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Waseca senior Andrew Morgan, pictured last season, has led the Bluejays in scoring in each of the first two games entering Friday’s Big South East Division clash with St. Peter. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

The 71st annual Sleigh and Cutter kicks off with a new event
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Every winter Waseca is the home to Sleigh and Cutter festivities for everyone to enjoy for more than a month long.

While the 71st annual Sleigh and Cutter festival kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 23, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many events to be canceled or re-imagined. The pageant, card tournaments, Sleigh and Cutter dinner and other indoor events were canceled, but the committee wanted to provide the best options for the community to have fun while keeping everyone safe.

“It was really pretty easy, listening to the governor’s guidelines and listening to other states as to what they’re doing, it was not a difficult discussion for the safety of us and all of the people who would be coming,” Sleigh and Cutter organizer Ken Borgmann said about canceling certain events. “The last thing we wanted to have was an outbreak blamed on Sleigh and Cutter, so we decided the safest thing was not to do it this year.”

A new event called Charm on the Farm at Farmamerica will start this year’s festivities.

Farmamerica will offer horse-drawn wagon rides, snow painting, snowflake scavenger hunt, winter walking tours, snowshoe trails with a campfire going and take-home s’mores available. The event is scheduled for 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 23. For passholders and children two and under, the event is free. For all others, tickets are $5 in advance or $10 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at bit.ly/WinterCharm.

“The Farmamerica thing is our first big event,” Borgmann said. “We’re really excited that they’re supporting the Sleigh and Cutter Festival and providing an opportunity for people to come out and enjoy the site out at Farmamerica.”

Farmamerica will host the Charm on the Farm event again at 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20.

The Waseca County Sno-Secas Club ride will take place on Saturday, Jan. 30, with a 10 a.m. registration time at the Boat House Grill and Bar in Waseca. On Feb. 6-7 a girls hockey jamboree will also take place at the Waseca Community Arena.

People will be able to watch ice sculpting develop Feb. 10-12 in front of the Waseca Public Safety building. Every year a group of ice sculptors create unique art sculptures for the public to look at, many times honoring someone or something.

The parade is the main event that started Sleigh and Cutter 71 years ago. It will begin at noon, Saturday, Feb. 13, beginning at the Waseca County Fairgrounds and running down State Street in downtown Waseca. The parade consists of numerous horse breeds pulling various sleds, pageant royalty, officers, Cannon Old West Society, who are cowboy reenactors and other participants.

Following the parade at 1 p.m., the Frosty reveal and Medallion winners will be announced at the Waseca County Fairgrounds. This is typically done at the Sleigh and Cutter dinner, but due to COVID-19 the dinner was canceled.

At sunset on Feb. 13, the largest fireworks display of Sleigh and Cutter will take place northeast of the Boat House Grill and Bar.

The Flags for Vets Ruck is also back again, this year as the Ruck of Hope on Feb. 14. This event is organized to support servicemembers’ and veteran’s families who have lost a member to suicide. The walk will start at the American Legion Club in Waseca and will go north around Clear Lake to return to the American Legion. A short program and a free breakfast will be provided before the walk starts. Contact Jeremiah Miller for more details.

A snowmobile safety riding course will be held that same day.

The final events of the Sleigh and Cutter festival for 2021 are a Waseca Sno-Secas club ride starting at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Boat House Grill and Bar. The final event of the festival is the Toner’s Lake Vintage ride at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 27.

“I think it’s exciting that we know we’re going to have a lot of our regulars show up and I know they’re excited about it and getting out,” Borgmann said. “So we’re excited to see our friends that we’ve gotten to know over the last many many years.”

For more information check out the Sleigh and Cutter website or Facebook page.

Judge recommends denial of all claims against FCI-Waseca in lawsuit
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A U.S. magistrate is recommending that the lawsuit over COVID-19 in Waseca’s federal prison be denied.

Magistrate Leo Brisbois denied the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for a temporary restraining order and is recommending the denial of the 14 inmates’ petition to be released to home confinement because their treatment at the Federal Correctional Institution-Waseca doesn’t meet the threshold for cruel and unusual punishment.

Brisbois also noted in his Jan. 15 report that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over releasing the inmates to either home confinement or entirely releasing the inmates from their incarceration. The inmates need to petition the court where they were originally sentenced to do so.

The ACLU, which is representing the inmates in the lawsuit, has two weeks to file an objection and none were filed as of Wednesday, Jan. 20. Brisbois’ 22-page report, which comes after hearing the arguments on the restraining order request on Jan. 6, is a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who will issue a final decision in the case. Additionally, two of the inmates involved in the lawsuit had their sentences commuted by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

The inmates have not demonstrated that they have a “fair chance of prevailing” on their claims made to the court and not provided the necessary proof, Brisbois wrote.

