Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz plunged into a second term that promises to be distinct from his first, pledging that a DFL-led state government will adopt major changes to education, health care and climate policies.
He also said the state’s residents will see progress after a recent stretch of tug-of-war politics at the Capitol. There is a $17.6 billion projected budget surplus to convert some of his promises into reality.
“I look forward to working with everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike,” Walz said in a speech Monday at the Fitzgerald Theater, moments after taking his oath following a comfortable re-election victory in November.
“Minnesotans spoke clearly this last election, and they expect all of us to do just that: get things done,” he added. “The era of gridlock in St. Paul is over. Minnesotans have chosen. They chose hope over fear. They chose fact over fiction, and they chose action over excuses. Our path is clear. It’s time to lead.”
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His inauguration comes on the eve of the Legislature’s new session, where Democrats will control both the House and Senate. There are narrow majorities in each body, meaning that the agenda Walz laid out could still face a bumpy ride.
Walz previewed some of the initiatives he’ll put out formally in the weeks ahead. They include:
Bolstering public education with big investments, including a state buydown of special education costs that are saddling school districts with budget problems.
Providing universal school meals in an effort to reduce stigma in child nutrition.
Setting a goal of making Minnesota electricity carbon emission-free by 2040.
Implementing a state-administered program for paid family and medical leave rather than leave it to individual employers to decide on the offering.
Approving new gun regulations, barring conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth and fortifying voting rights, including automatic registration.
The swearing-in ceremony was yet another triumph for state Democrats, who swept the constitutional offices for the fourth consecutive election. That was despite an environment that many political pundits believed would give Republicans their best shot at victory in more than a decade.
Instead, Walz and Lt. Peggy Flanagan will occupy the corner office for another four years. Attorney General Keith Ellison and State Auditor Julie Blaha notched close wins for second terms as well. Secretary of State Steve Simon cruised to his third term.
In his remarks, Ellison cast them as a team but each with its own responsibility to shoulder.
“I come to you with a renewed sense of vigor and commitment, plus four years of experience, which, God-willing, brings some wisdom along with it,” Ellison said. “In these four years, I will keep on working to help Minnesota afford their lives and live with dignity, safety and respect.”
Simon used his speech to make a call for automatic voter registration, pre-registration for teens approaching voting age and a return of voting rights for felons who leave prison. He said all are critical to giving people a voice in a democracy that has seen its share of stress tests.
“Does democracy seem a little bit dinged and dented over the last few years? Yes, absolutely it does,” said Simon, who was the top vote getter in the 2022 Minnesota election. “But democracy held and democracy will continue to thrive in Minnesota, if we don't take it for granted.”
The event showcased diversity. It featured spiritual guidance from Minnesota tribal emissaries and remarks from leaders of multiple faiths. There was the Pledge of Allegiance from a Minneapolis Urban League youth group and a soaring rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” by Robert Robinson and Sam Reeves. Several judges of color were among those to administer oaths to the state leaders.
But one-party government doesn’t assure success.
Democrats will have a 34-33 Senate majority, their first time in charge since 2016. But that slim edge means that any defections could hold back priority measures.
Walz didn’t mention legalization of marijuana in his speech. The DFL-led House passed that initiative in 2021 but the Senate didn’t go along. It’s unclear what the prospects are now, although Walz says he would sign the bill if it gets to him.
Slight differences have emerged on the tax front as well.
Legislative leaders haven’t rallied behind the Walz call for tax rebate checks out of the gate. And a push to repeal all income taxes on Social Security income has caused early fissures too, with some new DFL lawmakers insisting upon it and others balking. Walz has called for a limited drawdown of Social Security taxes.
Still , legislative leaders said Monday they are largely on board with the governor’s agenda with the session set to open Tuesday.
“We are ready to go, you know,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL- Brooklyn Park. “I'm an older person, but younger people teach me hip, new sayings. And I guess that there's a hashtag LFG, which means we are really ready to go. And we are really ready to go.”
Walz expressed optimism that he and the Legislature will soldier through. He returned to the unification theme that was a mainstay of his first run and first term for governor: One Minnesota.
“This is an opportunity to make change, to make what was previously impossible possible and to strengthen faith in government as a force for good,” Walz said as he concluded his remarks.
“That's our opportunity: to restore civility, transparency, accessibility to our decision making tables for all Minnesotans, all ages, all races, all genders, all zip codes. This is our opportunity to truly build one Minnesota and to make our state the best place in the country to live, to work and to raise a family. This is our opportunity. Let's get to work.”