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Museum to display Menard race car, local memorabilia in racing exhibit

In July 2011, Paul Menard stepped out of an electric-yellow race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the winner of the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race.

Eight years later, the Menards company delivered that same winning car to the Chippewa Valley Museum, where it will sit on display starting Tuesday.

The vehicle is the centerpiece of the museum’s newest temporary exhibit, “Racing in the Chippewa Valley,” a dive into local racing history and a display of racing memorabilia.

“There’s a fairly extensive history of different types of racing around here in the valley, from dirt track stock cars to drag racing snowmobiles,” said photographer and exhibit co-curator Steve Johnson.

Menard isn’t the only famous racer featured in the exhibit. The public will also see memorabilia of Herm Johnson, a famed Eau Claire race car driver who won two championships and had 36 career starts between 1979 and 1985, according to the Chippewa Valley Museum. Johnson died in December 2016.

The exhibit began as a study of Herm Johnson, but for the two curators, it took them about “three minutes” to realize the exhibit needed to be larger, said co-curator and retired professor Dan Perkins of Eau Claire.

“We originally thought about doing the exhibit revolving around Herm, because he had a fairly extensive racing career,” Steve Johnson said.

But the day that Perkins and Steve Johnson proposed the exhibit, museum director Carrie Ronnander gave them surprising news, Perkins said: That same day, a member of Herm Johnson’s family had dropped off helmets, trophies, posters and memorabilia from Herm’s career at the museum.

“Steve said, ‘Maybe there’s more to this than meets the eye,’” Perkins remembered.

“Racing didn’t just start and end with Herm Johnson,” Ronnander added. “He came from a racing community.”

Inside the exhibit

Steve Johnson and Perkins proposed the exhibit in May 2018. They began seriously collecting the items in December, and the museum began designing the exhibit in March, Ronnander said.

The result: A 1,500-square-foot exhibit, featuring Menard’s stock car from the 2011 Brickyard 400, a 1939 Chevy Coupe that raced at Menomonie’s Red Cedar Speedway, drivers’ racing gear and vintage dirt track crash photos.

A drag-racing Yamaha snowmobile, once driven by five-time snowmobile racing world class champion Donna Davidson of Chippewa Falls, will also be on display, according to the snowmobile’s owner, Strand Enterprises.

“It was really the fastest (assembly) of any exhibit I’ve seen of this size, and really only possible because we had guest curators who spent hundreds of hours,” Ronnander said.

Steve Johnson and Perkins talked to veteran racers in several counties, each new discovery giving them the names of more retired racing buddies who might have stories, souvenirs or trophies to include. Perkins spent 182 hours — and put 890 miles on his car — driving to interviews, meeting racers and collecting memorabilia, he said.

“They scoured the countryside,” Ronnander said.

Both curators have a personal connection to racing. Steve Johnson raced small sedans and photographed several of Herm Johnson’s IndyCar races in Milwaukee in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he said.

Perkins competed in Solo II club racing, where drivers race against the clock on a short course.

There’s a rich local tradition of racing — whether cars, motorcycles, go-karts or snowmobiles — in the Chippewa Valley, Ronnander said: “We have a lot of space in the surrounding area to expand and build tracks. I think there are many places in the U.S. (where) there’s a great love affair with the car, and seeing what it can do.”

Steve Johnson agreed: “A lot of people figure if you can put a motor on it, we might as well race it.”

The “Racing in the Chippewa Valley” exhibit opens Tuesday, June 25, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 26. Every visitor will receive a 2019 Paul Menard hero card as a souvenir, according to the museum.

Admission to the exhibit is included with museum admission: $7 for adults and $4 for kids 5-17. Museum members and children under four are admitted free.

The Chippewa Valley Museum, 1204 E. Half Moon Dr., Eau Claire is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday and 5-8 p.m. Tuesday evening.

High-tech tools help with 2020 census in remote places

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Census Bureau is using new high-tech tools to help get an accurate population count next year as its faces challenges tallying people of color who live in remote places and can be wary of the federal government.

The agency is using aerial images of rural communities and hard-to-reach areas to verify addresses and determine where to send workers to ensure everyone is counted, Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham said.

Satellites and planes take photos, and bureau employees compare the housing captured in the images to digital maps from the last census, in 2010. It takes a fraction of the time needed by workers in the field.

The agency has used geographic technology since 1990 but has never had access to such accurate tools from the air, said Deirdre Dalpiaz Bishop, head of the bureau’s geography division.

That technology — known as geographic information system, or GIS — uses computers to analyze neighborhoods, land formations, rivers and other data captured by satellites or traditional mapping.

The new technology to improve the census comes amid concerns that tribal areas and communities of color may be undercounted in the every-10-year tally that determines the amount of federal money states receive and whether they gain or lose U.S. congressional seats.

The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which opponents say would suppress the count of immigrants who fear revealing their status to federal officials.

The Census Bureau also is facing criticism for planning internet and telephone questionnaires, which advocates say would be more likely to overlook rural areas without reliable communication infrastructure.

Steven Romalewski, director of the City University of New York’s Mapping Service, said the criticism is fair but credited the Census Bureau for using its geographic and aerial technology to gather needed data about the most difficult populations to count.

“The technology alone is no guarantee that you will have an accurate count,” said Romalewski, who is mapping “hard to count” communities ahead of the census. “But if you leverage data with satellite imagery, you have the best information before you.”

That’s what census employees intend to do while avoiding the political battles, Dillingham said.

“The culture of the census dictates us to be impartial,” the bureau director said during a recent trip to New Mexico, which has one of the most difficult populations to accurately count.

The state has a sizable Native American population and the highest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation. Bishop said the technology will especially help such areas that have struggled for accurate counts.

