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‘We all get older.’ Gov. Tim Walz on Biden’s age, Trump’s ballot status and what’s next for him and the Legislature

The DFL governor answered questions Saturday about the presidential race, a controversy over school resource officers and more in an interview at the MinnPost Festival.

Gov. Tim Walz speaking during the 2023 MinnPost Festival.
Gov. Tim Walz speaking during the 2023 MinnPost Festival.
MinnPost photo by Jazzmine Jackson

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said President Joe Biden is not too old for a reelection campaign and cast doubt on the merits of bumping former President Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot in Minnesota.

“I would say we all get older so be careful what you’re asking,” Walz said of Biden. “A little bit of wisdom is not a bad thing.”

The second-term DFL governor answered questions on Saturday about the presidential race, a controversy over school resource officers, the brief tenure of his first cannabis director, and more in an interview with reporter Peter Callaghan at the MinnPost Festival in Minneapolis.

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Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Biden’s 2024 campaign

Walz said he prefers candidates for president that are effective, and he believes Biden fits that bill on issues like handling the COVID-19 pandemic and bringing inflation down after a spike under the president’s first term.

“Someone said ‘is he too old to do the job,’ — obviously not,” Walz said. “He got an infrastructure bill passed I sat in Congress for 12 years and didn’t see anybody get done.”

Should Trump be kicked off the ballot in Minnesota?

A lawsuit in Minnesota aims to take Trump off the ballot for the primary and general election. 

Walz said he was “torn” on the legal challenge and whether he hopes it is successful. On the one hand, Walz said it appears the Constitution’s 14th Amendment should block Trump from office because of his role in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. However, Walz said there’s a “danger” if the “public is left out of making this decision.”

The governor said when he first ran for Congress in 2006 that a lawsuit alleged Republican incumbent Gil Gutknecht failed to properly collect and submit signatures to qualify for the ballot. The state Supreme Court ruled Gutknecht could stay on the ballot. That was the right decision, Walz said.

“I think you have to beat someone in an election to really put this to rest,” Walz said. “Because if I would have won that election by a Supreme Court decision I think I would have lost the next one. ‘Cause they would have said this guy didn’t win on his own.”

Walz’s ambition — or not — for higher office or a cabinet post

The governor has been traveling a lot recently. He was asked about trips to Japan, Norway, Washington D.C. and Iowa. Is he running for something?

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“I’m not running for anything, I’m working as the governor of Minnesota,” Walz said. He said he is proud of what the Legislature has passed under DFL control during his tenure, and spreading the word of their agenda can inspire people who don’t know much about the Upper Midwest in a world in which “there’s a lot of negative.”

“It feels like this is such an anomaly, that we truly are an island of decency,” Walz said. “We have a lot of accomplishments. I think it’s inspiring to people to believe what we can do.”

Walz also was in Iowa to stump for Biden’s reelection. Asked if he would take a cabinet position should Biden win again, Walz said he’s focused on being governor of Minnesota even if it’s “an honor” when people bring up the possibility.

“I did have someone once tell me ‘don’t ever turn down a job you haven’t been offered,’” Walz joked. “Many of you know, my passion always lies in veteran’s issues and the good news is right now we’ve got a Minnesotan in Denis McDonough running the VA, so I think that’s all taken care of.”

Abortion will ‘play huge’ in 2024

Walz said abortion rights will be a major force in the national 2024 elections after it helped power DFLers to win full control of the Minnesota government in 2022 and helped Democrats elsewhere in the country. 

“I think it will play huge,” Walz said. “This isn’t one that goes up and down.” 

Walz said it was “fascinating” to watch on the Republican side, but said the GOP isn’t doing enough to figure out where voters land on the issue. “You see former president Trump really pivoting on this,” Walz said. “The one thing is, I will give him this, his instincts on the zeitgeist of where the public is at on this is Republicans will lose on this issue again because they didn’t used to be this rigid on this. There used to be pro-choice Republicans. That was a thing.”

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School resource officers and use of force law

Walz addressed the state’s new law limiting how police can restrain students, which had led police departments to pull officers from dozens of schools. After a legal opinion issued by Attorney General Keith Ellison meant to clarify the law — and a pledge from DFL lawmakers to hold hearings on the issue — police groups said last week that school resource officers can return.

Walz said police organizations like the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association “brought up a very valid point in when they could break up a fight and how it would be viewed” in connection to the law.

“I think in today’s world the police are rightfully saying, ‘What if someone has a weapon in school?’” Walz said. “What we’re saying is you can use all appropriate force in the protection of life that you need to and you don’t need to wait until you’re punched or something like that.”

The Legislature changed use-of-force law to say officers could use reasonable force to restrain a student to prevent bodily harm or death to themselves or others. In the past, it said officers could use reasonable force when necessary to restrain a student or to prevent bodily harm.

Ellison argued the law does not ban officers from using any kind of physical contact to address non-violent behavior, but was only meant to limit prone restraints.

The governor said he was an “unabashed supporter” of school resource officers and criticized Republicans for suggesting the DFL is anti-police and some on the left for arguing that police wanted more leeway to hurt students. 

“Getting rid of the noise of the few people who made this political, ‘we don’t support police’ or ‘you want police to kneel on your kids,’” Walz said. “No one wanted either of those things to happen. No one.”

Republicans are pushing for a special session for a law change that would make police more comfortable in returning to schools.

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Withdrawal of cannabis director pick

Walz said his office failed to properly vet his first pick to run Minnesota’s new agency that will oversee the legal cannabis system. Erin DuPree asked for her appointment as director of the Office of Cannabis Management to be withdrawn following revelations that she marketed disallowed products at a hemp store she owned in Apple Valley and had a series of tax liens and unpaid debts from previous businesses.

“Not the finest hour,” Walz said. “In this case the process did not work, and we got this wrong.”

Read more about Walz’s comments on DuPree and his vetting system here.

What’s on deck for next year?

The governor said his “big thing” for the 2024 legislative session that begins in February is “implementation” of the major programs approved earlier this year.

That started with issuing one-time rebate payments to many Minnesotans, but will include standing up the state’s new paid family and medical leave law. Walz said there are some “tweaks” to do on the tax code and always some unintended consequences from new laws. He said the Legislature will look at the law regarding school resource officers.

He also said Minnesota has enough money for another capital investment package known as a bonding bill to finance public infrastructure projects like improvements to roads and school buildings.

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