Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota Now: May 14, 2024

Minnesota Now podcast art
MPR News

It’s crunch time at the Minnesota State Capitol and lawmakers less than a week to pass a few major bills — including one that would fund building projects around the state. We talked with House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth about Republican priorities during these final days.

A rural hospital plans to close its inpatient psychiatric unit. We found out how this fits into the bigger picture of mental health care shortages around the state.

We got some perspective on political disinformation — from another continent.

Apple lovers, rejoice! There’s a new variety in town and it’s now available to grow at home.

The Westminster Dog Show has been running for nearly 150 years. We met a Minnesotan who is one of this year’s judges.

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

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.  

Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: It is Minnesota Now. I'm Cathy Wurzer. It's crunch time at the State Capitol. Lawmakers less than a week to pass a few major bills, including one that would fund building projects around the state. We'll talk with House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth about Republican priorities during these final days of session.

A rural hospital plans to close its inpatient psychiatric unit. We'll find out how this fits into the larger picture of mental health care shortages around Minnesota. We'll get some perspective on political disinformation from another continent. Apple lovers rejoice. There's a new variety in town. It's now available to grow at home. And the Westminster Dog Show has been running for nearly 150 years. We'll meet a Minnesotan who is one of this year's judges, and she's really excited. All that and more coming your way right after the news.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Live from NPR News in Washington, I'm Lakshmi Singh. President Biden's announced new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, advanced batteries, solar cells, as well as medical equipment, aluminum, and steel. At the White House Rose Garden today, Biden, who is seeking re-election, spoke of the need to protect American workers.

JOE BIDEN: The fact is, American workers can outwork and outcompete anyone as long as the competition is fair. But for too long, it hasn't been fair. For years, the Chinese government has poured state money into Chinese companies across a whole range of industries.

LAKSHMI SINGH: The Chinese government warns the tariffs will, quote, "seriously affect the atmosphere of bilateral cooperation." House Speaker Mike Johnson attended part of former President Donald Trump's criminal trial regarding alleged hush money payments to an adult film star. NPR's Deirdre Walsh reports on why he traveled to New York.

DEIRDRE WALSH: Speaker Johnson said he decided on his own to attend former President Trump's trial, calling him a friend. After watching the proceedings for a short time, Johnson stepped outside to criticize the legal cases, both in New York and in other venues.

MIKE JOHNSON: These are politically motivated trials, and they are a disgrace. It is election interference.

DEIRDRE WALSH: Johnson said the witness testifying today, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, was on a personal revenge mission. He testified in this case that Trump directed payments to cover up an affair with an adult film star ahead of the 2016 election. Johnson has faced leadership challenges from the right of the GOP conference, but Trump has publicly supported him. Deirdre Walsh, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Research released today shows the number of abortions in the United States has continued to grow. NPR's Elissa Nadworny reports the increase is driven by the rise of telehealth abortions, where patients receive medication in the mail after consulting with a clinician.

ELISSA NADWORNY: Telehealth abortions now account for nearly one in five abortions in the US. That's according to data from the Society of Family Planning's We Count project. Research has shown telehealth abortions are as safe and effective as in clinic care. Across the country, there were on average about 4,000 more abortions per month in 2023 compared with 2022. Ushma Upadhyay is a public health scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-led the research.

USHMA UPADHYAY: It's not huge, but we were expecting a decline. That's what is surprising.

ELISSA NADWORNY: The slight increase comes despite the fact that abortions have plummeted in the 14 states that ban the procedure. Researchers estimate there were 180,000 fewer abortions in those states over the last 18 months. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: US stocks are mixed this hour. The NASDAQ is up 31 points. S&P is off one. The Dow is down 39 points. You're listening to NPR News.

SPEAKER 1: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations. Other contributors include Fidelity Investments. A dedicated wealth advisor can help create a wealth plan for a full financial picture. More at fidelity.com/wealth. Fidelity Brokerage Services, LLC. This is NPR.

CATHY WURZER: Around Minnesota right now, skies are sunny. Temperatures today will be in the upper 60s to the mid 70s, 50s near Lake Superior. It's a pleasant day. At noon in Worthington at 65, it's 46 in downtown Duluth and outside the Cold Press Cafe in Cold Spring, Minnesota, it's 62. I'm Cathy Wurzer with Minnesota news headlines.

A Blue Earth, Minnesota man pleaded guilty today to participating in the January 6th assault on the US Capitol. 35-year-old Paul Orta Jr. Agreed to plead guilty to civil disorder in DC US District Court. The agreement calls for Orta to serve between 8 and 14 months in jail and pay a fine ranging from $4,000 to $40,000. A judge will make the final determination on next steps.

Minnesota's Department of Commerce announced a settlement with United Health Care today over the company's alleged violation of mental health parity laws. Estelle Timar-Wilcox has more.

ESTELLE TIMAR-WILCOX: State officials say United Health Care covers mental health claims more stringently than it covers other medical claims. The consent order announced today requires the company to revamp its policies to better cover mental health care. United Health Care allegedly did not have an up to date provider directory and didn't advise some customers of their appeal rights for denied care.

The penalty also includes a $450,000 fine. The company has to pay part of it now. The rest will be waived if it makes the changes outlined in the consent order. The Department of Commerce will monitor the company at least until next March or until it's made the required changes. This is the third and largest state penalty on an insurance carrier for mental health parity in the last year. I'm Estelle Timar-Wilcox.

CATHY WURZER: A special election is being held in Duluth today to fund technology investments in the Duluth Public Schools. Dan Kraker reports it's the only question on the ballot.

