MINNEAPOLIS — A week away from Election Day Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is locked in a tight battle with challenger Scott Jensen, who is seeking to become the first Republican to win a statewide election in Minnesota since 2006.
Gov. Walz is asking voters to share his optimism that Minnesota will emerge stronger than ever from the traumatic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the riots that followed.
Jensen is asking voters to trust him to lead the state in different direction, arguing that Walz' performance in office has set Minnesota moving in the wrong direction.
Both campaigns are spending unprecedented amounts on advertising, and independent expenditure groups and political action committees are also flooding the airwaves with ad that often blur and distort the facts.
Before being elected governor in 2018, Tim Walz had spent 12 years in Congress representing southern Minnesota. Prior to that he spent 17 years teaching in China, Nebraska and Mankato, Minnesota. He joined the National Guard at the age of 17 and served for 24 years before retiring in 2005 to launch his campaign for Congress.
When Scott Jensen won the Republican Party's endorsement last May he had spent nearly 40 years as a family physician in the Chaska area. He served four years in the Minnesota Senate, and 10 years on the Waconia School board.
Jensen gained a national following as a skeptic of the COVID-19 death tolls and the case numbers, questioning the methodology and suggesting hospitals had a financial incentive to inflate the numbers of cases.
"With Medicare, if you have a COVID-19 admission to the hospital you'll get paid $13,000," he told FOX News in 2020, referring to the emergency funding available from the federal government.
He became a leader in the medical freedom movement, asserting patients should have the right to try hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin to fend off the virus. In the legislature he asserted that the COVID-related lockdowns were doing more harm than the virus itself.
"We're scaring ourselves to death." Jensen told his Facebook followers, and advocated for allowing people without major diseases to circulate so that society could develop herd immunity.
"We need to keep having viral exposure so more and more of us can build up that life-sustaining immunity.
Walz, in the meantime, sought to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients. He coordinated with the federal government and governors of other states to bring medical supplies and protective gear to the state.
Much to the chagrin of Republican lawmakers, Walz used his emergency powers multiple times to try to slow the spread of coronavirus. He temporarily shut down bars, restaurants, theaters, salons and other public gathering spots.
He ordered schools to switch to remote learning, and imposed a mask mandate for children when they returned to the classrooms.
"I believe our way of doing things prevented people from dying, reduced the number of folks who got COVID, tested people at a higher rate, and vaccinated at a higher rate," Walz said.
Walz made sure he was videotaped, along with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, whenever they received a vaccine, or a booster shot.
Jensen briefly joined a national lawsuit attempting to outlaw vaccines for children, and sharply criticized state agencies that required employees to be either vaccinated or tested weekly.
Jensen and Walz have vastly different perspectives on school funding. Walz boosted state aid to local school districts in both budgets, and tried to send part of the surplus to help schools pay for federally mandated special education programs. That bill was one of many that ended in a stalemate between House Democrat and Senate Republicans.
Jensen asserts public schools get too much money and that there's no proof that spending more on those schools will improve student performance. Jensen would like to shift some taxpayer dollars to scholarships to help parents pay for private school tuition.
"There's no reason we can't have taxpayer dollars go to any kid who's in the process of getting that foundational education, K through 12," Jensen told KARE.
Jensen's running mate, former Viking Matt Birk, founded a Catholic High School. At the Republican State Convention last May he said he's a strong advocate for giving parents a choice to send their kids to private school.
"We teach all of our kids they are created in the image and likeness of God. And we teach them about character, and leadership, and life entrepreneurship, and shop," Jensen told delegates.
"We don't teach CRT or any of that transgender garbage."
Walz and Jensen are also on opposite sides of the abortion debate.
Walz has said he'll do everything he can to let women remain in charge of their bodies and protect women who come to Minnesota from out of state to seek abortions. The Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v Mississippi case last summer overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade case and left it up to each state to determine abortion rights.
Jensen maintains it's not on the ballot in this statewide election because the right to an abortion is currently protected here by the 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision in the case of Doe v Gomez. He originally supported abortion only in cases where the mother's life is threatened. He has since modified his stance to say a pregnancy that results from rape or incest could be considered a mental health threat for some women.
Riots of 2020
The murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020 and the ensuing riots sparked another crisis for the Walz Administration. Rioters, anarchists, and members of white supremacist militias burned down major commercial corridors in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. They also torched the 3rd Police Precinct.
Walz deployed the Minnesota National Guard but took heavy criticism from police officers and Republican politicians for waiting too long to send them.
"Had I been in the governor's office, the National Guard would've been on the streets sooner," Jensen told the crowd at FarmFest last summer.
"Governor Walz just stopped. He froze."
Jensen has treated several of the 3rd Precinct Officers for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as part of their effort to get Workers Compensation and PERA early retirement benefits. More than 200 MPD officers have left the department after filing successful claims for PTSD-related injuries stemming from the riots.
"Some of these officers suffered the same trauma as soldiers do in combat," Jensen told KARE.
Walz has said he was waiting for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to accept the presence of troops, but Frey later said he wanted help as early as Wednesday night. His staff drafted a press release to that effect, but held off to avoid the appearance of trying to use the media to pressure Walz.
The governor noted that there's a lag-time between a deployment order and actually arriving to perform a mission. The Guard doesn't have very many units trained for law enforcement type duties, and care had to be taken sending armed citizen soldiers into an unstable witch's brew.
Walz is also taking heat from Jensen on the Feeding Our Future case. Nutrition site operators allegedly defrauded the Minn. Dept. of Education out of $250 million in emergency federal funding.
The MDE eventually suspected something was up and tried to cut off new applications. The alleged fraudsters sued the state, claiming racism against the East African organizations seeking the aid.
A judge's courtroom warnings to MDE's attorneys -- that they had no basis to slow walking the applications -- led the MDE to allow them to go through. The MDE contacted the FBI, which worked the fraud investigation -- along with the IRS and US Postal Inspectors.
It led to the indictments of 50 persons associated with the fraudulent child feeding sites, and the investigation is continuing.
Jensen and other Republicans contend Walz, and Attorney General Keith Ellison, should've sounded the alarm about the fraud earlier in the game. They also fault the MDE for not doing more site inspections, even the the USDA had temporarily waived that requirement due to the pandemic.
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