Personal liberty and keeping businesses afloat during the pandemic were among concerns expressed at meeting in the town of Ottertail hosted by Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, on Friday, Nov. 20.

The 7 a.m. meeting was held at Betty's Pantry on the final day restaurants can be open in Minnesota before a four-week shutdown along with bars and other businesses ordered by Gov. Tim Walz. It drew about two dozen people from around Otter Tail County. Most were not wearing masks.

COVID rates have been climbing in the heavily conservative county. On Friday, there were 463 active cases in the county, with 15 total COVID deaths since March. That was up from 20 active cases on Sept. 20.

Walz and his order drew heavy criticism from the crowd.

"Speaking of the Constitution, we also have the freedom of assembly, and the government has said now you can no longer assemble with your friends, with your family," Franson said. "Well, I find it hard to believe that our local police officers are going to come to our door."

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She said police are cracking down in other countries, citing a Twitter comment about police telling an Australian he couldn't walk his dog.

"We watch these other countries saying, 'How, how is it possible? We are so lucky over here. And then we see what is happening over there start creeping into our country and we're like, how did we allow this to happen? Like frogs boiling."

Her comments drew discussion of socialism and Nazis. One man called to impeach the Democratic governor, since lawsuits to take away his emergency powers have failed.

"There has to be a way to take those powers away from him," said Steve Wischmann, a retired Coast Guard commander who lives in Ottertail. "He is a tyrant."

Mary Robertson, owner of the Fabled Farmer restaurant in Fergus Falls, said she is worried about how the shutdown will affect her business. While the governor's order allows restaurants to sell take-out food, it prohibits dine-in service.

"You can't expect us to make a living on take-out," she said.

She also said she has apartment tenants who are receiving unemployment but are not paying their rent, yet "the boxes from Amazon keep coming."

During the shutdown, state and federal orders have banned landlords from evicting tenants based solely on whether they have paid their rent.

Business owners asked about stimulus funding, and Franson said there is some untapped federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding but she wasn't sure how that would be distributed. One business owner asked how she is supposed to make payroll next week.

One man raised concerns about how pandemic precautions are affecting college students because of the lack of access to professors. Franson said she knows of a family who lost their college dorm fee after the college closed its campus.

A woman voiced frustration that her child was having to do distance learning and wasn't learning as much.

There was resentment about Minnesota's large cities overruling the desires of rural Minnesota and about Walmart and Amazon taking business away from local businesses. They generally agreed that the coronavirus is real, but that people are too afraid of it, and that it's not as serious as people think.

Franson said that it's time for Walz to relinquish his emergency powers.

"We all went into it willingly," to give him his first 15-day emergency powers, but did not expect it to stretch into eight months, she said.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, was originally scheduled to attend the meeting, but was unable to, Franson said.