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MinnRoast 2017 slide show #4

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 2:01pm
Corey Anderson

Photos from the MinnRoast 2017 program featuring Andrew Zimmern, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Mark Dayton, Rep. Tom Emmer, the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, PaviElle French and more. MinnPost contributing photographer Jana Freiband captured the evening.

Funds raised at MinnRoast 2017 were in honor of Lee Lynch and Terry Saario, whose philanthropic and creative work helped launch MinnPost ten years ago. Join the nearly 225 individuals who have already contributed to the new Lee Lynch & Terry Saario Innovation Fund with a gift to help MinnPost grow, innovate, and expand our coverage of important regional and national issues.

MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandGov. Mark Dayton and DJ/FRND fist-bump at the end of "Alexander Hamilton"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSoul singer PaviElle French singing "Let's Do It — Let's Run for Gov"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMugsy and Randall ThomsonOAS_AD("Middle");MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandTom Horner pitching the "Lewis Carroll School for Aspiring Press Secretaries"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandState Rep. Ilhan Omar performing a dialogue with state Sen. Jim Abeler (not shown)MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSen. Amy Klobuchar delivering her monologueMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandComedian Madde Gibba and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern sing "Belting for Borscht"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSoprano Maria JetteMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMary Lahammer and Amy Koch performing in the video "Minnsky Postsky"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandBrian "BT" Turner as Jim Surdyk singing "Sunday, Sunday"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges performing her monologueMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnPost editor Andrew Putz and CEO Andrew WallmeyerMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnPost co-founders Laurie and Joel Kramer and Lee LynchMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnRoast 10th Anniversary honorees Lee Lynch and Terry SaarioMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandBrian "BT" Turner as President Trump and Michelle Hutchison as Prof. Higgins in "My Fair Trumpy"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandThe Singing Suburban Mayors being conducted by DeAnne ShermanMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandRep. Tom Emmer performing his monologueMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandRep. Keith Ellison performing in his submitted videoMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMaria Jette as Hillary Clinton performing "I Dreamed a Dream"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSt. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman performing his monologueMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandRandall Thomson as Speaker Paul Ryan performing "Speaker of the House"MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandThe Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus ensemble Out Loud! performing the finale "One!"

MinnRoast 2017 slide show #2

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 2:00pm
Corey Anderson

Photos from the pre-MinnRoast 2017 reception at Rock Bottom Brewery featuring Bernadeia Johnson, Tom Horner, R.T. Rybak, Tom Hoch and more. MinnPost contributing photographer Jana Freiband captured the evening.

Funds raised at MinnRoast 2017 were in honor of Lee Lynch and Terry Saario, whose philanthropic and creative work helped launch MinnPost ten years ago. Join the nearly 225 individuals who have already contributed to the new Lee Lynch & Terry Saario Innovation Fund with a gift to help MinnPost grow, innovate, and expand our coverage of important regional and national issues.

MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandDan Berg and Welcome JerdeMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsors Shelly Selstad, Jackie Trucker, Linda Slattengren and John SelstadMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsors Rick Dublin and Cathy MadisonOAS_AD("Middle");MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsor Katie Searl, Kim Eslinger, and event sponsor Ken SearlMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandAlison Smith and Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus executive director Jeff HeineMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsors and MinnPost board member Dan Oberdorfer, Evelyn Oberdorfer, Deb and Lowell StortzMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsor Gar Hargens and Lindsay StrandMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandPat Effenberger, former MinnPost news editor Don Effenberger, Libby and Tom HornerMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEducators Bernadeia Johnson and Bonnie JohnsonMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandWoodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, Jake Albrecht, and Aubrey Austin, Urban Land Institute MinnesotaMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandAndrea and Ryan RichardsonMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMary Jarvis, Mike Meyer, event sponsor and MinnPost board member Jack Dempsey, Nikki Sorum and Simon FosterMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnPost publisher and CEO Andrew Wallmeyer and Kweilin EllingrudMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandNancy Gibson, Megan O'Hara, Ron Sternal, R.T. Rybak, Kyrra and Jerome RankineMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSteph Peterson and Becky LudvigsonMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandKweilin Ellingrud, MinnPost board member Tasha Byers, Lezlie Taylor, event sponsors Amy McKinney and MinnPost board member Bill McKinney, and Profit IdowuMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsor Peggy Lucas, Tom Hoch, Mark Addicks and event sponsor Dave LucasMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandAlejandra Henriquez, Kate Braun and Abby RimeMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnRoast musicians John Etzell, bass, and Eric Edwalds, piano, with Paula Dostal and Jeanne Massey

MinnRoast 2017 slide show #1

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 1:59pm
Corey Anderson

Over 1,400 members, sponsors and friends enjoyed MinnPost's 10th annual variety show on April 28 at the Historic State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Hundreds filled Rock Bottom Brewery for the pre-show sponsor reception. Joining regular show performers like Gov. Mark Dayton, Rep. Tom Emmer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were first-timers "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern, "Almanac" reporter Mary Lahammer, rapper DJ/FRND and soul singer PaviElle French. Others, including Rep. Keith Ellison, Tom Horner, actress Michelle Hutchison and Amy Koch appeared in videos throughout the program. MinnPost contributing photographer Jana Freiband captured the evening.

Funds raised at MinnRoast 2017 were in honor of Lee Lynch and Terry Saario, whose philanthropic and creative work helped launch MinnPost ten years ago. Join the nearly 225 individuals who have already contributed to the new Lee Lynch & Terry Saario Innovation Fund with a gift to help MinnPost grow, innovate, and expand our coverage of important regional and national issues.

MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnRoast 2017 volunteers Lynn Cibuzar, Caitlin Schober, Julie Schaal and Jane CracraftMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnPost development director Claire Radomski and advertising and membership assistant Laura LindsayOAS_AD("Middle");MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandGay and Mark HerzbergMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandShireen de Sam Lazaro, event sponsors Kay de Sam Lazaro and MinnPost board member Fred de Sam LazaroMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEthan Parsons and Sarah BurridgeMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandPhil Oxman, event sponsor Park Board Commissioner Meg Forney, Jon Fagerson and Harvey ZuckmanMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsors Bonnie Westlin and MinnPost Board member Jeremy PierottiMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandGary and Joann Eichten, former Gov. Arne Carlson and Tom KayserMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsor Missy Staples Thompson and MinnPost co-founder Joel KramerMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSarah Lemagie and Josh DuBoisMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnPost editor Andrew Putz and Kylie Engle, event sponsors Claire Dempsey and MinnPost board member Jack DempseyMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandKylah Lenz, MinnPost board member and MinnRoast co-chair Mark Abeln and Deb CohenMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsors Peggy and Ilo Leppik and MinnPost co-founder Laurie KramerMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsor and MinnPost board member Becky Klevan, Jason Davis, June Yoshinari Davis and Colin BrooksMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSara and Ian SchonwaldMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnPost web editor Corey Anderson, event sponsors Cari and Nathan Nesje, and Kippy FreundMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandPatty and Duane RingMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandEvent sponsors Jessica Cordova Kramer and Eli Kramer, and MinnPost board member Jeremy Pierotti

MinnPost Social: 2017 Legislative Wrap-Up

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 1:40pm
05/30/2017 5:30pm - 7:00pm

From tax cuts to mass transit, the 2017 session of the state Legislature has been marked by big issues. To understand what happened and what it will mean for Minnesota, join MinnPost writers Briana Bierschbach and Peter Callaghan at the Happy Gnome on Tuesday, May 30 at 5:30 p.m. You'll not only get a thrilling recap of the session, but the chance to ask about all the things you've always wanted to know (about the Legislature, that is).

This lively question and answer session is part of our 2016-17 MinnPost Social event series, presented by RBC Wealth Management, in which MinnPost journalists share insights with audience members in a casual atmosphere that includes a cash bar — and free appetizers.

Pre-sale to MinnPost members begins May 16. Remaining tickets will be available to the public on May 18. Admission is free for MinnPost Silver, Gold, and Platinum members and a guest. General tickets to the public are $10.

Current members, watch your email for your promotional code to be sent May 16 and enter it below. Not a member yet? To get your free tickets, become a MinnPost Silver member and contact Development Director Claire Radomski at cradomski@minnpost.com or 612-455-6954.

Dorothy Day Center hits private fundraising goal

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 1:38pm
MinnPost staff

Nice. The Pioneer Press’ Nick Woltman report: “The development of Dorothy Day Place in downtown St. Paul took a $40 million step forward Thursday, as Catholic Charities announced that it has reached its private fundraising goal after a two-year campaign focused on alleviating homelessness in the city. … The nonprofit launched the fundraising drive in May 2015 with a $5 million lead grant from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, which was followed by another $35 million in donations from more than 480 individuals and institutions. … But Catholic Charities is waiting on state bonding money tied up in the Legislature to help cover the balance of the $100 million project.”

The latest from APM Reports takes a look at police de-escalation training. Curtis Gilbert reports: “At just after noon on Nov. 17, 2015, a tall, light-haired man drove his car right up to the front door of Jerry's Country Meat, the only grocery store in Arlington, Ga. He entered and proceeded to stalk up and down the aisles, quoting scripture and singing. … The man had been hanging around the town of 1,400 for nearly a week, sitting in his car, which bore Alabama license plates, and staring at people outside the local bank. … If anyone questioned him, he said he was looking for someone, but he wouldn't say who. The man was white, 58 years old. … Inside the store, he asked the cashiers and deli workers whether they believed in God. ‘When they said, “yes,” he went to ranting and raving at them,’ recalled owner Jerry Scarborough. ‘He was telling them all to get out’ and that they were fired.”

Good dogs! MPR’s Dan Gunderson reports: “The Minnesota DNR is expanding its use of dogs to sniff out invasive zebra mussels. … The agency started with two dogs four years ago. This year they are adding two additional dogs. … The animals are trained to smell zebra mussels on boats.”

A happy and sad story. KMSP reports: “Mayor Betsy Hodges granted a special Minneapolis wish for a man with terminal cancer. … Thursday afternoon, Mayor Betsy Hodges declared David Weinlick "Mayor for the Day" Thursday afternoon. … Weinlick grew up in the Wedge neighborhood in Minneapolis and always felt a strong connection to the city. He taught writing at the University of Minnesota and was an educator at Calvin Academy and Kaplan Test Preparation. … Weinlick and his family gathered at a fire station in north Minneapolis to commemorate the moment with Hodges and the Nice Day Foundation.”

In other news…

Uh oh: “3M’s $19.7B Pension Plan Under DOL Investigation” [Bloomberg BNA]

Not cool at all: “Racist Post Sparks Threats, Racial Slurs Aimed At MN GOP Chair” [The Uptake]

Wondered what T-Paw has been up to? “Pawlenty has grand vision, but no plans to run again” [MPR]

The important thing is that Gordy is safe: “St. Paul: After ‘kid’-napping from Mounds Park, officers find goat unharmed” [Pioneer Press]

Trump ordered a review of the program for bringing foreign skilled workers to the U.S. What’s he likely to find in Minnesota?

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 11:40am
Greta Kaul

The campaign and election of President Donald Trump has put immigration at the center of the national debate on multiple fronts: of course, there’s the roiling politics surrounding a proposed southern border wall, but there’s also contention over the extent to which the country should allow highly skilled foreigners to work here on special visas.

The H-1B visa program, created in 1990 to give foreign workers with specialized skills temporary authorization to work in the U.S., has come under fire of late, as some say lax standards permit companies to import foreign workers to do jobs Americans could do at lower wages.

This month, Trump signed the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, calling on federal officials to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries,” in addition to reviewing fair trade agreements and requiring the executive branch to prioritize U.S. products and workers.

In Minnesota, it’s true that the number of applications by companies to bring foreign workers into the state has been on the rise in recent years, from around 15,000 workers requested in 2011 to more than 21,000 in 2015.

But does that increase indicate an abuse of the system? Not necessarily — for, as a review of H-1B application records from the Department of Labor reveals, not all H-1B applications are the same.

