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Randolph native Caleb Thielbar finished the 2020 regular season with the third-best ERA on the Minnesota Twins and the best FIP in the bullpen. That helped the Twins win the American League Central and qualify for the postseason, which starts Tuesday afternoon against the Houston Astros. (Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins)


News
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Believet provides lifesaving canines to veterans with psychological trauma
  • Updated

For Dave DuChene, Believet Canine Service Partners in Northfield offered him not only a dog but a lifeline.

“He saved my life,” said DuChene, a veteran and Faribault resident, looking down at Jack, his standard poodle. “ … My doctor said I suffered from PTSD, which I knew, so I say [Jack] saved my life.”

DuChene’s wife learned about Believet from Executive Director and founder Sam Daly, who she met at their church. She urged her husband to learn more about the program, which connects veterans with custom-trained assistance dogs, and he agreed to give it a chance. A year after being matched with his dog, he’s also a volunteer trainer, helping other veterans.

Another volunteer, Patty Benson, became involved with Believet after one of its dogs helped her husband, also veteran.

“It has helped him reclaim his freedom,” Benson said. “I’m very grateful.”

Volunteers train 10 to 12 assistance dogs per year for veterans in and far beyond Rice County. Daly reported over 30 veterans on the waiting list. Since it takes 18 months to train one service dog, some of these vets need to wait up to two years to receive their dog.

“What we do costs money just like any charity, but the return on investment is also relevant” Daly said. “The benefit of the community is in keeping families together and keeping veterans employed … Most people think this program is about the dogs, but really it’s about disabled vets and their families and giving them back their lives.”

April usually marks Believet’s biggest annual fundraiser, but the coronavirus pandemic prevented the event from happening. Daly said the organization is “OK for now” financially, but reduced funding could negatively impact 2021.

Daly started Believet in 2015 after serving as a civilian contractor attached to the U.S. Marine Corps. During deployments in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, Daly used labrador retriever military working dogs for battlefield detection of improvised explosives devices. He noticed the dogs providing comfort to the Marines, and that inspired his efforts back in the U.S.

“After that experience, it was a progression,” Daly said. “We’ve been training here in this location for 21 years. It wasn’t like we just started a new idea; we had a lot of background and training.”

Four main trainers bring four to 15 years of dog-training experience to Believet, and veterans must commit 120 hours of training after their dogs complete one year of training with volunteers. Believet staff matches veterans to dogs based on several factors, including activity level. An older veteran might benefit from a less active dog, for example.

George Wickstrom, a Believet board member, accounted a story of a veteran whose assistance dog, nuzzling up to him, disrupted his thoughts of suicide. According to Daly, that story applies to nearly all the vets who participate in the program. Almost all veterans involved in Believet use dogs that provide psychiatric services as opposed to physical services, but many psychiatric service dogs also offer practical skills.

“When you’ve been a veteran and seen the things we’ve seen, it’s hard on your system,” DuChene said. “You read about suicide … This is a way to prevent it.”

All Believet staff members undergo suicide prevention training and keep that top of mind. Rather than relying on medications to reduce the symptoms of PTSD, Believet looks at cortisol levels in conjunction with the assistance dogs. Daly explained that individuals with PTSD experience lower levels of cortisol, which helps the body respond to stress, but the dogs prove to increase those levels to a healthy baseline.

In addition to offering companionship, the assistance dogs are trained to perform specific behaviors that helps calm veterans. Dogs notice changes in their veterans, like sweating and raised voices, as signals to intervene. Since individuals with PTSD may experience difficulty controlling their behaviors, and therefore choose to isolate at home, Daly said the dogs help restore veterans’ confidence in going out.

“I’ve seen some remarkable things,” said Charles Kenow, a volunteer trainer and member of the Believet Board. “I know individuals who weren’t able to get out of the house but now speak before 200 people and go shopping. I think this is a great organization.”

Volunteer dog trainers also train dogs to to meet clients’ specific needs. Females with military sexual trauma make up about 50% of the clients, and their dogs learn behaviors specific to their needs.

