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Peggy Bennett: It’s time to bring the people’s voice back into government

Minnesota is now in its 14th month of a governor-declared “state of emergency.” Next week, governor Walz will announce his intentions on whether or not he will extend his emergency powers again for another thirty days.

When the governor first declared a state of emergency in March of 2020, he said he needed these powers in order to make sure our hospitals were equipped to handle the COVID-19 virus.  I think most of us understood and agreed with that.

However, once it was clear that hospitals were prepared, the governor then declared that he needed to continue his emergency powers in order to control the virus spread until a vaccine was available.  Later, when the vaccine became available and well on its way into the arms of the public, the governor told us that he needed to retain his emergency powers to continue distribution of the vaccine.

Do you feel like the “goal posts” are constantly being moved?

We are no longer in a virus emergency – we’re in management mode and have been for quite some time. Given the opportunity, the state legislature could immediately give the executive branch the authority to manage the vaccine distribution and any other pertinent virus-related issues.

Last week, Gov. Walz told us he expects the Minnesota State Fair will be open “pretty close to normal.”  I’d say that’s a good indication that the emergency is over. 

On Thursday, the governor announced more turns of his “dial.”  While I appreciate the positive changes, it troubles me that he has repeatedly made these adjustments with no input from legislators or stakeholders. This has resulted in decisions made behind closed doors and devised by political consultants instead of doing what’s best for the state.

Recently, emails were uncovered as part of a data practices request which show that the Walz administration used politically motivated decisions to attempt to blame kids in youth sports and their families for Minnesota’s tragically high nursing home death rate. These internal emails clearly show that political consultants were seeking to tie youth sports to long-term care deaths based on politics rather than using actual data and evidence to shut down youth sports.  Deflecting blame like this and turning our families and kids into scapegoats is unconscionable.

Why are the people’s voices being left out of these decisions and politics inserted?  This is wrong!  Our government is intended to be a people-powered government; not a government demanding power over the people. 

Whether you believe that lockdowns worked or didn’t work (and I have definite opinions on that), the reality is that these lockdowns have produced a lot of hurting businesses, employees, hospitals, schools, kids, and more.  How about our local county fairs?  Why weren’t they given some predictability so they can be open like the state fair?  Why aren’t protocol restrictions adjusted so that schools can get kids back into classrooms full-time and in-person?  Is this more politics instead of following the data?

Tragically, the governor’s emergency powers have turned some law-abiding business owners into criminals.  Why are the governor and attorney general continuing to attack and go after these hurting businesses long after the emergency has ended?  How does this help anyone?  We should be supporting our businesses and helping them.  They provide jobs, goods and services, and pay taxes that support our local schools, local governments, and our state.

Though the governor just announced that some of his COVID restrictions now have an endpoint, he failed to announce an endpoint for his stubborn and questionably partisan hold on these never-ending emergency powers.  The governor doesn’t need to keep scaring people by claiming he needs to retain these powers “just in case.”  The Legislature is fully capable of joining the governor in managing this virus.

There have been eighteen occasions in the Minnesota House where we have taken a vote (many times bipartisan) to end these emergency powers.  I voted every one of those times to end these powers and return Minnesota to its constitutionally directed three coequal branches of government.  I did that because I believe it is the right thing to do for our state and for the people. 

Should governors, no matter what side of the aisle they may be on, have the right to decide whether or not the people you have elected to represent you get a voice in these matters?  I should think not!

Ending the emergency powers should not be used as an end-of-session bargaining chip by the governor – emergency powers are meant for emergencies, not to be used as political leverage. It is time for governor Walz to end his emergency powers now and work with the legislature as a co-equal branch once again. The people of Minnesota deserve that.