The inmates are arguing that that their 8th Amendment rights are being violated and they should be released due to the living conditions in the jail. To successfully argue an 8th Amendment violation, the inmates needed to show that they had a “objectively severe medical need” and prison officials knowingly disregarded that need, Brisbois wrote. The inmates’ argument was that the prison had an inadequate plan to respond to COVID-19 cases and didn’t follow that plan.

That argument isn’t supported by the documents provided to the court, he wrote.

“Although petitioners seem to be arguing that the 8th Amendment requires (prison officials) to maintain perfect compliance with those policies, perfection is not constitutionally required,” he wrote.

The prison had one COVID-19 case on Jan. 6 and that can’t be viewed as a “deliberate indifference” to the inmates’ serious medical need, he wrote.

The lawsuit was filed against Michael Carvajal, director of the Bureau of Prisons, and FCI-Waseca Warden M. Starr. The lawsuit was seeking an immediate restraining order and an emergency order requiring that the most medically vulnerable inmates be transferred to home confinement. The ACLU had other demands in its original lawsuit, but has since clarified that it’s petitioning for compassionate release of the inmates.

Aaryana Malcolm is the driving force behind the lawsuit after she became so weak, coughing up blood and vomiting while sick with COVID-19, that other inmates had to help her eat and shower while her requests for medical attention were rejected. At the prison, 70% of the inmates contracted the virus after the lawsuit claims the prison officials failed to take the proper actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 or to provide adequate health care for those who were sick.

Prison officials have denied in court records the lawsuit’s allegations that they didn’t prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide adequate healthcare for inmates ill with the virus.

Waseca County had 186 COVID-19 cases in mid-August when a few dozen inmates were transferred into FCI-Waseca on Aug. 18 from Grady County, Oklahoma and possibly other jails. A month later, COVID-19 was spreading in the prison and in the community in two separate outbreaks at such an intense rate that Waseca County had one of the fastest growing surges of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to health officials. By mid-October, the county had a cumulative 885 COVID-19 cases.

Legislation proposes to increase penalties for attempted murder of police

A bill aiming to increase penalties for those convicted of attempting to murder a peace officer has been introduced at the Legislature.

State Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) and Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) announced the Matson Strong Bill on Thursday morning with the goal of strengthening state criminal penalties against individuals convicted of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer, judge, prosecutor or correctional officer. The legislation would increase the minimum sentence from 20 years to life incarceration.

Four bipartisan senators have signed on to co-sponsor the bill so far and it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee to review as the first step in the legislative process.

The bill has been championed by Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius alongside Arik Matson, the Waseca police officer who was shot in the line of duty last year, and his wife Megan.

While responding to a report of a suspicious person on Jan. 6, 2020, Matson was shot in the head and critically wounded by Tyler Robert Janovsky. Janovksy also shot at Waseca Officer Andrew Harren and Sgt. Timothy Schroeder during the incident.

In July, Janovsky pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of Matson and one count of attempted murder of Harren and Schroeder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison in November. State law requires Janovsky to serve at least two-thirds of his sentence with the remainder potentially being served on supervised release. Cornelius and Arik and Megan Matson agreed the time does not fit the crime, and announced immediately after the sentencing of Janovsky that they intended to change the state law that dictates that maximum sentencing.

“After prosecuting the case for the attempted murder of Officers Arik Matson, Officer Andrew Harren and Sgt. Tim Schroeder, it was clear there was a glaring gap in our current statutes,” Cornelius said Thursday during a press conference in the Minnesota Senate. “We provided for higher penalties for murder of police officers, but there was no similar increase in penalties for attempted murder.”

In December, both Jasinski and Petersburg committed to authoring the bill and carrying it through their respective chambers during the 2021 legislative session, which began on Jan. 4. Both men emphasized on Thursday that the bill provides deterrence for anyone to possibly consider going after a peace officer.

“When perpetrators of a crime use deadly force, I believe they are intending to cause great bodily harm and even death,” Petersburg said. “This is a dangerous profession, and it is our duty to do what we can to provide as much protection for our law enforcement safety and provide deterrence against violence against them. I think it is time we tell our law enforcement we support them and have their backs.”

Jasinski said support for this bill is necessary to make the justice system more balanced.

“We know [law enforcement] jobs are uniquely dangerous and the legal system is going to weigh more heavily when prosecuting these criminals,” Jasinski said. “This is a common sense, pro-public safety bill that treats law enforcement officers with the respect and honor they deserve. Any attempt on an officer’s life must be met with punishment that matches the heinousness of the crime.”

