Gov. Tim Walz had a bad day Wednesday, May 20.
It was one of the few bad days he's had as Minnesota's leader during the coronavirus pandemic. His decisions prior to Wednesday were common-sense and science-based.
But the governor's confusing and inconsistent announcement that restaurants and bars could reopen June 1 only with outdoor seating went over like passing gas in church.
Which is funny, because Walz's decision to limit church gatherings to 10 or fewer people went over like a belch in a restaurant.
If somebody had polled Minnesota after the governor's press conference, his gaudy approval numbers would've taken a serious hit. Especially in outstate Minnesota, where there is a growing restlessness that what is right for the Twin Cities might not be right for the hinterlands.
This is even truer in border towns like Moorhead, Dilworth, Breckenridge and East Grand Forks. Across the Red River is North Dakota, where restaurants and bars are open and willingly taking Minnesota money that might otherwise be spent in Minnesota.
- Minnesota restaurants, bars and salons get June 1 date to reopen, churches to hold services against state orders
- AG Ellison says 'yes' after Minn. legislators ask if he will enforce coronavirus emergency orders
- Minnesota church leaders say they will resume service, with or without Walz's blessing
- Moorhead businesses scramble to meet new rules for reopening
Given the hints Walz dropped earlier, it seemed like June 1 was the day when restaurants and bars could open and move toward normalcy. With the edict he dropped Wednesday that they'd be limited to outdoor seating, it feels like the rug was pulled out from under some struggling small businesses.
Even Democratic politicians feel this way. State Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth and state Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley, staunch DFLers and supporters of Walz, said they were "frustrated" (Marquart) and "disappointed" (Eken).
"It's unworkable and inconsistent," Marquart said. "Some can have outdoor seating and some can't. What about those that can't? It's not workable. It isn't."
Marquart said he was thinking specifically of the popular Hi-Ho Tavern in Dilworth, a burger joint tucked into the main drag going through town. It has no outdoor seating. It sits a few feet from busy U.S. Highway 10, meaning it doesn't have the option of putting up a temporary outdoor patio.
For the Hi-Ho, the new rule does nothing.
Eken also pushed back on the governor's announcement, continuing to be one of the few DFLers to openly challenge Walz with words and votes.
In the past couple of weeks, Eken voted with Republicans twice in opposition to Walz. One bill would've allowed businesses with COVID-19 preparedness plans to reopen despite the governor's order; the other would've limited Walz's emergency powers.
Eken believes Walz needs to let restaurants and bars open for indoor business.
"While I agree businesses need to follow safety guidelines, I feel the governor's limitations on businesses in our area are too restrictive," Eken said. "In order to be meaningful, businesses must be given a reasonable chance to reopen successfully. Otherwise, it's not a true reopening."
Churches, too, are pushing back. Catholics and some Lutherans have said they'll ignore Walz's directive limiting services to 10 people. Their frustration is understandable, given the inconsistency of what's happening.
Yes 85% No 15%
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The governor needs to fix this. It's as simple as admitting he was wrong and turning his dial to allow bars and restaurants to open with proper safety measures.
Walz said the tight restrictions during the early days of the pandemic were meant to build hospital capacity and testing capability. Minnesota accomplished that. At some point, people and businesses have to be trusted to make the right decisions. Restaurants and bars deserve the opportunity to survive.
"I'm convinced businesses can make their places safe," Marquart said. "I'm convinced because unless they do that, customers won't go there. Our business owners know it is in their best interest and their customers' best interest to follow guidelines and make their businesses safe."
Marquart, too, is calling for targeted financial relief for restaurants and bars in the form of grants. Walz can make that happen, too.
The governor has hit all the proper marks during the pandemic and a vast majority of Minnesotans, other than a handful of loud protesters who attracted media attention, followed his lead and tried to do the right things.
Walz whiffed on this decision. We'll chalk it up to the governor misreading the situation. He had a bad day. It happens.
The good news is, he can fix it.
He should. As quickly as possible.