Walz Champions Education and Gun Safety in State of the State Speech


Gov. Tim Walz celebrated success in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, recalling the DFL’s historic 2023 legislative session and promising a continued campaign for tighter gun safety measures and investments in the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

The second-term governor, a former Mankato teacher, spoke from the auditorium of the stunning, airy Owatonna High School, which opened last fall, replacing a more than century-old structure.

Walz compared the DFL majority’s use of a “window of opportunity” last session to Owatonna’s determination to build a state-of-the-art high school that still smells fresh inside and will serve the town for generations.

“Most of the time, politics is incremental, frustrating, and sometimes gridlocked altogether, but every once in a while you get an opportunity to make a whole lot of progress in a short amount of time,” remarked Walz.

Legislators, justices, state officials, and cabinet members traveled south from the Capitol on slippery roadways through a snowfall to attend. About 200 policymakers came, providing a friendly audience for the governor, as many had been chosen by him. The kids were on spring break, and no protesters disrupted the address.

Walz spoke for less than 30 minutes, focusing primarily on his topic of caring for the state’s children and education. After the speech, Republicans criticized Walz’s “rosy picture,” citing concerns about state spending, the lack of an across-the-board tax cut for Social Security, and the need for more than the $16 million Walz proposed for emergency services across the state.

“We grew government in an unsustainable manner,” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, told reporters following the speech.

She and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, brought up the increase in last year’s DFL-passed budget. While the two complimented educational efforts, they expressed concern about a lack of resources to support mandates and low reading scores.

Overall, according to Johnson, “Minnesotans overwhelmingly are saying that they don’t feel as if they’re better off in this generation as they were in the last.” He stated that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the state’s educational system.

Walz was mostly upbeat in his highlight reel of the past year, which included free school lunches, affordable housing funding, and new clean-energy standards while criticizing leaders in other states for “spending their time, energy, and political capital picking fights with beer companies and librarians.”

That was an allusion to a boycott of Bud Light for displaying a transgender lady in a television commercial, as well as book bans that some parents object to. He termed such initiatives unacceptable.

“Speaking on behalf of Minnesotans: We are happy to have people move here, we are happy to take your private-sector investment dollars here, and we’re happy to have brilliant young people moving in from other states,” he told the crowd. “But what we’re not going to take is radical ideas.”

The 2023 session was so significant for Walz that he has become a frequent fixture in the national media, speaking in support of both new progressive ideas and President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign.

With three years remaining in his term, Walz is in a good position to highlight accomplishments and make plans for the future. He has not said if he will seek a third term or if he has national ambitions.

When he was re-elected in November 2022 with a DFL-controlled Legislature, the governor shifted away from the issues that absorbed much of his first term: the COVID-19 epidemic and unrest following George Floyd’s death. During the height of the pandemic, he delivered two State of the State speeches to parliamentarians via video screen.

The 2023 session was a DFL fever dream, with bills to increase education funding, legalize recreational marijuana, restore voting rights to felons upon release from prison, codify abortion rights, establish paid family leave, and pass universal gun background checks and a red flag protection order law.

But Walz wants more. “We know that we can’t legislate against every act of violence but surely we can do more,” he went on to say.

He urged with lawmakers to pass gun-safety legislation that would ensure secure firearm storage and prompt reporting of lost and stolen firearms. He advocated for stiffer criminal consequences for straw buys, citing the recent shooting of two cops and a paramedic in Burnsville by a man who used guns he was not legally permitted to acquire or own.

His message featured a push for a $989 million bonding plan, which includes a package of development projects aimed at affordable housing, water infrastructure, and college campus facility repairs. The Legislature is still developing its proposal.

“I know we won’t agree on everything,” he went on to say. “Safe streets are something we can all agree on. Clean water is something we can all agree on. Affordable housing is something we can all agree on.”

The governor became extremely emotional as he discussed fertility issues. Walz has recently spoken about his and First Lady Gwen Walz’s years of pursuing IVF to conceive.

He mentioned the Alabama Supreme Court’s verdict last month, which stated that embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) should be regarded infants. He wants lawmakers to include IVF protections in a bill passed last year to codify abortion rights.

“Those judges launched a blatant attack on our family. “It was a direct attack on my children,” he explained. “Gwen and I will not forget it, nor will we forgive it, and neither will thousands of other moms and dads across this state.”

Walz delivered the address in Owatonna, returning to his southern Minnesota roots after a decade years in Congress. The southern Minnesota city of 26,000 gambled big on itself with the new cutting-edge high school, where all classrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and educational opportunities have grown to include nursing and hydroponics to help local industries.

In 2019, Owatonna voters approved a referendum to build a high school costing more than $100 million. Federated Insurance, Wenger Corp., Life Fitness, Viracon, and the Mayo Clinic donated approximately $25 million to help offset some of the expenses.

The school went beyond standard technical and vocational instruction in wood, metal, and engine shops to include a commercial kitchen and a nursing lab.

“I came … to Owatonna tonight to celebrate this magnificent school and discuss the work we’re doing to improve the lives of children across Minnesota,” he told the crowd. “But I also want people to remember just how many things had to go right for this vision to become reality.”

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