Also joining the the press conference were Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, and Jim Mortenson, executive director of the Law Enforcement Labor Services which represents the Waseca Police Department union. Both men spoke about the unnerving uptick in law enforcement being shot at by perpetrators over the last year.

“Officer Arik Matson served his community well to protect them from harm, he is the definition of a true American hero,” Mortenson said. “The least we can do for him and every other officer is to pass this legislation that adequately holds violent criminals accountable for their actions.”

Arik and Megan addressed the group, thanking them for their support in their effort to make changes to the law and hopefully help future families who face situations similar to theirs. It is unfortunately an effort that will be needed down the line, Arik said.

“I wish I could say this would be the last time we have to prosecute this crime, but that is unfortunately probably not going to be the case,” Arik said. “Thank you for acknowledging that our jobs as police officers are never normal and that we have a number of circumstances that can go wrong and be very tragic.”

In addition to increasing the sentencing for attempted murder of an officer, Cornelius said the bill will also eliminate the two-thirds, one-third rule, which states offenders could be eligible for supervised probation after serving two-thirds of their prison sentence. Instead, offenders would have to serve a minimum of 30 years before becoming eligible for release.

“This legislation fixes that and gives prosecutors in Minnesota another tool in the toolbox to pursue violent criminals,” Cornelius said.

After tumultuous 2 years, Hagedorn starts 2nd term
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As a particularly eventful term of Congress ends and a new one begins, Rep. Jim Hagedorn said he’s eager to get back to work as southern Minnesota’s voice in Congress.

First elected in 2018, Hagedorn, who represents Minnesota’s 1st District, came to Washington pledging to govern as a staunch conservative and supporter of President Trump. His narrow victory went against the grain of that election, which saw Democrats achieve a net gain of 40 House seats overall.

During his first re-election campaign, the Blue Earth Republican was targeted heavily by national Democratic-aligned groups, given the close margin in his 2018 election. He tied himself closely to President Trump, asking voters to consider him and the President as a “team.” Even though the president wasn’t able to replicate his 2016 margin in southern Minnesota, Trump still carried the district by about 10 points. With help from the top of the ticket, Hagedorn managed to secure re-election by an increased margin over challenger Dan Feehan.

The Congressman has continued to stick with the President even as some of his fellow Republicans have started to back away, fully supporting Trump’s legal challenges of the election results and his calls to block President-elect Biden’s certification.

Along with Michelle Fishbach, Hagedorn was one of two Minnesota members to object to the counting of electoral slates in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Hagedorn said that his opposition to certification came as a protest against governors and secretaries of state who implemented changes to election laws, designed to make it easier and safer to vote during the pandemic, without the consent of state legislatures.

Judges in state as well as federal courts, including many appointed by Trump, evaluated more than 60 lawsuits challenging voting procedures during the 2020 election and dismissed nearly all of them.

Hagedorn declined to say whether he believes that changes to voting procedures led to voter fraud, though Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr, who stepped aside last month, has stated that none occurred on a scale sufficient to alter the election result. However, Hagedorn does believe that changes to voting, including in Minnesota, reduced trust in the election result — an outcome he said must never happen again.

“A lot of people that feel the integrity of the election was in question,” he said. “We want people to know we have free and fair elections.”

Numerous Republicans cited the Capitol Hill riots as a major factor in their decision to not challenge the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Others went further and said the president was at least in part to blame for the violence that ensued.

Hagedorn was not in the House chamber at the time the Jan. 6 riots broke out. While aware that a protest was scheduled to occur alongside the certification, he said he was shocked to see the situation spin out of control. The Congressman strongly condemned the violence and mourned the loss of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was beaten to death by the mob. However, he declined to assign blame to the President.

“I don’t believe that the president or anyone who supports his cause, other than the people who acted inappropriately, wanted to see that happen,” he said. “I don’t know of one member of Congress on the Republican side who has not condemned the acts of violence.”

Accordingly, Hagedorn did not support Trump’s impeachment on the grounds of inciting the mob. Noting that the Senate is unlikely to take up the move before Trump leaves office, he blasted it as a “divisive” move by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Looking back

Without question, Hagedorn positioned himself as a strongly pro-Trump conservative over his first two years in office. However, with Republicans as the minority party in the House, he was forced to work across the aisle to get things done.

Hagedorn snagged a prized seat on the House Agriculture Committee. From there, he worked alongside Democrats and Republicans to advocate for the region’s growing ethanol industry — on occasion, even criticizing of the Trump Administration. For example, Hagedorn wrote in 2019 to EPA Director Andrew Wheeler and other top officials to demand strict enforcement of the Renewable Fuel Standard after Wheeler’s EPA issued waivers to several refineries that substantially reduced ethanol consumption.

