Northfield college students, some of whom once supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren in her quest to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, gathered Sunday in Riverside Park to hear her speak.
Though the senator from Massachusetts’ visit was in support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the event, less than two weeks before Election Day, is a sign of the critical role the college-aged population plays in local politics.
Warren’s speech, sponsored by Minnesota Students for Biden Get Out the Vote, came before a couple hundred college students, most of whom have already voted, a sign of the unprecedented number of people across the country who are voting by mail due to COVID-19. Warren called on those who have voted to foster enthusiasm in others to either vote early or do so in-person Nov. 3. Though polls frequently show Biden ahead of Donald Trump in polling, Warren urged attendees not to take the upcoming election for granted.
Prior to Warren’s 15-minute speech, St. Olaf College Democrats Chair Hannah Liu noted 4,000 St. Olaf and Carleton student voters can tip the balance of local elections, including the 2nd Congressional District, a race this year that pits first-term incumbent Angie Craig against Republican Tyler Kistner.
Carleton College Democrats Chair Siena Leone-Getten said every conversation those in attendance have with potential voters will help in electing DFLers and make the state a more equitable place.
‘She was the balance of both’
St. Olaf College sophomore history and theater major Margaux Daniel arrived approximately an hour prior to the event. Though she supported Warren in the primaries, Daniel, a Seattle native, said she’s motivated to vote for Biden. To Daniel, President Donald Trump has stripped some people of their human rights, not sufficiently dealt with racial injustice and doesn’t have a moral compass.
“… I don’t want him to be in office anymore,” she said. Though Daniel said no president can solve all of the country’s issues, she believes Biden can do so more than the incumbent because he’s committed to listening to scientists, implementing mask mandates and not spreading misinformation.
Daniel said younger people must be involved in politics to undo the damage done to the country since Trump took office.
To fellow St. Olaf sophomore Eleanor Hinchcliffe, who also voted for Warren during the state’s primary election, the Massachusetts senator was “capable, very energetic,” and had a good explanation of how she would have accomplished her goals.
Hinchcliffe said the most important issues facing the country include responding to COVID-19 and tackling the climate crisis. She’s concerned that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the high court takes place as expected, that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision could be overturned, imperiling abortion rights. Hinchcliffe supports police abolition but doesn’t believe the country is ready to do so. To her, police are primarily tasked with only responding to crime and often only worsen violent situations. Instead, she noted her support for public programs she believes reduce violence, like libraries, schools and other services.
Though admitting Biden isn’t her favorite candidate, at least in part due to his support of allocating more funding for police, she still supports the nominee.
“It’s better than Trump,” Hinchcliffe said of a Biden presidency.
Carleton sophomore Andrew Gorordo said supporting the Biden/Harris ticket, saying that reelecting Trump would ensure continued social justice strife and the wild economic swings. To Gorordo, contrasting Biden to Trump, the Democrat has comprehensive plans to address those issues and isn’t corrupt.
‘We continue to be of major importance’
Rice County DFL Chair Shawn Groth noted Warren’s popularity within Northfield and her previous visit to the city in 2014 with then-Sen. Al Franken. To Groth, the senator’s visit speaks to her desire to serve and the importance of college students as local voters.
“It shows that we continue to be of major importance to campaigns and to the party itself,” Groth said of the importance of Warren’s visit. “The college Dems, they’ve been working so hard this election cycle for all of our candidates, our local candidates … all the way up the Biden/Harris ticket. They’re very enthusiastic, full of passion. I’m glad they’re on our side.”
In the past, the work of local college students has also allowed some political interns to parlay their work into a career of public service, like Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who once interned for one-time Carleton College professor, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Rice County Republican Chair Kathy Dodds said Warren’s visit was “kind of speaking to the choir,” based on Northfield’s tradition as a city with a sizable liberal population. To Dodds, Biden is “in declining mental health,” and she believes a vote for him is realistically an indicator of support for Kamala Harris due to his age. She accused Biden and Harris of promoting socialism.
Though most polls place Biden ahead of Trump, Dodds said the incumbent is sparking much voter enthusiasm, some from previously disenchanted voters. She said the president has successfully combated illegal immigration and sex trafficking and has improved care at Veterans Affairs. She noted the economic growth during the Trump administration prior to the pandemic and his successful moving of the Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem. She said Republicans continue to campaign in-person and encourage conversations.
“We’re not complacent,” she said.
A Sept. 26 MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE-11 Minnesota poll of 800 registered voters showed Biden leading the president by 48-42 percent with 8 percent undecided.
Warren: Trump continues to respond poorly to COVID-19
In describing Minnesota as “a hotspot” for COVID-19, Warren noted the U.S. death toll of 219,000. She said Trump continues to have “no plan” to combat the virus and peddles false information.