Multinational companies

The heaviest users of the H-1B system, at least in terms of the number of applications (the U.S. State Department keeps data on the number of visas actually granted but state-level data is not available online), are multinational companies seeking to hire workers at Minnesota locations: London and New York-based consulting firm Deloitte (requested 2,581 employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor), which has an office in Minneapolis, Cognizant, a New Jersey-based IT company with offices in Edina (2,130), and Wipro Ltd., a Bengaluru, India IT company with offices in Minneapolis (1,087), among others.

These companies seek everything from managers and analysts to developers, engineers and programmers, and some of them are Indian outsourcing companies, which some have accused of using visas to fill pedestrian IT jobs — not, they say, positions that require specialized skills.

“These workers come in, learn the ropes and then send the IT work to be done cheaply in India — by training workers in their home country to do those jobs,” National Public Radio wrote of multinational outsourcing firms.

Getting H-1B visas is a competitive process: the number of H-1Bs actually granted to businesses annually across the U.S. is capped at 85,000. This year, there were 199,000 applications, marking the first time the number of applications saw a decline in the last five years (universities and nonprofit and government research institutions are not subject to the cap).

A 2015 New York Times analysis found some multinational IT companies game the H-1B system by flooding it with applications in order to win more of them from the lottery. In 2014, Wipro, for example, received 3.5 percent of the 85,000 H-1B visas. The company did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

In the wake of criticism, Bengaluru-based Infosys, which settled allegations of visa fraud in 2013, said Tuesday it would hire up to 10,000 American workers. In a statement to MinnPost, a Tata Consultancy Services spokesman wrote in an email that the Mumbai company has reduced its use of H-1B visas. He called the company “an engine of job growth for Americans.” Both Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services requested workers in Minnesota in 2016.

H-1B visa workers are required to be paid at levels comparable to U.S. workers in the same jobs and geographic areas who have similar levels of experience. But there are loopholes for the salary requirement. In 1998, Congress added an exemption to the law authorizing the program, which allowed companies to sidestep rules about protecting U.S. jobs, as long as workers were paid $60,000 or more a year or had master’s degrees, the Atlantic reported. And while companies are required to pay prevailing wage, there’s nothing prohibiting a company from letting older workers go and replacing them with less experienced H-1B workers.

On average, salaries proposed for H-1B workers by Indian multinationals for Minnesota jobs in applications tends to be lower than those proposed by large Minnesota companies like Target and Medtronic (when salary ranges were offered, MinnPost took the average of the low and high salary).

Minnesota companies

But while companies with headquarters outside the state submit the most applications for H-1B workers, plenty of homegrown Minnesota companies also take advantage of the program.  In 2016, Target requested 171 workers in Department of Labor applications. Medtronic requested 65, and other big local players, like 3M (36) and Toro (4) threw their hats in the ring, too.

Both Target and Medtronic declined to comment for this story. Many of the applications were for engineers, but the list also included analysts, software developers and other jobs.

For large employers in Minnesota, “their use of the H-1B program is largely because of the fact that they are scrambling to try and find those tech workers,” said Matt Streff, a Minneapolis attorney who focuses on immigration law. Minnesota’s low unemployment is even lower in its tech sector.

For bigger companies, he said, it’s also not uncommon to hire foreign professionals for specific skills or international experience. A recent H-1B he worked on was for a marketing professional a New York firm wanted to hire specifically for her experience working internationally and nonprofit marketing skills, he said.

Smaller companies seek H-1B workers, too: August Schell Brewing Company applied to have an H-1B visa approved for a “sour beer research and development analysis” and Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely applied for one for a wilderness dogsled expedition guide.

“For smaller employers, the reason for hiring an H-1B (worker) is because that person has something very specific about them that is useful,” Streff said.

Streff warned that when it comes to tech companies, restrictions on the H-1B program would not only hurt Minnesota companies’ ability to fill out staff jobs during a tech labor shortage, but would also mean cutting out a major driver of innovation and job creation in the American economy.

When an employer working on, say, carbon nanotube technology in Minnesota is able to hire an international person “who’s got the brilliant master’s thesis on carbon nanotubes, when they hire that person that means they’re also going to hire maybe a couple other lab technicians from the University of Minnesota,” he said, creating job opportunities for Minnesota graduates.

Medical and academic organizations

It isn’t just businesses that request H-1B workers. Academic and medical institutions also apply to bring a substantial number of H-1B workers to Minnesota each year, including the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, which sent in applications to request 246 and 215 H-1B employees, respectively, in 2016.

Mayo didn’t comment on the executive order, but offered a statement detailing the types of employees it commonly employs on H-1Bs, including researchers, clinical residents and fellows, physician-scientists, doctors in underserved areas and other health roles.

“We greatly value the talents and contributions of the small number of staff with H-1B visas,” spokeswoman Duska Anastasijevic wrote.

The University of Minnesota currently employs about 370 workers on H-1B visas, a level Mark Schneider, the associate director for employment-based visas in the university’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services, told MinnPost is fairly typical. They tend to work in STEM fields such as medicine, dentistry, public health, nursing, science and engineering as Ph.D. researchers and faculty, he said.

The Trump administration’s rhetoric surrounding jobs and immigration, including H-1B visas, has international students and employees at the University of Minnesota on edge, Schneider said. Following the H-1B executive order, his department sent an email out to international employees reminding them no changes to the program were imminent.

As for the university, restricting the school’s ability to obtain H-1B workers (as an academic institution, it is not subject to the 85,000 cap), could leave some research-type jobs unfilled, Schneider said. The U also hires an average of 20 international tenure-track faculty members each year (ultimately, H-1B holders may apply for permanent residency visas), so cutting off H-1Bs, he said, “could highly affect our research mission at the University of Minnesota.”

Buy American

Right now, Trump’s order for a review of the program is just that — an order for a review. Trump would need Congress to overhaul the program.

And even among critics of the H-1B program, there’s division: Some strike a populist tone in opposing the hiring of foreign workers for American jobs nearly outright, while others feel the system has problems that need to be fixed in order for it to work properly and fairly.

Currently, there are bills in the House and Senate that would require companies that use a lot of H-1B workers to “attest” that they tried and couldn't hire Americans, give priority to foreign students who graduated from U.S. schools and replace the lottery with a system that gave visas first to to the highest-paying companies.

In Washington as across the country, the issue isn’t necessarily a red versus blue one: in Minnesota’s delegation, both Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen have expressed support for the visa program. Klobuchar, in fact, sponsored legislation in 2013 to expand the cap  on the program to 115,000.

“While the Senator has long supported the use of green cards and visas in certain circumstances, she also supports reforms to the H1-B program, including increasing fees paid by companies for these visas and investing those fees in STEM education, and requiring companies to follow strict requirements to find an American worker to fill that position before seeking a visa,” a Klobuchar spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to MinnPost. “The Senator has made it clear that she won’t support a comprehensive immigration bill without these reforms.”

Paulsen cautioned against imposing too-tight restrictions on the program.

“The H-1B visa program is an important tool for attracting and retaining top talent in STEM careers and we shouldn't kick people out of the country so they can become our competitors, especially if they were trained and educated in the U.S.,” a statement from Paulsen said. “While we must ensure that the program is not being abused, it's also critical not to turn away some of the brightest minds in the world that can help grow and contribute to our economy.”

As legislative session enters final stretch, Dayton and Republican leaders get down to business on budget

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 9:50am
Briana Bierschbach

The word on everyone’s lips at the Minnesota Capitol these days: “engagement.”

All week, Republican legislators have been using committee hearings to rail against the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton, claiming the state’s chief executive hadn’t been engaged in the every-other-year process of setting the state budget.

Dayton’s administration fired back with some stats. It cited 190 pages of letters the governor and his commissioners sent legislators about the budget, and 1,676 meetings cabinet members have had with legislators — including 538 appearances before committees.

“We’re looking forward to getting the governor to actually engage in the negotiation process,” Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said during an exchange in a hearing on state government finances. “That hasn't happened at all yet.”

“I certainly don’t understand your comments about the governor because they are not based in reality,” responded Myron Frans, Dayton’s budget commissioner. “We don’t have the speaker and the majority leader here sitting and negotiating with us right now, so I’m assuming they’re not involved in the process? Of course I don’t assume that.”

The engagement debate is the latest sign that lawmakers have entered into the final stretch of the 2017 legislative session, with just over two weeks left on the calendar to resolve differences between Republican legislators and the governor on the state’s roughly $45 billion budget. 

By claiming now that one party or the other hasn’t been engaged, both sides are laying the groundwork to blame the other side if the whole thing falls apart. It’s happened before: a conflict between Dayton and a Republican-controlled Legislature led to a 20-day government shutdown in 2011.  

But even as legislators and commissioners went back on forth in public all week over who was more “engaged,” real budget negotiations began behind closed doors between Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. “It was a beginning,” Gazelka said Thursday, emerging from a “productive” meeting with Dayton and DFL minority leaders. 

Sticking points  

There are still major differences to work out by May 22, lawmakers’ constitutionally mandated deadline to adjourn the session.

Republicans want to cut $1.13 billion in taxes over the next two years and scale back state government budgets across the board. Dayton wants a smaller tax cut and more money spent on government services, like health care.

Then there’s a Republican education budget bill that defunds voluntary pre-school education, a signature proposal of Dayton’s that he wants to spend more money on over the next two years. 

Lawmakers are also butting heads over transportation, with Dayton opposing a Republican budget that blocks funding for future light rail projects and all-new provisions that change the authority of two prominent metropolitan-area governing boards. The Republican plan would revoke the governor’s ability to appoint members to the Metropolitan Council. Instead, the council would become a 27-member collective of local government officials. It also all but dissolves the Counties Transit Improvement Board, a five metro county joint powers agreement to raise a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for new transit projects in the region. Both changes appeared in a House and Senate transportation budget bill this week, but the issues hadn’t been previously heard in committees or voted on on the floor.

MinnPost photo by Briana BierschbachSenate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt have been negotiating behind closed doors with Gov. Dayton.

They are among hundreds of policy provisions that are tucked into various Republican budget bills, measures that Dayton says could derail negotiations. “I have no intention of going through 609 policy provisions point by point,” he said. “If we did we’d be here for the next two months or longer. If we want to get this done we’ve got to have these be budget bills. We’ve got enough differences there we’ve got to work out. If we’re going to try and revamp state government according to the way they think it should be revamped, there’s an election next year for that.”

Republican leaders are pushing the governor to figure out the big-picture numbers first. The sticking point is the GOPs’ tax plan, which is using up more than $1 billion for cuts that Dayton would like to see spent on areas across the budget, from health care and education to the state’s colleges and universities. “Every target affects the other targets,” Daudt said. “If we spend a little more money in one area we have to reduce it in another area.” 

Weeks to go, not much to show  

Things could be worse, of course. With two weeks left until adjournment, lawmakers and the governor have managed to make it to the negotiation table earlier than in sessions past.

During the last two sessions, final agreements on budget and policy issues were pushed until the final weekend of the session, when around-the-clock hearings and negotiations were required just to pass everything on time. That resulted in chaos both years, with Dayton calling lawmakers back for a special session in 2015 to re-pass several vetoed budget bills. In 2016, the final hours of session saw multiple proposals implode, including a $1 billion package of bonding and transportation projects.

This year, a longer timetable has allowed more public input on the proposals, but it’s also taken some of the pressure off lawmakers on finding an agreement, at least for now. After two rounds of negotiations on Wednesday and Thursday, top lawmakers emerged saying their conversations were productive, but with little movement on budget issues to show for it.

“At some point, we all need to sit around a table and roll up our sleeves and start working out the differences,” Daudt said. “The longer it takes for that to happen, the more difficult the job becomes, and the less the public is involved.” 

For his part, Dayton agreed to meet lawmakers over the weekend to continue discussions. He also seemed emboldened going into budget negotiations by a recent poll in the Star Tribune that showed him with an approval rating of 62 percent, an all-time high for him. “Off the record, this is the insanely popular Mark Dayton appearing before you,” he joked to reporters on Thursday. “If you could relay that message.”

Three nonprofits receive MinnPost advertising in April's FAN Club offering

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 8:13am
Claire Radomski

In our latest FAN Club giveaway, MinnPost Platinum members awarded two weeks’ worth of MinnPost advertising to three Minnesota nonprofits: Bicycle Alliance of MinnesotaRainbow Health Initiative; and Citizens League.

