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Minnesota Republicans reminded to talk 'public safety,' not COVID

Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) wore a mask picturing Gov. Tim Walz as a clown, just in case you were wondering if she's taking this seriously.

Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) wore a mask picturing Gov. Tim Walz as a clown, just in case you were wondering if she's taking this seriously. YouTube

On Friday, the members of the Minnesota Legislature came back together (more or less) to decide whether to terminate Gov. Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency response to COVID-19.

It was an issue split almost exactly on party lines. Walz and the Democrats argue the emergency – coronavirus has sickened nearly 85,000 Minnesotans and killed over 1,900 since March – is far from over. Even as hospitalizations fall, cases are climbing, and the state averaged about 300 new positive tests daily throughout the month of August. Health officials have cautioned against letting our guard down yet.

Republicans generally say the worst has passed, was never that bad to begin with, and we should let the Legislature handle how we do things from now on, not the executive branch. Or, at least, that's what they did when they could be bothered to speak about COVID-19 at all.

A few Republican members took time instead to address what they saw as a more pressing issue: protests and crime in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Just ask Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria), who was present in St. Paul (wearing a mask that depicted the governor as a clown). She called Walz’s response to the pandemic “fear porn” and immediately launched into the den of debauchery that was the city next door.

“You have a better chance of going into Minneapolis and being murdered – being raped – your car looted…” Here she paused. “…Or, what is it called, ‘carjacking?’ Yes. You have a greater chance of your car being jacked in Minneapolis than you do, at my age, dying of COVID.”

We’re not sure what Franson's plan is for people who are not her age (43), but you cannot question the good will or integrity of someone with a clown on her face, and who ran a COVID memes page on Facebook.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) read a letter from a constituent who was very worried about the “protesting” and the “rioting” and the “spike in crime,” not just in Minneapolis, but “across our country.”

“It is destroying people’s businesses, their lives,” Gruenhagen said. “And there seems at times to be reluctance by elected officials to initiate the type of law enforcement behavior to put an end to this.”

Rep. Anne Neu (R-North Branch) added a coda, saying, “Businesses are shutting down and fleeing our major cities,” – because of COVID lockdown, yes, but also because of unrest.

“It’s likely between the government response to COVID and increase in crime we’ve seen, hundreds of thousands of jobs will not come back to our cities,” she said.

You may be wondering how the leap was made so easily and so repetitively from coronavirus and emergency powers to protests. An email addressed to Republican lawmakers but sent, in error, to Democrats may provide a clue.

The letter, from Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville), landed in the inboxes of “All DFL Representatives” shortly before it wound up on Reddit over the weekend, and it discussed the finer points of strategy for the House Floor Session.

“A friendly, [sic] reminder (as discussed in caucus) to stay on message IF you speak today,” it read. “COVID issues are not our winning message. PUBLIC SAFETY is our ticket to the majority, let’s win with that.”

We can’t say for sure what Koznick meant -- he didn’t respond to interview requests about the letter -- but this is pretty typical rhetoric from suburban or outstate Minnesota conservatives, who spend a lot more time talking about Minneapolis-St. Paul policing and crime than you'd expect...  unless they think that kind of thing gets them votes. 

That email also got called out on the House floor, by Rep. Mohamud Noor (D-Minneapolis), a man who happens to live in the city germane to this discussion.

“When we got the memo saying this is not a winning message; public safety is? That speaks volumes of where we are today, as a society, as Minnesotans,” Noor said. “Members, we need to be led by facts, not fear; and science, not lies; and members should stop spreading hate and fear about my city and about my community. This has to stop – period.”

Noor went on to say he had lost loved ones to the virus, and that the pandemic should be treated as a serious priority.

In the end, Walz’s emergency powers would remain in place. The Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted to end the peacetime emergency and seize legislative control, marking the fifth straight month they've opposed the emergency.

But the DFL-majority House turned down the motion 67-64, and the state’s Executive Council voted to extend the peacetime emergency through October 12, when they'll have to come back and do this again -- maybe this time without the email reminder saying the quiet part out loud.