Nothing about our politics is normal these days. Had a Hollywood screenwriter written a script describing the state of our nation and national discourse, it’s not hard to imagine that it would be viewed as too fictional to be real.
The arrival of COVID-19 in Minnesota in March completely scrambled the 2020 legislative session. The legislature extended its spring break by a week to put in place a new system of conducting business, and much of the remainder of the session was conducted remotely or in a Capitol building that was largely closed to the public. The unusual nature of the session continued into the summer and fall, as legislators returned to the Capitol multiple times for special sessions, as state law requires the legislature to convene when the governor initiates or extends a peacetime emergency declaration. While much of the content of these special sessions was political points-scoring and gamesmanship, some good work has come from the sessions, including an extension of telemedicine flexibility, a package of law enforcement and policing reforms, and a House resolution recognizing racism as a public health crisis.
It’s been said so often it has become a cliché, but this really could be the most important election in our lifetimes. COVID-19 continues to sicken and kill thousands, the economy has been devastated, distrust of science and medicine runs rampant, and state budget surpluses have morphed into a projected deficit of more than $7 billion for the next biennium. In addition to the presidential race, voters will see a competitive campaign for U.S. Senate, at least three tight races for the U.S. House of Representatives, and all 201 state legislative seats will be on the ballot. The margin in both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Minnesota State Senate are narrow, meaning one, both, or neither body could flip to the other party’s control. As November looms closer, exercise caution in turning on your television or opening your mailbox, as the airwaves will be filled with what is likely to be one of the most negative campaigns in history.
Many traditional election activities have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. The two major party nominating conventions were held virtually, large rallies are (mostly) not taking place, and the ‘meat and potatoes’ of campaigning – door-knocking and canvassing by candidates and volunteers – will look very different. That said, there are many ways to play a role in electing candidates who support healthy kids. State legislative candidates may well knock on your door in the coming weeks and months, and there are few better opportunities to press candidates on the issues that matter to you and the kids and families to whom you provide care. And while some are uneasy with money in politics, supporting candidates who share your values with your financial support is a critical means to influence who will have a seat in both Washington, D.C., and St. Paul. And most importantly, exercise your right to vote. Decisions are made by those who show up, and there is far too much at stake to sit this election out. Election Day is November 3. Get out and vote!