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Gov. Walz Gives 3rd 'State Of The State' Address

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Gov. Tim Walz gave his third “State of the State” address Sunday afternoon from his former social studies classroom at Mankato West High School (). WCCO 4 News - March 28, 2021

Video Transcript

- After a historic year, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is giving his third State of the State address. He's expected to reflect on the last twelve months, while looking ahead at what's to come. He's speaking from his former social studies classroom at Mankato West High School. Let's listen in.

TIM WALZ: Many of our neighbors experienced flu-like symptoms for only a few days. Others, ravaged by the virus, are still fighting through a fog of fatigue and struggling to breathe months later. And most tragically, many of our neighbors are no longer with us this year. The virus stole the lives of nearly 7,000 Minnesotans. Grandmas and grandpas, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, sisters, brothers, friends, co-workers. To everyone who has lost someone they care about this year, Minnesota's heart breaks for you. Your grief is unimaginable and I know that words can't ease your pain. Time doesn't erase it. It just changes. May you find peace in memories of the good times with your loved ones lost. All of Minnesota mourns with you.

This year I'm speaking to you from a classroom at Mankato West High School. There are many reasons I decided to give the State of the State address from this classroom. I taught social studies in this very classroom for nearly a decade. And my wife, Gwen, taught English right upstairs. I've always said teaching isn't just how I paid the bills, it's how I lived my life. And for me, being in this classroom today signifies the progress we've made in ending this pandemic. Throughout this year, when I've been asked what I'm most looking forward to when the pandemic is over, I've answered, hearing the laughter of students in a lively school hallway. That day is here, Minnesota. Brighter days are here and even more are coming. We are winning the fight against COVID-19.

More than 1.5 million of you have received the vaccine. Over 80% of our seniors have been vaccinated, outperforming the rest of the nation. Two-thirds of our educators and child care workers have received their shots. And starting Tuesday, all Minnesotans 16 years old and over will be eligible to get the vaccine. Over 90% of our students are back in-person learning in classrooms just like this one. Minnesotans are gathering again and heading back to their favorite restaurants and bars. The Twins are preparing to have fans in the stands on Opening Day. Normalcy is on the horizon, and Minnesotans are eager to embrace the simple pleasures of life.

Whether it's that morning rush out the door to go to school, a warm cup of coffee with a friend, or, for me, the busy chatter of a high school hallway between classes, we vow to never take them for granted again. The thaw is here, but in Minnesota we know better than to let our guard down at the first sign of spring. I, myself, was in quarantine last week after being exposed to COVID-19, serving as an important reminder that the virus is still very much with us.

We're monitoring closely as COVID cases have started rising again, spurred on by new variants of the virus. We must remain vigilant. The only way we will truly beat this virus is by continuing to social distance, wear a mask, and get tested. And of course, most importantly, Minnesotans need to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated will protect you and your loved ones. Getting vaccinated will get us back to the places we love and the people we miss. Getting vaccinated is how we end this pandemic.

The second reason I chose to speak from this high school is because schools are a reflection of our communities. And here in Minnesota, our communities are strong. When I was a young teacher at this school in 1997, I witnessed this sense of community firsthand. Multiple blizzards had hit our state that winter and the snow was piled high. When spring arrived, the snow melted quickly and the nearby Minnesota River began to swell. The water rose past the riverbanks, flooded the nearby highway, and forced families to flee their homes in the nearby town of St. Peter.

Our students were determined to help their neighbors. They asked us if they could go help save the town from the encroaching waters. They arranged the school buses here to take them to St. Peter. And they spent hours, side-by-side with friends here and from St. Peter, filling sandbags, piling them up one-by-one to create a wall to protect the homes and businesses in the water's path. They might have been only teenagers, but they clearly understood our Minnesota value of community. They knew we care for our neighbor when they're in need.

It's that same value that leads us to pull over and help a stranger push his car out of the snow. And it's the same value that's getting us through this pandemic. No matter how daunting the challenge or how dark the time, Minnesotans have always risen up by coming together. This year has demonstrated that like never before. Minnesotans have stepped up to combat the virus and protect their community in whatever way they can.

