• Tag Archives Kyle Schoenfish
  • No One Accepts GOAC Invitations to Testify in Person on GEAR UP

    The Government Operations and Audit Committee may feel like an ugly duckling. GOAC voted unanimously to invite four people to its August 29 meeting to testify about the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal, and all four people have declined that invitation.

    Under advice of state counsel Paul Bachand, Education Secretary Melody Schopp and her financial officer Tamara Darnall have declined, citing the state’s pending backstop litigation against Mid-Central to reclaim any funds from the defunct cooperative’s member schools that the feds may try to reclaim from the state over the GEAR UP foul-up.

    GOAC at first seemed to invite Rep. Kyle Schoenfish to testify about his family auditing firm’s work for Mid-Central. A Legislative staffer acting on his impression of direction from “a majority of committee members” (which majority appears nowhere in the unapproved July 24 GOAC minutes) redirected that invitation to Kyle’s dad Randy, who managed the Mid-Central audits. Neither Kyle nor Randy responded directly to GOAC’s invitation; instead, Schoenfish & Company responded corporately and declined to come speak in person next week.

    Schopp, Darnall, and Schoenfish & Company did at least provide written answers for GOAC to mull next week. Brinda Kuhn, who made $1,209,840 doing grant work for Mid-Central for which the Department of Legislative Audit found little documentation and blatant conflict of interest and some of which Attorney General Marty Jackley argues was made under illegal contracts, had her lawyer Scott Sumner of Rapid City tell GOAC to fly a kite:

    Attorney Scott Sumner, on behalf of Brinda Kuhn, to GOAC, 2017.08.16.
    Attorney Scott Sumner, on behalf of Brinda Kuhn, to GOAC, 2017.08.16.

    Kuhn offers no excuse of pending litigation as Schopp and Darnall cite. Kuhn offers none of Schoenfish & Company’s golly-gee-happy-to-help fawning (“We are quite flattered you feel our background as auditors could be of assistance…”). Kuhn offers not one hint of her knowledge of what happened at Mid-Central with GEAR UP and the other federal grant programs on which she got her hands. Kuhn doesn’t even try to mimic the audacious rebuttal EB-5 czar Joop Bollen presented to GOAC in November 2014 in response to questions about the GOED/EB-5 scandal. Kuhn just has her lawyer remind GOAC that their invitation was “a request for a voluntary response” and then “respectfully decline” to offer any response, written or in person.

    I would still make the argument that I made during the EB-5 hearings in 2014 and which Senator Stace Nelson made during the last GOAC meeting in July: if GOAC has the power to demand information from state officials about state programs, it has the power to demand information from whatever private contractors and other entities the state engages to carry out those programs. SDCL 2-6-2 says GOAC should be able to review “any phase of the operations and the fiscal affairs of any department, institution, board, or agency of the state….” “Any phase” should include operations farmed out to other entities. Privatization should not create a veil of secrecy around state programs.

    I’ll cut Schopp, Darnall, and Schoenfish & Company some slack for their willingness to respond in writing. GOAC should now get serious about its subpoena power and demand that Brinda Kuhn finally inform the public what she knows, what work she did, and how much public money she got from the work the federal and state Departments of Education made possible at Mid-Central.

  • Schoenfish Shows How Not to Write an Essay

    Representative Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland) posted a Legislative update of sorts in the Yankton Press & Dakotan this week. As writing, it stinks, but hey, at least he tried; up here in District 3, while Rep. Drew Dennert gave at-the-Capitol Facebook updates from the special session, none of my three legislators have put any essays in the paper for months, at least not that I can recall.

    But if a legislator is going to communicate in writing, he should try to write well. Rep. Schoenfish fails to demonstrate the basic composition skills I would expect of a high school graduate. Let’s start with his introduction, paragraph #1:

    Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland)
    Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland)

    I was invited to speak at the Memorial Day Service in Canistota this year. We have the freedoms we have today because of the sacrifices our veterans have made. Memorial Day is the day we honor those who gave their lives fighting for our country. Last year my dad, Randy Schoenfish, gave the Memorial Day address in Menno. He served 21 years in the National Guard until he retired as a Lt. Colonel. The seven core values of the National Guard are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. I see my dad exemplify those core values when he’s interacting with his friends and family, serving his clients and the taxpayers as a certified public accountant and serving in church and the community [Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, “Core Values; A Special Session,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2017.06.19].

    I use the term paragraph lightly. A paragraph is a collection of sentences flowing in logical sequence to develop one topic. One of its sentences—the topic sentence—will explicitly state that topic, thus serving as the one-line summary of the paragraph’s intent. These seven sentences neither flow nor develop any unified topic. Schoenfish says he spoke in Canistota on Memorial Day, then doesn’t tell us what he said or what happened there. He interrupts his thinking about Memorial Day to issue a standard formula about freedom, sacrifice, and veterans. He returns to Memorial Day to describe its general purpose, to honor those who died fighting for America, then bounces to talk about his dad, who didn’t die fighting for America. Schoenfish switches topics to talk about the National Guard and its values. Then the National Guard disappears, and Schoenfish just tells us what great values his dad exemplifies at the office and around town. No one sentence on the page summarizes what this block of words is trying to do. Instead, Schoenfish rambles through three ideas—my dad and I make speeches; soldiers sacrifice for America; my dad’s a great guy—none of which is sufficiently developed to qualify this introduction as a paragraph.