DAN KRAKER: The school district is asking for a property tax levy increase to raise $5.2 million annually over the next 10 years. About a quarter of the money raised would pay for digital tools, including smart boards for classrooms and devices for students and staff. The referendum would also fund firewalls, data encryption, and other cyber security measures. It would pay for staff to maintain classroom technology, for staff training, and for equipment for a technical education program.

It's the third time Duluth voters are being asked to help pay for technology improvements in the schools in recent years. Voters rejected a similar request by more than thousand votes in 2018 and by fewer than 300 votes last fall. I'm Dan Kraker, Duluth.

CATHY WURZER: The Minnesota legislative session ends in less than a week, and there are still several big bills that have not been approved. Republicans who are in the minority in both chambers will have a voice in many deals in these final days. The GOP caucus flexed its muscles last night in the House, holding a seven hour filibuster over the final House action on a consumer fee bill.

DAVE BAKER: Whether it's an eighth ounce, a quarter pounder, it's a half pounder, it's a third pounder, a burger just isn't a burger like this anymore, folks. So when you put a bill together and you try to fix something, Representative Greenman, in this case, you're actually doing far more damage than you realize.

You think what you're doing is you're giving more transparency and more here's what the price is going to be. And there literally is no way you're going to catch it all. So you're making it just one more thing harder to do in Minnesota here to do business like our burger joint owners, the people that work really hard to do this.

CATHY WURZER: That was Republican representative Dave Baker of Willmar. Joining us right now is House Minority Leader Cold Spring area Representative Lisa Demuth. Thank you, Representative, for taking the time.

LISA DEMUTH: Good afternoon, Cathy. Thanks for visiting with me for a few minutes.

CATHY WURZER: Well, last night's marathon debate pushed off action over the Equal Rights Amendment ballot proposal that we've reported on. Tell me a little bit about your thought process as one of the Republican leaders on drawing out debate on conference committee reports.

LISA DEMUTH: You know, the conference committee report that came through on the deceptive trade practices, or what we like to call it is the junk fees. We had legitimate concerns over that conference committee report. It's going to make things more expensive in Minnesota, as we've seen over time. And already, as you heard from my colleague Dave Baker on the little clip there, things are more expensive, especially when it comes down to the hospitality industry and many others.

And so we did have definite concerns. We were unable to get the Democrats to vote to reject that conference committee, but it wasn't for lack of trying. We brought up legitimate concerns over the cost and what this is going to do to our businesses.

CATHY WURZER: I know Republicans have concerns over the ERA bill, too. And was this by design to push off debate so you can muster forces? Tell me a little bit about that perhaps.

LISA DEMUTH: The ERA bill that was calendared for yesterday, the majority has chosen to wait until the last less than 100 hours of session to bring up the ERA bill that they consider their priority. They could have brought this up last year. They could have brought it up earlier in session, but it was calendared for yesterday.

We are not in charge of or have any input into how things are being calendared. In fact, we are hearing more from the media, from reports that are being made as far as things that are going on and how they're going to be handled rather than the Democrats working with Republicans right now.

We do still have concerns over the ERA. There's something-- definitely bonding is still in the mix. But until the majority becomes serious with working with Republicans in the last four days of session, we are just doing our work whenever we are on the House floor.

CATHY WURZER: Let me ask you about bonding. Republican votes are needed to approve the bonding bill because all sides have projects in it as well. I'm curious how Republicans could use bonding as a bargaining chip to get what they want in maybe other legislation.

LISA DEMUTH: The bonding bill is something that we have been working on all session. We know that that is needed for different areas of our state. As far as looking at a looming deficit, though, MMB cautioned us back in February that any legislative action has to proceed with caution. That is what we are doing when we're looking at the price tag. Republicans have always supported roads, bridges, wastewater, some of those things that help our communities all the way across the state.

When we're looking at putting together this bonding bill, it has to be heavy in infrastructure. It can't have nonprofits and wasted money. There was a lot of that last year that was questionable. In the record bonding bill that we passed last year, over $2 billion, there was a lot of questionable spending there. This needs to be very heavy in infrastructure. Republicans have been exchanging offers with Democrats, and we are just waiting to hear if the majority is serious about getting down to the details and wanting to work out something in these last few days of session.

CATHY WURZER: You've mentioned working out with-- you mentioned the term working with Republicans. I'm wondering, what does that mean specifically?

LISA DEMUTH: The four leaders have met about three times talking about the input into the bonding bill. And then Republicans, we have been very clear about wanting to work with the majority to actually pass things off the House floor that will make its way through the Senate and then go to the governor to become law. That is not what we're seeing. We still continue to see heavy partisan bills coming forward that have no chance of passing in the Senate or making it to the governor.

The other thing that we were very concerned about yesterday is the week before, we had passed the religious exemption to the Department of Human Rights bill. We had passed that complete green board in the House and the Senate that would restore the religious exemption to the human rights when it comes to gender. That we thought was making its way to the governor. And we became aware yesterday that neither the House or Senate leadership had signed the enrollment and it had not made its way to the governor. That did add to the discussion and the length of it on the conference committee report.

And eventually Speaker Hortman did sign that enrollment last night. It is making its way through the Senate, and we hope, as promised, a four leader agreement that was signed on this particular piece, we hope that will make it to the governor for his signature before this session closes out.

CATHY WURZER: So it sounds like you have some muscle here that you can flex in the final days. And I'm wondering your priorities for ending this session. You're going to have a news conference here later this afternoon on that. What might be your top two or three priorities that Republicans would feel good about if they passed?