While many of our sacrifices are solitary in practice, they're communal in nature. Health care workers, isolated from their own families, worked around the clock to save lives. Educators, child care workers, and so many others kept working to teach and care for our children. From first responders to sanitation workers, to personal caregivers to correction officers, to food and manufacturing workers, and so many more, front line workers kept Minnesota safe and moving, even as the virus spread. Bar, restaurant, and other small business owners weathered unpredictable closures to help stop the spread.

When there was a shortage of hand sanitizer, distilleries across the state switched their production and made it. When hospitals needed more equipment to protect health care workers, hockey equipment companies made medical face shields instead of helmets. When we needed masks to distribute to people across the state, Minnesotans sewed and donated more than 130,000 masks. You took action, large and small, to protect and support your neighbors.

You canceled travel plans. You donated food to food shelves. You missed proms, weddings, and graduations. You juggled your own jobs with your kids trying to learn from home. You set smaller tables during the holidays. You wore a mask. You social distanced. You stayed home. You sacrificed, you endured, and you saved lives. These selfless acts embody Minnesota's dedication to community, and you proved once again there's nothing our state can't do when we come together. This year's been hard, but the worst of times brought out the best in people. Thank you.

I want to take just a moment to give a special acknowledgment to our seniors. COVID-19 has disproportionately hit and devastated older Minnesotans and their caregivers. Thank you for your resilience and sacrifice during an isolating time. Communities look to our elders for wisdom and guidance, and whether it was through window visits with grandchildren or holidays spent alone, you set the example of selflessness and bravery for our entire state to follow.

The third reason I'm giving this speech from this high school today is a lesson I learned by coaching football here. It was 1999. We're halfway through our season and we'd lost our first four games. We were playing well, we lost some close ones, and we were just right on the edge of winning. The remainder of our season was going to be challenging. The teams we had left to play were all good. To some, it seemed that everything was stacked against us, but our team never lost hope. And neither did the fans. The stands remain full of our community, enthusiastically cheering us on.

And each week, we got just a little bit better. We approached each practice, each play, and every down with a focus to improve. And we did. Until one day we won. And we kept improving and we kept winning. To the astonishment of everyone who had watched us at the beginning of the season, we qualified for the state playoffs. Our first game was against an undefeated team that had racked up state titles over the years. We were down in a close game with only seconds left in the first half, and we needed a goal line stand to keep the game within reach.

Coach Sutton called a timeout, and I ran out onto the field to talk to the defense. Our team was huddled up, and I said, you know how to do this. Everything this season has prepared you for this moment. I said, fellas it's not often in life that you get a moment like this, one that can define you. This is your moment. This is our moment. I saw nods all around that huddle and one player piped up and yelled, I've got this. We've got this.

The whistle blew and we stopped the play for a loss. We went on to win that game and then we won two more games to claim the state championship. I know we wouldn't have won that state championship if we hadn't lost at the beginning of the season. It taught us all grit, resilience, and the true meaning of teamwork. Each player stayed in his lane, did his part to bring home that first state title.

That's what Minnesotans have done this year. It isn't giant acts of heroism that are defeating this pandemic, it is Minnesotans each doing the right thing to the best of their own ability. In my State of the State speech last year, I said that Minnesota wouldn't just survive this crisis, we would lead through it. And with championship-worthy grit, resilience, and teamwork, that's exactly what we've done. Our state took care of our own, providing unemployment insurance to more than 850,000 Minnesotans, helping Minnesotans stay in their homes, and providing millions in assistance to small businesses affected by this pandemic.

State employees worked around the clock to protect long-term care residents, keep the childcare industry afloat, provide safe spaces for Minnesotans experiencing homelessness. They help feed Minnesotans and to track down the critical supplies that hospitals needed to care for those falling ill. Minnesota companies stepped forward to lead in the global response to COVID-19. With its plants running 24/7, our very own 3M manufactured $2 billion respirators globally in 2020, tripling its production from the year before. When the country was facing an increased demand for ventilators to care for people in ICU, Medtronic set aside competition and publicly shared the design of its ventilator. And our agricultural sector continued to feed the world.

