OMAHA — The Democratic governor of Minnesota, a state that has passed progressive policies on abortion and education, urged Nebraska Democrats on Friday to emphasize grass-roots efforts, and “skate to where the puck is going to be.”

“Don’t wait for a savior candidate to come along and be fantastic in a debate and run these great ads — that’s not how it works,” said Gov. Tim Walz, a native of Nebraska.

“Go neighbor to neighbor, talk to them … explain to them that why demonizing people who are choosing to marry a person that they love really doesn’t impact you in any way,” he said.

Walz, now in his second term as governor, was one of the keynote speakers at an annual dinner Friday night hosted by the Nebraska Democratic Party, now called the “Ben Nelson Gala.”

Besides Nelson, a former governor and U.S. Senator, the other keynote speaker was Tennessee State Rep. Justin J. Pearson, one of the “Tennessee Three” who were expelled from office but later returned to the Statehouse by voters.

Walz, a former U.S. congressman, hails from West Point, Nebraska. He graduated from Butte High School and earned a degree at Chadron State College.

‘Hard to vote against kids’ meals’

He has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2028, and has won notoriety for leading a prosperous state while adopting progressive policies. Those include protections for abortion rights, increases in funding for education, legalization of recreational marijuana, and paid family leave.

“Every child should have breakfast and lunch at school — we did that in Minnesota, you can do that here,” Walz said, in an interview before the dinner.

Walz, who spent 24 years in the National Guard, said that several Democratic Party goals have been achieved in Minnesota because of a strong party organization, because it’s focused on health care and wages, and because it’s been “less partisan.”

“Half of what we did moved with bipartisan votes,” he said. “You can go out and try to message this, but it’s kind of hard to vote against kids’ meals at the end of the day.”

Focus on ‘things that improve lives’

“We should stay focused on the things that improve people’s lives,” Walz said.

He said he can’t understand why Republicans want to dictate women’s health care and delve “into the culture wars,” telling people “who they can love.”

In Minnesota and Nebraska, Walz said he learned that to “be a good neighbor meant to mind your own business on a lot of things.”

“I don’t understand this demonization, this idea that you need to be in the operating room or the bedroom on peoples decisions.”

Nebraskans and Nebraska Republicans, according to Walz, were “different” because they had a “Libertarian streak” that included compassion.

“I’m not seeing that void filled right now,” he said.

Extreme policies push youth to leave

He said Minnesota is an example of how prosperity follows when people feel safe in their homes and confident in public education.

“Younger folks, if you deny climate change and deny access to some of these things, they’re going to leave. And we (cold states) can’t afford that,” Walz said.

He said his mother still lives in Butte, and his sister and brother-in-law lives in Alliance.

“I just think fear and division, which we’re seeing out of the other side, is not a trait that Minnesotans or Nebraskans value very highly,” Walz said.

On other issues, he said:

  •  If President Joe Biden is old, “he’s pretty darned effective at that.”

He got an infrastructure bill passed — something that didn’t happen when Walz was in Congress — and has built an economy that outpaces other countries across the globe. “He doing the job, there’s no refuting that.”

  • Should Vice President Kamala Harris remain as Biden’s running mate?

“We should all be very proud of this, we’re finally getting folks in office that represent the rest of the country … a woman of color, an accomplished U.S. Senator.” He added, “That job is not very conducive for blowing the doors off (public opinion).”

  • “It’s a good thing that Hunter Biden is not running for president,” Walz said, because if you break the law, you should be indicted.

“We know that’s happening on the other side,” he said, referring to former President Donald Trump. “If President Biden is guilty of anything, it’s loving his son,” Walz said. “There’s no connection there … it’s a game of destruction.”

  • The government shutdown is an “abject failure” and dereliction of duty, he said.

When he was in Congress, Walz said he voted to expand the debt ceiling when both Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama called and asked.