Minnesota Report

Last night, Governor Tim Walz (DFL-MN) took an unprecedented move and delivered a State of the State Address during his first year in office and without the use of a teleprompter or fully written text. He told people he wanted to deliver his message in the same way as he used to teach in the classroom. He told stories from his past and travels across the state.

The entirety of the event can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEAxighYezs

As he conveyed his sentiments on where he would like the state of Minnesota to be to the assembled joint legislature he tried to once again deliver his theme of One Minnesota.

After the address, we sought to gauge the reaction to the speech and we spoke with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-09, Nisswa).

C&B: You sat to through the speech and it seemed like a lot of the questions were directed in your direction.

Gazelka: “He was looking my way.”

C&B: Did it move the needle; did it change anything?

Gazelka: Well, it’s important as we’re coming to the end, here, our tone and how we treat each other is positive in negotiations, if you’re trying to find a win/win at the end you’ve got some sort of connection and respect for each other, and we have been doing that all the way through, which means you build on honesty, you build on talking to each other and taking risks on where you think you can go. So that is all in place. I think that’s important in divided government, which we are. We are very passionate about what we believe, as far as controlling spending and trying to live within our means, but the issues we’re all talking about are the same, education, health care, transportation et cetra. So, we’ll see. It’s a good start.

C&B: If you look at the House’s proposal, generally the tax increase that they proposed is the same money that they, similar money that they proposed for their education spending and their higher education spending. So, their argument effectively seems to be that it’s for the future.

Gazelka: “Right.”

C&B: And you’re No on tax increases.

Gazelka: Well, our first budget has no tax increases, if we have increases in any spending anywhere it requires revenue from somewhere and that will be the discussion we’ll have within our caucus. We wanted to show that absolutely we could have a budget that doesn’t need to raise revenue and take care of all of the needs. We’ve done that.  We have, of the House, Senate, Governor, we have one of them. Which means we have to figure out how to navigate divided government in Minnesota. That’s where it gets a little bit tougher.”

C&B: Do you think his comparison that the Governor makes to Washington, DC is relevant?

Gazelka: “Yes, I do. In Minnesota, you’re required to pass a two-year balanced budget. I thank God for that every day, it’s really important. That’s why we don’t have trillions of dollars of debt. And, so if it forces us to figure it out ever two-years. It’s never fun, most people aren’t happy, but we get it done.”

 

The final response from Gazelka squares with our adage about compromise, which sounds like something he embraces. Instead of a decision where both sides are equally satisfied, we believe the best decision is when the two sides are equally dissatisfied.

Later, as we later traveled back to the House through the tunnel, we heard the words of Rep Mary Franson (R-08B, Alexandria) echoing down the corridor, making it hard to miss, clear voicing her opinion about Walz’s speech, she said, “No substance, very fluffy. No meat and potatoes.”

Here is the full text of Walz’ speech.

Remarks of Governor Tim Walz as Delivered: State of the State Address

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Madam Speaker, and Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Mr. President, and Members of the Minnesota Senate.

Madam Chief Justice, and Distinguished Members of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

My fellow Constitutional Officers, my Cabinet, staff, Governor Dayton.

To our Sovereign Leadership of our Indigenous Nations, Lower Sioux Vice President Grace Goldtooth, Prairie Island Indian Community President Shelley Buck, and Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Chairwoman Cathy Chavers. Lieutenant Governor Flanagan of the White Earth Nation.

Escorts in the Minnesota National Guard, some of whom are with the Field Artillery, the 1 and the 125. Steel Rain.

And to the First Lady, Gwen. My daughter, Hope. My son, Gus, who is absent as a 12-year-old with pinkeye.

And my fellow Minnesotans, who serve as the foundation of this great state and the reason we’re here tonight.

