Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen is calling for "civil disobedience" among Minnesotans and businesses in the state, asking them to ignore vaccine and mask guidance intended to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Jensen, a Chaska family physician and former state senator, released a YouTube video Friday announcing that he was drafting language for a proposed bill to make Minnesota a "health freedom sanctuary state" after President Joe Biden said he would use his executive powers to sidestep GOP governors resisting his call for new federal vaccine requirements.
"I'm calling on all citizens to stand up — especially I am calling on my Republican colleagues to stand up and declare where you are on this," Jensen said. "Enough is enough, let's meet this moment."
In an interview Friday, Jensen said that he was working with lawmakers in both the state House and Senate on the proposal but declined to identify them until the bill is complete.
With the delta variant of the coronavirus still surging, the president this week announced new federal vaccine requirements that could affect 100 million Americans. Biden criticized Republican governors and unvaccinated citizens for setting back the nation's efforts at slowing down the pandemic.
The White House's COVID-19 data director this week said that 75% of U.S. adults now have at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. And a poll last month by the Associated Press and University of Chicago found that most Americans supported vaccine mandates for flying on airplanes, at crowded events and for health care workers and others whose jobs involve interacting with the public.
Minnesota Republicans reacted with outrage on Friday to Biden's new mandates, with newly elected Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller calling them "simply ridiculous and unreasonable."
"As businesses continue to bounce back from the pandemic, there is already a struggle to find enough workers, and these mandates will make it even more difficult for businesses and the economy to fully recover," said Miller, a Winona Republican.
The campaign for Neil Shah, who is also a doctor and GOP candidate for governor, meanwhile sent a fundraising pitch on Friday assailing Biden's mandates and vowing to "not back down from personal freedom, no matter what Joe Biden thinks he can order us to put in our bodies."
Jensen, one of the first entrants into the 2022 race, has focused his campaign almost exclusively on opposition to DFL Gov. Tim Walz's response to COVID-19. Jensen's campaign page has been banned from advertising on Facebook after the social media giant concluded that it "has repeatedly posted content that has been debunked by third-party fact-checkers." TikTok also banned Jensen for misinformation on COVID-19 guidelines.
Earlier this year, Jensen also joined a federal lawsuit seeking to halt COVID vaccinations for children that was filed by a group whose founder participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Jensen said Friday that he has not been vaccinated and had no plans to do so. He said he already contracted the virus and has sufficient antibodies, which he said is "superior to what we're getting" with vaccines.
"So there is no scientific reason for me to get that vaccine," Jensen said.
But he could be required to get one under Biden's new rules. The president said this week that health care workers who accept Medicare must be vaccinated. Jensen was reimbursed about $550,000 from 2012 to 2019 — the most recent years for which data are available — for care provided to Medicare patients.
On Friday, he said the bill language he is working on includes "a total banishment on vaccine passports, banishment of private sector vaccine mandates, banishment of child masking policies, and a permanent ban on all emergency lockdown powers — without exception."
Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin on Friday accused Jensen of using a crisis "to play politics through gimmicks and political theater."
"COVID-19 cases are spiking across Minnesota, but instead of taking that seriously, Jensen, a discredited doctor, is nonetheless continuing to spread fear and misinformation.," Martin said. "Jensen's proposal would allow businesses to put their profit motive ahead of protecting their employees, customers, and communities. It would result in more Minnesotans being exposed to COVID-19, more Minnesotans getting sick and put on ventilators, and ultimately, more Minnesotans dying."
Minnesota does not have a state policy requiring "vaccine passports," or proof of vaccination. In the early days of the pandemic, Walz issued orders closing schools and in-person service at restaurants and bars, as well as a stay-at-home order for workers in nonessential industries. Those orders were lifted over the summer, but businesses had to operate under capacity limits. The governor's peacetime state of emergency ended July 1, and Walz has not signaled plans to order a new state of emergency.
Minnesota has reported a seven-day average of 1,596 new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday — up from this year's low of 63 recorded in July.
Staff writer Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.