Our world-class health care systems and research institutions developed cutting edge tests, treatments, and ways to provide care amid the pandemic. At a time when Minnesota was barely able to conduct 2,000 tests a day, we set a moonshot goal of reaching 20,000 tests a day to track and stop the spread of COVID-19. Joining forces with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic, we surpassed that goal in less than two months. Now we test 40,000 Minnesotans each and every day at sites all across Minnesota. With a focus on our kids, we have a nation-leading testing program in our schools and in child care, testing thousands of educators and child care workers each week.

Now, we're bringing that same innovative energy and collaboration to our vaccination effort. From the Vikings' training facility to local churches, our vaccine rollout is leading the nation with more than 40,000 shots administered each day. Minnesota's hard work is paying off and it has real impacts on our daily lives. Just this week, Minnesota ranked first in the nation for speed of administering vaccines. A recently published study from a national children's organization ranked Minnesota first in the nation for protecting children from hunger, learning loss, and financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Measured by economic, health, and social well-being, Minnesota was also recently named the best state in the country for women during the pandemic. For overall quality of life, we recently ranked second best state in America. Minnesota was one of the safest states in the nation during the pandemic when comparing cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. And now our economy is booming back faster than we ever imagined. We haven't just survived this crisis, we've centered our values and led through it, Minnesota.

And the final reason I chose to give this address from Mankato West High School is to lift up and share wisdom spoken here 60 years ago. In 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a 48-minute speech in this high school's auditorium. His speech came during the peak of the Freedom Rides, when Black and white Americans rode buses through the South together to protest segregation. Dr. King was clear that the scourge of racism wasn't limited to the South. He said very clearly, no section of our country can boast of clean hands. We know this in Minnesota. Our state was thrust into the international spotlight following the death of George Floyd. Our deep racial inequities were exposed for the world to see.

For many white Minnesotans, it was an awakening to a truth that Minnesotans of color have known their entire lives. While our state ranks as one of the best places in the country for a white child to grow up, it often ranks as one of the worst for a child of color. As many Minnesotans welcome getting back to normal, we must acknowledge this and recognize that, for too many, getting back to normal isn't good enough. It's not good enough for a single mother who's working two jobs just to feed her family. It's not good enough for a student in a small town who has to do her homework at a local restaurant because she doesn't have good internet connections. And it's not good enough for young Black men, who live in fear of being stopped by police officers who have sworn an oath to protect them.

In his speech, Dr. King spoke about how the winds of change were blowing through the world. Once again, the winds of change are blowing through our world. The winds of change blew thousands of Minnesotans into the streets last summer and inspired a movement across the world. The winds of change quietly opened eyes, ears, and minds across our state. Dr. King said these winds were sweeping away the old order and ushering in a new order of equality and dignity. So how do we usher in equality and dignity today? One way, which Dr. King spoke about at length in that speech, is through nonviolent protest. As the trial of Derek Chauvin gets underway, tensions and emotions will understandably run high. Please, Minnesotans, make your voices heard. Practice your First Amendment right. But please heed Dr. King's advice that non-violence is the only way to truly move hearts and create lasting change.

Another way to usher in equality and dignity is through policy change. Last summer, I signed bipartisan police accountability legislation into law to address systemic inequities in Minnesota's criminal justice system. That law bans neck restraints, like the one that was used on George Floyd before his death in Minneapolis. It also imposes a duty to intercede on officers who see a colleague using excessive force and changes rules on the use of force to stress the sanctity of life.

It was an important first step, but it was only a first step. More must be done. We must recognize that inequality isn't limited to our criminal justice system. While the wealthiest Minnesotans did well during the pandemic, our students, small businesses, and working families struggled to get by. That's why my proposed state budget aims to level the playing field, by supporting working families, helping small businesses stay afloat, and ensuring students catch up on learning.

My budget ensures that those who have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic have the resources they need to get back on their feet. It gives a tax break to more than 300,000 Minnesota families, makes nearly all federal COVID-19 relief tax-exempt for small businesses, and provides direct cash payments to over 32,000 struggling Minnesota families. My budget would invest $50 million in a small business COVID-support forgivable loan program to help the hardest hit businesses sustain their operations and emerge stronger from the pandemic. The program includes targeted investments in greater Minnesota businesses and minority owned businesses.

