Updated: March 16, 2021 07:23 PM
Created: March 16, 2021 06:14 PM
Former Republican State Sen. Scott Jensen of Chaska made official what his campaign tried to keep secret last week: He's running for governor in 2022.
"I feel compelled" to run for governor, Jensen told 5 Eyewitness News in an interview Tuesday. "I don't think we're on a sustainable path in Minnesota," he said.
Jensen blames failed leadership starting at the top with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.
"I think Gov. Walz has made some good decisions, but as this pandemic has gone on, decisions haven't been based on science, they've been based on political science," he said.
That tone is in sharp contrast to a hard-hitting campaign video released by the Jensen campaign on Twitter and his website.
"There's a saying in politics...never let a crisis go to waste," the video says while a grainy image of a Walz look-alike turns the dials on a machine symbolizing the frequent "dial turns" on the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. "His micromanaging has destroyed livelihoods," according to the video. "His blind faith in bad models has kept families apart and businesses closed."
When it's pointed out Minnesota's COVID-19 positivity rates have remained lower than much of the nation and the state budget forecast now shows a $1.6 billion projected surplus, Jensen says Walz can only take credit for that if he also acknowledges troublespots.
"I think politicians like to take victory laps for things they don't necessarily earn," Jensen said. "If he's going to take credit for some of the things, would he also take credit for being nation-leading in terms of the percentage of deaths in long-term care facilities?"
It is true Minnesota is among the states with the highest percentage of overall COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities. So far 63% of the state's 6,749 deaths have been in those facilities. Nationally, 34% of COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care.
Last week when word of Jensen's candidacy leaked from his campaign, DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin issued a scathing statement.
"Scott Jensen is a dangerous COVID-19 conspiracy theorist who has been caught spreading lies about the pandemic, palling around with anti-vaccine extremists and downplaying the virus that has taken over half a million American lives," the statement said. "Numerous doctors, public health officials and independent fact-checkers have sharply criticized Jensen for peddling damaging disinformation and fanning the flames of conspiracy that have caused real harm across our state and country. We deserve honest leaders that will help us get through this pandemic, not quacks like Scott Jensen," the statement said.
Jensen, a long-time doctor in the Chaska area, acknowledges questioning everything from hospital reimbursements for COVID-19 patients to how well masks work to prevent the spread of the virus. He denies he's a conspiracy theorist. He says he raised questions based on his knowledge of health care and hospital operations.
"I don't think I introduced conspiracy theories," Jensen says. "People took snippets of what I said and put it wherever they wanted on programs and on pages and websites I'd never heard of. I don't think there's anything I could have done about that."
Jensen does say he opposes mask mandates because he believes anything less than an N-95 mask is largely ineffective.
"We should get rid of the mask mandate at this point in time," he says. "If people want to wear a mask they should wear a mask...wearing a cloth mask or surgical mask, these were never intended to stop viral particle transmission."
As for vaccinations, he says he does recommend most, but not all of his patients get the COVID-19 vaccine. He says it's a matter of personal choice and does not favor mandatory vaccinations for COVID-19 or the flu.
Jensen says it's also past due time for Walz to give up his "emergency powers" he invoked under state law.
"Emergency powers, using that as a sort of club over the Senate so that the governor can get what he wants (in budget negotiations), I can't imagine this was ever the intent of this statute," Jensen says, adding it's time to share decision-making with the legislature. "We are at a point in time when we can absolutely be collaborating. There is no reason for us to have one person functioning if you will as the emperor of Minnesota, there just is no reason."
On other issues, Jensen says he generally opposes tax increases but would stop short of making a pledge not to increase taxes. He says he would also work to improve Minnesota's health care system, including price transparency for medical services.
Jensen is the second Republican to officially declare candidacy for governor. Mike Murphy, the mayor of Lexington, MN, is also running.
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