    I also use the term introduction lightly. An introduction is not just the first words out of one’s mouth. An introduction introduces the thesis of the essay. It tells readers the main idea that the writer is going to develop with the following paragraphs. A review of the subsequent paragraphs indicates there is no main idea.

    I attended the retirement party for the superintendent of Freeman High School, Don Hotchkiss. The importance of quality, dedicated administrators like Hotchkiss in our schools cannot be overstated. It’s vital to have communication between school officials and legislators and Hotchkiss is a passionate advocate for our schools [Schoenfish, 2017.06.19].

    Memorial Day, military service, Dad’s values—poof! All gone! And—spoiler alert—they aren’t coming back. Now Schoenfish praises Don Hotchkiss and (O, blind irony!) the importance of communication. “Passionate advocate” is a nice note, but “cannot be overstated” is a cliché. We can overstate the importance of school administrators: Without quality, dedicated administrators, our kids will all become criminals! Cliché indicates Schoenfish is thinking about details to develop his point; he’s just recycling fancy-sounding phrases he’s absorbed from other speakers and writers to fill space. For a retirement party, Rep. Schoenfish could have brought at least a couple sentences with specific details about Hotchkiss’s service.

    But we mustn’t linger on any one topic too long. On to Rep. Schoenfish’s actual job as Representative:

    A special session was called to address the issue of non-meandered waters. A study committee came up with a compromise that opens up the lakes that were closed due to a Supreme Court decision while also giving landowners rights that they did not have before the court ruling. This issue has been ongoing for years. The bill was HB1001; I voted yes, it passed 52 to 16. It was amended in the Senate to sunset in 2018; when it came back to the House; I voted yes again; it passed 54 to 12. Due to the sunset clause, it will likely be dealt with again in the 2018 session. The bill was an emergency, so it required 47 votes to pass [Schoenfish, 2017.06.19].

    Here I give Schoenfish credit: this paragraph hangs together, focusing on the Legislature’s response to the complicated issue of access to new lakes that have flooded private land. However, nonmeandered waters and the new law are so complicated that Schoenfish should have dedicated several paragraphs—let’s say the entire column—to this topic. What lakes were opened—any in District 19? (Answer: yes! Island South in McCook County!) What new rights do landowners have? (Answer: closing access to unlisted nonmeandered lakes with signs and buoys, petitioning for closure of listed nonmeandered lakes like Island South.) Why has the issue been ongoing for years? Why was the bill an “emergency”? (Hmm… how was it an emergency if it was going on for years?) Why was the new law passed for only one year, and what if anything does Rep. Schoenfish want to do to make the law better in the 2018 Session?

    With all those substantive questions to address, Schoenfish’s dedication of half of his paragraph to vote counts seems misplaced. The paragraph hangs together as an account of the special session, but it doesn’t say enough about how the new law resulting from the special session affects constituents.

    But enough about constituents—let’s jump to a completely different topic!

    I have been appointed to the workforce housing summer study by the legislative executive board. My experience as a CPA working on muncipal audits and housing/rental components of income taxes will be beneficial on the committee. Businesses across the state are looking to expand and hire more workers, but the workers need places to live. This is an issue in rural and urban areas all across the state. I have been reaching out to community leaders for their input on workforce housing issues. The committee had our first meeting the day after the special session. We heard from various stakeholders who spoke and took questions during the meeting. Speakers consisted of several mayors, representatives of housing associations and government agencies and others. Topics discussed were affordability, taxes, tax credits, dilapidated houses, lending and more. There are many components that make up our housing and rental system and the committee will continue to work on this major issue that South Dakota faces. The committee will meet again later this summer [Schoenfish, 2017.06.19].

    Again, Schoenfish gets credit for keeping each sentence in this block focused on one topic… albeit a topic with no connection to anything mentioned above. Alas, as with nonmeandered waters, Schoenfish leaves the problem of workforce housing underdeveloped by crowding brief details about the problem and legislative procedure into one paragraph instead of dedicating a full essay to the issue. Imagine the above paragraph expanded into a few detailed paragraphs:

    1. The Problem: Workers have trouble finding housing, so we’re having trouble finding workers. Give us some examples, and tell us why: Are wages too low? Are houses too expensive? Are we short on building contractors?
    2. The Legislature’s Response: We’re conducting a summer study. Who’s on it? When and where are we meeting? This is the paragraph where Schoenfish could tuck in his mention of his involvement and qualifications… plus maybe an explanation of how municipal audits and income tax affect the availability of housing.
    3. What We’ve Heard So Far: We learned a lot about the problem at our June 13 meeting. Give specific examples of who said what.
    4. What I Think So Far: Given what we’ve learned (see how that flows?), we should look at the following policy actions. Give the public a preview of what you’re thinking and invite their feedback.