Inequality in our education system long predates the pandemic. For far too long, the quality of a child's education in Minnesota has been determined by their race or zip code. Children of color and children in greater Minnesota face barriers to opportunities that they need to reach their full potential. That's why I unveiled a new education plan this year, named Due North. The plan serves as a guide toward a future where every child receives a high quality education, no matter where they live or what they look like.

Due North will help students recover from learning loss this year, starting with additional learning and tutoring this summer, while closing the opportunity gap and transforming our education system for years to come. This plan would tackle the racial and geographic opportunity gap by dramatically reforming school financing, expanding access to rigorous coursework, and ensuring our curriculum and teacher workforce better reflect our increasingly diverse student body. Minnesota's come together to lead the way in battling COVID-19, but we can't stop there. We need to lead the way in making the state the best in the country for our kids, every single one of them. We have one of the most diverse economies in the country. We're the problem-solving headquarters of the country. We have the highest survivability rate in the nation. We build what matters here, and we have an opportunity to reinvent old ways of doing things and show the nation how to create an economy that works for everyone.

Dr. King ended his speech here at Mankato West with a call to action. He said that while non-violent protest and policy change are critical, they won't usher in equality and dignity alone. It will take the realization that we're all in this together. He looked out onto his audience at this school in southern Minnesota and said, we must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, he continued and said, tied in a single garment of destiny.

Minnesota, this has never been more apparent. The stakes are high, but we've proven that we're up to the challenge. We've proven that we know our destinies are linked with those of our neighbors. We've proven that we're willing to love and sacrifice for one another, through hardship and heartbreak. And we've shown that a team, weary from loss with the odds stacked against us, can come together, dig deep, and persevere. This is the spirit that will bring a new day. This is the spirit that will usher in equality and dignity. Minnesota can and will emerge stronger from this crisis than ever before. The state of our state is strong, Minnesota. This is our goal line stand. Get vaccinated. We're coming back. Thank you, and good night.

- And you've been listening to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz give his third State of the State address. The address was postponed after Walz was quarantined from a COVID-19 exposure just two weeks ago. The governor, as you saw, spoke from his former social studies classroom at Mankato West High School. The Minnesota Democrat says the state will emerge from the pandemic stronger, and he urges Minnesotans to get vaccinated to beat the spread of variants. The governor also highlighted his budget priorities, which he says aims to help working families and small businesses.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka issued a rebuttal address this afternoon. He says the Senate Republican State of the State is hopeful, and that Minnesota is moving in the right direction with COVID-19, especially when it comes to vaccines. Yet, he added, it's President Donald Trump who deserves the credit for that. In this address, Senator Gazelka asked Governor Walz to lay out clear guidance on when the pandemic and emergency powers will end.

PAUL GAZELKA: When will the Governor say that this pandemic is over? We have passed Senate File One and Senate File Two that basically said, we have a plan for how businesses all can be opened up safely. That's Senate File One. We have a plan that said all kids can be back in school safely, just like they did in the parochial schools from the beginning, just like other states had their kids back in school, we can have that in Minnesota and we have a plan to do that. So we've laid out our plan, but what does the Governor say about when is the time?

- A reminder that while Republicans have the majority in Minnesota Senate, the House is in control of the DFL. And we will have much more on Governor Walz's State of the State address tonight on our news at 10 o'clock. Also happening today, George Floyd supporters are gathering ahead of the Derek Chauvin trial, which starts tomorrow. He's one of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in the George Floyd case.

The "All Eyez On Justice" rally, outside the Minneapolis government center, spoke of what justice looks like to them, which they say is convicting Chauvin of Floyd's death. Protesters then took to the streets of downtown Minneapolis, saying this is one way to show they will not rest until they have the results they're looking for. Opening statements for Chauvin's trial begin at 9:00 AM tomorrow. Count on the WCCO team to be your trusted source for information in and out of court. You can watch opening statements on WCCO TV and streaming online. Then, watch the entire trial live on CBSN Minnesota. Get news 24/7 at CBSN Minnesota. Just go to WCCO.com. We'll see you on TV around 10 o'clock.