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Members of the Owatonna volleyball team celebrate after scoring a point against Rochester Mayo on Tuesday night in a Big Nine Conference game at the OHS gymnasium. (Jon Weisbrod/SouthernMinn.com)

Republicans make last push for votes with five day until election
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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.

COVID-19 relief distributed to Medford businesses

As winter approaches and society continues to travel down the path of the unknown with COVID-19, seven small businesses in Medford will receive help to keep them afloat until life can return to normal.

As a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a total of $26,744 was awarded to small businesses in Medford through a grant program set up and administered through the city’s Economic Development Authority. Among those businesses that will receive help with losses incurred directly related to COVID-19 is the prominent Anhorn’s Gas & Tire, a 71-year-old mainstay on the city’s Main Street.

“We were deemed essential, so we were lucky in that sense that we didn’t have to close,” said John Anhorn, third generation owner of the family business. “We plugged through it, but in the early months of it the traffic flow was way down so our in-store was done. And people weren’t driving, so they’re not wearing tires out or needing repairs.”

Though his business was able to stay open throughout the pandemic, Anhorn admits that tension and nerves both have been running high throughout the year as his family – whose financial health is tied to the business – navigated COVID-19. This included not hiring back a part-time seasonal employee, not paying himself rent as owner of the building for several months and having to dip into the reserves to keep bills paid.

“Every business, big or small, depends on cash flow,” Anhorn said. “It wasn’t good to see and we were hoping we’d get through it faster than we have, but it is what it is – COVID is COVID.”

Since the first snowfall, Anhorn has been booked solid with tire replacements and repairs for two weeks out — a happy change of pace to the slow months the business endured. Anhorn said the $5,000 grant he received from the city’s CARES funding will make a world of difference moving forward, largely by helping him rebuild his reserves.

As a prominent member of the community, Anhorn said he’s grateful for all the businesses who received a grant from the program to keep them in Medford. Four of the recipients were hairstylists and salons. Anhorn was happy to see them receive the assistance as they were likely impacted the most due to the mandated closures from the governor.

“I feel I was in a better position than some being deemed essential and staying open, but it still was difficult,” Anhorn said, adding he didn’t feel it was right that the state forced businesses to close their doors. “There’s only so much in the checkbook.”

Every small business that applied for CARES Act funding from the city Medford received anywhere from $250 to $5,000 to help with payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility bills and other expenses incurred during COVID-19 as a direct result of the pandemic.

Trump moves Minnesota rally, possibly to Dodge Center, while Biden announces visit
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign has moved a rally that was set for Friday from Rochester to the southern Minnesota town of Dodge Center in an attempt to avoid a crowd limit over 250 people under the state’s coronavirus safety guidelines.

But the mayor of Rochester said the situation was still in flux as of Thursday afternoon, and that it was possible that the president’s schedule could change yet again.

The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, meanwhile, announced Thursday that the former vice president will travel to St. Paul on Friday, setting up dueling visits that highlight Minnesota’s status as a battleground state. Both Trump and Biden also campaigned in Minnesota on the same day last month, when Trump held a rally in Bemidji and Biden visited the Duluth area.

The Biden campaign said Thursday that the former vice president will attend a drive-in event in St. Paul, tentatively set for 3:45 p.m., but did not announce the location. The campaign will livestream it on its website.

The Trump campaign announced Wednesday that the president would lead a rally at the city-owned Rochester airport Friday evening. The campaign had been in discussions earlier in the week about holding it in Mankato. But the campaign on Thursday moved it to a private company, McNeilus Steel, in Dodge Center, about 25 miles (40.23 kilometers) west of Rochester, without making an official announcement.

The Trump campaign and the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. The Minnesota Department of Health has linked 28 coronavirus cases to other recent Trump campaign events in the state.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton told the AP that the airport wanted the campaign to “manage the size and scale of the event to stay within the state’s COVID guidelines.” which include a cap of 250 people and social distancing requirements. City officials got a call Thursday morning from the campaign, saying that had secured another venue.

The campaign had wired the site rental fee to the airport — the mayor wasn’t sure of the amount — and had set up scaffolding at the airport when the campaign told local officials it was changing venues, she said. But she got word later that the campaign’s plans might change again, and that the campaign might come to Rochester after all. She said she wasn’t sure what that event would look like because the scaffolding had already been taken down.

“We’re awaiting further information from the campaign,” Norton said.