    That multi-paragraph explanation would make a great essay all by itself. Do the same with the Special Session, Don Hotchkiss, and Memorial Day, and holy cow, Kyle! You’ve got material for a month! Your name and smiling face appear next to useful, informative prose every week in the paper. (Plus, you can further delay answering those darned questions Scott Ehrisman, Angela Kennecke, and your neighbor Senator Stace Nelson keep asking about you and GEAR UP.)

    Instead, constituents get one slapdash, one-darn-thing-after-another pile of sentences that toss out at least four unrelated topics that don’t tell the voters as much as they deserve.

  • Kyle Schoenfish Still Silent on Real Mid-Central Questions

    Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland)
    Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland)

    Speaking of Mid-Central, Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland) is speaking of Mid-Central. The Scotland auditor has been circumspect (i.e., silent) about the work his family’s accounting firm did in auditing the books of the scandal-sunk educational cooperative. Last week, Bob Mercer got Rep. Schoenfish to “break his silence” on the matter… or so the overtagging headlines read.

    After some Trumpy gas about the “incredible staff” in the Department of Legislative Audit, Rep. Schoenfish really just said he has nothing to say about Mid-Central:

    “The reports issued by DLA should answer questions the public may have,” Schoenfish said.

    …“Because of the accounting firm I work for, (Schoenfish & Company) and their role and assistance to state agencies in bringing accountability to Mid Central and the fact that their lead auditor Randy Schoenfish is an expert witness in related court proceedings it would be inappropriate to discuss specifics of this matter,” he said [Bob Mercer, “Schoenfish Breaks Silence on Audits,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2017.05.25].

    Aside from the reference to his dad as Mid-Central’s lead auditor (hints of, “Don’t blame me! Talk to my dad!”), Rep. Schoenfish’s comments to Mercer represent little advance beyond his sparse previous comments on Mid-Central. Pressed this winter for answers to questions about Mid-Central’s obviously shady finances by his fellow District 19 legislator Senator Stace Nelson (R-Fulton), Rep. Schoenfish said the questions were “fairly easy to address” but never addressed them himself. Now Rep. Schoenfish says the Auditor General’s report addresses those questions… which it doesn’t, because the questions the public has include questions about what Rep. Schoenfish himself knew and did about the illegal activities at Mid-Central. Schoenfish still isn’t saying anything about those questions.

    Rep. Schoenfish might do better to cite grant expert Michael Wyland and say that the effort by Mid-Central and others to blame his auditing firm for Mid-Central’s woes is bogus:

    Blaming the auditors is highly unlikely to be successful for at least three reasons. First, audits are not designed to uncover criminal activity such as embezzlement. Second, audits are dependent upon management’s representations of the organization’s finances. If management misrepresents the finances with skill, the auditors won’t know it. Third, the auditors in this case noted material weaknesses in MCEC’s financial controls as well as missing or incomplete management reports expected of federal grantees. The 2014 audit prepared for MCEC included a note from the auditors that it was the eighth year material weaknesses had been reported to the MCEC board of directors [Michael Wyland, “This Cooperative’s Defense: ‘Blame the Auditors, Not the Board!Non-Profit Quarterly, 2017.03.02].

    See, Kyle? We did our job, we identified weaknesses, but the folks at Mid-Central committed the crimes. Saying that isn’t that hard.

    But hey, like everyone else, Kyle Schoenfish has the right to remain silent.

  • Auditor General Briefs GOAC on Mid-Central/GEAR UP Tuesday; Nelson Demanding Answers from Schoenfish

    Correction/Update 16:11 CDT: Auditor General Marty Gunidon e-mailed me to correct my original report. He will not be presenting his final report on Mid-Central/GEAR UP on Tuesday. He is appearing before the Government Operations and Audit Committee to brief new members of the committee on “the timeline and nature of the work we have conducted regarding the Department of Education, Mid Central Education Cooperative and related parties and the status of where we are with the reports.  I will not be discussing the reports or the findings contained in those reports at Tuesday’s meeting as they are not yet ready for release.”

    I regret the error and have amended the headline to reflect Auditor General Guindon’s statement. I apparently misread Mercer’s statement, “Come this Tuesday, he presents his report to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee” to mean Guindon would present his final report rather than a version of the briefing he presented to the Legislative Executive Board this week. Even absent a final report, expect Senator Nelson to seek an opportunity to ask some hard questions.

    I leave the original text of my post below, with new italics to reflect my erroneous statements.


    Bob Mercer notes that the Department of Legislative Audit will present a much-anticipated Special Review Report on the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative’s mishandling of the GEAR UP grant to the Government Operations and Audit Committee next Tuesday. This week Guindon told the Legislative Executive Board that he has “one interview left” before Tuesday’s report.