Daly explained that if veterans suffer from vivid, traumatic dreams while sleeping, their dogs might awaken them in a comforting manner, by turning on the bedroom light and slowly removing the bedding. Dogs also learn how to retrieve security items, like a cell phone, if they fall in the snow.

“I think the organization is probably top-notch to any similar organization,” said Kevin Bauer of Dundas, who served 27 years in the U.S. Army. “… Sam not only runs the organization but talks to us individually and tells us what we need to do to get the dogs and become self-sufficient. It should be more widely known from what it really is.”


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Candidates for hotly contested Senate races say health care, COVID-19 top challenges
  • Updated

Local candidates for two hotly contested state races said COVID-19 and lowering the cost of health care remain the top local issues during a Saturday debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Northfield and Cannon Falls.

District 20 first-term incumbent Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, and his challenger, Jon Olson, D-New Market, participated in the debate. Senate District 58 incumbent Matt Little, D-Lakeville, who is also seeking a second term, participated, but his Republican challenger, Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, did not.

COVID-19, health care

The virtual debate format, a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, ensured the pandemic was a main discussion point.

To Olson, COVID-19 has separated three working groups: professionals who can work from home during the pandemic, skilled labor who were laid off and frontline workers whose health and mental well-being have been impacted. Olson described his support for local government aid funding from the state to ensure local communities can make it through the pandemic.

Little said he supports the state’s response to the pandemic and spoke favorably of Minnesota’s relatively low COVID-19 numbers compared to the region and the south. He attributed that difference to the state’s swift initial response to stop the spread of the virus and measured approach in opening schools and industries.

As of Sunday, Minnesota had 95,711 COVID-19 cases and 2,056 deaths. In Wisconsin, a state with a slightly higher population, 120,000 cases have been reported with 1,291 deaths. In Iowa, a state with a lower population than Minnesota, 85,586 cases have been reported with 1,312 deaths. In Texas, a state with a much higher population, 765,000 cases have been reported with 15,792 deaths.

Little said he wants the state to use a metrics-based approach to combating the pandemic, which would ensure Minnesota business closures and restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 would end if hospitalizations fall beneath a certain number.

“We should use hospitalizations, because that is a very clear number,” he said.

To Draheim, the state’s COVID-19 response has been both good and bad. He noted a majority of deaths in the state have come from long-term care facilities. However, he agreed with Little that the state needs to use metrics in opening the state, adding that legislators have had little input in decisions as Gov. Tim Walz continues using emergency powers to quicken the state’s response to the pandemic.

“Like anything, this is a great learning lesson that we should take what worked, what didn’t work from the past year,” he said.

Olson said he has always lived in a “science-based, fact-based” way and made clear, data-based decisions. He noted countries around the world have struggled with the virus, adding though people want the economy to open, decision-makers must be “thoughtful” and “reasonable” as cases spike. To him, hospitalization rates are a good barometer of how the state should respond to the pandemic.

Olson said the health care system is not working the way it was designed, noting farmers have told him they quit paying health insurance premiums because the high costs of such plans conflicted with other pressing needs. He spoke of his support for patient-centered, high-quality, affordable health care, like standard care, addiction counseling and eye care. He also believes the state must address health care cost drivers and social determinants.

Little said he supports a public MinnesotaCare buy-in for low-income residents and the adaptation of a drug price review board to help lower prescription drug costs.

To Little, who framed public involvement in the health care system as a moral imperative, government should play a central role in protecting its citizens, including health care. He added competition between the private and public sectors would drop health insurance costs.

Draheim, who spoke of the health care bills he has authored with the intention of lowering costs, including re-insurance, said the current price of care bleeds into health insurance, long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Draheim noted one of his initiatives includes a bill allowing people to shop for out-of-network health care services, something he said he wants to implement in his next term if he is reelected. The savings would be split between the patient and insurance company.

Little has drafted a number of bills to address the soaring costs of insulin, something he called “absolutely immoral and wrong.” He said attack ads leveled against him are being launched by groups who oppose that work.

Government spending, economy

A previous state surplus is projected to change to a projected $2.4 billion deficit following COVID-19.

Little, who said the projected deficit needs to result in cuts, added that reductions must still preserve day programs, special education services, education, health care and public safety. To help combat the deficit, he called on the state to legalize sports gambling.

Little still called for the passage of a bonding bill, action he said would create more than 200,000 jobs throughout Minnesota.

Draheim noted his top economic concern is reestablishing pre-COVID 19 economic conditions, considered to be one of the best in 50 years. He said by 2026, health and human service costs are projected to double. To combat that projected increase, Draheim said the state must plan and prioritize spending and ensure those who receive assistance are qualified to do so. He added the state must also ensure all students have broadband access during COVID-19.

To Olson, Minnesota has “a moral responsibility” to protect critical services for the state’s most vulnerable residents, noting his belief in the importance of education as a state investment and the need to creatively generate revenue without eroding the state’s budget reserves.

Other top goals Little has in a possible second term is implementing paid family medical leave to ensure resident can care for their spouses who are sick. For Olson, a top goal is allowing Minnesota to make significant investments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to possibly elevate the state to an attraction level similar to Silicon Valley for talent and enable breakthroughs in medical science, pharmaceuticals and in other areas, possibly through research investment incentives.

Environment

To Draheim, aquatic invasive species and weeds pose major problems for the environment. He spoke of a bill he authored to start using environmentally friendly road sealant made from soybean oil, a measure he said would also help local farmers.

Olson strongly favors clean energy investments, adding that the transportation sector is considered to be the biggest polluter. He spoke of the work being conducted by energy companies and advocated for incentives to be in place to foster competition.

Little stressed the importance of working with farmers and being “cognizant and compassionate” about balancing the need for economic growth with preserving environmentally friendly policies. But to Little, the sooner the state can become a leader in green and clean energy, the more the state can draw more jobs in.

Background

Draheim, who lives on Lake Washington in Le Sueur County, is a small business owner. He spoke of his participation on a number of Senate committees and working groups. In referencing his bipartisan work, Draheim noted he was chief author of 139 bills last session. Of those, 100 were bipartisan, and 28 of 32 DFL senators signed onto one of his bills.

Little said advertisements placed by his detractors falsely claim he wants to defund and dismantle police.

“This district deserves way better than these ads,” he said. He spoke of his desire for police reform while continuing to support law enforcement, the continued implementation of body cameras and the adoption of wellness training.

Little, who was elected Lakeville mayor in 2010 as a 27 year-old, spoke of his Senate work in extending Metro Mobility to Lakeville and that steps he’s taken to ensure Randolph receives a wastewater treatment system.

Little’s comments included references to attacks he said he has faced from Republicans since he was elected as a senator. He referenced the refusal of Republicans to give his bills hearings. Despite their opposition, he said he has continued his bipartisan work.

“There is no one more bipartisan at the Capitol than me,” he said.

Olson, who moved to the area in 2012 after retiring from the Navy, says he’s running because of the extensive partisan political division. He described himself as “an outsider looking in,” and attributed a perceived lack of bipartisanship to a failure from both Democrats and Republicans.

“Bipartisanship is about establishing trust in the future,” he said.


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Board pushes ahead with policy that would change school names
  • Updated

The Northfield School Board is moving to rename Sibley Elementary School as part of a broader policy change that would ban the naming district buildings after individuals.

A first reading of the proposed change took place Monday during a board meeting. Final approval could come next month. Under the policy, schools could only be named for the areas where they are located, including neighborhoods, townships and natural features. Sibley and Longfellow schools would also need to be renamed in the next 12 months.

A controversial name

The first Minnesota governor and namesake for Sibley Elementary School in Northfield, Henry Hastings Sibley played a role in the trial and execution of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato following the 1862 war in southern Minnesota.

Prior to the board meeting, more than a half dozen district parents wrote statements to the board supporting changing the name of Sibley Elementary School.

Parent Michael Pursell, who has two children enrolled at Sibley Elementary, called the proposed name change “long overdue.” Though Sibley was celebrated for his involvement in government, Pursell called him a “brutal enforcer of broken treaties.”

To fellow parent Kristin O’Connell, the school name doesn’t reflect Northfielders.

School Board member Jeff Quinnell noted 42% of Big Nine Conference elementary schools are named after U.S. presidents and 35% are considered generic. Though declining to defend Sibley’s behavior, he said he is more interested in ensuring the process includes sufficient transparency and fairness.

“I’m not sure why we need one now,” he said of renaming Sibley Elementary.

At one point, Quinnell suggested waiting to enact any changes until after November’s election as board members Ellen Iverson and Noel Stratmoen seek reelection and Rob Hardy isn’t looking for another term. Quinnell also spoke of possibly offering an informal public poll.

Should the policy pass, Superintendent Matt Hillmann said there will be a long enough process to ensure sufficient outreach takes while setting an end date.

In supporting the name change, School Board member Rob Hardy described Sibley’s history as a fur trader and the part he played in past injustices against Native Americans. To Hardy, though some history lessons offered in schools illustrate Sibley’s positive work, such instruction hasn’t adequately spotlighted his misdeeds. He believes that continuing to have Sibley be the namesake for the school would show the district values his contributions more than the devastation he wrought. Even though Hardy he has been asked to change the school’s name since he was elected, he doesn’t support renaming the school in honor of well-known people with Northfield ties so one individual isn’t elevated above others.

Fellow School Board member Tom Baraniak said the danger of naming buildings after one person has become apparent.

“If not now, then when?” he asked of changing the name.

Chair Julie Pritchard said the change would rectify the district’s previous decision to name Sibley Elementary School and serve as a reminder of Northfield’s commitment to inclusivity and acceptance of students of all backgrounds.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Michael Pursell. His quote was: "He was a brutal enforcer of broken treaties." 


State
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Challenger criticizes Congresswoman's suit to decide race in November
  • Updated

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig is seeking a court order requiring that the November election in her congressional race be held as scheduled instead of being delayed until February under a Minnesota law that was triggered when a third-party candidate died.

Craig, who is seeking a second term in a competitive suburban and rural district south of the Twin Cities, said in a statement Monday that federal law requires the contest to be held as part of the November general election. And she warned that the district would go without congressional representation for several weeks if the election is delayed.

“The people of Minnesota’s Second Congressional District deserve to have a voice fighting for them in Washington,” she said. “Unfortunately, the process currently in place would deprive Minnesotans of their seat at the table at a time when critical legislation affecting our state will be debated — including bills to rid politics of special interests, ensure quality, affordable health care for every Minnesotan and safeguard our family farmers.”

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon postponed the 2nd District election after Adam Weeks, the Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate for the seat, died Sept. 21. Legal Marijuana Now has major party status in Minnesota under a law that lets a small party qualify if one of its candidates for statewide office got at least 5% of the vote in a recent election. Simon said state law requires that if a major party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day, a special election must be held for that office on the second Tuesday in February, which is Feb. 9, 2021.

If the state law is enforced, Craig would have to vacate the seat when her term expires Jan. 3 and it would remain vacant until the winner of the special election was declared in early February, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Craig argued in her federal lawsuit filed Monday that the state law is “unconstitutional as applied to elections for U.S. Congress and is preempted by federal law.”

Craig is facing a challenge from Republican Tyler Kistner, a Marine Corps veteran making his first run for office. She has urged her supporters to mark their ballots for her and other Democrats, even though the votes for her seat may not be counted if the state law stands. Craig would be expected to benefit from the high turnout on Election Day, while Kistner’s chances would be expected to improve in a special election, in which Republicans tend to benefit from the lower turnout.

Minnesota began early voting on Sept. 18. Notices are required to be placed at polling places about the postponement. Craig has asked for an injunction to remove any postponement notices and to compel officials to certify the November results.

The Legislature changed state election law to avoid a repeat of the hectic 2002 race, when Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash 11 days before the election. Democrats chose former Vice President Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone on the ballot, but he lost the seat to Republican Norm Coleman.

Kistner spokesman Billy Grant criticized Craig for suing, saying the change passed with bipartisan support.

“Despite Secretary of State Simon being crystal clear that there will be a special election in February, Angie Craig is trying to rewrite laws to disenfranchise voters,” he said.