Glenn Sylvester, the Dodge Center steel company’s chief operating officer, told Minnesota Public Radio that he expected several thousand people to attend the event at his company. In an email to McNeilus staff, Sylvester wrote they that expected 25,000 people to attend and he encouraged employees to participate.

Asked about such a large crowd for a Trump rally, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it was the first she’d heard about it. She noted that the presidential campaigns have been made aware of the state’s guidelines, including crowd limits, but said enforcing them beforehand can prove difficult..

“We just have to keep reinforcing to people what the expectations are,” she said at a briefing for reporters.

Grant helps Owatonna district prep young learners for school
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Thousands of dollars in grant money has been used by the Owatonna School District to make sure students from pre-kindergarten to third grade are on the right path, and that early learners are ready to start school.

Michelle Krell, the district’s director of Teaching and Learning says she got a call about a year ago from the Minnesota Department of Education offering the district a $20,000 grant to expand the district’s offerings for young learners

“We were eager to accept that grant and then the planning process started,” Krell said during Monday’s School Board meeting. Krell said that’s when Early Childhood Program Coordinator Heidi Perkins and Teaching and Learning Coordinator Ann Mikkalson, who joined her at the meeting, took over and started figuring out how to use the grant money.

“There were about 12 districts in the state that were contacted, so it wasn’t that we applied, we were identified as a district that had some momentum in that in the early learning to kindergarten bridge, so that kind of speaks to the work that’s been going on over the last couple of years as well,” Mikkalson said.

They had two or three months to put together plans for the grant, according to Mikkalson. To begin the planning, some goals were set up, including leadership, organizational and competency goals.

They began by establishing a kindergarten readiness team composed of kindergarten teachers representing each of Owatonna’s elementary schools. An advisory team of community partners that included local childcare centers and elementary school principals was also created.

“What we all came together to do was really look at what is it like to come from preschool into kindergarten, what does it look like from your view, what does it look like from our view and how do we as teachers align, but also how do we help family with that transition and kids as they transition to be kindergartner,” Mikkalson said.

Mikkalson says COVID-19 has put a pause on the team’s organizational goals. Its goal had been to streamline outreach and try to get kids and their families into the schools earlier in the year, such as during the spring or summer. Doing so would allow kindergarteners to explore the buildings and classrooms where they would eventually learn.

Finally their competency goal is about equipping educators throughout the community and outside of the district with professional development and learning opportunities on how to support children socially, emotionally and academically.

In early December 2019 the Early Learning Network, kindergarten school teachers and community-based educators, got together to develop a “Profile of a Kindergartener.” The network includes some of the bigger area preschools, private preschools and even some of the home day care centers. The profile of a kindergartener explains what Owatonna educators hope students will be prepared for as they enter kindergarten.

“We took different pieces that are a part of the Minnesota ECIPs, our standards for preschool, and we kind of compared those with kindergarten and then we also just looked at what are things kids need to feel successful,” Mikkalson said.

Using the profile of a kindergartner, the team was able to align its work under five important areas including engagement, relationships, emotional development, communication and academic development. The profile was then shared with families and teachers. The profile can be viewed by visiting bit.ly/2HJppgX.

Alongside the profile, the team developed a kinderkits as a tool which would help the youngsters prepare for kindergarten. Around 400 kits were made using a cinch bag filled with crayons, a pair of scissors, flashcards, play dough, books, rhyming puzzles and a Go Fish math game. These are all tools educators want kids to have experience with before coming to kindergarten. These bags were handed out at the open house registration day back in March and available to those who registered later.

“It was the best thing ever, not only the bag coming home, I mean it didn’t even make it to the car, before she was pulling stuff out of it, so it was a very good way for her to get excited about school,” School Board members and kindergarten parent Christina Ingvaldson said.

Six followup letters were sent to families over the summer, with ideas and activities they could do using the kinderkits and supplies. In each letter there were a math, literacy activity and journaling topic.

Perkins says they have received positive feedback from parents about the kits after sending out a survey asking if students enjoyed them, whether they were able to complete the majority of the activities and if the parents would recommend kinderkits. Mikkalson hopes to continue the program next year.

This June 29, 2017, file remote camera image provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows a female gray wolf and two of the three pups born in 2017 in the wilds of Lassen National Forest in Northern California. Trump administration officials on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, stripped Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in most of the U.S., ending longstanding federal safeguards and putting states in charge of overseeing the predators. (U.S. Forest Service via AP, File)