Caryn Sullivan: Is Minnesota better under Gov. Walz?

Top down, our elected officials failed to offer strong leadership on a host of issues that affect our well-being. 

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan participate in a public safety roundtable in New Ulm in March. (Office of Gov. Tim Walz/Flickr)

In roughly 120 days, voters will have a chance to grade Gov. Tim Walz on his performance. As readers consider their votes, here’s a question to ponder: How are our lives — how is our state — better with Walz at the helm?

How are our children doing — the ones who live in neighborhoods turned war zones?

How about the 40 percent who cannot read at grade level; the public-school kids who stayed home because Walz’s teachers union advocated remote learning — while private and parochial school students stayed the course?

How about people who celebrated a loved one’s life over Zoom, while “peaceful protesters” marched on and locked down freeways?

How about families who are eating more beans than beef because they can’t afford the latter?

How are small business owners faring — the ones who had to shut down while big box stores remained open?

How are cops with PTSD faring — after abandoning a burning precinct building elected officials sacrificed in the summer of 2020?

How are restaurants and bars faring — those in once-bustling areas now favored by gun-wielding street racers?

How are health care workers faring — not the ones who received frontline worker pay, but those who lost their jobs because they chose not to take a novel vaccine?

I’ve drawn my conclusions.

The past couple of years have been hard on the heart and the psyche.

Top down, our elected officials failed to offer strong leadership on a host of issues that affect our well-being.

It’s time to get healthy.

Last week, I spoke with Dr. Scott Jensen, the Republican candidate for governor, about what he’s hearing from Minnesotans and how he and his running mate, Matt Birk, would govern.

While Gov. Walz came out with the catchy slogan “One Minnesota,” we’ve never been less so, Jensen says.

“Our medical profession splintered through the COVID affair.”

“Our churches and businesses and neighborhoods and even families have splintered over issues of social distancing, masks, and vaccinations, and whether you should have access to medicines that would be used off-label.”

“All of these things created firepower in the hearts and minds of people,” he says.

We’re fractured and there’s no easy way out. The only way forward is to simply move forward, he says.

Jensen’s looking for commonality. He’s finding it in the various demographic groups that comprise the patchwork squares in the Minnesota quilt.

In the suburbs, metro, greater Minnesota, and minority communities, people of all generations yearn for the same things.

We want to be safe and to be free.

We recognize we need government, but too much government isn’t the answer.

We want to celebrate our faith and to honor life.

A family practice physician for 40 years, Jensen’s keenly aware of the challenges we face in life.

He’s clear about what the election is and is not about.

He has patients who are in a conundrum because they must decide whether to buy gas or groceries.

They’re worried about whether to let kids play in the front yard.

They’re frustrated with the public school system, which has become politicized.

Jensen never knew what his teachers’ political affiliations were because it didn’t matter. They taught him about character and how to speak Latin. They didn’t display graphic photos of people engaging in sexual activity or discuss gender.

“Can’t we have an age of innocence?” he asks.

Though he served one term in the Minnesota Senate, Jensen’s not a career politician. Birk is a political newcomer. The pair bring enthusiasm and energy to a state which is on a downward spiral.

They envision a collaborative leadership style with shared responsibilities.

Jensen acknowledges they’ll make mistakes.

Just as in any relationship, voters won’t agree with him on every issue, he says. In fact, he and Birk don’t agree on every issue.

People don’t like it when politicians compromise, he says. But you can’t lead if you’re going to wait for universal approval. That’s not realistic and it’s not leadership.

As Birk did in our recent interview, Jensen pledges to bring people together to share ideas and seek solutions.

But at the end of the day, leadership is about listening, fighting through hard things, making decisions, and owning them.

As to the divisive issue of abortion, Jensen says Democrats are leveraging the issue because they have nothing else to run on.

“Abortion is settled law in Minnesota,” he says. “We have a liberal Supreme Court that’s not going to alter that. It’s not on the ballot in November.”

What is?

Crime; inflation; education; faith; and family.

Fresh leadership on those issues offers our best chance of making Minnesota better.