Speaking from his old classroom at Mankato West High School, Gov. Tim Walz gave an optimistic view of Minnesota’s standing, telling residents in a livestreamed statewide address that the pandemic is almost over.
Walz’s administration reports that more than 1.5 million Minnesotans have received the vaccine. More than 80% of people 65 and older are vaccinated, as well as two-thirds of educators and child care workers.
“Brighter days are here, and even more are coming,” Walz said, speaking just two days before all Minnesotans 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine. “We are winning the fight against COVID-19.”
Walz’s State of the State address was postponed for a week after the governor was recently exposed to COVID-19. Walz quarantined at the governor’s residence and did not test positive for the virus.
A year ago, Walz delivered a similarly livestreamed State of the State address, although one that warned of dark days ahead as COVID-19 spread, and the administration raced to expand its testing capacity.
The next year would prove to be one of the most momentous in state history, one that would mostly test the first term DFL governor’s ability to handle crisis, from the pandemic and the resulting recession to a racial reckoning after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 515,000 Minnesotans have contracted the virus, and 6,830 people have died.
“To everyone who has lost someone they care about this year, Minnesota’s heart breaks for you,” Walz said. “Your grief is unimaginable. I know words can’t ease your pain. Time doesn’t erase it — it just changes it.”
Among the reasons Walz says he chose to give the annual address in Mankato was to commemorate the 1961 speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the high school.
Walz touched on the killing of Floyd nearly a year ago on May 25. The trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering Floyd, will start with opening statements on Monday after a jury was seated last week.
“As the trial of Derek Chauvin is underway, tensions and emotions will understandably run high,” Walz said. “Please, Minnesotans, make your voices heard. Practice your First Amendment right — but please heed Dr. King’s advice that nonviolence is the only way to truly move hearts and create change.”
Unlike last year’s State of the State, which lasted fewer than 15 minutes, Walz pitched his legislative agenda, which was mostly derailed by the COVID-19 response last year.
The February budget forecast shows the state’s economy is rebounding. Instead of a deficit, Minnesota now expects a $1.6 billion budget surplus that does not factor in the $2.6 billion state government is set to receive under the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden.
Walz is pushing for funding for summer programming intended to offset the pandemic’s disruption to schools and the resulting learning loss that disproportionately affected students of color.
“Minnesota has come together to lead the way in battling COVID-19, but we can’t stop there,” he said. “We need to lead the way in making this state the best in the country for our kids — every single one of them.”
Walz’s 21-minute address got an early rebuttal from the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake.
Like Walz, he struck a hopeful tone for Minnesota, but he credited another political leader for the state’s turnaround.
“Who deserves credit? President Trump deserves credit,” said Gazelka, a potential GOP gubernatorial candidate who said he would decide if he runs this summer.
The GOP leader thanked Trump for accelerating the country’s efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine under the so-called Operation Warp Speed.