Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

Duluth News Tribune, Aug. 16

Don’t let politics foil needed help

Last summer we in Duluth and in the Northland were the ones watching from afar, flabbergasted, wondering if political squabbling and partisan gridlock would screw up the help we so desperately needed to recover from devastating flooding.

This summer Minnesotans in the southeastern corner of the state decimated by storms of their own to the tune of $17.8 million in public damage are the ones wondering whether lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton will screw it up for them with their political gamesmanship or whether they’ll actually do what they all seem to agree has to be done: Call a special session to approve critically important disaster aid for 18 Minnesota counties.

The governor said after destructive June storms this year that he’d call a special session for the specific purpose of approving disaster relief. An emergency meeting to address a true emergency: that’s one of the best reasons for a special session.

But then, last week, the governor said he wanted to add a second item to the agenda for the one-day session: the repeal of a much-criticized — and rightly so, it seems — sales tax on farm equipment repairs.

The door open, Republicans, the Minnesota Chamber and others quickly argued to add to the agenda the repeal of other new business-to-business taxes that they said were just as harmful. At the top of their list: a new tax on warehousing services.

A stalemate has ensued. Republicans won’t agree to Dayton’s two-item agenda, and the governor has threatened to scrap the special session entirely unless they do. To the credit of both sides, there’s willingness to talk. A meeting is scheduled today.

Meanwhile, those of us in Northeastern Minnesota know well the anxious, hand-wringing frustration that has to be resonating across southeastern Minnesota. People are hurting, really hurting, but their pain has become just a pawn in yet another pitiful political game.

For a second straight year, the pollution of politics is jeopardizing what should be lawmakers’ and the governor’s No. 1 priority: to help. They found a way last summer. They owe it Minnesotans, especially those who need them now more than ever, to find a way this summer to put aside politics and do what’s right.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Aug. 19

Stopping obesity more than a crash diet

Change in the childhood obesity rate is coming slowly but surely, much like a change in lifestyle rather than a crash diet.

Minnesota was among the states to receive the good news that its childhood obesity rate has dropped. The rate among low-income Minnesota children fell from 13.4 percent in 2008 to 12.6 percent in 2011. The biggest declines in the nation were in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota. Each saw their obesity numbers fall at least 1 percentage point.

The reason for the drop isn’t clear cut, with a number of factors likely coming into play; but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited a probable link to a change in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food vouchers and other services to low-income families. The program eliminated juice from infant food packages, provided less saturated fat and made it easier to buy fruits and vegetables, including the acceptance of the vouchers at farmers markets.

Another possible explanation, according to health experts, is that breast-feeding rates have been increasing, and kids raised on mother’s milk tend to have lower obesity rates. Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than other children to be heavy as adults, which means higher risk of chronic health problems.

The amount of information circulating about the dangers of obesity are likely a factor behind people changing their behavior. Education about the dangers of excessive sugar consumption have reached enough people that the soda companies are doing the mad scramble to figure out a way to make up revenue losses.

The drop in childhood obesity rates obviously is great news and reveals education efforts and food program changes do have an effect. The CDC is stressing that partnerships with community groups and child care providers is a stepping stone to a lifetime of healthy habits. In Minnesota the Parent Aware program, which began as a pilot program here and is now expanding statewide, works with day cares and preschools to develop quality curriculum, including stressing the importance of good nutrition and exercise.

Yet, clearly there is still much work to do when it comes to curbing this epidemic. From teaching very young children good eating and exercise habits at home and school to making a stand with our pocketbooks by buying healthier products, the fight against obesity is ongoing.

Area residents are lucky to have access to healthier foods through its farmers markets and community gardens, including produce donated to low-income residents who use the ECHO Food Shelf. The BackPack Food Program provides children from low-income families nutritious snacks during weekends and school breaks when school meals are not available. And the Minnesota Valley Action Council is proposing a food hub concept in which the hub would purchase food from local farmers and then sell it to hospitals, public schools, colleges and restaurants. The idea is to make locally produced food more available on a larger scale.

Making healthy, flavorful food more readily available and more the norm than the exception is a key ingredient to getting children on the road to good health for a lifetime. Curing childhood obesity is a cultural shift, not a crash diet.

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Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Aug. 19

Recreation area will make Oronoco a tourist destination

Nature did its best to reclaim the Zumbro River watershed in September 2010, when a wall of water ripped through and around the Lake Shady dam in Oronoco.

Nearly three years later, the Olmsted County Board has agreed it’s time to finish what nature started by removing the dam, restoring the river’s original course and creating a recreation area that we believe will bring new energy and tourism — and their dollars — to Oronoco.

We can’t wait.

For years, that stretch of U.S. 52 north of Rochester was a mirage. From the highway, Lake Shady looked pristine and beautiful, yet passersby seldom saw a boat or canoe on its waters. Those who took the time to drive into town and check out the lake soon discovered the problem. The lake was little more than a mudflat under two feet of water (and it didn’t smell particularly good, either).

The handful of homeowners whose residences dotted the shoreline weren’t responsible for the silt that had filled the lake and ruined its recreational uses. Similarly, they were powerless to fix a problem that would require millions of dollars to repair — until the river took matters into its own hands and rendered moot all discussions of dredging and lake restoration.

We’re convinced this will turn out to be a happy accident. The recreation area that will rise from the former lake bed should be a showplace, a top destination for birders, walkers, picnickers, anglers, bicyclists and paddlers of canoes and kayaks. When Olmsted County asks the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for $1.5 million to complete the park, it should be a slam-dunk. One could hardly draw up a project that better fits the goals and purposes of the Legacy Act.

When the park is complete, Olmsted County will feature four distinct natural areas: Chester Woods Park to the east, Oxbow Park to the west, Root River Park to the south and the new Oronoco recreation area to the north.

We still won’t have any natural lakes, but we’ll have no shortage of places to enjoy the great outdoors.

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