Gov. Tim Walz delivered his third State of the State address Sunday night from his former social studies classroom at Mankato West High School.
The annual address was originally planned for last weekend, but was postponed so the governor could complete a 10-day quarantine following his exposure to COVID-19.
In a 20-minute speech filled with football analogies, Walz said “normalcy is on the horizon” and focused his remarks almost exclusively on COVID-19.
“Brighter days are here and even more are coming. We are winning the fight against COVID-19,” Walz began his speech.
The governor claimed that more than 90 percent of students are back to learning in-person, but that figure includes students in hybrid models. According to the American Enterprise Institute, just 31 percent of Minnesota schools are fully in-person.
“The thaw is here, but in Minnesota we know better than to let our guard down at the first sign of spring. I myself was in quarantine last week after being exposed to COVID-19, serving as an important reminder that the virus is still very much with us,” Walz continued. “We’re monitoring closely as COVID cases have started rising again, spurred on by new variants of the virus.”
The governor said the “only way we’ll truly beat this virus” is by continuing to social distance, wear masks, and get tested and vaccinated.
“Getting vaccinated is how we end this pandemic,” he said, later claiming that Minnesota’s economy is “booming back faster than we ever imagined.”
Speaking on the eve of opening arguments in former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin’s trial, the governor focused the end of his remarks on racial issues. He said he picked the Mankato school because its auditorium was the site of a 1961 speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Our state was thrust into the international spotlight following the death of George Floyd. Our deep racial inequities were exposed for the world to see. For many white Minnesotans, it was an awakening to a truth that Minnesotans of color have known their entire lives,” Walz said.
“While our state ranks as one of the best places in the country for a white child to grow up, it often ranks as one of the worst for a child of color,” he added. “As many Minnesotans welcome getting back to normal, we must acknowledge this and recognize that for too many, getting back to normal isn’t good enough.”
The governor said normalcy isn’t “good enough” for single mothers who struggle to feed their families and “young black men who live in fear of being stopped by police officers who have sworn an oath to protect them.”
Walz urged Minnesotans to make their “voices heard” during the trial, but to do so peacefully.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, released a video ahead of Walz’s speech, calling on the governor to lay out a clear plan for relinquishing his emergency powers, which he did not do.
“The word that I would use is hopeful,” Gazelka said. “But the question is: when will the governor say that this pandemic is over?”
He said Walz also needs to provide a plan for reopening all businesses and returning all students to in-person learning five days a week.
“The good news is we have a lot of hope and Minnesotans should know we are moving in the right direction,” Gazelka added.
Under ordinary circumstances, the governor speaks directly to state lawmakers at the Minnesota Capitol. Sunday night’s speech was the second time Walz delivered the address from a remote location.