BEMIDJI -- Thursday afternoon Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party elected officials, and area community leaders participated in a press call ahead of Trump’s visit to Bemidji set for Friday evening.
Major themes of the call were Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Joe Biden’s simultaneous and contrasting Minnesota visit, veterans’ issues, Trump’s relationship with tribal nations and the environment.
On the call were DFL Chair Ken Martin, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, Minnesota AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Brad Lehto, Obama health care advisor Andy Slavitt, Rev. Rob Kopp of the Bemidji United Methodist Church and Minnesota Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.
Kopp likened his position as a pastor in Bemidji to one of an elected official: “I serve people affiliated with both parties just as any elected official serves people from both parties. I do not speak today for the congregation I serve, nor do I speak for the United Methodist Church,” he said. “There are people in my community who will not agree with what I say, and I care for them as well.”
He spoke about how his congregation has been worshiping online since the onset of the pandemic, and how COVID-19 has affected both the community and the country.
“The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population, and yet we have 25% of all COVID cases nationally,” he said. “Many of which could have been prevented if it was treated as it was recognized early on.”
Winkler also shared his concerns about the pandemic. As a native Bemidjian, he expressed concern about the health and safety of his friends and family members tomorrow, citing a lack of masks and social distancing at Trump’s recent rally in Nevada.
“I’m afraid a lot of people will be coming into town tomorrow that are not so concerned about the health and safety of people in that community,” he said.
He discussed what he described as a "stark contrast" between Trump and Biden’s visits.
“The difference between a Joe Biden presidency and a Donald Trump presidency couldn’t be more stark,” Winkler said. “Joe Biden will bring us together, he will focus on bringing out the best in all Americans, bringing the most talented and able people to help in this crisis, to get us back to work and back to living our lives in a better way than we were before.”
“The decision should be easy for Minnesotans,” he added, remarking that Donald Trump’s leadership has failed Minnesotans during their time of need.
Flanagan discussed the impacts of Trump’s policies on northern Minnesota and what she described as a lack of leadership from Trump in the area.
“We see the Trump campaign continues to visit Minnesota, which is ironic because he has been completely absent as a leader,” she said. “Frankly what we need, what Gov. Walz and I need, is a partner in this work, and he has been absent.”
She listed the challenges facing Minnesotans in the future, including climate change, COVID-19 fallout, and racial injustice.
“We’re only going to be able to get through these challenges together. We need a federal partner who is committed to improving lives, as we are, here in Minnesota,” she said.
Flanagan, who is Native American, said she especially hoped to highlight the negative impacts the Trump administration has had on tribal nations ahead of his visit to Bemidji.
“We only wish that Donald Trump would be the kind of partner that our tribal communities also deserve,” she said. “His presence in Bemidji tomorrow is an affront to all of the people who have been harmed by his presidency.”
Persell spoke about how he feels Trump has disrespected veterans.
“Veterans aren’t happy,” Persell said. “For Donald Trump to disrespect veterans the way he has, not just recently, he’s got decades of vile words for veterans….the veterans aren’t very happy up here in my district.”
He also mentioned he believes Beltrami County has been relatively even-split between Democrats and Republicans in the past.
“Folks up here vote for the person, I believe, so you’ll find that there’s some Democrats elected, and some Republicans elected,” he said. “I think that that’s going to work for us in this go-round.”
Media and community members were invited to listen in on the call.