RED LAKE -- Nearly 90 percent of Red Lake residents voted for Tim Walz in November.
“Higher than my neighborhood,” the governor-elect said.
“Even Vladimir Putin doesn’t get that much,” joked Dan King, president of Red Lake Nation College.
Walz headed to the tribal college Sunday morning on a statewide listening tour designed to touch base with Minnesotans before he and Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan, a White Earth Nation member who’ll soon be the first American Indian to hold that office, are sworn in next month. He held a second question-and-answer session in Bemidji -- where his margin of victory was much narrower -- Sunday afternoon. Both covered similar ground, and Walz said the rooms of people he’s spoken to on the tour looked different but shared core values.
“Not all the issues are the same. When you hear me say ‘One Minnesota,’ that doesn’t mean we’re all the same. It doesn’t mean we’re all homogenous,” Walz told the Sanford Center crowd. “What it means is that we find a way to work across differences to find common goals to solve problems.”
In Red Lake, the soon-to-be governor said treaty rights and tribal sovereignty are the law of the land. Leaders there presented him with a medallion typically given to tribal school graduates.
Walz told attendees that he wants Minnesota to be known as “the education state,” and characterized its longstanding achievement gaps as a moral failing and a competitive disadvantage.
“Seventy percent of our demographic change and workforce over the next 25 years comes from communities of color,” he said. “We will be left behind in the global economy, we will be left behind in quality of life, if we don’t ensure that we have the best qualified, educated workforce, and a bulk of that is coming from our indigenous and our communities of color.”
Walz, who described budgets as financial and moral documents, positioned education spending as a sort-of alternative to prison spending and told both audiences that the state needs to decriminalize mental health and addiction issues. He also said marijuana prohibition doesn’t work.
And he said he wouldn’t shy away from controversial issues such as mining and pipeline construction.
“If the science is there, if the environmental impact statements are there, if the permitting process is there, and we have protections in place, then you go forward with these economic activities,” Walz said to scattered applause from the Bemidji crowd. “I think the concern and where we go wrong many times is, is we don’t have these discussions on the front end.”
In both communities, Walz emphasized the value of local government control to solve broader social and economic issues, and of collecting public input to guide his administration.
“This is the beginning of a long conversation,” he said.
Walz and his staffers’ last stop on Sunday was in Hibbing. Flanagan held question-and-answer sessions of her own on Sunday in St. Cloud and Foley.
Both are set to be sworn in next month in St. Paul, and Walz said they’ll submit a state budget proposal in February.