*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd, 2020 elections. We recently talked with Senator Paul Galzelka (R) from Minnesota Senate District 9 who is running for reelection. You can find his social media here. He is running against John Peters (DFL).
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Senator Paul Gazelka. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Paul Gazelka is a Republican, who is the Senate Majority Leader, currently. He is running for reelection for Minnesota Senate District 9. That includes communities in Cass, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties. Senator Gazelka, thanks for being with us today.
(Paul Gazelka) A: Hey, it's good to be on.
Q: Why are you running for reelection? What are you looking ahead to, if you are reelected?
A: If I went back 10 years, I'd say, I think I was going to be done now, but becoming the majority leader and having the highest influence in the Senate has given me a unique opportunity to shape our state and to help our district. And so, certainly to try to get the things done that our local district needs. Some of those can be found in a bonding bill, but also to focus on some of the issues like police accountability, making sure that I don't let people defund the police, but at the same time, work with them and all sides to see if we can approve improve police accountability, which we just passed recently. And then, really try to get the governor to work together to tackle COVID. I've been arguing that it's serious, but that it's not an emergency anymore, in the sense that he shouldn't have unilateral power. So those are some big issues that I think it's important for me to run and to continue to be re-engaged. And that's why I'm running.
Q: I want to give you the opportunity to explain that a little bit more. I think a lot of people have heard you say this, and talk about how the Governor has handled the pandemic. And it isn't always clear since our country is still in an emergency with President Trump having powers and most states still are under a pandemic peacetime emergency powers state. So why is Minnesota any different?
A: Actually, I think, in general, states should be working the executive branch with their legislative branches. When the governor alone can make all the decisions, I think you're prone to make bad decisions. So, for example, when he said that bars could have 50 people, but at the same time, they said churches could only have 10 people. When he decided unilaterally to close the zoo, when I'll just say the zoos were open so people could walk outdoors and enjoy it. But in the first month or two of the pandemic, it was an emergency. We needed to make sure that we had personal protection equipment. We needed to make sure that there were enough ICU beds for what they thought was going to be a surge. At that point, the governor said 40,000 people were going to die in Minnesota, even if we sheltered at home. Well, that didn't happen. We have had 1,900 deaths, and that is serious, but it wasn't 40,000. But we did get the personal protection equipment. The legislative branch moved immediately to give the governor a half a billion dollars of resources to fight this. And we got positioned so that we can handle anything that came our way. After that, it was still serious. The virus is still serious. It hasn't gone away, but I didn't think that the governor should continue to make the decisions by himself. And that's where I draw the line. I say the governor would be better served if he had to work with the legislative branch than to do it all by himself.
Q: We've also heard in the media, and in some of the candidate conversations we've done here for this Vote 2020 project, some Democrats have said that you have been asked to be a part of some of those decisions, and you've made a choice to not be working with the governor right now. How would you explain that to us? Can you tell us what the real story is, from your perspective?
A: Yeah. In fact, that's not true. The governor tells us what he's going to do at those meetings, not asking us for advice. The letter that the governor sent out was extremely partisan. He had his chief of staff chastise me. It always should be governor to majority leader, chief of staff to chief of staff. But in that letter he said that I missed 10 of his meetings. He wasn't at the meetings either. So, to put it in perspective, he was sending a staffer to tell us what to do. And so what I did is, I sent my Deputy Senate Leader, and that was Senator Michelle Benson who oversees the Health and Human Services areas and asked her to be there. And then the second thing he brought up, he said, 'You didn't come when Burke, the White House leader, came. I got a 20 hour notice and I was at my daughter's birthday in Tulsa. And I asked if I could send Senator Benson, my chief person. And they said, no. And so it was very partisan. That's unfortunate. Since then, the governor and I have met, and I think that was very important. It's important that we try to work together wherever we can. I think Minnesota is counting on us to do that. And, on my part, I'm going to continue to do that. And at the same time, wherever I can, hold the governor accountable. If I feel like he's going off, I'm going to say it.
Q: That is Senator Paul Gazelka. He is running for reelection for Minnesota Senate District 9. You talked about being Senate Majority Leader and the influence you have with that role. Can you kind of explain what we might not realize about what that role is in the state?
A: Well, as leader of the Senate...you have the leader of the House, leader of the Senate, and the governor that make all the major decisions about what's going to be accepted and what's not going to be accepted. What's going to be voted on, what's not going to be voted on. It's just an incredibly important position, and so I have that opportunity. It's elected by the senators of the majority party. They pick who they want their leader to be. And so it's been a tremendous honor. But it also allows me to look out for the entire state. I represent rural Minnesota, so certainly I look out for rural Minnesota, but I also recognize that the suburbs and the urban areas of Minnesota need my attention as well. That's where it's very, very important because we set the agenda and we decide what gets done or what does not get done.
Q: What are two of the biggest priorities that you're focusing on for the constituents of Senate District 9?
A: Right now, it's making sure that they are safe. And that is an issue that I wouldn't have put in that place a year ago. But with all the unrest, all the riots, all the damage, I want to make sure they know that I'm actively working to make sure that there's adequate support, adequate police, in every area of the state, and that the National Guard is ready to go at a moment's notice. I wish that wasn't the case. And then the other big one right now is, the governor is struggling with what to do with schools. And I think the kids need to be in school. I think it's absolutely essential that they're in school, that they can do the activities of school - sports and other activities. We cannot...not allow them to do that and lose a part of their development. Not one kid in school age has died from COVID-19. There was somebody under five, one person, but nobody in the school age years has died from COVID-19, and we have to get them in school. So those are probably my biggest two priorities, and I never would have thought that that would be the case, but it is right now, Those are the two highest priorities right now that I'm looking at .
Q: Are school districts open in your district?
A: Some are. And the challenge is with the metrics that the governor has laid out...some of the senior highs - and this isn't a problem around the whole state - have to do either distance learning or partial distance learning because they can't meet all the metrics that the governor has put out there. And I'm simply saying we have to find a way to get them in school. It can't be distance learning. For many kids, and that includes in the Cities, even worse, some of the kids of color are falling farther behind with distance learning. And so, we just have to decide that we're going to do it. We're going to find the safest way to do it, but we're going to do it.
Q: Before we go, what are your thoughts on the bonding bill, looking forward?
A: I think the bonding bill is really important for Minnesota. It's how we fund infrastructure. That's wastewater infrastructure, roads, bridges, all of those kinds of things. I've always publicly and privately said, I think we should get it done. The House is where that bill has to originate. The Republicans and Democrats in the House have to figure out and agree on a bonding bill. And if they do, it'll come to the Senate, and I will support it. That could yet happen in September. I think that would be good for Minnesota if it did.
Q: That is Minnesota Senator Paul Gazelka, running for reelection for District 9. Thanks for your time today. We appreciate it.
A: Thank you