Tonight, gathering together, for the first time all of us together, gives us an opportunity to reaffirm why we are here. I know for certain that we’re not here to have petty arguments against one another. I’m absolutely certain we’re not here to send out mean tweets towards one another. And I know, and I think this is especially true of our new members, we’re not here to be actors in a story that is already written for us, one that tells us how we’re supposed to act and this is the way it’s always been done and we’re supposed to butt heads on this, and then May 20th will come around and we will become friends.

I am not naive, my friends. I served in the House of Representatives. I believe there’s one other person in this room who has had the pleasure of serving both in the United States Congress and being here with the Attorney General.

I will tell you, don’t write that story.  Write this story right here. That’s why you came here. That is why you worked so hard to come and bring your talents and bring your experience and more importantly, to bring the stories of your constituents.

That’s what this is really about. Those stories that inform who we are. The policy proposals that we put forward, those are not something that comes from us as our personal ideology. They are things that come from our constituents in the stories they tell us about their lives. Whether they tell us about health care and what they need or what could be done, or they talk about education and it’s working and what’s not, or they talk about what makes Minnesota such a special place.

Tonight I’m going to tell you a few of those stories. You’ll recognize some of them because the name might be different, but it will be the same story you’re hearing. Some of them you won’t know.

Some come from friends. Some come from people who told me the story since I have become Governor, and like so many of you sometimes, you just step back when you hear the story and you think, that needs to be retold and something needs to be done.

And tonight I’ve got a lot of stories mainly because I spent many, many years teaching and I taught thousands of students, two of whom are with us tonight.

Will and Ross are here with me tonight. They’re twins, if you can’t tell. I never could tell you apart. It was the dirty shoes. The dirty shoes were the giveaway.

Will and Ross were students of mine at Mankato West, and like tens of thousands across Minnesota, they came to our schools eager. They wanted to absorb everything. They took advantage of every opportunity and every club we had and they wanted to find out what life could give them. They went out and furthered their education and they decided they would pursue the two things that they were really, really excited about: Athletics and sport, and eating.

And they came together and got three of their other friends, and since they’re very literal people, they created a little company called Five Friends, so it made sense. And they decided that nutrition and granola bars were too expensive and they weren’t made with a lot of natural ingredients.

So the five friends who had everything from marketing degrees to sports science degrees came together, crafted, started cooking granola bars — and they will admit, the first ones were terrible; you guys have told me that — and stuck with it and finally got a store to carry them. Then they got the second store. Then they got the 100th store. Then they got the 600th store. That’s the dream that Minnesotans want. An opportunity to get the background and go forward to create the life you want.

When I asked them, what drove that? What made the difference? And they didn’t blink. They said it was the teachers who had each of us believing that we could do anything we wanted to. That experience they had in that classroom and with those teachers and after school in those clubs inspired them to be the best they can. That’s what we ask. That’s what we want of every single one of our schools and our teachers. But unfortunately, it’s not true across the state. All too often that success or that opportunity might be dictated by a ZIP code or it might be dictated by race.

We’ve got a teacher here with me tonight. Amanda Fjeld is here from Floodwood. Amanda is one of those people that we need in the classroom. Amanda grew up and went to Floodwood schools. Some of you are familiar in here. I know there’s some folks here that know Floodwood and St. Louis County, that they know where it’s at.

Floodwood is a town of about 525. Amanda and I were who-had-the-smaller-classing each other before this. She graduated with 38 students in her class. I had 24 in mine, 12 of whom were cousins. But I would not change that experience for anything. The ability and the teachers that I had influenced me in a profound way. They influenced Amanda enough she went off and got her teaching degree and went back to Floodwood to teach.

But here’s the problem. As Floodwood’s demographics changed a little bit, the property tax base isn’t big enough. And as Minnesota started to shift away from funding in the state formula to property taxes, it left communities like Floodwood — they’ll go to a ballot next Tuesday, and they’ve made it very clear, if their referendum fails, they will consolidate classes, close programs, and lay off a quarter of their teachers. They have no other option. Those are where we were putting people into those positions.

