Republicans were traveling the roads of southern Minnesota Thursday in one last push to gather voter support ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Tyler Kistner, the Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, stopped at Met Con Cos. in Faribault as part of a daylong campaign trip around the district. Flanked by state Republican leaders and other GOP candidates, including U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn from the 1st Congressional District and state Sen. John Jasinski from Faribault, Kistner made his case for voter support as Republicans attempt to flip his district from blue to red by defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig on Tuesday. The close race caused his “last blitz” around the district ahead of Election Day to get out his message that he will bring “servant leadership” to Congress if elected, Kistner said.
Kistner’s “Send in the Marine” campaign tour comes amid a large Republican focus on Minnesota ahead of the election that will include President Donald Trump’s campaign stop in southern Minnesota Friday. With five days to go, Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan said she believes their efforts will pay off on Election Day.
“People are just fired up. They’re excited about reelecting our president to four more years, standing behind all of the Republican candidates on the ballot,” she said.
The Trump campaign has focused heavily on Minnesota in recent months with Trump’s campaign stops in Bemidji, Duluth and Mankato and Vice President Mike Pence’s recent campaign stop in Hibbing. Trump narrowly lost Minnesota by 45,000 votes in the 2016 presidential election and has since noted that he believes he could have won the state if he had campaigned in Minnesota one more time.
Trump’s visit on Friday is critically important to “make sure we’re turning out the base, we’re getting out the vote, that all of the Trump supporters that were with him in 2016, but maybe didn’t vote in 2018, that we get them all back,” Carnahan said.
Carnahan said they’re “absolutely” expecting Republican voter turnout to be as high this year as it was in the 2016, both among early votes and in-person votes on Tuesday.
“People are very concerned about the country. They understand how important this election is,” Carnahan said.
Campaigning on his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps, Kistner told the crowd of a dozen people in Faribault that he will put constituents ahead of himself in Congress. Harkening to having “objectives” as a Marine, he said Tuesday’s election is the “objective.” Kistner, along with other Republicans who spoke at Thursday’s campaign stop, made it it clear that Tuesday’s election is more than choosing elected officials, it’s about making a stand for a way of life in Minnesota.
On the state level, Republican legislative candidates are pushing to win Tuesday to keep their majority in the state Senate and win the state House as the legislative redistricting process, following the 2020 Census, hovers on the horizon next year. Redistricting will shift the Legislature’s dynamics for the next decade and “if we don’t have control of the state Legislature, (Democrats are) going to do everything they can to make sure your conservative voice and your conservative values, those Minnesota values, those family values will never be heard again,” Kistner said.
Minnesota House Assistant Minority Leader Tony Albright warned that Tuesday’s election is important because the divisions between the Republican-majority Senate and Democrat-majority House have allowed Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to act “unilaterally” with executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans need to maintain their majority in the state Senate this election because they are the “only backstop” to Walz’s actions, said Albright, a Republican from Prior Lake. Voters on Tuesday are choosing between “law and order” and “tyranny,” he said.
“This is a referendum on a way of life,” Albright said.
For the second time in three years, Pawn Minnesota owner Frank Marzario’s bid to limit the number of pawn shops in downtown Faribault has been sunk by a single councilor’s last minute change of heart.
In 2018, a proposal to mandate a 1-mile distance between pawn shops, was rejected by the council on its second reading after then Councilor Steve Underdahl, who cast the deciding vote to approve it on first reading, changed his mind.
This week, it was Councilor Peter van Sluis who did the same, joining with Councilors Elizabeth Cap and Jonathan Wood as well as Mayor Kevin Voracek, to block an ordinance that would have mandated a 3,000 foot distance between pawn shops.
The debate over the pawn shop ordinance had been topsy-turvy even before van Sluis’s defection, even though a four-vote majority of van Sluis, Royal Ross, Tom Spooner and Janna Viscomi backed the proposal last month and again on Oct. 13.
