Timeline: COVID sparked Jensen’s run for governor and remains recurring theme

During a radio interview conducted on the same FarmFest stage where he’d just completed a debate with DFL Gov. Tim Walz, Republican Scott Jensen was asked how he came to be a candidate for that office.

Jensen, a family doctor from Chaska, said he had quit politics because his wife Mary Jensen, a veterinarian, had health challenges that would require four surgeries. Once she was healthy, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Jensen said he was shocked by an email from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how medical professionals should categorize deaths that might have been caused by the virus.

“I raised my hand, sort of,” Jensen, the GOP nominee for governor, told Linder Farm Network, saying he thought “that can’t be right. And I said it loud enough that I got to meet Laura Ingraham and I became a regular. All of a sudden I was being pushed to the front of the line. I was being asked to speak to issues, put them in context. And I literally became a national figure. And I think I have a half a million people that follow me every day. And people started to push me to run for governor.”

Jensen criticized mandatory mask orders. He has said so-called herd immunity – having the virus spread through the population until it runs out of uninfected hosts – is a better way to overcome the pandemic than vaccines. He questioned the number of infections and deaths, even arguing that health professionals were overstating those rates as ways to get higher reimbursements from insurance companies and the government. And he promoted using unfounded remedies such as ivermectin (an antiparasitic drug) and hydroxychloroquine (a drug primarily used to treat malaria). He faced complaints filed with the state medical licensing board and was removed from TikTok for violating policies against COVID misinformation. 

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And as much as the Jensen campaign would prefer to talk about public safety and the economy, Jensen frequently returns to what he said in August about what got him into the race. During that FarmFest debate, in front of a supportive crowd that included a vociferous contingent of COVID deniers, Jensen returned to the topic several times.

On his campaign website, Jensen says, “We can never again allow bad modeling, ego, and party politics to drive policy. We can never again allow the power grab Tim Walz forced on Minnesota. We must have emergency power reform and we must let science, not ‘political science’ lead the way when faced with crisis.”

Many of his stated beliefs about the virus, the threat it poses to human health and impacts of government intervention run counter to consensus medical conclusions, and he often touts the fact that he’s standing up to the medical community. 

How did Jensen evolve from an iconoclastic state senator known for working across the political aisle, especially with a bipartisan group of M.D.s known as the Doctor Caucus, to a national figure among pandemic questioners? And how does that fit into his current campaign for governor?


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