Gov. Tim Walz addresses the media during a February 2021 press conference. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)
This week’s topics: Winkler campaigning; isn’t that special; Roe to go?
Welcome to Session/Law Sound-off. This week we add a new reader poll so you can play along and answer one of the questions we’ve put to our panel.
Query 1: House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler is running for Hennepin County Attorney to replace outgoing Mike Freeman. He says, “We need leadership in Hennepin County.” Why do you think he is choosing to leave the House in order to pursue this new gig?
Jeff Hayden, former DFL state senator: We’ve got an old saying: We don’t question the motives of members and so I won’t do that. [Laughs.] I know Ryan and I consider him a friend, but I haven’t talked to him about this. I think he thinks he has the kind of proper skill set between actually being a lawyer, his political acumen and with the issues he has worked on. From everything I can see, he thinks that he can bring those skills to the table.
Brian McDaniel, attorney and conservative lobbyist: I believe that this is a position that, unfortunately, is getting more and more of a high profile due to police matters in Hennepin County. I think that in the Legislature, it’s a lot more difficult to actually do the business of government. I don’t know that Ryan sees a path to higher office from his current position and the Hennepin County position is a place where he probably feels like he can do some good.
Kim Hunter, immigration attorney; It’s a high-profile position, right? I mean, I would think it’s probably irresistible to anybody with the qualifications, basically.
Brian Johnson, GOP House member, retired law enforcement officer: The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is in dire need of leadership, which it has been lacking for a number of years, in holding those that commit crimes accountable for their actions. Maybe he believes he can provide the leadership that that office needs.
Abou Amara, antitrust and civil rights attorney, former aide to the MN House speaker: I think, being one of the few split legislatures in the country, it can be difficult to get things done in a legislative context like that. Whereas, Hennepin County presents an opportunity to be a leader of the largest county in the state and to be able to kind of set the direction and make some impact. And in addition to that, these opportunities so rarely open. I’m sure a lot of people are thinking about jumping in the race.
Query 2: Gov. Tim Walz says he “stands ready” to call a special session if lawmakers can agree on a plan to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, decide on payments to frontline workers affected by COVID-19 and support farmers and ranchers experiencing drought. What’s your take? Will that special session ever hoe?
Hayden: I think it is largely dependent upon the Republican Senate leadership giving him a handshake, or a real pact, that they are not going to take out any more commissioners during the special session. I think they’ll have some bellyaching and some negotiating around the COVID package and especially with mandates in general with vaccines or masks. But I think they can work something out. I don’t know why Republicans wouldn’t want to help farmers during a historic drought. And with frontline workers, I actually think they could find a solution by adding a little bit more money to the pie. Then you’d get Democrats and Republicans into line. So I think they can work that out. I think this is really about the governor being very, very concerned about the weaponization of commissioner confirmations.
McDaniel: I don’t think that the special session laid out by the governor will happen. I think a narrow special session, dealing with frontline worker pay could—and should have happened already. But any time someone starts adding things to a wish list this close to regular session starting, that tells me that they don’t think a special session will happen, but that they do think they can score political points by making it seem like the other side has said no to something.
Hunter: Ugh! I’m putting a big groan out there, for the record. The only way it is going to happen is if rural legislators are satisfied that sweetening the deal with drought relief is sufficient. They’re never going to bend on COVID, or even face the reality that we are still in a heightened pandemic stage. So the drought relief piece of it is crucial.
Johnson: I do not personally believe that the special session will happen. The DFL is pushing more than just the frontline workers [for federal COVID-19 relief payments]. And the number of people they are going to give it to is going to make that payment so small [for each recipient] that it’s not going to do anything. I think the focus of the payments should be the actual frontline workers in our medical field–our nurses, doctors and hospital staff, along with the nursing home staff that really had to deal with COVID-19 And the home health care workers.
Amara: I think that’s going to come down to whether the Senate Republicans can agree that firing state staff is off the table. They said for much of the summer that it was their hope to potentially remove the Health Commissioner [Jan Malcolm]. And I think that’s something that the governor doesn’t want to have happen. So if they can set aside terminating state employees, then I think there is going to be some broad agreement on providing relief to those who have helped us get through the pandemic.
Query 3: The U.S. Supreme Court is starting its new term and, depending on who we’re talking about, there is either anxiety or anticipation that the 6-3 conservative majority might finally overturn Roe v. Wade. How do you gauge the odds of that happening?
(Please see our note posted below these answers. This is the question that our readers can weigh in on, too.)
Hayden: If I was a betting man, I’d say 90%. I’d probably say 100%, but I don’t think that anything is a shoe-in. But the way that the court is lined up and with the signal that they gave on the Texas case, I think they are going to overturn. I’m not a lawyer or a legal historian, so I don’t know exactly what that language looks like. But effectively, I think, they overturn. I think the Dobbs case [Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health] in Mississippi is going to be the catalyst for overturning it.
McDaniel: I think that the number depends on what your definition of “overturning” Roe vs. Wade is. But if it is a question of banning abortion in all respects, that number is very low—5%.
Hunter: I think it’s 99%, unless the credibly accused sexual predators on the court are impeached. [Laughs]
[Editor’s note: Did we mention that Sound Board panelists’ opinions are purely their own?]
Johnson: I’d say a possibility of 25%, because the Supreme Court generally does not like going over past cases. They try to avoid that as much as possible. But it’s higher than normal, due to the fact that the original litigant in Roe. v. Wade has changed her mind and actively voiced her concerns and displeasure with the decision a few years after it was made.
Amara: I think it’s 50/50. I think it is a real threat that for the first time in a generation, you have a solidly conservative court. And so that leads me to think there’s a real chance. But at the same time, I think there are people on the court who understand the political impacts of that. All of this would be happening in an election year, right? The Supreme Court’s opinion would come out in July of next year, just months before millions of voters go to the polls. So I think they’ll be aware of that, too.
Hey Session/Law fans! Want to take a crack at that last question? Take part in our online Reader Poll and we’ll learn together how our audience’s opinion stacks up against our panel’s.