Gov. Tim Walz delivered his first State of the State address Wednesday evening, using his 31 minutes at the front of the House Chamber to address all 201 Minnesota legislators. Here are five takeaways from Walz's speech.
1. Be our guest, be our guest
Walz welcomed in guests from across the state, each one a reminder of the "real people,' as the governor put it, being impacted by political debates.
There was Amanda Fjeld, for example, a math teacher. She works for the Floodwood School District, which next week is facing a referendum vote to increase funding – if it doesn't pass, the district will lay off a quarter of its teachers.
Walz used this story to make the pitch for the education spending laid out in his budget proposals, which he says would "close the funding gap and provide schools with the resources they need."
Dr. Nathan Chomilo and Deborah Mills both had different stories about the impact of health insurance affordability and availability on their lives. And Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer's hurdles running his city were held up by Walz as an example of the need for local government funding from the state.
And of course, the hot button issue of the session ...
2. Infrastructure (aka the "gas tax " debate)
The Ingman family was in attendance as Walz's guests. Mary and her children - Ben, Kate and Jake - have known the Walzes for years. In 1996, Walz said, he was coaching Ben in basketball practice, when the family learned devastating news. Mary's husband Charles, the father of the children, was killed in a head-on crash on Highway 14.
That highway is still two lanes, and 145 have died on it in the past three decades, Walz said.
"So my passion is not to pick a fight with you about transportation," he continued, according to a transcript posted by the Pioneer Press. "My passion is to make sure what the results say when we’ve got D rated roads that we do something together and I will gladly have the debate with you and a compromise to find out we do that."
Walz and Republican legislators have had a heated debate about the best way to pay for fixes to the state's roads and bridges. Walz has suggested a 20-cent increase per gallon on the gas tax over the next two years, to be partially offset by an increase in tax credits.
Meanwhile Senate Republicans have not included a gas tax hike in their proposed budget, though a group of senators did propose lowering the current gas tax, but giving drivers the option to pay an extra tax at the pump.
Walz did not mention any specifics about his plan during the address.
3. Put our (public) service to the test
A big message from Walz was about working together, as the only divided state legislature in the entire country, to find solutions.
"So here we go. What are we going to do now? There’s already people written us off. You’ve seen the stories. Are we heading for gridlock? Are we headed for shutdown? Is it all just a fake? Are they getting along? Those are the people that want to see that. They’re reporting some of them, but trust me on this, it’s easier to cover the plane that crashes than the one that lands," he said.
4. Off the cuff (sort of)
Breaking a bit from tradition, Walz did not prepare a full, written speech, his office said. Instead, he brought an outline and spoke off of that. It was a nod back to his roots as a classroom teacher, the governor's office added.
Walz told the Star Tribune he wanted to be able to feel the room and respond accordingly.
5. Reaction from Democrats, Republicans
Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka had some praise for Walz:
But he also claimed Highway 14 is "already benefiting" from transportation investments without a new gas tax, and later added: "I’ll work hard with the Governor in the final weeks of the #mnleg session but let’s avoid One 'expensive' Minnesota and make the final budget affordable for every Minnesotan."
And more senators hammered the gas tax, including Sen. John Jasinski.
DFL legislators were, probably unsurprisingly, more in support of the policies Walz spoke toward in his address.
Senate DFL Leader Tom Bakk said Walz "reached out to the legislature tonight with a pretty strong olive branch."
And in the House, Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement: "The stories told by Governor Walz were like so many we have heard from Minnesotans across the state: we want good schools, affordable health care, and economic security. We care about our neighbors, and we want to see one another succeed. As session continues, I’m optimistic we can find solutions and pass a budget that will ensure that Minnesota is a state where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”