Story published: August 17, 2020

When Gov. Tim Walz and his new cabinet members took office in 2018, they were full of optimism. In January 2019, the governor remarked, “We couldn’t be happier she came back to serve her home state,” as he introduced his new Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink. She responded that, “Good governance is critical to democracy.”

More than a year later, the Minnesota Senate used its confirmation power to remove the commissioner without warning – and the minority called it an ambush sneak attack. DFL Minority Leader Senator Susan Kent called the action an “outrageous travesty.” The Republican committee chair who screened the commissioner and did not recommend her confirmation, Sen. John Pratt, responded, “I’m appalled when I hear that we’re being accused of taking this commissioner out because of gender.”

“No doubt this is a serious, emotional issue. She has not done her job. We should have done this sooner, but we had to manage around COVID and manage around the lawlessness, the riots, the death of George Floyd,” explained Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.

The third special session of the summer was supposed to be a sleeper with pressing police reforms passed, while the unfinished business of a bonding bill for construction projects and supplement budget would have to wait another 30 days because of rules limiting state spending in August. Lawmakers did accomplish something of substance with bipartisan support during the short special session as they passed federal funds to help care for the state’s most vulnerable individuals. Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) said, “I’m so proud of the Senate for their stubbornness in sticking with this, in sticking with me….” Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) added, “It’s the right thing to do. …Once again, we are here in a bipartisan manner, saying what is right for the folks in this state that desperately need the infrastructure in place in order to attain that independence.”

The primary election saw several incumbent Democrats defeated by diverse challengers; Assistant Minority Leader Senator Jeff Hayden, who’s the only person of color in leadership, lost. As did House Judiciary Chair John Lesch. DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman says that ultimately high primary turnout is good for her party: “People are ready to exercise their rights at the ballot box this year, which I think is good for Democrats. Typically, we we see Republicans trying to suppress turnout as a tactic because we know that, when everybody shows up, Democrats do better.”

Governor Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan will have many new lawmakers to work with after November, and they’re embracing change. “The POCI Caucus, which I helped found, will grow by leaps and bounds, and that’s positive,” Flanagan said. Walz added, “I’m excited to see these people come up and represent their community.”

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Summer politics are often sleepy, but this year has been an exception. Mary Lahammer takes a look at the police reform bill passed by the legislature in July.

George Floyd’s police killing has brought together communities in a show of resilience – but it’s also revealed deep-seated racial inequities in access to healthy food now that the Lake Street area, where many grocery stores were damaged or destroyed, has become a food desert. Almanac reporter Kyeland Jackson examines how that lack of food access is actually rooted in racism-charged issues related to access to jobs and opportunities to build wealth.

In 2019, Taylor Kueng (who identifies as gender non-binary) witnessed the arrest of two Black men in downtown Minneapolis. Taylor and their friend filmed the incident until they were both also arrested by police. One year later, a different video implicated their brother, former officer Alex Kueng, in the police killing of George Floyd. Discover how one family has been impacted by two different videos that captured police force.