During a radio interview conducted on the same FarmFest stage where he’d just completed a debate with DFL Gov. Tim Walz, Republican Scott Jensen was asked how he came to be a candidate for that office.
Jensen, a family doctor from Chaska, said he had quit politics because his wife Mary Jensen, a veterinarian, had health challenges that would require four surgeries. Once she was healthy, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Jensen said he was shocked by an email from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how medical professionals should categorize deaths that might have been caused by the virus.
“I raised my hand, sort of,” Jensen, the GOP nominee for governor, told Linder Farm Network, saying he thought “that can’t be right. And I said it loud enough that I got to meet Laura Ingraham and I became a regular. All of a sudden I was being pushed to the front of the line. I was being asked to speak to issues, put them in context. And I literally became a national figure. And I think I have a half a million people that follow me every day. And people started to push me to run for governor.”
Jensen criticized mandatory mask orders. He has said so-called herd immunity – having the virus spread through the population until it runs out of uninfected hosts – is a better way to overcome the pandemic than vaccines. He questioned the number of infections and deaths, even arguing that health professionals were overstating those rates as ways to get higher reimbursements from insurance companies and the government. And he promoted using unfounded remedies such as ivermectin (an antiparasitic drug) and hydroxychloroquine (a drug primarily used to treat malaria). He faced complaints filed with the state medical licensing board and was removed from TikTok for violating policies against COVID misinformation.
And as much as the Jensen campaign would prefer to talk about public safety and the economy, Jensen frequently returns to what he said in August about what got him into the race. During that FarmFest debate, in front of a supportive crowd that included a vociferous contingent of COVID deniers, Jensen returned to the topic several times.
On his campaign website, Jensen says, “We can never again allow bad modeling, ego, and party politics to drive policy. We can never again allow the power grab Tim Walz forced on Minnesota. We must have emergency power reform and we must let science, not ‘political science’ lead the way when faced with crisis.”
Many of his stated beliefs about the virus, the threat it poses to human health and impacts of government intervention run counter to consensus medical conclusions, and he often touts the fact that he’s standing up to the medical community.
How did Jensen evolve from an iconoclastic state senator known for working across the political aisle, especially with a bipartisan group of M.D.s known as the Doctor Caucus, to a national figure among pandemic questioners? And how does that fit into his current campaign for governor?
Jensen co-authors an op-ed, posed as an open letter to Walz and state Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm that questioned the early response to the pandemic. Along with GOP Sen. Jim Abeler and DFL Sen. John Hoffman, the letter argued that closing down much of the economy was an overreaction. It called for dividing public places between those that are safe and those that are unsafe, rather than essential and nonessential. “Let the solo hair stylist remain in his or her salon, let the golfers golf, let the cabinet builders build,” they wrote. “In each instance, no measurable epidemiological benefit is attained. However, massive economic and emotional distress is created.”
In a response, DFL Sen. Jeff Hayden and Sen. Matt Klein, a member of the Doctor Caucus, criticize the open letter to Walz and Malcolm, taking special issue with the statement that “we have ‘flattened the curve.’ We are safer. We don’t know what the hell they are talking about,” Klein and Hayden wrote. “... to suggest we should reverse course without evidence that such a move is not a clear danger to our health is beyond irresponsible.”Jensen appears on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program and repeats previous claims that COVID cases and deaths were being overestimated and cites CDC advice as to how to make presumptions about COVID deaths at a time when there were few tests available to confirm infections. Public health officials argued then and continue to say that the death count was likely higher than the official count, again due to lack of test kits. Minnesota has separated lab-confirmed deaths from probable or suspected COVID-related deaths in the official counts.During Senate floor debate, DFL Sen. Matt Klein, a hospitalist who has been caring for infection patients, again criticizes Jensen and others for saying that “hospitals and staff are exaggerating or even falsifying diagnoses to manipulate people or the grasp power or to line their pockets. In response, Jensen said the criticism was “piercing,” especially coming from Klein with whom he had worked on issues such as insulin affordability. But he goes on to say the state’s hospital and ICU capacity is adequate, the ventilators are in plentiful supply and that a better response would be to isolate only those over 70 years old with ailments that make them especially susceptible to infections.”Jensen is a centerpiece of a New York Times article detailing how COVID-19 was becoming a political issue in the presidential campaign. Jensen’s assertion about diagnoses being manipulated, the article stated, was picked up by conservative commentators including Alex Jones of Infowars, who contended that inflated death totals would be used to help defeat President Trump.As lawmakers debated a measure to end Walz’s emergency powers, Jensen mocks those who say the country should trust the experts by naming a graduate student who was hired to work on the modeling that