GOP lawmakers pledge to return kids to school if they win majorities in Minn. Senate, House

    State Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, addressed reporters on Oct. 19, 2020, urging Gov. Tim Walz to reduce COVID-19 regulations. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.

    Republican legislative leaders on Monday pledged to end Gov. Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency declaration, return kids to school and loosen up COVID-19 restrictions if they are able to win majorities in both legislative chambers next month. 

    Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, held a news conference at the Capitol laying out their objectives, calling it a “contract” to open up Minnesota.

    “The contract to open up Minnesota really is about taking away the governor’s emergency power so that the legislative branch works with the governor, which means then the governor cannot force businesses to close, churches to close, and kids not to be in school,” Gazelka said. “It’s really more of Minnesotans working together, trusting each other, following the CDC guidelines and learning to live their lives with COVID.”

    The news conference came just 15 days before Election Day, when voters will decide who will control the Minnesota House and Senate. 

    It also comes amid a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases.

    More than 1,600 new COVID-19 cases and five additional deaths were announced Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health, the fourth consecutive day where cases totalled more than 1,500. Nationwide, in the past 10 days or so, daily confirmed cases have frequently soared past 50,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project, with the outbreak particularly acute in the Midwest. After affecting urban areas earlier this year, rural areas and their limited hospital resources have been hit hard more recently

    Gazelka said it should be up to local school districts to determine when kids can return to school, and said sporting events should be allowed to resume with fewer restrictions. Currently, the governor’s schools plan calls for districts to consult health department data to determine safe COVID-19 procedures.

    “Every Minnesota student has the right to participate in the activities that are available in school,” he said. “Parents and friends should get to go to those activities.”

    Daudt said distance learning is reducing the quality of education for students, particularly in areas with limited broadband internet access and other resources. 

    “Students get the best education when they’re in a classroom with a teacher,” Daudt said. “(Walz’s) default is a virtual, distance learning situation.”

    The top two GOP Republicans at the statehouse said they are hearing from constituents who are concerned their children are falling behind.

    In a statement, a spokesman for Walz said the governor criticized the plan.

    “Gov. Walz ​will work with anyone to fight the virus, including Republicans in the state legislature,” Walz press secretary Teddy Tschann said in a statement. “But as COVID-19 deaths continue to climb, he encourages them to take the pandemic seriously. A one-page plan to abandon all safety precautions is not a serious strategy to slow the spread or rebuild the economy.”

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.