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Post Bulletin, Nov. 29

Deer disease deserves federal policies — and funding

Let it not be said that bipartisanship is dead.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota whose name keeps coming up as a possible presidential candidate, has joined forces with Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, in the effort to stop the nationwide spread of chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.

The two senators want the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Interior to expand federal tracking and mapping of CWD, and to establish universal standards for transporting deer across state lines.

We applaud this effort. It's high time that the federal government took a leadership role against CWD, because deer don't respect state boundaries. People often refer to "Minnesota's deer herd," but deer can roam a long ways, especially during mating season. Earlier this year, researchers captured and put GPS tracking devices on wild deer near Preston — the heart of our region's CWD "hot zone" — and were stunned by how far some deer traveled in a relatively short time.

But the reality is that the fastest way for a CWD-infected deer to travel great distances and cross state lines is at 70 mph in the back of a hunter's pickup, or in a trailer as it is hauled from one deer farm to another. The carcass of an infected deer contains prions — mutated proteins — that when dumped in a ditch or woodlot can linger in the soil for years and infect other deer. Furthermore, hunters and wildlife officials have long suspected that the interstate transport of live, captive deer and elk has contributed greatly to the spread of CWD since its discovery in Colorado in 1967.

The irony here is that Klobuchar and Wicker shouldn't be the ones leading this fight, because the cat is already out of the bag in their home states.

In Minnesota, 18 wild deer have tested positive for CWD far, and the disease has also been found on eight deer/elk farms. The latest round of testing near Preston indicates that the "hot zone" is spreading northwest, so it's entirely possible, if not probable, that hunters in the Rochester area will soon be required to have all deer tested.

Mississippi is much earlier in its battle, having detected its first three cases of CWD this year, but even the most optimistic wildlife biologists agree that once CWD reaches an area, it's virtually impossible to eliminate it. The best that can be hoped for is to slow its spread and keep the disease at manageable levels.

So we'd argue that even after eliminating Hawaii and Alaska, there are 46 senators from 23 as-yet-CWD-free states that should be clamoring for federal leadership, with the goal of keeping the disease from ever crossing their borders.

The stakes are high, even if you're not a deer hunter. Hunting is a $1.3 billion industry in Minnesota, and whitetailed deer are the top game animal pursued by hunters. In Wisconsin, where more than 4,000 infected deer have been found, there has been a 7 percent drop in hunter numbers. A similar decline has happened in the Preston/Lanesboro area.

While there is no evidence that people can contract CWD by handling or eating an infected deer, it's quite apparent that some hunters are erring on the side of caution. Fewer hunters means more deer-car collisions, more crop losses and fewer tax dollars flowing into state coffers.

So we'd argue that while federal monitoring of the disease and tighter interstate transport rules would help, the government should do more. Infected states need federal dollars as they fight to contain the disease, because at some point, the financial burden will become too great.

This year, Minnesota will spend $1 million to battle CWD. Ultimately, if states have to choose between battling CWD and maintaining their state parks, the odds are they'll protect their parks. And their trout streams, wetlands, bike trails and forests.

We can't afford to have any states throw in the towel in this fight. CWD is a national problem, and as such it deserves national policies and national funding.


The Free Pres of Mankato, Nov. 20

Our View: Legislature: Make divided government work

Why it matters: There are signs that Minnesota could be on the cusp of making bipartisanship work to solve pressing problems and serve all the people.

There's good news on the horizon in Minnesota government, if elected leaders on both sides are true to their words.

The elements are in place and the stars may be aligned for a bipartisan, get-things-done session of the Legislature. Minnesotans deserve no less.

Two-thirds of the three institutions of Minnesota government have new leaders. The third leg, the Senate, seems to have a new attitude and some new leadership.

Gov.-elect Tim Walz has honed his negotiating skills in a legislative environment in Congress and will have a greater understanding and empathy toward that process. It's a process where it's important to let debates play out especially in a divided government.

The clashes last year between Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt seemed more incendiary with every interaction. We don't expect Walz to have that same tone. We've got a new starting point in that regard with Walz and new House Speaker Melissa Hortman being from the same party.

But it also appears the Walz-GOP Senate relationship may start at a better place also. GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has a partner in Sen. Jeremy Miller, who will be president of the Senate. Miller was a member of the so-called "Purple Caucus" in the Senate, a bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to find common ground on the issues. Miller is also from Winona, an area of the state that is not usually decidedly blue or red politically.

