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Franken's support collapses, fellow Dems expect resignation

WASHINGTON — His once-promising political career in shambles, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken appeared on the verge of resigning after fellow Democrats led by female senators abandoned him Wednesday over the mounting allegations of sexual misconduct that are roiling Capitol Hill.

But his departure was not certain. A tweet from his Twitter account late Wednesday said no final decision had been made and he was still talking with his family.

A majority of the Senate’s Democrats, including more than a half-dozen women, called on the two-term lawmaker to get out after another woman emerged Wednesday saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. That brought to at least seven the number of women accusing him of sexual impropriety.

Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” scheduled an announcement for Thursday. No topic was specified, but Democratic senators said they expected their liberal colleague to resign.

“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”

Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”

Late in the day Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.

“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately,” Schumer said.

Schumer called Franken shortly after the latest allegation and told him he needed to resign, said a Democrat familiar with the events. Schumer met later in his apartment with Franken and Franken’s wife, Franni, and repeated that message and did the same in additional talks with the senator throughout the day, said the Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied a new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said she ducked to avoid his lips, and that Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”

Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”

But it was soon clear that his position had become untenable, and his office later issued a statement saying, “Senator Franken will be making an announcement tomorrow. More details to come.”

Fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke to Franken, wrote on Twitter, “I am confident he will make the right decision.”

Capitol Hill has long had a culture that has erred on the side of protecting lawmakers. Franken, who is generally liked and respected by his colleagues, was initially afforded deference as he battled the initial allegations against him. But as the accusations increased, women in the Senate, who faced increasing pressure from the public and the media for protecting Franken, grew increasingly frustrated.

The pressure only grew after Tuesday, when former Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who spoke to Franken, said, “He’s devastated. He’s ashamed and he’s sorry and everything that he’s been saying and it’s hard, but I told him, Al, at the end of the day this was wrong and so I’m sorry but this is what we’re going to have to do.”

One irony: While Franken apparently is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore will be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens, including one who was 14. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.

A national conversation about sexual harassment has intensified this fall after the heavily publicized case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of many acts of sexual misconduct, including rape, by actresses and other women. Just on Wednesday, Time magazine named as its person of the year, the “silence breakers” — women who have come forward on sexual harassment

Punishment has been swift for leaders in entertainment, media and sports while members of Congress have tried to survive the onslaught of allegations.

Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.

The allegations began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.

Other allegations followed, including a woman who says that Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women, who asked to remain anonymous, have told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.

Franken has apologized for his behavior but has also disputed some of the allegations.

Franken was first elected to the Senate in 2008, defeating Republican Norm Coleman in a bitter recount that took seven months. Franken won that race despite attacks over bawdy humor and writings dating back to his days on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” including a proposed skit joking about rape.

Franken said then that he regretted such writings, and once in the Senate he cultivated a serious and policy-oriented image. Throughout his eight years in office, he fashioned a reputation as a populist Democrat and fueled speculation that he might run for president in 2020.


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Cornell couple wins top Chippewa County farming honor; Richter also honored

Barbara Thompson can keep a secret.

Thompson and her husband, Harley, hadn’t planned to go to Wednesday’s Kiwanis Club of Chippewa Falls Farm-City Program. The event at Dove Healthcare-Wissota Health and Regional Vent Center in Chippewa Falls honors people with the top farming awards in Chippewa County. It’s a program that has been going on since 1986.

This time, the Thompsons had a conflict in scheduling. That’s when former Chippewa County Agriculture Agent Calvin Kraemer called Barbara Thompson. Kraemer, a former winner of the Kiwanis Agricultural Friend of the Year award, told Barbara Thompson that the Cornell farm couple was this year’s winner.

So Barbara Thompson had to convince her husband of 55 years to attend the ceremony. And she had to keep quiet about the real reason they were attending.

“I was shocked. I had no idea,” Harley Thompson said about getting the honor.

Also surprised was Merle Richter. He came to the event to speak about the “Tour de Farm,” a bicycle ride that raised money for a scholarship carrying the names of the late Rodney and Jeremy Seibel, who died in a farm accident in July 2, 2015.

Richter, who taught 33 years in the Bloomer School District before retiring in 2005, was named the 2017 Kiwanis Agribusiness Friend of the Year. He is only the second person to receive the honor.

A family tradition

Harley and Barbara Thompson met at a Friday the 13th party. They spent their first date at a midnight showing of a movie at the Cornell Theater.

“He was tired by then,” she said of her future husband. “We were both rural people.”

That means starting the day early and working seven days a week. That’s hard for some people. Not the Thompsons. “It never seemed that much of a chore for us,” Barbara Thompson said.

