On listening tour, Walz gets an earful, and offers an admission: ‘I will fail you at times’

Gov.-elect Tim Walz and running mate, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan, addressing a packed room in North Minneapolis last week.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Gov.-elect Tim Walz and running mate, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan, addressing a packed room in North Minneapolis last week.

As often happens in their appearances together, Gov.-Elect Tim Walz deferred to his running mate, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan, to set the tone for a public meeting.

Flanagan, who in January will become lieutenant governor and the first Native American to hold statewide office in Minnesota, told those who packed a room in north Minneapolis last week why they were there: “We want to make sure … that the folks directly affected by policy should have a seat at the table,” she said. “It’s time for you all to pull up your chairs because we have work to do, and we need to hear from you.”

The 90-minute meeting was part of a statewide listening tour by Walz and Flanagan, and one of two sessions held in the Twin Cities. The new governor’s staff claims the tour covered 2,100 miles, and was reminiscent of the campaign-end bus tours that office seekers of both parties often think is necessary (even if they tend to exhaust the staff — and sometimes campaign buses —  if not the candidates themselves).

But the tour is also reminiscent of state campaigns that, in an effort to demonstrate a politician’s concern for the entire state, spend more time talking about rural concerns than urban issues. And so, over five days Walz and Flanagan (either together or solo) hosted sessions in Mankato, Rochester, Luverne, La Crescent, Marshall, Granite Falls, Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Crookston, Hallock, Welch, Winona, Red Lake, Bemidji, Hibbing, St. Cloud, Foley, Silver Bay, Grand Portage and Duluth.

This is similar turf covered by the pair over more than a year of campaigning, and it is unlikely they heard much in those five days that they hadn’t heard in the previous 12 months. Instead, the tour was aimed at illustrating that Walz’s campaign theme, “One Minnesota,” wasn’t just a campaign theme — that he is wide open to ideas and budget priorities, that he won’t lead from the top down.

Concerns about equity and economic opportunity

The issues Walz and Flanagan did hear about were varied. At the Red Lake Nation, Walz was asked about his support for treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. In Bemidji, he was prodded to state his position on mining, saying he supported projects if  “the science is there, if the environmental impact statements are there, if the permitting process is there, and we have protections in place.”

In his hometown of Mankato, Walz was told that the state government was too big and that its agencies were insensitive to and unresponsive to the people it regulates. And in most places, he restated his support for education and training as a tool to lift people out of poverty.

At the meeting in north Minneapolis, the issues of equity and social justice were brought home by two things visible from the meeting room at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center on Plymouth Avenue. One is the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct, which was the site of an occupation to protest the shooting death of Jamar Clark in November 2015. The other was a sidewalk press conference, at which Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey condemned several decorations on a Christmas tree set up at the Fourth Precinct headquarters that he called racist. Frey attended part of the listening session after his press conference.

What followed was a meeting at which a microphone was passed around to allow people to make a pitch for an issue, for funding, or — in at least one case — for a job.

The 90-minute meeting was part of a statewide listening tour by Walz and Flanagan, and one of two sessions held in the Twin Cities.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The 90-minute meeting was part of a statewide listening tour by Walz and Flanagan, and one of two sessions held in the Twin Cities.
One of those pitches came from Theartrice “T” Williams, a former school board member and prison ombudsman who wanted Walz to reinstitute a program that independently looks at inmate complaints and concerns.

Another came from John Thompson, who asked that programs meant to help people of color be crafted with the help of people of color. “I’ve been a black man for so long I considered myself a professional at it,” Thompson said to some laughter. “I, for one, know that a roomful of white men and women can’t fix the problems that exist in my community. Only the people who live in the community, like myself, a professional black man who lives in the community” know what is needed, he said. Thompson also asked Walz and Flanagan to do something about gun violence in communities of color.

“My community is allergic to bullets,” he said. “My community is allergic to bullets from black-on-black crime to bullets coming out of police officer’s guns. My community is allergic to the judicial system.” Thompson said people in the black community voted for Walz and Flanagan because they thought the ticket was “the antibiotic” to these problems facing the community.