    GOAC has a full agenda Tuesday, with the annual state budget audit, brand board, telecommunications assistance for disabled folks, and non-meandered waters all before lunch and the Mid-Central discussion after lunch, followed by Bureau of Human Resources issues. But expect at least one GOAC member, Senator Stace Nelson, to seek extended discussion on Mid-Central. As South Dacola notes, Senator Nelson continues to hammer his Republican District 19 colleague Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, in very direct and personal language, for dodging questions about his accounting firm’s involvement in the GEAR UP scandal:

    There have been significant concerns and questions expressed by voters in our district, by other legislators, and even KELO’s Angela Kennecke in a news story, regarding our district Rep. Kyle Schoenfish’s reported involvement in the auditing of certain entities at the center of this scandal. On Jan. 31, I officially forwarded those questions to Rep. Schoenfish. He responded on Feb. 4 stating the questions were “..fairly easy to address.” Despite that statement, to date he has refused to provide answers to those questions asked by Kennecke and others. Additionally, Rep. Schoenfish failed to show up for two of our district’s five cracker barrels (legislative forums), one in Corsica on Feb. 16, and the other in his hometown of Scotland on March 11. He now claims repeatedly in his articles to our local papers that he has been “attacked” by “dishonest politicians and people” and claims to be a victim of “meritless political attacks.”

    Rep. Schoenfish is being “attacked” by his own record and the ugly appearance that comes from avoiding answering questions that the public has a right to have answered. In regards to his missing or avoiding cracker barrels, if I as a husband, daddy, grandfather, small Sioux Falls business manager, hobby farmer and busted-up old Marine can make time to meet my obligations and drive several hours to attend the voters’ cracker barrels to be answerable to you, I expect a young, single man living at home and working for his father to make time for the responsibilities he knowingly signed on to (and got paid for), or to resign if he is unwilling to do so [Sen. Stace Nelson, “Facing Corruption; Facing the Voters,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2017.04.17].

    If Senator Nelson uses Tuesday’s Mid-Central discussion to continue his vengeful assault on Rep. Schoenfish, he may not find back-up on the committee. Six of the seven other Republicans on the committee are reliable GOP mainstreamers who seem inclined to avoid in-caucus attacks on committee time; the seventh, Senator Neal Tapio, is too busy dreaming of federal office to pay attention to Nelson, Schoenfish, or GEAR UP. If Nelson turns to the two Democrats on GOAC, he’ll find Rep. Susan Wismer likely focusing her sharp accountant’s mind on the numbers, not the names, and Senator Billie Sutton balancing his duty to his District 21, where GEAR UP blew up, with his urge to moderation (and possibly the need to finish his McGovern Day speech announcing his run for Governor).

    Senator Nelson’s tough questions are a side reason to tune in to GOAC on Tuesday, April 25. The main reason is to listen to Auditor General Marty Guindon and read his report on what he has found in the dark, twisted accounts of the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative.

  • Schoenfish Bitter About Unspecified Critiques from Unnamed Critics

    Representative Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland) breaks from his usual mechanical recitation of bills and votes, bills and votes, to close his latest Legislative update with a rather bitter parting shot at… well… someone for… well… something:

    A few dishonest politicians and people attacked me over some issues before the last primary and general elections and the voters of District 19 gave a resounding rejection of those shameful attacks. They have continued to attack me through various means over the same issues recently but our job as legislators is to serve you the people and not to waste our time constantly criticizing those who disagree with our views and votes. We are a citizen legislature in South Dakota and legislators make great sacrifices so they can serve and make a difference. It has been very rewarding this last week to have received so much encouragement and support from legislators of both parties, state officials, friends, family and clients back home and across the state rejecting those recycled attacks. I will only use the meritless political attacks as motivation to continue to serve the best I can in public service and professionally [Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, “A Review and Response,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2017.03.09].

    Voters of District 19 who may want clarification as to what shameful, meritless political attacks he was talking about were unable to query Rep. Schoenfish as to the source of his pique this weekend, since he skipped the wrap-up crackerbarrel held in his hometown of Scotland on Saturday. Kyle’s mom came to speak up for him, but that doesn’t quite count as “serv[ing] the best I can in public service and professionally.”

    Walter Schoenfish (center) gives Governor Dennis Daugaard (right) a tour of Schoenfish & Co., Inc.'s Parkston office, while Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (left) looks on adoringly. Photo from City of Parkston, 2014.08.27.
    Walter Schoenfish (center) gives Governor Dennis Daugaard (right) a tour of Schoenfish & Co., Inc.’s Parkston office, while Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (left) looks on adoringly. [Photo from City of Parkston, 2014.08.27.]
    It’s hard to say what has Schoenfish so irked. The only time his name popped into the headlines this Session was not at the hands of any “dishonest politician” (unlike some of Schoenfish’s other language, that phrase isn’t redundant). Schoenfish’s only major press time came from Angela Kennecke, who noted that the fatally scandalized Mid-Central Educational Cooperative is blaming Schoenfish’s accounting firm for not catching over $3 million in discrepancies in Mid-Central financial reports. Schoenfish seems not to have called Kennecke back yet about that story, but consultant Michael Wyland has at least argued that Mid-Central’s blame-the-auditor defense is unlikely to fly.

