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EC Marathon sees growth in runners, with most races at capacity

While many races have seen dwindling numbers or fizzled out completely, the Eau Claire Marathon continues to see growth from year to year.

Co-race director Pat Toutant said he believes one of the reasons the event has grown and maintained its numbers is the positive message to all runners.

“We feel everyone who crosses that finish line deserves a medal, a shirt and recognition for their accomplishment,” Toutant said.

The 11th annual Eau Claire Marathon is Sunday, starting and finishing in Carson Park.

Co-race director Emily Uelmen said about 5,000 people have signed up to run one of the races. The four-person relay is sold out with 250 teams. There are 2,100 half-marathon competitors, and a record high of 700 marathon runners, which also is a sellout.

The 5K race is sold out with 700 runners, so organizers ordered more bibs and finisher medals, in hopes to have 750 to 800 runners on Sunday.

The children’s races are also sold out, with 350 signed up.

The final numbers for last year’s race show 455 runners completed the marathon, 1,949 ran the half-marathon and one half-marathon wheelchair participant, along with 244 four-person relay teams. There were 642 participants in the 5K race. In 2017, 383 runners completed the marathon and 1,667 runners completed the half-marathon.

Wade Zwiener, an avid Eau Claire runner who also has served as race director for area events, is impressed with how the Eau Claire Marathon has grown.

“I think it’s pretty amazing, just knowing all the work that goes into it,” Zwiener said. “There (are) a lot of logistics that people don’t think about until they are a race director. There are so many events you are competing with, and they keep growing. I’m a bit jealous.”

Zwiener praised the work of the race directors for making this such a big event.

“I think it’s a good thing for the community,” Zwiener said. “They’ve done a great job getting people out and supporting the race. They offer so many ways to get involved.”

Tom Langley, an avid area runner, said he isn’t surprised that so many of the races this weekend are at capacity.

“Certainly, Eau Claire has done a good job in getting the word out,” Langley said. “They have a good product, and it’s a great community event.”

Langley said the race, which is always the first Sunday of May, is in a good spot on the calendar, typically about six weeks before Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. Langley will be out on the course on his bike, cheering on runners, including a handful of adults he’s trained and coached to do the race. He said the big crowds that show up are another reason this race is successful.

“I think it’s the family and friends being around, and (runners) get to show off what they can do,” Langley said.

The Uelmen family designed the medals, which notes there are 11 bridges that runners cross, in finishing the 11th year of the race.

“I personally think this is my favorite of all our medals,” Toutant said.

Toutant will be back in his usual spot at the final curve, right before the finish line in Carson Park, cheering on all runners.

Toutant is upbeat about the variety of participants coming this year. The University of Minnesota’s running class is sending 70 students who have trained all semester to run the marathon. This year, myTEAM Triumph will be back with several teams pushing modified running wheelchairs. In addition, Jordan and Jeffrey Bergeman will be the official “charity chasers” at this years event. The father-and-son team will raise money for two causes — 4 Paws 4 Jeffrey and myTEAM Triumph — as they catch and pass other Eau Claire Marathon participants. To donate or pledge toward their effort, go to and select Get Involved and then Run for a Cause.

“Everything is looking great,” Toutant said. “We’re really excited. We’ve got some great runners lined up. And we have a lot of first-time marathoners and half-marathoners, which really excites us.”

The good news is that the course is unchanged from last year, and that also means no changes to the list of road closures.

“We know this (race) inconveniences some, but we think it is worth it,” Toutant said. “We get to show off the city and promote a healthy lifestyle.”

About 900 volunteers will be on the course, along with several police officers. In recent years, the Eau Claire Marathon has donated about $125,000 to roughly 50 non-profit organizations.

Bridget Coit, Eau Claire Police Department public information officer, said there will be 40 additional officers on duty Sunday morning, handling the traffic closures and providing safety on the course.

“We are encouraging the public to check out (our Facebook page) as we reroute individuals, especially in the downtown,” Coit said.

Coit said it is helpful that the route hasn’t changed, as officers know what to expect and where problem areas could arise. She agreed that any traffic headaches are worth it.

“It’s a great event for Eau Claire to host,” she said.

Toutant said the race wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of the city’s law enforcement and street department workers.

“The city has been sweeping the streets and filling the potholes,” he said.

