In State of the State, Gov. Walz tells lawmakers to move past ‘mean tweets'

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz used his first State of the State address – a 31-minute, mostly unscripted speech – to urge members of the nation’s only divided state Legislature to move beyond “mean tweets” and “petty arguments.”

Walz’s unusual speech featured him leaning an elbow on the podium and pointing to his guests in the House gallery as he used their stories to frame his policy arguments. Governors frequently use a Teleprompter to stick to their prepared remarks, but Walz did not use one and appeared to give the speech largely from memory.

“We’re not here to be actors in a story that’s already been written for us,” Walz said. “Behind every one of the debates we have here are real people impacted by them.”

It was a key speech for Walz, the biggest stage he’ll have to advocate for his agenda this spring.

The top legislative Republicans said they appreciated the governor’s tone – if not his top agenda items, which they largely oppose.

Walz appealed to lawmakers to reinstate the state’s 2 percent tax on medical providers that is scheduled to end this year. He has previously said the issue is not negotiable to him.

But on another topic – a proposed 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase and registration fee hikes – Walz said during Wednesday’s speech that he would be open to compromise.

Pointing to a neighbor from his hometown of Mankato, Mary Ingman, whose husband died in a head-on crash on Highway 14 in 1996, Walz said more funding was needed for transportation projects.

“My passion is not to pick a fight with you about transportation. My passion is to make sure that what the results say when we’ve got D-rated roads, that we do something together,” Walz said. “In the 23 years since Charlie died, (Highway 14) is still a two-lane dangerous road. The time has passed to fix them. We can do that.”

This year’s State of the State speech comes relatively late in the legislative session, with just six weeks to go before the scheduled adjournment on May 20.

Talking with reporters after the speech, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka praised the governor’s approach but took note of several policy differences between he and the governor.

“I don’t question his sincerity. The answers – or the solutions – he’s presenting are different from ours, but I don’t question his sincerity,” Gazelka said.

Democrats who control the House said they were optimistic that relationships between the state’s top officials were solid.

“I do think there’s every expectation and every reason for an expectation that we will finish this budget on time and do good things for the people of Minnesota,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said.

Walz’s other guests were: Will Handke and Ross Pomeroy, business owners and former students of Walz in Mankato; Amanda Fjeld, a northern Minnesota teacher whose district faces budget cuts if an upcoming referendum fails; Nathan Chomilo, a pediatrician who supports Walz’s plan to reinstate the medical provider tax; Deborah Mills, a Goodhue County farmer who went without health insurance, Ben Schierer, the mayor of Fergus Falls; Houston White, a north Minneapolis business owner; and Gordy Kirk, a World War II veteran.

Walz warned lawmakers that some observers had already written them off, because of divided government and a polarized political climate.

“The story (that) not just Minnesota needs but the country needs is a bipartisan and split government that came together for the good of the people and move things forward for Minnesota,” Walz said.