Barbara Thompson’s family bought the farm in Cornell in 1954. Harley and Barbara moved to the farm on Jan. 1, 1969.

“Snow was that deep and it was 30 below,” said Harley Thompson, gesturing to show the snow depth while moving into the farm.

The couple would go on to have three sons and a daughter: Tim, Troy, Trevis and Tonja. “It’s just one of the better places to raise children,” Harley Thompson said of the farm.

Harley credits Barbara for helping him and giving him the support to keep farming. In his younger days he worked in a feed mill for two years and then the paper mill in Cornell for another two years, but he always was drawn to farming.

“This is truly a husband and wife team,” said Stephen Meinen of the Kiwanis Club. Together they support the FFA in Cornell, and promote the county on a dairy awareness committee. Harley Thompson has also served on the town board for the town of Cleveland.

Today, the family farm called Har-Barb is operated by one of the Thompson’s sons. Harley spends about 90 minutes on weekdays volunteering to help in Grade 1 classes at Cornell Elementary. “Today there are so many youngsters (where) their grandparents are not in the area,” he said. In his volunteer work, Harley Thompson hopes to fill some of that gap.

“I’m just proud of my community. I’m proud of Cornell,” he said.

Bloomer backer

Merle Richter has devoted much of his life to making things better in Bloomer.

This summer he helped honor the memory of Rodney “Ram” and Jeremy Seibel with the “Tour de Farm” 37-mile bicycle event, which raised money for a scholarship in the name of the Seibels and promoted farm safety.

Besides teaching agriculture at Bloomer for 32 years, carrying on after the retirement of famed teacher Ray Miller, he guided the Bloomer FFA to numerous awards. He served as national president of the National Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association in 1995, served on the executive committee for Farm Technology Days in Chippewa County and on the committee that worked to open the Bloomer Aquatic and Recreational Center. He also coached wrestling for Bloomer for 14 years.

“Truly any one of these accomplishments would be worth the honor,” said Tim Tozer of the Kiwanis.

Richter credited his family for supporting him and allowing him to help various causes since his 2005 retirement from teaching.


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Chippewa Falls native baker balks at flambé and sparks judges' food fight on 'Holiday Baking Championship'

Jennifer Barney knows her way around cakes and other desserts — inside out, upside-down, wedding, birthday, whatever the occasion — but she is the first to admit she lacks skills as a pyromaniac.

So the Stoddard baker was out of her comfort zone in the Pre-Heat challenge of the most recent “The Holiday Baking Championship” episode.

Barney

The five bakers still standing out of the original nine when the series began were required to use the flambé technique in the process of making a holiday dessert.

“I feel like I’m at a disadvantage because I’ve never lit desserts before,” Barney said to herself and whoever was watching the Food Network Show as she mentally developed her plan to make a hazelnut cake with a holiday topping and artistic flair.

“When they announced the flambé challenge, I had to let it sink in a while before I understood what they were talking about,” the Chippewa Falls native said Tuesday.

But she had to shove the jitters aside in her quest to win the $50,000 prize in the contest.

“While the clock was ticking, I practiced several rounds of adding liquor and setting it on fire,” she said. “I was still really timid with it when it came time to be in front of the judges.”

Rival baker Stephany Buswell “was giving me pointers on how to make the flames go high — but I was too timid when it came time to do it in front of the judges,” Barney said.

Barney was able to create some sultry flames in her fruit toppings, but nothing that could rival the volcanic eruptions Buswell produced during her turn, including pyrotechnics when she tossed cinnamon into the conflagration and created a mini meteor shower.

Buswell, a pastry arts instructor at the International Culinary Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., who is the only Master Baker in the competition, is a pleasant enough opponent who willingly shares her knowledge but also clearly relishes the spotlight.

Evaluating Barney’s dessert, the judges eschewed any idea of being polite. “Ace of Cakes” Duff Goldman compared the appearance of Barney’s hazelnut cake to that of a “loaded baked potato.” British chef Lorraine Pascale said she wanted to taste more hazelnut and slammed the tarragon meringue Barney had rolled to look like pine needles, stating bluntly that they looked like green beans.

So that heat ended up being a good exercise in futility and humility, without hurting Barney’s chances in the competition because advancing means either winning the Main Heat or beating at least one other baker to survive for another week — and, of course, being the last baker standing.

The Main Heat required the bakers to craft an unusual, nontraditional cheesecake, with each one designated a specific cheese to employ.

Assigned Brie, Barney opted to create — the contestants do, indeed, formulate their recipes and techniques on the fly, based on their experience — Brie Cheesecake Paris Brest with Pine Nut Praline and Fig Sauce.

The result came as close to sparking a food fight among the judges as one can without actually seeing ingredients flying through the air.

“Whoa!” Goldman said in amazement at the wreath Barney had crafted.

Food Network 

Judges thought Jennifer Barney's Brie Cheesecake Paris Brest with Pine Nut Praline and Fig Sauce too big, but she intended it to be a dessert to share.

“This is the epitome of a holiday wreath,” gushed Nancy Fuller of “Farmhouse Rules” Food Network series fame.

Then came a bit of snark from Pascale, who said, “Is it an unusual cheesecake, or a Paris Brest with cheesecake filling?”

“Good point, Lorraine,” Goldman said, noting that he also could have used a bit more Brie taste.

“I think it’s an unusual cheesecake,” Fuller said, nearly getting in the last word before Pascale started harping that it was way too big.

Although the dessert fared well in the flavor category in the judges’ final verdict, they rapped it again for being entirely too large.

It’s almost as if these three kitchen wizards never heard of a doggie bag.

Asked about their reaction, Barney said Tuesday, “Go big or go home! The challenge was to make a nontraditional cheesecake and they presented us with a cheese board. I was really inspired by the idea of a cheese plate dessert.”

Aiming for a cheeseboard appetizer to be shared with a friend, she said, “I purposefully made it large because I thought it would be a cool idea to have a dessert that was better shared with another person.

“I made a dessert that could be dipped and shared — just like a cheese platter would be served to a table. I was wrong,” she said in hindsight.

She also quibbled with Goldman’s recommendation that she should have used more brie, explaining, “I have mixed feelings on this advice, because I have tried that before. It made a cheesecake with a weird texture. So I did a 50-50 mix of the brie substituted out for the cream cheese.

“I really respect Duff — but I wonder if they would not have liked the texture if I would have taken it that far,” said Barney, who has developed a cake connoisseur reputation of her own, operating her Meringue Bakery out of her home.

She’ll never know, and she doesn’t have to wonder, because she survived the judging to compete again at 8 p.m. Central time Monday. The challenge sounds insurmountable, considering the reputation fruitcakes have solidified over the years.

Coming next week is a challenge titled “Make Fruitcake Great Again.”

Barney pooh-poohed the idea that it’s an impossible task, saying, “Fruitcake gets a bad rap. It can actually be really delicious if it done well — and if it has a lot of alcohol in it.

“I am just glad we have a challenge with that could possibly involve making a cake,” she said of her particular niche of expertise.


Barney


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Eau Claire man sentenced to 3 years after stealing squad car, injuring child

An Eau Claire man who injured a three-year-old child, fought a police officer and crashed a police squad car in March was sentenced to three years in prison and five years of extended supervision in Chippewa County Court Tuesday, case notes show.

Damian A. Stauffer, 20, pleaded guilty to counts of child abuse-intentionally causing harm, battery, taking and driving a vehicle without consent and disarming an officer. Judge Steven H. Gibbs also ordered Stauffer to pay approximately $52,000 in restitution.

Several more charges against Stauffer—of robbery, burglary, second-degree recklessly endangering safety and resisting/obstructing an officer—were dismissed.

Stauffer was charged in March after an incident at his residence at 3345 Runway Ave. According to Eau Claire Police Lt. Jim Southworth:

Police were called to a home on Runway Avenue after a family member said a man inside the residence had injured a child and was acting strangely. The caller said the man left the residence on foot.

Stauffer then walked to another home on Runway Avenue. He forced his way into the residence and demanded car keys. This time the resident was able to force out Stauffer and called police.

A police officer, not named by the department, was unaware of the home invasion when driving through the neighborhood looking for Stauffer.

Stauffer came up to the squad and punched the officer through an opened driver’s side window, and Stauffer went on to strike the officer several times.

The officer used a Taser on Stauffer, who was not affected.

Stauffer entered the squad car, and the officer tried several times to pull Stauffer out of the vehicle. Stauffer was able to put the vehicle into gear and fled, driving away at a high rate of speed. He would go on to strike several unoccupied vehicles in the alley, with the squad having major damage and becoming disabled about two blocks from where it was taken.

Stauffer stayed in the vehicle as officers commanded him to exit. Officers used pepper spray on Stauffer, and he left the vehicle.

Stauffer continued to refuse to obey commands so he was shot with a less-lethal bean bag round and taken into custody.

During his five years of extended supervision, Stauffer cannot buy or consume alcohol, illegal drugs or unprescribed medication, cannot enter taverns and cannot have unsupervised contact with children under 12 years of age unless approved by an agent.


CONTRIBUTED 

Stauffer