Each of these winning organizations will receive advertising on MinnPost worth up to $1,650. During this voting round, MinnPost members nominated 20 organizations whose valuable work benefits Minnesotans in every area of the state.

Here’s a little bit about this voting period’s winning organizations:

  • Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, based in St. Paul, works to strengthen bicycle advocacy and provide education with a goal of a more bicycle friendly Minnesota.

  • Rainbow Health Initiative, based in Minneapolis, is a community-based nonprofit organization committed to advancing the health and wellness of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities through research, education and advocacy.

  • Citizens League, based in St. Paul, brings together people from diverse backgrounds, parties and ideologies to create and advance solutions for Minnesota.
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As a nonprofit ourself, MinnPost launched the FAN Club (Free Ads for Nonprofits) program in July of 2016 to support our community and those who work to make it better, and to create a new way to thank our members for their ongoing financial support.

Our next FAN Club giveaway will take place in late July. Voting will again be open to MinnPost Platinum members, who give MinnPost the equivalent of $20 or more per month. If you would like to participate, become a MinnPost Platinum member today. (MinnPost business staff and other members of their households are not eligible to vote.)

If you have questions about your membership status or the FAN Club program, please contact Claire Radomski at members@minnpost.com.

10 tips for taking the 25th St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour; 'Ragtime Women' at Dreamland Arts

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 8:10am
Pamela Espeland

In 1993, a group of potters with homes and studios in and around the St. Croix Valley – in Stark and Sunrise, near North Branch and Almelund, south of Marine on St. Croix and west of Stillwater – decided to all have a sale on the same weekend. Looking back, this was probably the first totally-pottery artists’ studio tour in the United States. No jewelry, wood, glass, fiber, metal, prints or paintings. Just pots. Lots of pots, less than an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities.

On Mother’s Day weekend, May 12-14, the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour will have its 25th anniversary. Thousands of people will visit seven potters’ studios, meet and talk with 60 potters (including invited guests from 17 states and England), and look at and handle some 10,000 pots. Thousands of pots will be sold.

For potters and buyers, including collectors who come from across the U.S., Europe, Asia, and South America, the tour has been a game-changer. It has enabled potters to make a living as artists and has put pots in countless homes. It’s the ultimate pottery shopping extravaganza. It has made many Minnesotans (and Wisconsinites) people who like to drink coffee from handmade mugs, who decorate with pots, who give pots as gifts, and who know a good pot when they see one.

Today there are several pottery tours throughout the spring and summer – the Western Wisconsin Pottery Tour, the Rustic Road 13, and the Cannon River Clay Tour, to name a few – but the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour is the mother of them all. It’s a great place to start if you want to learn something about clay and develop an eye.

In a time when people are seeking authenticity, pots are the real deal. Pots are artisanal. Pots are cool. They’re literally, obviously handmade, crafted one at a time from dirt and fire. The tour is a big, sprawling show of handcrafted small-batch ceramics. Here are 10 tips to guide you through it.

1. Visit the website first. This will give you an idea of each potter’s aesthetic. See something you really like? Go there first. Get a map. Print out the PDF or download it to your phone. Then pick up a tour brochure along the way.

2. You can do the whole tour in a day, if you don’t talk much with the potters. But it’s the personal connection that makes the pots come alive. Years later, when you reach for that plate, bowl or pitcher, you’ll remember the potter you bought it from. If your time is truly limited, it’s better to visit a few studios than to race through all of them.

3. Friday is the busiest day, Sunday the most laid-back. Don’t worry that you’ll miss out on the best pots if you’re not there at the opening. This is high-quality work by exceptional artists, many of whom are nationally known and award-winning. There will be plenty of great pots on Sunday. Also, people with their moms. (It’s Mother’s Day.)

4. Each studio is like a small art festival, with as many as eight potters and their work on site. At most studios, the potters are with their pots. You meet a potter and see a body of work. At Guillermo Cuellar’s studio in Shafer, everyone’s pots are mixed together, and the potters move around. Cuellar believes that promotes surprise and discovery.

5. Each studio has its own vibe. Richard Vincent’s is an oak-shaded backyard. Linda Christianson’s is in a clearing in the woods near her log home. Will Swanson and Janel Jacobson’s is a building and fields near Wild River State Park. Guillermo Cuellar’s is on a hill overlooking the St. Croix River. Jeff Oestreich’s is an early Minnesota farmstead. Connee Mayeron’s is a barn, a building and a scattering of tents near the Franconia Sculpture Park. Matt Krousey’s home and studio are also in a clearing in a woods. (Note to past tour visitors: Krousey bought Robert Briscoe’s place last year. Bob continues as a guest.)

6. The potters are friendly and helpful. They are proud of their work and want to tell you about it. They’re not universally super-chatty; after all, these are artists who spend a lot of time alone, making pots. But they’re nice people who will gladly answer your questions.

7. Hospitality is part of the tour’s culture. Every host potter offers drinks and snacks, or something more substantial, like soups and salads. Some bring in food trucks. Some have beer and wine.

8. Credit cards are accepted everywhere. So are checks.

9. If you show up on a bicycle or motorcycle, or your car is so full of pots you can’t squeeze in another one, everyone ships.

10. Parking can be a challenge, but at least you don’t have to pay for it. Krousey, Cuellar and Christianson provide free shuttles for those who park at a distance. Heads up: Oestreich’s studio will likely be a traffic jam. One of his guests is the internationally known Stillwater potter Warren MacKenzie. Another is Roelof Uys, head potter at the legendary Leach Pottery in England. And Iowa’s Clary Illian, who also trained at the Leach Pottery (as did Oestreich), will be there in person, though she won’t be selling pots. This is all catnip to collectors, and the tour draws many collectors.

The 25th Annual St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour takes place Friday-Sunday, May 12-14. Hours: Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 10-6, Sunday 10-5. FMI. Free.

Coming this summer to the Weisman Art Museum: “A Culture of Pots: The 25th Anniversary of the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour,” a large exhibition of pots by all of the host potters and many of the more than 100 guest potters who have been featured on the Tour over the years. Opens June 17, closes Sept. 10. The opening reception is Friday, June 23.

The picks

Tonight (Friday, May 5) at Dreamland Arts: “Ragtime Women.” The inaugural production of Theatre Elision, a new professional theater formed to tell stories that combine music, acting and visual arts. “Ragtime Women” is an original musical about four largely forgotten women from the 1920s – Cora Salisbury, Julia Niebergall, May Aufderheide and Gladys Yelvington – who defied the conventions of their time to do what they loved: compose and perform ragtime music. The show includes songs by the women being portrayed and other music from the period. Directed by Lindsay Redman; with Jen Maren, Christine Polich, Krin McMillen and Tara Schaefle. Nailing those ragtime rhythms and tight harmonies isn’t easy. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15). Ends May 14.

Courtesy Theatre Elision“Ragtime Women,” left to right: Krin McMillen, Christine Polich and Tara Schaefle

Saturday at Mixed Blood Theatre: Opening night for “Little Wars.” One week, two new professional theaters? This is the debut production of Prime Productions. Their focus: celebrating women in their second act. Their mission: to explore, illuminate and support women over 50 and their stories through the creative voice of performance. The play is the regional premiere of Steven Carl McCasland’s “Little Wars,” a fictional dinner party hosted by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas for Agatha Christie, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker. Shelli Place directs an all-woman cast including Candace Barrett-Birk, Sue Scott (formerly of “A Prairie Home Companion”), Elizabeth Desotelle, Laura Adams, Vanessa Gamble, Alison Edwards and Miriam Schwartz. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25). Ends May 21.

Saturday at MPR’s HQ: 50th Anniversary Open House. You don’t have to be a member to tour MPR’s headquarters (recently renamed the Kling Media Center) and meet some of the people you hear on the air: news hosts Cathy Wurzer and Tom Weber, meteorologist Paul Huttner, economics correspondent Chris Farrell and others. Musical activities, kids’ activities, tours of the music library, an “audio petting zoo,” giveaways, a photo booth, and complimentary cookies are among the plans for the day. FMI. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at 480 Cedar Street in St. Paul. Free.

Saturday at Union Depot: Train Day. With real locomotives and railcars on display outdoors, presentations, activities and exhibits indoors, this day is a dream for train buffs. It’s your chance to see Union Pacific and Twin Cities & Western locomotives, the Amtrak Veterans locomotive, and the Northern Pacific Railway Post Office/Combine Car No. 1102, which will accept mail for Railway Post Office cancellation for the first time in 40 years. (Special envelopes will be for sale.) Check out the miniature train sets, visit the many exhibitors, take a free educational session or two, and tour a Jefferson Lines coach. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. FMI. Free.

Sunday on your teevee: “MN Original: Layne Kennedy, Dakota Hoska, Guitar Party, Electric Machete Studios.” The new episode of Twin Cities PBS’ award-winning arts and culture series hangs out with renowned photographer and world traveler Kennedy, whose storytelling images have appeared in Smithsonian, Audubon, National Geographic Traveler and other magazines. Hoska once worked as a model so she could travel and visit the world’s museums; today she’s an artist who is passionate about color. Jeremy Ylvisaker and his band Guitar Party play “Phantom Banana,” a song as fun as it sounds. And we visit Electric Machete Studios on St. Paul’s Westside, home to Latino and Latina artists who are using art, music and culture as a form of resistance and a way to express who they are as indigenous people. “MN Original” airs Sunday night on TPT 2 at 6 p.m. and again at 10. Watch it online anytime.

Courtesy of MN OriginalDakota Hoska

Tuesday at the American Swedish Institute: Bedroom Community and Friends. Liquid Music meets Cocktails at the Castle in an evening that’s part concert, part party, and part of the SPCO’s “Where Words End” mini-Nordic music festival with Pekka Kuusisto. He’ll perform, along with Valgeir Sigurösson, Ben Frost and Sam Amidon, all members of the Icelandic record label/collective Bedroom Community. Swedish-Iranian singer Mariam Wallentin was the featured singer, but her visa was denied, so Poliça’s Channy Leanagh will step in. The concert will be held outdoors in the courtyard, with a back-up plan in case of rain. Doors at 6 p.m. (cocktails and light bites from FIKA available for purchase), music at 7:30 p.m., post-performance gallery conversations at 9:30. FMI and tickets ($25; $20 Liquid Music subscribers and ASI members). 

Proposed DHS funding cuts could harm state’s mental health system, Piper warns

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 8:08am
Andy Steiner

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper is annoyed.

With deep cuts to her department proposed in the Minnesota House and Senate Omnibus bills standing in sharp contrast [PDF] to Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal, Piper’s been sounding the alarm about how multimillion-dollar reductions could affect mental health care in the state.

“We should start from a position of, ‘How do we make government work for people who need our help?’ ” Piper said. “The governor comes from that perspective in his budget. But now we’re faced with legislation that that doesn’t make an investment in mental health care and further cuts our programs and services. This is incredibly frustrating to me at this point in the session.” 

Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal includes a $44.6 million operating adjustment for DHS in the coming biennium. This is money, Piper said, that is needed “just to ensure essential services and for DHS to maintain the staff it has.” The governor’s proposal also includes $22.8 million slated to boost staffing levels at Minnesota Security Hospital and $70.2 million in bonding to fund Phase 2 of the facilities upgrade at the hospital. 

In contrast, the Legislature has no funding for an operating adjustment and a $19.7 million reduction in the DHS central office.

“We don’t understand the need or rationale in this level of divestment,” Piper said. “There is real money and gimmick money in these cuts. Some of the real money has clear impact on the direct care and treatment system that DHS operates. There are also potential impacts on the larger mental health system in Minnesota.”

Minnesota’s mental health system is already stretched thin, Piper said. She believes that further reductions could only harm the very people her department seeks to help.

But budget-cut proponents argue that the cuts are limited to DHS administrative staff, not direct mental health care services.

“I don’t think one less person with mental health issues will be served under my bill than are already served now,” said Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, Human Services Reform Finance and Policy chair. “We did make some suggestions that state government could be leaned up a bit on the operations side. I don’t think we reduced the number of direct service people that will be there working with clients. We realize we need to keep that intact, but we do also think that the state could administer more efficiently.” 

