Even supervillain Felonious Gru has the good sense to wear a lighter top and smile a bit with his friends in a publicity photo. Kaleb Weis is still campaigning with grim photo of himself in his dark sweater, looming smilelessly, like that dark, ominous cross, over his innocent children.
But on September 10, he launched that new, bang-up warbird logo under his rechristened “Weisforsdhouse” campaign page. He hasn’t updated his campaign webpage, but stay tuned.
Weis’s update came five days before Rep. Dan Kaiser announced he’ll stand down from the Legislative race in favor of running for sheriff. We could really go bonkers and speculate that Weis’s rebranding scared Kaiser out of the House race, but the fact that Kaiser is taking on an arguably more difficult race against a popular Republican incumbent who has gone unchallenged in his office since 1998 tells me there’s no way Rep. Kaiser would be scared off by a much weaker candidate like Weis.
Kaiser’s leaving an open seat in District 3 offers Democrats another opportunity to win back some Legislative registration. The entry of an inferior candidate like Kaleb Weis further improves Democrats’ chances of winning next November.
Democrats, target the new open seat in District 3. Republican Representative Dan Kaiser says three terms in Pierre is enough for him. On this morning’s In Touch program on KABD Radio, Kaiser said he wants to get back to policing all the time and run for sheriff next year.
“In its current form, I’m not supporting the bill. I have a lot of concerns with this,” Kaiser said.
“One, it gives the governor executive authority to declare a safety zone on public and private property,” he said “So, if you own a farm or ranch and decide that you want to host a protest, the government can come in and say, ‘No, that’s a safety zone.’”
Kaiser said there are already criminal trespassing laws.
“One of my other concerns is if this is going to apply to tribal lands, which I hope not, because they are a sovereign country,” he said. “We don’t pass laws to affect Canada.”
Neither Kaiser nor Dennert appear alarmed at the potential for a tyrannical Governor to suppress dissent. Dennert does express concern about the executive branch intruding on the judicial branch:
“The judge can use discretion on whether you should go to jail or not go to jail. And this is saying that you should go to jail for at least 10 days,” Dennert said. “I think this bill could be amended to where it could be workable. I would be very skeptical of giving the executive branch any more authority than it has now” [Marvel, 2017.02.26].
Senator Al Novstrup voted for this abomination three times—once in committee, twice in the Senate. He told the crackerbarrel crowd that (Marvel’s words) “something needs to be done to ensure the state doesn’t foot a hefty protest bill”; however, SB 176 does nothing to address the cost of protests. Arguably, mobilizing law enforcement statewide to lock down a one-mile radius around a declared protest site could cost even more than simply carting off violent protestors who break existing laws.
SB 176 goes to House State Affairs next. Contact those legislators (who include the powerful Speaker Mickelson, as well as some Kaiserly conservatives like DiSanto, Heinemann, and Rhoden who might share Kaiser’s concerns about private property rights) and tell them to stop this executive power grab.
Novstrup could defend his laziness by claiming he’s living up to the conservative ideal of not passing lots of new laws, but his more conservative District 3 colleagues are outworking him. Rep. Dan Kaiser is making up for time lost last Session by working up three bills: one to require that we yield to railroad maintenance equipment on tracks, another to keep us from seeing naked people on police videos, and a third to give non-town residents in the three-mile muni-rule-making zone around towns some say in the process. Rep.-Elect Drew Dennert is bringing an NRA-stroking amendment to clutter our ballot and our constitution with feel-good, do-nothing language about our hunting, fishing, and trapping heritage and a bill to follow the liberal courts in recognizing the legality of ballot selfies. The latter would contradict language the Board of Election wants to clarify that we can’t exercise our First Amendment right to document our ballots.
All three of Rep. Kaiser’s proposals sound reasonable (although let’s hold judgment until we see his actual text in the hopper). Rep.-Elect Dennert is batting .500. Senator-Elect Novstrup is, so far, just a zero.
The Republicans candidates for District 3 Senate and House spoke on education to not quite two dozen neighbors at the Northern State University Noon Forum yesterday. Rep. Dan Kaiser, Drew Dennert, and Rep. Al Novstrup managed to muster more than two minutes of comment on a topic that isn’t their forté, but amidst some useful observations, our Republican candidates lobbed several distractions from the basic mission of educating young South Dakotans.
