Minnesota legislative leaders highlight their party's values and issues

Three people sit at a table in an auditorium.
Gov. Tim Walz answers a question as Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, right, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, left, listen during a legislative preview panel in February inside of the Minnesota Senate Building in St. Paul.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated: Sept. 25 1:49 p.m.

The presidential race isn't the only one on the November ballot. Every voter in Minnesota will get to make a choice for state representative and state senator.

Right now control of the Legislature is divided with a Republican majority in the Senate and a DFL majority in the House. That could change next year depending on the choices you make, and that could have a big impact on how Minnesota reacts to the pandemic, how it balances the state budget, which programs get funding and which don't.

On Politics Friday, the leaders of the Minnesota House and Senate join MPR News political editor Mike Mulcahy to lay out their positions on the issues and make the case for why they should control the agenda at the State Capitol in 2021.

Guests:

  • Part 1: Senate GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Senate DFL Minority Leader Susan Kent.

  • Part 2: House DFL Speaker Melissa Hortman and House GOP Minority Leader Kurt Daudt.

On the state’s COVID-19 response and virus restrictions

The level of government restrictions to fight COVID-19 is a flashpoint in Minnesota legislative races.

The top Minnesota House Republican says DFL Gov. Tim Walz has gone too far in cutting lawmakers out of the state’s coronavirus strategy.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said if his party wins the majority in November, they’ll push for a more tailored approach to slowing the COVID-19 spread. He said containment strategies should be focused more on big-risk areas such as nursing homes.

“COVID is here. It’s not going away immediately or anytime soon. It’s important that we learn to live with it,” Daudt said. “And I think we’ve done a better job of that recently. But I think we’re best and strongest in Minnesota when we work together.”

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the lack of a coherent national strategy has made the coronavirus situation worse than it should have been.

State Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Minority Leader Susan Kent also aired differences about the right approach. Kent, a DFLer from Woodbury, agreed with the steps Walz has taken to combat the virus.

“We need to manage this virus carefully and safely,” Kent said. “We need to have people wearing masks to protect each other and we need to have good testing and tracing and make sure that we are providing support to people when they are exposed to this virus so we can stop the spread as we’ve seen in countries around the world.”

Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake, said Minnesota needs to do a better job of managing the virus without halting most facets of society.

“So I’m not saying just expose everybody that that’s the direction,” he said. “But we should not make people overly afraid and say millions and millions of people will die when in the United States 200,000 people have died.”

Gazelka said Walz should relinquish his emergency authority and involve legislators in more decisions around the coronavirus.

On public safety

House Speaker Hortman said Republican opponents are misleading the public about where her party’s candidates stand on support for police.

“[Support includes] adequate funding for our local governments so they can afford strong public safety. And just this year, with testing the untested rape kits. Providing the Department of Corrections all the resources they need to keep our prisons operating,” Hortman said on Politics Friday. “Republicans won’t stand up and pay for the public safety they claim that they support.”

House Minority Leader Daudt said voters shouldn’t trust DFLers to prioritize public safety if they retain the House majority. Hortman said DFLers have firmly backed collective bargaining for police officers and state assistance to cities.

Daudt said public safety is a top issue in this campaign. He says police unions have rescinded some endorsements of DFL legislators because they have more trust in his party’s candidates.

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