Politics and poultry convened in name only as the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce hosted its second virtual Eggs & Issues forum Friday, Feb. 19 — a Zoom gathering where the general consensus was abundantly clear: reopen the state of Minnesota and do it quickly.
Hosted by Matt Kilian, the president of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, the event featured Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake; state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; as well as state Reps. John Poston, R-Lake Shore; Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin; and Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa. There were also a number of chamber members, including Cub Foods owner Chris Quisberg and Ben Thuringer of Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake, who participated.
Unsatisfied with the gradual, methodical approach taken by Gov. Tim Walz to “dial back” restrictions on social gatherings, indoor dining and in-person education, Republican lawmakers were unsparing in their criticism of the state’s chief executive.
There also was plenty of discussion about proposals for exorbitant employee benefits, legal recreational marijuana, tax hikes, “California-style” emissions standards, and more, but local GOP officials focused on what they see as the dangers of COVID-related restrictions during Friday’s forum.
The state of Minnesota needs to reopen as quickly and comprehensively as possible, they said, and DFLers’ cautionary approach during a pandemic that has killed nearly half a million Americans is, as a byproduct, crushing small businesses, denying children a proper education, and threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of Minnesotans. Much of this is the result of an administration, they added, which has made a practice of abusing emergency powers and nixing any opportunities for communication or public input.
“It isn’t something to be taken lightly at all,” Heintzeman said. “Most people are really struggling to, especially in Greater Minnesota, to interact and let their voice be heard. … Minnesotans are being crushed. If they’re willing to continue to do business in the state of Minnesota, there better be a path there for them.”
“We have seen the heartache firsthand,” Lueck said later. “I mean this with all sincerity: This governor is doing the best he can, but he’s got blinders on.”
They came at the issue from different perspectives. Ruud and Gazelka spoke on the difficulties of performing their jobs as lawmakers when sessions aren’t convened physically in the St. Paul Capitol, while Lueck and Heintzeman lambasted the non-legislative rule-making process by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to implement emissions standards. They said issues like tax increases, closure orders and budgetary decisions are seeing little, if any, input from lawmakers — with inefficient Zoom meetings on one hand, and a non-communicative governor on the other.
“I will tell you that it’s been very difficult trying to communicate with the governor,” Poston said. “He doesn't respond to emails. He doesn’t respond to phone messages. He just isn’t communicating with legislators, especially in the House on the right side of the aisle.”
In turn, local lawmakers said they would continue to oppose tax hikes to meet a projected $1.2 billion deficit in 2022; advocate for a reduction in state agency budgets; oppose legal recreational marijuana; push for a full reopening of the economy; and oppose DFL-proposed legislation that would grant employees benefits in line with weeks of paid sick or maternity leave, among other measures.