As the 2017 session works its way to a close, Piper and her allies are doing all they can to make the public aware of their concern that parts of the mental health care system that were funded at historic levels in 2015 and 2016 are now be at risk.

Piper looks at the situation with a cynical eye. Legislators behind the cut plans are “looking for funding to cut from all of the agencies so they can fund a big tax bill,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a broader issue about mental health care. I think they are trying to leverage the department as a negotiation chip in a way that does a disservice to the work we’re doing as an agency and the million-plus Minnesotans we are serving every year.” 

‘Every program is still totally intact’

Abeler said he doesn’t resent Piper for going public with her concerns about his proposed budget cuts. After all, she’s just doing what she’s been hired to do.

“The commissioner’s job is to rattle the saber for the governor to help the negotiation process and build public perception that we’re ruining the world — and without their wonderful ideas everything will stop,” he said. “My job is to extract the most value out of the money we have to help the most people in the best way.” 

Abeler for SenateJim Abeler

Abeler insisted that the cuts, which were championed in large part by members of his party, largely focus on central office staff at DHS. Support for statewide mental health care in the 2015 and 2016 sessions was bipartisan, he added, and legislators haven’t forgotten that.

“We didn’t repeal anything that was created in 2015 or 2016,” he said. “Every program is still totally intact. I was careful. We are going to serve the same or greater number of people in the mental health system this year as we did last year.” 

Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI-Minnesota, said that administrative staff cuts are more palatable to the public than cuts in direct service staff at state-run hospitals and mental health facilities. 

“The central office and administration at DHS are taking the biggest hit,” she said.  “Everybody understands why we need direct care staff, but people don’t always understand why we need so much staff in the front office.”

But, Abderholden added, administrative staff is essential. They help run — and distribute funds — to many key mental health programs. “Without them, many important things just don’t happen,” she said.   

One step forward ...?

Abeler said that the cuts are not a step backward for the Minnesota’s mental health system, but rather an attempt to streamline the way one of the state’s largest departments runs.  

“If you analyze the budget target you’ll see that the emphasis in both the House and Senate has been on a heavy set of tax cuts and some retrenchment in the Human Services and state government environment and some modest investments in education and higher ed and judiciary and jobs,” he said.  “We are not interested in cutting mental health services.”

Wendy Burt, vice president of communications and public relations for the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA), said that member hospitals are concerned that cuts to DHS funding, no matter what form they take, could set progress back for Minnesotans with mental illness.

“There was really pretty significant investment in mental health in 2015 and 2016,” Burt said. “But that money wasn’t over-generous: It was really needed to make up for the disinvestment in mental that had occurred over the last couple of decades in the state.”

In April, MHA sent a letter [PDF] to state legislators, encouraging them to continue their support of statewide mental health services. Cutting budgets could have a serious impact on key mental health support programs.

“In our communications to legislators we have urged them not to retreat from that investment because we’re trying go make up for a couple of decades of not investing in mental health at all,” Burt said. “We don’t want to lose ground.”

Hiring lag time

While mental health advocates don’t want to see deep cuts to DHS budgets, some have expressed concerns that the department hasn’t moved quickly enough to fill staff positions at the statewide network of short-term acute psychiatric hospitals, known as community behavioral health hospitals (CBHH). These programs were a major funding priority in the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions.

“Some CBHHs are still at 63-64 percent of census for staffing and beds,” Abderholden said. “We are trying to figure out what’s going on here. We want to understand why it has taken DHS so long to spend the money they were given and fill those positions. They got all this money last year, and at Anoka at least, according to the latest public data [PDF], staffing has gone down.”

Courtesy of NAMI-MNSue Abderholden

The need for more staff at state-run mental health facilities was a theme in prior sessions; legislators supported that concern with funding. But it has taken time to fill the needed positions, despite job fairs and hiring campaigns.

Abderholden asks why it has taken the department so long to make the needed hires. “I don’t think they’ll use up all the money that was appropriated from last year,” she said. “The staffing has taken more time than we were told it would. We don’t want to see us go backward, that’s for sure.”

Piper said Abderholden’s criticisms of CBHH hiring rates are to be expected.

“Sue’s been a long-time critic of state-operated services, so it's not surprising that she would criticize our hiring practices,” she said. “We have about 200 of the 240 positions filed now, but I will admit that we have had a difficult time. It’s been a slower recruitment process than we anticipated.”

Mental health workforce shortages combined with challenging working conditions have made hiring at state-run facilities tougher than anticipated, Burt said.

“There are significant mental health professional workforce shortages. It takes time to ramp up and hire folks for those positions. These are hard jobs to fill. To cut back when we are trying to solve a systemic shortage of mental health care in the state just doesn’t make sense. It is not the time to cut those budgets.”

Adam Rees, president of Duluth-based Essentia Health System’s Central region, explained that the sluggish ramp-up in filling these positions is understandable. “Once you actually get the funding, it takes a good year plus to fill positions,” he said.

Over the last few months, things have begun to look up on the hiring front in his region. Recently, Rees visited the CBHH in Baxter.

“In 2015 the State Legislature approved funding to increase their staffing levels up to 16 beds,” he said. “We recently achieved that. I was invited to visit them and hear the good news about that increase. I said, ‘I applaud you for that achievement, but it is still a drop in the bucket.’ Our state’s mental health system is in crisis, and this is no time to cut back.”

Abderholden cautioned that while it is still important to support the CBHH system, it is also important that the Legislature support other mental health services, including essential programs like supportive housing, mental health crisis teams, first-episode psychosis supports and assertive community treatment teams.

“It’s all important,” Abderholden said. “You could fully staff all of the CBHHs, but if that’s the only thing we’d do, we won’t have solved the problem. When we focus on this one issue, we are at risk of forgetting about the other things that are just as important.” 

Dangerous game

Piper has been concerned about the impact of budget cuts on her department since the House and Senate prepared their separate omnibus bills; since the bills have been through conference committee, she says the situation seems even worse.

“In some ways the conference report bill is more concerning than the two bills that they walked into conference with,” she said. “They’ve increased from the Senate position the cuts to Health and Human Services. They’ve also taken away some of the real cuts that they were going to make as part of meeting their target.”

If the conference report budget is approved, Piper said, DHS will “have to reduce our workforce by 300 or so.” And that impact will be larger than just the front office, she added: “About 210 of those cuts will be in direct care and treatment.” Two-thirds of DHS employees are involved in direct client care.

Other concerns Piper expressed included “no additional funding for Security Hospital,” and “no funding for our state sex offender program improvements. There are none of the investments that are needed to maintain or grow our mental health care footprint. There is no investment in group home funding.”

These reductions in investment are concerning because mental health care affects everyone, Burt said. That’s why her association has urged legislators to preserve existing funding levels.

“Mental health is a huge issue in every corner of the state,” she said. “It is rural and urban. It is small hospitals and large hospitals and health systems that are trying to work with a system that was band-aided for so many years.”

To rip the Band-Aids off now would be a dangerous decision, Rees insisted. “Even without the cuts, the situation is already bad,” he said. “We are facing a mental health crisis in Minnesota. We shouldn’t turn away when help is needed most.” 

Metro Transit: It's not just for getting around

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 8:00am

Shortly after moving to Minneapolis, my family and I began biking and taking mass transit. Biking brought us new health and a geographic sense of the metro area. While taking mass transit opened our eyes and soul to depth and beauty of people of the metro area. As the Minnesota Legislature considers cutting funding for Metro Transit, please do not look at transit simply as a way to get from point A to point B. Instead, I ask my fellow Minnesotans to both support and view Metro Transit as something much more valuable then transportation: as vehicles for democracy. 

Rev. G. Travis Norvell

I know some will point out that user fares do not cover operational costs and therefore it is an inefficient service, deserving cuts. However, if one looks at Metro Transit from a holistic approach, one will see a service that more than pays for itself when user fares are added with the reduction of wear and tear on our roads and bridges, and with the reduction of our CO2 emissions. Also, consider the value mass transit provides both job creators and eager workers with affordable and dependable transportation. Metro Transit pays for itself and then some by promoting and encouraging democracy.

A democracy laboratory

Every time a mass transit door opens, a welcome mat for a democracy laboratory is extended. Where else in the metro area do a businesswoman, a homeless man, a high school student and a recent immigrant share space, even for just 10 minutes? Where else do strangers look one another in the eye and see the humanity in each other?

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For four years I have used the services of Metro Transit for my job as the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in south Minneapolis. I've taken the Green and Blue lines, the BRT A line, and the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 14, 18, 21, 22, 23, 46, 84, 94, 111, 113, 133, 135, 146, 515, 535, 537, & 552 buses all over the metro area (and called or helped parishioners with Metro Mobility).

Along the way I have seen sights and heard sounds that prove the worth of this service. On a bus en route to St. Louis Park I watched a woman with a hijab and a thick East African accent ask in broken English, "hospital?" The bus driver nodded yes. The woman sat near the front of the bus next to a blond-haired, tattooed young man who, with patience and compassion, showed her the stop and pointed her to the entrance. Another time on the No. 18 I saw an elderly woman being harassed. Before anyone could react, a young African-American male stood between the woman and the harasser and told the man to leave the woman alone and get off the bus. After the harasser exited the bus the entire bus gave the young man a standing ovation. Or the time an elderly woman entered the bus only to find two of her friends on the bus as well. For 30 minutes I couldn't help but listen with a smile as they talked about their aches and pains, their families, and how they missed their favorite bus driver, "St. Teresa."

Getting along, welcoming the stranger

For sure, not every ride is a beautiful and smooth experience. Nevertheless, mass transit functions as a testing ground for democracy, where people of different ethnic backgrounds, economic means, age, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, gender, education, and abilities learn to share space, welcome, and get along. In our day and age, getting along, welcoming the stranger, and sharing space with others is the pearl of great price on which we cannot affix a dollar amount.

I invite every member of the legislature, before voting on cutting funding for Metro Transit services, to ride the bus or light rail with me. Ride in the morning and meet those commuting to work. Ride in the afternoon with high school students (it can be kind of smelly). Ride in the evenings at the end of a work shift and meet the tired eyes. Ride late at night and hear the tunes folk hum from the clubs they attended or played. Listen, engage, and learn (and invest) on the vehicles of democracy.

Rev. G. Travis Norvell is the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He blogs at www.apedalingpastor.com.

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St. Paul cop acquitted of assaulting teenage girl

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 5:54am
Brian Lambert

That didn't take long. The Pioneer Press’ Mara H. Gottfried writes: “A St. Paul police officer and his supporters breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when a jury acquitted him of assault against a handcuffed teenage girl. He said he’s looking forward to going back to work, but it’s unclear when that will happen. The police department said Thursday that Michael Soucheray remains on paid administrative leave and there is an 'open and active' internal affairs investigation involving him. … Soucheray was accused of punching the handcuffed 14-year-old girl in the face after she spat at him. A jury deliberated for less than 90 minutes Thursday before acquitting Soucheray, 39.”

The Strib’s Tim Harlow and Karen Zamora report: “A Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent ‘discharged his weapon’ while trying to apprehend a homicide suspect in Bloomington late Wednesday, authorities said Thursday night. The gunfire preceded a six-hour manhunt that ended early Thursday with the arrest of Eddie Markeith Frazier, suspected in the death of a woman he lived with in Crookston, Minn.”

A Strib editorial on the health care bill passed by the U.S. House Thursday says, “The nation’s doctors, nurses and hospitals oppose the AHCA. Members of the Senate, where the bill goes next, now need to be the adults in the room. Three members of the Minnesota House delegation — Reps. Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis — disregarded medical providers’ advice and voted for this morally bankrupt legislation. They owe Minnesotans an explanation.” Perhaps at their next invitation-only phoned-in town hall meeting?

Meanwhile back here in Minnesota, Tim Pugmire of MPR reports, “The Minnesota Senate voted Thursday to ban state-funded abortions and to establish new licensing and inspection requirements for abortion clinics. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to veto both bills when they reach his desk. The House passed the same bills last week. The prohibition bill, which passed by a 35-29 vote, applies to state-sponsored health care programs, specifically the Medical Assistance program. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said she doesn’t consider it benevolent for the state to pay for abortions.” All in all a great day for the base.

Wells Fargo? Whistle-blowers? Simpatico? Maybe not so much. Says a New York Times column by James B. Stewart, “Last month, Wells Fargo released a long-awaited independent investigation into the scandal, conducted with the assistance of the law firm Shearman & Sterling. The subject of whistle-blowers and how they were treated was relegated to a footnote in the 110-page report. ‘That’s a red flag in itself,’ said Howell E. Jackson, a professor at Harvard Law School and a visiting scholar at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. ‘It’s buried on Page 87. My concern is whether whistle-blowers were handled properly and to what degree the board bears responsibility. You don’t find any answers in this mumbo-jumbo.’” Isn't hat “mumbo jumbo” is what is known as “bank talk.”

Your latest measles count. In the PiPress, the story goes, “With the number of measles cases reported in Minnesota jumping to 41 Thursday, health officials are cautioning that the outbreak will likely get worse. More than 2,500 people may have been exposed to the disease, officials said, though they noted most Minnesotans are already immune. Those most at risk are the unvaccinated. In response to the growing outbreak, the state expanded its vaccination recommendations.”

He’s not coming back. Another PiPress story, this by Josh Verges, says, “A Central High School science teacher battling the school district over injuries he suffered breaking up a lunchroom fight in December 2015 said Thursday that his career is likely over. John Ekblad, who had hoped to return to his job, said he’s receiving full Social Security disability payments. ‘I don’t think I’m going back to teaching again,’ he said outside a federal courtroom in Minneapolis following a motions hearing on his case against former superintendent Valeria Silva and assistant superintendent Theresa Battle. Ekblad was on lunchroom duty Dec. 4, 2015, when a fight broke out. He intervened and a 16-year-old student choked and slammed him onto a table, police said. The student pleaded guilty to felony assault.”

Stribber Jean Hopfensperger writes, “President Donald Trump opened the doors to politics in the pulpit Thursday with an executive order that drew mixed reactions from Minnesota's religious community. Trump's order allows religious leaders to endorse and campaign for political candidates without risking their tax-exempt status. While it doesn't overturn the law that bars such political activity, the order directs the Internal Revenue Service to use ‘maximum enforcement discretion.’ … But many Minnesota religious leaders say the order opens the door to much more.”

House passes American Health Care Act; all Minnesota Republicans vote ‘yes’

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 3:25pm
Sam Brodey

Thursday, the House of Representatives successfully did what eluded it in March, and what it tried in vain to do for six years: pass a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. By a vote of 217 to 213, the House voted to advance the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s proposed alternative to Obamacare.

Twenty Republicans joined the entire Democratic House caucus in voting no on the measure. Minnesota GOP Reps. Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer, who had been undecided on the AHCA until the eleventh hour, supported the bill.

Now, it is up to the U.S. Senate — where there had been considerable skepticism over the AHCA, even among Republicans — to take up a version of the health care bill before it can advance any further.

The political ramifications of the vote were immediately clear: as Republicans celebrated, Democrats crowed that their yes votes would come back to bite them, and taunted Republicans by singing and waving goodbye to them on the House floor after the vote.

Still, Thursday's vote marks a surprising comeback for a bill that failed miserably two months ago, when various GOP factions — particularly moderates and hard-line conservatives — fled the long-awaited repeal and replace plan, forcing Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the bill shortly before a scheduled vote.

In the aftermath, the AHCA got new life thanks to two amendments to make it more appealing to conservatives and moderates: one to give states options to bypass key elements of Obamacare, and another to shore up so-called high risk pools for insuring those with pre-existing conditions.

The latter amendment, worked out by Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who was formerly a no on the AHCA, seeks to mitigate fears over losing protections for those with pre-existing conditions by setting aside $8 billion over five years in support for high-risk pools.

Broadly, the AHCA would maintain some planks of Obamacare but gives states a way to get around them, such as the essential health benefits and community rating provisions, which prevent those with pre-existing conditions from being charged more by insurers.

Beyond that, the bill repeals the individual mandate for health coverage, the employer mandate to provide insurance to employees, and eliminates a host of taxes, such as the one on medical devices.

The Upton amendment may have been the gust that finally pushed undecided members off the fence and into the yes camp.

Count Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen among those blown off the fence on the latest version of the AHCA. Hours before a scheduled vote, Paulsen’s office confirmed that the congressman supported the bill. He supported the initial version of the AHCA and voted for it out of the Ways and Means Committee, but as new amendments were introduced, Paulsen avoided taking a position, and provided confusing answers to press questions.

Minnesota’s three Republicans, in interviews and statements after the vote, preferred to focus on the flaws of Obamacare instead of the concerns raised from both the right and the left over this bill.

In a statement, Paulsen said “the status quo under Obamacare is no longer acceptable… This is just the latest step in reforming our health care system to be more patient-centered.”

Rep. Tom Emmer — who said in a statement that the AHCA is “not perfect” — struck a similar tone in speaking with MinnPost after the vote.

“We’ve got people that are losing coverage options every day,” he said. “It’s important that we do something… The time for pointing fingers is long past.”

Emmer said his office received a lot of feedback from constituents — at one point on Thursday, callers could not get through to his D.C. office because it was so overloaded — but the message he took is that they wanted something done.

“For me, it’s not acceptable where we’re at. It’s not working. It’s collapsing.”

Second District Rep. Jason Lewis, who stood and cheered on the House floor once the AHCA passed the threshold for passage, said in a statement he “promised the people of the 2nd District that I would promote real health care reform that works for their families. I’m keeping that promise.”

Now what?

After the vote on Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump, Speaker Ryan, and a host of GOP congressmen — including Lewis —stood in the White House's Rose Garden and proclaimed a huge victory.

But the AHCA’s passage in the House is only the first milestone in what will be a long, difficult road if the AHCA is to become law. The U.S. Senate will need to take up health care, and it’s clear that it is a far less hospitable chamber for the ideas outlined in the House plan.

Even though the health care plan is set up to pass along the guidelines of budget reconciliation — meaning only 51, not 60, votes are required for passage — enough Senate Republicans voiced their concern about the first version of the AHCA to cast real doubt on the health of the bill in the upper chamber.

Senators from red states that opted to expand Medicaid under the ACA — such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito — will be lawmakers to watch in the upper chamber as they mull a projected $800 billion in Medicaid cuts over time in the House’s plan.

This time around, senators have been a bit more quiet, but observers are predicting they will come up with bill that could look much different from the one that came out of the House. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a key player, told the Washington Examiner that “there are undoubtedly going to be some changes.”

Though several senators have broadly outlined changes they might want to make, they face a limited window to fashion a compromise. The budget reconciliation tactic has a shelf life that expires at the end of the fiscal year — Sept. 30, 2017 — so the House and Senate must approve a compromise bill and send it to the White House before then.

Democrats defiant

If they lost the battle today, Democrats are optimistic they can win the war. In statements and interviews, they excoriated the AHCA: Rep. Keith Ellison, in a statement, said the bill was a “$1,000,000,000,000 tax cut for the top 2% of households. Everyday Americans will be forced to pick up this tab, and they’ll pay for it with their health, their security, and in some cases, with their lives.”

First District Rep. Tim Walz, who is running for governor, called the bill “downright cruel,” and slammed Ryan for “rushing to a vote without holding any hearings and without an updated [Congressional Budget Office] score to show millions of Americans just how much their pocketbooks and well-being will suffer.”

(Indeed, the House voted to pass the AHCA without knowing its impact on the budget or on the number of insured people, though the CBO assessed the first version of the AHCA would save $337 billion from the deficit while 24 million people would lose their insurance.)

Democrats also promised to keep the heat on Republicans as the law goes forward, and to make sure voters remember all this in November.

Ellison — tasked with helping Democrats recoup their electoral losses next year as the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee — told MinnPost “it’s a sad day for the American people, but we’re committed to making sure the American people know what they did and are held accountable for it.”

Eighth District Rep. Rick Nolan said Republicans could face a reversal of what happened to the Democrats in the 2010 midterms, in which anti-Obamacare sentiment fueled the defeat of 63 Democratic representatives, like Nolan’s predecessor, Jim Oberstar.

Nolan said he’s encountered “unbelievable awareness and deep concern” over the GOP health reform effort in his recent town halls in his District.

“It has people in my district really in a way I haven’t seen before,” he said. “The battle’s not over yet… It’s not going to go away quickly or easily.”

Voters should expect to hear a lot about today’s vote for the next 18 months: the parties’ various campaign arms moved quickly after the vote to advance their messages.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released digital ads Thursday afternoon attacking Paulsen and Lewis for their votes; while the National Republican Campaign Committee moved to defend Paulsen and Lewis with an email blast saying they had kept their promise to voters.

Women's health: Don’t let politicians take Minnesota backward

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 3:18pm

Last week, Hulu premiered its latest original show, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which portrays a dystopian future where women have been robbed of their political and economic power and reduced to their reproduction. One of the most disturbing aspects of the story is its portrayal of how a world seemingly identical to our own became such a nightmare.

Karen Law

I wish I could say it seems beyond belief — but even here in Minnesota, there are politicians who are bent on passing new, ever-more-restrictive laws designed to undermine women’s decisions and cut us off from the care we need. There is a bill currently making its way through our Legislature that would take us closer to a world in which women’s decisions are no longer our own.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m proud that Minnesota is one of more than a dozen states that include coverage for abortion in public health insurance for low-income women. This upholds the value of not treating someone differently just because of their income.

Substantial barriers

Still, I talk to women across our state who are struggling to afford an abortion — whether because of the lost wages from taking time away from work or the cost of transportation or child care, or other barriers. Low-income women already face substantial logistical and financial barriers to getting an abortion – and House File 809 would make those significantly worse.

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As an organization committed to ensuring that all Minnesotans — whatever their income— can get the reproductive care they need without politicians interfering, Pro-Choice Resources works tirelessly to connect those who call us with the resources they need to keep their appointments and pay for their care. But our job is made so much harder, and sometimes impossible, when politicians take away health coverage.

Every day we talk with people who need help accessing abortion care, making an adoption plan or connecting to parenting services. We know firsthand that forcing a poor woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy against her will — simply because she can’t afford an abortion — is contrary to our state’s values of justice and compassion and can be devastating for women and families.

A disproportionate impact

Restrictions on abortion coverage have a disproportionate impact on low-income families, women of color, immigrants, and young people. We reject these restrictions and we won’t be punished by politicians who want to bully women by taking away insurance coverage for abortion or make health care inaccessible for communities who are already marginalized.

We’re not alone. According to national polling, the public is more supportive of abortion rights than ever. Polling from Pew Research Center in October 2016 shows the highest levels of support for legal abortion since 1995. Polling also shows that most people don’t support bans on insurance coverage for abortion. Recent data indicates that most people in the United States oppose bans on abortion coverage, and polling last year by Hart Research Associates shows that three in four battleground voters agree with the statement, “However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman's health coverage for it just because she's poor.” There is broad consensus on this point across party lines and age. 

This legislative attack on Minnesota women’s decisions is part of a deeply disturbing trend: Since 2010, state politicians have passed more than 300 new restrictions aimed at pushing abortion care out of reach — all of which have made it even harder for low-income women to access and afford this care.

These laws are designed to shut down clinics, force women to delay care, and shame and punish women for making the decision to end a pregnancy. They are often passed quietly, and build up over time — and ultimately lead to a situation in many states where abortion is a right in name only. We can stop that from happening here in Minnesota by defeating HB 809 and any other policy that would take reproductive care away from those who need it.

Let’s stop this legislation in its tracks and show that at least here in Minnesota, "The Handmaid’s Tale" remains firmly in the fiction category.

Karen Law is the executive director of Pro-Choice Resources.

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Minnesota employers overestimate diversity of their workforces

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 1:14pm
MinnPost staff

We’re not as good as we think we are. MPR’s Martin Moylan reports: “A recent state survey found most Minnesota employers believe they have workforces that reflect the diversity of their customers and communities. But employment data show they're often fooling themselves. … Racial and ethnic minorities are a growing portion of Minnesota's workforce, according to statistics from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and U.S. Census. Yet they are significantly underrepresented in many kinds of jobs and industries. … For example, among management, business financial and health professionals, racial and ethnic minority workers represent only 8 percent. That's half their share of the total workforce.”

Will be interesting to see what they find. The Star Tribune’s Maura Lerner reports: “The University of Minnesota has hired two outside attorneys to review its handling of sexual assault allegations against 10 Gophers football players last fall. … John Marti, a former federal prosecutor, and Jillian Kornblatt, a specialist in labor law, were named Thursday to assist a special oversight committee of the U's Board of Regents. … Regent Thomas Anderson, who chairs the committee, said the goal is to determine if the university followed its own rules in pursuing the case, and whether changes should be made in the future.”

That’s a lotta Animal Units. The Rochester Post Bulletin’s Brian Todd reports: “A pair of bills in the Minnesota Legislature — Senate File 1016 and House File 1456 — could change the way the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permits large livestock feedlots. Specifically, the state would change the threshold for requiring an environmental review known as an environmental assessment worksheet from 1,000 animal units to 2,000 animal units. … According to the MPCA, an animal unit varies depending on the type and weight of the animal, but a hog between 55 and 300 pounds would be 0.03 AU while a hog tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds is 0.4 AU. Mature cows over 1,000 pounds are 1.4 AU apiece, and a mature cow less than 1,000 pounds is 1 AU.”

Kars4Kids, but not much cash for kids. The Star Tribune’s Shannon Prather writes: “Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is taking aim at Kars4Kids, a New Jersey charity that spent less than one percent of the $3 million it raised from Minnesota donors on charitable programs in the state. … One of the largest vehicle donation charities in the country and perhaps best known for its catchy radio jingle, Kars4Kids spent just $11,600 on charitable programs for Minnesota residents from 2012 to 2014, according to a compliance report issued Thursday by Swanson’s office.”

In other news…

Finally these people get a break: “Tesla owners rejoice! A charging station is coming to Minneapolis” [City Pages]

You might say they’re going to retire it… eh? eh? “Minneapolis Public Schools Plans to Remove Tire Mulch From 47 Playgrounds” [KSTP]

The definitive “Uptown is dead” blog post: “Uptown Is Dead — While I Am As Interesting As Ever” [Nick Magrino]

She’s got five months: “Minneapolis settles lawsuit against 'Rehab Addict' star Nicole Curtis” [Star Tribune]

The best of frenemies: In Minneapolis' Ward 6, Abdi Warsame and Mohamud Noor find themselves as rivals, once again

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 11:56am
Ibrahim Hirsi

In 2013, Somali-American residents in Minneapolis’ Sixth Ward did something some in the community considered impossible: They elected one of their own, Abdi Warsame, as the first Somali-American city council member anywhere in the United States.

Warsame was an easy choice for Somali voters back then, when he took on incumbent City Council Member Robert Lilligren. They wanted a leader who spoke their language, understood their values and lived their realities to represent the ward, which has the largest concentration of Somali-Americans in the state.

Today, Warsame is at the end of his first term, which means he — and members of the community — are getting into election mode as a new race for the seat unfolds, a campaign that pits the incumbent against longtime Somali-American activist Mohamud Noor and Tiffini Flynn Forslund, an education advocate. (The Ward 6 DFL convention has yet to take place — all three candidates are vying for the DFL endorsement.)

Still, the race is largely seen as a two-person contest between Warsame and Noor, who have similar backgrounds and political philosophies — a fact that many Somali voters say makes it difficult for them to pick a candidate.

“Mohamud Noor and Abdi Warsame are not different when it comes to policy issues in the city,” said Abdu-rrahman Mahmud, founder of Raxman Consulting, a firm that provides guidance in engaging the Somali-American community. “It’s difficult to differentiate them.”

And yet, whether it's because of or despite those similarities, the Ward 6 race has already become intense and personal for both candidates and voters — a contest tinged by a complicated history of shifting alliances within a community that has become deeply invested in electoral politics.

Shifting alliances

To understand the gist of the Ward 6 city council campaign, it’s important to understand the ever-changing political relationship between Warsame and Noor.

Both are prominent leaders in the Somali-American community, people who’ve developed deep ties in the Ward, especially residents in the Cedar-Riverside, Elliot Park, Phillips West and Seward neighborhoods.

Warsame, who grew up in London, moved to Minneapolis in 2006 and founded the Citizen’s Committee for Fair Redistricting, a group of East-African representatives that participated in the redrawing of the city’s wards. His political rise was in part the result of that effort, which led to a 2012 plan to change the bounds of Ward 6. Afterward, the ward would include areas home to a large bloc of East-African residents, part of an attempt to increase representation of minority groups on the City Council.  

In 2013, Warsame ran for the ward’s council seat against Lilligren, who was first elected to council in 2001. When Warsame won, he became the highest-ranking Somali-American elected official in the country. “The community saw [Warsame’s win] as a sense of hope,” said Faisal Derie, a graduate student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “They realized that they could be elected to political office. It changed the mentality of the young generation who thought they might not be able to be elected for such an important seat in the U.S.”

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim HirsiThen-Rep. Phyllis Kahn and candidates Mohamud Noor and Ilhan Omar during a 2016 debate.

The following year, it was Noor’s turn to run a high profile campaign. A longtime Somali-American activist who runs a nonprofit, the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, Noor decided to run against Rep. Phyllis Kahn — one of the Legislature’s longest-serving members — in House District 60B. For many in the community, the contest represented a rare chance to send the first Somali-American to the Capitol, a timely sequel to Warsame’s historic victory.

But there was at least one prominent official who had a different idea: Warsame. Rather than support Noor, he backed Kahn, who had supported him a year earlier in his race against Lilligren. 

Warsame’s involvement in the elections amplified tensions between Kahn and Noor supporters. During the DFL caucus that spring,  an overflow crowd of more than 300 people jammed into a community center in Cedar-Riverside, where a scuffle broke out. Ilhan Omar, who was attending the caucus as a DFL official, ended up going to the hospital after being struck.

In the end, Noor lost to Kahn, a defeat that disheartened many Somali-Americans in and outside Minneapolis. “That was a blowback,” Derie said. “They were very disappointed.”

But two years later, the District 60B seat was once again up for grabs. And once again Kahn would be running against Noor, who hoped his second shot at the seat would allow him to become the first Somali-American legislator in the country.

This time, though, there was a third candidate: Omar.

That's when things got even more complicated. Warsame, who had received sharp criticism from some in the community for supporting Kahn over his fellow Somali-American, wasn’t as vocal this time around — at least for the first few months of the race. After Omar came close to securing the DFL endorsement, however, Warsame decided to publicly back a candidate. It wasn't Omar or Kahn, though. It was Noor. 

That endorsement didn’t end up doing much good for Noor, however. In the end, both he and Kahn lost the primary to Omar, a 34-year-old activist who had secured other high-profile endorsements and went on to win the general election in the fall.

Warsame vs. Noor

Today, when Noor is asked why he is running, he says it's because Warsame didn’t do his job and because the community encouraged him to run. But he also says that Warsame — a man who campaigned for him just months ago — “didn’t stand with me when I was trying to make a change,” referring to his 2014 campaign.

The two candidates' priorities tend to be very similar. They’re both Democrats who talk a lot about addressing inequality, increasing economic opportunities, improving current affordable housing programs and amplifying the voices of marginalized communities.

There's a reason why the race has tended to be so personal. Minneapolis has the largest concentration of Somali-Americans anywhere in the U.S., and the neighborhoods that form Ward 6 have long been a popular destination among Somalis when they first arrive in the state.

Many of the residents here still struggle navigating the complex workforce, housing, education and immigration systems in a country that can, at times, be intimidating to foreigners. In times of need, those residents often seek out activists and nonprofit organization leaders for assistance in everything from immigration questions and employment applications to court orders and landlord harassment.

Warsame and Noor have been among those leaders who have officially or unofficially served as the contact points for many of the most vulnerable in the community, and the people they’ve helped have often gone on to become their most loyal voters. When those supporters talk about Warsame and Noor, it isn’t about abstract matters like their support for certain policies or ideological principles. Instead, they speak of how their candidate has helped them apply for housing; saved them from eviction; or stood by them in a legal battle with federal or local law enforcement officials.

“When Somali-American voters want to vote for a Somali candidate, they don’t look at policy issues,” Mahmud said. “They don’t base their decision on issues. Rather, it’s about who they know, what the candidates did or might do for them after elections.” 

When Noor talks about why he would be a better council member than Warsame, he says it’s because the incumbent hasn’t been effective in solving pressing economic issues facing residents. “This ward requires somebody who’s going to work for the people and be able to find the right solution,” Noor said in a recent interview with MinnPost. “The seat is closest to the people to impact change in their lives.”

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim HirsiWarsame and Noor are prominent leaders in the Somali-American community, people who’ve developed deep ties in the Ward, especially residents in the Cedar-Riverside (above), Elliot Park, Phillips West and Seward neighborhoods.

Warsame is happy to defend his first-term, saying he’s already done much to improve the safety of the area, paving the roads, creating a career center and funneling resources to needy residents in the ward. “We’ve helped the most vulnerable members of our society,” he said.

In addition to that, Warsame says, he has co-authored a proposal barring landlords from turning away renters with low-income house vouchers and held a series of forums, on everything from Islamophobia and public safety issues to addressing the challenges that small businesses and people of color face in the ward. “I want to build on the experience that I have,” Warsame said. “I have a good experience in municipal government, I can get done a lot more in the second term because of the experience I gained.”   

But Warsame, like Noor, also hasn't hesitated to go after his opponent. Among other things, he's questioned his challenger’s seriousness, given his history of running for four other public offices in the past. “My opponent eight months ago was running for state legislator,” he said. “The idea that he somehow understands Ward 6, the fallacy that he can bring all people together is nonsense.”

“Why is he running for every single seat?” asks Warsame. “Is he going to run for the Governor’s seat in 2018?”

Warsame has also made an issue of the fact that Noor’s organization is no longer located in the Brian Coyle Center. “My opponent cannot talk about running a Ward when he cannot run a small nonprofit,” he says.

The Somali-Americans across the state — and even outside of the state — are closely watching the campaign rhetoric between Warsame and Noor through Facebook and Twitter, with many publicly beating the drum for their favorite candidate, even as others struggle to differentiate one from the other.    

“I don’t see that there’s any difference between them,” Derie noted. “All I see is that one candidate wants to get the political power the other has right now. And the other candidate is fighting hard to keep it.”

House to vote on health care bill Thursday afternoon; Paulsen a ‘yes’

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:56am
Sam Brodey

UPDATE: The American Health Care Act passed the House on a 217—213 vote. Minnesota Republicans Reps. Jason Lewis, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer all voted yes. No Democrat supported the measure.

Today, the House of Representatives is in a position to do what eluded it in March, and what it tried in vain to do for six years: vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The effort will receive the support of at least two Minnesota’s three Republican House members — Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis — while Rep. Tom Emmer still has not issued an official position.

The House is expected to vote Thursday afternoon on the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s proposed replacement of Obamacare. House GOP leadership is confident that they have the votes necessary to pass the bill.

It’s been a surprising comeback for a bill that failed miserably two months ago, when various GOP factions — particularly moderates and hard-line conservatives — fled the long-awaited repeal and replace plan, forcing Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the bill shortly before a scheduled vote.

In the aftermath, the AHCA got new life thanks to two amendments to make it more appealing to conservatives and moderates: one to give states options to bypass key elements of Obamacare, and another to put $8 billion into so-called high risk pools for insuring those with pre-existing conditions.

As with the bill it aims to overturn — which cleared its first hurdle in the House by a margin of five votes in 2009 — the vote on AHCA is expected to be very close. Unlike the ACA, members of the House will be voting on the AHCA with no assessment from the Congressional Budget Office. They are effectively in the dark as to exactly how much the bill will cost taxpayers. (CBO found that the first version of AHCA would have reduced federal deficits by $337 billion over a decade, but would have increased the ranks of the uninsured by 24 million.) 

Assuming unanimous Democratic opposition, the GOP can only afford to lose 22 votes on the bill. Earlier this week, the number of official "no" votes in the party was as high as 20, but that total has decreased. An important part of that was an amendment worked out by Michigan Rep. Fred Upton — formerly a no on AHCA — that seeks to mitigate fears over protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Broadly, the AHCA would maintain some planks of Obamacare but gives states a way to get around them, such as the essential health benefits and community rating provisions, which prevent those with pre-existing conditions from being charged more by insurers.