In his brief opening remarks, Rep. Dan Kaiser, candidate for reëlection to the House, spoke of his efforts to end Common Core. Rep. Kaiser opposes the “top-down” nature of Common Core; in later comments, he said he would prefer that local superintendents be able to set curriculum standards. That position runs a little at odds with his own 2015 House Bill 1223, which proposed replacing Common Core with the previous set of standards that the state imposed on all local school districts.
An NSU education professor rose to assure Rep. Kaiser and the audience that Common Core standards help students develop critical-thinking skills. She said NSU’s teacher-training graduates know Common Core and will be able to teach those standards well.
Rep. Al Novstrup, who is running to defend the Senate seat his son is leaving, opened his remarks with a paean to local control. Rep. Novstrup said keeping decisions as close to home as possible is a basic Republican philosophy. Ever the multiculturalist, Rep. Novstrup said lawmakers in Washington, D.C., don’t understand the culture of Faith, South Dakota, where bringing guns to school in one’s pickup so one can go hunting later is a great idea, versus the culture of Chicago, where student-vehicle gun racks are perhaps less culturally appropriate.
Professor Jon Schaff asked the Republican candidates to address 2016 House Bill 1182, the half-penny sales tax passed this year to increase K-12 teacher pay. Rep. Dan Kaiser, who missed all but the last day of the 2016 Session due to family illness, said he probably would have voted against this teacher-pay funding. He said he had issues with whether the money raised would actually go to teachers.
New House candidate Drew Dennert declined to give a definite answer, but he said he leaned No on HB 1182. Dennert said he’s all for increasing teacher pay, but he sees unfairness in funding that increase by raising the tax on agricultural equipment but not on other vehicles. Dennert said he’s not sure the funding formula (actually part of SB 131, not HB 1182) was good and it did not give small schools a good deal (true, says Tripp-Delmont).
Rep. Novstrup said he voted for HB 1182, but then spent no time talking about why he voted for the bill, how the bill works, or how it impacts education. Instead, Rep. Novstrup dwelled on himself himself and how he felt the pressure and the great tension of the debate. He admitted he did not take a leading role in the effort to raise teacher pay: “Sometimes I lead, sometimes I listen.” He said he frustrated many lobbyists and interested voters by refusing to take a position on the sales-tax increase until the actual vote and only telling questioners before the vote that he was “listening.” I would suggest their frustration was justified: the Blue Ribbon K-12 task force plan was available for review for over three months before the House voted on HB 1182 in February. Anyone who waited until February to start “listening” was, to put it generously, taking a passive approach to learning about the most urgent policy priority of the 2016 Session.
Cost of Higher Education
Offered a question about how to check rising tuition, Rep. Novstrup joked about proposals for free tuition, then non-responded that maybe kids can save money by getting books online. To an audience suggestion that South Dakota should stop shifting the burden to students and get back to carrying more of the cost of higher education, Rep. Novstrup dodged, saying health care costs are eating up the state budget pie.
Statistical note: South Dakota has historically put a larger share of the cost of higher education on students than the national average. In 1989, student tuition covered 24.5% of the cost of public higher education nationwide but 36.8% in South Dakota. The student share of that tab has increased pretty much everywhere since then, to 47.1% nationwide and 66.8% in South Dakota. A professor who spent nine years in the Indiana university system said he witnessed that state’s cuts in support for higher education. Those cuts drive universities to rely more on grants and research funding, which increasingly comes from corporate and foreign interests. The professor said more public funding is needed to check that outside money and keep universities focused on the public good, not private or foreign agendas. None of the candidates addressed that issue.
Rep. Kaiser did address the overall cost question by suggesting our universities suffer from administrative bloat. Dr. Schaff seconded that observation, saying that the Board of Regents itself employs so many analysts and other staff that its administrative budget could fund all of NSU’s operations. Rep. Novstrup evaded responsibility, saying that it’s hard to craft a bill and instead preferring that we just have “conversations” with the Board of Regents about increasing productivity.
Rep. Kaiser cited a 2012 speech by President Barack Obama saying that federal subsidies cause tuition to go up. Rep. Kaiser failed to note that President Obama proposed not ending government support for higher education but targeting that support to campuses that control costs. President Obama also called for increasing federal grants and loans and reducing subsidies to the banks that cash in on student loans.
Invoking President Obama signaled that it was time to run away from the specifics of education in South Dakota again and blow federal dog whistles again. Rep. Kasier said tuition inflation is tied to overall inflation, which he said comes from a tax-and-spend federal government that is “crippled with debt.” The feds are “destroying the value of our money” with the “hidden tax” of inflation. Dennert jumped in, saying that inflation is a big problem, what with the Federal Reserve printing money without restraint.