Another is Mississippi’s majority-black Bolivar County, where only 59.7% of households mailed back their 2010 census questionnaire, according to CUNY’s Center for Urban Research.

The national rate was 74% in 2010, according to a Census Bureau news release.

Tool first used in 2013

The bureau began using the new imagery technology in 2013, Bishop said. Employees have been double- and triple-checking satellite images and those captured by the Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Imagery Program during the growing seasons in the continental U.S.

Around 100 technicians are able to examine the entire nation with satellite and aerial images while sitting at their computers. They are assigned specific neighborhood blocks and look for growth and decline in the number of residential buildings by comparing images from 2009 to the present.

Two hours of canvassing in the field during the 2010 census now takes less than two minutes in the office, the bureau said.

“With that information, we can then decide to use our staff more efficiently” to knock on doors of homes that did not respond to online or phone questionnaires, Bishop said.

The bureau gave a demonstration of the new technology at conference early this year. Employees showed how they could analyze county subdivisions on maps by looking up a certain percentage of Spanish speakers or those making a certain amount of money.

The specific addresses pinpointed by the aerial imagery are largely kept private but can be shared with some tribal and city governments to help create boundaries and zoning areas, Bishop said. After a certain period, the information has to be destroyed, she said.

Counting elders

The head of the Census Bureau came to New Mexico last month for a firsthand look at the struggle to count people who live in far-flung places where the new technology could help.

Dillingham and a group from the Navajo Nation ventured along a winding dirt road through mesas and small canyons to the home of Daniel Piaso, about 12 miles west of To’Hajiilee, N.M.

Dillingham tried to ask Piaso, who speaks only Navajo, about the dwellings on his property. A confused Piaso responded with help from an interpreter.

Arbin Mitchell, a tribal partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, said elders like Piaso are most at risk of missing out.

“They do not trust strangers who might approach them asking questions about the census,” Mitchell said.

U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both New Mexico Democrats, wanted Dillingham to see the challenges of counting rural and poor populations with little to no internet access.

“We have a lot of concerns, so we are doubling down to get the message out to people about how important the census is,” Heinrich said.

Nebraska slowly rolls out voter-approved Medicaid expansion

LINCOLN, Neb. — Marti Poll knows she should see a doctor. Sometimes she has a severe tightness in her chest. She also has chronic sinus and ear infections.

But she can’t afford the medical bills, so she simply waits and hopes the pain will subside.

She thought her wait might end soon after voters approved a Medicaid expansion that would allow people like her who earn too much money to qualify for the health care program but who can’t afford to buy insurance on their own. But more than seven months later, Poll and some 90,000 other Nebraska residents who could qualify are still waiting — and will be for 15 more months as Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration says it’s working to ensure the smooth implementation of an expansion that voters passed despite his objections.

“I think this would help a lot of people,” said Poll, 55, who lives outside Lincoln and works as an office assistant and janitor. “Are they just looking to do it right, or are they obfuscating? That’s the question I have.”

Some of the skepticism stems from Republicans’ long objections to expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama. Medicaid, which provides health coverage for lower-income and disabled Americans, is funded jointly by states and the federal government. The 2010 Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid by promising that the federal government would cover most of the cost.

Nebraska was among several conservative states that declined to expand Medicaid, as first Gov. Dave Heineman and then Ricketts argued it would cost too much and overwhelm the health care system. It was one of three states with Republican-controlled legislatures where voters last year approved an expansion. In Utah, lawmakers cut nearly in half the number of people who would be covered and added spending caps and work requirements, angering advocates. Idaho lawmakers also imposed work requirements and other restrictions.

In Nebraska, Ricketts has promised to abide by voters’ wishes, and the Legislature did not pass any changes to the voter-approved measure. But Ricketts’ administration decided unilaterally to implement a two-tiered program: a “basic” plan available to all newly qualified recipients and a “premium” plan available to people who are working, in school, volunteering or caring for a relative.

State Sen. John McCollister said the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services created a needlessly complex system that he believes runs contrary to the will of voters. McCollister said a straightforward expansion likely would have been easier and allowed people to get coverage sooner.

“They’re grudgingly implementing the policy — and I think ‘grudgingly’ is the operative word,” said McCollister, a moderate Republican from Omaha.

Advocates have noted that similar expansions took less than six months in Louisiana and Virginia and less than two months in Alaska. Expansion took longer in Maine, primarily because of opposition from elected officials.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services officials have defended the October 2020 launch date and their two-tiered approach, calling the expansion plan a massive undertaking that shouldn’t be rushed. They note some changes still need federal approval. Other challenges include that the state needs to upgrade its computer system for processing applicants; hire more workers; and negotiate new contracts with the private, managed-care companies that will serve Medicaid recipients, officials say. They also say the state needs more doctors who accept Medicaid patients.

“We completely understand and are very sympathetic to the situation,” said Nate Watson, a deputy director for Nebraska’s Medicaid and Long-Term Care Division. “We get it. What we’re worried about is what other states have experienced. We could expand quickly and people would get a shiny new card in the mail, but if there aren’t doctors in their area or the types of doctors that they need, what good does that do anybody?”

Coverage would be available to adults ages 19 to 64 who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level — about $16,753 per year. The federal government must pay 90% of the program’s cost in 2020 and subsequent years.

The Nebraska Hospital Association, which supported the ballot measure, has accepted the state’s timeline.

“I don’t know if they can go any faster, given what they’re trying to do,” said Andy Hale, a lobbyist for the group. “They’re trying to do what they think is best.”

However, Jordan Rasmussen, policy manager for the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, noted that the state is losing out on millions in federal funding while setting up the program.

“The delay is hurting Nebraska,” she said. “We’re missing out and our people aren’t getting the care they need.”