Minnesota Now: Oct. 3, 2022

A woman in front of a microphone
MPR News host Cathy Wurzer
MPR

Early voting is underway and the haggling over gubernatorial debates continues with far fewer debates this year than in years past. Only three between Governor Walz and his challenger. Why? A former Minnesota governor's press secretary shares his take.

Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide discounted care, but some hospitals are giving far less than others. We look into the Mayo Clinic's record of charity care.

It's archery season for deer hunting. We'll hear from a coach who's been instrumental in getting more women archers and hunters in the sport.

Finally, we'll talk to classical folk duo The OK Factor ahead of their Midwest tour.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: It's Minnesota Now. I'm Cathy Wurzer. Early voting is underway, and the haggling over gubernatorial debates continues with far fewer debates this year than in years past, only three between Governor Walz and his challenger. Why is that? A former Minnesota governor's press secretary shares his take.

Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide discounted care, but some hospitals are giving far less than others. We look into the Mayo Clinic's record of charity care. And it's archery season for deer hunting. We'll hear from a coach who's been instrumental in getting more woman archers and hunters in the sport. We'll talk to the folk duo, the OK Factor ahead of their Midwest tour. And speaking of music, we have the Minnesota Music Minute and the song of the day. All of it comes your way right after the news.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Live from NPR News in Washington, I'm Lakshmi Singh. President Biden and the First Lady are arriving in Puerto Rico today to survey damage from Hurricane Fiona. NPR's Windsor Johnston reports the president is expected to receive an update on federal hurricane response efforts in the US territory.

WINDSOR JOHNSTON: President Biden says federal emergency teams have been working around the clock to help the island get back on its feet.

JOE BIDEN: We're not going away. I am committed to you and the recovery of the island. We'll stand by you for however long it takes to get it done.

WINDSOR JOHNSTON: Puerto Rico is still struggling five years after Hurricane Maria decimated the island's power grid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated billions of dollars to help the US territory rebuild its infrastructure, but that work is far from finished. Windsor Johnston, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Floridians are facing a long road to recovery from Hurricane Ian. National Guard helicopters are busy flying rescue missions to residents stranded on some of the West Coast barrier islands. Homeowners standing in front of empty plots where houses used to stand need shelter and food as well as water. Streets still need to be cleared. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie says about 621,000 residents are still without electricity, but many more have had their power restored.

KEVIN GUTHRIE: 164,000 individuals have applied for FEMA individual assistance.

LAKSHMI SINGH: The hurricane, Ian, is blamed for at least 81 deaths in Florida. In other news, with a growing number of patients in states with newly enacted abortion bans now traveling for the procedure, Planned Parenthood says it will travel closer to them. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports the organization is announcing plans to open its first mobile abortion Clinic.

SARAH MCCAMMON: Illinois has become a hub for patients now unable to get abortions in their home states. By the end of the year, Planned Parenthood says it will start providing abortion pills in Southern Illinois from a clinic built inside an RV. It will be able to travel closer to other states' borders. Yamelsie Rodriguez is President of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region and Southwest Missouri.

YAMELSIE RODRIGUEZ: Our goal is to reduce the hundreds of miles that people are having to travel now in order to access care and meet them where they are.

SARAH MCCAMMON: Planned Parenthood says it aims to begin offering surgical abortions eventually, and may add more mobile clinics in the future. Sarah McCammon, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Kenya is rolling back a 10-year-old decision in lifting its ban on the cultivation of genetically modified crops. Longstanding concerns persist about the safety of genetically modified foods, but the government in Kenya is now facing a prolonged drought and growing food insecurity. A last check on Wall Street. The Dow is up 600 points. It's NPR News.

CREW: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations. Other contributors include DuckDuckGo, a privacy company committed to making privacy online simple, used by tens of millions. They offer private search and tracker blocking with one download. DuckDuckGo, privacy simplified.

CATHY WURZER: Around Minnesota right now, skies are probably mostly sunny with highs today in the 70s. At noon in Duluth at the airport, it's sunny and 63. It's 70 in Appleton, and outside the Watonwan Historical Society in Madelia, Minnesota, it's sunny and 69. I'm Cathy Wurzer with Minnesota news headlines.

There will be about one million Minnesotans who qualified as frontline pandemic workers will get a nearly $500 check from the state of Minnesota. Brian Bakst reports.

BRIAN BAKST: The money will be sent out beginning this week in the form of direct deposit, debit cards, or paper checks depending on a recipient's preference. Payments will be about $487 each. They're drawn from a $500 million bonus program approved by the legislature to honor the special risks some workers took during the early phases of the pandemic.

The total number of those who proved their eligibility was 1,025,655. They come from health care, child care, retail, food processing, and other professions where working from home wasn't an option. There were income limits, and people couldn't have received unemployment benefits for an extended period. The program proved popular, with about 1.2 million people applying. Some had their applications denied for not meeting eligibility criteria or being able to verify their status. I'm Brian Bakst.

CATHY WURZER: It's a tough day at the Echo Park Elementary School in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District. A third grade teacher at the school, Alyssa Schmidt, died over the weekend in a plane crash near Hermantown, Minnesota, that's just outside of Duluth. Schmidt was on board the plane with her brother, Matthew Schmidt, who also perished, as did the pilot, Tyler Fretland. The plane crashed into a home just after midnight Saturday while the occupants were sleeping. They were not hurt. The NTSB is investigating.

Leading the program is an issue that is not new, but it is getting worse. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that right now, 4 in 10 adults in the US have some form of health care debt. Did you know that nonprofit hospitals are required to provide discounted care to patients who need it?

