- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

Star Tribune, March 2

Dump the caucus system in favor of a Minnesota presidential primary

“Minnesota’s current caucus system is no way to elect a president,” GOP state Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington said in a statement issued just three hours after the state’s political party building-block meetings convened in schools, churches and meeting halls Tuesday. We concur, as we suspect do many frustrated Minnesotans - both those who ran the caucus gantlet and those who didn’t but regret that they could not register a presidential preference any other way.

A better way is clear: Minnesota should switch to a primary election to decide its major-party presidential preferences. Garofalo says he will offer a bill to that effect in the legislative session that resumes Tuesday. We’ll cheer him on.

Minnesota used a presidential primary for most of the first half of the 20th century, but it fell out of favor with leaders of both parties in the 1950s and was abandoned in favor of caucuses. From the start, caucuses have been dogged by complaints that they are confusing, insider-dominated affairs that are insufficiently democratic. Requiring citizens to appear at a neighborhood gathering spot between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on a Tuesday in order to cast a ballot leaves too many people unable to attend. By comparison, polling places at a primary election would open at 7 a.m., not 7 p.m., and absentee voting would be available.

But the caucus system defects that were on royal display Tuesday were the consequence not of too few participants, but too many. More than 110,000 people attended Republican caucuses, according to the secretary of state’s tally. That shatters the 2008 GOP mark by more than 50,000. Reports of jammed meeting rooms, long lines and insufficient ballots were numerous.

For example, at Senate District 64 caucuses at St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall school, organizers prepared for twice as many participants as they had seen two years ago but still ran out of an informational handout well before the 7 p.m. start time. Perhaps half of caucusgoers missed a planned orientation session when the gym that housed it filled to capacity and closed its doors shortly before 7 p.m. People were still streaming into the school at 7:20 p.m. after standing outdoors in a long, chilly queue, some with young children in tow.

A few were dismayed to learn that DFL caucuses were not in the same location, but instead were miles away. That confusion would be eliminated by a primary. Both party elections would be conducted at the same familiar polling place.

DFL turnout did not exceed 2008’s 220,000, but it ran well into six figures and caused traffic jams and confusion in many locations. For example, 3,000 ballots had been prepared in District 64A, which met at St. Paul Central High School. That wasn’t enough. When ballots ran out, votes were cast on adhesive notes and index cards. The entire lot was hand-counted. That’s a far cry from the ballot security that a primary election would routinely afford.

Defenders of the caucus system tout its value as an opportunity for citizens without means to exercise influence. But participants are allowed to sign in, cast a ballot and leave without joining in the delegate selection and party platform formation sessions that follow. That was a well-exercised option at sites we visited Tuesday. That means that for a goodly share of participants, caucuses already aren’t party-building exercises. They’re highly inconvenient elections. A state that prides itself on well-run elections and a high level of civic participation can do much better.

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Post-Bulletin, March 4

As more obtain insurance, state’s health will improve

Minnesota continues on a path toward improved health as a growing number of residents access health insurance.

Survey results released by the Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota show an additional 213,000 residents had health insurance last year, when compared to 2013, meaning only 4.3 percent of the state’s residents lack coverage.

“The drop in the number of Minnesotans without health insurance is great news for our state,” Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper said. “These findings demonstrate that efforts in our state to improve the quality and affordability of health care for the people of Minnesota are making a difference.”

And improving affordable access to quality health care will create a healthier state, especially since many of the newly insured residents have lacked coverage for an entire year or more. The rate of long-term uninsured dropped from 6.1 percent to 2.2 percent between 2013 and 2015, according to the study.

Efforts to ensure those coverage levels continue to come under attack as being too costly. While we are willing to acknowledge problems remain and further work is needed to improve the process, from providing access to making sure oversight is in place, we’d hate to see the trend in coverage reverse. In the long run, it would be more costly to care for people without insurance.

Increased coverage means more Minnesotans can access care when needed, it means fewer will put off doctor visits until problems become life-threatening, and it means the state is continuing its dedication to the health of all residents.

It all points toward a healthier Minnesota.

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St. Cloud Times, March 5

SCSU cutting 6 teams sad, needed

As painful as Wednesday’s announcement of more than $250,000 in budget cuts, including dropping six sports, is for St. Cloud State University’s coaches, athletes and fans, it was inevitable.

The university is facing a $9 million gap between revenue and expenses. That is real money.

Making a balanced budget requires all sectors of the university community to make budget cuts.

The reduction is about 5 percent of the total athletic department budget of about $10 million. The total doesn’t seem unreasonable give the university’s total annual budget is $200 million.

The athletic department already anticipates a deficit of roughly $500,000 this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The school hopes to reduce the deficit next fiscal year with increased donations and sponsorships. Filling any remaining gap has to come from the university’s general fund.

What is the outlook for the next fiscal year? More challenges. The cuts announced Wednesday will only slice in half the expected deficit for next year.

Sadly, the cuts will affect about 80 roster spots for student-athletes. Three head coaches, three part-time paid assistants and one volunteer assistant are affected, according to university officials.

Part of the reductions include “roster management,” which means some teams will have to reduce the size of their rosters so the university stays in compliance with Title IX requirements on gender fairness.

It will be painful. There will be fewer players on the football, wrestling and baseball teams. That is especially sad given the success of the wrestling and baseball teams. Wrestling will lose 14 roster spots. Baseball will lose 12.

University leaders have made it clear all areas of the university will be looked at for expense savings. That’s as it should be.

Sports are a critical part of the university’s marketing plans. College athletics attract students, including those who enroll to be part of the athletic teams. Sports also provide ways to help the university raise money with ticket and concession revenue.

An important point to keep in mind is that SCSU had the largest number of sports of any of the colleges in the NSIC conference.

The trend in intercollegiate sports is to make athletic departments self-sufficient or at least show minimal losses. State funding for college athletics is fast going away.

For those protesting increases in tuition cost and crushing debt loads for students after they graduate, these cuts are part of the answer. Imagine the outcry if the $9 million shortfall was filled with a tuition increase. Thanks to the Legislature, tuition at SCSU is scheduled to remain unchanged next year.

University officials are to be commended for several other elements of the cutbacks:

- They discouraged any efforts by boosters or others to raise donations to save any of the teams.

- They allowed athletes to keep their scholarship aid for up to four years.

- They granted written permission for coaches from other institutions to contact student-athletes about transfer opportunities. St. Cloud State will support transferring students in credit and eligibility review if they choose to compete at another institution.

What else can be done?

An increase in student fees to support the athletic program isn’t an option. The Minnesota State College and Universities board has a cap on those fees, and SCSU has hit the limit.

Sponsorship and donations are another way to raise money to help the athletic department. Buying tickets and attending SCSU home games help, too.

Bottom line: How much do area companies, boosters and fans care about SCSU athletics? How that question is answered is ultimately the key to whether these are the last cuts to the department.

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