What that does, it stops the opportunity that Will and Ross were given. It makes a difference based on geography for the outcomes we’re going to get. It weakens our economic strength across the state. And we have the capacity to do something about it. That’s the reason when we talk about education funding, it’s not a game. It’s not numbers. Local school boards have informed us about the decisions they need.

I’m asking, and when we put a budget together, yes, it’s a fiscal document, but it’s a moral document. And what these schools have said is they need to get 3 and 2 percent on their funding formula. We can debate that, and we will. Healthy. But keep in mind, behind every one of the debates we have here are real people being impacted by them. Real people.

Now, I want to be clear. We need to be smart on how we do this. We need to be creative on how we do it. And we need to stop seeing, as the Lieutenant Governor so often says, and my next guest who’s with me — Dr. Nathan Chomilo is with us in the audience tonight.

Dr. Chomilo is a pediatrician and an internist and he has the same saying that the Lieutenant Governor always says to me: Children do not come in pieces.

He has spent his lifetime providing care as a pediatrician, preventive care for those students — for those patients. But he didn’t see them just as patients. He also has a program where he gives a book to every single one of his patients because what he understands is that whole child, if they get to a good start where they have their opportunities to get their checkups but they’re there in a place with someone and a professional that ties everything together, if that child is healthy physically and mentally, if that child is ready for kindergarten, if that child has a home, a safe home to put their head on the pillow at night, the chances of success in that classroom and going on and accomplishing what students do across this state increase greatly.

Dr. Chomilo knows most of the children he sees in his practice are dependent on the Health Care Access Fund. So I come to you not with I think — it’s not my idea. I would like to claim credit for what Minnesota did. Nearly three decades ago we said it makes sense to get our children care before they get sick. It makes sense to put them into that place. And it is not by chance that because of what they did, and that was Republican and DFL and Reform Party Governor, and everyone in this room, some of you sitting here remember this, they crafted a system that not only provided and insured more people than any other state, our health outcomes rocketed to the top. What that does is provides the opportunity for that child for a good start, it saves us money, and it makes the sense that we know we can start moving in a direction where every single person, not just every child, has those same opportunities.

So when I come to you and ask you, it’s not to pick a fight. It’s not because I believe that I have cornered the market on the Health Care Access Fund. I believe that it is the best solution that was out there and it gives us a foundation to work from there.

And the reason — and let me be clear, the respect I have, and I want to be absolutely clear about this, I know that every single person in this chamber wants every child to get that care. They want the outcome that Dr. Chomilo is getting to happen for every child. The difference might be in the approach that we go about it.

What I am asking you, though, is, let us have this open debate about a 27-year-old program that is foundational to the health care of this state. It has survived countless administrations, countless members who have sat where you’ve sat come and gone and has still continued to deliver. And if we can get to that, then we can move forward about how do we talk about retaining and making sure that we keep costs down, we make sure that care is available in all of our communities, and we move forward to a better system. Because I am here to tell you, don’t wait for a minute with a partner who is unreliable. The federal government has added more certainty and we were told today that there will be no movement on health care until after the 2020 election. And the reason that that is a problem, as my next guest will tell you, we don’t have until 2021.

Deborah Mills is with me tonight up in the audience. And Deborah I just recently met. Deborah is a dairy farmer from Lake City. I don’t think she would have ever imagined being in this space or being thrust into this debate.

Her family is the quintessential American and Minnesota dairy farmers. Three generations on the farm. They have about 280 head they milk. They raise corn for silage. Their daughter, Maggie, was a finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way. This is just what Minnesota — yeah. It’s just what people do.

And this is not about ascribing blame. This is about outcomes that matter. Because of the way the system worked, and Deborah’s playing by the rules, she does not have access to health care, so she has the stress of going without health care. Couple that with historically low milk prices. Couple that with catastrophic weather events that had Deborah to a point — and those of you in here, I know many of you grew up on farms, you work on farms, you know agriculture, you come in different parts of — different walks of life. But the one thing is this is a proud family who works hard and prides themselves not just on working hard but being tough.

