Making the Internet rounds this week is an e-mail that, according to multiple sources, comes from Republican Dusty Johnson drumming up cash and word-of-mouth for his freshly announced U.S. House candidacy. Perhaps dampening some of that support will be his mention of who’s handling his online tech needs:
There is a lot to do, much more than I am capable of handling on my own. Dakota Wesleyan student Amanda Halsey has agreed to handle some finance and administrative tasks, attorney Reid LeBeau is handling campaign finance filings, Pat Powers has handled initial email and domain set-up, Kelsey (Webb) Smith (a leader of the “Johnson for PUC” and “Daugaard for Governor” campaigns) will eventually help in a senior position, and a number of others are serving as advisers [Dusty Johnson, campaign e-mail, 2016.11.16].
Hmmm… looks like we’d better take any blog coverage from Powers on Johnson’s run as Lauck-Thune-esque astroturf rather than objective coverage. And if Johnson really is positioning himself for a House race against the current, reasonably effective and scandal-free Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, he might want to reconsider tying himself to the partisan bumbling of her disgraced predecessor Jason Gant.
“Gant Scam Continues!” hoots an eager reader in my inbox.
Why, yes, it does. Along with drafting reforms (and a couple deforms) to election and petition law, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs had the unpleasant duty Thursday of informing the Board of Elections that her predecessor Jason Gant’s contemptible mismanagement of the office is still causing trouble for the state, now in the form of a federal audit that is asking questions she can’t answer, due to Gant’s failure to keep records:
The audit is looking at how South Dakota had used hundreds of thousands of dollars received through the federal Help America Vote Act program that was established after the 2000 presidential election.
Bonus Election Shamanry: Throw Secretary Krebs into a four-way 2018 GOP primary, and she eats Mickelson’s Sioux Falls lunch and Noem’s faux-cowgirl lunch while demolishing Jackley on charisma. Krebs 44%, Mickelson 21%, Jackley 19%, and Noem 16%.
Sioux Falls is knocking down one of the last bricks of Jason Gant’s dubious legacy as Secretary of State. For next week’s municipal and school board elections, the city is throwing out Gant’s vaunted electronic poll book voting centers and returning to precinct voting. Gant’s bright idea costs too much:
Sioux Falls first implemented voting centers in 2012 under a pilot project launched by former Secretary of State Jason Gant. The pilot allowed local election authorities to establish voting centers in lieu of precincts. Voting centers use what are called e-poll books, a database of registered voters that reflects in real time when a ballot is cast by a registered voter. Basically, when a ballot was cast at one voting center, election workers at other voting centers were notified, ensuring votes aren’t duplicated.
Under the pilot, cities and school districts were able to lease e-poll books from the Secretary of State’s Office. Starting this year, though, e-poll books are required to be purchased outright by local election authorities.
“Once the pilot was completed, then it would be up to that jurisdiction if they wanted to keep using them,” said Shantel Krebs, Gant’s successor as South Dakota Secretary of State.
In Sioux Falls, Greco said that would have cost the City Clerk’s Office about $225,000 for the 100 or so needed for the 13 voting centers.
..and, contrary to the expectation that using technology to network voting stations and let people choose where they want to vote would make elections run more smoothly, Gant’s plan created more confusion and delay:
“It’s pretty confusing and frustrating to voters when they go to one place and think they can vote there, and then we have the same place, but it’s just a precinct and not everybody can go there. We thought if we made all those places common that it would have helped during those types of elections, but actually it probably added to the confusion,” [Minnehaha County Auditor Bob] Litz added.
…Assigned precinct voting should also make the process go smoother.
“When I print a poll book, I don’t have to convert it into the electronic poll book that’s got everybody in it. I can break it down into the precincts instead of breaking it down into the electronic version, which left gaps for mischief in there,” Litz said [link mine; Mark Roper, “Precinct Voting Returns to Sioux Falls,” KSFY-TV, 2016.03.03].
Attorney General Marty Jackley’s appearance this morning in the initial hearing on Joop Bollen’s charges is not completely out of the blue. A.G. Jackley stayed overnight after emceeing the Brown County Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner last night. He introduced keynote speaker Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, who, like Jackley, came to Aberdeen to assure an audience beyond the 200-some party faithful at the Dakota Event Center last night that the GOP powers that be are righting the wrongs of their predecessors:
Secretary Krebs’s comments mirror those she made at a Brown County GOP luncheon last November, when she said the man she replaced, disgraced Secretary Jason Gant, left the office in a shambles and that she and her experienced team have cleaned it up. In addition to letting petition and business documents go unfiled, Secretary Gant oversaw a shoddy office that lost iPads, didn’t keep the books updated, and let an original state flag get stolen.
