Gov. Tim Walz used an unusual State of the State address Sunday evening to try to rally Minnesotans beset by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the sweeping stay-at-home order Walz has issued to try to slow the disease’s spread.
Rather than speaking at the state Capitol to a packed chamber of state lawmakers, as is typical, Walz gave the address nearly alone from the governor’s residence in St. Paul. The speech contained no new updates on the disease’s spread, or new announcements such as whether Walz’s stay-at-home order will be extended beyond April 10.
Instead, Walz drew on Minnesotans’ experiences with long winters to urge them to band together to get through COVID-19 — whose impact “far exceeds the reality of Minnesota’s harshest winters.”
“No matter how daunting the challenge, no matter how dark the times, Minnesota has always risen up — by coming together,” Walz said.
In addition to citing examples of Minnesotans’ community spirit, from a state trooper who gave his protective masks to a doctor to children leaving chalk drawings to cheer up quarantined seniors, Walz attempted to persuade Minnesotans that the difficult stay-at-home order is worth enduring.
“These last few weeks have been difficult — and it’s only going to get harder,” Walz said. But, he told Minnesotans, “Staying home is the only vaccine we have right now.”
“You are slowing the spread of this disease. You are protecting your neighbors. You are giving hospitals time to prepare to care for the many who will fall ill.”
Political tensions fade as leaders seek unity
Most of the political tension that usually surrounds State of the State addresses, which governors use to roll out political priorities that are often met with skepticism from the other political party, was absent Sunday. House Republican leader Kurt Daudt said Walz “took the right tone” in the speech. In a video released before Walz’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that he was “walking hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm” with Walz, even though Gazelka is a Republican and Walz is a DFLer.
Only differences of emphasis remained. Democratic and Republican leaders alike emphasized the need to protect public health, and supported Walz’s steps so far to try to address the pandemic here. But Republicans called for the governor to exercise more “flexibility” in lifting the stay-at-home order for some types of jobs, such as golf courses and lawn care, where work can be done while maintaining social distancing.
“The more jobs that we can allow people to start as soon as they can, the better,” Gazelka said. “Let’s get Minnesota back to work again as soon as possible.”
Democratic leaders, in contrast, acknowledged a need to get the economy going again, but said the focus has to be on health.
“We can take care of the economy when we're through the public health crisis,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
Unusual setting sparked by COVID-19
Like many Minnesotans, Walz has been self-quarantining in his official residence, after a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19. He hasn’t shown any symptoms, but delivered his speech from the residence to preserve social distancing. The Legislature, which ordinarily wouldn’t finish its work and adjourn until May, has been in recess for weeks to avoid spreading COVID-19 through the face-to-face contact that the legislative session usually involves.
Speaking from the residence’s basement, Walz struck a casual style, wearing jeans with a sweater and blazer instead of the suit and tie he wore for his 2019 address in the Capitol.
Walz’s speech was the first State of the State delivered from the governor’s residence since Gov. Jesse Ventura’s 2002 address, though other governors have occasionally left the Capitol for their addresses in recent years, such as Gov. Mark Dayton on the University of Minnesota campus in 2016 and Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the St. Cloud Civic Center in 2008.