Two weeks into the 2017 Session, my State Senator, Senator Al Novstrup, finally provides District 3 with his first update from Pierre.
But wait: Novstrup’s letter isn’t really an update on the 2017 Session. In Trumpist fashion, Novstrup dedicates his first major public statement of his eighth term in Pierre to criticizing the media for criticizing him:
The American News re-printed an editorial from the Rapid City Journal which suggested my actions in the Legislature have been self-serving….
The Journal seem to be basing their claim on the following logic: I agreed to assist Rep. Hickey, the prime sponsor, with a bill in the South Dakota Legislature in the 2014 session that improved safety in the amusement industry, and I own stock in Thunder Road, a family fun park in the amusement industry. The legislation mandated daily inspections of all amusement rides and yearly inspections by certified inspectors of all traveling amusement rides. The bill also mandated that amusement operators carry insurance and suggested riders should not be intoxicated or disengage their safety equipment.
This bill is not revolutionary and, in fact, similar laws exist in 43 other states. Of the 105 South Dakota legislators, 98 of my colleagues believed this bill was an improvement to amusement riders safety and voted to approve the bill. Seven legislators voted against the bill because they believed the regulations went too far.
Despite these facts, the Rapid City Journal felt the bill did not accomplish enough. Why the Journal criticized me for being self-serving because they believed the regulations in the bill did not go far enough is beyond me. The bill we passed was in line with standards set by similar states.
All South Dakotans that utilize amusement rides are safer because of this legislation. We went from having no regulation to providing reasonable safety regulation and that’s good for everyone, including me. Nothing in this safety legislation provide any benefit to me or my company [Senator Al Novstrup, letter to the editor, Aberdeen American News, 2017.01.22].
The offending editorial appeared in Thursday’s AAN and first appeared on RCJ on January 12. The main thesis of RCJ’s editorial is that the state should do more to ensure the safety of amusement park rides. The editorial responds primarily to the pending House Bill 1007, which would remove the state from responsibility for documenting inspections of amusement parks like Novstrup’s. RCJ offers background on the issue by mentioning Novstrup’s conflict of interest in past lawmaking concerning his industry:
The bill will be considered by the Legislature just four years after an industry-friendly measure pushed through by Sen. Al Novstrup, a Republican from Aberdeen, was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
The measure exempted fixed parks like Thunder Road, which Novstrup owns stock in and is managed by his son, David, also a lawmaker and the general manager and co-owner of the Thunder Road park in Aberdeen. The legislation does require minimal state reporting standards for the traveling amusement parks but includes a ten-point list of rider prohibitions that makes it more difficult to successfully sue them.
In September , Journal reporter Seth Tupper wrote an investigative piece that detailed how Novstrup, who had a clear conflict of interest, shepherded the bill through the Legislature [link added; editorial board, “Amusement Park Rides Need Regulation,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.01.12].
Tupper’s September article cited Novstrup’s own words in the Legislature to show that Novstrup offered to “assist” Hickey with his 2014 bill because Novstrup “saw some things in it that were over-regulation.” To forge a workable “compromise” (indicating he’d have fought the bill otherwise), Novstrup brought in amusement park reps, including his own legislating son David, to make the bill more palatable to industry.
The Rapid City Journal did not contend that South Dakota amusement parks are not safer because of the watered-down 2014 legislation. RCJ did not contend that the compromised 2014 measure gave Novstrup new benefits. RCJ did point out that (1) the daily inspections required by the 2014 law merely codified inspections Novstrup and other amusement parkers already had to do for their insurers, and (2) the new law did Novstrup a favor by exempting his businesses from new inspection requirements, an exemption a certified ride inspector called “stupid” and a sign of “purely somebody’s palm being greased.”
Novstrup slides around those two facts in his letter, because those two facts show he’s blowing smoke. If a legislator uses his power to exempt his business from new regulations that will apply to some of his competitors, that legislator has served himself.
Like Trump, Novstrup is brittle and defensive. Like Trump, Novstrup doesn’t like the media reporting his own words. And like Trump, Novstrup uses power to serve his own interests.