Secretary Krebs herself now has some catching up to do. She has three petition challenges sitting on her desk: the payday lenders’ challenge filed at the end of January to the real-36%-rate-cap petition, my challenge filed at the beginning of February to Lisa Furlong’s fake-18%-rate-cap petition, and Melissa Mentele’s challenge filed at the beginning of March to overturn the Secretary’s rejection of her medical cannabis petition. Last night, she said that once all the new candidate petitions are processed, she plans to turn to those challenges and process them by the end of April.
Why didn’t Jason Gant think of this? Secretary of State Shantel Krebs sends House Bill 1009 to the Local Government committee for the Legislature’s consideration. HB 1009 changes SDCL 2-7-1 to eliminate some printing costs by requiring that the legislative manuals distributed to legislators and other state offices be electronic. paper copies won’t disappear, but HB 1009 specifies that “A hard bound copy may be purchased at a price set by the secretary of state.”
Our last Secretary of State, Jason Gant, liked to brag about his office’s techno-wizardry (hey, techno-wizard! what spell do you cast to find three lost iPads?). If Gant’s techno-wizards had thought of making an electronic legislative manual, they could have avoided getting in trouble with the Sioux Falls printer they stiffed! They also would avoided breaking SDCL 2-7-1 by failing to fulfill their statutory obligation to print and distribute those hard copies in 2013.
Removing the printing requirement will save a few thousand dollars in printing costs (the Bureau of Administration currently charges $16.77 per hard-bound copy, plus $5 for shipping… and sales tax?! What the heck?!). However, in a strange turn, Secretary Krebs is making each hard-bound copy a little more expensive than the Gant editions by enlarging the photos of herself and other elected officials from the nice little third-of-a-column shots in the 2013 Gant edition to the full-page glossies in the 2015 Krebs edition:
Perhaps grannies and grampies were complaining that the previous photos were too small. Now we have pics suitable for clipping and framing.
Secretary of State Shantel Krebs continued her public relations tour around South Dakota with a speech at the Brown County Republicans’ Reagan Lunch yesterday here in Aberdeen. 53 people (BCGOP chair Char Cornelius made sure I got that count) came to hear what our Secretary of State is doing restore the public trust in her office so thoroughly trashed by her disgraced predecessor, Jason Gant.
Secretary Krebs offered her listeners a crushing indictment of the mess Team Gant left her. When she took office on January 2, 2015, her office was five to six weeks behind on processing business filings that state statute says must be processed within five days, 80 days behind on UCC filings, and 90 days behind on pistol permits. Secretary Krebs says her team didn’t get all of those filings up to date until two months ago. Her office is making future backlogs less likely by implementing a new searchable UCC system on Monday, November 16, that will allow her office to accept or reject filings within 24 hours. By next July, Secretary Krebs plans to have all business services online, while still accepting paper filings from South Dakotans who just don’t want to go all electronic.
Secretary Krebs outlined a plan to run her office more like a business. She said when she took over, she composed a zero-base budget. She ignored any budget numbers left by Gant and analyzed actual needs from scratch. She says her updates and efficiencies alone put $1.5 million back into the general fund in six months. She plans to ask the 2016 Legislature to allow her office to run entirely on the fees it collects instead of collecting fees, remitting most to the general fund, and then asking the state for a general fund appropriation.
That budget proposal could be overkill. Secretary Krebs says her office generates $5.9 million in fees. The FY2016 budget allocates $4.6 million to the Secretary of State’s office, 68% of which comes from federal funds.
Another task facing Team Krebs this year was simple organization. She said Team Gant appears not to have used any file cabinets. She found official documents simply stacked around the office in boxes. Petitions from the last two elections were just out, in no seeming order. Team Krebs thus spent a good portion of this year properly storing documents.
Secretary Krebs did not completely clean house. She says she kept about half of the staff who served under Gant, many of them from the venerable business services department, where she cited numerous employees with lots of seniority and (key word signaling management brains!) “institutional knowledge.” Secretary Krebs brought lots of institutional knowledge back to the elections division with people like her deputy Kea Warne, who served under Secretaries Chris Nelson and Joyce Hazeltine.
The institutional knowledge of another former staffer brought back by Krebs put us on the trail of the infamous stolen flag. When Deputy Teresa Bray returned to the office on January 2, she saw the flag base and plaque and asked, where’s the flag? Bray’s immediate question sparked the office-overturning search that led to the retrieval of the flag from Washington, D.C., and the arrest of former Gant staffer Garrett DeVries.
