Star News » Opinion The Star News covers community news, sports, current events and provides advertising and information for Elk River, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman, Minnesota and their surrounding areas. Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:38:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Letters from readers: Pay the bill and open the golf course Sat, 22 Nov 2014 13:00:55 +0000 There was a huge void in our summer because we didn’t have the privilege of golfing at Pinewood. The course is a real gem and it’s tragic that our city council has failed to realize what it means to our community.

Pinewood has been a family favorite of ours as well as many other families in the Elk River area. I golfed many rounds with my grandsons at Pinewood and that has been a true gift. Wonderful memories for them and me!

At the council meeting in June, my 10-year-old grandson raised his hand and asked the council to pay their bill and open the course because it’s the right thing to do. Even the very young realize the importance of keeping your word. — Karen Siemers, Elk River

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Viewpoint: Bachmann says it has been an honor to serve 6th District Sat, 22 Nov 2014 13:00:44 +0000 At 12 years old, sitting in the back of my mother’s car as we drove north on Interstate 35 to our new home in Anoka, I could have never imagined what the future held.

Forty-six years later, I leave Congress and the incredible privilege of serving the wonderful people of the 6th District — the same place where I went to high school, started a small business and raised our family of five biological children and 23 foster children.

My first priority upon taking office was to provide the very best constituent services possible. We protected Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits. We helped with immigration and adoption cases. We would even call U.S. Embassies at 4 a.m. on a Sunday to help with passport problems. In total, we completed more than 3,000 individual constituent cases.

While these untold stories didn’t dominate the headlines, they have been my favorite aspect of being your congresswoman.

I always sought your feedback from town halls, phone calls, letters, emails and over coffee from Keys Cafe in Forest Lake to Copper Lantern in St. Cloud, plus many places in between. I listened to your concerns and gave them a voice.

After the auto bailout, Fury Dodge, a staple of our community in Lake Elmo, was put on the chopping block by Washington bureaucrats. I was proud to lead a rally as the community came together to keep the dealership open. Today, cars still roll off the Fury lot, and a family-owned business remains intact.

Nothing is more important to the continued growth and prosperity of Minnesota than transportation. Entering Congress, my top priorities were building the Stillwater bridge, adding lanes on either side of Interstate 94, increasing safety and mobility of U.S. Highway 10, and returning commercial air service to St. Cloud Regional Airport.

Working together with federal, state and local officials, we made tremendous progress on each.

After decades of delay, I helped bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass the St. Croix River Crossing legislation in 2012. Last year, this vital project began construction and is on time and under budget.

This summer, after years of work, we broke ground to expand Interstate 94 at the most congested portion of the corridor. The improvements to Highway 10 continue with the help of a federal grant to improve safety at the Highway 10/Armstrong Boulevard intersection.

In May, I was honored to be on the inaugural flight from Chicago to St. Cloud, a long-awaited goal for the community that took years of teamwork. This was the third connection after commercial air service returned to St. Cloud in 2012. I also helped keep the air traffic control towers open after the federal government threatened to shut them down last summer.

On the national stage, I never stopped fighting for Minnesota values — don’t spend more than you take in, reward hard work and innovation, and get government out of the way.

That’s why I voted against the costly Wall Street bailout, the automobile bailout, and the trillion dollar stimulus — all paid for with borrowed money leaving our children and grandchildren with a stack of unpaid bills.

I also led the charge against Obamacare’s government takeover of one-sixth of our economy, which has resulted in canceled plans, premium rate increases and the devastating medical device tax.

Instead, I advocated solutions so costs really would be lowered and more people would have access to the care they need and deserve. Last year, the House passed my bill to repeal Obamacare so we can begin anew with free market, patient-centered health care reforms.

As a member of the Financial Services Committee, I co-authored bipartisan credit card consumer protection legislation that was signed by President Bush in 2008.

As a foster mom, I was proud to help establish the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. Along with my co-chairs, we championed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which granted social workers greater access to foster children’s educational records. It was signed by President Obama last year.

I also was privileged to co-chair the Congressional Caucus on Adoption and recently took a child welfare trip to Haiti.

As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I traveled to more than 30 countries and met with world leaders and ambassadors on the pressing issues of terrorism, national security and foreign policy.