In her speech, Warren criticized Trump Administration policy on the economy, education and climate change. On several occasions, Warren concluded her statements with calls to hold Trump accountable and vote him out on Nov. 3. To Warren, Trump has weakened the fight against climate change by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord and allowing Arctic drilling. Warren also criticized Trump for telling the far-right organization Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a recent debate with Biden and, to her, continuing to equate white supremacy groups with those fighting against them.
“Democracy is on the line,” she said of election implications. “The fate of our planet is on the line.”
Warren also spoke highly of Biden and frequently called on the crowd to elect him president. To her, a Biden administration would suppress COVID-19 and reduce prescription drug costs. She said Biden would make it easier for people to join unions, ensure judicial officers support equal rights, support universal child care access and free universal pre-K for 3 and 4 year-olds, allow for the cancelation of some student debt and enact equality measures.
“We’ve got a lot of reasons to get out there and get this done,” Warren said.
After a storm of controversy, Bridgewater Township supervisors signed off on a new Conditional Use Permit that will help to secure the future of a thriving small business.
Since opening south of Dundas six years ago, Keepsake Cidery has become one of the most prominent businesses in the township. The small, family-owned business makes its product the old fashioned way, with wild apples hard-pressed on-site and aged into fine cider.
The Cidery is the brainchild of Nate Watters and Tracy Jonkman, two farm kids who never lost their love for where they grew up. Watters grew up in upstate New York’s apple country and was raised around the fruit from an early age, selling apples from a neighbor’s tree for his first job. Jonkman grew up on a farm in the Upper Midwest, but went to school to become an emergency medicine doctor. While deeply involved in the business, she also still works helping patients in the ER and was elected to the Bridgewater Township Board earlier this year.
Keepsake’s sizable orchard and tasting room are located in an isolated part of the township, off a gravel road and alongside the Cannon River Wilderness Area, a secluded stretch of the river owned and operated as a county park.
Accordingly, Watters and Jonkman had to apply for special permits to accommodate the business when they built it. While they originally hoped to receive a CUP, they ended up receiving an Interim Use Permit instead.
The IUP included some restrictions, including a limit that no more than 50 cars be parked on the farm at one time and that events be held on the weekend, from May thru December. Watters said the agreement wasn’t perfect, but as a first try, that was to be expected.
“We understand that some of these things are a work in progress as the township and county learn what works,” he said. “At the time there was no precedent in Rice County for what we were doing.”
As the business grew, the traffic at the rural property increased as well. Keepsake took steps to limit the intrusion of noise, traffic and parking onto neighboring properties, including fixing up its driveway and posting no parking signs where appropriate.
All in all, Township Board Chair Glen Castore said that as far as the township was aware, the agreement was working reasonably well. Until last year, Castore said that no neighbors had reached out to the township to complain.
While Castore said that township officials had no reason to believe that Keepsake had systemically violated the IUP, Jonkman and Watters decided that based on what they had learned requesting a new CUP could make sense.
The township’s Planning and Zoning Commission sprung into action, producing the proposal that passed 3-1 Tuesday. However, not all neighbors were pleased with that decision, nor was it unanimous.
Under the CUP, limits on cars are gone but Keepsake will be able to host up to 150 people, four days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Six times a year, Keepsake will also be able to host “special events” with up to 250 people.
Sharon Kilanowski, Keepsake’s closest neighbor, showed up with her father Mike Breckinridge to strongly contest the CUP. Breckinridge and his wife Barb developed the quarter century old house before selling it to Sharon and her husband Adam recently. While saying that he had respect for Watters and Jonkman and their efforts to build a successful business, Breckinridge claimed that Keepsake had repeatedly violated its IUP. He claimed that “hundreds” of cars often were at the site, parking all over the place.
“There’s often an incredible amount of noise and traffic on what I consider this absolute piece of heaven,” Breckinridge said. “With the writeups in the city papers, the crowds have gotten out of control.”
Kilanowski raised concerns over live music as well. While it was not a violation of the IUP, she expressed frustration that Keepsake had often invited bands to play on the site, leading to mass noise pollution that would be acceptable under the CUP.
She added that Keepsake’s efforts to improve its driveway had in fact made the situation worse. With the smoother surface, she said that drivers feel more comfortable taking the driveway at higher, even unsafe speeds.
“From 9-9 four days a week, I’ll be living in the inner city,” she said. “Cars from Minneapolis will be driving 40 mph down my driveway.”
Watters asserted those claims were wildly exaggerated and said that Keepsake has done everything it could to limit traffic and noise. He also stated that most neighbors he had talked to were supportive, in contrast to the claims made by Kilanowski and Breckinridge.