Professor Schaff noted that the Consumer Price Index is around a relatively low 2%. The most recent release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the CPI over the last 12 months rose 1.1%. Another professor in the room, Dr. Steven Usitalo, said inflation is “largely nonexistent.”
Merit Pay Stinks!
Linking to the discussion of administrative bloat, Forum organizer Dr. Art Marmorstein said that the merit pay scheme mandated by the Legislature has become a “bureaucratic nightmare.” Dr. Marmorstein said performance reviews used to be much simpler affairs but now, as the basis for pay raises, require far more documentation. Dr. Usitalo supported that statement, saying he has several hundred pages of evaluations to review. Dr. Marmorstein urged the Republican candidates to get rid of merit pay.
None of the Republican candidates offered a response on that topic.
Consolidate and Close?
Dr. Usitalo asked if the decreasing youth population justifies asking whether we have too many campuses. Joking shushes and nervous laughter rose from the audience. Rep. Novstrup said enrollment is up… which is true over the last two decades but ignores the six-year post-recession flatline. Dr. Usitalo noted that enrollment increases rely on recruiting out-of-state students.
Another audience member suggested that the Regents could save money by closing “university centers,” the satellite campuses established ten years ago to serve larger towns without universities. Rep. Novstrup explained that we established the university centers to help working students in large non-university towns get degrees. He said that plan did not anticipate the swift growth of online education. It seems that, just like Amazon, online education can meet demand without expensive brick-and-mortar facilities in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, but Rep. Novstrup says its hard to abandon nice new buildings. (Two words, Al: sunk cost.)
Amendment R: Vo-Tech Governance
Local GOP veteran Duane Riedel called for the defeat of Amendment R, saying that there’s no need to create a new bureaucracy (and new expense!) to do work that the school boards in Watertown, Sioux Falls, Mitchell, and Rapid City are doing just fine right now. Riedel’s Republican standard-bearers appeared to disagree. Rep. Kaiser acknowledged that passage of R could increase costs, but he seemed to lean toward trusting the Legislature to do the follow-up. Dennert said R isn’t perfect, but the current system of vo-tech governance by entities other than the Board of Regents violates the state’s constitution (true!). Rep. Novstrup said voting Yes on R allows the Legislature to leave the system as it is. Besides, said Rep. Novstrup, the Board of Regents has “no desire” to run the vo-techs, and the vo-techs have no desire to be so run. Rep. Novstrup said no one wants a Regental–vo-tech marriage, to which Riedel responded, “Get the shotgun out.”
Aberdeen resident and graduate student Zach Anderson asked if the expansion of distance learning degrades local control and promotes school consolidation. The incumbent legislators said the opposite is true. Rep. Kaiser said distance learning allows small, remote districts like Faith to offer more learning opportunities. He also suggested that distance learning provides useful competition… although against just whom Faith is competing against went unstated. Rep. Novstrup said distance learning helps small schools stay open. He called distance learning a “life raft” for small schools and a “home run” for NSU, which provides e-learning services statewide. Apparently agreeing that distance learning is good, Dennert said he opposes school consolidation and sees small towns as the historical “lifeblood” of South Dakota.
The distance learning discussion was one area where District 3’s Republican Legislative candidates spoke directly about the active role the Legislature can play in funding services that directly improve educational opportunities for students in South Dakota. The GOP candidates seemed less inclined to take a leading role in improving educational opportunities in their discussions of university centers, the bureaucracy of merit pay, the need for better K-12 teacher pay, or the state’s interest in supporting higher education.
We’ll see if Democratic District 3 candidates Brooks Briscoe, Nikki Bootz, and yours truly can address South Dakota education issues any more directly at the next NSU Noon Forum, Wednesday, October 19, at the Beulah Williams Library. (By the way, Dr. Marmorstein serves bagels! Free chow!)
The League of Women Voters and Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee put all six of us candidates on stage for one forum, our four House candidates with us two Senate candidates. We drew numbers for speaking order; remarkably, the random draw placed us in this perfectly symmetrical order, Republicans 1-2-3, Democrats 4-5-6, with each Senate candidate sandwiched between his House ticketmates—Al between Drew Dennert and Dan Kaiser, me between Nikki Bootz and Brooks Briscoe.
