Governor Tim Walz’s wife, Gwen Walz, is making her signature issue criminal justice. Unlike other Minnesota first ladies, she’s been taking a very active role in the Walz administration.
First, Walz is pushing to restore the voting rights to felons once they’ve completed jail time—currently, felons in Minnesota need to complete probation, parole, and other terms of their release before they can vote again.
Less-controversially, Gwen Walz is promoting programs where inmates can receive education behind bars, including technical certifications and their high school diplomas.
The governor’s office then launched an effort to promote the first lady’s efforts. Gwen Walz did an interview for the Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) show “Almanac.” She also did other interviews with reporters, arranged by the Walz administration.
But a key part of her effort involved an event at TPT headquarters in St. Paul, which screened clips of a documentary on the issue of education behind bars. After the clips were shown, a panel discussion was held, which including Gwen Walz and was taped by TPT.
The moderator of this discussion was Toussaint Morrison, a black man.
Soft-ball questions that Morrison was supposed to ask were circulated ahead of time “within the Department of Corrections and the governor’s office.”
But when the audience noticed that most of the men behind bars in the documentary were non-white, the issue of race came up—indeed, racial minorities make up around 20 percent of Minnesota’s overall population, but account for about half of Minnesota’s prison inmates.
Morrison ran with those questions about race, and Gwen Walz appeared to be stumped. Some in the crowd felt she was sidestepping the race issue entirely.
Once the event was over, the Walz administration scrambled to get the video of the event deleted.
Kristin Beckmann, deputy chief of staff for Democrat Governor Tim Walz is alleged to have put pressure on TPT President and CEO Jim Pagliarini to delete the tape.
Sarah Walker, a former Department of Corrections (DOC) employee who was pushed out over a lobbying scandal, was also on the panel. Walker seems to suggest that her not properly defending Gwen Walz during that panel led to her eventual exit from the DOC. Walker told MPR that Beckmann, Walz’s deputy chief of staff, told Walker over the phone: “It’s taken care of … We talked to TPT.” According to Walker, Beckmann continued to say that “The TPT president has now apologized and agreed to destroy all of the videotapes that were made of the event.”
That’s further confirmed by Donna Saul Millen, managing director of events and engagement at TPT, who wrote in an email: “The short answer … the first lady’s office made the request and we didn’t have plans to use it (at least not at that time) … The obvious answer [to explain TPT’s action to delete the tape is that] it was an easy way to smooth out ruffled feathers.”
After the fact, Beckmann has had to explain the rush to delete the tape. “Because we didn’t agree to tape it and there was no plan to use it going forward, I think we all just agreed it didn’t need to be around anymore,” Beckmann said. “We made an emotional decision at that time, and we realize in hindsight that it was an overreaction … we regret the decision,” Beckmann wrote.
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