Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and several members of his caucus have tested positive for COVID and Gazelka has experienced some symptoms.
First, the Star Tribune Editorial Board wishes Gazelka and the other senators full recoveries, along with anyone else infected in this outbreak.
But that also brings us to a serious deficiency of leadership on Gazelka’s part. A memo regarding an outbreak of cases among the Senate GOP was initially sent out a week ago, but only to other Republican senators and GOP staff. DFL senators were not informed, nor was nonpartisan staff. Since then, more cases have erupted, including Gazelka’s.
There is no conceivable excuse for withholding such information. In a futile attempt to produce one, Senate staff issued an e-mail with background information for reporters on Saturday, saying the Senate GOP had held a small caucus meeting on Nov. 5, did not interact with Democrats and that “CDC and MDH guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID were utilized while we conducted the essential business of government.”
Even if that were so, simple decency should have compelled them to release information about the positive tests as soon as they knew of them and before the Nov. 12 special session that brought both parties together — even though the GOP said no one who had tested positive attended the session.. Those who work with and serve senators at the Capitol and elsewhere deserve better.
And what the GOP Senate left out of the e-mail was this: later on Nov. 5 they held a postelection party where up to 150 people gathered, including most Republican senators. According to a Sunday report from Fox 9, the gathering lasted hours and many in attendance did not observe COVID guidelines. Gazelka did not even inform the event center that hosted the gathering until asked about it by an MPR reporter. That betrays a lapse of judgment.
Democrats are calling for Gazelka to step down. That’s harsh and unlikely, given that his party still narrowly controls the Senate. But Gazelka, who has a reputation for fair dealing that should be important to him, should search his conscience and issue an apology. There was no need to violate the privacy of individual senators, but the same warning that was given to his members and staff should have been extended to others.
Sadly, the Legislature apparently needs to adopt rules to mandate full disclosures for all members and staff. News reports indicate that other lawmakers, including at least one DFLer, have been slow to go public with news of positive tests.
What is even more disappointing is that Gazelka so far has chosen to complain about “the blaming and shaming of a positive COVID diagnosis,” in a recent statement, adding that “the deliberate choice to use a COVID diagnosis as a political tool to blame just Republicans when community spread is uncontrolled is indicative of failed leadership looking for a scapegoat. Minnesotans deserve better.”
With that last part, we agree. Minnesotans do deserve better. They deserve leaders who act for the health and safety of all. They deserve not to have simple public health measures turned into a test of political loyalty.