After the initial vote, Viscomi asked for additional time to consult with City Attorney Scott Riggs on the best way to implement the ordinance. Disagreement largely centered around whether the ordinance would fit best in the zoning or licensing section of the city code.
While unanimously opposed to the proposed ordinance, the Planning Commission forwarded it to the council after concluding that it was a policy decision, not a zoning one, and thus not within its official purview.
Attorney Riggs told the council that he believes the Planning Commission decided wrongly. Even if the ordinance would go in the licensing section, Riggs reasoned that it would still be considered part of the zoning code.
Following Riggs’s advice, the council redrafted the ordinance under the zoning code and it was backed by the same four councilors as before. According to City Planner Dave Wanberg, the structure may have been slightly different but the ordinance’s effect would have been identical.
Despite the controversy, the council seemed set to approve the ordinance until van Sluis abruptly killed it. van Sluis said that he had always been “on the fence” about the proposal but decided to oppose it after hearing persuasive arguments from city residents. Echoing arguments made consistently by Kevin Voracek and other foes of the proposed ordinance, van Sluis said that he was concerned that the proposed ordinance could create a negative precedent that could be exploited by other business owners.
“I got feedback from people who approached me and said ‘I want distance limitations,’” he said. “When you say (a pawn shop is) derogatory, well, lots of bars attract lots of fights, so it’s the same kind of thing.”
Citing his childhood experience in Holland, where business regulations were often far more extensive than in the U.S., van Sluis added that he was none too eager to have the city intervene in the free market to that extent.
“It (would create) a monopoly,” he said. “If you do not have distance limitations, it’s ‘let the best business win.’”
van Sluis’s about face was clearly music to the ears of Mayor Voracek, but less so to Marzario. Currently the only pawn shop owner in town, Marzario has argued that the limitation is needed to minimize the risk posed by potentially unscrupulous pawn shop owners.
While remaining neutral in regard to this specific ordinance, Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen, has said that Marzario’s shop has been fully compliant but that in general, law enforcement generally prefers fewer pawn shops in town due to the criminal risk. Existing city ordinances passed by the council in 2018, Marzario has consistently pointed out, note that pawn shops can provide an opportunity “for the commission of crimes and their concealment.”
Marzario insists that his business is different and that the city should feel safe if the local industry ends up in his hands because his shop, Pawn Minnesota, has always gone above and beyond to minimize the risk of criminal element.
Still, Marzario’s critics have been loud and vocal. Last month, retired longtime local attorney David Gross blasted Marzario’s push in a letter to the council as self-centered, “totally without both legal and factual support,” and even unconstitutional.
Councilors subsequently reviewed another letter in opposition, this one from former council candidate Jerry Irwin. Irwin said that while pawn shops could settle in other parts of Faribault, it would establish a monopoly in perhaps the most economical area for one to settle.
“I also think that any legally run business would be a benefit to our (Commercial Business District),” Irwin wrote. “We are spending taxpayer money to refurbish and maintain the (district) and we should be working to obtain a repayment of this money by filling these empty buildings with businesses.”
Now that the proposal has been defeated, Marzario will have to wait at least a year to try again at amending the ordinance. By that time the council might look much different. Cap isn’t running for re-election; Ross and Jonathan Wood up for re-election.
The Pawn Minnesota owner wasn’t clear on whether he would try to make a third push for an ordinance change However, he could hardly hide his frustration with the council, accusing its members of harboring “hate and envy” and encouraging an industry that promotes a “ghetto”-like environment.
“It was just a raw deal,” he said. “Everybody flips at the last minute, and they have no concern about retail business downtown.”
A COVID-19 outbreak at Three Links Care Center in Northfield has recently infected 42 residents and staff members.
Three Links CEO Mark Anderson said 26 residents have tested positive for the virus since Oct. 20 — none since noon Friday. Sixteen staff members have tested positive since Oct. 25, including four since noon Friday.
“We know this news may cause concern,” Anderson wrote in a letter on the Three Links website. “Our staff are trained to care for our residents in a calm, professional manner while following strict infection prevention measures.” Anderson noted Three Links is contact tracing each case as a way to prevent the spread of the disease and is following standard protocols instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health. Indoor visits have been suspended indefinitely, with the exception of end-of-life visits and other needs considered urgent.
Anderson said residents are quarantining in their rooms. Those who have tested positive are being cared for in a designated area of the Care Center, and all Care Center residents and staff are being tested for the virus over the next several weeks. Anderson noted staff is working within designated areas and cannot cross into other sections.
Prior to the spike, Three Links, which offers a care center, senior apartments, assisted living, memory care and end-of-life services, had seen six residents and staff positive COVID-19 since March. Of those, one hospitalization was reported. That patient has since returned to the campus. Anderson said a majority of the staff members who have tested positive during the pandemic have been asymptomatic.
Anderson said though Three Links officials discussed calling in the National Guard to assist with staffing during the outbreak, they opted not to move forward with that approach. Currently, the assisted living facility is fulfilling its staffing obligations in-house and through a contractor, an approach Anderson said is common in health care.
Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst noted any decision to use the National Guard is made by the specific care facility in consultation with Department of Health and the State Emergency Operations Center. The National Guard has already been utilized in Austin and Hibbing due to a surge in positive tests at care facilities in those communities.
Purfeerst said 24 positive COVID-19 tests had been reported in Rice County long-term care facilities and group homes prior to the increase at Three Links, adding those numbers have been “minimal” compared to surrounding counties and throughout the state.
She emphasized her appreciation for the work long-term care facility employees undertake to protect residents. Despite that, the close proximity and health risks for those who live in such facilities still pose challenges. COVID-19-induced staff quarantine periods have only exacerbated pre-existing workforce shortages within the care industry, an issue attributed to low pay within the industry and the rigorous work such employees undertake.
CEO Anderson noted the challenges Three Links faces are not isolated to a single location.
“We are not in this alone,” he said. “This is a worldwide situation.”
Purfeerst: increases expected as winter draws near
Purfeerst said increases in positive tests and deaths from the virus across the state are expected as more people spend time indoors due to colder weather and increased testing. She noted COVID-19 testing indicates Rice County is still in a slightly better position in combating the virus than comparable areas as Minnesota sees an uptick in positive virus tests and deaths.
Still, she said it is most important that people follow existing guidelines to combat the spread of the virus, including minimizing close contact with others, quarantining for 14 days following a positive test, and isolating when experiencing similar symptoms.
“That’s the only way we can try to slow that spread and minimize transmission,” Purfeerst said.
More than 1,720 positive COVID-19 tests have been reported in Rice County. The county’s positivity rate is 4.21%, lower than the state average of 5.3%. Of the 80 people who are currently confirmed to have the virus in Rice County, 18 have been admitted into the ICU.
Across the state, 1,908 positive COVID-19 tests and 32 deaths were reported from Wednesday to Thursday. More than 6,400 cases have been reported in the state’s long-term care facilities. A total of 142,311 cases in all have been reported.
A U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy was in Faribault Thursday to announce a new pilot program to encourage increased energy efficiency at manufacturing and wastewater treatment facilities across the country.
The new Industrial Technology Validation (ITV) pilot program is a part of the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative. Through that, the department works with businesses to encourage the use of innovative technology to increase energy efficiency and reduce costs.
“We’re confident that this pilot program will help build on the progress that the industry is moving toward and will help the 12 million Americans who work in the manufacturing industry,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes said during a visit to HVAC manufacturer Daikin Applied.
Menezes, who was appointed and confirmed to his position by President Trump in 2017, said that he came to Faribault to discuss the new initiative because Daikin has long been a leader in embracing energy efficiency technologies.
The deputy secretary received a tour of Daikin’s facility before sitting down for a roundtable meeting with Daikin Americas President and CEO Mike Schwartz and Senior Vice President for Government Affairs David Calabrese. Daikin has been a participant of the Better Plants Program since 2012, when it made a pledge to reduce energy emissions at three plants in Minnesota and Virginia. Within just four years, Daikin achieved its goal of reducing energy use by 35%.
As the largest HVAC manufacturer in the world, Japanese-owned Daikin has invested heavily in making not only its facilities but its products more efficient, trimming energy use and costs for hospitals, schools, businesses, offices and other facilities.
By delivering a product that is manufactured as efficiently as possible and operates in a highly efficient manner as well, Menezes said that Daikin has positioned itself well to weather COVID-19 and compete in the global market.
In Faribault, Daikin currently produces its Rebel Rooftop system, which provides heating, cooling and air filtration, delivering energy savings up to 43% above the standards sent by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’s 2016 standards. Daikin has two plants in Faribault and another in Owatonna. During the pandemic, Daikin’s air filtration systems have become particularly crucial as businesses and schools look to return to safe operation. Schwartz said Daikin has been working with its clients across the country to ensure that airflow remains as clean as possible.
Also at Thursday’s session was South Central College President Dr. Annette Parker. Menezes offered particularly fulsome praise for Daikin’s collaboration with South Central, which has helped to deliver on-the-job training.
“It’s quite inspiring to see not only the technology you see here at the plant, but the workers you have here,” he said. “The workers are trained to do jobs up and down the assembly line and they are highly skilled.”
Parker said she was glad that Menezes had chosen to visit Faribault and sees the public-private partnership between the Faribault Public Schools, South Central and Daikin that has helped Faribault youth transition into good jobs as a sound model worth expanding.
“I was impressed that he really valued the conversation we were having around public-private partnerships,” she said. “They will build the workforce of the future, help Daikin and others in our region be successful and enhance the competitiveness of our workforce.”
Just in Minnesota, approximately 2/3rds of the state’s energy use comes from its commercial and industrial sector. Manufacturing specifically is Minnesota’s second largest sector in the state, adding more than $50 billion to Minnesota’s Gross Domestic Product as of 2018.
Menezes said a key part of making businesses more efficient and of reducing emissions is to focus on electrifying their facilities as much as possible. Within the context of electricity production, the deputy secretary insisted his department has pursued an “all of the above” approach.
According to Menezes, every electrical generation station under construction currently will utilize renewables or natural gas, with the exception of a single nuclear plant. The department is also focusing on developing carbon capture and sequestration technologies. In addition to leading the world in oil and natural gas production, the U.S. is second in renewables and first in nuclear energy. Questioned on the role of nuclear power by several roundtable participants, Menezes said he believes it will play a crucial role going forward.
Menezes acknowledged the current controversy around nuclear power, but assured participants that the nuclear power of tomorrow will likely look much different than that of today, thanks to new technological innovations. By maintaining a lead when it comes to technological innovation Menezes said that the U.S. can build lasting relationships with countries across the globe. That’s particularly important with nuclear technology, he added, given its potential use in weaponry.
Strengthening U.S. manufacturing has long been a priority of the Trump Administration, and Menezes insisted that his boss’s policies, including lowering taxes and reducing regulations on businesses and taking a hard line on trade, proved a success before the pandemic.
To further improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, Menezes said the ITV pilot program will enable Better Buildings Initiative participants to work with the Department of Energy experts to analyze the potential costs and benefits of energy saving measures. Once such an analysis is completed, Menezes said it would be shared broadly throughout the relevant industry, removing the risk of making a potentially uncertain investment by providing businesses with a clear sense of what technologies can make them more efficient.
“You can’t ask (successful businesses) to change the way they do things for the sake of demonstrating new ways to do things,” he said. “This is where we can bring in our experts.”