Walz skips town early ahead of fishing opener protests

When it came time for Saturday’s 8 a.m. opening ceremony, Gov. Tim Walz was already on his way back to St. Paul for “legislative negotiations.”

Gov. Tim Walz fishes Saturday morning with local guide Eric Koep. (Gov. Tim Walz/Twitter)

The Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener returned this weekend, but one important guest was missing from the opening ceremony: the governor himself.

Canceled in 2020, the annual event has been a tradition in Minnesota for 73 years and marks the beginning of the summer tourism season. This year’s opener took place in Otter Tail County, home to the most lakes in the state.

“I hope that while Gov. Walz is here that he takes the time to really listen to the concerns from businesses and families in Greater Minnesota who have been so deeply harmed by his arbitrary and poorly planned executive orders,” Rep. Mary Franson said in a statement last week ahead of the opener.

“They feel like they’ve been ignored and shut out over the past year and this is a chance for the governor to hear what people think outside the St. Paul bubble,” she added.

Unfortunately, when it came time for Saturday’s 8 a.m. opening ceremony, Gov. Tim Walz was already on his way back to St. Paul for “legislative negotiations,” according to Minnesota DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.

“I want to also let people know that, unfortunately, Gov. Walz is not going to be with us at this event this morning. He was called away to the Capitol in the midst of the legislative negotiations but I did want to say on his behalf: he was here yesterday, he enjoyed the media row activity, he enjoyed visiting a lot of local businesses,” Strommen told a crowd gathered at Otter Tail Lake.

The commissioner said Walz woke up early Saturday morning “and went out fishing” with local guide Eric Koep, according to Forum News Service.

“I will tell you, as you know, these legislative negotiations are very important. It’s a budget this year,” Strommen continued. “We need our budgets as state agencies or we can’t keep doing this work on behalf of our fisheries and tourism in Minnesota. So we’re going to give the governor a pass because he’s going to go help us reach a budget solution so we can keep up this fabulous work.”

But all negotiations thus far have been conducted via Zoom, according to House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who didn’t “know of any negotiations today.”

“Nor would negotiations matter at this point, it’s too late to pass the bills this session. Also, the governor doesn’t need to be included. This seems suspicious,” Daudt said.

According to Star Tribune reporter Patrick Condon, Walz’s spokesperson said there were talks scheduled for Saturday, but didn’t share any further details.

Some local officials reportedly faced criticism for welcoming the Democratic governor to the deep-red county. Apart from Walz’s COVID-19 mandates, one sore spot among some rural Minnesotans is the governor’s 2017 description of the region as “mostly rocks and cows.”

Conservative activists have embraced that label and organized a protest caravan to coincide with the fishing opener. The caravan made several stops throughout Becker and Otter Tail counties Saturday as some protesters carried flags promoting “Rocksandcows.org.”

“He took his victory lap yesterday in front of the press and, like everything else he does, chickened out because he probably heard about the protests, he probably heard that the bars and restaurants didn’t want him up here,” a speaker at one of the stops said, referring to Walz.

“He left this morning just like he left the state of Minnesota,” she added.