    Whatever Schoenfish is mad at, he should make up his mind on his response strategy. If his nameless critics aren’t worth mentioning, then he shouldn’t mention them or their critiques. If they are worth mentioning, then they (critics and critiques) are worth mentioning by name, in detail, and with a direct, succinct rebuttal consisting of simple facts. Instead, Schoenfish only throws a vague, whiny combo of “poor me!” and “awesome me!” that answers no questions.

  • Mid-Central Blames Schoenfish Accounting Firm for Missing GEAR UP Embezzlement

    In October 2015, shortly after Scott Westerhuis killed his family and himself to avoid facing the punishment for stealing millions from taxpayers via the GEAR UP program, I reported that the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative‘s financial reports showed discrepancies totaling over $3 million. Over the past year, I’ve asked how Parkston accounting firm Schoenfish and Company could have missed such obvious and enormous errors in its audits of Mid-Central’s books.

    Facing a multi-million-dollar class action lawsuit on behalf of Native American students allegedly cheated by the Westerhuises’ embezzlement of GEAR UP funds, the unwinding Mid-Central is now asking the same question by naming Schoenfish and Company as third-party defendants in the lawsuit:

    Mid Central says if it is found to be at fault, its fault is “slight in comparison to the fault of Schoenfish & Company.”  Mid Central says the accounting firm should have caught any missing money [Angela Kennecke, “SD Legislator’s Accounting Firm Named in GEAR UP Lawsuit,” KELO-TV, 2017.02.28].

    Dragging the accountants into the lawsuit matters in part because one of those accountants is Republican Representative Kyle Schoenfish of District 19.

    Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland)
    Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland) 

    KELOLAND News tried to reach Kyle Schoenfish Tuesday for comment.  We’ll let you know when we hear back from him.

    This isn’t the first time the accounting firm of Schoenfish & Company has been under scrutiny over not catching the misuse of GEAR UP funds.

    An independent group of citizens has prepared a list of ten questions it would like lawmaker Kyle Schoenfish to answer and has submitted them to the South Dakota Auditor General.

    They specifically ask about discrepancies in Mid Central’s balances and if Schoenfish ever reported them to anyone outside of Mid Central. We’ve posted those ten questions online on this story if you’d like to read them.

    KELOLAND News spoke with Randy Schoenfish, Kyle’s father who told me he cannot answer those questions due to client confidentiality [Kennecke, 2017.02.28].

    Hey: when your client sells you out and tries to make you foot the bill for a lawsuit, are you still bound by client confidentiality?

  • Graeff Pushing Ballot Measures, Calling for Schopp to Resign over GEAR UP

    My friend Russell Graeff is working hard to beat Stace Nelson in the District 19 Senate race. He continues to work the ballot measures for Election Day synergy by joining Bon Homme County Democratic Party chair Frank Kloucek for three public fora on our initiatives and referenda on Friday:

    1. 9 a.m.: Recreation Bar, Scotland
    2. 10:30 a.m.: Main Stop C Store, Scotland
    3. 2:00 p.m.: The Keg, Tabor

    Candidate Graeff is also reminding us that we still haven’t held anyone in Pierre accountable for the deadly GEAR UP scandal. He calls for Secretary of Education Melody Schopp to resign immediately:

    Little has happened to hold accountable those individuals tasked with oversight of the Gear Up program. Obviously the South Dakota Department of Education needs new leadership. We also need to recover those missing/misappropriated federal funds. Sad to say those lives lost won’t be able to be recovered.

    …Schopp dropped the ball on the whole Gear Up program. Her lack of oversight, accountability, and responsibility has left another black mark on South Dakota.

    …The lack of oversight, including the accounting firm who did the annual Mid Central Education Cooperative audits, should be thoroughly investigated as well [Russell Graeff, campaign press release, 2016.11.02].

    That last note about the accounting firm is a cross-ticket shot at reëlection-seeking Republican Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, whose Parkston accounting firm Schoenfish and Company conducted those audits and somehow failed to notice Scott Westerhuis’s multi-million-dollar shell game, evidenced by financial discrepancies that a casual blogging review of Mid-Central financial reports made obvious.

    Graeff evidently understands that ballot measures and corruption are key Democratic issues. We’ll see how well those issues stack up against Stace Nelson’s name recognition and noisy conservatism on Tuesday.

    Update 2016.11.04 08:15 CDT: Democratic District 19 House candidate Melissa Mentele informs me that, after a family-related absence from the campaign trail, she’s jumping back on the horse and coming to today’s ballot question fora as well!

  • Wek Withdraws; District 19 Democrats Seeking New House Candidate

    Democrats have a ballot slot to fill in District 19. Surprisingly, it’s not the Senate seat, where political newcomer Russell Graeff faces a tough battle against the Fulton Fulminator, the Marine Monster, the biggest Red pain in the SDGOP’s tuchus, Stace Nelson. No, the vacancy is on the House side, where soybean producer Ardon Wek has withdrawn from the race. The withdrawal must have just reached the Secretary of State’s office, which appears to have just today updated its candidate list (and frequent clickers, make sure you’ve updated your bookmark to SOS Page 178, the general election list, and not Page 177, the old primary candidates’ list!).

