People in Prior Lake and across Minnesota are a model of cooperation and healthy debate for the rest of the country in uncivil times, Gov. Tim Walz said at the Prior Lake Rotary Club’s regular meeting early Wednesday.
Walz, a Democrat, spoke at The Wilds Golf Club at the invitation of Rotarian and Republican State Sen. Eric Pratt. The two worked on bipartisan laws this year adding protections against wage theft by employers and supporting technology startups.
Different groups can reach common goals together, Walz said, pointing to Prior Lake’s new water treatment plant, which opened after years of cooperation between the city and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, as an example for the whole state.
Opposing sides also keep each other from doing stupid things, Walz added, jokingly ribbing South Dakota’s anti-methamphetamine campaign slogan — “Meth. We’re on it.” — that was announced this week.
“Compromise is not a vice, it’s a virtue,” the governor said. “We need more of it. I’m certainly grateful for it.”
Pratt told the crowd he’s often asked why legislators can’t all just get along, but he has also noticed more heated disagreements among his colleagues that cast the opposition as simply evil or corrupt.
Walz, he added, campaigned on the idea of one united Minnesota.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Pratt said.
In the controversial days of President Donald Trump and the U.S. House impeachment inquiry, Minnesotans have been about split.
Trump narrowly lost the state in 2016. A KSTP/SurveyUSA survey of Minnesota adults this month found less than half of respondents either supported or opposed impeaching him, with around one in five undecided, but also found a wide difference between Democrats and Republicans.
Walz couldn’t say for sure what to blame for polarization, though he pointed to social media and partisan legislative districts that reward hardliners. He called for non-partisan district maps and campaign finance reform.
Getting past today’s harsh politics doesn’t mean giving up core principles and beliefs, Walz. For instance, he sees health care as a human right that the state should help people access. People tire of bickering, but he didn’t think they want “a wishy-washy center” instead.
That’s where a proposal like the wage-theft bill comes in. The law creates stiffer penalties for employers who fraudulently withhold pay, such as for overtime or tips, from workers, and boosts state enforcement. Walz described it as merging business and labor priorities and weeding out bad actors.
Politics isn’t a simple left-right line, he added, instead picturing a continuum with branches in different directions. Several thousand people voted for both him and Trump, and Minnesota’s is the only divided legislature in the country.
Service clubs like the Rotary can help keep that social blend going with community conversations and in other ways, the governor said. He pointed to the Rotary’s own ethical principles, which call on club members to ask themselves whether their words are the truth and whether their actions benefit everyone involved.
The key is to remember that democracy and civil society are more fragile than they might seem, Walz said.
“In Minnesota, we’re still holding it together,” he said. “We get to prove there can be something different.”