But an investigation from The Rochester Post Bulletin finds that Rochester's Mayo Clinic provides significantly less charity care than other top hospitals across the US. That means Mayo patients who are eligible for financial assistance may not know it and are instead going into debt. Molly Castle Work is one of the authors behind that investigation. She's an investigative reporter for The Post Bulletin. Molly, welcome.

MOLLY WORK: Thank you, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Hey, what was the spark that got you into this story?

MOLLY WORK: This was started with my colleague, Jeff Kiger. We were looking at the US News World Report's annual rankings that they do where they rank hospitals. And Mayo ranked number one as the top hospital. This is their seventh year doing that. But US News added a new subranking this year on charity care, and Mayo ranked as significantly lower than other hospitals. So my colleague Jeff wanted us to look into it.

CATHY WURZER: OK. So according to your reporting in 2021, Mayo contributed 0.34% of its expenses to charity care, and they've decreased spending over time. Is that right?

MOLLY WORK: Yes, that's true. So there was a pretty significant reduction in 2021. They spent $49 million on charity care, which was $40 million less than the previous year, and the lowest number in the past 15 years, from what we can tell.

CATHY WURZER: What were the reasons given for that?

MOLLY WORK: Yes, so they explained to us that part of the reason was because through pandemic relief measures, more patients were covered through Medicaid and were receiving financial assistance. But sources we spoke with said that that's still not enough, and even what they were contributing towards charity care in past years is still not where it should be at.

CATHY WURZER: Now, you interviewed a few Mayo patients who didn't know they were eligible for financial assistance. Let's talk about Brittany. What's her story?

MOLLY WORK: Yeah, so Brittany actually was a Wisconsin patient. She didn't go to Mayo Clinic, but she had a very similar story to what we've been hearing. She had a, I think, $3,000 bill, and should have qualified for free care, but had no idea that this existed. And she and another patient we interviewed for Mayo Clinic, Megan Bass, both discovered charity care through TikTok.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, OK. Because it's really not talked about much, right?

MOLLY WORK: No, not from what we can tell. So hospitals are legally required to advertise their charity care policies. The IRS actually sets guidelines for how to advertise the policies, but they're a little vague. And so from what we learned, hospitals can be following the law but still not doing enough. It's because, for example, most hospitals advertise it on their website and in their billing statements. But if you're a patient, you might not even know to look for this if you don't know the program exists.

CATHY WURZER: Who's normally eligible for financial assistance?

MOLLY WORK: So every hospital writes their own policy. So that's another complication, as it changes a lot. But Mayo Clinic, for example, you qualify if you're below 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. That's for reduced care. You qualify for free care if you're below 200%. And for a single person, that's less than, I think, $57,000 annual salary.

CATHY WURZER: So Mayo is really contributing a fraction of its revenue toward charity care. Did you get a sense about other hospitals in Minnesota? I mean, are they giving it a comparable rate or a higher rate, or what?

MOLLY WORK: Yeah, this was really interesting. So no, no one's really where we want them to be. The national average is spending 2.4% of your expenses on charity care. I analyzed all the nonprofit hospitals in Southeastern Minnesota, and all the ones that we spoke with did not meet that average.

Our local Olmstead Medical Center did contribute more than Mayo Clinic based on that percentage, but no one's meeting the average. And that's true for top hospitals too. We looked up the top 10 hospitals ranked by US News, and none of them meet the average. And Mayo was the second lowest of the ones that we evaluated.

CATHY WURZER: So a number of hospitals seem like they're reigning in the charity care.

MOLLY WORK: Yes, and most of them dropped during the pandemic. Not all of them, but a lot did.

CATHY WURZER: So what's Mayo's response to your report? What's the official line?

MOLLY WORK: They, I think, just want more context. They want to know that they do all sorts of other community benefit, which is true. They of course benefit the community by running an emergency room open to all regardless of ability to pay. They also touted the spending that they do to cover uncompensated Medicaid bills. But something that's interesting is talking with sources, although that certainly qualifies as public benefit, theoretically, that doesn't qualify as meeting the charity care standard, which is a legal requirement.

CATHY WURZER: So I know you're reporting. You're going to continue to report on this story. Is there any legislation that will be addressing this issue at all?

MOLLY WORK: Yeah. So there is one that's addressing charity care. It did not pass last year, but Minnesota legislators are pushing for it this year. It's called the Get Covered Bill, and it's a bill that would require hospitals to screen uninsured patients for eligibility for public assistance programs, including like Minnesota care, but also charity care. So hospitals would theoretically know right away if someone qualified for charity care.

CATHY WURZER: So getting back to the patients who have substantial bills that they're looking at and they can't pay, what happens to them?

MOLLY WORK: Well, usually, they get sent to collections, and then after that, it can affect all kinds of things. It can affect your credit score. It can put you into a cycle of debt. But something I found really interesting was it can actually cause long-term health effects too. There are studies that medical debt can exacerbate health conditions, but it can also deter people from wanting to seek the health care that they need because they're scared of incurring more debt.

CATHY WURZER: So that's interesting about how it can touch off and exacerbate medical conditions. Just because of the stress?

MOLLY WORK: Yeah, that's what-- we were looking at a report from the Sycamore Institute, which is a national organization. And they said that, yeah, this can contribute from the stress. It can, yeah, just exacerbate more health conditions, everything from mental health to physical health.

CATHY WURZER: Well, you did a great job reporting on this, Molly. Thank you so much for joining us.

