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Capitol Retort: Peaking early; executive power; ‘one good thing’

Kevin Featherly//April 23, 2020

Capitol Retort: Peaking early; executive power; ‘one good thing’

Kevin Featherly//April 23, 2020

Editor’s note: Answers are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.

Question 1: On April 14, Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel, said on the House floor that instead flattening the curve and postponing the peak of COVID-19 infections until July, the focus should be on moving the peak “as close to current as possible so we can get on the backside of this.” The pressure to reboot an economy that has flat-lined is understandable. But how did Bahr’s statement strike your ears?

Ron Latz, attorney, DFL state senator: How many grandmothers is he willing to sacrifice because we didn’t have the hospital beds available to treat them during an early peak? It’s head-in-the-sand and ignorant problem analysis. I mean, businesses are going to close anyway, if we peak early and everyone is sick and can’t go to work. So we’re better off partially shutting down the economy now and preventing the deaths and severe long-term health consequences and setting the stage for a long-term economic reopening.

Brian McDaniel, attorney, conservative lobbyist: I’m not an epidemiologist, and neither is Cal. To my ears, that seemed like a medically inappropriate suggestion. And I am somebody who absolutely wants to start opening businesses as soon as possible. But sacrificing everyone’s grandma is maybe not the best way to do it.

Amy Koch, former GOP Senate majority leader: Everybody has got an opinion on it. Everybody is reading the same models. I don’t envy the policymakers who have to make these decisions. But I think we ought to listen to, obviously, to the public health officials, the doctors, the Chamber of Commerce, the businesses. It’s all a balancing act. I don’t pretend to be any kind of a public health person who can respond to whether we need to do herd immunity or flatten the curve. I’m just doing my part to keep myself, my family and anyone around me safe and also help out those in need. I think that should be our focus right now.

Wy Spano, DFL political consultant: [Laughs.] Well, as we used to say out on the farm, “Let’s cull the herd a little bit.” It appears that there is quite a bit of that kind of crazy discussion. Basically, it says let’s go through the worst of it, pass it around as fast as we can and then, when it’s all gone, we can get started making money again. It kind of lines up with the Democratic v. Republican takes on life. On the Democrats’ side they’re saying, “How can we save the most lives?” And they can go too far trying to do that. On the other side, the Republicans are saying, “Let’s get back to work, I don’t understand this dumb stuff!” It gets so stark with people like Bahr. But at the end of the tunnel, people don’t seem to be that outraged by it all.

Melisa Franzen, attorney, DFL state senator: I think anything we do must be based on science and saving lives first. That’s the priority. The economy will get back on track once we have healthy people who are able to drive that economy. So we have to focus on the goal of making sure we contain the virus, that we keep people healthy and that we get a vaccine. So I think it’s premature.


Question 2: MPR’s Brian Bakst reports that there is one unique element to Gov. Tim Walz’s use of peacetime emergency powers: his choice to stack orders—37 of them at the time of this writing—and to point each one back to his original peacetime emergency declaration. What do you think of the governor’s use of executive authority? Has he gone too far? Not far enough? What say you?

Latz: I think he has struck the right balance in his initial order and is backing up his decisions with solid data analysis and evidence. While I am always concerned about the executive branch reaching into legislative roles, this is a peacetime emergency. And the executive branch is, by design, more nimble and capable of moving more quickly than the legislative branch.

McDaniels: I think, by and large, he has done a good job. I think that he has set a measured and calm tone, which has a lot of value for the populous in and of itself. I think the orders may not be wildly out of line. It sounds like the communication between the governor’s office and the Legislature about the orders may need some more robust strengthening. But overall, I think the Legislature and governor have been incredibly functional. And I believe the House and Senate are being appropriate checks on executive power.

Koch: I think he has actually handled it quite well. I think the stacking is a smart way to do it, because he is allowing himself some flexibility. He’s basically doing amendments to his original order, right? And he’s doing it in a very logical way. I think it’s the teacher in him, because he has got a lesson plan for us every time.

Spano: I personally think he has done it brilliantly. He made it possible to get things done that probably would not have come out of the legislative or other processes. He took speed and effectiveness over democratic process, if you will. My answer is he did the right thing.

Franzen: I think he is trying to be balanced. A lot of it has to be done really quickly and I think he has the authority to do so. But we are also in session, so I have been urging him to make some adjustments to his orders. Some of them have been favorable and some of them have not been where I would like them to be. But I know he has the best and the brightest on his team and the best intent to keep Minnesota’s economy going and keep Minnesotans safe. So I am following our leader’s lead.

(Deposit photos)
(Deposit photos)

Question 3: Twitter has a group of folks who follow someone called The Hoarse Whisperer who regularly share their “one good thing” each Friday, to remind themselves that good things are still happening in our world. As it happens, we’re speaking on a Friday. What’s your one good thing?

Latz: I get to spend a lot of additional time with my 12-year-old daughter during this stay-at-home period, and I absolutely love it.

McDaniel: On the House floor today [April 17], they are going to pass a provision that will allow bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine along with food orders, which will provide a much needed cash infusion to these restaurants to help them survive and retain their employees. I think that is a great step toward normalcy. [Editor’s note: That bill, Senate File 4489, passed the House 129-1 Friday, after passing the Senate 65-2 a day earlier.]

Koch: At the very start of this I was really freaking out and a lot of the focus was on myself. But I spoke to somebody who was very wise and who told me that we are the lucky ones—we’re healthy, we have the ability to work and it is going to be our job to help those that are in more need. It was the slap in the face that I needed. I try to focus my efforts on making things better for somebody else. And I’m super-selfish! But that has been the one piece of advice that has helped me through this whole thing.

Spano: I was able to take advantage of low interest rates and refinance our mortgage. [Laughs.]

Franzen: It’s quite fun to use social media and be able to support our small businesses. It’s kind of fun to see the community supporting each other in new, innovative ways to get through this.

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