A political policy is only as good as the support it has. And right now, Gov. Tim Walz’ policy on business restrictions in the fight against COVID-19 is losing support. Important support.
The hospitality industry in Minnesota pushed back hard against his continued ban on indoor options for bars and restaurants, even with reduced capacity. Hospitality Minnesota, whose President Liz Rammer supported Walz’s restriction a few weeks ago, called the continued restrictions “another disastrous setback.”
Support from the major business group Minnesota Chamber also fell apart over the Wednesday announcement that allowed patio dining only for bars and restaurants. Chamber President Doug Loon said the continued restrictions didn’t sufficiently recognize the ability of businesses to keep their customers and employees safe.
Most shocking was clear defiance by the Roman Catholic Church and two branches of the Lutheran church. The state’s Catholic bishops said they would begin holding indoor Masses at 33 percent capacity as soon as Tuesday. Walz’s restrictions set limits at 10 people for services.
Other important Walz constituencies were not as vocal but just as concerned. Youth groups wonder when kids can play Little League games. While hair salons will be allowed to do business, they must do it at 25 percent capacity.
In all of this opposition, the Republicans in the Legislature figure to back up their objections with public support when the Legislature returns for a special session, expected in June.
The churches wrote a well-publicized letter calling for fewer restrictions and citing First Amendment rights of freedom of religion. There will be a hearing in federal court on Tuesday that will seek an injunction against Walz’s order on churches.
Minnesota may soon go the way of Wisconsin, where a court threw out Gov. Tony Evers’ shutdown orders and the whole state opened up at once, with local government still being able to restrict bar access.
This loss of support turning into a wholesale opening is the risk the Walz administration is taking. And right now, the Walz policy is too much on the side of restrictions.
A win in a lawsuit may unleash all the COVID threats the Walz administration so far has been able to manage and mitigate. That’s too much of a risk.
We believe the Walz administration has to take a hard look at where it’s at, loosen more restrictions soon and re-assess and possibly reset its current policy to let a little heat dissipate before we have a major conflagration.