LISA DEMUTH: Sure. I think as we look at it, I don't know that it's even so much about flexing muscle, but it's representing all Minnesotans. And that has not been the case. And so we are using whatever tools we have available to really represent millions of Minnesotans that feel like their voices have been shut out. Again, spending is a concern, but we know that bonding is a priority. We would like to see work done on that bonding bill. That would be one of our priorities.

The sports betting bill is out right now. It is scheduled, calendared for the house tomorrow. But unless Democrats are going to work with Republicans, right now if that were to be up today, that would not pass. Now, if Republicans start working with-- or if Democrats start working with Republicans, we are happy to start moving things through.

CATHY WURZER: And when it comes to the sports betting bill, working with Republicans might mean including the racetracks in a deal?

LISA DEMUTH: I think all voices when it comes to sports betting in Minnesota need to be taken under consideration. That has been part of the conversation over the last year and longer.

CATHY WURZER: What's your message, Madam Leader, to DFLers if they don't agree to some of your conditions?

LISA DEMUTH: I think it's bring Republicans to the table. Let us be a part of the conversations and let's work together to close this session out. With the controversy that's in the Senate right now, we would like to see bipartisan bills passed in the House and Senate. But again, we are mostly seeing just partisan priorities passed by the majority.

CATHY WURZER: And of course, when you say the controversy in the Senate, you're talking about DFL Senator Nicole Mitchell.

LISA DEMUTH: Yes. She is still allowed to vote and pass definite partisan bills. When a bill passes out of the Senate. 34-33, that is not bipartisan, and that brings more heat to that controversy.

CATHY WURZER: Before we go, I'm just curious. I know that EMS funding is a big issue for republicans, emergency medical services. There's obviously a serious situation, a crisis in greater Minnesota. Could that be something bonding votes for EMS funding? How might that work, do you think, in the waning days here?

LISA DEMUTH: That is definitely one of the conditions that we would like to see is that there would be meaningful funding put toward EMS. And that is part of public safety. That's what keeps all of our communities safe. So when any Minnesotan is up at the North Shore or in the Southern part of the state, wherever, if they call 911, they need a response. And we know with inadequate funding for EMS, that puts those response times longer and it's unsafe for all Minnesotans. So, yes, EMS funding is part of the discussions we are having with the majority when it comes to bonding.

CATHY WURZER: Can everything get done, do you think, by the end of session? Because really, it's just a few days away, and these bills have to get passed, of course, and printed and that kind of thing. Do you think all this can be done in just a few days?

LISA DEMUTH: If we looked at what was bipartisan and what the actual needs of the state are rather than the extra things that aren't going to make their way through, I think it can be done. Again, bringing Democrats and Republicans together is the best place to start. But I do believe that we can get some of these critical things, bonding, EMS funding, potentially sports betting. The Uber Lyft issue is still out there. We have not been brought into those conversations, though.

CATHY WURZER: All right. I appreciate your time. I know you're busy. Thank you so much.

LISA DEMUTH: Thank you. Good to talk with you.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to Minnesota House Minority Leader Representative Lisa Demuth of Cold Spring.


(SINGING) Call me Christopher Robin

Going to solve all of my problems

With imaginary friends

Who are there when I need them

And I've been seeing [INAUDIBLE]

And I've been hearing demons

CATHY WURZER: This is Saint Cloud band called Cloud Cult. Cloud Cult with their most recent single, "I Am A Force Field." Cloud Cult is playing a show that was just announced at the Palace Theater September 28th. Tickets go on sale on Friday the 17th.

(SINGING) I am a force field

And I

And I

CATHY WURZER: It's 12:18 here on Minnesota Now. I'm Cathy Wurzer. Thanks for being with us. This evening at 6 o'clock, there will be a public hearing on the closure of an inpatient psychiatric ward in Central Minnesota. Lakewood Health System plans to close its 10 bed unit in its hospital in the small town of Staples.

Now, it's the latest loss of rural health care services, and hospitals and clinics are already struggling to keep up with the demand. The state reports 80% of counties are experiencing a shortage of mental health care. A 2021 report by an industry publication found Minnesota ranks last in the nation in psychiatric beds per capita. Many patients have fallen into that gap and wind up stuck in emergency rooms for weeks, even months, without access to more specific care.

Joining us right now to talk about this situation is Sue Abderholden, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental illness, Minnesota Chapter, NAMI, Minnesota. Sue, how have you been?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: Good, Cathy. Thanks for having me on.

CATHY WURZER: Good. I'm glad to hear your voice. Thank you. Say, what's the situation in Staples? What's happening there?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: Well, like many hospitals across the state, the Medicaid payment rates are just much, much lower than cost. And so they're just not able to keep it open, along with staffing shortages as well.

CATHY WURZER: Now, this is part of a larger trend that seems quite concerning. I'm thinking about, well, there was the closure of Saint Joseph's North Memorial closed inpatient care. Other areas that you've heard about in Minnesota that are cutting back on mental health care?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: Southdale closed their unit as well. The hospital in Fergus Falls closed their unit. We've lost about 888 children's residential facility beds. So we are seeing a lot of closures.

One thing I do want to point out, though, the study that you referenced was really about state operated beds and not community hospital beds. And Minnesota, unlike some other states, particularly in the South, has moved most of our acute care to community hospital beds instead of state operated beds.