MOLLY WORK: Thank you so much, Cathy. Molly Castle Work is one of the reporters behind this Rochester Post Bulletin investigation. Check it out online.

[JAZZ MUSIC]

CATHY WURZER: It is the Minnesota Music Minute, and today, we've got a Twin Cities Jazz staple for you. Atlantis Quartet features four of Minnesota's most exciting improvisers and composers, guitarist Zacc Harris, saxophonist Brandon Wozniak, bassist Chris Bates, and drummer Pete Hennig. The group has released five critically acclaimed albums together, and are known across the Midwest as a band whose music defies labels.

12:15 here on Minnesota Now from MPR News. I'm Cathy Wurzer. I don't know if you saw the story and the amazing video of a cow moose who ambled over to the blind where Brianne Zeitz of Minot, North Dakota was hiding, her bow and arrows in hand. The massive moose stuck her ample snout into the blind and sniffed Brianne, who was scared silly. Brianne was actually hunting for deer. It's archery hunting season right now for deer in our region.

Now, you don't need to hunt deer with a bow and arrows to enjoy archery. Archery is an ideal sport for beginners of all ages. You don't have to be especially strong or athletic or fast to hit a target. It just takes a lot of focus. At least, that's what Dana Keller teaches her students at A1 Archery in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Dana is a Level 3 USA archery coach and a bow hunter, and she's been instrumental in training a growing number of women archers and hunters how to work a bow. Dana, welcome to Minnesota Now. How are you?

DANA KELLER: I'm good, Cathy. How are you today?

CATHY WURZER: Good. Thanks. Thanks. So I know you're one of the trainers in the long-running Minnesota DNR's bow program, the becoming an outdoors woman program. What do you teach in your classes?

DANA KELLER: Yes. Oh my gosh. We do lots of different classes, lots of different types of classes with the archery things. We focus mainly on teaching the ladies how to hunt. So we'll talk about clothing. We'll talk about attire. We'll talk about the things that you need, how to take a good shot, all those really important things that we need to know as bow hunters. And it's great classes.

CATHY WURZER: For my male hunter friends, they say-- because I don't know women who bow hunt, to be frank with you-- my male hunter friends say that when you go out and you bow hunt, it takes a lot of skill. I mean you truly are an outdoors person if you can do that.

DANA KELLER: Yep. We were just having this conversation this morning in the shop here about what true hunters are. And the opportunity with a bow and arrow to get that shot is so small. I mean, you try your best to get the best opportunities, but it takes so much to get that critter in the right position and to have the shot present itself.

You really have to love nature. You have to love nature sitting out there for hours on end, and seeing the birds, and the squirrels, and the moose and whatever else might come near your blind. It is really amazing. It's very grounding for me. I absolutely love to be outside.

CATHY WURZER: Can you imagine, by the way, the story of the moose?

DANA KELLER: No.

CATHY WURZER: The woman I told you about, the video is amazing. She was scared silly, as I mentioned. And here's this moose just sticking her snout in the blind. And oh my goodness. I'll have to post that video for you. You know, for women who are not interested in hunting, but think that the sport of archery might be kind of interesting, are you noticing more women becoming interested in that?

DANA KELLER: It has grown so, so much over the past-- I've been at A1 for going on eight years now, and our women's leagues have grown immensely. In fact, the October League that's going to start up on the 13th, we already have 41 women registered. It just keeps getting better and better. And in our last league, it was just a six-week League. We had 27 ladies, and 16 of them shot their personal bests. And we had three that shot Robin Hoods.

So the ladies are doing phenomenally. Women have really, really good skills because we are multitaskers. They're amazing archers, and young girls too. I'm telling you, it's amazing to watch them [AUDIO OUT] archers.

CATHY WURZER: Say, by the way, what's a Robin Hood? You mentioned something about Robin Hood?

DANA KELLER: That's when you shoot one arrow into the back end of another one and bury it in there. That's like Robin Hood when he'd split the arrow.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah.

DANA KELLER: Yeah. They actually-- we can do that. We do that here.

CATHY WURZER: Wow.

DANA KELLER: It's very cool.

CATHY WURZER: So you don't need to be fast or athletic.

DANA KELLER: No, not at all. And you know, a lot of people wonder about that when they come to learn. They're like, do I have to be strong, do I have to be this. And honestly, the bows that we have set up for the kids and adults are all able to be used by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts. Any kind of groups that might come through the doors, we actually have those bows set up light enough for them. So anybody can shoot.

CATHY WURZER: Somebody likened archery to yoga. You're in your head. You're totally focused. Is that accurate?

DANA KELLER: It is.

CATHY WURZER: Is it?

DANA KELLER: It is, It is. And you know, so many times when I'm walking down the line, an archer will actually have me stop behind. They feel that energy from me. I'm very calming. I talk them through the process one archer said she went home and she had a dream, and she could hear me repeating the shot process. And I said, that's not a dream. That's a nightmare if you're hearing my voice. And she giggled, and I said, no. She goes, it's really good that my subconscious is really taking over.

And I tell an archer, if you're shooting your bow and arrow, if you're thinking about dishes, or laundry, or work, or the kids, go for a run. When you're on the line, you should be thinking the shot process. It is very zen-like when you really, really get into it.

CATHY WURZER: What's the first thing you teach a beginning archery student?

DANA KELLER: Oh. Well, we with the shot process, we start out with stance. So it's how they stand. And then we teach them about how to hold the bow. I always give a set of range rules, of course, ahead of time, just so that they understand the rules of the range. But really, the first few shots, we want to make them as simple as possible, and then we'll build on those skills.

