Walz hits back at Gazelka, aide says he's been 'shockingly absent' during COVID-19 response

Walz has responded to criticism from the Senate Majority Leader.

Ahead of a private meeting between the two on Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz's office issued a stern letter admonishing the Senate Majority Leader for not taking a greater role in the state's COVID-19 response, after repeated criticism from Republicans over the governor’s continued use of emergency powers.

A Wednesday letter from Walz’s office invites Galzelka to provide feedback on the state’s future response to COVID-19 at a Thursday meeting. But the letter also criticizes Gazelka for being “shockingly absent” during the decision-making process and failing to attend key meetings, including 10 Legislative COVID-19 Response Commission meetings.

Gazelka has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Walz’s continued emergency powers, which gives Walz the power to make emergency orders without going through the Legislature, and access federal emergency funding during a crisis. 

The state of emergency was first put into place in mid-March, and has been extended several times since then. A lawsuit brought by Republican lawmakers and businesses arguing the powers are unconstitutional was dismissed by a judge this week, with the judge noting that the emergency powers are authorized to the governor by the Legislature.

Last week, Gazelka penned a letter to Walz asking him to further specify criteria for when the peacetime emergency would end. He stressed the importance of the Legislature’s involvement in COVID-19 response decisions, such as CARES Act funding allocations.

“... I strongly suggest you identify and communicate to all Minnesotans the criteria that will be used in determining when we are no longer under a peacetime emergency declaration,” the letter reads. "We have flattened the curve, no Minnesotan has been denied necessary medical treatment, and, thankfully, our hospitals have not needed to use their surge capacity."

Walz’s response pushes back on Gazelka’s claims that Minnesota is no longer in a state of emergency. The letter points to state of emergencies still in effect across the country, including at the federal level by the Trump administration.

“In the spirit of One Minnesota, the Governor is determined to come together to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans during this unprecedented tie. To do so, we must all engage tirelessly in this work and recognize the threat that COVID-19 continues to pose to the people of our state.”

Of the meeting planned for Thursday, Walz's office said: "We are glad you accepted the invitation to meet tomorrow given you have been shockingly absent throughout the pandemic. The governor is committed to partnering with the legislature to keep Minnesotans safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and our office has ample opportunities for legislators to provide feedback on the Administration's response.

"At the same time that you claim the legislature is not involved in the process, you neglect to attend many of these critical informational and decision-making meetings."

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Gazelka and the Republican-controlled Senate have voted on multiple occasions to end the emergency powers, but without support from the Democratic-controlled House, the motions have failed.

Some Minnesota GOPers have also called for an end to COVID-19 restrictions that limits capacity in bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses, as well as criticizing the statewide mask mandate. 

Republicans in the Senate also voted not to confirm Walz-appointed Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink. Gazelka said he was dissatisfied with Leppink’s performance over the past months, but Democrats criticized the decision as a rebuke the recently-renewed emergency powers. 

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