I’ll let you, eager readers, steer this conversation. Pick out the highlights and lowlights, maybe compare our performance with that of the Presidential candidates Monday night, and let’s talk about who sounds more like a Senator who’s eager to serve the people of District 3 and all of South Dakota.
Ignored in the Aberdeen American News report on yesterday’s District 3 Legislative candidate forum is the noteworthy agreement of five of the six candidates revealed in the opening question. Asked for our positions on Initiated Measure 21, the real 36% rate cap on payday loans, Republicans Drew Dennert and Rep. Al Novstrup joined Democrats Nikki Bootz, Brooks Briscoe, and me in saying that we will vote Yes on 21 to rein in predatory lending.
The only opposition for IM 21 came from Rep. Dan Kaiser, who resists regulating away poor folks’ last lending option. From the podium, I acknowledged Rep. Kaiser’s strict Libertarian principles against government intrusion in the marketplace and invited him to apply those principles to voting No on Amendment U, the payday lenders’ effort to write special protection for their industry into our state constitution.
The upshot of 5/6 endorsement of IM 21 is that whoever wins in District 3, a majority of District 3’s delegation will recognize that payday lenders are bad for South Dakota, and voters can hold us to our words and expect us to stand against payday lenders’ further predations on Election Day and in the Legislature.
Campaign finance reports for the District 3 Republican House candidates show some predictable sums and a couple of violations of campaign finance law.
The top fundraiser is first-time candidate Drew Dennert. He’s got the eye of the tiger, raising $8,190, including 17 donations from individuals chipping in more than $100. As of May 25, his report submission date, Dennert had spent just under $2,000, meaning he had over $6,200 last week to propel him to the primary finish line and regird for the general.
As an incumbent, policeman and Rep. Dan Kaiser doesn’t have to try as hard to make his name known. As of May 25, he had raised $5,093 and spent under $1,300.
As we know, Kaiser and Dennert have been campaigning as a conservative team, while school board member Todd Kolden has been running as a moderate, a brave but likely doomed strategy in a Republican primary sure to bring out the rightest of wingers. Kolden is also at a money disadvantage: as of his reporting date of May 20, he had raised only $475 from donors, thrown in another $790 of his own cash, and spent every penny.
But wait—May 20? Pre-primary reports were due May 27, but that’s not a work early bird Kolden gets—that’s Secretary Krebs’s waggly finger! State campaign finance law says that the pre-primary report (like the pre-general report that candidates will have to file by October 28) must be “complete through the fifteenth day prior to that election” (SDCL 12-27-22). Thus, pre-primary reports must include all campaign income and spending through May 23.
If Kolden and Wollschlager raised and spent no money between their report dates and May 23, then no harm, no foul, right? Technically, their reports are complete as submitted. However, a violation of SDCL 12-27-22‘s reporting requirements is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Also committing a Class 1 misdemeanor is Officer Kaiser… or at least one of his donors, Santema Consulting. Not Ken Santema, our Aberdeen neighbor, conservative blogger, and attack-PACker, but Santema Consulting, an organization, which state law prohibits from donating to candidate committees:
“Only PAC’s and Ballot Question Committees may receive direct contributions from organizations“—the campaign finance report sheet says that, right on the page, right above where Kaiser reports this illegal $500 contribution from Santema Consulting. The report also helpfully cites the statute, SDCL 12-27-18. I don’t see anything in the report saying that Kaiser has returned this illegal contribution, so somebody faces a Class 1 misdemeanor. (Not to worry: Kaiser also got $500 from the South Dakota Trial Lawyers PAC, so I’m sure they can hook the malfeasant party with good counsel.)
But hey, keep those calls to your lawyers short: you only have four full days of campaigning left before Primary Day!
*Update 14:54 CDT: Candidates Kolden and Kaiser both have some cover. Commenting below, Kolden notes that the Secretary’s e-mail instructions on the pre-primary report specify that candidates may file early, as long as they submit amendments showing any subsequent campaign finance activity taking place during the pre-primary reporting period. My “no harm, no foul” supposition proves correct, for both Kolden and Wollschlager!
Kaiser’s story is not as solid. In an amendment filed at 11:33 CDT today, two and a half hours I posted this article, Kaiser tells the Secretary his original pre-primary report was incorrect as the $500 in question “is a contribution from Ken Santema not the business.” That oopsie! does not explain why Kaiser listed the contribution under the business name in the first place or why when he listed that contribution in the Organizations section and remind himself, “I can’t have anything in this section, because candidate committees can’t take contributions from individuals.”