CATHY WURZER: I'm wondering, the need is so great out there, is it not? Where are folks going if these inpatient units are closing?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: Well, I think it's really a tough thing. One of the things that we don't do well is intervening early. So are there more things that we [INAUDIBLE] to prevent people from needing to go to the emergency room or needing a hospital bed. And I don't think we're doing a good job of that. When I look at right now the waitlist for even getting in to see a therapist, it can be months. And so we're just letting people, frankly, struggle with their mental health during that time, and then it often leads to a crisis.

CATHY WURZER: We had a story in the newscast just a few minutes ago about the state of Minnesota cracking down on United Health, allegedly because of mental health parity law violations. And evidently, United Health as an insurer is tougher on granting mental health care claims. Is that also kind of a problem here where you have insurers that are just not coming to the table and approving claims?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: Yes. Mental health parity is still a dream, despite the fact that our recent law was passed in 2008. And we see this all the time. And we have report after report after report that comes out showing that mental health has narrower networks. We pay mental health services a lot less. There's more prior authorization and more denial of claims. And so we've put up incredible barriers for people to access mental health treatment. I am glad that last session they did create an Office of Mental Health Parity Enforcement within the Department of Commerce. And this will allow us, frankly, to put more resources to actually enforcing mental health parity.

CATHY WURZER: I'm glad you brought up the legislative session last year, but there's also this session that ends in less than a week. I know there are a couple of bills you're following closely. What are they?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: Mainly, we're trying to look at funding for our mental health system. So last session, they did provide a 3% increase to mental health providers, but they said, well, we want to wait to see what the rates report says. So they did come back this session with the rates [INAUDIBLE] grossly underpay many, many mental health services, which is why it's so difficult for providers to find people to actually do the work. But of course, this year there isn't as much money.

So we are trying to get as much money as we can into increasing rates. But there are also some grant programs that we're going to face kind of a deep cliff. One of them being our school linked mental health grants, which is a very popular, very effective program where mental health providers co-locate in the schools so that we can really reach kids where they're at and eliminate barriers for families such as transportation and taking off of work. So that's one of the things.

One of the other things is that the hardest part of my job is when I have families call me and they say they can see their loved one is getting worse, the symptoms are getting stronger. And when they call the county, the county says, well, unless they're a danger to themselves or others and they'll take treatment voluntarily, there's nothing we can do.

And so we have language that would actually create a grant program where we could go out and actually try to engage that person into treatment, a peer specialist, something like that, and follow along for 90 days. Could also help the family know about suicide prevention, how to talk to your loved one when they're hearing voices or have delusional thoughts. And we really think we could intervene much earlier than we're able to do right now.

CATHY WURZER: But, of course, Sue, we've been talking about the lack of inpatient beds. Are you looking at outpatient treatment then in something like that?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: Definitely outpatient treatment. The Senate actually has some funding for inpatient mental health services, a couple of million dollars to help when you have high Medicaid claims. But we really need to come in next session, although I know there isn't necessarily going to be a lot of money next session either, and really address the rates for our mental health services. You were right in saying that the needs are greatly increased and we have to figure out a way to meet them.

CATHY WURZER: What are other states doing that Minnesota might want to look to? Any other models that look interesting?

SUE ABDERHOLDEN: I think everyone is struggling with this, to be honest, Cathy. Some states really rely just on state operated programs, which is not something that we want to do. I mean, Eisenhower had one of the largest [INAUDIBLE] of all the presidents. And one of the things he said in that report is that every hospital should have an inpatient psych unit so people can get care closer to home. And with telehealth these days too, I think we could do better.

One of the things that we do that other states don't do is have residential treatment facilities. So we have about 60 of them across the state of Minnesota for adults. They're called IRTs, Intensive Residential Treatment. And it really is a good place for people to step down when they need longer term care. And again, those are going to be closer to their communities.

Other states have a few more first episode of psychosis programs. But to be honest, we're usually still in the top 10 of services that we provide compared to other states. There's no other state I would move to, to be honest. We're still doing better than most. And that's disheartening in some ways.

CATHY WURZER: Well, Sue, I'm glad you joined us to talk about what's happening out there. I appreciate it. Good to talk with you. Thank you.


CATHY WURZER: Sue Abderholden's been with us. She's the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota.

SPEAKER 2: Support comes from the original mattress factory. Hand-building mattresses and box springs at its Maplewood factory here in Minnesota and selling them directly to you. Learn more about the process, products, and customer first philosophy at originalmattress.com.

SPEAKER 3: Mental illness affects millions of Americans, impacting their life, work, and family. In a new series of special reports, we examine important mental health issues and solutions. From Call To Mind and American Public Media.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, as a matter of fact, you can hear these Call To Mind specials all this week at 9 o'clock in the morning right here on MPR News on the air, and of course, online at mprnews.org.

Well, there is big news in the apple world from the home of the honey crisp. In about two minutes, we're going to hear about a new apple variety that you can now grow at home. Big news there. Speaking of news, Emily Reese is with us with a look at what's happening out there. Emily.

EMILY REESE: Hello, Cathy. The UN says more than half a million Palestinians have been displaced in recent days by escalating Israeli military operations in both Southern and Northern Gaza. Aid workers are struggling to distribute supplies to Palestinians facing catastrophic levels of hunger in makeshift tent camps. Yesterday, Israelis celebrated their Independence Day across the country. Tomorrow, Palestinians will mark the 76th year of their mass expulsion from what is now Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that American military aid is on its way to Ukraine and will make a real difference on the battlefield. Blinken made the comments during an unannounced visit to Ukraine. According to open source monitoring analysts, Moscow's troops have captured around 100 to 125 square kilometers in the Kharkiv region, and thousands of civilians in the area have fled the fighting.

