Walz’s office issues blistering response ahead of governor’s meeting with GOP leader

    Gov. Tim Walz and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, have been at odds over the governor's use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Ahead of a meeting between DFL Gov. Tim Walz and GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on the state’s COVID-19 response, Walz’s chief of staff issued a blistering letter Wednesday night after the senator criticized the governor’s use of emergency powers.

    “We are glad you accepted his invitation to meet tomorrow given that you have been shockingly absent throughout this pandemic,” wrote Chris Schmitter in a letter the governor’s office made public on the eve of the meeting. 

    Schmitter attempted to rebut Gazelka’s assertion that the Legislature has been shut out of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “At the same time that you claim the legislature is not involved enough in the process, you neglect to attend many of these critical informational and decision-making meetings,” he said. 

    Schmitter wrote that Gazelka has failed to attend any of the 10 Legislative COVID-19 Response Commission (LCRC) meetings,  a private COVID-19 meeting with Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, and a recent briefing with White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx. 

    “The Governor wants to work together across party lines to protect the health of Minnesotans, but you make that difficult when you choose not to attend critically important meetings focused on our state’s pandemic response efforts,” he wrote. 

    Gazelka on Friday wrote to Walz’s office asking what criteria would be used to determine when Walz would end his emergency peacetime declaration, accusing the administration of changing its criteria over the course of the pandemic. The emergency declaration has allowed the governor to issue a series of executive orders that initially included strict stay-at-home orders, as well as the shutting down of non-essential businesses. Walz has recently moved to relax many of those orders, including re-opening gyms, salons and other places of public accommodation with reduced capacity and universal masking requirements.

    Gazelka also criticized Walz for “unilaterally” spending $1.6 billion in federal funding for the pandemic without legislative input or oversight. 

    He also asserted: “There is no longer an emergency.”

    COVID-19 has claimed 1,830 lives in Minnesota, upending daily life here and across the country. Emergency declarations are also in effect in all 50 states, including a federal declaration under President Donald Trump, Schmitter pointed out. “It is a rare thing when the President and all 50 governors agree on something, but they agree on this, and they all disagree with you,” he wrote.

    Walz and Gazelka are expected to meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, shortly before an afternoon press conference where the governor is expected to give an update on the state’s COVID-19 response. 

    Relations between the two men have deteriorated in recent months as Gazelka has held votes to rescind the governor’s use of emergency powers. More recently, the Minnesota Senate ousted Walz’s labor commissioner, Nancy Leppink, in a move that Walz called a “petty political move,” vowing a “reckoning on this.”

    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.