Paul Gazelka in happier times - original photo by Glen Stubbe
by Steve Timmer
Mar 21, 2020, 12:00 PM

Adolescent oppositional disorder at the Capitol

The He Overstepped his Bounds-ers are showing up at the Capitol. They sound like Tenthers and Tea Partiers because the overlap is considerable.

“While we understand the necessity of Governor Walz to lead in this time of crisis, that leadership should not be unilateral and unchecked,” Gazelka said in a statement.

Gazelka’s statement came amid growing signs of GOP discontent with Walz’s previous ex­ec­u­tive ord­ers temporarily closing bars, res­tau­rants and oth­er busi­nes­ses. It also comes as the administration mulls new safety measures, including requiring Minnesotans to shelter in place.

Several lawmakers, all Republicans, have expressed concerns about the impact of Walz’s orders on small businesses in their towns in Greater Minnesota.

“The gov­er­nor’s ord­er puts these small busi­nes­ses in an im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion,” state Sen. Scott New­man, R-Hutch­in­son, said in a state­ment addressing the closings in the hospitality industry. “These small busi­nes­ses, and their many hour­ly wage earn­ers, will un­doubt­ed­ly suf­fer be­cause of this ord­er. I urge the gov­er­nor to re­con­sid­er the fi­nan­cial im­pact of his ord­er on small busi­ness own­ers that con­cur­rent­ly has the po­ten­tial to make them crimi­nals for sim­ply try­ing to earn a liv­ing.

And Rep. Mary Franson got her two cents in, too.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Al­ex­an­dri­a, weighed in on Twit­ter, saying “where is the statu­tory au­thor­i­ty?” after Walz’s order closing most public eateries.

Privately, I am sure these people are all as happy as can be that they — or Jeff Johnson, for that matter — aren’t in the governor’s shoes. It’s much easier to be ankle biters and snipers. I can imagine that in their heart of hearts, they wouldn’t want him to do anything different. But it’s good Republican pandemic theater.

Addressing Rep. Franson, who seems lost in figuring out how the governor could take these executive actions: apparently you were absent from the state when the initial executive order was published on Friday, March 13th.

Keith Ellison referred to the governor’s authority to declare a peacetime emergency for an “act of nature” under Minn. Stat. § 12.31 subd. 2. The virus is an act of nature.

In a peacetime emergency, the governor has the power to make orders concerning “public meetings or gatherings,” presumably including prohibiting them. Minn. Stat. § 12.21 subd. 3 (7) (v).

Violation of a promulgated emergency order is a misdemeanor under Minn. Stat. § 12.45.

I would have thought that the Republicans had lawyers to tell them this.

On Almanac on Friday night (3/20), Mary Lahammer referred to the “constitutional” dust up. It’s really over the meaning of a statute, but it sounds so much more dramatic to frame it in terms of a constitutional crisis.

Executive orders have to be confirmed within five days by Executive Council of the state (all of the constitutional officers: Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor and the Governor). Then they can continue for up to thirty days (unless they expire before that by their own terms). After that, it requires an act of the legislature.

So it’s hardly “unilateral and unchecked” as Senate Majority Leader Gazelka suggests. It’s just the Tea Partier in him, I guess.

Sen. Newman whines about the hardship caused by the closing down of the hospitality industry. No doubt, it’s a hardship all around. So I have an idea:

Let’s pack Sens. Gazelka, Newman, Chamberlain (who has been public with his complaints, too), and the other aggrieved senators, and Rep Franson and Rep. Munson, too, and say forty of their fellow travelers and put them in a small rural bar with one person who has the virus — 8 PM to usual bar close. We’ll let them drink beer if they want to.

The ground rules are: no masks, no gloves, no disinfecting wipes, the windows are closed (it’s winter after all), no extra ventilation, and the bar, tables and chairs and the booths are not wiped down when people move around.

We’ll gather this group together for two weeks in a row. If nobody gets sick, we’ll call off the closure of bars and restaurants. If somebody does get sick, though, all the whiners have to cough on each other.

All of the carping by rural legislators about this is especially regrettable because of the additional risk the virus brings to rural communities. They don’t have many infections (that we know of, anyway), yet, but they will. Rural healthcare systems are not as well equipped as urban ones to deal with infected persons: fewer hospital beds, ER docs, nurses, ventilators, etc., per capita.

One-third of Minnesota counties — all of them rural — have fewer than about 25 hospital beds. Eight counties have none, according to preliminary state data from 2018.

The pandemic could be “devastating” to rural communities nationwide because of fewer hospitals, a smaller health care workforce and spotty broadband access, said Carrie Henning-Smith, deputy director of the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center. Although rural health care in Minnesota ranks highly in the U.S. by many measures, access to care is still limited across parts of greater Minnesota, an analysis of state hospital records shows.

The rural population of the state is older, too.

Reopening bars and restaurants just as the virus takes off seem to me to be a really bad idea.

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