And then a day came a short time ago where Deborah knew she needed to make a really tough decision, and I can tell you the decision she made took courage beyond what you could only imagine. She picked up the phone and she called a mental health counselor and said, I am at wits end. What do I do?

And the good news is there was somebody to pick up the phone. The good news was there was a plan to put in place. And Deborah started to come back from that.\

Now, again, I will leave it to this body and for us to debate where we’re going to get to, but I think we could stand in agreement that all of our citizens should have the basic safety net, the basic security that comes with having access to health care so you don’t get into a mental health crisis. We can agree on that.

I promise you I’ve got a story that will get you on your feet by the end of this. I’ve got enough of them here. I’ll keep arming them. I’ve got number of them.

But I do want to be clear. I do not take that in any way as a judgment to the care and the empathy that you show and everyone in here shows to Deborah’s family because we can get this right. We have to.

And I have to tell you, I believe it will be in this body, the story that we are telling here, we need to tell it differently because if we go down the road and write the same story that’s been written in Washington, we will get the same results.

Everybody has talked about one state with divided government. Can one state rise up? I don’t know about any of you. I told you you did not come here to be an actor in someone else’s script. Let’s write the new script. Let’s write the new way this ends. Let’s respect one another where it comes from. Because if you’re sitting here and you’re so cynical that it will end in the same place, look at what that does. Where do we go from there?

And that includes me to ask the questions of what am I willing to do to try and find that? And the answer is to try and use our best ability and the facts available and the empathy that is central to this decision-making you make in here to ensure that that child gets off to a good start, that those students have the opportunity to learn, and that that family has the opportunity to make it on the land where they’ve been for over 100 years. That’s what we know.

But here’s the good news. None of us are in it alone together. There’s community leaders all across this state. There’s great ideas out there. I think most of us come here with the sense of humility. Not all the best ideas are going to come out of this place and they’re not going to come out down on Summit Avenue. They’re going to come out of Minnesotans. That’s why the stories that matter. We’ve seen this leadership out there.

And I’ve got one that I’ve really come to depend on, and I know many of you as legislators come to depend on, and that’s our local elected officials. I’ve got Mayor Ben Schierer of Fergus Falls here tonight with me right up here.

And Mayor Schierer, first of all, he’s the owner of a brew pub and a wood fire pizza place in Fergus Falls, right on Main Street. Yes. I recommend the Thai peanut. The pizza, not the beer. The pizza one, so — you know where it’s at.

But Mayor Schierer understands, he can’t debate these things. These are real issues that impact that. The streetlights have to be kept on. They need to be plowed. You need to have decisions about the pool. You need to talk about how do we keep businesses and how do we partner together.

These mayors come with a very nonpartisan approach because they have to get results. They do not have the luxury of holding on to a tight ideological position and say I’m one of many. They are the mayor of their community, and the prosperity of that community depends upon them.

So having a mayor, and I know many of you know this, funny how so many of them are so actively engaged in their community before they took that job. The first thing Mayor Schierer had me do after I was elected is come out to Fergus Falls on a cold November night last year and sit in a town hall that went about two and a half hours and hear the hopes and dreams and fears and critiques of the people in Fergus Falls and said, listen to this, listen to them, listen to their stories.

And after I was done, a gentleman came up and he said, Tim, I did not vote for you and I do not agree with many, if any, of your positions, but it is apparent to me that just like me — this is what he said — that you love Minnesota just as much and we are going to have to find a way forward. I do not want you to fail because Minnesota will fail.

Here’s what I’m telling all of you: I do not want a single one of us in this building to fail because that means Minnesota fails, and that gentleman knew it.

Thank you.

And this is a place, and you can feel it. This is the sense of pride we come here to make a difference. So when we’re putting out proposals, and I say this about community prosperity very clearly, the community prosperity piece that I’m putting out is to talk about local government aid, to talk about some of the things we can do on broadband, of working together, to put the tools back in the hands of Mayor Ben, or Mayor Roy in Waseca, or Mayor Peterson in Winona, across there, to allow local decisions to make a difference in people’s lives because we know that leadership and those ideas are out there, but we have to be good partners.