    Ardon Wek campaigning
    Waving goodbye… but he’s got a sign, a tractor—holy cow, Ardon! You’re loaded for bear! Reconsider! [from Facebook, 2016.07.04]
    Wek’s withdrawal surprises me, because Wek’s campaign for the House seat promised to be an easier climb than Graeff’s high hill against Nelson. Wek is the lone Democrat against two young, mild-mannered Republicans, Rep. Kyle Schoenfish and Rep. Kent Peterson. Wek has been out campaigning around District 19, looking like a serious candidate. He could easily have used his connections with the Soybean Processors and area producers, his age and life experience (Wek will be 59 on Election Day, while Peterson is 36 and Schoenfish will be 29), and frustration with Peterson’s big-CAFO-fronting for gubernatorially aspiring Rep. Mark Mickelson and dismay with Schoenfish’s failure to notice corruption at the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative to win one of the two House seats by being everyone’s second choice.

    On the bright side, it may thus be easier to convince a new Democrat to jump in and fill that vacancy than it would have been to find a replacement for Graeff. Peterson and Schoenfish both have weaknesses that a smart campaigner could use to her or his advantage. Then again, if a Democrat rises to the challenge, the GOP establishment is far more likely to pour money into helping pliable party boys Peterson and Schoenfish keep their seats than they ever would ride in to help Stace Nelson return to Pierre. (Dang, Russell! Maybe you could even get Republicans to give you some money to beat Stace! Just don’t let them turn you to the Dark Side!)

    Graeff himself tells this blog that he is still a candidate and is eager to find a replacement for Wek. District 19 Democrats have apparently already begun some conversations with possibilities, but the door is open for any new, ambitious Democrat to step up, fill the gap, and maintain the opportunity for a little synergy between the remaining Democratic Senate candidate and a good House candidate.

    The deadline District 19 county party leaders to name a replacement for Wek is August 9.

    Note that Wek is not required to publicize any reason for his withdrawal. Had the 2015 Legislature had its way, District 19 Democrats would not have been able to replace Wek unless he gave the Secretary of State a note from his doctor saying he was too sick to serve, was appointed to or nominated for some other conflicting office or job, or moved out of District 19. Luckily, our successful referral of that law (Senate Bill 69; now Referred Law 19 on the ballot) spared Wek and his fellow District 19 Democrats that intrusive hassle. You’re welcome!

    Also withdrawn and awaiting replacement: Democrat Chuck Groth from the District 22 Senate race and Democrats Betsy Lang of 12 and Tony Pier of 14* from their House races…*Correction 2016.07.23 10:32 CDT: Pier has been replaced, of course, as Ken Santema reminds us below, by J.R. LaPlante, whom I should have remembered from Convention in Sioux Falls and who is out campaigning hard! Sorry to leave you out, J.R.! So that leaves three Democratic Legislative race vacancies to fill.

  • Osborn Cries “Fraud” on District 19 Opponents’ Fake Newspaper

    District 19 Republican candidate for House ReGina Osborn is robocalling GOP voters across her district to alert them to what she calls “fraud” by her primary opponents:

    We also need to discuss the fraud that has been committed against us all. Some of you have received the James River Republican Newspaper Special Edition. It’s a fraud created by the three young candidates to fake Republican support for themselves to fool you. I think we can agree—disgusting and disqualifying conduct to say the least. Please tell your neighbors, friends, and family about this so they are not fooled by this fraud [my transcription; ReGina Osborn, robocall, distributed 2016.06.06].

    Osborn concludes the call by urging voters to pick her for House and her “fellow veteran” Stace Nelson for the Senate “We may be gray and mature and blunt-speaking,” she says, “but we are honest and we will serve you, not the tax-and-spend establishment.”

    Yesterday I dissected the fake newspaper from Obsorn’s incumbent Republican opponents Rep. Kent Peterson and Rep. Kyle Schoenfish and their Senate-aspirant compadre Caleb Finck. I’m not sure if I’d use the word “fraud,” but the Peter-fish-Finck flyer certainly makes an effort to look like the regular newspaper. I’m hearing that readers and even some newspaper folks are alarmed at the young trio’s use of “the Editor” as a byline amidst otherwise anonymous content (which ranges from sloppily fallacious to simply false). But “fraud”—that’s a fightin’ word! Have Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck committed fraud by creating the illusion of some sort of editorial endorsement for their paid views? Or does their teeny-print disclaimer at the bottom of the back page excuse them from any repercussions?

    District 19 voters, if you haven’t early voted, you have 27.5 hours to decide.

    Bonus Campaign Finance Minutiae! At the end of yesterday’s post, I asked readers to consider whether Peter-fish-Finck’s advocacy for NO votes on all ten ballot measures triggered an obligation for them to file Independent Expenditure reports under SDCL 12-27-16. It turns out I was asking a trick question. The issue isn’t the nature of the communication—did they really advocate voting NO, or did they use enough weasel language about “it’s harder and harder to argue with the people who suggest we JUST VOTE NO” to avoid actually telling people how to vote?—but of the communicators. The flyer was paid for by the three legislative campaign committees. SDCL 12-27-16 applies only to “persons” and “organizations.” By statutory definition (SDCL 12-27-1) “organizations” do not include political committees or political parties. Legislative candidates can thus use their campaign funds to publish anything they want about the ballot measures (as Peter-fish-Finck do) and other candidates (as Osborn does in telling neighbors to vote for Stace) without having to file independent expenditure reports within 48 hours of publication.

