Minnesota’s Border Battles: COVID-19 edition
Last year, I wrote a report titled ‘Minnesota’s Border Battles‘ in which I compared the economic outcomes in Minnesota counties bordering other states with the outcomes in the border counties…
Recently, I wrote:
You might remember how, a couple of weeks ago, Kris Schiffler, owner of Shady’s Hometown Tavern in Albany, announced plans to reopen his bar in defiance of Gov. Walz’ anti-Covid-19 measures. You might also remember how state Attorney General Keith Ellison descended on Mr. Schiffler with lightning speed and the full force of the state government, saying: “My office has the duty to enforce the law and the Governor’s order.”
Last Friday, WCCO reports:
…a large group of demonstrators blocked off the 35W bridge in Minneapolis, protesting the killing of Ethiopian singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa.
Hundreds of people blocked off the bridge, then exited towards University Avenue, going up to 4th Street. The protesters stopped at Holmes Park, then continued back to the Hennepin County Government Center, where they had started, then appeared to have dispersed.
This wasn’t their first demonstration: on July 1, a group blocked 1-94 in Minneapolis for over an hour.
Blocking traffic in this way is illegal – as illegal as opening your bar – and for good reason. During the recent protests over George Floyd’s death in police custody we saw how the authorities botched their highway closure and only the quick thinking and skilled driving of truck driver Bogdan Vechirko stopped something horrible happening.
And while this dangerous activity becomes increasingly commonplace in the Twin Cities, Attorney General Ellison is silent. Somehow, while his office sees a duty to enforce the law against Mr. Schiffler, it sees no such duty to enforce it against these protesters.
This isn’t uncommon anymore. When vandals publicly announced their intention to haul down the statue of Christopher Columbus at the state capitol, the authorities stood by and let them. While grieving Minnesotans have seen funerals curtailed by state government decree, the same policymakers who issued those decrees have exempted themselves from them when they have found it convenient. Whether or not the law applies to you in Minnesota seems to depend on how the state authorities feel about you, how big your business is, and how ‘connected’ you are. That is not how the rule of law is supposed to work.
The governor’s arbitrary rule by decree has fostered this division. There is the Minnesota of big businesses like Target which are allowed stay open, and the Minnesota of small businesses like Hub Hobby which are closed. There is the Minnesota where you are immune from Covid-19 at the Mall of America, which is allowed to reopen, and the Minnesota where you can catch it in churches, which remained closed.
That is how these arbitrary laws get made. As to how they get enforced:
Gov. Walz likes to talk about ‘One Minnesota’ but when it comes to who the law gets applied to, it seems that there are two very distinct Minnesotas. There is the Minnesota of Mr. Schiffler, where the state will steamroller you if you step out of line. Then there is the Minnesota of the protesters, attendees at certain events the politicians want to show up to, and the mob who tore down the Columbus statue. The laws don’t apply to them.
‘One Minnesota’ is a smart slogan. That is all it is.
John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment