- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 6

Needed in Minnesota: More rural-urban unity

Reduce health insurance costs, even if it takes a public insurance option to do it. More widely available high-speed internet service. Safe and sufficient roads and bridges. Adequate funding for nursing homes. More effort to combat rural hunger. Local flexibility in enforcing the 2015 buffer strip requirement near public waters.

Those are the leading items on a policy agenda delivered to the Legislature last week by the Minnesota Farmers Union, summarizing 14 listening sessions that engaged 450 participants to respond to the question, “What Do Rural People Think?”

That’s a politically compelling question for the DFL Party and its allies in the progressive Farmers Union. The stark rural/urban divide seen in the last two legislative elections and the 2016 presidential race persists, an April 24-26 Minnesota Poll shows. It found that President Trump’s performance is viewed favorably by 53 percent of those polled in northern Minnesota and 50 percent in the southern half of Greater Minnesota - compared with just 24 percent in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

That explains why the Farmers Union sessions attracted DFL Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and several Dayton administration commissioners. The party with Farmer in its name hopes to shore up a strained connection with the country.

What they heard in red-voting places like Alexandria, Little Falls and Isanti may puzzle them. The policies described as desirable by meeting participants don’t vary greatly from the positions staked out by DFL legislative candidates - who nevertheless lost the election.

Clearly, voting decisions can turn on more than policy analysis. The listening sessions also gave vent to the view that rural Minnesota has been “left behind” and ignored by state politicians, said Gary Wertish, a Renville farmer and Minnesota Farmers Union president since January. “They feel that the metro area has too much voice, and they aren’t being heard.”

That’s a sentiment that’s easily fueled by politicians on a mission to divide and conquer. Population and income growth in the Twin Cities has outstripped that of Greater Minnesota in this decade, while partisan gridlock at the State Capitol has blocked public investments that might have been particularly helpful outside the metro area.

As Wertish explained, when funding isn’t sufficient for a basic government service such as transportation, it’s easy to convince rural people that the transportation dollars they need must be going to the Twin Cities. But the facts tell a different story. Greater Minnesota residents get a much larger share of state highway funding than they pay in transportation taxes, a Star Tribune analysis found in March.

But what we especially appreciated about the 14 listening sessions is that most of the priorities they surfaced are not unique to one region or industry. Health insurance costs are socking the individually insured statewide. Transportation investment is insufficient everywhere. Too many Minnesotans go to bed hungry in the cities as well as the country.

A welcome sequel would be a series of informed dialogues among rural and urban dwellers, convened by some of the many trusted institutions that have a presence throughout the state. A concerted effort is needed to knock down misinformation and stereotypes. Minnesotans need to hear anew how much this state’s rural and urban regions have in common, and how intertwined their fates have always been, and are still.

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Post-Bulletin, May 3

Super Bowl is Minnesota marketing dream come true

How much is Super Bowl LII worth to Minnesota?

Far more than $400 million.

That’s the estimated direct economic impact of having the NFL extravaganza here in late January and early February. (The game is Feb. 4, but the extravaganza begins nine days earlier, and the hoopla already is building.)

But that’s just the direct dollars and cents. The value of having what many would say is the world’s top media event in the Twin Cities next year is incalculable, and the dividends already are being accrued as the marketing cranks up. Not only will the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium make its true debut as a venue for world-class events, the metro area and all of Minnesota, from the tip of the Arrowhead to corn country, will have a chance to reintroduce itself to the world as a great place to live, work, play and do business.

This is one of the reasons it was easy to get behind $348 million in state money for the stadium - again, putting that in perspective, it’s roughly the same amount that will be plowed into Destination Medical Center over 20 years, if all goes according to plan. There was never a question that Minnesota would get its second Super Bowl if the stadium was built, and we’re now about to reap one big helping of the benefits of that investment.

Maureen Bausch, the CEO of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, said at the PB Dialogue meeting Monday night in Rochester that it’s an incredibly rare opportunity to reintroduce ourselves to the world and showcase all that’s best about the state - including winter and “how we embrace it.”

Well, some of us embrace it more than others, but if the St. Paul Winter Carnival goes ahead and builds an ice palace this year, that’s another reason to embrace the Super Bowl.

In 1992, when Minnesota hosted its one previous Super Bowl (No. XXVI, exactly half of LII), the Twin Cities Super Bowl weekend featured Frank Sinatra and Madonna, and Rochester enjoyed its moment in the spotlight as well, with the late, great Chuck Berry here for an event that was in part at the Mayo Civic Center. The city expected to see about $500,000 in economic impact.

Rochester’s population was about 75,000 in 1992. The city is now half again as big, the third-largest city in the state, and it has the state’s largest private employer driving the state’s largest-ever economic development program. Mayo Civic Center will have the grand opening for its $85 million expansion on Thursday. Rochester is a far more dynamic place than it was when Washington played Buffalo at the HHH Metrodome - a yawner, like most Super Bowl games.

The city may not get a whole lot of hotel and Super Bowl-related business, but it’s an opportunity for every business and institution in town, including DMC, to grab some attention, make contacts and build relationships.

As Patrick Seeb, the DMC EDA economic development director, said at the Dialogue, Rochester needs to get fully plugged into the process at the individual volunteer level on up.

“Who will tell the Rochester story as well as we will?” he said.

Though it’s eight months away, there’s a vast amount of work to be done. Now’s the time to make plans, volunteer and get involved. It’ll be February before you know it. And is it too early to wish for no 30-below cold on Feb. 4?

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The Free Press of Mankato, May 5

Fear of MMR vaccine taking its toll in state

Repeating and resurrecting debunked information doesn’t make it suddenly become true.

An outbreak of misleading information, however, is taking its toll on children in Minnesota, especially those of Somali descent. An uptick in measles cases is occurring in Minnesota specifically because false claims are scaring some parents into believing the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR, causes autism in their children.

The state health department reported 41 cases as of Thursday afternoon with 39 confirmed to be unvaccinated. The department said 34 of the cases are Somali Minnesotans.

Measles shouldn’t be happening in this country anymore. A safe, proven vaccine can protect children as well as those who are unable to be vaccinated because they are too young or have auto-immune issues.

The vaccine’s tie to autism was debunked years ago when the doctor who concocted the theory was held accountable. Not only was Andrew Wakefield’s research retracted from the British medical journal Lancet in 2010, but an investigation pointed to fraud. His medical license was revoked by the U.K. medical register. Repeated studies show no link between the vaccine and autism.

But Wakefield’s followers have kept the misinformation campaign alive, arriving at recent meetings hosted by public health officials in Minnesota who are trying to educate parents about the importance of protecting communities against the serious and sometimes deadly disease. The anti-vaccine group shows up with forms for parents telling them they just need to fill out the opt-out paperwork.

Measles is not “just a rash” as has been characterized by some parents who decided against the MMR shot for their children. The “just a rash” begins at the head and spreads down to the rest of the body; complications include pneumonia and earaches that potentially lead to permanent hearing loss. In severe cases, measles can produce lasting lung and brain damage. The 1990 outbreak of measles in the Minnesota resulted in 460 cases of measles and three children died, according to former state epidemiologist Michael Osterholm.

Although Mankato hasn’t yet had a recorded measles case, health officials in our region are justifiably concerned. Many of our residents of Somali descent have relatives in the Twin Cities they visit on weekends, said Mohamed Ibrahim, a Mayo Clinic Health System community health worker in St. Peter. This scenario raises the possibility of a child contracting the virus where the outbreak is occurring before bringing it back to southern Minnesota.

Area health professionals need to continue to try to get out in front of this outbreak and educate parents, using staff with the cultural knowledge and language to make it clear to parents just how serious this issue is. County administrators need to make sure their health and human services departments are getting the staff and financial support to make sure the outreach is intense.

Somali families who have vaccinated their children need to reach out to those who haven’t or are unsure and stress the importance of protecting the community. Spreading the word is urgently needed to get ahead of spreading of the disease.

If we take a wait-and-see approach on how this region will be affected by the measles outbreak, it might be at the expense of our community’s children.


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