And that holds true with leaders who don’t hold elected position. And my next guest tonight some of you may be familiar with because this is what leadership and community activity starts to look like.

My next guest is Houston White. Those of you who don’t know Houston — and, Houston, in this moment, I share my deepest sympathies on your loss of Donise, and you and I have not spoken much since then.

But one thing I can tell you, Houston owns a barbershop in North Minneapolis. He’s a renowned clothing designer with his own retail store there, got a small restaurant/coffee shop. I’m convinced if I bring my car there, he can repair it. And that’s — but he’s got a vision and he’s got an enthusiasm and an entrepreneur spirit that is contagious, and he talks about ways that we can revitalize our communities.

This is a man who went to school at North High School and he remembers walking down the street with his backpack and someone stopped him and said, what’s in your backpack? He said, I’ve got a business in my backpack, sir. And he did. He was out selling and working and an entrepreneur that went into it.

And he has a vision of making that Camden town area of where he’s at a vibrant community, where people can come to live and create their job. And that’s why we partnered together. Houston knows that’s the strength of community prosperity. The mayors of these communities know that there. They’re looking for a reliable partner in us.

And I would ask us: Let’s be that reliable partner. Let’s don’t model and wait on the unreliable partner we have in the federal government.

But what Houston knows is, the community he’s trying to make, we must make sure that the employees coming to him and the people there are able to bring their best selves. That means that this state needs to and has to tackle issues of inequity, whether they be geographic inequities or racial inequities. We have got to tackle the idea that people need affordable housing, that people need child care so that they can go to work. Those are things that are universal amongst us, and if we partner and lay the foundation, the mayors and the entrepreneurs like Ben and Houston will take it and run.

Now, the stories we’re telling are the story of us, the story of Minnesota, and they’re the stories of communities. It’s not by mistake that the proposals and the policy proposals and the budget proposals that I put in front of you center around some pretty clear themes because that’s what came to me from people. We want to have health care, we want good education, and we want our communities to prosper. And the stories behind the people.

And I say this because I have been blessed. My wife and I have our first house that we ever bought in Mankato, on the west side of Mankato. And like so many of you, my dearest friends that became family were my neighbors, where they butt up against them. Either they become your best friends or you build a fence. And in our case, we were best friends.

And this is my neighbors, the Ingmans. Mary Ingman, her two sons, Ben and Jake are here tonight, their wonderful sister, Katie — we’ll get her back from Washington State – are with me tonight. We have shared countless Fourth of Julys, birthdays, refinishing my floors in my house when I would recruit the boys, the same thing all neighbors do. That this is how communities are built.

And I had the privilege of not only teaching Mary’s children, I had the privilege of coaching Ben. And I remember it very clearly. It was a Friday in December, headed towards the holidays back in 1996, and I had — and was coaching middle school basketball. And I was downtown at the old Mankato Armory and we were in that floor and it was after school and it was right before Christmas break and it’s a bunch of 12- and 13-year-old boys and we had a tournament coming up. And it’s the excitement. It’s the fun. It’s life. Life is potential.

And in walked in two state troopers with Mary, and she’d obviously been crying. And it was at that point that Ben found out and we found out that her husband, Charlie, had been hit head on Highway 14 and killed, with three young children. That same highway has killed 145 people in the last three decades. It is the most dangerous in Minnesota.

And so I say this with candid and baring my heart to you because each and every one of you, whether you live in Delano or whether you live in Mankato, you know stories of this happening. So my passion is not to pick a fight with you about transportation. My passion is to make sure what the results say when we’ve got D-rated roads, that we do something together. And I will gladly have the debate with you and a compromise to find how we do that, but here’s what I’m telling you: In the 23 years since Charlie has died, that is still a two-lane dangerous road and the time has passed to fix them. We can do that. So we can do that.