Alfred Babington-Johnson said that while the funding for equity and economic development programs that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature passed in recent years hasn’t met its potential. “Regrettably, after a good start, that program — at least with many of the agencies — got sidetracked, hoodwinked, hornswoggled,” he said. “What I would hope is that you and your administration would take a look at the package that came forward and the execution.”

Tess Montgomery, a staff member with Appetite for Change, which promotes urban agriculture and “bringing communities together around food,” wanted work to eliminate food deserts in low-income neighborhoods, where unhealthy fast food often overwhelms healthier options. She also pushed for a goal already endorsed by Walz: a paid family leave program for new parents.

And Michael Chaney asked for help transforming north Minneapolis land adjacent to the Mississippi River into something more beneficial to residents. “Instead of 40 acres and a mule, we want 48 acres and a school,” said Chaney,  the founder of Project Sweetie Pie, an urban agriculture nonprofit.

‘I’ll have to live with the decisions we make together’

At the same time that Walz’s listening tour raised expectations of an open administration and an equitable hiring strategy (a table outside the meeting room offered a list of commissioner jobs and their mission statements), Walz admitted that he might not always meet those expectations.

After Chaney spoke, Walz said: “It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a lot of villages to raise a governor.” But a bit later he admitted that he “will fail you at times.”

“But it’s not going to be because I will not stand in front of you and ask,” Walz said. “I’ll have to live with the decisions that we make together. But you know and I know if I have the privilege of having this job for four years or however many years it is, if those statistics and those things you just said haven’t changed, I have failed you and I failed at this job.”

“We can fall into the cynicism that the current state of governance at the federal level kind of brings that over on us,” Walz concluded. “Or we can choose to do what Minnesota’s always done and rise above that and be the beacon for the rest of the country We have work to do. We are not Pollyannaish. We do not think it will happen overnight. We do feel a sense of urgency, and this room gives me the hope that we can get this done.”

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 12/06/2018 - 01:52 pm.

    Walz can thank the Republican legislature for a 1.5 billion surplus. So no need to raise any taxes. In fact he can start by refunding all that money to us. Then maybe he can see how cutting spending actually works.

  2. Submitted by R. Hanson on 12/06/2018 - 01:57 pm.

    Minnesota doesn’t have an excess of state employees. We are ranked 36th in the number of state employees per capita. Perhaps if state agencies are unresponsive to the public’s needs it is because there aren’t enough state employees.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 12/06/2018 - 04:20 pm.

      We do not need more government employees. That would just take even more funds away from the general fund.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/07/2018 - 09:10 am.

      Since four of the ten largest employers in Mankato are government agencies of some kind, it seems like an odd place to hear that comment.

  3. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 12/06/2018 - 02:59 pm.

    I give Walz credit for admitting that if his decisions result in failure, the failure is his.

    Especially since he says education is a priority.

    It’s 180 degrees from Dayton, who not only refused to take ownership of the fact the bales of cash he threw at public schools did nothing to improve the academic failures they produce, he completely ignored the failure all together.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 12/06/2018 - 04:34 pm.

      Both Governor Dayton and Governor-elect Walz working in public schools.

      That makes them better judges of what schools need to educate Minnesota children.

      Under funding education is a tradition- it goes all the way back to the country school where the teacher lived with different families of students in lieu of decent pay. The same old timers who built those country schools cared deeply about education. They knew it was the key to success.

      But today the vast knowledge required to move forward in a highly competitive world means more investment in education at all levels- not less.

      Even Republicans can remember a teacher who made a difference in their lives. Many would agree, they are not overpaid, considering their investment to become a teacher and the importance of their work.

      I think it must be the union that makes Republicans so anti-public school funding. The fact is, we only get one chance at a kid from 5-18 years old. We need to teach every one we can save from a life of no skills and no chance.

      Cheapening public education won’t help. It just makes those students’ contribution to society less over their whole lifetime.

      • Submitted by richard owens on 12/06/2018 - 05:49 pm.

        (I meant: “Both Governor Dayton and Governor-elect Walz WORKED in public schools.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 12/06/2018 - 07:32 pm.

