Editor’s note: Answers are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: Some are upset that legislative “working groups” hammered together a $330 million COVID-19 aid package with no public scrutiny. Recordings weren’t even made for after-the-fact review. Meanwhile, lawmakers learned that some negotiated provisions—like boosted welfare payments—mysteriously fell out before the bill hit the floor. Is the Democracy-dies-in-darkness war cry justified in these dire circumstances?
Abou Amara, civil rights and employment attorney: I think under these circumstances, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s important that we respond quickly and decisively. There is always going to be time to critique, correct or supplement what’s been done. But we need action quickly and so I understand why the Legislature has acted in the way it has.
Annette Meeks, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota CEO: Yes, yes and yes. I think it’s a terrible way to make laws under any circumstances. As concerned as we are about the spread of the epidemic, democracy dies in darkness, as they say. This is a terrible way to make laws—under secrecy and without anybody even being able to read the bill before they passed it.
Patrick Coleman, acquisitions librarian, Minnesota Historical Society: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, I realize that this is a difficult question. But as a historian who’s charged with documenting history, I think this is a problem. I want to know how the sausage is made and I think posterity is going to want to know. If there are no recordings, if there’s no public input, if these things are not done in our normal open-meeting way, I think that’s going to be a problem. On the other hand, I’m glad that they accomplished something and that they did something. So I understand how problematic that is.
Rob Doar, political director, Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus: Yes. [Laughs.] That’s my immediate answer. But to expand on that: I appreciate the logistical challenges that they were faced with, but there were myriad of options available to legislators to add transparency to the process. I know that suggestions were made. But it was unclear to me if any efforts at being transparent were actually attempted.
Question 2: Gov. Tim Walz has imposed a two-week “stay-at-home” order that sounds more like strong suggestion. Meant to give Minnesota’s medical community time to prepare for peak infections, the order relies on voluntary compliance—violators won’t be arrested. “We want to educate people,” Walz said. Will enough Minnesotans pay heed to buy the needed time?
Amara: The answer, I believe, is yes. First, if you play out some of the enforcement scenarios you actually could be making the problem worse. Do we want to increase the population of our jails, potentially putting people much closer together and violating social distancing principles? This is really about showing the people of this state where we need to go and I think when you do that, people rise up to the moment. Minnesotans are smart. Minnesotans get what’s happening. And I think they’re taking proper action and response to the governor’s call.
Meeks: I certainly hope so. I just saw the death toll increased—two more overnight [on Friday morning]. Our goal should be to have none going forward. Whatever we could do to make that possible, we should all be pitching in.
Coleman: I’m worried about that, because I’m seeing idiots everywhere I turn who aren’t complying. I realize that it doesn’t go into effect until this evening [Friday, March 27]. But yesterday, I walked past a playground that was full and I’m just thinking this is this is not how this is supposed to go. I’ve been trying to get out every day and, man, the parks and the trails are packed like a spring Sunday afternoon. I’m a little concerned about how many people are outside. I mean, I bet we passed 100 people yesterday as we walked the dogs. So I, too, felt like it was just a suggestion and not an order. This is where a little bit stronger statement, I think, would save some lives.
Doar: I don’t know. I think it’s a suggestion, but then the governor subtly implies, too, that it’s a misdemeanor with up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. I think that unless people start getting arrested, I don’t know how close of attention they are going to be paying to the stay-at-home order—other than the fact that the places that they wanted to go to aren’t open.
Question 3: Here’s a hat tip to KARE11’s great TV news reporter Boyd Huppert, who first asked a question on a March 26 broadcast that we shamelessly steal here: When this whole epidemic business is all over, what is the thing you’re looking most forward to doing?
Amara: That’s a great question. I think it’s just hugging my friends and people that I care about. I think this experience has taught me how connected we are on a human level. When we are not able to touch, or hug, or hang out with the people that we care about, it really changes our way of life. So I am looking most forward to being able to do those simple things again.
Meeks: Oh, wow! [Laughs.] I’m speechless. There are so many. Moving about freely and seeing friends.
Coleman: [Laughs.] I’m definitely looking forward to going out to eat. I’ve gotten into the habit recently of having more meals out than in and I’m just jonesing for about 20 of my favorite restaurants.
Doar: Sending my kids off to school.