This week four colleagues and I introduced a Minnesota House concurrent resolution to end the governor’s peacetime emergency. Had the House passed it, it would have gone to the Senate for their concurrence. This would have allowed the House and Senate to develop plans for Minnesota going forward, with the governor — and to pass them into law. This is the proper way for the Legislature to act to end the peacetime emergency.
When the peacetime emergency was declared last month, we didn’t know what to expect. The governor said we would lose 74,000 lives among Minnesotans if we didn’t shut down the economy. He told us that if we did shut it down, we would still lose some 50,000 Minnesota lives but the curve would be flattened, avoiding the overrunning of our hospital ICU beds.
Gov. Walz said that the sole purpose of his subsequent executive orders was to flatten the curve — to spread out the expression of the virus in the population over time — for the sole purpose of taking pressure off our state’s ICU facilities. The demand never came close to projections. The curve is flat as a pancake.
Thankfully neither of those two horrible pictures that the governor painted to convince Minnesotans to shut down the state happened.
Now we hear the chief executive talking about continuing his emergency powers until the disease is defeated — a completely different objective than what he initially communicated to be the reason for the shutdown.
If you look at our neighboring states, you will find that the states that have not instituted stay at home orders against their people have a death rate per million people due to COVID-19 equal to or lower than Minnesota’s. North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, states very much like ours that directly border Minnesota. They have decided to protect their people and their economy. We can do the same.
While helping people keep themselves safe and live healthy lives is something we have been, and should be, focusing on, it’s not the only thing. We also need to protect our economy.
In our efforts to save lives, we are killing livelihoods.
In just the past few weeks that the governor has ordered businesses closed and people shut up inside their homes, our economy has been smoked. The state budget projection of a $1.5 billion surplus is likely now a gaping deficit. Some 14% of Minnesotans have filed for unemployment in three weeks.
In my district, farmers’ milk prices have been slashed, and hog and beef prices are in the tank. The fact that there’s not a market for their finished animals has placed some farmers in positions that involve tough decisions about what they are going to do with the newborn offspring they may no longer be able to afford to keep.
What about our hospitals? We have cleared them out. Many of them are nearly shut down. Tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and dentists are unemployed. How are we going to fight this virus, or the next virus for that matter, if our hospitals are all broken?
The executive orders have divided Minnesotans into “essential” and “nonessential” workers. The truth is all Minnesota workers are essential in getting out economy going again. Throughout this executive order, 80% of people have been working all along. It’s time for the other 20% to go to work, too.
These orders do not make sense. People are allowed to go to a union meeting, but not a church service. They can get an abortion but not a kidney transplant. They can buy booze and medicinal marijuana, but they can’t camp in a state forest.
If we don’t terminate the governor’s emergency powers, we will be ceding the authority of the Legislature, and the voice of the people, to one person. It is the Legislature’s role, as the voice of the people, to set state policy, not one chief executive.
The people of our country and state are fighting COVID-19, and they will continue to fight it. Over the past two months, Minnesotans have learned what they need to do to protect themselves and their neighbors from this virus. Our doctors, the media and our governments have all come together to help people understand what we need to do.
Stay home if you are not feeling well, wash your hands often, don’t gather in groups, clean hard surfaces and keep distances of 6 feet or more — these are among the things we need to do to minimize spreading the virus. Continued education will be part of the long-term strategy and role of government. It will not be forcing people to stay home and shutting businesses down.
It’s time to get working on that strategy now. It’s time to begin ending this peacetime emergency. The cure has become worse than the disease.
Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, is a member of the Minnesota House. This article is adapted from his April 14 speech on the House floor.