A reminder that no traffic will be allowed into Carson Park on Sunday. Coit said any fishermen who plan to be out need to be in the park by 6 a.m. There will be shuttles routinely from parking lots at Menomonie Street, the UW-Eau Claire lot on Water Street and the Chippewa Valley Technical College parking lot No. 3.

The parking lot by the baseball field will be filled with vendors. One new feature this year is the special “26.2 beer” made for runners.

“It’s a very unique beer, geared toward running,” Toutant said.

While this is the 11th year of the event, it is the sixth straight year that Toutant and Uelmen have been co-directors.

Toutant hopes people come out and support the runners, rain or shine.

“The community has really embraced it,” he said.

Fearing an undercount, states prepare for 2020 census push

LOS ANGELES — In a squat office building not far from downtown, Esperanza Guevara is getting ready to look for people who might not want to be found. And her job could get a lot harder.

The immigrant-rights activist is leading a drive to reach tens of thousands of people who entered the U.S. illegally and persuade them to participate in the 2020 census, the government’s once-a-decade count of the population.

The Trump administration’s plan to use the census to inquire about each person’s citizenship has sent a chill through immigrant communities. Guevara and others fear the question could discourage participation and, by some estimates, leave millions uncounted across the country.

Such concerns are concentrated in Democratic-led states with large immigrant populations. An inaccurate count could have real-world consequences, since billions in federal dollars and seats in Congress are allocated according to population.

In immigrant communities often wary of government, a question about citizenship status will make people “less likely to fill out the census form or even answer the door when someone comes knocking,” said Guevara, who works for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

Those concerns have been heightened by Trump’s slashing rhetoric toward immigrants and by fears that census information could be used to find and deport people.

“Their first thought is, ‘Is this information going to be used against me?’” Guevara said, standing near rows of computers that will be staffed by volunteers trying to connect with prospective census participants.

Census Bureau chief Ron Jarmin said the agency is legally barred from sharing its information with law enforcement agencies, adding: “We are committed to ensuring that the data we collect are always protected.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a legal challenge seeking to strike the citizenship question from the census form. During oral arguments last week, the court’s conservative majority appeared ready to allow the question.

The Trump administration has argued that it has wide discretion in designing the questionnaire and that the citizenship question is clearly constitutional because it has been asked before — most recently, 1950 — and continues to be used on smaller, annual population surveys.

The Public Policy Institute of California has said that failure to accurately tally immigrants and other hard-to-reach groups could lead to an undercount of 1.6 million people, or roughly 4 percent of the state’s population. That would be enough to cost California one of its 53 House seats.

So California and other states are spending millions to persuade residents, legal and not, to fill out census forms, employing such means as public service messages, mailings, visits to people’s homes and informational gatherings.

“States are doing this because of the number of threats to a fair and accurate count,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Colorado’s House recently endorsed spending $12 million to encourage participation in the census. The governors of Kansas and Nevada have moved to create committees devoted to making sure everyone takes part.

In New Mexico, where the state has launched a multimillion-dollar effort to ensure an accurate tally, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has warned that a 1% undercount could translate into more than $700 million in lost federal revenue over a decade.

Perhaps no state has more at risk than California, where no racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority and Hispanics outnumber whites. More than a quarter of its residents are foreign-born.

Nearly 3 in 4 Californians belong to groups the census has historically undercounted, including Hispanics, blacks, renters, immigrants, children and members of multiple families that share a single home. The state also has an above-average poverty rate, and the poor — especially the homeless — are difficult to count.

With online surveys being widely used next year, people with shaky access to the internet also could disappear from the count.

The state has budgeted about $100 million for education and media campaigns to reach people, a figure likely to jump to $150 million later this year. Most of the money is going to hire field workers and to advertise the importance of participating, a message that will be printed even on lottery tickets.

The Trump administration’s “citizenship question has one purpose: to undercount our diverse communities,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “Our state won’t be intimidated by the White House’s actions, and we aren’t going to back down from fighting for a fair count.”

The Census Bureau’s own plans call for hiring 450,000 to 475,000 temporary workers. Most of them will knock on the doors of people who do not fill out the questionnaires. That number is lower than it was 10 years ago because the bureau is counting on technological changes to make the job more efficient.

With a $400,000 contract from the state, Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles is working to reach into immigrant communities where more than a dozen languages are spoken, including Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese. Southern California is home to the largest Asian population in the U.S.

An Le, the group’s statewide census manager, said census research has found that Asians who speak little or no English and were born outside the U.S. are fearful of repercussions from the government if they submit the information. The group is stressing the importance of the census to health and education funding.

Le said more money is needed to produce census materials in a greater range of languages. She worries, too, about the citizenship question.

Even for legal permanent residents, that would serve as “a deterrent and a barrier,” she said.

Governor presses health agenda, believes GOP can be swayed

Gov. Tony Evers is confident public opinion can help sway state Republicans to back his push to cover more low-income Wisconsinites with Medicaid, even after leading GOP lawmakers said they plan to scrap most of the new initiatives in the Democrat’s budget proposal.

Calling health care the No. 1 priority in his proposed 2019-21 biennial state budget, Evers said Thursday that constituents can help convince Republicans — who hold the majority in the state Senate and Assembly — to back the Medicaid expansion they had vehemently opposed during Gov. Scott Walker’s time in office.

“We can change people’s minds,” Evers said during a Thursday afternoon visit to the Leader-Telegram.

The governor touted a Marquette University Law Poll from April that said 70% of Wisconsin residents believe the state should use federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage.

The governor’s proposed budget would accept $1.6 billion in federal funds to extend Medicaid and help fund some other new health initiatives. Medicaid coverage — which goes by the name BadgerCare in Wisconsin — would be extended to 82,000 residents with incomes up to 138% of the poverty level, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The two Republican leaders of the state’s budget-writing committee — Rep. John Nygren from Marinette and Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills — issued a statement late Wednesday chiding Evers’ proposal for spending too much and creating a $2 billion structural deficit for the state.

“The bottom line is his budget is unsustainable, irresponsible and jeopardizes the progress we’ve made in the last eight years,” the two lawmakers stated.

Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, is among those who feel that Evers’ budget proposal is DOA.

“In my humble opinion, it’s an absolutely irrational budget,” she said.

On the Medicaid expansion specifically, Bernier says many of those who would be covered by it already have health insurance through the marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act.

“I believe that the folks who are between 100% and 138% poverty levels have made arrangements,” Bernier said. “We would be taking them off private insurance and onto government-funded insurance.”

Andrea Palm, secretary-designee for the state Department of Health Services, said an estimated 33,000 people do have marketplace insurance, but the rest of the 82,000 that would be covered by expanding Medicaid are currently uninsured.

She visited Eau Claire with Evers on Thursday to press the case for accepting the $1.6 billion in federal funds.

“People want to bring the money home and invest it in our health care system,” Palm said. She and Evers noted that Wisconsin residents pay federal taxes that have been going toward the three dozen other states that have already expanded Medicaid.

Bernier and other Republicans have said other states have regretted expanding Medicaid, finding themselves paying more than they expected. The federal government provides less money to states over time for Medicaid, Bernier said, and there’s no telling how the program could be changed in the future.

“Taking Medicaid expansion is not a silver bullet,” she said.

Palm calls the notion of a declining federal payment “a boogeyman” used to deter states from expanding Medicaid.

Currently Wisconsin gets 59% of its Medicaid costs paid through federal funds, but that would rise to 90% by expanding eligibility, she said. And that latter percentage is guaranteed for perpetuity.

Evers is confident the federal government will not change its contribution level to Medicaid, which is currently used by about 75 million Americans.

“We don’t believe that will happen,” he said.

Accepting the federal money is part of a series of health initiatives in Evers’ plan, which also would require $1 billion in new state funding.

At $740.7 million over the next two years, expanding Medicaid is the largest part of the health package. The next largest portion is $367 million in increased funding to hospitals, according to a Department of Health Services fact sheet.

“The hospitals that serve the most Medicaid patients will see the biggest increases,” Palm said.

Other initiatives include expanding access to dental and behavior health services, increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for physicians, boosting funding for long-term care programs, preventing childhood lead poisoning and reducing youth tobacco use.

“People are asking for this,” Evers said, citing experiences on the campaign trail and listening sessions held throughout the state in recent months.

The Department of Health Services provided fact sheets for every Wisconsin county earlier this week to tout the local impact of Evers’ budget proposal.

Eau Claire County would get $46 million in new health care spending, including $11.8 million to expand Medicaid to 1,396 residents that don’t currently get it.