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By John Diers May 29, 2019

Go to Rapid City, South Dakota, and you’ll find the face of President Theodore Roosevelt chiseled on Mount Rushmore. T.R., as he was affectionately known, succeeded William McKinley when the latter ran afoul of an assassin in September 1901. Roosevelt was the 26th President and today ranks high in the hagiography of the Republican Party — not much removed from Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

But was he a socialist?

Maybe not, but by 1912 he’d become a heretic in the party that put him in the White House. Angered by the plutocrats then in charge and the conservative policies of his one-time friend and successor, President William Howard Taft, Roosevelt bolted the Republican Party and ran for President as a Progressive Party candidate on a platform that called for a national health service, a social insurance system for the elderly, the disabled and the unemployed, an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage for women, a federal securities commission, an inheritance tax and a federal income tax.

The election was a three-way split, and he lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, but much of his agenda and platform eventually became law.

On the question of socialism, he wrote: “Much of the discussion about socialism and individualism is entirely pointless because of failure to agree on terminology.” He added, “We can just as little afford to follow the doctrinaires of an extreme individualism as the doctrinaires of an extreme socialism.” It was a debate about words, not action. Roosevelt acted.

Born to a privileged class and family and Harvard-educated, Roosevelt was a pragmatist and a leader for the times. The darling of the press and the muckraking journalists of the era, Roosevelt went after the industrialists and financiers who then dominated American business and had ensconced themselves as an oligarchy of wealth and power through combinations of trusts and monopolies.

They were the “malefactors of great wealth” and “robber barons,” and Roosevelt resolved to break their hold on the American economy. Roosevelt believed in hard work, opportunity and fairness. It angered him to see poor children forced out of school and into mines and factories while the children of the leisure class boarded yachts and private rail cars and put diamond collars on their pets.

He called for popular government that banned the corrupting influence of money and corporate power in American politics. Much of his time as president was spent afflicting the likes of Edward Harriman, J.P. Morgan and James J. Hill.

Today, we’ve arrived at a new Gilded Age. Economic inequality, and what to do about it, is going to be the central issue in the upcoming 2020 election.

Economist Robert Samuelson had a column in the May 5 Washington Post along with statistics that make important reading. Consider:

In 2018, the net worth of the wealthiest 10% of Americans represented 70% of all household wealth. That’s up from 61% in 1989. In these same years, the share of the top 1% went from 24% to 31%.
At the same time, the bottom 50% of all households lost virtually all of their net worth — from 4% of total wealth in 1989 to 1% in 2018. Most of these losses were torn from the middle class.
Corporate giants, Amazon and Netflix among them, paid no federal income tax in 2018, executive pay soars and the wealthy few use their leverage and checkbooks to buy seats for their kids at Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley universities — while everyone else gets stuck with student loans.

I’m reminded of noblesse oblige and the phrase, “nothing personal, it’s just business.”

Meanwhile, the economy keeps right on roaring. The GDP gets bigger, but the share of GDP keeps going to a smaller and a smaller share of Americans and a dwindling middle class so overburdened with debt that an economic downturn will wipe it out.

That downturn is coming. It’s predictable because it’s part of our economic system. It’s happened before, and it will happen again; whether it’s a recession, a debt crisis, maybe another 1929 caused by speculation and an overvalued stock market, or perhaps a catastrophe brought on by our over-consumption and climate change.

What would Teddy Roosevelt do if he were here and a candidate in 2020? For sure he’d be on familiar ground. Would he be ideological and debate the issues of socialism and capitalism like some quarreling theologian arguing the number of angels who could fit on the head of a pin? Or would he be pragmatic and have plans and programs and be an advocate for honesty, transparency and change?

Our issues aren’t about ideology or socialism or capitalism. They’re about fairness and the common good — his issues. There are candidates with integrity on both sides of the political spectrum that share them. Let’s hope they succeed.

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John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.

By Jack Hammett jhammett@swpub.com May 21, 2019

Prior Lake City Council and the community welcomed newly-selected Police Chief Steve Frazer with uproarious applause as he was sworn in Monday by Mayor Kirt Briggs.

After a hiring process whittled the choices to Frazer, formerly of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and St. Paul PD, and Carver County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Eric Kittelson, the city announced its choice May 7.

The hiring process included interview panels with community stakeholders, police department staff and representatives from Scott County and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

“After undertaking a thorough process, I am confident that Chief Frazer is a wonderful match for the City of Prior Lake,” said City Manager Michael Plante, who made the final decision.

Frazer began his acceptance by saying family is an officer’s greatest support.

“It’s extremely hard to be a police officer’s spouse,” he said. “It’s extremely hard to be a police officer’s child. There are a lot of moments that bring you back to reality, when your child is in first or second grade and says, ‘Dad, stop using your cop voice.’”