Still, the concerns resonated with Supervisor Kathleen Kopseng, who said that she too can sometimes hear the bands at Keepsake from far away. She also said that the high volume of traffic poses a potential public safety issue.
While she voted no, Kopseng stated that she was not unalterably opposed to granting some sort of CUP. However, she said that much more discussion should be had and pushed back against Castore’s assertion that the lack of complaints from neighbors suggested a lack of opposition.
“There were just enough things, as I went through this closely the full IUP, that gave me pause,” Kopseng said.
While Jonkman abstained, the other three supervisors came down in support of the CUP, securing its passage. But while he pushed hard for the CUP’s approval, Castore said that he wants to see the township’s approach to CUPs change in the future.
“Normally we grant an IUP or a CUP and we step away from it,” he said. “What I propose is that if you see problems, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an outright violation, the township should get involved.”
President Trump’s middle son, Eric, derided Democratic party leaders on a number of issues and praised his father’s accomplishments during an Oct. 13 speech to a few hundred supporters in rural Northfield.
Trump’s visit to Felton Farms came exactly three weeks before the Nov. 3 general election pitting Donald Trump against Democrat Joe Biden. Several times during his visit the 37-year-old businessman portrayed Republicans and Democrats as having different views of society. He said Republicans support the nuclear family structure and God. He also chided the decision made by some athletes to kneel for the national anthem to protest racial injustice and the opposition of some to the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“It’s no longer Republicans versus Democrats,” Trump said. “It’s right versus wrong.”
Trump attributed his father’s upset 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton to divine intervention, noting Donald Trump’s victory came despite a 2-to-1 fundraising disadvantage.
“It was David versus Goliath,” Eric said.
Trump successfully energized the crowd a number of times in his address. He said the U.S. had “the strongest military in the world,” a statement met with chants of “Four more years!” He then spoke of the work his father has done to improve the lives of veterans and called for quick, efficient military operations to prevent long conflicts such as the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. “USA! USA!” the crowd cheered.
Eric Trump praised his father for following through on his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recent peace deals he said will foster harmony among nations. He attributed a decrease in illegal immigration and human trafficking to the Trump Administration and said it had constructed 360 miles of border wall fencing, more than the 220 planned.
“Build the wall!” the crowd chanted, echoing a common slogan used at Trump campaign rallies.
While Eric Trumps statement is accurate, a fact check last month by USA Today reported that while over 300 miles of wall have been built since Trump took office, only 5 miles are new.
Trump briefly touched on the COVID-19 pandemic, criticizing the decision of some state leaders to deem liquor stores essential while limiting capacity for church services. Many of those in attendance did not wear masks.
Trump ties Biden to controversial progressive policies
Trump said Biden has not drawn the crowds indicative of a person with much support. He also took issue with what he said is media bias favoring Biden, the candidate’s reluctance to attend in-person rallies and his gaffes.
“He won’t leave his basement,” Eric said of the former vice president. “He doesn’t know where he is going.”
Echoing comments made by others associated with the Trump campaign, Eric Trump predicted vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris would quickly assume control if Biden is elected.
“Is this really the best and the brightest of the far left?” he added. Perhaps his most cutting comment directed toward Biden, however, was his pejorative comment that the former vice president had been in politics for 47 years.
“What the hell do we have to show for it?” he asked.
Trump extolled law enforcement officers attending the rally and attempted to tie Biden to calls from some progressive leaders to either cut Minneapolis Police Department funding or abolish the entire department. He also brought up Ilhan Omar, the progressive Minnesota congresswoman who has drawn both extensive support and controversy for past statements. Upon hearing her name, the crowd booed.
Another progressive policy Trump linked Biden to was Medicare for All, a plan he said would eliminate 180 million private health care accounts. Biden hasn’t expressed approval of the plan. He also derided the Affordable Care Act, legislation he called “the worst” and lauded his father for using a most-favored-customer clause in an attempt to lower prescription drug prices in the U.S.
President Trump has long promised a replacement for the ACA, but despite support for a lawsuit before the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the legislation, he has yet to produce a concrete plan.
Trump chided Biden for proposing a tax increase if he is elected. According to the Tax Policy Center, Biden’s plans call for increasing taxes by $4 trillion over 10 years, “with nearly all the revenue coming from corporations and the highest-income 1% of taxpayers.”
Trump spoke of social media companies’ bias toward conservatives like his father. He described Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is in the middle of a Supreme Court nomination process that will likely result in her being named a justice, as “a tough cookie” who will help protect the Second Amendment and religious liberty. Trump criticized Democrats for what he said is their support of packing the Supreme Court and Biden’s refusal to take a stance on the issue.
