Gov. Walz, Lt. Gov. Flanagan both out of country on trade mission
It’s a matter of routine in Minnesota gubernatorial administrations for governors to travel on international trade missions. The unusual aspect of this week’s trip to Japan by Governor Tim Walz is that Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan is also on the trip, putting the state’s top two elected officials more than six thousand miles from the State Capitol at the same time — a 13-hour flight.
“The reality is the lieutenant governor is the backup,” says Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “She is the person who steps in if something happens to the governor. Having both of them on the same trip is just confusing and not something we’re accustomed to.”
The lieutenant governor has been posting on social media about the benefits of the trade mission to Japan. At least one follower responded by writing, “Shouldn’t one of you be in Minnesota in case something happens to the other one. Would seem to be common sense.”
Jacobs says we live in an era where major incidents are increasingly commonplace, from gun violence to officer-involved shootings to natural disasters.
“Who would handle an emergency if it were to break out in Minnesota?” Jacobs wonders. “We’ve got both the governor and lieutenant governor out of the state, not on the scene.”
In response to inquiries from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, a spokeswoman for Governor Walz sent a statement saying all of these things were considered.
“The Governor remains in charge and reachable no matter what state or country he is in,” the statement says. “They are following standard operating procedure and traveling in different vehicles and taking separate flights.”
Brian McClung, who traveled on three international trade missions with Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, says communication is key, but having someone in the state in-person is, too.
“Our policy in the Pawlenty administration was that we always wanted to have the governor or lieutenant governor in the state,” he told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “You just need to have your bases covered. You never know what might happen. And from our perspective, we just wanted to make sure that the governor or lieutenant governor was here to respond immediately to anything.”
McClung says an example from the Pawlenty administration is the day the 35W bridge collapsed in 2007 — a catastrophic event no one saw coming.
“Tim Pawlenty was right near the governor’s residence at that time, but Lieutenant Governor Carol Molnau was traveling to a conference in China and so of course we immediately contacted her, and she turned around and came back to Minnesota,” he says.
However, McClung says getting back from an international trade mission can take a lot of time, especially when you’re a 13-hour flight away.
“You’re flying commercial flights so it’s not like the governor has an Air Force One and they can just pick up and get somewhere. You’re at the whim of Delta’s travel schedule,” he says.
As for the trade mission itself, Governor Walz did announce a $45 million investment by Takeda Pharmaceuticals in their Brooklyn Park manufacturing plant. In 2022, the governor met with a trade delegation from Japan at Takeda’s plant. Lt. Gov. Flanagan has participated in a number of meetings in Japan as well, including with the Japanese Women’s Leadership Initiative where she says she learned “about how we can foster new opportunities for women in Minnesota.”
The governor’s trade delegation is due back in Minnesota on Friday.