Walz stepped up for the pandemic, now it’s time for him to step back

8 months after Walz declared a peacetime emergency, power must be restored to the legislative branch


Colin Will

Eight months after Walz declared a peacetime emergency, power must be restored to the legislative branch.

On March 13, 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the authority that that act granted him, he was able to pass many common-sense measures to protect the health and financial security of Minnesotans, including enforcing social distancing, protecting homeless encampments, and transitioning healthcare and education to an online format. However, for the sake of the democratic process, it’s time for Walz to cede responsibility for dealing with COVID-19 to the legislature.

It’s true that the 98 executive orders Walz, who is a Democrat, has passed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic benefitted the state of Minnesota, at least at first. His actions fell within the powers granted to the office of governor in state statute 12.31, passed decades ago, which allows the governor of Minnesota to seize emergency powers in the event of, among other things, civil unrest, a foreign invasion, or an “act of nature,” which Walz insisted the pandemic was. The peacetime emergency can be extended at any time, but these extensions can be blocked by a majority vote in both legislative chambers.
The idea behind enabling the governor to essentially pass unilateral legislation, which is not a power vested in him by the Minnesota constitution, was that a bicameral legislature would respond too slowly in a crisis and that a strong hand would be needed to quickly pass common-sense orders if the legislature did not have enough time to react.

Though Walz issued executive orders rapid-fire in the first few months of the pandemic, the rate at which he acted slowed over time, and there’s no reason to think that the legislature should be any slower.”

The only reason that they haven’t put together any comprehensive reopening plan is because they are currently gridlocked on an issue Walz created: the House is led by Democrats, who approve of Walz’s heavy-handed handling of the pandemic and have repeatedly voted against revoking his powers, and the Senate is led by Republicans, who would like to see swifter reopening and have called for him to end the declared emergency.
The House Democrats’ reasoning for not blocking Walz’s executive powers seems sound at first, but when analyzed critically is unsound and dangerous. They believe that it would be unsafe to hand pandemic-related responsibilities to the Republicans in the Senate, who have repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic and the importance of best practices such as masking and social distancing. But the Democrats also control a chamber and thus would have significant power to amend any new laws that came out of the Senate and add regulations enforcing those practices. The only valid reason the Democrats have for maintaining Walz’s powers is that they refuse to compromise with the Republicans, basically denying a substantial minority of the state’s population any say in governing. Though some might argue that an enforced gridlock is necessary to ensure that the power of government rests entirely in Walz’s capable hands, they set a dangerous precedent, essentially granting legislative power wholly to the governor as long as their party holds at least one chamber. This would completely destroy the system of compromises that is integral to the proper functioning of a republic. For Walz to hold such power for such a long time is not only detrimental to the state of Minnesota in the short term, it may also deal a permanent blow to the strength of our democracy, and it is completely unacceptable for this to continue.