Getting to know the new governor of Minnesota

With his first term just starting last month, we are all getting to know Gov. Tim Walz. My first up close experience with the governor occurred a couple weeks ago during the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual convention in Bloomington.

I walked out of the Grand Ballroom inside the Doubletree Convention Center and immediately passed by Gov. Tim Walz who was surrounded by TV cameras. I watched for a few minutes and even took a photo of him with my smart phone while he answered questions from the reporters.

Looking for a safe place from the moving crowd, I walked down the hallway a ways to a large pillar and made a phone call. I was talking on the phone for just a few moments when I felt a presence of somebody standing right beside me. As soon as I looked up, I realized it was Walz again. He was talking to somebody who had stopped him. They were surrounded by what I assumed were the governor’s security detail.

It was inside the ballroom that I had joined other Minnesota newspaper journalists for the final luncheon of the convention. Walz was the keynote speaker.

His theme was media friendly and pledged to be transparent and open with the press during his gubernatorial term.

“I always viewed my responsibility as a member of Congress and now governor of this state to meet the press, not as a favor I was doing, but as a fundamental responsibility of this job to make me available as much as possible,” he said in the beginning of his speech.

As we all know, not all politicians hold that belief.

“I would never imagine in 2019 the applause lines I get when I say ‘the press is not the enemy of the people.’ That is both pathetic and sad.”

He sympathized with newspapers dealing with a “shrinking business model.” One of the trends he mentioned as worrisome is the absence of editorial boards at local newspapers doing reviews or endorsements of candidates in election races. And he revealed he knows why.

“I understand it takes a lot (of time and effort) and doing an endorsement is certainly in this world, you alienate half your readers. And by the way, they are going to be angry,” he said.

But he stressed the importance of making those endorsements, because who else are voters going to trust?

Here at the Independent there were discussions about doing endorsements before the November general election and we decided not to do them for exactly the reasons Walz mentioned.

The governor described a tough and divided political landscape. But he stressed that there is good journalism happening in local newspapers throughout the state. And he believes that’s important.

“My message is, looking into the future, is that journalism is alive and well. I see it on my campaign. I see it as holding me accountable. I see it in the incredible work that is being done,” he said.

“Looking toward the future, we are going to have to figure out a way to come out and advocate that simple idea that freedom of the press is vital to democracy. Holding me accountable teaches me to be a better governor of the state of Minnesota.”

He ended his address to the journalists talking about his visit to the 19&75 Cafe in Ivanhoe on Jan. 21.

It was both a public meet-and-greet event for folks in the area and a family gathering for the governor and his wife, Gwen that Sunday afternoon. Gwen is from Ivanhoe and the governor talked about how the event made the front page of the Ivanhoe Times.

“Her (Gwen) mother celebrated her 80th birthday,” Walz said. “I guess I’m the first sitting governor to visit Ivanhoe. Four local newspapers showed up. I’m a hero with my mother-in-law.”

That remark drew lots of laughter from the journalists listening to him.

I smiled, because I knew the Independent was one of the four newspapers Walz referred to as showing up for his cafe visit.

While he didn’t mentioned the Independent by name, it made me feel good that our governor was happy that our reporter showed up for the event. He was pleased reporters from the other three newspapers showed up as well.

I read those newspapers on a weekly basis. I know reporters and photographers from these three other weekly newspapers are out in their communities doing “good journalism” every day. It’s good to see that the new governor recognizes this as well.