Especially with women and ladies, if you give them too many things to think about, our brain can only think about one or two. So I always start everybody out very simply, just shooting those first goals. And then after it becomes subconscious, then we start adding in those other pieces.

CATHY WURZER: I know Dana, you said that you don't have to have a lot of strength. But I have attempted to at least shoot a bow and arrow in my life in the past, and it did seem like you have to kind of just-- you got to really pull her back, you know. And I thought, oh, this is a little bit harder than I thought. Is there-- what kind of weight are you talking about?

DANA KELLER: See, the thing is, I bet that the bow that you were trying to shoot, I bet-- was it a boy's bow, a male?

CATHY WURZER: Yeah.

DANA KELLER: Yeah, so they draw back way more weight than what normal ladies can draw, or an average lady can draw. So we have Genesis bows here made by Mathews and Mission. And these bows are lightweight. They don't have that peak wear when you draw them back, they get heavier, heavier, heavier and then lighter. These are one continuous, the same weight through the whole cycle.

So some of them are set up at probably only 10 pounds. Some of them are set up at-- kids' bows we can set up really light. I have kids as young as six that take lessons from me and use our equipment. So we have all kinds of bows that people can shoot, and you do not have to be strong to do it.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, I'm curious how you got started in this.

DANA KELLER: Yeah, so 33 years ago, I started shooting a bow with an ex-boyfriend of mine. And I didn't really know much about archery or hunting, and actually, my parents are anti-hunters. They don't like hunting at all. And I've gotten them to the point where they're partially accepting of it, but it is nice to know that side as well. So when I teach I understand what people are talking about when they talk about anti-hunting and this and that.

But when I go, I personally am trying to feed my family. And that's how I was introduced. The people that I hunted with and shot archery with when I first started, that's what they did. They utilized everything, every part of that deer. And then I thought, well, if I'm going to do this, if I'm going to harvest an animal, I want to do the same thing. I'm going to feel responsible for it. And I am. So if it's turkeys, bear, deer, anything that I'm hunting, I am totally responsible for that critter.

CATHY WURZER: And when you're out, what's your-- I don't know if this is the right word to use, or term, but what's your percentage of success? Do you usually come back with a deer?

DANA KELLER: So that's hard with hunting. Like I said, you have to literally be in the right place at the right time. The deer have to be moving through that area. And really, it's not a percentage thing for me, because last year, I harvested a really nice doe. I was down in Missouri and harvested a nice doe down there. But I didn't get anything in Wisconsin last year.

So I spent a lot of time in the stand, and I spent a lot of time just kind of rejuvenating myself in the stand, and hoping and being excited. And that's another thing with archery and bow hunting. You're hopeful. It shows a lot of hope, a lot of desire to get out there, to spend the time doing it. And I love that part of it. You know, you never know. Today could be the day.

CATHY WURZER: You never know.

DANA KELLER: You never know.

CATHY WURZER: I'm an angler, and I get out and I fish, and you never know what's going to happen.

DANA KELLER: Yes.

CATHY WURZER: Exactly exactly.

DANA KELLER: You don't know. You could have a day where you're skunked. You could have a day where you hit a honey hole and there's fish [INAUDIBLE]. The same thing. You know, you could get some that come through. You could have days where the weather doesn't cooperate, and maybe the deer just stay hunkered down. But even if it's freezing cold, I've hunted in 20 below. And like even if it's freezing cold, I'm like, I'm still out here. I still get this beautiful scenery, and just that peace and quiet and the solitude. I love that. I love that, you know.

CATHY WURZER: And again, getting back to folks who might not want to hunt but are interested in archery, I remember the actress Geena Davis. Remember? She became an Olympic-caliber archery champ, but she was like what, 41 or 42. And I thought, well, good for you that you're doing that. So it is, again, possible that you can start at a, shall we say, an advanced age.

DANA KELLER: Oh, any age. In our women's leagues, we've had kids as young as six, and we have two women right now that are in their 80s. And one of them, she's 85 this year. I didn't say that. Yes, I did. She's 85, and she actually shoots. She is very competitive, and she shoots in the National Senior Games in archery. She has titles in the Senior Games. She has titles that she's won and records in Wisconsin and Minnesota. She's amazing.

But anyone, we even have one Archer that is in the Women's League right now that has arthritis. And her arthritis is really bad, and she came and brought her daughter in for a lesson. And I said, do you want to shoot. She's like, I can't. And I'm like, yes, you can. She's like, no I can't. And I said, let's just try. And she said, I can't even straighten my arm. And I go, but is it solid right there. And she said, Yeah. And I go, then you can shoot. And now she's been shooting and joining the League. She bought a bow. She loves it. She loves it. Anyone can do this. We've had archers in wheelchairs come in and shoot with us.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. Wow. Well, I tell you what. I appreciate the conversation. It sounds pretty interesting, especially those of us who need to get out of our heads and just concentrate on something else, you know. Dana, thank you so much for the conversation.

DANA KELLER: Thank you, Cathy. I hope you have a wonderful day, and thank you for including me on this. I appreciate it big time.

CATHY WURZER: Absolutely. Dana Keller is a Level 3 USA archery coach and a bow hunter, and she's based in Hudson, Wisconsin.