Hagedorn also came to office determined to smooth escalating conflicts between the U.S. and its largest trading partners. The issue was a point of discontent for even many traditionally conservative farmers, who feared they might never recover their hard-earned market share.

Following his 2016 campaign promises, Trump withdrew from the North American Free Trade Agreement and proposed Trans Pacific Partnership and moved to increase tariffs, with the goal of reducing the country’s trade deficit. However, Trump’s trade approach led to significant retaliatory tariffs from China, Mexico and other key trading partners. Local soybean farmers were hit especially hard, as the Chinese have typically purchased a majority of soybeans but dramatically reduced their purchases.

When Trump finally secured the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement as well as a Phase 1 agreement with China in January 2020, Hagedorn was quick to offer praise. USMCA went on to be ratified by both Houses of Congress two months later, with unusually broad bipartisan support.

As a member of the Small Business Committee, Hagedorn has worked on bipartisan legislation to provide assistance to small businesses throughout the pandemic, including the popular Paycheck Protection Program that enabled many businesses to retain workers.

Hagedorn has also positioned himself as a strong supporter of rural hospitals, which are undergoing unprecedented stress from the pandemic. He’s noted that in many small Minnesota communities, rural hospitals are crucial from an economic as well as public health perspective.

Among Hagedorn’s efforts to boost rural hospitals was the Save our Rural Hospitals Act. Coauthored with New Mexico Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, it would have reserved at least 20% of the funds allocated under the CARES Act’s Provider Relief Fund for rural hospitals.

Obstacles and challenges

Though he was able to get some things done working across the aisle, Hagedorn’s efforts to advance conservative priorities were largely frustrated by the Democratic majority in the House, even as Republicans controlled the Senate and White House.

Hagedorn’s first term was also dogged by questions about his office’s expenditures. During the first quarter of 2020, he spent 40% of his allotted office expenses for the year, largely on mailings — far dwarfing the totals of any other Congressional office.

Scandal arose when it was revealed that part of those printing costs were paid out to one company owned by John Sample, a part-time staffer in Hagedorn’s office, and another linked to the brother of his Chief of Staff, Peter Su. Hagedorn fired Su shortly after the allegations broke, though Sample remains on staff. The Congressman insisted that he did nothing wrong and began an internal review when he was made aware of the issue.

Su contests Hagedorn’s claim of innocence and later released an audio recording of the Congressman discussing the matter a month prior to his firing. Hagedorn and his attorneys have insisted he wasn’t aware of the details of the arrangement.

Hagedorn said he’s focused on moving on from the controversy and has since hired a new chief of staff, Kris Skrzycki. Skrzycki brings extensive experience to the position, including six years as chief of staff to former Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia.

“I have total confidence in the man that I’ve hired to organize and administer the office on my behalf,” he said. “We feel very confident moving forward.”

Hagedorn has also had to overcome health struggles over his first term. Just six weeks after taking office, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer. Also known as advanced or metastatic cancer, Stage 4 cancers are the most severe.

Hagedorn has subsequently undergone immunotherapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and says he is responding well to treatment. Just a couple of weeks ago, he underwent surgery that he said was successful to remove a cancerous kidney.

“I’m very grateful for the healing hands of God and the healing hands of the Mayo Clinic,” he said. “That’s what has made it all possible.”

Election effects

Even though Hagedorn was able to win and Republicans made gains in House races across the country, a pair of Democratic victories in Georgia’s Senate runoffs means that Democrats will control the House, Senate and White House for the first time since 2010.

Hagedorn conceded that Republicans will be at a disadvantage in the next Congress, making it more difficult for Republican legislators like him to achieve their priorities. However, he noted that the Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress will be narrow.

In the House, Democrats control just 222 seats out of 435, meaning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can’t afford to lose more than four members of her caucus on major legislation. Meanwhile, the Senate is split evenly between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as a tiebreaking vote.

To be sure, even narrow Democratic control of both houses will make a big difference on Capitol Hill, ensuring that President-elect Biden’s broad policy agenda, as well as his nominations to the courts and cabinet, will get a hearing and potential vote in Congress.

However the narrow margins will make enacting legislation difficult — and Hagedorn isn’t likely to support much of the Biden agenda. Instead, he pledged to stand on his conservative principles, opposing “open borders” and “restricting the Second Amendment.”

“The Democrats definitely have an advantage in terms of being able to get their policies through,” he said. My guess is they’re going to go hard left.”