Editor’s note: Answers are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: Sen. Paul Gazelka, while noting that these times call for difficult decisions, expressed public concern that Gov. Tim Walz’s leadership “should not be unilateral and unchecked,” and specifically called out Walz’s “unconstitutional” action on unemployment insurance. Attorney General Keith Ellison responded that Walz is acting well within his authority. Do you share Gazelka’s concerns?
Scott Newman, attorney, GOP Senate Transportation chair: I do. My opinion is different from the Attorney General’s. Specifically, I think that Governor Walz has the authority to declare a peacetime emergency. Under that statute, yes, he has the authority to close down bars and restaurants to protect the public. But I question his authority where he waived all the statutory requirements to qualify for unemployment. And I really question his criminalization of a violation of that order for business closures. I think there are other ways to handle sanctions, rather than making a criminal of that person. There are licensing sanctions and there are civil orders that can be issued because of a violation of a licensing regulation. That, to me, would be a lot more appropriate than to unilaterally create a brand new crime that the Legislature has not been involved in.
Javier Morillo, labor leader, progressive activist: My understanding is that the emergency powers are actually fairly broad. It’s always important to have as functioning a government as we possibly can, but given that that the Legislature and everybody else is pretty much in lockdown, I think that the governor being clear and transparent in everything that he is doing, and doing his best to protect Minnesotans through these actions, is a good thing. And I think that these times call for them to act — even if that means having to circumvent our normal processes. It’s just an emergency.
Debra Hilstrom, lawyer, lobbyist, former DFL House member: No. I believe that these times call for emergency actions. I believe that the Legislature can come back and take care of actions that they deem to be a problem. But at these times of an emergency, the state needs to be executing the authority that they have, after thoughtful consideration of the law. It’s clear the governor has consulted with counsel as well as the experts and I believe that he’s taking measured steps to keep Minnesotans as safe as they can be at this time.
John Kriesel, former GOP House member: I do not. I think Governor Walz has done a fantastic job. When you’re the governor and you’re leading the executive branch of the state, it’s your job — your responsibility — to make decisions that are in the best interest of the state and the citizens. We’re in an unprecedented situation right now, where things that we’ve never experienced before are requiring some difficult decisions. I think he’s doing a bang-up job so far.
Question 2: Conservative TV host Tucker Carlson called for the resignation of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) after learning the Senate Intelligence Committee chair sold off up to $1.7 million worth of stock in February, before COVID-19 blasted the U.S. economy. Three other U.S. senators, including a Democrat, appear to have acted similarly — perhaps trading on inside knowledge to protect personal assets. How does that strike you?
Newman: Without question, any elected official as well as any other citizen, if they have violated a law, then they should be prosecuted. Absolutely. Just because you’re an elected official doesn’t give you any excuse for violating a law. If there’s an insider trading violation, they should face the consequences.
Morillo: What the Republicans all have in common is that they also — all of them — downplayed the pending crisis. They followed the president’s lead and minimized the risk to the country. In addition to the violations of the STOCK Act and insider trading, that is what is so deeply, deeply appalling in this moment.
Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [D-Calif.] specifically says these decisions are made through blind trust and Sen. [Kelly] Loeffler [R-Ga.] said other people make those decisions, she doesn’t. But this is why members of Congress should actually not be owning stock while they are serving and Senator Elizabeth Warren has a bill to accomplish just that. Because this is the deepest form of cynicism that we can breed in a moment of crisis—that our leaders knew what was coming, downplayed it and then profited from it. It’s unbelievable.
Hilstrom: Insider trading is illegal and a problem and I believe that there should be investigations into who knew what and who did what. There should be consequences, based on the actions if they were improper. We know that the people in our government have to be briefed ahead of time so that they know what’s coming and what’s happening. And we rely on the fact that they are going to put the people’s interest before their own.
Kriesel: This is a time where we’ve all watched our 401(k)s diminish; I’ve stopped watching my mutual fund right now because it keeps sinking. Now again, this shall pass. But this is illegal. If I’m not if I’m not mistaken, the STOCK Act prohibits it — the rule is that if the information is not publicly available, you’re not allowed to act on that if you’re in Congress. Regardless, let’s say it’s legal. It’s disgusting, it’s not right. And so all of them should face some type of consequences, hopefully some legal ones. This is a rare situation where everybody in the United States is facing adversity. We’re in this together. And then you’ve got people doing stuff like that? It’s gross.
Editor’s note: While in Congress in 2012, Walz championed the STOCK Act, which prohibits members of Congress from personally benefiting from nonpublic information learned in their official duties. According to the Washington Post, only one current U.S. senator voted against it: Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Question 3: The Vikings, mercifully, gave us a non-virus topic to play with when they signed their quarterback Kirk Cousins to a $22 million contract through the 2022 season. That puts him among the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. So, good news?
Newman: Yes! Good news in that it’s something other than the coronavirus, which is all we hear about. But we would certainly expect that Kirk Cousins is going to perform in accordance with the amount of money that he’s being paid. That’s a ton of money, it really is. Let’s just hope that he’s as good as what is paycheck is reflecting.
Morillo: Here’s what I think about this news: Stay inside and protect yourself from the virus.
Hilstrom: Minnesota fans rely on the team having high-quality players. We will see whether or not he rises to the expectations of Minnesota fans and whether or not it was a wise decision.
Kriesel: Absolutely, yes, and he gave up cap relief this year. Now on defense, it’s going to be a full rebuild. But this opened up the ability for the team to improve — hopefully, through free agency. But yeah, it was a good move for a number of reasons. The main reason is Kirk Cousins is a very good quarterback. He hasn’t had a good offensive line and, yes, there are better quarterbacks out there. But getting rid of him without an answer or without a back-up plan would be foolish and would absolutely ensure that this team is not mentioned as a contender this year. So, they had to do it and I’m glad that they did.