CREW: Programming is supported by Minnesota Public Radio's educational sponsors. Our work together provides public radio service to communities throughout the region. One of the sponsors we'd like to thank is Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

CATHY WURZER: Let's bring in--

CREW: Support comes from CenterPoint Energy, reminding Minnesota homeowners that you can improve natural gas energy efficiency and reduce energy costs with rebates and programs from CenterPoint Energy. The application deadline is December 31. CenterPointEnergy.com/StartSaving.

CATHY WURZER: Sorry about that. I was so excited about John Wanamaker doing the news that I kind of interrupted there. John joins us with a news update. How are you doing?

JOHN WANAMAKER: I'm good, Cathy. Prosecutors said at the opening of the most serious case to reach trial in the attack on the US Capitol that the founder of the Oath Keepers extremist group and four associates planned for an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power.

Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler delivered his opening statement today in Washington's Federal Court in the trial of Stewart Rhodes and others charged with seditious conspiracy. An attorney for Rhodes argued that prosecutors built their case on cherry-picked evidence like messages and videos, and Oath Keepers were not involved with violence during the riot, they argued.

Search and rescue efforts continue today in the wake of Hurricane Ian, which is still causing problems. The storm doused Virginia with rain yesterday. It was dissipating as it moved offshore, but officials warn there still was the potential of severe flooding along Virginia's coast, and a coastal flood warning was in effect today. Ian was one of the strongest storms to make landfall in the US.

Congressional districts that a federal court panel said were unconstitutional because they dilute representation for Black voters in Alabama are nevertheless being used for the November election after the US Supreme Court allowed them. The high court hears arguments in the case tomorrow.

The packing of Black voters into just one of the state's seven congressional districts leaves many of them without a voice and gives Republicans one more seat than they should have based on the state's demographics. Gerrymandering has reduced the influence of Black voters for decades in Alabama.

Doctors have a message for vaccine-weary Americans. Do not skip your flu shot this fall. For the first time, seniors our urged to get a special extra-strength shot. There's no way to predict how bad this flu season will be. Australia just emerged from a very nasty flu season, and the US annual flu vaccinations are recommended starting with six months old. Because seniors don't respond as well, the US now recommends they get one of three types made with higher doses of an immune-boosting ingredient.

On Wall Street, stocks having a great start to the month of October. The Dow Jones up 2 and 1/3 percent. S&P up 2 and 1/4, the NASDAQ up just under 2%. This is MPR News.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you, John. 12:30 here in Minnesota Now. The debate over gubernatorial debates continues in Minnesota just as early voting is underway in the state. Governor Tim Walz has agreed to two debates this month with his Republican challenger Scott Jensen. One of them will be on MPR News. But for the first time in 40 years, Twin Cities TV viewers won't see a debate between the gubernatorial candidates. The Walz campaign has turned down debate offers from Twin Cities PBS, KSTP, and KARE 11 TV.

There will be a debate on several smaller Greater Minnesota TV stations. Walz has argued that the total of three debates the candidates will participate in before November 8 is perfectly normal, although three debates are far fewer than in years past. It also seems refraining from debating is gaining popularity with candidates in other states, either doing just one debate or skipping debates altogether. So what gives?

To help contextualize this political strategy, we're joined by Brian McClung. Brian served as Press Secretary, Director of Communications and Deputy Chief of Staff for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Brian's now with Park Street Public. That's a lobbying and political strategy group. How are you doing?

BRIAN MCCLUNG: I'm doing good. How are you, Cathy?

CATHY WURZER: All right, all right. It's nice to be back in the saddle after some time off. Say, as you know, I've had the honor of doing many political debates over the years, especially the final one before the election, And moderating several debates with Governor Pawlenty in his time in office. When Governor Walz says three debates are the norm, how many times did Pawlenty debate?

BRIAN MCCLUNG: Well, in the 2006 re-election campaign, which I think is the most appropriate to comparison, since Governor Walz is running for re-election here, governor Pawlenty participated in seven debates. And so we started off with the FarmFest debate, which is the one that the candidates have done here this time, and then followed that up with six more. In this case, they're following that up with two more.

So I do think that is-- you know, it's a significant dropoff from what we've seen for gubernatorial debates in the past, even for candidates running for re-election. And it's unfortunate, because I do think that debates are one of the best places for voters to get information, and really the only place to see the candidates unscripted, and see how they respond to things and how they deal with confrontation. And so debates might not change a lot of people's minds, but they're still a really important part of the process.

CATHY WURZER: Why do you think the Walz campaign is not interested in a debate televised in the metro area? What's the strategy behind that decision?

BRIAN MCCLUNG: Well, and like you said when we were opening the segment, this is something that's happening not just in Minnesota but around the country. And in fact, in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, California, there will be zero governor's debates in those states. Across the border in both Iowa and Wisconsin, they're just planning one debate each.

So we are seeing this happen more and more. And I think candidates are very risk-averse, especially incumbents who have a fundraising advantage. They'd rather not be put in a situation where something could go awry or they could make a misstep. And in fact, you saw that last year in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign where Terry McAuliffe made some remarks in a debate about parents not really needing to be engaged in the education of their children.

You know, very kind of clumsy phrasing of what he was trying to get across, and that was then used in ads against him. And so I think a lot of these, especially incumbents who have a lead, they're looking at it and saying there's more downside than upside to doing these debates.

Both candidates in the Minnesota gubernatorial race have records, and debates, as you mentioned, are excellent opportunities to see how the candidates respond, how they deal with pressure. They're also opportunities to press a candidate on their record. So what's lost if a candidate doesn't debate? What's the loss to the electorate?