Beyond that, the bill would repeal the individual mandate for health coverage, the employer mandate to provide insurance to employees, and eliminates a host of taxes, such as the one on medical devices.

The Upton amendment may have been the gust that finally pushed undecided members off the fence and into the yes camp.

Count Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen among those blown off the fence on the latest version of the AHCA. Hours before a scheduled vote, Paulsen’s office confirmed that the congressman supports the bill. He supported the initial version of the AHCA and voted for it out of the Ways and Means Committee, but as new amendments were introduced, Paulsen avoided taking a position, and provided confusing answers to press questions.

Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer, like Paulsen, supported the first iteration of the AHCA. He has been largely silent during round two, with his office saying that he was speaking with constituents and industry members before making a decision.

Emmer’s office did not respond to an inquiry about his position on Thursday morning. Like Paulsen — who rooms with the GOP’s chief whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, when in Washington — Emmer is a generally solid ally of House leadership.

As some in the press have observed, members like Emmer and Paulsen who were publicly undecided are leadership-friendly types concerned about the consequences of voting yes, but they would vote yes if needed in a close vote, which this is likely to be.

Meanwhile, Second District Rep. Jason Lewis supported the bill all along, backing the amendment allowing states to opt out of ACA provisions like community rating, and calling it in line with federalist principles.

All Democrats are expected to vote no as a bloc against the bill. Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum slammed it as “dangerous and cruel"; even 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson, one of three remaining Democrats who voted against Obamacare in the House, is poised to vote no on AHCA.

Then what?

If the House passes the AHCA, President Donald Trump, Speaker Ryan, and other top Republicans will proclaim a major victory. But it would represent only the first milestone in what will be a long, difficult road if the AHCA is to become law. The U.S. Senate would then need to take up health care, and it’s clear that it is a far less hospitable chamber for the ideas outlined in the House plan.

Even though the health care plan is set up to pass along the guidelines of budget reconciliation — meaning only 51, not 60, votes are required for passage — enough Senate Republicans voiced their concern about the first version of the AHCA to cast real doubt on the health of the bill in the upper chamber.

This time around, senators have been a bit more quiet, but observers are predicting they will come up with bill that could look much different from the one that comes out of the House. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a key player, told the Washington Examiner that “there are undoubtedly going to be some changes.”

Though several senators have broadly outlined changes they might want to make, they face a limited window to fashion a compromise. The budget reconciliation tactic has a shelf life that expires at the end of the fiscal year — Sept. 30, 2017 — so the House and Senate must approve a compromise bill and send it to the White House before then.

Can global warming really be reversed? Maybe so, and Paul Hawken shows how

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:51am
Ron Meador Paul Hawken

If somebody told you it is possible to reverse global warming, starting at midcentury, with a suite of currently available, economically viable solutions — no new carbon tax needed, nor a hundred more nuke plants a year — wouldn’t you want to know more?

I did, and so on Tuesday I got a copy of the new book, “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

Provocative title, and then there’s the byline: Paul Hawken, the accomplished and respected thinker/entrepreneur who has written from the crossroads of commerce and environmental responsibility for nearly 40 years.

His books “Natural Capitalism” (co-authored with Amory Lovins)  and “The Ecology of Commerce” inspired important change in certain business and policy sectors. “Blessed Unrest” made a persuasive case that truly sweeping change can be a bottom-up enterprise of small players loosely joined, succeeding with or without the blessing of governments and corporations.

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Hawken acknowledges that his superlative claim for “Drawdown” might be considered brash, then justifies it:

In 2001 I began asking experts in climate and environmental fields a question: Do we know what we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming? I thought they could provide a shopping list. I wanted to know the most effective solutions that were already in place, and the impact they could have if scaled. I also wanted to know the price tag.

My contacts replied that such an inventory did not exist, but all agreed it would be a great checklist to have, though creating one was not within their individual expertise. After several years, I stopped asking because it was not within my expertise either.

It was still outside his expertise in 2013, when increasingly dire climate headlines of the “game over” theme moved him to launch the Drawdown project, which would eventually engage more than 200 climate scientists, engineers, economists, public-policy analysts and other experts in scribbling one highly strategic shopping list of 80 workable, compatible solutions.

No pipe dreams here. No celestial pies. No necessity to sharply lower living standards. Above all, no reliance on a massive shift of government policy or surge of multinational cooperation of the kind we used to hope might drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, a key appeal of the Drawdown strategy is that it assumes no breakthrough in reducing industrial emissions via government dictate. Instead, it emphasizes voluntary reductions for which there is already a strong business case, and — more importantly, more creatively — on ways to pull emissions back out of the atmosphere.

There is money to be made in most of these 80 endeavors (family planning is an exception). There are new jobs to be filled. Many bring ancillary enhancements to the quality of life on the only planet we’ve got.

Absent from the list are giant, gazillion-dollar air-filtration facilities to strip carbon from the air by force, and sky blankets of reflective aerosols that could cool the climate to the point of disaster.

Using moderate projections on the pace of possible adoption, and conservative calculations of atmospheric impact, the Drawdown experts conclude that levels of CO2 can be made to decline starting in 2050 or so — a little later if efforts lag, a little faster if they accelerate.

They resist organizing them into a master plan, because the point is not to prescribe an overall fix  — only to demonstrate that one is possible, and practical.

80 items in the toolbox

It is difficult to summarize the 80 options on the Drawdown list, but a look at the top 10 — ranked high to low by potential to reduce atmospheric CO2 — will give you a sense of the range the Hawken team endorsed:

  1. Replacing fluorocarbons used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment with atmospherically benign alternatives like propane and ammonium.
  2. More electric generation from onshore wind turbines.
  3. Reducing food waste by one-half worldwide.
  4. Shifting more of the global diet from meat to plants.
  5. Restoring tropical forest on about half the degraded acreage identified as plausible reforestation locales.
  6. Assuring 13 years of schooling for girls around the world, especially in the poorest countries, as the surest path to voluntary population control.
  7. Encouraging family planning, with enhanced access to contraception, as a corollary effort.
  8. More utility-scale “solar farms.”
  9. Silvopasture — the integration of trees into livestock acreage — to yield resilient landscapes that are healthier for both animals and plants, reduce farmer/rancher costs, preserve land, and sequester a lot more carbon.
  10. More rooftop solar power modules everywhere — on and off the grid, in urban and rural areas, in rich countries and poor.

Some of the other 70 are less familiar but fascinating examples of what innovators around the world are already doing with geothermal, in-stream hydro and tidal power; improved rice cultivation and regenerative agricultural practices that restore land while raising crops; advanced composting and irrigation practices; fitting out buildings with smart glass, heat pumps, green roofs and “alternative cement.”

And when I wrote a moment ago about the exclusion of gazillion-dollar carbon-stripping air-filtration plants, they’re in the book, too — but on a second list of 20 “coming attractions” that right now fall on the far side of current practicality and/or robust data as to performance potential and cost. But, down the road a bit, who knows?

Also in this set: driverless cars and smart highways; microbial farming, marine permaculture and industrial hemp; solid-state wave energy, hydrogen-boron fusion and the power-producing artificial leaf. Also, the obscurely labeled “enhanced weathering of materials,” which takes  crushed silicate rock from mine tailings and spreads it on land or adds it to surface water to absorb CO2 from the air.

Greeted with murmurs so far

I think “Drawdown” is an important book and deserves to be an influential one, but as yet it has attracted strikingly little notice in the mainstream press — or in specialty publications devoted to environmental subjects — since its publication April 17.

Though I wade daily in coverage of global warming and climate change, I first learned that “Drawdown” was out when my friend Jim Davis pointed out a piece about it in Tricycle, a Buddhist journal that is maybe not the first place we expect to find news like this.

Tricycle’s Q&A with Hawken includes a question about whether “Drawdown” is a strategic effort to motivate people with a message of hope rather than one more warning of doom. A fair Q that produced a provocative A, excerpted here:

The implication of the news is you’re causing global warming — it’s your car, your house, the way you eat, the way you travel, and what you buy. So people feel guilt or shame inside. They may not even acknowledge it, but it’s often there. When you mix fear and doom with guilt and shame, you get apathy. That’s Psych 101.

People who are literate in the science may feel disempowered or think that what they do to address the issue is meaningless in terms of making an impact. That is because we are focusing on what “you” can do. We can instead focus on what “we” can and are doing.

If you Google the top ten solutions to climate change — which I recommend you do — you get phrases like “forego fossil fuel,” “upgrade the infrastructure,” “move closer to work,” “consume less,” “be efficient,” “eat smart,” and “stop cutting down trees.” These aren’t solutions; these are proverbs. You can’t argue with proverbs.  But they don’t necessarily give you hope.

On the other hand, our approach was not about engendering hope. From my point of view — which, I suppose, is informed by Buddhism — hope is the pretty mask of fear.

You can’t have hope without fear, whether you’re aware of it or it’s subconscious. What we need to be is fearless, not hopeful, because to be hopeful means that our actions are based on fear. No action based on fear — except running away from a bear — has a good outcome. In fact, you shouldn’t run away from a black bear; you should stand tall.

The anchor of apathy

In the course of 20-some years of investigating and writing about global warming I’ve become all too familiar with that dynamic of gloom/doom/shame/fear/apathy, and I think Hawken has put his finger on exactly why we haven’t made more policy progress.

The biggest anchor dragging behind this boat isn’t climate denial or even indifference but, I suspect, the almost unspeakably deep, defeatist conviction that no response really matters because we are already so thoroughly screwed. I’m vulnerable to that despair at times and maybe you are, too.

If so, read this book — not just as an antidote to fear and despair but as foundation for understanding and supporting the kinds of change that really could be coming, and at every scale from your household to your company, your community, your county and state and national government.

As for hope … well, with or without fear, it usually shows up for me as attachment to some outcome I can’t control. Buddhists believe it’s important to do the right thing for its own sake, without being invested in a particular result — but doing the right thing, and seeing others doing the same, can maybe lead to something like optimism.

We can all stand more of that.

Checking in on France's totally strange presidential contest

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:47am
Eric Black

France goes to the polls Sunday for the second and final round of its totally strange presidential contest.

I don’t want to engage in any hype about the fate of the earth or even the fate of Europe hanging in the balance (although plenty of others will go there). But after the twin shocks of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump – both of which defied the late polls and suggested a deep anger/nationalism/ethnocentrism/insecurity in the hearts of voters in two prosperous and well-established democracies – the world will be watching this one with more interest than usual.

France has a two-step process for choosing a president. First, in what Americans sometimes called a “jungle primary,” many candidates run. Over recent cycles, the number of candidates in the first round has ranged from six to 16. This year it was 11, although more than 85 percent of total vote went to the top four finishers. After the first round, there’s a run-off of the top two finishers. That’s what’s happening Sunday.

All expectations to the contrary, neither of the parties that have dominated French politics over recent decades (the Gaullists aka Republicans on the center right and the Socialists on the left) will have a candidate in the runoff. Instead, the rightist National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, will face off against Emmanuel Macron, the nominee of En Marche!, a centrist party Macron founded just a year ago after leaving a position in the Cabinet of the Socialist government and moving ideologically to what he hopes is the center of the spectrum. 

“En Marche!” means something like “on the march” or “moving forward,” which certainly doesn’t tell us much except to perhaps imply that Le Pen-ism is an effort to move backward.

Le Pen’s party name, National Front, suggests nationalism. It dates only from the 1970s and was led by its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, until leadership passed to his daughter, Marine. She has sought to soften (or muddy up) its old image as a party of angry, racist, immigrant-hating French nationalists.

Macron surprised the world by running first in the primary, although with just 24 percent of the vote. Le Pen squeaked into the runoff with 21.3 percent, just ahead of the Gaullist candidate with 20. The common wisdom is that most of the non-National Front vote will coalesce behind Macron and he will beat LePen, perhaps handily. Current polls suggest the same. Nate Silver says that even Le Pen outperforms her current poll number by the same amount that Trump did, Macron will still win. No way am I predicting anything.

