Tevlin: Catching up with some folks who led charge for change in'12

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2012 - 6:50 PM

Like everybody else this morning, I've eaten my last chocolate eclair, drunk my last glass of champagne and begun a more tolerant, pious and markedly less interesting life.

The good news is I'm pretty sure that by Friday the real world will thrust itself upon me and I will simply be forced to deal.

Meanwhile, I took a news break to catch up with a few people and issues that kept me busy the past year. Every writer, of fiction or nonfiction, likes what writer Kurt Vonnegut calls "man in a hole" stories. You know: Man falls in hole. Man gets out of hole. Everybody is happy.

Sometimes we get those O. Henry endings instead, with clever twists that you don't expect. Most often, however, I think life has been written by Raymond Carver, snapshots in time with no resolution and few answers.

Here are a few of mine.

Chuck Van Heuveln came to me in January with an incredibly sad story. He has cerebral palsy but was able to work full time under a state program. But he was turning 65, and the rules of the program were going to force him to retire, which he didn't want to do. In order to keep his health care, he would also be placed on general medical assistance. He would then lose his pension to the state, which would cause him to lose his St. Paul condo.

I wrote about Chuck, and people in the same situation, three times. Late in the last session, the Legislature exhibited a rare display of bipartisan sanity and changed the law. Chuck has kept his job, and his condo.

A few weeks ago, ARC of Minnesota, a disability advocacy group, presented Chuck with an award for helping to change policies that affect people with disabilities in Minnesota. Not surprising. Chuck has been an indefatigable warrior for disability rights his whole life.

Robin Hensel made news by challenging the powers in Little Falls. Hensel has strong political opinions on a lot of issues, from corporate greed to foreign wars. She decided to express those on large signs in her yard, drawing complaints from neighbors and notice to remove them by the city, which claimed such signs were prohibited by ordinance.

The problem is, the city's own "Save the Troops" sign also violated the ordinance, as did others that had been previously allowed. A conservative lawyer, Larry Frost, who disagrees with Hensel's politics but has a fondness for free speech, took her case and sued the city.

As of last week, the two parties were still fighting. The case is in the discovery stage and Little Falls has now issued a warning for Hensel to take down her signs or face a possible daily fine of $1,000 or 90 days in jail, Frost said.

For the greater good of all, the ending I want is for Frost and Hensel to teach the city an important civics lesson.

Father Mike Tegeder is a priest at Gichitwaa Kateri and St. Francis Cabrini churches in Minneapolis. He has been especially vocal about the Catholic Church's fight to prevent gay marriages, drawing the ire of the archdiocese and those who favor limiting marriages to one man, one woman.

But after I wrote about Tegeder in October, he saw a sharp increase in attendance at his masses and in the readership of his online writings. He got cards and letters of support from around the state and the country, including old friends he had not heard from in 40 years.

"I did hear from Archbishop [John] Nienstedt," Tegeder wrote to me. "He sent me a Christmas card and a Christmas gift. The gift was the book, 'Why Priests Are Happy.'"

"I do have reasons to be happy," he continued. "The election with defeat of both constitutional amendments made me even more happy."

Frac sand mining in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin hit our radar last year. I predict it will be an even bigger issue this coming year, as more mining operations are approved and the landscape of some of the most beautiful parts of our state literally gets transformed.

It is a classic battle of property rights and industrial development vs. environmental and tourism concerns. Mining of the silica sand will certainly bring jobs, but how many will they displace when tourists abandon the areas because of truck traffic and sand?

In the past two weeks, the city of Wabasha, Minn., approved a sand rail hub that will move 1.2 million tons of frac sand from Wisconsin, meaning hundreds of trucks will cross the scenic bridge per day. The facility will bring just 18 jobs.

It's an issue that will be fought all along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, from our suburbs to the Iowa border. That's why it's astounding there is no statewide effort to help small communities negotiate the inevitable change.

If and how they respond will help determine the legacy of the governor and Legislature for decades to come, as well as the economic and environmental health of the state.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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