Stauber hosts listening session in Kiwanis Park, tours Brainerd YMCA
Stauber's visit comes with little more than two months until the general election between him and DFL candidate Quinn Nystrom for the 8th Congressional District.
Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, made multiple stops in Brainerd Thursday, Aug. 20 — first at a listening session for senior citizen issues in Kiwanis Park during the morning, then a tour of the Brainerd YMCA facility off Oak Street in the afternoon.
Both stops were billed as an opportunity for Stauber to connect with local institutions, communities and concerns. The listening session was tailored to be a conversation centered around subjects like Social Security, COVID-19 precautions, senior health care, and the tour was intended to highlight damages sustained by the YMCA this summer, yet both events had a way of venturing off-topic and seemingly into every conceivable hot-button issue.
Copper-nickel mining. Enbridge Line 3. Day care. The hospitality industry. Workforce shortages. High rates of unemployment. Education. Mask mandates. Statewide closure orders. Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers and Republican opposition to them. Rural broadband. The CARES Act. These and other issues came to the fore as Stauber engaged with the public.
Stauber declined to take questions on the United States Postal Service and ongoing disagreements over its perceived role in the upcoming election, stating he hadn’t seen legislation yet on the matter and, thus, couldn’t comment.
“Listen, our best days are still ahead of us,” said Stauber as he spoke with seniors gathered in Kiwanis Park. “I truly believe we're going to come out of this stronger, more self-reliant, more resilient than ever before. But we're in this time now and we're going to get through it as one nation, using the best practices and ideas from all of us.”
If there was a common target for criticism in a morning of easy-going conversation and light-hearted debate, it was Walz, who was blasted by state Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, as a baldfaced liar and disingenuous politician. These comments came after Stauber, Lueck and state Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, addressed mounting frustrations in the GOP with Walz’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, his months-long hold on emergency powers, and his efforts to block Enbridge Line 3 in the northern part of the state — decisions, Stauber and Lueck said, which stood in polar opposition to promises by Walz in the past.
“The issue is Governor Walz, let’s just be honest,” Lueck said. “He lied to me, face to face, across a table. … You’ve got a liar that’s untruthful and disingenuous.”
Loren Morey, a resident of Motley and an owner of Morey’s Seafood Market, spoke on the issue of labor shortages he said are tied to boosted unemployment benefits by the federal government to mitigate lockdown measures during COVID-19. These benefits are too robust, he said, which disincentivizes people from seeking employment that pays them less than staying at home.
In turn, the overarching issue of COVID-19 came up, leading to a spirited discussion between Stauber and members of the gathering — Dave Tuchscherer, a former high school teacher, in particular.
Stauber emphasized at multiple points the negative byproducts of extended lockdown that often go unreported or unaddressed. He pointed to the issue of mental health, noting that 40% of students are experiencing mental illness or declining mental well-being as a result of the lockdown, while seniors and vulnerable adults are left by the wayside.
He also said that many life-threatening illnesses — for example, forms of cancer — could be harming scores of people who don’t undertake physical examinations because they’re not considered essential health services, but elective treatments, which are currently under a large-scale moratorium to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In defense of more stringent measures, Tuchscherer, a former biology teacher, said the public needs to take COVID-19 seriously after the United States passed 170,000 deaths in recent days. He warned that reopening schools — however beneficial for mental health in the short-term — could put the lives of teachers and students at risk, as well as cause a surge in infections across the country.
“It’s invisible, it’s like magic, but it’s real. COVID is no joke,” Tuchscherer said. “People are dying.”
In turn, Kathy Dobson, the vice president of senior services with Lakeland Health System, noted the problem is complex. While the line between elective and non-elective treatments or surgeries can be blurred — as well as positive or negative benefits of the lockdown — it has to be remembered that COVID-19 can be devastating among older and vulnerable populations.
Later in the afternoon, Stauber stopped by the Brainerd YMCA that experienced between $100,000 to $200,000 of stormwater damage from heavy rainfall on July 17. Stauber — who sports extensive experience with the YMCA as a member and elected official during his years in Hermantown — spoke effusively of the institution.
“The YMCA is integral to many of these towns,” he said as he took a tour of the aging facility with Brainerd YMCA CEO Shane Riffle. “For many in poorer, low-income communities, it’s the best resource. It’s intertwined in everything in the community.”
For Stauber, the YMCA represents a component of a larger picture that’s emerged since the advent of COVID-19: Namely, a more communal, compassionate United States where neighbors, communities and even business rivals are coming together to weather the pandemic as a cohesive whole.
Riffle spoke on the community value of the YMCA as a fitness center, community education outlet, daycare facility and more — services to the community, he said, which have only become more vital during COVID-19, as they maxed out their capacity to care for the children of essential workers.
“This is, to me, it feels like faith that up here everything is just coming together. There's lots of challenges, but the opportunity that we have in this community to make it,” Riffle said. “I always say this is the best and healthiest place to live in Minnesota. And that's kind of what our vision is, so that's why I'm here.”
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .