Gov. Walz takes office, pledges to 'aim higher'

Gov. Tim Walz took the oath of office Monday as Minnesota’s 41st governor, quickly distancing himself from the dysfunction in the federal government while pledging to seek unity in the state.

“I will not normalize behavior that seeks to deepen and exploit these divides. I will not normalize policies that are not normal—ones that undermine our decency and respect,” Walz said in a 19-minute inaugural speech. “If Washington won’t lead, Minnesota will.”

Walz said Minnesota could be an example of unity, even with the only divided state Legislature in the country. He and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan won office on the campaign slogan “One Minnesota,” a phrase included six times in the text of Walz’s address.

The new Democratic governor never mentioned President Donald Trump’s name while making the salvo that appeared directed at him. While answering questions from reporters after the ceremony, Walz declined to say what kind of relationship he planned as governor to have with Trump.

Walz, a former teacher, focused part of his speech on education disparities between students in different Minnesota school districts. He said the state must “recommit” itself to valuing the power of education.

“We must make Minnesota the “Education State” for all children—black, white, brown, and indigenous,” Walz said.

Walz placed a priority on delivering health care more effectively and affordably. He also pledged to make investments in Minnesota’s research institutions and partner with the state’s health industry.

As is typical for inaugural speeches, Walz laid out his vision, but did not outline specific legislation that he will seek to accomplish it. That will be left for his budget due in February.

Lawmakers respond

State Rep. Kurt Daudt, the House Republican leader who has signaled opposition to some of Walz’s campaign promises – especially over the issue of taxes – did not quarrel with the new governor’s inaugural address.

“I think this was a day that wasn’t about partisan politics, it was about making sure that we solve the problems that Minnesotans care about, and we certainly want to be part of that solution as well,” Daudt told reporters after the speech.

Incoming DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Walz clearly received a mandate from voters for his policy priorities.

“I think we’ll be really strong partners in governing,” Hortman said. “I think that Walz hit the right notes in terms of bipartisanship [in his speech].”

Former Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who did not seek re-election in 2018, attended his successor’s inauguration. His legacy safe with an incoming governor of the same party, Dayton released a very brief letter to Minnesotans early Monday morning.

“I am deeply grateful for the chance to serve as our great state’s governor for the past eight years,” Dayton wrote in the four-sentence letter. “In 2010, I promised ‘A Better Minnesota.’ Working together, we have kept that pledge.”

When the state Legislature gavels in on Tuesday, Democrats will hold a 75-59 advantage in the House while Republicans will have a 34-32 edge in the Senate. One Senate seat is vacant after Walz appointed DFL state Sen. Tony Lourey to be his human services commissioner; a special election is scheduled for Feb. 5.

Walz would not say what ought to be the first bill that gets to his desk. Instead, he said he agreed with the first 10 bills that House Democrats plan to unveil Wednesday.

Flanagan makes history

Flanagan, a former DFL state lawmaker from St. Louis Park, made history as the highest-ranking Native American woman to hold executive office in the U.S.

“I never imagined I would say that,” Flanagan said in her inauguration speech during which she teared up when mentioning family, friends and teachers who had helped her through the years.

As Flanagan spoke, her five-year-old daughter Siobhan sat on Walz’s lap. When Flanagan noted that Siobhan had just lost her first tooth, her daughter smiled to show the crowd, drawing laughter.

Walz said his unity appeal nevertheless gives him room to push back against policies he doesn’t like.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m going to step back if there’s an idea trying to divide us, of trying to do things that are not normal, and what I see in D.C. right now is not normal,” Walz told reporters.

He went on to criticize the president and Congress over the federal government’s partial shutdown, calling it “unacceptable.” And, as one of his first actions, he has directed state agencies to analyze the effects of the shutdown on Minnesota and prepare contingency plans to provide services to low-income Minnesotans if the federal government does not reopen soon.

Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon, and Auditor Julie Blaha were sworn in at the same event at The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

Walz is scheduled to have inauguration ceremonies in Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis and Moorhead over the next week.