But no one left the indelible mark on me as much as our brave men and women in the armed services. I helped bring additional health care options for veterans through the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Ramsey and enjoyed visiting our veterans at the St. Cloud VA.

Visiting with Minnesotans on the front lines during multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan remains a highlight of my tenure in Congress and it deepened my belief of our sacred obligation to our veterans. The promise of the American Dream comes at a cost, and we must never forget the sacrifices of those who put their lives on the line.

In my time in Congress I have fought to preserve this great nation and to tirelessly advocate for the dignified people who entrusted me to act as their representative in Washington. The district didn’t send me to Washington to be a defender of special interests but as a fighter for the people.

I may be leaving Congress, but I will continue the fight to leave a better future for our children and grandchildren.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve you. It has been the honor of a lifetime. — Rep.  Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.


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Editorial cartoon for Nov. 22, 2014 Sat, 22 Nov 2014 13:00:30 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Nov. 22, 2014.

Editorial cartoon for Nov. 22, 2014.

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Letters from readers: A double thank you to teachers, veterans Sat, 22 Nov 2014 13:00:21 +0000 November is a busy and important month.

We want to take this opportunity on the 93rd annual American Education Week (Nov. 17-21) to recognize the important role of great public schools in the lives of our nation’s 50 million K-12 students.

We thank the educators – current, retired and those studying to be – who are critical in building great public schools, along with administrators, staff and the school boards.

Nov. 10 was the 95th anniversary of the American Legion Auxiliary. We want to  thank members in our Elk River Unit 112 and members of other units reading this for their membership in support of our veterans and current military, since 1919.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving and may God bless our veterans. — Kristina Dahlin (Editor’s note: Dahlin is the president of the Unit 112 Elk River American Legion Auxiliary.)

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From the editor: County election results come slowly but surely; push needed to bring timliness in line with neighboring counties to the east Sat, 22 Nov 2014 13:00:09 +0000 The folks gathered around the Elk River Area School District’s board room table on election night with a glass bowl at the center of it to collect handwritten predictions.

They weren’t on the success or failure of the school bond and levy referendums, which were approved with flying colors. It wasn’t even the race between incumbent Shane Steinbrecher and challenger Larry Farber.

The question at play in the board room was what time would the first Sherburne County election result be posted to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.

Sherburne and Wright counties are notorious for being among the last counties in Minnesota to report results to the state, and true to form this year, they were among the last three counties out of 87 to begin reporting their results to the state.

School district administrators, some members of the Community for Kids group that sought a “yes” vote and one Elk River Area School Board Member played the famous name game, watched comedians via YouTube videos projected on a wall and grazed on cold pizza while checking intermittently on election results when new vote totals were noticed on smartphones gathered around the table.

The lion’s share of the results — Elk River’s and Otsego’s in particular — would not be posted until after midnight, which meant a long night for those that decided to stick it out. By the time the result of the bond and levy were in it was 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 5. So when it finally became time to celebrate, most had gone home.

District 728 officials had a lot to celebrate, especially given the broad support it found at the polls for a $5.9 million operating levy and a $98 million bond referendum.  With the exception of one Elk River precinct on Question 2, all precincts in four largest communities (Elk River, Rogers, Otsego, Zimmerman) of the district supported both questions.

One long-time administrator suggested that hadn’t ever happened in his nearly 30 years here in the district. It might not have happened in the 30 years prior to that either because most of the facilities were in one town.

District 728 officials should find a time to properly celebrate this monumental vote. It’s a sign the Elk River Area School District has pulled together and is focused on bettering educational opportunities for all parts of the school district.

First results

Among the first results locally on the bond and levy came from the state’s most populous counties of Anoka and Hennepin. Rogers results, for instance, came in during the 9 o’clock hour.

Anoka County had all of its results in by about 10:30 p.m. according to a news editor stationed in Coon Rapids.

So what gives?

It’s technology and the feasibility of its use.

After initial talks with county auditors in Sherburne, Anoka and Hennepin counties, it’s clear the big difference is Anoka and Hennepin have gone to wireless modems, thanks in large part to Help America Vote Act of 2002, and continued financial support at the local and county level.

The act got those two counties going in this direction and technological advances since have only made their processes even faster and more accurate.