When I cast my vote in the Democratic Presidential primary at the Brown County courthouse yesterday during lunch, I was the 199th early voter in Brown County and the 84th Democrat since early voting opened on April 22. Coincidentally, of the 115 early Republican voters, 84 had cast votes in the District 3 House Republican primary.
Now that Ted Cruz and John Kasich have surrendered their party to the borwnshirts, I wonder if the new irrelevance of the remaining Presidential primaries will depress turnout for District 3’s down-ticket race among Rep. Dan Kaiser, Drew Dennert, and Todd Kolden for the two State House spots available for the Republicans on the general election ballot. Those who would have shown up for the Presidential battle would have been a mix of Trump fascists and Cruz fundamentalists, neither of whom would bode well for moderate school board member Kolden‘s chances. Perhaps with the battle between the crazies settled, the Trumpists and Cruzers will stay home, and Kolden’s green signers will make up a larger chunk of the remaining turnout.
But I would ask Todd, Dan, and Drew: do any of you really want to be on the same ticket as Donald J. Trump? Are you ready to stand on a stage with Nikki Bootz and Brooks Briscoe and explain to voters why anyone should vote for the Trumpist Party for anything?
If Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders comes to Aberdeen and invites me up on stage to endorse my candidacy for State Senate, I will leap at the opportunity. I will stand with and say a few words for my party’s Presidential nominee, and I’ll be able to say a lot more, with integrity, than, “Well, at least Hillary/Bernie isn’t the other guy.” How about you, Todd, Drew, and Dan? And how about you, Al Novstrup, my friendly opponent for the Senate seat? What say you about your party, the party that picks Donald Trump as the best man for President of the United States? Do you have enough confidence left in your party to check “R” on your ballots? Or will you run from the Trumpist brand?
South Dakota Republicans, I still want you to come vote. We have plenty of ballot measures that require everyone’s input. As for candidates, well, maybe you can do some penance, restore some cosmic balance, and vote for members of the party that has not nominated a fascist reality-TV star for President. Here, try on some of these positive South Dakota values as an antidote to your Washington disaster:
But if voting for Paula Hawks and other good Democrats is just too bitter a medicine to take, here are some other ways you Republican voters can preserve your integrity:
Leave Republican candidate slots blank on your ballot.
Boycott the state and national Republican conventions.
If you have to go to the Republican National Convention, submit your convention votes silently, by paper, then catch a flight out of Cleveland before Donald Trump speaks and accepts your nomination.
Put a Donald Trump sign in your yard, but drape a black sheet over it.
Go to the courthouse today and change your registration to Independent, since the Republican-Trumpist Party clearly no longer stands for your values.
I learn from one of my Representatives, Dan Kaiser, that the Brown County Republicans are hosting a closed forum* for him and his two fellow GOP primary candidates for House, Drew Dennert and Todd Kolden, next week Tuesday, May 3. The forum starts at 7 p.m. in the community room in the Public Safety Building at 114 2nd Ave. SE. Kaiser says he’ll be there at 6 p.m…. which won’t be too tough, since Officer Kaiser works in the Public Safety Building.
Maybe school board member Kolden is waiting for a forum in the district administration building for a complementary home-court advantage. In a post on his campaign Facebook page, Kolden says he will not be attending Tuesday’s forum. That sounds like a bad move: unless Kolden has an extremely pressing engagement, he should hit that forum and make sure conservative wonder twins Kaiser and chosen coat-tailer Dennert don’t get a stage all to themselves, especially not in front of an audience sure to be packed with the GOP party faithful (not to mention my blog camera!).*
Kolden does say in his Facebook comments that he has attended four GOP events in the past month and has not seen Kaiser there. Still, I’d recommend pressing that advantage and making Tuesday’s forum GOP event #5.
To his credit, Kolden is working hard online to invite conversation with voters:
Kolden might also want to clear his calendar for Tuesday’s event so he can look Kaiser in the eye and say what he’s saying online—that Kaiser has achieved nothing in his four years in Pierre and that his position as a police officer is actually a problem:
I’d like to hear that conversation live on Tuesday evening.* So, I think, would a lot of District 3 primary voters.
*Update 11:36 CDT: Make that “closed Republican forum.” Brown County Republican Party chair Char Cornelius has informed me that Tuesday’s forum is intended for Republican voters only. She thanks me for my interest but asks that I not attend as press.