So I know amongst the challenges, and again, I remind many of you this, yes, I am a hopeless optimist, but as I tell many of you, I’m also a realist. I supervised the lunchroom for 20 years. I am not naive. I do not expect — and as my wife, Gwen, says, and we believe so strongly in this, hope is the most powerful word in the universe. We named our daughter Hope. But as my wife says, and I know is true, hope is not a plan. You have to plan, not just hope that things get better. And all of us in here have to plan if we want to write a different story. The outcome will remain the same if we do not.

And I say this to you because I take very, very seriously, and I think all of us see this, the incredible privilege it is to self-govern as free men and women. Literally billions of people around the world can only imagine of sitting where you are and making decisions and your constituents being able to come here.

But let’s all be very, very clear. That privilege was paid for with the blood of patriots. It was paid for in sacrifice to get there. Tonight we have one of them amongst us. World War II Veteran Gordy Kirk is with us tonight.

Gordy served with the 3rd Army, the 4th Armor Division, Patton’s Vanguard. He landed at Normandy, and he fought across Europe from ’43 to ’45. He did that while knowing that when he returned home, he could not sit at the same counter and eat the same food as someone next to him.

But what Gordy did was come back to his community and say, I’m going to be the change, because what he knew was on those beaches of Normandy, that was the purest form of democracy. No one in there questioned where someone came from. No one questioned the color of skin. No one questioned their religion. They only knew they stood together in the face of tyranny.

So Gordy came back, became the state commander of the VFW, changed how we deliver veterans benefits across this state, and continued to build in his community. He gave us the gift and modeled it for the way we need to treat each other.

So I hold myself to that standard tonight. And if I fall down, I expect to be called on it. Of treating our differences with respect and treating these debates with respect, but with an understanding. We cannot allow ideology to get in the way of educating our children, for Will, for Ross, and for Amanda teaching. We cannot let ideology get in the way of stopping this state from providing basic health care to all of its citizens. We cannot let ideology get in the way of holding back our mayors and our entrepreneurs of getting things done. And we cannot let ideology get in the way of making sure that no one else has to go through what the Ingman family did. And when I look out my back window and I see those grandkids, my heart breaks for thinking that Charlie didn’t get to see that.

So here we go. What are we going to do now? There’s already people that have written us off. You’ve seen the stories. Are we headed for gridlock? Are we headed for shutdown? Is it all just a fake? Are they getting along? Those are the people that want to see that. They’re reporting some of them, but trust me on this, it’s easier to cover the plane that crashes than the one that lands.

But I’ll tell you right now, I’ll tell you right now the story that can be told, and the story that not just Minnesota needs but the country needs is a bipartisan and a split government that came together in the good of the people and moved things forward for Minnesota. That’s what we can do.

So I say to you, Minnesota, the state of our State is strong.

And we are at a crossroads. We can choose to follow the same story that was written ahead of time, we can choose to decide who belongs and who doesn’t, we can choose to let ideology drive us before people, or we can do what Minnesota has always done: Rise up and create a better way of life; lead the nation in how things could get done, making sure that all of our children — black, white, brown, indigenous, rural, urban, suburban — gets the opportunity to live what is truly a unique and incredible lifestyle of Minnesota.

So here’s my charge to you, and I walk hand in hand with you. Let’s write our own story. Let’s write a new story how this can end. Let’s do this in a way that others can look at and say, that’s the way out of this.

And let’s do it because Minnesotans, we’ve always done it before. We’ve never feared the future. We create the future.

Let’s go write the story. Thank you.

Prior to the address, Walz’ office put out the following press release to help in framing the event.

WILL HANDKE AND ROSS POMEROY

Will Handke and Ross Pomeroy are identical twin brothers who grew up in Mankato, Minnesota. Will took his mother’s maiden name, Ross took his father’s. They attended Mankato West High School and were students of Governor Tim Walz. In their early twenties, Ross and Will were tired of the processed granola bars available in grocery stories. They joined up with three high school friends to start a snack bar company that focuses on quality, fresh ingredients. Their products, “nomi bars,” are now carried in 600 stores nationwide. When asked about their success, they credit their teachers who instilled confidence in them that they can achieve their dreams. Governor Walz will share their story to highlight the power of education and the need to invest in our education system to ensure every child receives the same opportunities that Ross and Will did.

“As a former student of Governor Walz’s, I experienced firsthand how much he values education and opportunity for every student,” said Will Handke, Co-founder of nomi Snacks. “I had teachers at Mankato West High School that were world-class – caring, motivated, and knowledgeable. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them. That’s why it’s imperative that we fully and effectively invest in the education of today’s students and the future of our state. I’m proud to be here as Governor Walz’s guest to highlight the critical need to invest in our education system so that every child has the same opportunities I did.”

“It’s an honor to be invited to attend Governor Walz’s first State of the State Address,” said Ross Pomeroy, Co-founder of nomi Snacks. “I was a student of Governor Walz’s at Mankato West High School and I will never forget his passion for instilling confidence within his students. I believe a big part of why my brother and I have been successful in starting our own business is because of teachers like him, who told us we could do anything we set our minds on”

AMANDA FJELD

Amanda Fjeld is a math teacher and instructional coach in the Floodwood School District, a small town in northern Minnesota. Amanda grew up in Floodwood and attended public school there before becoming a teacher herself. Next week, the Floodwood School District will vote on an operating referendum. If it doesn’t pass, they will be forced to lay off over a quarter of their teachers and merge grades. Governor Walz will tell Amanda’s story to stress the critical need to make meaningful investments in our schools to ensure every child receives a quality education, no matter their race or zip code.

“Growing up in Floodwood, I was lucky to attend a great school that inspired me to become a teacher myself,” said Amanda Fjeld, a middle school math teacher from Floodwood, Minnesota. “But the education of my students is now in jeopardy. If we don’t pass an operating referendum next week, we will be forced to lay off teachers, merge grades, and cut curriculum. This is not right. I am proud to be here as Governor Walz’s guest to demonstrate the critical need to pass his budget and invest in our school so that every child receives a high-quality education.”

  1. NATHAN CHOMILO

Dr. Nathan Chomilo is a general pediatrician and doctor of internal medicine in the Twin Cities. Dr. Chomilo focuses on the impacts early childhood intervention and health care access have on the long-term health of children. He is one of the founding members of Minnesota Doctors for Health Equity, and is passionate about how physicians and health systems can address racial and health equity. Dr. Chomilo is also the Medical Director of the non-profit Reach Out and Read Minnesota, an initiative that integrates literacy into pediatric care by providing developmentally-appropriate books for children to take home after their check-ups. Governor Walz will share his story to highlight the need to protect the health care access fund and ensure Minnesotans have access to affordable, quality health care.

“I am honored that Governor Walz invited me to the State of the State to highlight the critical need to expand access to affordable, quality health care,” said Dr. Nathan Chomilo. “Thousands of Minnesotans are living one illness away from bankruptcy, and I know this situation would only get worse for my patients if we let the provider tax expire. The provider tax is not a ‘sick tax.’ The true sick tax is paid by those who seek care without insurance or don’t get care when they need it because they lack coverage. That is the tax Minnesota can’t afford.”

 DEBORAH MILLS

Deborah Mills and her husband, Kent, own Mills Dairy, a 120-acre farm in Goodhue County with more than 270 cows. Kent’s family have been dairy farmers for four generations, and their daughters have been finalists for Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Deborah is the Goodhue County President for the Minnesota Farmers Union. For a period of time, Deborah and her family could not afford health insurance on the individual market and had to go without coverage. Governor Walz will tell her story to highlight the need to expand access to affordable health care.

“With eroding farm incomes, severe weather, and soaring health care costs, I feel pressure every day as a dairy farmer in Minnesota,” said Deborah Mills, a dairy farmer in Goodhue County. “I know many other people in my community who have stories similar to mine, and I’m touched that Governor Walz is sharing my story to highlight the need to take care of one another. His OneCare program would empower Minnesotans—especially farmers— by ensuring we have access to affordable health care and mental health services. It’s refreshing to see a kind of leadership that puts people before politics.”

MAYOR BEN SCHIERER

Ben Schierer is the Mayor of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and together with his wife Tessa, owner of Union Pizza & Brewing Company in downtown Fergus Falls. Mayor Schierer was elected to the Fergus Falls City Council in 2004 and to the Mayor’s Office in 2016. As part of Minnesota Mayors Together, Ben has worked to break down divides between rural and urban cities and towns. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Ben and Tessa live in Fergus Falls with their five children. Governor Walz will share his story to highlight the benefits of investing in local communities in Greater Minnesota.

“Governor Walz knows the state of our cities is critical to the State of our State,” said Mayor Ben Schierer. “That is why his budget puts forward policies that empower local leaders and foster community prosperity for everyone, regardless of what they look like or where they live in Minnesota. He is committed to ensuring communities across the state aren’t just surviving—they are thriving.”

HOUSTON WHITE

Houston White is an entrepreneur in North Minneapolis, where he runs a barbershop, clothing design and retail shop, and a coffee bar and community space. He built the brand HWMR (Houston White Menswear) with a mantra of “Black Excellence” to inspire pride in the neighborhood and its residents. His goal is to attract more black professionals to open businesses and buy homes in North Minneapolis to revitalize the community. A portion of the profits from HWMR go towards the HWMR Scholarship Fund for Future Entrepreneurs. Governor Walz will tell his story to emphasize the need to invest in community-based initiatives, foster innovation, and tackle racial, economic, and geographic disparities.

“I am proud to be Governor Walz’s guest to show the potential we can unleash in our communities when we invest in our people,” said Houston White, an entrepreneur based in the heart of North Minneapolis. “He understands that we must tackle economic, racial, and geographic disparities head on to ensure every Minnesotan has the opportunity to succeed.”

MARY INGMAN

Mary Ingman and her children – Ben, Kate, and Jake – have been close friends and neighbors of Governor Walz and the First Lady in Mankato for nearly 25 years. Governor Walz taught both Ben and Kate at Mankato West High School, and was Ben’s basketball coach. In December of 1996, Mary’s husband, Charles, was killed in a head-on car collision on Highway 14. Since the 1980s, more than 145 people have been killed on the highway—most of the accidents occurring on the remaining two-lane stretch of road. The Governor will share the Ingman family story to emphasize the critical need to improve our transportation system and keep Minnesotans safe.

“Governor Walz has been our friend and neighbor for nearly 25 years,” said Mary Ingman. “My husband’s death on Highway 14 was a tragedy that we hope no one else has to experience. My family and I are honored to be here tonight to highlight the dire need to invest in our transportation system.”

GORDON (GORDY) KIRK

Gordon W. Kirk is a World War II Army Veteran and advocate for the Minnesota Veterans community. He served on the front lines as a Quartermaster in the 3rd Army, 4th Armor Division (Patton’s Vanguard) in the European Theater from 1943 to 1945 when U.S. service members were segregated. He landed on the beaches of Normandy, with campaigns in Northern France, the Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe. After his service, Gordy was involved in creating the Twin Star VFW Post 8854, which he joined on February 10, 1964, and is a life member. He is the first African-American VFW member in Minnesota to attain the high office of Department Commander. He has served as the VFW’s Hospital Representative since 1997, where he advocates for Veterans who seek assistance from the VA Medical Center. As a VFW leader, he has worked to bring diversity to Minnesota’s Veterans organizations and ensure that all Veterans are welcome. Gordy is a long-time resident of St. Paul. Governor Walz will tell his story to honor veterans’ sacrifice for our nation.