        We spend way more on education per student than many other places and we have worse outcomes. Spending isn’t the issue (far too much of the money goes to admin staff that do nothing for the education of the kids). Its the curriculum and the way school staff can’t even discipline unruly students. Schools focus far too much on politically correct stuff rather than just teaching what should be taught (actual math (not common core), reading, writing, science , history).

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/10/2018 - 12:26 pm.

          Mr. Barnes:

          Ahhh…

          One of the oldest and tiredest conservative mantras.

          Please list the other things in life where you spend less to get more of something.

          Other than filling your garage full of uncollected garbage…

      • Submitted by Mark Kulda on 12/06/2018 - 08:08 pm.

        So how do we explain that the cities that spend the most per student on education (Minneapolis and St. Paul….which spend thousands of dollars per student more than the statewide average) are also the districts with the worst performance? Most prudent people would have a hard time spending more in those districts that already spend the most per student and yet get almost nothing in terms of improved student performance.

        • Submitted by richard owens on 12/07/2018 - 10:39 am.

          I think anyone who doubts the value of education needs to do some research about it and maybe see what effect it has on the individual’s entire life and the collective effect on society and economy.

          I can never convince you, especially if you don’t feel any sense of obligation to help pay to educate those who follow.

          It is likely somebody offered you a public education regardless of your background. It is surprising that you don’t feel compelled to offer it to the people who follow. Education is the great equalizer for opportunity.

          As for taxes and the need for the Social Contract, what public costs are you willing to pay? We even have trouble getting a permanent funding source for roads (which you would think everyone would support.)

          Is there anything “public” you think is worth paying for?

        • Submitted by Wilj Flisch on 12/07/2018 - 10:41 am.

          “the cities that spend the most per student on education (Minneapolis and St. Paul)”

          St. Paul – you mean the place where something like 90% of the students come from households that are so poor they qualify for free or reduced cost school meals? The city where charter schools take all of the “good” students, but then those charter schools manage to achieve the same graduation rates as the public schools left with all of the “bad” kids?

          It’s not the public school’s fault they’re serving an impoverished population, are faced with a political environment that is hostile to their needs and considers good universal education a private, rather than a public, good.

          Until we address the fact that education is a public good (regardless of its private individual benefits), that only public institutions are truly incentivized to achieve the best holistic & long-term outcomes for society (as opposed to attempting to align these with profit in the private sector), and that education resides within a social context that is both harmful and toxic to the well being of their students, then we can both agree that public education has much room for approval. However, much of the problem lies outside the purview of “the school system”. School is expensive in the areas it is because the needs of the people living there are not being met by any other system (public or private) and the schools are left holding the bag..

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 12/07/2018 - 08:26 pm.

        Walz the teacher got paid, no matter what.

        Those of us that pay the ongoing tab for the public schools failure are in the very right spot to judge that failure. But I appreciate your interest.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/10/2018 - 12:39 pm.

          A typical conservative analogy.

          90% success and 10% failure = failure.

          A dogged determination to find and roll in the worst of any situation.

          I know this really makes you guys unhappy; but, THIS STATE WORKS and if you grade on a curve against other states you will see we look pretty good on:

          Our education system from Pre K to post secondary
          Our infra structure
          Our environment
          Our public safety
          Our jobs and job outlook
          Our economy

          Of course we don’t always look so good on taxes. And in response to our conservative friends and the state of Mississippi: You get what you pay for.

  4. Submitted by Jon Koenigs on 12/06/2018 - 11:27 pm.

    Travel like this must be mandatory to be gov. MN governor should have world class telecommunication equipment to do his job all over the state. Gov needs to be mobile. MN first, family 2nd. For 8 years, MN first Timbo.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 12/07/2018 - 10:05 am.

    Show me where throwing more money at education has improved results. Average teacher salaries in Minnesota is around 57k, after 30 years of teaching they retire making $2,500 a month in retirement. Not great, not bad.
    Minneapolis public schools put 20k per student, per year, with terrible results. Average per student is 11k across the state.
    It is not the lack of money that is killing our educating of our children, it’s the lack of competitive curriculum for 2018 and beyond. First, if you can’t read, write and do math (in English) you are not employable in the USA. Secondly, put the trades back in public schools. Next, teach our kids how to be good employees, how to understand business and what it takes to be an entrepreneur (yes, you did build it and be proud of it). Teach them how money works for you or against you.
    Hopefully we will stop trying to indoctrinate our children into thinking a certain way and teach them how to think independently with a real world background.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 12/07/2018 - 12:03 pm.

