilateral decisions about the state’s COVID-19 response, such as limiting restaurant seating and requiring face masks in public indoor spaces. So far, his actions have survived court challenges and GOP legislative attempts to curtail them.
Democrats argue that the Legislature, with its purposefully deliberative process, can’t respond fast enough as emergencies arise. They also have criticized Republicans for condemning Walz’s approach without holding hearings to discuss thoughtful alternatives.
The Star Tribune asked GOP legislative leaders what they would do if they were in charge. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, declined several interview requests. But Gazelka offered his alternatives to Walz’s restrictions: