Russell Graeff will not charge forth alone with the Democratic banner in the District 19 Legislative contest. Bon Homme County Democratic Party chairman Frank Kloucek informs me that District 19 county party officials have named Melissa Mentele of Emery to run for District 19 House. That ballot slot came open following Ardon Wek’s surprising abdication two weeks ago, for which no public explanation has yet surfaced.
Mentele’s candidacy for House caps a busy news week for the Emery organizer. Her ballot question committee Tuesday launched a last-ditch lawsuit to place its medical cannabis initiative on the November ballot. That committee, New Approach South Dakota, says its ballot-access suit will be heard in Pierre on Tuesday at 9 a.m. (That’s also the due date for filling candidate vacancies, so Melissa, maybe when the court breaks for lunch, drop by the Secretary of State’s office with a certified copy of your candidacy paperwork, just to make sure Secretary Krebs isn’t missing anything!). New Approach is organizing an online auction to pay its legal fees for the ballot-access lawsuit. New Approach also responded publicly to Attorney General Marty Jackley’s announcement Wednesday of charges against two Monarch America marijuana consultants who helped the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe line up marijuana for its aborted pot resort plan in 2015.
While medical cannabis policy has been Mentele’s public focus for the last couple years, my interactions with her have indicated there’s more than marijuana on her agenda. She’s a skilled organizer—and remember, skills like that can get a person elected President. Expect Mentele, a trained nurse, to put those organizing skills to use rallying supporters on a range of health care issues and other positive Democratic policies.
With Mentele now challenging Republican House incumbents Kyle Schoenfish and Kent Peterson and Graeff challenging past Republican legislator and gadfly Stace Nelson in the Senate race, District 19 Democrats have a chance to turn two seats in Pierre back to sensible Democratic votes. District 19 Democrats failed to come up with a candidate for the second House seat last spring, so one of the Republican incumbents is bound to return to Pierre. If Mentele wants to focus her fire on one Republican to dislodge, she might want to start with Rep. Schoenfish, whose auditing company reviewed the books of the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative for at least nine years and failed to notice what the Attorney General now tallies as $1.2 million in stolen funds and a corruption scandal that has resulted in three felony indictments and six dead people. If the Department of Education can blame Schoenfish and Company for not catching Mid-Central’s corruption, perhaps so should District 19 voters?
Congrats to Melissa Mentele on taking her first plunge as a candidate, and congrats to Frank Kloucek and his fellow District 19 Democrats on finding a good candidate to take up the challenge of running as a Democrat in a district where 57% of voters are Republicans and 27% are Democrats.