Well, you know, debates, when they're well organized and well moderated, really do give voters a lot of information about the candidates. And without that, we're left with campaign rallies, or advertisements, or social media, and it's really an incomplete picture. So I think that's what we're missing out on. It is, we're looking for our candidates to be willing to go into that arena have that conversation and take tough questions and show what they're worth.

Now, of course, the presidential debates two years ago were a bad example, right. A lot of people were just really turned off because you had Joe Biden and Donald Trump just kind of yelling at each other. You're not really picking up a lot of information. So I do think that there's a little bit of debate fatigue when you look at what happened there. But with good moderation, with good rules, you really can see things in a debate that you won't see anywhere else in a campaign,

CATHY WURZER: What do you suggest? You know, there's this, it depends on what side you're on, right. Some candidates really like to have an audience. Others do not. Where do you fall down on that?

BRIAN MCCLUNG: You know, I think we should have both, right. I think that you like to see how campaigns respond when you have a full room. And that 2006 campaign with Governor Pawlenty, you know, I think about half or more of the debates had a live audience. We did one at the University of Minnesota that had a live audience. We did one at the MPR one at the end, at the Fitzgerald Theater, that had a live audience.

But then there are some the Almanac debate that's just with the studio. So I think that it makes sense to do both. I can understand not wanting to do, for example, the state fair debate. I know that Governor Walz was criticized for that. But the crowds at the state fair can get kind of rowdy, and it makes it hard sometimes to stay focused and get your point across.

So in some cases, I can understand that desire to not be in a situation like that that can get out of hand. But a mix of both, I think, is good. And I think somewhere around six debates or so is reasonable, that we should expect that to be kind of a baseline number, even though we see more and more candidates trying to minimize the number of debates. I think trying to settle in on kind of a regular expected schedule would be beneficial.

CATHY WURZER: You mentioned this is a trend nationwide. Do you think this trend will continue? Are debates going to be a thing of the past?

BRIAN MCCLUNG: Well, it seems like that might be the case, and as I mentioned, those states with governor's races with no debates or one debate-- you look at, there are about a dozen states that have competitive US Senate races. Many of those do not have debates scheduled or might have just one debate scheduled.

So yes, I do think that in this age of really trying to control the narrative and trying to focus it around what you can put out yourself on social media, what you can do in your TV ads. These candidates, they know that if they have a misstep, or they say something foolish in a debate, that it could go viral and it could really hurt them. And so they're just trying to stay away from that.

I mean, you just have candidates in public less than you used to. I mean, back in '06, like, we would just go out and campaign with the governor, and go to events and talk to people at parades. Of course, not everybody had a camera in their pocket back then like they do today. So the likelihood that something off course actually ends up online or on the news is much higher now. So I recognize that. But we are kind of missing out on something by not having this type of interaction.

CATHY WURZER: Well, Brian, I appreciate the insight here. Thank you so very much.

BRIAN MCCLUNG: Any time. And I'll come and debate any time you want, Cathy, so just let me know.

CATHY WURZER: I know you will. Thanks, Brian. Have a good day.

BRIAN MCCLUNG: Thank you. You too.

CATHY WURZER: Brian McClung is the former Press Secretary, the Director of Communications and Deputy Chief of Staff for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

CREW: Programming is supported by the Think Small Institute, providing early childhood professionals high-quality professional development opportunities, helping ensure all children are ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Details and more information at thinksmallinstitute.org.

CATHY WURZER: There are more than 200 political races from the school board to the governor on the ballot across Minnesota. For those curious about the issues driving people's votes and just who might win these races, we turn to the Minnesota PollWatch, run by the APM Research Lab. Craig Helmstetter is the managing partner of APM Research Lab. He joins me right now. Hey, welcome back.

CRAIG HELMSTETTER: Great to be here, Cathy. And you know, you just mentioned that Freddie was a Broadcasting Hall of Famer. So I hope your listeners also know that you are recently inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. So congrats on that award.

CATHY WURZER: Hey, Thanks. It was cool to go in with Freddie, and Dan Barreiro, and my friend Dave Lee. And it was just a great time. Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

CRAIG HELMSTETTER: Yes. Congratulations

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. So let's talk about PollWatch. By the way, we should mention that APM Research Lab is an arm of American Public Media Group, which is our parent company. PollWatch covers a bunch of stuff. Thank you, by the way, for those of us who are our political nerds. Political polls done in the state, election forecasts for several offices, some fundraising data. You were on last Monday when I was off to talk polling. What's the last new information you're covering today?

CRAIG HELMSTETTER: Well, to take those things kind of one at a time, we can start talking about political polling. And there really isn't any new political polling done in the state since I was last on this show last Monday. The MPR News, Star Tribune, KARE 11 poll is still the most recent statewide non-partisan poll, at least, that's done.

And as you know, the results of that one show that Tim Walz is currently leading in the governor's race over Republican Scott Jensen, that incumbent Democrat Steve Simon is currently leading in the secretary of state's race over Republican Kim Crockett. But both the attorney general's race and the state auditor's race are statistically tied up, so we'll see if Democrats are able to hang on to all four of those statewide offices that they currently occupy or not.

And I guess as of the politics Friday, show last Friday, Peter Callahan from MinnPost was on and mentioned there that MinnPost will be fielding a poll later this week. Or perhaps it'll be out early next week, so we'll have some new results at that time.

CATHY WURZER: OK. How about election forecasting? Any news there?

CRAIG HELMSTETTER: Yeah, those forecasters, most famously people like Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight, they make their living on trying to predict who will win the elections, You know that polling's a snapshot in time, but the forecasting is who's actually going to win.