Secretary Krebs did not speak her predecessor’s name during yesterday’s event. But her description of the disarray Gant left and the efforts she has made toward rearray makes clear that she is determined to scrub any sign of his mess from the walls of the Secretary of State’s office.
This visit appears to be part of a concerted public relations effort by the Secretary that last week saw her sit down for extended interviews with Rick Knobe on KSOO and Cara Hetland on SDPB Radio. Secretary Krebs is working hard to re-establish the credibility of her office amidst revelations of incompetence, waste, and theft under her predecessor, Jason Gant.
That trust is all the more essential and Secretary Krebs’s time on the PR trail all the more noteworthy given the crush of ballot measures petitions that her office is receiving. At this moment, Secretary Krebs has five petitions with over 190,000 signatures to validate, and it is likely that at least three more big petitions will come in today, November 9, the deadline for submitting initiated measures for the 2016 ballot. Even under the 5% random sample rule, Team Krebs will need to validate well over 10,000 individual signatures. Secretary Krebs said last week that she intends to review and certify or reject all submitted initiative petitions by the end of December.
The GOP lunch is open to the public. Anyone eager to ask Secretary Krebs about the petition process, corruption in Pierre, and other matters of electoral import should come to Mavericks Thursday at noon.
We could tease Pat for joining Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and everyone else in Pierre in saying, “Damn Gant!” We could point out that for $20,000, we could set up three satellite early voting stations on South Dakota reservations, which could easily increase voter turnout by hundreds, giving us far more democratic bang for the buck than the techno-flop Gant peddled. We could point out the absurdity of a purportedly conservative Republican looking at a glaring example of wasted tax dollars, shrugging and saying, “Hey, the guy tried!”
If “trying” is Pat’s new gold standard for evaluating government, then he’ll need to revisit his punishment of numerous South Dakotans:
Sioux Falls city councillor Michelle Erpenbach tried to make Sioux Falls streets safer with a cell phone ban. Pat Powers called her try “draconian” nanny-statism, portrayed her as a far-leftist, and sowed opposition to her purported aspiration to run for mayor.
Brookings city councillor Tom Bezdichek tried to reduce waste by banning plastic grocery sacks. Powers called that try nanny-statism and said Bezdichek lives in a “dippy liberal world.”
Kathy Tyler tried to get re-elected by spending several hundred dollars on a newspaper ad. Powers called that try an expensive waste.
Shari Kosel tried (successfully!) to get South Dakota to pass tougher animal cruelty laws. Powers called that try a sneaky effort by the Humane Society of the United States (which was not involved in Kosel’s lobbying effort) to attack South Dakota agriculture.
An eager reader came up with that short list of Pat’s disdain for “trying” in a few minutes. Commenters, I welcome your further examples.
“In many cases,” Powers concludes, “we can curse the darkness, or light a candle.” If he said that every political enemy he skewers, we might be able to believe it when he says it about his friend Jason Gant. But his empty resort to cliché rings hollow. Gant’s lavish expenditure on meager results shows that iOasis was a waste of money that gave Gant an excuse to junket around Germany and cloak himself in “I love veterans!” fur.
Jason Gant was indeed trying… trying on the patience of South Dakotans who expect competence and integrity in the conduct of elections. For such trying, we should not hesitate to damn Gant.
Then-Secretary Gant blamed the printer, Rushmore Productions, declared they had broken their contract, and demanded in this Halloween 2014 letter that Rushmore Productions honcho Matthew Samp send back the over $10,000 the state had already paid for the tardy Blue Book:
Matthew Samp… isn’t his dad Rollyn Samp, veteran Sioux Falls lawyer and long-time South Dakota Republican advisor?
“[D]ecide whether the state really wants to litigate this”—that’s how Rollyn Samp challenges you to a duel.
Attorney Samp follows up on December 4, 2014, with this letter to Jackley (not to Gant) explaining that Rushmore Productions faithfully executed the Blue Book contract to the best of its ability but was fouled at every turn by Team Gant’s incompetence:
Wrong file formats, wrong photos, too many changes from too many cooks in Gant’s office—don’t blame us, says Rushmore Productions, blame Jason Gant! We’ll keep our $10K and take another $28,512.93 for services rendered, thank you.
The Secretary of State’s office is not aware of any further payments issued to Rushmore Productions since that unpleasant correspondence. I’ll keep checking to find out how this matter was settled.