      Can’t make this stuff up:

      “Teach our kids how to be good employees”

      and

      “stop trying to indoctrinate our children into thinking a certain way”

      both in the same “thought”.

      • Submitted by Greg Smith on 12/07/2018 - 04:29 pm.

        Yep
        Teach them how to be good employees, problem solving, teamwork, creativity, learn how to learn.
        Not mindless regurgitation of ideology.

        Not a hard cincept

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/07/2018 - 12:23 pm.

      No one seems to mind throwing money at the Pentagon. They can’t even FIND the money they already have, and we’re throwing them even more money.

      • Submitted by Dave Carlson on 12/07/2018 - 01:29 pm.

        … or throwing money at the oil, gas and coal industries to prop up non-renewable and polluting energies… or doling out tax cuts to billionaires just hoping they will create some more jobs…

      • Submitted by R. Hanson on 12/07/2018 - 02:00 pm.

        Nobody minds throwing money at millionaire sugarbeet farmers in NW Minnesota. That entire industry only exists due to government subsidy. It can’t even be argued that what they are producing is necessary or even good for the nation’s health.

      • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 12/07/2018 - 02:35 pm.

        Agree. And both political parties never criticize the waste, fraud, and abuse that exists in the military industrial complex. Just a few months ago every Democratic Senator, just after criticizing Trump for impulsive actions, voted to increase the military budget by almost 90 billion dollars, which is more than Russia’s total. People who worry so much about political correctness do not mention changing the name of the Department of Defense back to the Department of War, since the actions of the USA abroad are offensive, not defensive.

    • Submitted by Greg Smith on 12/07/2018 - 04:34 pm.

      Rough numbers
      20 kids In a class, per mpupil.spending $11,000 = 220,000.
      Teacher salary 50,000. 170,000 per year other than teacher salary.
      Like to see an account for the rest

      • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 12/10/2018 - 11:48 am.

        If you want to see how your particular school district is spending money it is as simple as going to the district website and clicking on the “budget” link. This is all public information. There is no conspiracy to keep you from seeing the numbers.

        Benefits are typically another $20,000 on top of salary. Then there are in-classroom support staff to pay. Maintaining the building and paying the heat and light bills is another large chunk of the cost. Kids are in the classroom roughly 1000 hours per year. That’s roughly $11/hr per child.

  6. Submitted by Mark Bliven on 12/07/2018 - 03:51 pm.

    Waste or otherwise known as ineffective or poorly focused spending will always exist. Getting rid of waste is always a cheap political way of avoiding real decisions. “First we’ll eliminate waste and fraud”. Wow, what a courageous political position. Yes, we should always be vigilant about use of public money and resources but it still comes down to making decisions about what makes sense from an investment perspective. What is in the public good or commonweal? That is opinion. I generally know who I want to lead on making those decisions. I then hope that my trust in those leaders will result in a better community situation from a wide perspective of issues.

  7. Submitted by JUDITH MONSON on 12/10/2018 - 07:00 am.

    Two thoughts.

    Amy Klobuchar visits each county in the state each year. That’s why I’d like her to be my President in 2 years.

    Education isn’t like cooking up reconstituted mashed potatoes. It takes time. Decades. At 78, rarely does a week or day go by but I remember or re-understand something I first heard about 60-70 years ago, much of it in North Argo, my one-room school. This is about much more than K-12. This is about holding onto one’s sense of curiosity for a lifetime. So much of education is about the ongoing process of amending one’s own thinking/feeling, yet staying ‘tuned in” to others. We need to be patient with our own learning process. Love doesn’t just happen. It has to be re-engaged each morning, each night. 10 years. 50 years. Don’t expect so much of our school system. Expect it of yourself. Decades later.

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments. They feed me.

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