Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in a statement Tuesday that Senate Republicans could have handled “information sharing differently” after the caucus caught criticism from Senate Democrats and Gov. Tim Walz.
Senate Republicans drew ire from their colleagues after not informing them that several Senate Republicans and staffers had tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of a special session of the Minnesota Legislature, Nov. 12. Gazelka represents Senate District 9, which includes Morrison County. He was among at least four Senate Republicans who tested positive for the virus.
Republicans held a caucus meeting at the State Capitol Nov. 5, but said they followed health guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing during the meeting, according to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR).
“In recent days, there has been media and political criticism of the Senate majority caucus holding its traditional post-election caucus gathering and how we handled subsequent news that some of us at that event later tested positive for COVID-19,” Gazelka said in the Tuesday statement. “In hindsight, we could have handled the event and our information sharing differently. I personally will apply lessons from this episode to inform future decisions as we prepare for the 2021 legislative session. I am committed to protecting senators, staff and the people with whom we come in contact.”
Fellow Senate Republicans were notified about the positive tests via an internal memo, according to MPF. No notification was given to Senate Democrats.
On Saturday, Nov. 14, Walz took to social media to voice his displeasure at the lack of information.
“COVID-19 doesn’t operate along party lines, and neither can we,” Walz tweeted. “If we know of a positive case, we have a moral obligation to share that information with others so they can protect themselves and their families.
“I do not understand why Senate Republicans chose to share positive cases only with members of their own party, putting staff and other senators at risk,” the thread continued. “We must put aside our differences and look out for our neighbors. At the end of the day, we’re all Minnesotans.”
Gazelka, who has been a vocal critic of Walz maintaining peacetime emergency powers since the summer and has down-played the severity of the virus prior to the recent spike, fired back.
He advised the governor to stop blaming Republicans.
“Your policies have failed to protect (long-term care) residents and workers, and with community spread uncontrolled despite masks and distancing, you’re just looking for someone to blame,” Gazelka responded to Walz’ tweet.
“No DFL member was at our caucus meeting, and we followed MDH and CDC recommendations for social distancing, masks and limiting time together during session so no one was put at risk,” the reply continued. “It’s time to stop blaming us and politicizing this, and work together to keep Minnesotans safe.”
In his statement Tuesday, Gazelka said elected representatives have had to balance “restrictions for the safety of constituents, staff and colleagues with our constitutional duty to represent and be accessible to our fellow citizens.”
He said as everyone continues to adapt to changes made necessary due to the spread of COVID-19, they don’t always get it right. He added that it is important to learn from those experiences.
“The current spike in COVID cases is troubling to Minnesotans,” Gazelka said in his Tuesday statement. “We in the Senate understand its seriousness and will continue to push for a state response that protects people’s health without destroying their livelihoods, especially for our long-term care residents and employees. My Republican colleagues and I pray for the health and safety of all Minnesotans. And we are committed to working with our DFL Senate colleagues, the House of Representatives, and the Governor to solve the problems facing our state.”