The city of Anoka, for instance, started reporting its precinct results at 8:02 p.m. on election night. The last precinct sent its results at 8:10 p.m. Rogers, located in Hennepin County, was also quick.

That gives the county plenty of time to merge the results of absentee ballots and get the results posted up on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Web page.

I would encourage the county boards in Sherburne and Wright counties get behind the Minnesota Association of County Officers to push for a Help Minnesota Vote Act.

Sherburne County Auditor Diane Arnold has worked with precincts throughout the county to check into the feasibility of electronically submitting results from the precincts, but she has found many barriers ranging from a lack of access to phone lines as well as a lack of cellular towers and tin roofs ill-suited for such efforts. There are a host of other barriers.

Some may miss the nostalgia of waiting up all night for results to come in on election night, listening to WCCO Radio and being the first to know. But with results coming in so quickly in places around the state, the charm of nostalgia flies out the door.

Technology has helped improve not only the accuracy of tabulating votes, but also the speed. It’s time for technology to bring the speed of reporting results for Sherburne and Wright counties in line with its neighboring counties.

Without new and improved vote tabulating technologies, I would encourage District 728 folks to plan a potluck on the night of the next election with a bond and or levy referendum with even more games. Maybe there would be enough people to be around to celebrate a victory or commiserate in defeat.

With new technology, those same officials would have to find another date for a game night. — Jim Boyle, Editor

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Editorial cartoon for Nov. 15, 2014 Sat, 15 Nov 2014 13:00:56 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Nov. 15, 2014

Editorial cartoon for Nov. 15, 2014

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Viewpoint: Funding, testing and tenure are 2015 House Republican education priorities Sat, 15 Nov 2014 13:00:43 +0000 Contacted on Election Day, two key Minnesota House Republicans offered several priorities in education. Democrats are still the majority in the Minnesota Senate, and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton was re-elected, but Republicans replaced DFLers as the majority in the Minnesota House.

The legislative process ultimately requires compromises between House, Senate and governor, so it’s likely that some Republican ideas will be adopted or adapted before the 2015 session ends.

Having observed and sometimes participated in the legislative process for more than 30 years, I’ve learned that when the majority changes in the Minnesota House or Senate, you can expect revisions in Minnesota’s education policies to be discussed, and possibly approved.

Writing via email, former K-12 Education Policy Committee Chair Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and former Education Finance Committee Chair Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, mentioned several priorities.

They both mentioned teacher tenure. Erickson also cited funding and testing. Both Erickson and Garofalo were re-elected Nov. 4.

First: funding. Erickson wrote via email, “Funding equity will … be on the table.” Regardless of party, when control changes, legislators often adjust the way Minnesota’s schools are funded. It will be interesting to see what changes Republicans propose.

A second issue is testing. Erickson wrote: “If the GOP gains the House, the education agenda will include repealing some of the testing mandates of 2013-14 as well as repealing mandates found on lists provided by school districts and education organizations. … If I am chair of ed policy, I will promote meaningful tests for our students and examine to what extent Minnesota can get from under the control of the federal government.”

The “testing mandates” that Erickson mentions includes requiring Minnesota public high school students to take both the ACT college entrance test and the Minnesota-developed Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. High school students currently are required to take these tests but are not required to achieve a certain score on them. Legislators hoped that the ACT would substitute for the MCA, thus saving money and time.

However, federal requirements (and a waiver Minnesota received from the U.S. Department of Education) are challenges. Under federal law, Minnesota must use a test that was tied to statewide standards. The ACT apparently was not sufficiently related to Minnesota state standards, so students also must take the MCA. The state has contracts for several years with the ACT and MCA publishers.

Some testing is valuable. But if a way can be found to reduce the amount spent on and the time devoted to testing, that could be a good thing.

Erickson and Garofalo also mentioned teacher tenure. Erickson wrote, “ I am also interested in how teacher tenure could be reformed to ensure that students receive the most effective teachers and that schools are led by the most effective principals as well.”

This is likely to be an intense discussion. Tenure gives teachers who have been evaluated and retained for several years the right to go through a process of review before being terminated. It’s controversial and something that can’t be fairly examined in a paragraph or two. But it will be discussed in the 2015 Legislature.

