Today saw a few interesting twists in Minnesota state politics, including the Republican-controlled Senate ousting a member of Governor Tim Walz’s cabinet and a DFL House member disclosing that he had COVID-19. But no twist was bigger than Republican Representative Jon Koznick of Lakeville mistakenly emailing strategy talking points to his Democratic opponents instead of his Republic colleagues. Oops.
It’s more than embarrassing, however. On the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, when we’re reminded to ‘never forget,’ the Minnesota Legislature debated whether or not to override an extension of Walz’s emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1,800 Minnesotans have died, more than 190,000 Americans have died, and we’re debating whether or not this is an emergency.
It’s the content of Koznick’s strategy that goes beyond embarrassing. He was attempting to urge his Republic colleagues to stay on message in the debate:
“COVID issues are not our winning message. PUBLIC SAFETY is our ticket to the majority, let’s win with that.”
Rather than actually addressing the pandemic, his winning message is to talk up public safety. Apparently suburban voters are scared of the rioting deathscape in our urban centers. I guess it’s all about changing the subject: Don’t talk about the pandemic, talk about public safety. We’ve seen this before: Don’t talk about racial inequity or police abuses, talk about riots. Maybe if we actually addressed the difficult issues—the pandemic, racial inequity, police abuses—then other issues, like public safety, would also be solved.
A quick review of Koznick’s Twitter feed finds plenty of talk about public safety and riots, but very little talk of police reform and how to address abuses. He talks about “chaos in Minneapolis” but never talks about the overwhelmingly peaceful protests happening around the country and in his own backyard. He says the right words in a legislative update about supporting police reforms, but there’s none of that in his Twitter commentary. He initially talked about listening, but maybe that’s done now and it’s all public safety?
Say Hello to Erin Preese
Meamwhile Koznick’s opponent, Democrat Erin Preese is willing to talk about the difficult issues. And it shouldn’t be a surprise—she’s a teacher.
A quick review of Preese’s Twitter feed finds plenty of support for racial justice and police reform. She was out there with those peaceful protestors in Lakeville. When the Minnesota House declared racism a public health crisis (Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the country), Preese agreed, noting “The first step is recognizing that the problem exists.”
How did Koznick vote on that bill? He didn’t.
But Preese faces an uphill battle. Koznick is a three-term incumbent, winning by large margins (10 points in 2018 and 2014, 20 points in 2016). If she’s going to unseat Koznick, she’s going to need a lot of help. You can visit her website to volunteer or donate.
(By the way, women running for office have to deal with this kind of bullshit. Glad Preese steps right past it.)
I wrote a book about better politics, so let me say some nice things about Koznick. I appreciate his words about John Lewis. He seems to have reluctantly gone along with the mask mandate, so that’s better than some of his peers. He supports ending the school-to-prison pipeline. And I like his suggestion that we follow good guidelines for online communication, including not fanning the flames of discord—but it’s undercut a bit when he calls the governor a “chump.”
To be honest, Koznick doesn’t seem like a bad guy. I’m sure we disagree on a few issues, and it seems like those disagreements are most amplified when he’s embracing the party talking points. But as the assistant minority leader, he’s part of creating those talking points (as his misfired email showcases).
And the talking points Koznick pushes are more about fear and division than actually getting good things done. If that’s the kind of politics he’s going to champion, I see a lot more hope with Erin Preese.