Sales of raw milk appear to be on the rise, despite an outbreak of bird flu and US dairy cows. Federal officials warn about the health risks of drinking raw milk at any time, but especially during this novel outbreak. Retail sales of raw cow's milk have jumped up to 65% a week compared to the same periods last year. Raw milk farmers say they can't keep unpasteurized products in stock. Some people claim that raw milk has health benefits, but multiple studies show it is one of the riskiest foods people can consume.

The 148th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is underway in New York City. Yesterday, four dogs were chosen to advance to tonight's best in show round. They chose an Afghan Hound, a Shih Tzu, a miniature poodle, and a German Shepherd. Three more finalists will be chosen tonight before all seven vie for best in show, also tonight.

The first Westminster Dog Show was in 1877. It's the second longest running sporting event in the country behind the Kentucky Derby. And it was in 1877 that a group of hunters decided to officially choose who had the best dog. More than 1,200 dogs were at that first show in 1877. I find that mind blowing. The hunters named their kennel club after their favorite bar, Cathy, which was in the Westminster Hotel in Manhattan.

CATHY WURZER: I am cheering for the poodle. The miniature poodle?

EMILY REESE: Of course, right?

CATHY WURZER: Yes I am. Yes, yes. And Shadow will be watching as well. She's a miniature poodle. Actually, thank you for bringing up Westminster, because coming up on about, what, oh, the next half hour here, in the next 15, 20 minutes, there's a Minnesotan, she's from Bloomington, who was the judge for the obedience classes. And she had a ball, and she's just beside herself because it's so exciting there. So thank you.

EMILY REESE: I got to listen to that.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you, Emily. We appreciate it. Well, if you've ever wanted to grow an apple tree in your yard, there is a new tree on the market just for you. The triumph apple tree is now available to home gardeners. It's an offspring of the honey crisp, and it's also disease resistant. Right now is the perfect time to plant a tree. To share more about this new apple tree variety is David Bedford. He's an apple breeder with the University of Minnesota. Welcome, David. How are you?

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, thank you. A pleasure to be with you today.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. I know you've been breeding apples for a very long time, and I believe you and I have talked in the past. How many varieties have you been a part of creating over your long career?


DAVID BEDFORD: Well, I'm going into my 45th year. So I've been fortunate enough to be here for development of eight varieties. Of course, I'm just part of a team that started over 100 years ago working on this project. And so, excuse me, eight since I've been here. But this is our 28th introduction since the beginning of our program for the University of Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. Oh my goodness. All right. So honey crisp, clearly it's a great apple. And I'm wondering, what did you have to cross with a honey crisp to come up with the triumph?

DAVID BEDFORD: Yeah, yeah. Well, honey crisp has been a wonderful apple. It was a great experience for us when we developed it, and it really sort of moved the apple world forward in terms of texture. And we loved it so much that we thought, well, we have to include those genetics in some new varieties.

So in this particular case, we crossed honey crisp with a variety from out East that's called liberty. And liberty in itself is a nice enough apple, maybe not outstanding. But what it contributed, it had one of the genes that helps to control a fungal problem that we see quite commonly in the US in Minnesota called apple scab. And honey crisp also had a different gene for that. So by combining those two, we actually came up for the first time with a variety that has two separate genes to help control that apple scab problem. So that's the real unique part of the triumph.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. OK. How about the taste? Because I know part of your job involves tasting a lot of apples per day.

DAVID BEDFORD: Yes, it can be an overload some days, I have to say. And in the busiest part of the year, I used to have to taste about 500 a day. And the first hundred are fun, but after that, it becomes real work. And so fortunately, triumph has all those aspects we're looking for. It has a little more zing to it than honey crisp does, for example. Maybe a little bit more like the Haralson. But still well balanced. Has a nice firm to crisp texture. And actually stores quite well too. It will store up to six months if it can be kept refrigerated.

CATHY WURZER: Really? OK. Wow, it sounds like a heck of an apple.


CATHY WURZER: I'm presuming that it's taken a while to get this apple to market then.

DAVID BEDFORD: It has. Yeah. On average, and this apple was no exception, it takes us approximately 20 years from the time of the breeding till the date of release. So it's not something we do overnight. And when we have a new one, we're usually pretty proud of it. So that's the 20 year work is culminating now.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. So I've often been told, or at least that's my maybe stereotype of apple trees, is that they're kind of finicky and they're difficult to grow. Now, is this variety, is this fairly easy to grow for just the backyard gardener?

DAVID BEDFORD: It is, yeah. I mean, first of all, it's bred and developed for our climate. So that's the first problem that's solved. When you go to, let's say, a big box store or something and you see apple varieties that aren't developed here, you're never quite sure if they're really suited for our climate. And in fact, most cases, they're not. So that's the one thing we can say about triumph. It will grow in Minnesota, the winters, the summers. It can handle all of that. So that's the good news.

In terms of being finicky, I'd say not particularly. I mean, any apple tree prefers full sun. So if you can give it full sun, it will be the happiest. It can tolerate some shade. But again, you just won't have as much fruit and maybe not quite as good of quality fruit. And then beyond that, you have to decide if you're going to control the-- [COUGHS] excuse me. Insects and diseases.

And we've already solved the major disease problem by having those two genes for disease resistance. There will still be potentially some insects that have to be addressed. But that might not be every year in your backyard. But I think, all things considered, we consider this one to be a pretty grower friendly variety.

CATHY WURZER: That's a positive. OK. Say, I'm wondering, can folks listening right now, can you run out to a garden store in Minnesota and get the tree?

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, that is the good news is that the trees are available this year. And in fact, we have some problems with that when we release new varieties. Sometimes it's a couple of years before the trees are available. But it just so happens that they are in garden centers this spring. I don't know that there's very many, and I'm pretty sure they won't last long, but technically they're there.

CATHY WURZER: OK, that also is positive. Now, I'm sorry you're having some problems with your throat, and I'm sorry about that.

DAVID BEDFORD: Yeah, my fault, yeah.

CATHY WURZER: No, no, no. Well, it happens, trust me. So I'm presuming because honey crisp has been so incredibly popular, and clearly you were you were successful with this breeding with the liberty tree, do you expect to make more offsprings from honey crisp?

DAVID BEDFORD: Yes, we have several dozen of them in the works already. Some will be good enough, some will not. But just to give you an example, in general, for every variety we release like the triumph, there will be almost 10,000 trees from our breeding that don't make the grade. So we start out with a pretty big pool. And by the time we end up adding all the criteria that we think are important, we end up with 1 in 10,000. So yes, we have a lot more honey crisp children in the wings, but how many of them will make it through, time will tell.

CATHY WURZER: Interesting you use the word children. In a sense, you're the father of a lot of these apple varieties. Is that what keeps you going in this business, the fact that you--

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, I wish I could take credit for it, but as you might imagine, it's a result of teamwork. And we are just sort of the godfathers, I guess, of these varieties. We put the genetics together the best we can. But in the end, the genes fall together in the order that they will. And our job is to sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly and find those 1 in 10,000 that are good enough. So it's a thrill when we do get one. And as you can see, there's a lot of work to get to this point. But there is some satisfaction in finally reaching the end.

CATHY WURZER: I have to ask you this, David, and I know you're busy and I'll let you go after this, but since you breed apples for a living, do you actually have apples at your home, on your property, or is that just too much work to take home?

DAVID BEDFORD: That's a fair enough question. And I can say, yes, I do have apples at home on the property. The one thing I don't do is in the peak of apple season, when all those apples have to be tasted, I don't go home and taste more apples there. The apples that I eat are usually in the off season. So I still love apples, but there are some cases that even a good thing you can get too much of. So there is a limit.


CATHY WURZER: Well, I appreciate your time. Congratulations. It sounds fantastic with this brand new triumph from the University of Minnesota.

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, thank you. Pleasure talking with you. And I hope your listeners will be able to find some of those trees.

CATHY WURZER: We'll see what happens. David Bedford's been with us. He's an apple breeder with the University of Minnesota. We've been talking about the offspring of the honey crisp apple. It's called the triumph apple tree.

SPEAKER 4: Support comes from Wilson Law Group, helping businesses of all sizes secure key talent with creativity and sincerity. Based in Minnesota, but practicing around the world. Learn more at wilsonlg.com.

CATHY WURZER: One of the best parts of the Minnesota State Fair is dropping by the free concerts at the various stages, like the Bandshell. And this year it's a heck of a lineup. Country singer Phil Vassar kicks things off the first night of the fair. The husband and wife duo The War and Treaty will be at the Bandshell as well. Marky Ramon, yes, from the Ramones. Marky will be there August 28th and 29th. And Twin Cities favorite Semisonic with Dan Wilson will handle the closing time. Yeah, you see what I did there. That's at the fair. They'll probably play "Closing Time." September 1 and 2, the last days of the fair, which will be terrific.

It's 12:39 here on MPR. Let's talk about something that might be on the top of your mind, especially as we head into an election season, polarization and disinformation. It may feel sometimes that American elections are the only ones influenced by those two things. But BBC senior journalist Fauziyya Tukur says otherwise. Now, reporting from Nigeria on disinformation and politics, Tukur says recent elections were rife with false information that's dividing communities. It's part of our Talking Sense series, which aims to help Minnesotans have hard political conversations better. Reporter Catharine Richert sat down with Tukur to find out what covering political polarization is like in Africa.

CATHARINE RICHERT: So I think there's this misperception that political polarization and disinformation are uniquely American problems. But you'd probably argue that is not true. What similarities do you see between the US and the communities that you cover abroad in terms of how disinformation affects elections?

FAUZIYYA TUKUR: So I always say that disinformation is universal, especially when it comes to election disinformation. It's the same the world over. What differs are the wedge issues. For example, in Nigeria, our wedge issues are different. Wedge issues are religion, their ethnicity, their tribe, their political affiliation.

And then when you come to the United states, it's completely different what wedge issues are. When you try to create disinformation or misinformation based on religion and ethnicity, it wouldn't work in the United States. It may not work in the United States as much as it would work in Nigeria or other African countries that have covered or observed.

And when it comes to polarization, it's almost the same thing. But with polarization, political affiliation is key. We see that all over the world. But with the United States, it's really, really, I would say, really pronounced, unlike other countries. I think it's because of the way the Democrats completely differ from the Republicans. For countries like Nigeria and in many African countries, it's not as pronounced as the United States.

CATHARINE RICHERT: So you and your colleagues at the BBC have developed a specific way of reporting on disinformation. Tell me more about it. What's the process and what sort of stories do you tell?

FAUZIYYA TUKUR: For us, what's really important is taking our audience through how we know something is false, verifying it using all the tools. We use a lot of open source investigation tools. Whistleblowers. I mean, it's not just about telling audiences, oh, we know this is false or we know this is true. You have to take them through the processes. Tell them how you were able to unravel the secret or unravel the misinformation.

CATHARINE RICHERT: And how do you find your audience responding to that? Do they write you and say, oh, now I understand what's going on? Or I've shifted how I see this issue.

FAUZIYYA TUKUR: Oh yes, a lot of people make references to our investigations and say, oh, the BBC found this out and this is how they know it's not true. We've been able to do that a lot, even though we have challenges of mistrust of international media on this part of the world. Again, going back to how we show our audiences how we know it's not true has gone a long way in making them really aware.

And then we've also been able to do a lot of media literacy, media sensitization, especially with regards to election. We had a big election last year. And we had this piece where we made sure we used all the major languages in Nigeria in telling our audiences, this is what you should look out for. This is what you should be aware of. And that has gone a long way in educating people.

CATHARINE RICHERT: So you mentioned the elections you just covered. I'm really curious, how much did disinformation affect those elections?

FAUZIYYA TUKUR: A lot. There was a massive spread of false information on the social media space. And it was a huge task for us. And then during the election, as always, using the wedge issues, we saw speculations, the use of false images, manipulated audio. It was massive, massive. And even after the elections, we saw a lot of paid political influencers, which was one of the investigations that my team did, that was really, really massive. That sort of thing. And I mean, it hasn't stopped. It has continued. But people are becoming more and more aware that these things are happening.

CATHARINE RICHERT: So in the United States, being a journalist is relatively safe. What is it like for journalists covering these hot button issues in places like Nigeria?

FAUZIYYA TUKUR: It's really hard. And I'll give you an example. Recently there was this brouhaha about the recently elected Nigerian president's certificate. Just this disinformation campaign was started about how his certificate was fake and that he probably forged it. He attended a school in the United States back in the '70s. And this disinformation campaign was started, and one of his opponents took the matter to court. And it became this huge issue in Nigeria, both online and offline. It was the topic of discussion.

And the school was deposed in the US by a court, and documents were provided to show that the president did, in fact, attend the school, finished from the school, and was issued a certificate. But conspiracy theories were started about him buying the certificate. And my team investigated that story. We read the deposition from beginning to end. We contacted schools. We saw the original certificates provided by the school to the court. We saw the documents and we wrote an article about this.

And the internet came for us for days. We were trolled up. Photos were everywhere. We were called liars. We were called paid journalists. We were called names. And we were scared for our safety, because people were calling for us to be attacked and trolled. And it's really tough. This is just one example. We've had many, many. After almost every investigation, it's almost the same thing. So it's really hard. It is hard.

CATHARINE RICHERT: That sounds very stressful. I am wondering how you wake up every day and continue to do it. What keeps you motivated?

FAUZIYYA TUKUR: Really, just knowing that what I do is really important and knowing the impact that my work has done, not just in Nigeria, but all over the world. I mean, the investigation that we did into paid political influencers has gone really, really far. It's one investigation that I'm really, really proud of, super proud of the work that we did there. And just knowing that it's helping people, being paid to help people, that's basically what I'm doing. So it's satisfying but also very important.

CATHARINE RICHERT: Well, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.


CATHY WURZER: That was journalist Fauziyya Tukur, who covers disinformation for the BBC from her bureau in Nigeria. Tukur spent two months in the US last spring studying American journalism practices as a fellow for the Twin Cities based World Press Institute. She spoke with Catharine Richert. If you want to learn more about our Talking Sense reporting project, just go to mprnews.org/talkingsense.

SPEAKER 5: Support comes from Barracuda. Businesses are under cyber security threats every day. Barracuda provides complete, fierce protection against all threats, all businesses, all people. Find out more at barracuda.com. Barracuda, fierce defenses for complex threats.

ANGELA DAVIS: Ethnic studies classes will soon be required in Minnesota K through 12 schools. I'm Angela Davis for Northstar Journey Live. I spoke to educators and students who already experienced the courses. What did they learn?

SPEAKER 6: On day one, I tell them you already hold the answer key to this class. You are the textbook of this classroom.

SPEAKER 7: Ethnic studies does a great job at connecting all of us. I think people that are worried about it dividing people are completely off base.

ANGELA DAVIS: Watch NOW at mprnews.org/nsj.

CATHY WURZER: This is Minnesota Now. I'm Cathy Wurzer. Today is the final day of the 148th Westminster Dog show, where the top dogs of various breeds from across the country compete for the title of best in show. This year there's a judge from Bloomington representing Minnesota dog lovers. Barbara Selton has been judging for 15 years. And on Saturday, she was one of the judges for the masters obedience competition. Barbara is on the line. Thanks for joining us.

BARBARA SELTON: Thank you for having me. Very excited to be here.

CATHY WURZER: I heard this is your first time as a judge at Westminster. Congratulations. That's a big deal.

BARBARA SELTON: It is. It's the thrill of a lifetime. You get invited. It's not something that you solicit. And I was contacted last July by Paul Campanello, who's one of the directors of Westminster. And he called me up and asked me if I would do them the honor. And I said, absolutely.

CATHY WURZER: Tell me about the atmosphere at Westminster. What's it like?

BARBARA SELTON: Lots and lots of excitement. There are over 2,000 dogs here for the event. On Saturday, when I judged the master obedience championship, it was 25 dogs that were invited to come. Then these are the best of the best in the United States. And we had dogs from multiple areas all over the United States that came to compete for this very, very prestigious event.

CATHY WURZER: Obedience classes, I think, are fun to watch. Master obedience classes must be even better. The communication between dog and handler almost looks telepathic at times. What are you looking for as a judge?

BARBARA SELTON: As a judge, I'm looking for the handler and the dog to work as a team. There are multiple exercises that are done. The morning was called utility where the dogs and handlers, that's the highest level of training. And the dogs and handlers must really be on their game in order to qualify.