The rally also included appearances by prominent Minnesota Republicans, including 2nd District Congressional candidate Tyler Kistner and Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan.
Before the rally, Faribault resident Deb Voorhees, a member of the Women for Trump organization, said she voted for the president in 2016 and planned to do so again this year. To her, Trump represents the values she agrees with and has eased the division she said was in place during the Obama administration. She also chided Democrats for what she deemed as their failure to work with Trump on his Supreme Court nominees and COVID-19 relief measures.
“I’m just excited,” she said of his possible reelection. “I hope Trump wins again.”
Fellow rallygoer Jeremy Robinson, who described himself as a former “lifelong Democrat” who voted for former president Barack Obama, said he supported Trump in 2016 because he had become disillusioned with existing free trade policies and that the Democratic party has become overrun by billionaires.
“I was glad that he took the time to talk to us,” Robinson said of Trump’s visit.
‘America can’t afford another four years’
Trump’s visit drew approximately two dozen protestors who set up camp across the street from the farm. Another group planned to gather in Northfield’s Bridge Square to oppose his appearance.
In a statement issued before the rally, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said Trump’s visit was made “in an attempt to distract from his father’s failures to support our state’s family farmers these last four years.”
“(President) Trump has been no friend to farmers and has enacted policies that set them up to fail,” Martin said. “His failed trade war with China wreaked havoc on industries across the country and had disastrous ripple effects for communities, small businesses and families who rely on the agriculture economy to put food on the table and keep their small businesses afloat.”
To Martin, “America can’t afford four more years of Trump playing political games.”
“The best thing we can do in 2020 to support our farmers is vote Trump out and elect Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Democrats up and down the ticket,” he said.
Doug Peterson, a former member of the Minnesota House and past president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, agreed.
“Farmers are among the hardest workers in the state,” he said. “And they just want to earn a fair living in the marketplace. Trump’s administration has done real economic harm to producers and their communities by kicking the legs out from under the ethanol industry for three plus years.”
The Northfield School Board finalized a policy change that will rename two of its buildings, including Sibley Elementary School, as part of a ban on naming district facilties after individuals.
Under the policy, approved Oct. 12, schools can only be named for the areas where they are located, including neighborhoods, townships and natural features. Sibley and Longfellow schools will need to be renamed in the next 12 months.
The first Minnesota governor, Henry Hastings Sibley played a role in the trial and execution of 38 Dakota Indians following the 1862 war in southern Minnesota.
Board member Jeff Quinnell was the lone no vote. In doing so, Quinnell, who has said he doesn’t defend Sibley’s behavior, noted that he is more interested in ensuring the policy change includes sufficient transparency and fairness. He suggested last month waiting to enact any changes until after November’s election as one board member is seeking reelection and two other decided not to run again. Quinnell has also spoken of possibly offering an informal public poll.
However, during last month’s meeting, Hardy said he supported the policy change. In doing so, he 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, that hasn’t adequately spotlighted his misdeeds. In September, he said that continuing to have Sibley be the namesake for the school would show the district values his contributions more than the devastation he wrought. At the time, he noted his disapproval of naming schools after individuals to prevent one person’s story as being emphasized.
The majority of comments issued by the public prior to the meeting supported the change. Supportive written statements came from Northfield residents Jessica Peterson White, Jon Kerr, Bridget Draxler, Mar Valdecantos and Joan Hepburn.
“In this historic day for Northfield, we are coming closer to (repairing) one of the many wrongs around the world perpetrated against Indigenous peoples,” said Valdecantos, director of Rice County Neighbors United and vice chair of the Northfield Human Rights Commission. “By not allowing names of individuals and families that bear the guilt of atrocities committed in the past to be used for school buildings in Northfield, we are coming closer to a world where the rights of all people have the same value and weight.”
“(Sibley’s) legacy includes suffering and death that should never be forgotten by any of us and continues to haunt our relations with neighbors to this day,” Kerr said. “Certainly this is not a history that we want to honor at the entrance to our school buildings to be seen every day by people who will be our future.”
However, public approval for the change wasn’t unanimous.
“Since I was taught whitewashed history, with much omitted, let’s not delete and whitewash any more,” said Northfield resident Barbara Vaile. “Let’s make teachable moments reflecting the ever-arcing progress of human transformation. Further, the Sibley name could be a good model of how we learn from our mistakes. Teaching change makes history come alive.”
The board also authorized barring businesses from sponsoring an entire district facility. However, it could still do so for spaces inside a building or stadium. Quinnell said though he appreciated fellow School Board member Amy Goerwitz’ work on the issue, he didn’t understand why extensive sponsorship revenue has historically been driven to the city’s private colleges. He suggested developing a culture that would foster such alumni donations.