The K-12 (or sometimes pre-K-12) education law that emerges often is more than 100 pages long, with many details. But clearly funding, testing and tenure will among the top issues for 2015. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at

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Viewpoint: Why endorse? Newspapers have unique access to candidates for an insider’s perspective Sat, 15 Nov 2014 13:00:37 +0000 Some question why newspaper editorial boards bother to endorse candidates for office. In other words, why should newspaper editors tell their readers whom they should vote for?

After listening to the wave of candidate advertising that distorts and sometimes lies about a candidate, I am more convinced than ever that newspapers should endorse candidates. All year long, newspapers cover the candidates’ votes; they see them in action on the campaign trail.

I was a member of four ECM Publishers Editorial Board panels, and after interviewing candidates face-to-face, I can tell you that the political ads I viewed hardly represented the candidates we met with.

Here’s the process ECM Publishers used to endorse candidates in 2014. The board personally interviewed candidates for U.S. Senate and governor, while panels of editors from individual districts interviewed candidates for Congress.

Our mission in all cases was not to pick winners but to determine the most qualified.

After the interviews, we discussed answers, and by secret ballot, panel members entered their votes.

A volunteer wrote the first draft of each endorsement editorial, which was viewed and in some cases revised by panel members.

All endorsement editorials were reviewed and then approved by the full editorial board before publication.

In every case, we found the candidates to be different than portrayed in advertising. They were engaging, intelligent, had well-thought-out answers for their points of view and were not in an attack mode.

The panel that interviewed Tom Emmer found his experience from more than two decades of experience in local and state politics appealing. His gubernatorial run against eventual Gov. Mark Dayton that ended in razor-thin defeat seemed to have tempered his approach and maybe even humbled him. It was apparent that while he may be a staunch supporter of Republican positions, he would stop short of becoming a distraction to the issues that matter in the Sixth District. Panelists liked that he said he will support right and best positions.

The support he had at the polls in the Nov. 4 election shows he has more support that Rep. Michele Bachmann ever had, and panelists are hopeful he will have a unique ability to reach across the aisle.

Congressman Rick Nolan told us he understood the Middle East turmoil because he had spent four years in the Middle East.

We learned that Stewart Mills worked at Mills Fleet Farm since he was 14 and is now vice president, focusing on overseeing the company’s 6,000 employees. In the Brainerd area, he is involved with the 4-H, the YMCA, the Salvation Army and Minnesota Teen Challenge.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken was serious throughout and insisted on explaining his views on education, even after his manager kept telling him he needed to leave for his next appointment.

Senate candidate Mike McFadden, who obviously knows business principles, willingly answered our prepared questions, even though he was in a hurry to celebrate his son’s birthday.

Gov. Mark Dayton graciously responded to our tough questions, even though we did not endorse him the first time he ran for governor.

We found Jeff Johnson, Dayton’s opponent, to be very candid, agreeing that the Affordable Care Act won’t be repealed. He, however, had a precise list of actions he’d take to better MNsure, which is a result of that act.

Outside of their immediate families and campaign staffs, newspapers know the pluses and minuses of each candidate and are in a position to tell their readers who are the best candidates. — Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers

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Letters from readers: Warm up with renewable energy Sat, 15 Nov 2014 13:00:28 +0000 As winter approaches, have you started thinking about how much it is going to cost to heat your home this season? Fortunately, there is a program that may be able to help you meet your household’s heating needs and reduce the impact of unpredictable energy prices.

The state of Minnesota’s Department of Commerce has established the Renewable Energy Equipment Grant Program, a fund available for income-eligible homes to install solar air heating systems. If your home has undergone energy efficiency improvements through your local weatherization agency, has space on a south-facing wall, and is free of shade-causing objects, you may qualify for a solar air heating system at no cost.

Harvesting heat from the sun, solar air heat can offset the use of your existing heating system and save on your energy bill for decades. The price to heat your home is hard to predict, so it could be a good time to look at an alternative that is renewable and price stable.

To learn more about this opportunity, please contact the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance by phone at 218-587-4753 or by email at and include REEGP in the subject line. For more information on solar air heating technology, please visit — Shannon Wheeler, Pine City

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Editorial cartoon for Nov. 7, 2014 Sat, 08 Nov 2014 13:00:35 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Nov, 8, 2104.

Editorial cartoon for Nov, 8, 2104.

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