Gov. Tim Walz, speaking Sunday into a camera from his official residence in St. Paul, turned his second State of the State address into an impassioned call to arms to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus that has upturned Minnesotans’ lives and crippled the state’s economy.
Putting aside the normal policy agendas that have been consumed by the COVID-19 crisis, the governor exalted Minnesotans’ grit and generosity in the face of the threat, which has seen rising death tolls in the state and across the nation in recent weeks.
“Long hours of darkness are ahead,” Walz warned. But he added that Minnesotans are already uniting by staying at home to prevent the spread, supporting health care workers and being there for one another while staying apart.
“There’s no stopping the storm of COVID-19 from hitting Minnesota, but we are preparing for it,” Walz said.
Part pep talk, part hard reality check, Walz used the 12-minute address to implore Minnesotans to work together. “You are slowing the spread of this disease,” he said. “You are protecting your neighbors. You are giving hospitals time to prepare to care for the many who will fall ill. You are making a difference and you are certainly saving lives.”
Offering signs of hope, Walz said the state is building hospitals’ capacity to ensure as many Minnesotans as possible can get care, increasing testing to track the spread, adding ventilators and trying to find more personal protective equipment for first responders.
“Minnesota, the state of our state is strong,” Walz said. “The state of our state is resilient. The state of our state is united.”
Hours before his speech, the DFL governor announced he had asked President Donald Trump to issue a major disaster declaration. That would allow federal funding to the state, which Walz wants to use for crisis counseling, supplemental nutrition programs, medical assistance, funeral aid and other needs.
The governor livestreamed his address to the state from the basement foyer in the governor’s residence in St. Paul. He has self-quarantined in the residence after interacting with a member of his security detail who caught COVID-19. It was an unusual setting for a State of the State, but not unprecedented. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura once gave the speech from the residence rather than at the State Capitol.
Walz’s livestreamed talks have become a familiar sight in recent weeks. He has regularly presented information about steps his administration is taking to block the spread of the coronavirus.
On Sunday, he highlighted the work of small businesses that are making hand sanitizer and masks, as well as that of large corporations such as the Mayo Clinic, Medtronic and 3M, which are working on equipment and treatment. He shared stories of people in downtown Minneapolis banging pots and pans to cheer on health care workers returning from a shift, and of a state trooper in North Branch handing a speeding doctor a stack of face masks instead of a ticket.
Walz said the key thing Minnesotans can do to help is remain at home, which he said could reduce the threat of virus transmission by up to 80%.
“Staying home is the only vaccine we have right now,” Walz said.
The pandemic has altered the focus of the governor and state government. It is also dramatically changing the state’s financial position.
The governor and legislators headed into the 2020 legislative session anticipating Minnesota would have a $1.5 billion budget surplus. The Republican majority in the Senate had proposed using the dollars for tax breaks. The DFL-dominated House suggested expanding early education opportunities and child-care availability. Both sides are now reshaping those plans.
In mid-March, with the virus spreading, Walz presented a cautious spending plan that left about $1.2 billion unspent in anticipation of the financial demands of COVID-19. That money will likely be consumed by the response.
“We’re going to have a budget shortfall next year. … We need to tighten our belt,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a video he released hours before Walz spoke.
The tone of Gazelka’s video was a departure from the usual politics that surrounds a State of the State address.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help our governor succeed,” Gazelka said, adding that Senate Republicans will do their best to rally around the governor’s plans.
He laid out a few of his top priorities, which align with some of Walz’s goals. Gazelka said he wants to ensure first responders can use workers’ compensation if they get the coronavirus, and look for ways to jump-start the economy and ensure jobs come back.
DFL leadership in the House also urged people to come together after Walz’s address. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, called Walz the “man for the moment.”
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the governor “struck the right tone.” He said Republicans urge “common sense and compassion” when it comes to balancing public health and the economy moving forward, allowing people who can to go back to work while still remaining safe.
Walz initially planned to give his State of the State on March 23 in the House Chambers at the Capitol, as he had done in 2019. Typically legislators and guests pack into the chamber to watch the speech. That plan was nixed after the governor was quarantined, the Legislature recessed and people were ordered to distance themselves from others.
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.