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Senate Republicans, Walz must work together to end state of emergency

Sadly, Minnesotans this past month saw just how petty some of their legislators can be when they don’t get their way.

The Republican-led Senate, while convened in the August special session, made a stunning 34-32 vote to reject the confirmation of Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.

While a few key Senate Republicans tried to spin the decision as dissatisfaction with her performance over the past 19 months, the reality is this was purely a political play.

Witness House minority leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, a key Republican, who tweeted “Looks like the senate is executing a prisoner today.” Perhaps worse, there’s is speculation the Senate could take down another Cabinet member in the September special session.

Clearly, the move was meant to show Gov. Tim Walz how upset Republicans are with the extension of his emergency powers another 30 days amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor convened the special session primarily to take that action, which is required every 30 days to give legislators the opportunity to end a governor’s emergency powers. The only way Walz loses those powers is if simple majorities of the Senate and the House vote to end them.

The Senate did so in the August session, but the DFL-controlled House again backed the DFL governor and did not support ending them.

Have no doubt. Leppink’s ouster is the equivalent of a political temper tantrum by a caucus that hasn’t been able to persuade enough lawmakers to support its preferred course of action. And it’s something that should embarrass its backers.

That said, there is a sane, civic and professional way to avoid such antics: The governor, the Senate and the House could work together toward common ground — and common good — ultimately nullifying the need for 30 more days of emergency gubernatorial powers.

We know. That’s crazy talk at a time of such extreme partisanship.

Still, here’s one idea.

First, Republicans must identify what COVID-19 preventive measures Walz has implemented that will remain in place if the emergency powers end.

For example, this paper supports Minnesota’s mask mandate as well as Walz’s data-driven back-to-school framework that allows districts latitude in how to address safety in a new school year.

What specifically do Republicans support? And oppose?

Republicans are dreaming if they think Walz — or enough DFL legislators — will scuttle his emergency powers without some sort of data-driven agreement in place that prevents Minnesota from becoming the next COVID-19 hot spot.

So Republicans, show Minnesotans a responsible plan worthy of sharing power, and of convincing other lawmakers to join you.

But it’s not just Republicans who must step up. The governor also should put forth his benchmarks for ending his emergency powers.

Remember, Walz himself said a driving force in declaring the emergency was to allow hospitals to prepare for COVID-19. He essentially acknowledged that was accomplished in June. And since then, the steps he’s taken are much more about defining the new normal than governing in an emergency. Witness plans this past week to allow more visits to long-term care facilities — places that have proven deadliest for COVID-19 exposure.

Once those respective positions are known, Walz, Republican Senate leaders and key House DFLers can negotiate their way toward ending this peacetime emergency while keeping Minnesotans safe and restoring the balance of power to state government.

To do anything less is to put politics above this pandemic. Again.

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