Gazelka, unlike Daudt, is a leader who is not prone to heated political rhetoric. The GOP caucus should be more conciliatory as the inflammatory House speaker will be relegated to minority status.

Miller uses words like honor and respect and says his membership in the Purple Caucus may have landed him the president's job. He says relationships he has built in that caucus may be key to building compromises and bridges.

The talk of shutdown has been deemed out of the question by both parties. Walz has stated there will be no shutdowns under his watch and Gazelka said he doesn't even want to say the word. Bravo to both.

Both sides are already finding common "framing" themes. We all want to take care of roads and bridges, says Gazelka, without strong words about the gas tax idea that Walz has floated but not really committed to.

Then there is the matter of one vote. The GOP has just a one vote majority in the Senate. And the Senate leadership has dubbed its caucus "34Strong,"

That framing seems to highlight the idea of sticking together. That may sound good, but we see one vote as a way to keep both parties' leadership in check in the Senate. One or two votes from either side can derail leadership ideas if they swing too far one way.

We believe there are many "one vote" checks on leadership. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, opposed some of her colleagues last year when she favored some kind of fee on pharmaceutical manufacturers to help fund the opioid crisis.

We see Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, who favored reasonable gun legislation last year when some of his colleagues refused to even have a hearing. Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, elected in a purple region of the state, could provide a check on Twin Cities Democrats if they swing too far left.

Walz will be a chief executive who has respect and knowledge of the legislative process with his tenure in Congress. He has the respect of business leaders, from his years serving the 1st District with major employers.

Here's what leaders need to avoid: Use of weaponizing words. "Total government takeover of health care" is one such phrase for almost any proposal Democrats make on ensuring more people are covered at an affordable price, a common goal.

The media also have a role to play by not rewarding such divisive, and we would argue, often inaccurate, phrases.

Minnesota has a chance to go back to being a shining example of bipartisan government that works for the well-being of all people.

Minnesotans deserve no less.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 27

Tear gassing kids is a new low on the border

U.S. needs to find humane ways to address a humanitarian crisis.

Unbelievably, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was marked by the United States firing tear gas at migrants — including women and young children — attempting to cross the border to claim asylum.

An instantly iconic photo captured the chaos of the scene: 39-year-old Maria Meza, wearing a Disney "Frozen" T-shirt, gripping the arms of her two young daughters — one in diapers — as they raced to escape the clouds of tear gas just behind them.

President Donald Trump, who previously opined that U.S. troops elsewhere along the border should shoot at those who threw rocks at them, defended the tear gassing, saying some in the migrant crowd flung rocks at Border Patrol agents. It is hard to believe the agents had no other recourse than to indiscriminately fire tear gas cartridges into the sovereign land of Mexico. Mexican officials rightly have called for an "exhaustive investigation." More must be known about this incident, which clearly crossed several lines in the severity of the U.S. response.

While not lethal, tear gas is a harmful substance that can cause severe eye pain, chemical skin burns, respiratory distress and pulmonary damage. Those effects are magnified in children, who also can suffer trauma from being gassed. Though used in this and other countries for riot control, the use of tear gas in war is prohibited by international treaties.

As we've written repeatedly, the U.S. has the right and obligation to control its borders. However, there also is little question that Trump's constant demonization of immigrants in general, his use of the "caravan" as a political prop during the midterm elections and his overly aggressive rhetoric and harsh policies have needlessly escalated the tensions that now exist at the border.

Avenues for refugees, asylum-seekers and others who seek paths to legal entry have been constricted needlessly under this president. Mexico has sought — and still seeks — cooperation with this country on comprehensive immigration reform that could head off some of these issues but has yet to find a receptive audience in this administration.

Trump and his functionaries have decried parents who would put their children in harm's way by bringing them to the border. Have they considered the level of fear it would take to force a mother to walk with her children from Honduras to the U.S. port of entry at San Ysidro, California?

Border Patrol agents late last week confirmed that one 26-year-old Guatemalan mother of two attempted to scale a border fence there, fell and was hurt when she was impaled by rebar. Her children, ages 3 and 5, were taken into Border Patrol custody. These are among the people Trump has vilified as "criminals" and "rough people." Other asylum-seekers have said they have no choice but to try again because they fear gang violence and death threats in their home countries.

This is a humanitarian crisis, and the U.S. must find a humane way of dealing with it. Trump's threats to cut off aid to already-impoverished countries and to close off the southern border — with all the economic impacts that would carry for both nations — is a cruel and shortsighted path that will solve little.

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