To qualify, they have to have a score of at least 170 out of the possible 200 points available. Each of the different exercises have a point value to them. And the dog must respond. It's a hard atmosphere, because there's a whole lot of other dogs around. We had agility going on right next door with just a black curtain in between us. So you had a lot of dogs barking and such. But the dogs did phenomenally well.

CATHY WURZER: Any funny moments when perhaps a dog's attention was divided between handler and the outside stimulus?


BARBARA SELTON: You had that quite a bit, because the dogs are in a very strange place that they've never been before. There's a lot of spectators around. There's a lot of commotion around. What I did as a judge is if there was a very loud noise or something that distracted the dog for a moment, I waited a couple of seconds. And the handlers also to wait a couple seconds before they ask their dog to perform the particular exercise.

CATHY WURZER: I know you've got Golden Retrievers. I know Goldens are quite good at obedience, because they're pleasers. Winners in obedience in previous years have been retrievers. What did you think of the Border Collie who won this year?

BARBARA SELTON: Oh, Zayne is the Border Collie owned by Kim Berkley. Zayne is just a phenomenal working dog. He got 199 out of 200 in both of the classes, in utility in the morning, which is the highest level, and then open in the afternoon, which is the second highest level of training. So if you think about it, out of 400 points, he only lost two points.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. The Border Collie Zayne was just so much fun to watch. And I brought up obedience because it is fun to watch, as I say, that communication, that working relationship between dog and handler. For folks listening here, Barbara, what's the hardest command to teach a dog when it comes to obedience?

BARBARA SELTON: Probably the hardest one is at the utility level for what is called heeling, where the dog is moving at the side of the handler. They have to do everything without any verbal or hand commands. So just the movement of the handler without talking to the dog. They can't say heel or the dog's name.

But then they leave the dog in a stand position and they walk to the other side of the ring, which is approximately 30 to 40 feet. And then they do hand signals to down the dog, sit the dog, and for the dog to come. And that's difficult for the dogs to be left by their handler and have their handler go that far away and respond just to hand signals.


BARBARA SELTON: It's very exciting. It's a hard exercise. But when it's done well, it's just poetry in motion.

CATHY WURZER: By the way, how did you start judging competitions?

BARBARA SELTON: I have been showing and competing in obedience for the last 44 years. I started with my first dog in 1980 and put the dog in the ring and took first place and got that blue ribbon and I was hooked. So judging was kind of one of those things that I thought, hmm, someday when I'm older and retired, that would be a really wonderful thing to do.

But 15 years ago I thought, what am I waiting for? And so I started the process. And it's a grueling process to become fully approved by the American Kennel Club, but well worth it. And so I started judging. And I love it. You meet different people from all over the United States. I've had the honor of judging in Alaska eight times, Hawaii four times, and pretty much every state in the Union. And you have that one common bond with every single person you meet, and that's the love of dogs.

CATHY WURZER: It sounds like fun. A lot of work. A lot of work, but it sounds like a lot of fun, that's for certain. Well, you get to have a front row seat here tonight to best in show. Just curious, who do you think is the best chance of winning?


BARBARA SELTON: That's really a hard one to pick at this point. But there's a lot of gorgeous dogs. I think they said 2,500 dogs from all across the globe. The largest entries are chihuahuas with 49 chihuahuas entering, Labradors, 48, Golden Retrievers, 47, which I'm excited to watch this afternoon at 1 o'clock. But you never know, because with conformation, it's all in the eye of the judge.

So once the other three groups are completed this evening, then it'll be seven dogs, one from each of the different groups. And out of those seven, the best in show judge, who has been sequestered this whole time so that she's not watching any of the judging, will make the final decision. So of course, I always would love to see a Golden Retriever win, but a Golden Retriever has never won in the 148 years of Westminster's.

CATHY WURZER: Oh. I didn't know that. See, as a judge, you know how folks, they cheer on their favorites as the judge come past, a particular dog perhaps. Do you hear that as a judge? Does it sway you at all?

BARBARA SELTON: It does not, because you always have that. You have the people that are supporting somebody they know or a particular breed that they like or one that's the cutest or moves the best or whatever. You have to tune it all out and remember what you have been trained to do and do that. So it's fun.

CATHY WURZER: It sounds like you had a great, great time, Barbara. And how much fun to be there, especially on the last night of competition.

BARBARA SELTON: Absolutely. I'm excited. I have watched Westminster every single year that I can remember of my life. To actually physically be here in person and to be able to watch the groups and really looking forward to watching best in show tonight and see who comes away with that coveted title of best in show.

CATHY WURZER: Enjoy it, Barbara. Soak it in. Thanks for talking to us.

BARBARA SELTON: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: That was Barbara Selton, a Minnesota based judge at the Westminster Dog Show this year. Best in show will be announced tonight, as you heard, 6:30 PM Central time, Fox Sports. They'll have the junior showmanship finals, and then judging for sporting, working and the terrier groups, and then best in show. Of course, Barbara judged obedience, which as I mentioned, is fun to watch.

But agility is even more entertaining, and it was great fun to watch a mixed breed pup, Nimble, who won the agility competition this year at Westminster. Nimble was a crowd favorite, leaping through hoops and racing through a tunnel, dodging poles, and clearing other hurdles in breakneck speed. Nimble is a Border Collie Papillon mix. Yay for Nimble. I hope he got a lot of pets, belly rubs, and treats for all of his hard work. It was fun to watch, too.

I'm glad you've been with us here for this hour of Minnesota news and stories. Thanks for listening to Minnesota Now.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News