While Minnesotans have a reputation for being somewhat conflict-averse, Gov. Tim Walz talked a lot about fighting Wednesday during his annual State of the State address. Yet he also displayed the sunny optimism about the state’s future that’s come to be one of his trademarks.
And Walz held up this year’s legislative session as being one of the chief drivers of that optimism.
“There’s nowhere quite like Minnesota right now,” Walz told a joint meeting of the House and Senate. “Together, we’re not just showing the people of Minnesota what we’re capable of in delivering on our promises. We’re showing the entire American people just how much promise is contained in that progressive vision held by so many people.”
In his 28-minute speech, the governor spoke glowingly of the new laws already passed by the Legislature and promoted policies he hopes will find similar success.
“I’m proud to report that the state of our state is strong, and it’s getting stronger with every investment we make in our people and the futures they’re working so hard to build,” he said.
But the governor was also more confrontational than customary, leaning into recent remarks that painted the state’s current political priorities in sharp relief to those of some other states.
“The forces of hatred and bigotry are on the march in states across this country and around the world,” he said. “That march stops at Minnesota’s borders.”
Walz saved some of his most pointed criticism for those who hold his position in other states.
“I’ve seen some of my fellow governors on TV… and I hear them talking about ‘freedom,’” Walz said. “But it turns out what they really mean is that government should be free to invade your bedroom, your children’s locker room, and your doctor’s office. Here in Minnesota, when we talk about freedom, we talk about our children being free to go to school without worrying about being shot dead in their schools.
“They’re banning books in their schools; we’re banishing hunger from ours. They look at their most vulnerable people and they see scapegoats. We look at our most vulnerable people and see neighbors. … It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you stop complaining about corporations going ‘woke’ and start giving a damn about real people and real lives.”
Walz cited the current Legislature’s success in passing bills that he said would cut taxes, unlock federal funds for infrastructure, provide financial assistance for families, send emergency funding to food shelves, help unemployed miners, establish a carbon-free electricity standard, and provide free breakfast and lunch at Minnesota schools.
And he advocated for “choosing the right fights,” saying those would include a child tax credit, rebate checks, child care assistance, expanded pre-kindergarten and early learning scholarships, universal paid leave, increased funding for education, and “the single largest investment in Minnesota’s history” in public safety.
“We can’t talk about public safety without talking about guns,” Walz said, his voice rising. “We all know damn well weapons of war have no place in our schools, in our churches, in our banks. … Minnesotans, and I especially among them, are not going to stand by and let people keep making this about the Second Amendment when it’s really about our first responsibility: keeping our children safe. The time for hiding behind thoughts and prayers is long gone. What we need is action, and we need it now.
“We’ve got a gun safety bill on the table. And we’re going to get it passed. And I’m going to sign it, and this is what’s going to happen: We’re going to have universal background checks. We’re going to have red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people. And we’re going to have lawful gun owners not be impinged upon one bit. If anyone in America doubts that we’re going to take meaningful action to protect our kids, I’ve got two words: Watch us.”
Walz concluded the speech in a tone even more optimistic than usual, perhaps inspired by the combination of a state government led by one party and a $17.5 billion surplus.
“We have the resources,” he said. “We have the shared vision. And for the first time in half a century, we have the political will to get this done. Let’s not waste this opportunity.”
Early in the speech, Walz paid tribute to Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls), who is recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer and is working remotely.
"When this year began, Minnesotans told us clearly they were tired of gridlock and inaction on issues important to the success of our state,” Dziedzic said in a statement. “They elected a DFL governor, and DFL majorities in both the House and Senate to lead, and we have done just that. … In the coming weeks, we will deliver a balanced budget that helps family budgets and improves the lives of people and communities across the state.”
Republican leaders in both the House and Senate were less impressed with the speech.
“While the Democrats are on their record spending spree, what you are not hearing is dramatic tax relief being proposed,” said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring).
As for gun safety measures, Demuth said, “What Republicans and most Minnesotans are looking for, is they are looking for criminals to be held accountable and keeping the guns out of criminals’ hands to start.”
“I was hoping for a unified message tonight, something that all Minnesotans could get behind,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks). “Or it seems the ambitions of the governor are national, and we’re starting to forget about the needs of Minnesotans.”
— Session Daily writer Steve Abrams contributed to this story.