forecasts the trajectory of infections and deaths. Jensen agrees with other GOP lawmakers that the state is doing a poor job of protecting people in long-term care facilities.During debate on another attempt at the Minnesota Legislature to terminate Walz’s emergency powers, Jensen cites the DFL governor’s campaign slogan of One Minnesota. “One Minnesota was never meant to be one ruler for Minnesota.” He also compares COVID-19 to the annual flu.Jensen returns to FOX News to say that it is Walz, not himself, who is spreading misinformation about the pandemic because of early pandemic modeling that was proving to have been overly pessimistic. Jensen says he is a target of the “medical mafia” because of the complaints to the state medical licensing board.Jensen is a speaker at the Global Health Freedom Summit (also known as the Vaccine Awareness Event) in Alexandria, joining other prominent doubters of vaccines and the impacts of the pandemic.Politifact includes Jensen’s statements about hospitals misidentifying COVID cases to increase insurance reimbursements as part of its “2020 Lie of the Year: Coronavirus Downplay and Denial.”Now no longer a state senator, Jensen appears again on “The Ingraham Angle” on FOX News to discuss “The medical establishment’s war on COVID therapeutics.” Jensen cites the Legionnaires' Disease outbreak in the mid-'70s as an example of different antibiotics being tried when more-common treatments were not effective. Using ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine before they are recommended is part of that medical tradition, he said.”Jensen declares his candidacy for governor in a statement that ties his campaign to his work on the issues of the pandemic and governmental responses. “Over the past year, Scott has gained national attention for his criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines on the classification of coronavirus deaths due to inflated numbers,” said a release announcing his campaign. “He has been and will continue to search for truth and expose the facts surrounding COVID-19 and the measures Gov. Walz has implemented.”Jensen is the first-named plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed by America’s Frontline Doctors to block inoculations of children with COVID-19 vaccines that had begun to be administered to adults the previous December. The suit calls the vaccines an “experimental biological agent.” Jensen said he follows the right-leaning group that has questioned COVID’s danger but says he had not read through the entire lawsuit before agreeing to sign on. The group was accused of prescribing unfounded treatments via telemedicine and its founder — Simone Gold — was convicted and imprisoned for taking part in the Jan. 6 attempt to block the certification of the election of President Biden.After securing the GOP endorsement for governor, Jensen was asked how he makes the pandemic response by Walz an issue when many people have moved on. “Absolutely it’s not top of mind. It’s almost out of mind now. But there were far-reaching decisions that were made that should never be made again. I think that’s where we’re gonna land. We’re not gonna nitpick. But when you put active disease into a nursing home and then you lock the nursing home down, you should be held accountable.” On his two-year record on COVID, Jensen said: “More often than not, by a longshot, I was right, not wrong. So I might be outside the mainstream of what you consider the established scientific community. But there are many people including the former CDC director Robert Redfield, who have moved substantially toward some of the positions I have.”Jensen discusses his vaccination status with the Pioneer Press, saying that he was infected with the COVID virus in August of 2020 and has immunity. But his status puts him in violation of federal rules requiring health care workers to be vaccinated, and he has given up hospital admitting privileges and gave up a University of Minnesota faculty position. Jensen also said he recommends against vaccination for pregnant patients even though the CDC says vaccines are safe.Jensen, now the endorsed GOP candidate for governor, tells supporters in a video that he would make new appointments to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice that investigated complaints against him for his statements about COVID-19, the use of unproven medicines such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and criticisms of other public health responses to the pandemic. The board never acted upon the complaints.During the first, and so far only, debate between Walz and Jensen, the GOP candidate brings up the pandemic several times, including asserting that the economic woes of some people relate to the shutdowns of two years earlier. “When you scare people from working, when you do all of these things and you get them to sit on the couch and watch TV. And you don’t tell them how they can strengthen their own immune system. And when you take away options in terms of their treatment when they have the disease ... when you do that to people, you scare them.” At the same debate, Jensen defends and explains his position on the COVID vaccine. “Over 90 percent of my patients over 70 with underlying medical conditions were vaccinated.”The on-line publication TC Jewfolk posts a story about remarks Jensen gave in April to Mask Off Minnesota in which he compares pandemic restrictions to the rise of Nazi Germany. “And then the little things grew into something bigger. Then there was a night called Kristallnacht. The night of the breaking glass. Then there was the book burning, and it kept growing and growing, and a guy named Hitler kept growing in power, and World War II came about. Well, in a way, I think that’s why you’re here today. You sense that something’s happening, and it’s growing little by little.” In the coming days, Jensen will defend his comparison and reject others serving as his “thought police person.”