The community listens as Prior Lake Police Chief Steven Frazer gives a quick speech after being sworn in Monday night.

Frazer thanked the council and mayor, acknowledging they are one of three groups of people the police chief must serve.

“No. 1 is the citizens we all serve,” he said, adding elected officials and department employees are the other two.

Frazer has more than 27 years of police experience, according to a city news release. He moved from serving as a peace officer in Roseville to serving as a commander in St. Paul in 2006. He also served as chief deputy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, managing day-to-day operations.

Frazer will manage 35 employees, including sworn and civilian staff, and the department’s $4.6 million budget.

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By Jack Hammett jhammett@swpub.com May 7, 2019

St. Paul Police Department Cmdr. Steven Frazer will be Prior Lake’s new police chief, the city announced Tuesday.

Frazer will oversee a department of several dozen employees and a budget of about $4.6 million, according to a news release from the city. City Manager Michael Plante made the decision after two finalists held interview panels with community stakeholders and police department staff.

“I am humbled to have been selected as the Prior Lake Chief of Police,” Frazer said in a written statement. “I cannot wait to make Prior Lake my home and place of work. “

Frazer has more than 27 years of police experience in various roles. He moved from serving as a peace officer in Roseville to serving as commander in St. Paul in 2006. He also served as chief deputy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office managing day-to-day operations.

Frazer said he plans to hear out stakeholders, including elected officials and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

“I want to get an idea of (the community’s) overall vision and view and kind of their report card: How’s the PD doing? What are we doing right? What could we do better?” he said.

Frazer said he will spend his first 90 days determining the city’s priorities.

“There’s always room for improvement in any endeavor,” he said.

Prior Lake Cmdr. Brad Cragoe said the department will need a chief focused on developing the next generation of leaders, as several retirements may be coming up within the next four or five years.

“There’s a big age gap (between supervisors and patrol),” he said. “We need to get ready to step up and move people into those spots.”

Frazer will replace Don Gudmundson, who stepped in as interim chief earlier this year after interim Chief Booker Hodges accepted a state government position. Former Chief Mark Elliott’s resignation last year for undisclosed reasons set off the series of department leaders.

Frazer is scheduled to be sworn in May 20 during the regular City Council meeting.

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By Wes Mader Community Columnist May 1, 2019

Our second president, John Adams, wrote, “Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself.”

Adam’s words seem appropriate for the current state of affairs in Washington. Our president and leaders of the opposition party are wasting time, energy and resources in petty bickering while Americans grow exhausted from the result. What we get is a non-stop barrage of unverifiable, he-said, she-said allegations belched out by national news sources while once-hallowed institutions like the FBI and the courts lose their luster.

Is our democracy murdering itself, and have we lost pride in being Americans?

It was fifty-three years ago on May 8 that a stranger in a faraway place rekindled my pride in America in an unexpected way. My wife, Char,had driven me to the Roanoke, Virginia, airport the day before to embark on my first-ever trip to Europe. I would land the following morning in Oslo, Norway.

When Char commented that I had forgotten my coat, I wasn’t concerned. At 31 years old, my inflated ego was relishing the upcoming adventure of spending several weeks visiting defense contractors in Norway, Germany, France, Italy and England.

The left-at-home coat came to mind when we landed Sunday morning in a wind-driven snowstorm. I felt a bit foolish crossing the tarmac in suit and tie while other passengers were bundled up against the cold. It didn’t help my ego when the driver who met me asked if I knew that it got cold in Norway. He drove me to a clothing store to purchase a topcoat before dropping me at the Intercontinental Hotel downtown.

Alone that evening in the almost-empty hotel dining room, I noticed a very distinguished looking older couple across the room. While struggling with menu selections written in Norwegian, I was startled by a voice asking if I was American. It was the older gentleman from across the room. When I said yes, he asked, “Would you honor us by being our guest?”

Responding that I didn’t understand, he explained. May 8 was Liberation Day, the anniversary of Norway’s liberation from Nazi Germany 22 years earlier. The gentleman had served in the Norwegian underground resistance, fighting against Germany’s forces and providing tactical information to U.S. intelligence.

His story was one of personal courage, but his message was about America’s role in saving Norway. He said it would be an honor for him and his wife to have an American as their guest on Liberation Day.

They made it an unforgettable evening, driving me on a lengthy tour of Oslo after dinner. When they dropped me at the hotel at the end of a long evening, I was wide-awake absorbing the emotion of that special evening. When they said again they were proud to have had me as their guest, they couldn’t have imagined how proud they had made me.

Less than two years later, I was visiting Kongsberg Vapenfabrikk (Norway’s leading defense system contractor). It was January 24, 1968, the day after North Korea captured the USS Pueblo intelligence ship.