    Update 17:10 CDT: To clarify why Osborn calls the James River Republican a fraud, here are images of pages 2, 3, and 4 of the fake newspaper:

    Peterfish self-endorseFinck self-endorse Back page JRR disclaimer

    Our Endorsements…” “Why do we like….” Only if you flip to the back and squint at the smallest, faintest print on the document do you see “James River Republican is paid for by Finck for State Senate, Kyle Schoenfish for House, and Kent Peterson for District 19” and learn that these three fellas are talking about themselves.

  • Peterson, Schoenfish, Finck Jump in Mental Muck Together on Ballot Measures

    A Republican campaign guru said something earlier this campaign season about how newsletter inserts in the local paper are a waste of campaign funds. (My third campaign newsletter will appear in the Aberdeen American News later this month—stay tuned!)

    That guru must be apoplectic over his own District 19 GOP favorites’ ignoring his advice and wasting monumental sums on a full four-page insert masquerading as the James River Republican in the latest Emery Enterprise and Alexandria Herald:

    clip from "James River Republican" campaign newsletter, June 2016
    clip from “James River Republican” campaign newsletter, June 2016

    The newsletter appears to be paid for by the District 19 GOP wonderkids: incumbent Rep. Kent Peterson of Salem, incumbent Rep. and arguably myopic Mid-Central Educational Cooperative auditor Kyle Schoenfish of Scotland, and Governor Dennis Daugaard’s favorite newcomer Caleb Finck of Tripp. All three stand in Tuesday’s primary against arguably more conservative challengers.

    I’m still waiting to obtain a complete copy of this gem, but none of the clips I’ve seen bear a complete byline. Whoever wrote this GOP mainstream rag thinks the most valuable use of their front page real estate is not “VOTE FOR THESE GUYS” but a lengthy ramble about the merits of the Electoral College, the U.S. Senate, and federalism. I appreciate a good civics lesson, fellas, but I guarantee you, nothing on that front page adds a vote to your column.

    Elsewhere, the newsletter turns to ballot questions, wherein we learn you won’t learn the facts about ballot measures from Republicans:

    clip from James River Republican campaign newsletter, June 2016
    clip from James River Republican campaign newsletter, June 2016

    “JUST SAY NO on everying,” says the nameless Editor, who apparently didn’t edit much.

    Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck attack all ten ballot measures not by discussing the details of each measure and the faults therein. Instead, they encourage reactionary do-nothingness (oh, right, these are Republicans) by advancing the thesis that out-of-state groups are duping South Dakotans into passing laws that the Legislature hasn’t reviewed.

    Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck drop so many Buridanian haystacks of fallacy that I almost can’t pick where to start munching. Almost.

    Out-of-state groups have pushed some unwise ballot measures in South Dakota. But they haven’t enjoyed much success: South Dakotans soundly defeated the two examples offered, legalization of medical marijuana and the whacky, Cliven-Bundyesque JAIL amendment. (To the best of my knowledge, no South Dakota ballot measure has ever sought to “legalize drugs”… and I am open to correction from Bob Newland and other experts on just how much out-of-state support was behind the 2010 and 2006 medical marijuana measures and the 2002 industrial hemp measure.)

    Initiated Measure 21, the real 36% rate cap on this year’s ballot, is not the product of an out-of-state group. The sponsors and heads of South Dakotans for Responsible Lending are Sioux Falls men Steve Hildebrand, Steve Hickey, and Reynold Nesiba. Of the roughly $28,200 in campaign contributions reported on South Dakotans for Responsible Lending’s 2015 year-end and 2016 pre-primary reports, $2,200 has come from out-of-state donors, and $2,000 of that “imported” money came from former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle in Washington, D.C. North Carolina’s Center for Responsible Lending has provided over $5,800 in consulting as an in-kind contribution, but that hardly looks like an outside group dominating the drive to cap interest payday lending rates at 36%.

    Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act, is spearheaded by Sioux Falls businessman Rick Weiland. (I guess to these District 19 boys, Sioux Falls feels like another state rather than the home of a quarter of the people they serve in Pierre.) His South Dakotans for Ethics Reform Committee has gotten all of its actual $228,500 in campaign cash from Represent Us, which oh-my-Gaia is based in Massachusetts. Boom! Out-of-state funders! Must be evil! Take your state ethics commission, lobbying reform, campaign finance limits, and voluntary public campaign finance system and pahk ’em in Hahvahd Yahd!

    Of course, if Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck were really trying to make a case against the evil of out-of-state ballot measures, they’d have focused on the most glaring examples on this year’s ballot. IM 22 may have out-of-state backers, but they were set in motion by South Dakotan Rick Weiland, who recognized the need for reforms, talked with lots of South Dakotans about options, picked a couple, and then went looking for funding. Peter-fish-Finck can stage a much bigger foreign freakout over Amendment S, the duplicative crime victims bill of rights. The entire text of that ballot measure as well as nearly every dollar of the over $792,000 poured into that ballot question (year-end, pre-primary) has come from one man, California billionaire Henry T. Nicholas.

    Likewise for Amendment U, the fake 36% rate cap. This deliberately deceptive ballot measure, a blatant attempt to use our initiative laws to undermine the genuine, grassroots Initiated Measure 21, has received nearly all of its $2.43 million (Furlong year-end, pre-primary; Thuringer year-end, pre-primary) from one source: Select Management Resources, Rod Aycox’s Georgia-based payday lending corporation. (By the way, the third committee created to fight the real rate cap, consisting of Pierre lobbyists Brett Koenecke and Doug Abraham, terminated itself May 24.)

    If out-of-state involvement in ballot measures is an offense, Peter-fish-Finck would be spotlighting the worst offenders. But that would also mean spotlighting one of their best Republican buddies, Pierre-based GOP consultant Jason Glodt, who is fronting Henry T. Nicholas’s vanity project in South Dakota.

    The District 19 boys’ failure to discuss the Nicholas/Glodt Amendment S shows their failure to think through their argument on two other fronts.

    Reread their penultimate paragraph, where they say we need to “take a far more critical look at all these laws that people are attempting to pass that have not gone through the state legislature.” I’ve already noted that Peter-fish-Finck aren’t taking a critical look at all these laws; they are taking a misleading glance at two of the ten. But then they add this remarkable criterion that a ballot measure lacks merit if it has not first been reviewed by the Legislature.


    • Initiated Measure 21 exists specifically because former legislator Steve Hickey tried more than once to get the Legislature to pass reasonable restrictions on payday lending. When the payday lenders offered to support a compromise bill and then reneged, Hickey turned to the initiative process.
    • Initiated Measure 22 includes a state ethics committee. Rep. Peggy Gibson has tried multiple times to get the Legislature to restore the state ethics commission, to no avail.
    • Amendment T would end gerrymandering with an independent redistricting commission. Former legislator Bill Thompson and others have offered multiple redistricting reforms, all of which have been killed by a Republican majority heck-bent on keeping its map advantage.
    • Initiated Measure 23 would allow unions to collect “fair-share dues” from non-members whom the law requires unions to represent in collective bargaining. Rep. Patrick Kirschman brought a similar proposal before the Legislature in 2009, only to see it defeated.
    • Amendment R is on the ballot because the Legislature put it there.

    “all these laws… that have not gone through the state legislature”?! Heck—five of the eight initiated measures that Peter-fish-Finck want us to reject out of hand have had legislative review.

    The clearest example of a measure coming out of nowhere, with no legislative consideration, is the Nicholas/Glodt Amendment. I’ve argued previously that if there really were gaps in victims’ rights, local advocacy groups and prosecutors would have brought those gaps to the Legislature’s attention, and legislators eager for a passable softball would have jumped at the chance to sponsor such a feel-good measure. No such noise has arisen. Nicholas and Glodt have blindsided the Legislature and the public with a measure no one not on Nicholas’s payroll has been crying for.

    When these three District 19ers cry “Legislature first!” they either don’t know the history of these issues or are simply grasping for arguments that they haven’t really thought through.

    Finally, crying “JUST SAY NO” is not the “critical look” Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck ask for. It’s the frustrated cry of sub-par candidates with an allergy to critical thinking. Ballot measures aren’t drugs, Nancy—they are policy proposals that each deserve serious analysis and votes. Peter-fish-Finck can’t even exert the mental muscle to craft a position that tackles the measures they oppose without undermining the measures their party pals want. By crying “NO×10,” Peter-fish-Finck show they didn’t get the memo from their party buddy Jason Glodt that Amendment S is a good thing. They do my devious Democratic bidding by telling people to vote down Referred Laws 19 and 20, the Incumbent Protection Plan and youth minimum wage that their GOP leaders passed out of partisan snark in 2015. They help me out by knocking down the payday lenders amendment that could protect their industry buddies from our Sandersesque urges once and for all. Crying NO×10, far from clever strategy, only grates your pals’ cheese, spots me four big wins, and lets me focus on prying away just enough votes on the other issues to advance the Democratic agenda.

    Look, if you guys just don’t want to think about the issues and prefer just to grunt NO on everything, that’s your business. But don’t burn up good newsprint with flimsy, false attacks that encourage the rest of the electorate to adopt your obfuscatory incuriosity.

    Now, how can I boil all that down for my next simple, cost-effective, single-page campaign newsletter?

    Bonus Campaign Finance Challenge! I invite readers and the Secretary of State to discuss whether Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck need to file an Independent Expenditure statement (within 48 hours of publication!) in accordance with SDCL 12-27-16 for issuing a political communication that expressly advocates against multiple ballot questions.