But I did just read a long, fascinating, wonderfully reported New Yorker piece on the race by Lauren Collins, who traveled around France talking to voters. Collins didn’t get sucked into any of the norms of political reporting. She didn’t quote many experts nor interview the candidates, although you’ll learn plenty about the candidates' lives and some about their positions from her piece. Instead, she just attended events and talked to people and filled in the necessary explanatory holes with research. Reading it, I felt like I had fallen through the looking glass, into a very different place, politically and otherwise, which, of course, France is.

So, if you can, follow this link and read the whole thing. It will save you a trip to France. And don’t bother reading what’s below, which is just a few outtakes. But if you’re on the fence about reading the whole piece, I offer a few flavorful excerpts below:

(A taste of the National Front’s issue profile):

Le Pen’s platform calls for, among other things, outlawing dual citizenship with most countries, banning foreign languages in schools, and exiting the European Union. (Many observers fear that her election would mean the end of the E.U.) Just before the first round of voting, she announced a plan to implement a moratorium on legal immigration, "to stop this delirium."

***

(A bit of background on Macron, including his unlikely marriage):

Meanwhile, Macron was training at the École Nationale d’Administration, France’s élite civil-service school. The son of doctors from Amiens, he’d arrived in Paris in 1997. He’d been sent there, alone, to finish high school after falling in love with Brigitte Trogneux, a member of a prominent family of local chocolatiers. She was married, the mother of three children, and his drama teacher. (Macron and Trogneux wed in 2007, when he was twenty-nine and she was fifty-four.)

As an undergraduate, Macron studied philosophy. Then, at Sciences Po, he earned a master’s in public affairs. He was a prodigy, serving as an assistant to the phenomenologist Paul Ricœur, and an enigma, taking the train to Amiens every Friday to see Trogneux.

Aurélien Lechevallier, a friend and adviser, remembers him dressing in "an East Coast Ivy League jacket" when his peers were wearing T-shirts. Lechevallier told me, "I think when we met he had no real experience of living lightly with friends — just making jokes, having a couple of beers at the bar."

(From a visit to Le Luc, a French town politically dominated by Le Pen’s “F.N.” – National Front” Party and an interview with its mayor, Pascal Verrelle.)

 I wanted to know why, in Verrelle’s opinion, the people of the town had put the F.N. in power. He said that their vote had not necessarily been for the most attractive party but for the one with which they were least acquainted. "Little by little, they told themselves, ‘We have to try something else,’ " Verrelle said. He continued, "There were people who thought that we were going to construct watchtowers, that we were going to put up walls to separate the neighborhoods, that we were going to walk around with police dogs, that we were going to kick the foreigners out. Then they realized that we’re no more racist than anyone else, just a little more nationalist."

… Verrelle seemed to be practicing a hyper-local version of dédiabolisation, the strategy of "de-demonization" that Le Pen has pursued over the past few years in the hope of making the F.N. seem respectable. The Party has excommunicated a few of the most flagrantly intolerant members of its establishment, including, in 2014, Jean-Marie Le Pen. [That would be Marine Le Pen’s father, who founded the party!]

It has courted groups that it has traditionally alienated, such as women, senior citizens, Jews, practicing Catholics, and gay people. Yet, every once in a while, Marine Le Pen lets a shocking comment fly. She insisted recently that France bore no blame for the 1942 Vel d’Hiv roundup, in which French police arrested nearly thirteen thousand Jews and sent them to concentration camps. The effect, if not de-demonizing, is destabilizing. Unsure what to make of the latest iteration of the F.N., or simply disillusioned with its competitors, some people figure, Why not put it to the test?

(Collins fought through anti-Macron protesters outside a hall where En Marche! was holding a sparsely attended rally.)

Inside, a Macron spokesman told me, "We strongly believe that some people saw the mess, were hassled, and turned around." The auditorium was conspicuously not full. Still, the atmosphere was upbeat, in keeping with Macron’s assertion that his campaign is the only "projet positif" — the sole "for," rather than "against," on offer. Macron claims to be leading a "transpartisan" movement that is "neither of the left nor of the right."

 He shares many of the traditional concerns of the left, but often prefers to meet them with capitalist solutions. He wants to cut corporate taxes, simplify labor laws, consolidate the retirement system, invest in education and vocational training, and reinvigorate France’s relationship with Europe. He has praised Angela Merkel’s generous refugee policy, saying that it "saved the dignity of Europe." Proud to be a fluent English speaker, he has even appealed to the technocratic, cosmopolitan sector of the American population that has despaired since Trump’s election. To American scientists, he has promised, "From now on, from next May, you will have a new homeland — France!"

(Another stab at explaining Macron-ism with the weird term “extreme center”):

Macron has conjured an extreme center that didn’t exist before he identified it. He has a talent for balancing opposing ideals, sometimes to the extent of appearing disingenuous or oxymoronic. His economic program gives companies more leeway in firing workers, but it offers unemployed workers higher benefits. Meme-makers delight in his habit of saying "at the same time," which, in Toulon, he repeated twenty-two times in ninety minutes. Occasionally, his syntheses present new and even revelatory ways of seeing things. "Europe is also the place of our sovereignty," he told the crowd in a confident voice, managing, for a moment, to unite two concepts — globalization and nationalism — that had roiled politics worldwide for the better part of a year.

If you found these excerpts intriguing, it’s not too late to click through read the whole piece. Otherwise, tune in some news late Sunday night (or, more likely, Monday morning,) for election results. 

Rare Powassan virus is just one of many tick-borne diseases that Minnesotans should be aware of

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:10am
Susan Perry Minnesota Department of HealthBlacklegged ticks

In late April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that a 5-month-old baby had become the first person in Connecticut to be diagnosed with the Powassan virus, a rare but often serious disease that is transmitted to humans by ticks.

Just how rare can be seen in the numbers: There have been a total of 75 confirmed cases of Powassan virus in the United States during the past decade, according to the CDC. That compares with about 30,000 reported cases each year of Lyme disease, a tick-borne bacterial infection.

Despite its rarity, Powassan is still worrisome. It’s fatal in about 10 percent of cases, and leaves many of its survivors with lifelong neurological problems, the CDC says.

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Powassan may also be particularly concerning for Minnesotans. Of the 75 cases reported by the CDC between 2006 and 2015, 20 were in Minnesota. And five more cases occurred in the state in 2016, according to preliminary data compiled by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Still, that number is dwarfed by the 1,176 confirmed cases of Lyme disease that occurred in the state in 2015.

With Powassan virus in the news, however, MinnPost decided to find out more about the disease — and about what Minnesota health officials are predicting regarding the coming infectious tick season, which is just entering the period when the risk to humans is at its highest (mid-May to mid-July). We spoke with David Neitzel, an MDH epidemiologist who specializes in tick-borne diseases. An edited version of that interview follows.

MinnPost: What is the Powassan virus?

David Neitzel: It’s a virus that is maintained in nature in ticks — between ticks and certain mammal species. It’s a cousin of West Nile virus, but is transmitted by ticks instead of mosquitos.

MP: Which ticks carry it here in Minnesota?

DN: The main ticks we’re concerned about in Minnesota are the blacklegged ticks, which most people still call deer ticks. There’s a different type of Powassan virus that can be carried by another species of tick, which we also have here in Minnesota, but we have no evidence that that tick really feeds on people that much.

MP: Twenty of the 75 cases reported to the CDC over the past decade were in Minnesota. Is the disease more common here, or are we just finding and reporting it better than other states?

Macalester CollegeDavid Neitzel

DN: That’s certainly part of the equation. Science has known about the Powassan virus since the 1950s, but testing for human specimens hasn’t been available widely until just the last few years. We had our first Powassan case in Minnesota in 2008, and to get testing for that patient we had to go the CDC and also to the New York Department of Health. Those were the only two labs in the country that could even test for this virus at that time. Since then we’ve built testing in our own laboratory – the Minnesota Department of Public Health Laboratory – and we’ve been testing specimens submitted by doctors from suspect cases. It’s one of those deals where the more you look, the more you’re going to find.

That said, Powassan virus is another one of the many diseases transmitted by the blacklegged tick, and we’re one of the states that has lots of blacklegged ticks. So, it’s a combination of being in a place where the ticks and the diseases they transmit are found, and also just more aggressive looking for cases here.

MP: It seems like this is a more serious tick-borne disease, even though it’s rare.

DN: It’s potentially very serious. We haven’t released our 2016 numbers yet, but it looks like we’re going to have five additional Powassan cases [for that year]. One of those was a fatality, and we had at least one other fatality in that [earlier] group of 20 cases. So, we’re right there at roughly that 10 percent [fatality] mark. It’s very similar to West Nile virus. Some patients will have a very severe disease of their central nervous system, encephalitis or meningitis, and both of those can be life threatening.

MP: But the bigger concern for Minnesotans in terms of tick-borne diseases is Lyme disease, correct?

DN: Yeah. In our average year we’ll have anywhere from 1,000 to 1,400 Lyme disease cases reported in Minnesota residents. And when we go out into the field and collect tick specimens…we don’t have to go far to find ticks that are infected with Lyme disease bacteria. But when we look for Powassan virus — and we’ve found it widespread across much of the forest in parts of the state — the prevalence of ticks is down in the 1 percent to 4 percent range, depending on the site and the year.

MP: You said the state had five diagnosed cases of Powassan infection in 2016. That’s a quarter of what was reported in the previous 10 years. Why so many last year?

DN: It looks like we just had a lot of tick-borne disease in general last year. It was a good year for ticks to be out and feeding, and unfortunately that means that a lot of people get exposed to these ticks and the diseases they can transmit.

MP: What are your predictions for tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme, this year? Are you expecting more cases? Fewer cases?

DN: It’s hard to predict with a lot of certainty because there are variables that really make a big difference, especially the weather conditions – in particular the weather conditions that we get in the latter half of May and through June. That’s typically our highest-risk time of year because that’s when the smaller nymph stage of the blacklegged tick comes out, and that’s the life stage that’s so small that people have a hard time seeing them. Those ticks are very susceptible to drying out, so if we have weather conditions that are a lot hotter and drier and windier than normal, it makes it hard for the ticks to come out and feed, and if they can’t come out and feed, they can’t bite people and transmit disease agents. If, however, we have a warm, humid spring – if it’s nice and moist out in the woods where these ticks live — we, unfortunately, have a higher-risk year.

Source: ArboNET, Arboviral Diseases Branch, Centers for Disease Control and PreventionPowassan virus neuroinvasive disease cases reported by state, 2006–2015

MP: And what about other tick-borne diseases, such as babesiosis and anaplasmosis?

DN: Anaplasmosis is our second-most commonly reported tick-transmitted disease here in Minnesota. We typically have several hundred cases reported every year, somewhere in the 400 to 600 range. It can also occasionally cause fatality, especially in folks who are elderly or have a compromised immune system. Babesiosis is a little less common. We have generally 50 to 60 cases reported per year now, but that one can also cause very serious illness, including fatality. So those are both very serious diseases, although less common than Lyme. But we want Minnesotans to know that there is much more than just Lyme disease out there as far as tick-borne diseases. They are all good reasons to take precautions against ticks.

MP: What are those precautions?

DN: First, know when and where you’re at risk. The “when” is mid-May through mid-July. That’s when we have our highest risk for tick-borne disease, when that small nymph stage of the tick is out. The “where” is basically forested regions of the state, especially east central Minnesota between the Twin Cities and Duluth over to Bemidji and back down. But things have been changing in recent years. The ticks are being found a lot further north and west than they ever have been before. We’re basically at a point now where any forested regions of the state are considered to have some risk, so if you’re going out in the woods, you should take precautions.

The main precaution is using a good repellent. You can use repellents on your skin that contain DEET, the same stuff you use to scare away mosquitos. There are also repellents that are labeled for use on clothing. They contain permethrin. It’s not only a strong repellent, but it also kills any ticks that come into contact with a treated clothing item. It’s a very good option for people who live right out in the woods amongst the ticks.

After people have been out in the woods, they should make sure to take a shower to get any ticks that haven’t attached off of them right away. Then do a very good inspection to find and promptly remove any ticks that have gotten on and started to feed. The sooner you get them off, the more likely you are to prevent disease transmission.

FMI: For more information about tick-borne diseases — including how to recognize and watch for early symptoms — go to the MDH website.