And so what we do in PollWatch is do kind of a round-up and look at several leading national forecasters. And of the five or six that we're looking at, they're all predicting right now that Waltz will hold on to that governor's office. And they're also looking at congressional seats. And as you know, Minnesota has eight seats, and three of them are held-- well, four of them are held by Democrats, and those national forecasters really feel that three of those are safe Democratic seats, the 3rd district, 4th and 5th.

Four of those seats are held by Republicans, the 1st, 6th, 7th and 8th. And those are also viewed as safe holds for Republicans. So the big question is this district 2, where Angie Craig is the incumbent and Tyler Kistner is the Republican challenger. And they're battling it out. Anybody who's watching any football over the weekend probably saw a few ads.

And in that race, a lot of these so-called experts are unable to make a call. They're saying that it's a toss-up, although there are a couple. The Economist and FiveThirtyEight. Each rate that race as likely Democrat. They're saying that Angie Craig has the edge there. So we'll see it. Is an exciting race.

CATHY WURZER: It is an exciting race, yeah. It's going to be an interesting election cycle here. You know what, I wish I could-- I don't have the time right now, Craig, to talk to you about fundraising. I wonder, could you come on tomorrow, perhaps? We'll talk about that.

CRAIG HELMSTETTER: I'm happy to be here when you need me. Sure.

CATHY WURZER: I appreciate that. Let's do that sometime tomorrow.

CRAIG HELMSTETTER: Great.

CATHY WURZER: You can find PollWatch, the PollWatch page, right at the top of the Election 2022 page at mprnews.org.

[MUSIC - THE OK FACTOR, "LOVE SONG FOR LUCY']

CATHY WURZER: Oh, this is pretty. It's called Love Song for Lucy. It's the most recent single from Minneapolis-based band, the OK Factor. The band includes cellist Olivia Diercks and violinist Karla Colahan. They're about to kick off a tour across the Midwest alongside the Swedish folk band Jaerv. Here on Minnesota Now, we love to talk to musicians about their music and their musical inspirations. So producer Ellen Finn reached out to Karla and Olivia.

ELLEN FINN: Hi, Karla and Olivia.

OLIVIA DIERCKS: Hello.

KARLA COLAHAN: Hey.

ELLEN FINN: That song we just heard from you was so beautiful, tell me more about it.

KARLA COLAHAN: Yeah. It's one of our favorites. It's "Love Song for Lucy," named after my first golden retriever.

ELLEN FINN: Oh.

KARLA COLAHAN: Yeah she's turning five this year. So it's a big birthday for her. It was so fun to put it together with Jaerv.

ELLEN FINN: And I understand Jaerv is a Swedish folk band you work with sometimes. What was it like working on that song with them?

OLIVIA DIERCKS: You know, piece was already written, and it was actually something that we tried with at a concert. I think the first time we did it was in Decorah, Iowa. And this was a show actually right before the pandemic hit, so in March of 2020. And we tried this with them, and it was just amazing to have their instruments, the flute, the guitar, the drums on there. And so when we were putting this record together, we thought, wouldn't it be fun to have just a single and invite the guys to record.

So it didn't take long. They are musical geniuses, and they all have their own recording equipment. So they actually sent stuff to us that way, and we put it together. And we're super happy.

ELLEN FINN: Wow. Yeah. It sounds totally beautiful. I have to say, I saw you both perform at the MPR booth at the State Fair this year and totally loved it. My co-producer and I were commenting on how in touch you are with each other when you play. How do you stay connected when you play together?

KARLA COLAHAN: I mean, we use the same tips and tricks that a lot of other musicians use, nonverbal communication with eye contact. And I'm intently watching Olivia's bow, unless we have those moments where we make eye contact with each other. But honestly, I think for us. It's also just-- this is our 10th anniversary. We've been doing this for about a decade, and the more we do it, the longer we do it, the more connected we are.

ELLEN FINN: How does it feel when you perform together?

OLIVIA DIERCKS: You know, I think to kind of piggyback off the question about connection, I think the other thing, we're good friends, and that makes all the difference as well, you know, when you're connected personally. And so I think when we play together, it feels like a good time. You know, it feels like almost like another way of communicating with each other, and sometimes that's preferable, honestly, to speaking with each other, because it's such a deep kind of innate connection that we have. And it just feels right and exciting and joyful. It's always a joyful experience.

ELLEN FINN: Well, with that in mind, let's listen to another one of your songs. This one's called "Share a Pint."

[MUSIC - THE OK FACTOR, "SHARE A PINT']

That one is so fun and sweet. I understand it'll be on your upcoming 10th anniversary album. Can you tell me about creating that song and the album?

OLIVIA DIERCKS: I wrote kind of the opening to that one. When we write together, it's really a collaborative process. And so I just happened to have that melody together, and Karla came up with the harmony line. It does feel really sweet. I just kind of see it being played in like an Irish pub or something like that. I don't think we've said this publicly, but that's on our new album called OKX, the X for 10, as our 10-year anniversary. Also kind of like an airport sign to kind of designate sort of the arrival of this moment, and honestly, the departure from here to who knows where. We're just so excited to still be playing music together after 10 years.

ELLEN FINN: As you may or may not know, on this segment, we want to hear not only what you've been working on, but what you've been listening to recently. You sent us a song that you've been enjoying. It's called "Fear" by the musician Ben Rector.

Let's take a listen.

