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Session preview event turns into Orwellian speech exercise

The traditional joint media availability of the Governor and legislative leaders Monday veered off the road, into the ditch, flipped upside-down, and caught on fire.

It’s normally a really good event with leaders articulating their vision for the budget and session. It always includes a few feisty moments between leaders as well as a pledge to work together.

But this year, instead of the normal session preview, the Minnesota press used the event to ambush Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt. It became obvious from the first question there would be no discussion of the budget and no objectivity from the press.

Event moderator Dana Ferguson from Forum Communications started things off asking just the Republicans on the panel to answer the first question:

What steps might you take to hold accountable some of the members who have been involved in the Storm the Capitol rallies or used language to incite some of the folks who have been involved in violence at the Capitol and beyond?

There are several things wrong with her question. First, it has nothing to do with the 2021 session or the budget (the pretext for the event). Second, it assumes everyone agrees that legislators need to be held accountable for something. Third, she’s asking if members of the legislature will be held accountable for speech in their official capacity as elected officials – that’s a serious line to cross. And last, she talks about violence at the Capitol, presumably the state Capitol, where no violence occurred. So a good start to the forum!

Rep. Daudt and Sen. Gazelka politely pushed back on the question, pointed out there was no violence or any evidence that Republican members participated in any questionable speech. Speaker Hortman chimed in that “an investigation needs to take place about exactly what was said.” So the House will be investigating speech.

Ricardo Lopez from the Reformer (a progressive online news site), pushed the Republican leaders to “say once and for all this election was conducted transparently, fairly and lawfully.”

David Orrick from the Pioneer Press started his question with the words “You both know, I believe, that the presidential election was not stolen…you just have yet to say so publicly.” I’m trying to imagine the class in journalism school where they teach you to ask a question this way. This is a bizarre attempt to get leaders not just to answer a question, but to recite very specific language chosen by the reporter. This is how Orrick reported it the next day:

“…the state’s top two Republicans wouldn’t agree to say this: The notion that the presidential election was stolen is false…”

At the 22 minute mark, Gov. Walz spoke up saying “I’m just going to weigh in and then sign off because I too, am incredibly disappointed in this conversation.” He then delivered a seven-minute lecture and tried to leave the event.

After an hour, it ended with zero discussion of the state budget, education reform, healthcare reform or any other legislative topics. Dana Ferguson showed no interest in moderating the event by steering questions back to the 2021 session.

The event revealed where everyone stands as we begin 2021. The Republican leaders agreed more than once that speech inciting violence, from anywhere on the political spectrum, is wrong and people who engage in it should be held accountable. But that’s not enough for Democrats and their allies in the press. They equate speech about the 2020 election and how it was administered with speech that incites violence. They demand Republicans at all levels declare that the 2020 election was prosecuted fairly and without fraud. This is an absurd demand, especially considering the events of 2020:

  • The presidential election was really close, with the outcome decided in three states by razor thin margins:
    • 10,457 votes in Arizona
    • 11,779 votes in Georgia
    • 81,660 votes in Pennsylvania
  • A number of states, including Minnesota, used the pandemic and the courts to change election law without authorization from the legislature. Changing the rules without debate in the middle of the game damaged the integrity of the results, and such charges were arguably illegal.
  • The changes to the rules and the increase in mail ballots changed the timeline for states to count and report the vote. This was true in Minnesota – for the first time in history, Secretary of State Steve Simon reported incomplete precinct totals on his website on election night. Many candidates (and their supporters) went to sleep that night thinking they won, only to wake up to new totals the next morning. While the count ended up accurate, the way it was reported damaged the integrity of the results.
  • During the primary election in Minnesota, Project Veritas reported on several questionable voting irregularities, including a video of someone flaunting the possession of 200 ballots while trash-talking his opponent. The Democrats and media mostly ignored the story by pretending to discredit the source, but the appearance of fraud in those videos damaged the integrity of the results in Minnesota and beyond.

 

Democrats and the press want Republican leaders to deny these circumstances and recite some Orwellian language about how the 2020 election was fair and without fraud. Daudt and Gazelka should continue speaking out against violence and even speech that incites violence, but leave the newspeak for another time.

And someone at the Capitol should start working on the $50 billion state budget.

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