Opponents of Gov. Tim Walz's executive orders closing bars and restaurants are bombarding some Minnesota legislators with calls and e-mails, hoping they will vote to end the governor's emergency powers when the Legislature reconvenes next week.
The concerted campaign is targeted at a half-dozen Democrats in the Minnesota House, who have either voted to end Walz's powers in the past or have been willing to consider alternatives to COVID-19 decisionmaking.
"If we fail, our beloved businesses who are under assault from Tyrant Walz and our awful Attorney General will likely fail and go bankrupt," Jake Duesenberg, president of the group Action 4 Liberty, wrote to supporters as he urged them to contact Democratic and Republican legislators.
Even if the crush of calls and e-mails sways the small group of legislators in their favor, Walz's critics would face another likely insurmountable hurdle in the DFL-led House.
Throughout the pandemic, legislators have held monthly special sessions that give them an opportunity to reject Walz's continuation of a state of emergency. That emergency status allows the governor to make decisions with little legislative input. While the Republican-controlled Senate has routinely voted to end his powers, the House Democratic majority has not. Both chambers would need to support an end to the emergency.
When lawmakers return to St. Paul on Tuesday for the start of the regular session, the composition of the House will look different. A number of Democratic representatives lost in November, and the House DFL's 16-seat advantage shrank to six seats.
Duesenberg said he hopes that will change the odds in their favor. But House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said a procedural hurdle ensures it will not.
To vote on an end to the emergency powers, House members would first have to vote to suspend their rules to take up the proposal. A suspension of the rules requires 90 votes, Hortman said.
"I don't foresee any set of facts where that occurs," she said.
Democrats generally have backed Walz's approach to the pandemic, she said, adding that there's not a political upside for the governor in closing bars and restaurants.
"He is trying to protect people's lives," Hortman said.
The virus continues to pose a serious threat to the state's hospital capacity and people's health, and nearly every state is under a state of emergency, Walz's spokesman Teddy Tschann said. He said Walz has asked lawmakers to start passing mitigation efforts, like the face-covering requirement, into law.
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, is among the Democrats who have voted to end Walz's emergency powers. He said the 90-vote threshold is "unattainable" but he will continue to support an end to the powers.
"I'm still quaint enough to believe in separation of powers," he said. "I sympathize with Gov. Walz; he is indeed between a rock and a hard place no matter what he does. But the Legislature does have to come into play."
Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, has primarily opposed suspending the rules to take up Walz's powers. He changed course during the last special session, and said he had "heard enough" and was willing to at least listen to the plan Republicans were proposing as a replacement for the emergency powers. However, he was not sure he would have voted for the idea they were offering.
Both Ecklund and Pelowski said a lot of people are contacting them about the issue, but many are sending form letters and are not from their districts.
On a call with a reporter, Ecklund said he had missed three calls in a matter of minutes and assumed they were all about Walz's emergency powers.
The advocates are also targeting Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who has previously joined Republicans in voting to end Walz's powers. Marquart said during those votes he didn't think there was an emergency and believed the Legislature should be more involved in COVID response.
Marquart declined on Tuesday to say how he will vote next month. He said he is concerned about the Legislature's ability to respond quickly if another emergency situation arises.
"If we're going to take the governor's powers away, what is the plan?" Marquart said.
Duesenberg, who is helping orchestrate the calls and e-mails to legislators, said they are pushing for lawmakers to take up the issue immediately.
"I can't imagine a more important thing to take up right away," he said. "If this thing fails, we'll be right back at it again."