I was unaware of the incident because of my preceding overnight flight. When I arrived at Kongsberg, I was ushered into a conference room and greeted by a senior executive. The atmosphere was somber as he informed me of the Pueblo news. In sincere tones he expressed concern for U.S. Commander Lloyd Bucher and his crew. Then, more emotionally, he said Norway would never forget that America’s entry into World War II is what saved Norway from Hitler 24 years earlier.

With criticism of American involvement in Vietnam percolating worldwide, it was comforting to again hear support for America from a respected ally.

While I have no worry about Norway’s forgetting what America did, it seems some Americans have. Lest we forget, it was America that led the effort to save Europe from the oppression of Hitler and to save Asia from Japan’s expansionist appetite during the war — and then America bore much of the cost to rebuild the countries and economies of these enemies.

America led the UN effort that saved South Korea from being conquered by North Korea and led the coalition of nations that drove Sadaam Hussein’s army from Kuwait. And most recently, American involvement has been crucial in diminishing the influence and cruelty of ISIS. While I’m still proud to be American, our borders are open for those who aren’t and who may wish to leave.

God bless America’s loyal ally Norway and her people as they celebrate Liberation Day.

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Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

By Dan Holtmeyer dholtmeyer@swpub.com May 1, 2019

Hunting and shooting sports can be fun, relaxing pastimes, but wielding the guns they use is deadly serious, several Prior Lake volunteer firearm safety instructors told a handful of residents in recent weeks.

An old friend shooting himself while cleaning a loaded gun, a child accidentally killed by a found weapon — the costs of mishandling firearms are steep and immediate, the group said.

“I care about having people safe with a firearm,” said Dan Borchardt Jr., who helps in safety courses each spring and fall with other members of the Prior Lake Sportsmen’s Club and Veterans of Foreign Wars post. “We want them not to shoot themselves or their friends or, maybe, you.”

The spring course wrapped up Saturday, April 27, capping a series of earlier classroom sessions with an outdoor field day for students to demonstrate their gun-use and hunting skills.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources oversees the classes throughout the state, which cost $15 and are required for many Minnesota hunting licenses, shooting ranges and other activities. Borchardt said he, his brother and Borchardt’s seven children all completed it at some point.

More than 10 hours of class time beginning in February covered such topics as how to hold a rifle, handling ammo, hunting ethically, avoiding outdoor dangers and safely handing off or accepting a gun from someone else.

The latter is a multi-step process, the instructors said, and must include asking and visually confirming whether the weapon has its safety on and is unloaded.

“I don’t care who it is,” Borchardt told the group of about a dozen people, including some students’ parents, during March 4 class. “If you do this the rest of your life, you can’t go wrong.”

Those around guns should always treat them as if loaded even when they aren’t, according to several firearm commandments recited before each session.

Other commands included keeping fingers off of triggers, identifying the target and anything past it, and always, always keeping guns pointed in safe directions. Borchardt said pointing a barrel at someone during the field day would result in instant failure.

“Muzzle control, that’s the biggest thing we get here,” said Bob Schmokel, an Army veteran who’s helped teach the courses for 40 years. “Never fool around with a firearm.”

Such classes began in Minnesota more than half a century ago, when hunting was more dangerous than today, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The department counted more than 100 annual hunting accidents throughout the 1960s, typically leading to between 10 and 20 deaths each year. In 2018, it recorded 13 accidents and three deaths, two of which stemmed from failing to ID the target or what was behind it as the safety courses teach.

Roughly 16,000 people were treated for unintentional firearm injuries in emergency rooms around the country in 2014, which didn’t have Minnesota-specific data. Deaths from those injuries that year numbered 461 nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prior Lake’s course ended in April with a written test and the field day just south of the city. Two groups of about four students shot at targets, climbed a dear stand and worked through several other stations.

Samantha Kiesner, 13, said she wants to do trapshooting and hunt with her uncle. The class definitely burned muzzle control into her mind, she said; her favorite part was shooting the guns.

Michelle Ludowese, one of the few adult students, said she was completely new to gun-handling but signed up because she married into a hunting family and wants to join her sons for a pheasant-hunting trip. She was thrilled during field day to hit a bulls-eye a few times with a rifle.

“I’m not as timid or afraid of being around firearms,” Ludowese said afterward, adding she appreciated the emphasis on safety first. “Once you have a greater understanding of what you’re doing, you don’t take things for granted.”

The event included a special award presentation for Schmokel from Conservation Officer James Fogarty with the Department of Natural Resources recognizing his many years volunteering for the safety courses.

“We couldn’t do this without our volunteers,” Fogarty said.

Classes are scheduled through October around Minnesota, including in Dakota and Hennepin counties, according to the department’s website. Borchardt said the local fall session should come sometime in early fall.

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