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Gov. Walz responds to criticism over deleted video: ‘I value transparency highly’

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz responded to GOP criticism of deleted video of a forum on criminal justice that featured first lady Gwen Walz.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News File

Gov. Tim Walz defended his administration’s commitment to transparency Wednesday as well as his wife’s role in seeking changes to education offerings for Minnesota’s prison inmates amid a controversy over a testy forum of which video was later deleted.

“I will stand by that we’re as transparent as any administration, if not the most that Minnesota has ever seen,” Walz told reporters after touring the Minneapolis VA. He added, “I value transparency highly. I believe that I’ve lived that way.”

Walz was responding to an MPR News report this week about a May event at Twin Cities Public Television. It was built around the screening of a forthcoming documentary on college courses in prisons and included panel discussions involving first lady Gwen Walz. 

Minnesota First Lady Gwen Walz stands for a portrait.
Minnesota first lady Gwen Walz stands for a portrait inside MPR on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News

An official from the governor’s office subsequently approached the TPT promotional unit that staged the event about deleting the footage. TPT did so, but station officials insist that decision was made independently of the contact from Walz’s office.

By many accounts, the event grew tense when moderator Toussaint Morrison focused on the role race plays in criminal justice.

“The first lady is out there talking about prison reform and race. That is going to be controversial. I was not at the event or part of this. But I certainly support their decisions they made,” Gov. Walz said.

Republicans have harshly criticized Walz since the story about the tape deletion was published.

“If there is a theme for Governor Walz’s first year in office, lack of transparency comes to mind,” said Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan, who referenced ongoing troubles in the human services and corrections agencies.

Walz struck back.

“Is their point that we don’t want to talk about race? Is their point that we don’t want to talk about prison reform? Because I had a bill to do both of those things that was not heard by the Republican Senate,” Walz said.

Walz said others involved in the event also pushed for the video to be discarded. He said the lack of signed releases from participants and attendees made it problematic to retain or broadcast the footage.

The DFL governor’s comments came as Morrison released a lengthy statement defending the questions he asked in early May. 

A man sits outside of a coffee shop in a city.
Toussaint Morrison sits outside a coffee shop in Minneapolis on Aug. 22, 2019.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

“In discussing the institution of prison, to my surprise, most of the panelists had neither an objective nor subjective answer to questions regarding racial disparity, an undeniable component throughout the United States history of crime and punishment,” Morrison wrote.

Morrison said he won’t apologize for guiding the discussion as he did. TPT officials have apologized to Gwen Walz and placed blame on Morrison, who has been a freelance employee at the station.

Morrison said he will host another forum on the intersection of prison, education and race on Sept. 30 in Minneapolis.

“The topics are massive in scale, and by no means do we intend to satisfy the subject matter with one conversation,” Morrison wrote in the statement posted to Facebook. “The forum will be filmed, and serve as a monthly series of designating space to discuss community and disparity.”