[MUSIC - BEN RECTOR, "FEAR']

BEN RECTOR: (SINGING) It's been 10 years on this pavement. Now I finally caught a dream. If I'm honest, it's a terrifying thing, because I feel crazy taking pictures, hearing 1,000 people's screams. This is a lot for an Oklahoma kid like me.

ELLEN FINN: What do you like about that artist?

KARLA COLAHAN: What don't we like about Ben Rector? He just kind of has a history with the OK Factor. In our early years, we were doing a ton of driving. He was the one we probably played the most as we were just going from city to city, or moving me from Colorado to Minnesota. Some of his earlier stuff really, really connected with us as we were traveling, and this one in particular because we feel the connection to the lyrics about catching a dream. And it's so funny. I forgot that he says it's been 10 years on this pavement.

OLIVIA DIERCKS: I did too. I just heard that like that, oh, how perfect.

ELLEN FINN: Yeah.

OLIVIA DIERCKS: Part of what Karla mentioned, we have wide listening ears, and Ben Rector's a singer-songwriter who uses a lot of different instrumentation. So he plays piano. He plays guitar. Sometimes, there's brass on his things. And I'd say that some of his latest records are a little more pop-influenced, maybe. And so you know, the genres that he experiments with, I would say, are wide. And so that is intriguing to us, and it definitely influences our writing for sure.

ELLEN FINN: And I of course can't let you go without talking about your tour that's coming up. I know they're kicking off a tour with the Swedish folk band Jaerv that you mentioned earlier. Let's listen to a song that you both supported them on.

[MUSIC - JAERV, "FODELSEDAGSFESTEN"]

[SINGING IN SWEDISH]

ELLEN FINN: Well, pardon my Swedish. I definitely don't know the language, but that was the song "Fodelsedagsfesten" by Jaerv. What do you like about their sound?

KARLA COLAHAN: Oh, man we love everything about their sound. This one in particular, it's fun for a lot of reasons, and I think this is true of a lot of their music. There's like a little bit of drama, a little bit of theater, a little bit of storytelling to everything that they do. This particular song is about a birthday party gone wrong, but it's such like a happy tune.

And the way they share it during live shows is, in my opinion, hilarious. Like, there's this gorgeous tune and they have no idea what they're saying in Swedish, but they always share the actual story before they play the tune. And then they've got like some hand motions during the song where they're sort of explaining what's happening. And I won't give it away, so you'll have to come out to a show to get the full story.

But just, they're such good people, and I don't exactly know how to describe how that their presence of just kindness and generosity is reflected in their music. But it's absolutely one thing we love about them. That's one of the big connection points between our two groups, is that authenticity and generosity of spirit, is all just-- we wear it on our sleeves.

ELLEN FINN: Yeah. I understand that you have a long history with the band Jaerv that started in Minneapolis at the Cedar Cultural Center back in 2017. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that relationship formed?

OLIVIA DIERCKS: We're honored any time that the Cedar asks us to open and kind of support traveling acts. And Jaerv was one, and we had actually just played a festival earlier that day in Mankato. So we were like hustling to the theater, and made it and played our set, and briefly met backstage, And kind of got to talk with them.

But then we stayed for their set, and it's certainly, I'd say, like top five in terms of musical performances that we've experienced together as a duo, that have really kind of changed the trajectory of our career and our writing in multiple ways. So after their set, we got to talk with them a little bit. And Karla mentioned, you know, just, they're such kind human beings. And that's really reflected in their music and in their performance.

So we kept in touch, and between 2017 and 2020 shared a handful of shows in Decorah, Iowa, which is where we went to college at Luther College when they would come back to the States. And then Joel, who plays flute and saxophone and sings, suggested that we apply for a grant through the American-Scandinavian Foundation to come study traditional Swedish folk music.

And so we did that and got to travel there last summer, so just a little over a year ago. And that was transformative, just such an amazing tour. And so we said, well, now you have to come to the States and tour with us. And so we're doing that in October, and we have a few dates near and around the cities. One of them is at the American Swedish Institute on October 7. And we're just thrilled to be back there in that space and to share a performance with Jaerv.

ELLEN FINN: Karla and Olivia, thank you so much for sharing your music, and best of luck to you on your tour.

OLIVIA DIERCKS: Thanks so much.

KARLA COLAHAN: Thank you so much for having us.

CATHY WURZER: That was producer Ellen Finn talking with Karla Colahan and Olivia Dierks of the classical folk duo, the OK Factor. They're kicking off a Midwest tour with the band Jaerv at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, October 7. You can find their tour dates along with music from the upcoming 10th anniversary album at the OKFactor.com website. I am so glad you joined me here on Minnesota Now today. Tune in again tomorrow at noon. You're listening to NPR News.

CREW: Programming supported by Twin Cities Siding Professionals, a James Hardie elite preferred remodeler. James Hardie fiber cement siding, designed to stand up to the challenges of Minnesota's rugged weather. More at TCSidingProfessionals.com/MPR.

CATHY WURZER: And support for Minnesota Now comes from TruStone Financial, a full-service credit union working to improve the financial well-being of its neighbors since 1939, serving individuals and businesses at 23 locations and online at TruStone.org. Equal housing opportunity insured by NCUA.

We're already up to 68 degrees, partly sunny skies here at MPR News, 91.1, KNOW Minneapolis, Saint Paul. 68 on our way to a holiday of 75 with a south wind to 10 to 15. The overnight low, about 58. Back into the mid 70s for a high tomorrow. Little cooler on Wednesday with a 30% chance for showers. Much cooler Thursday, high of 50, maybe 48 by Friday.

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