LEAD South Dakota co-founder Carmen Toft went on KSOO yesterday for a good conversation with Patrick Lalley about women in politics and the culture of misogyny in Pierre. Around minute 28 in the SoundCloud podcast, Toft talked about the remote location of our state capital conspires with the unpredictable Legislative schedule to make it hard to bring women and other sensible citizens out to testify and lobby for good legislation, not to mention get women to give up work and family to serve as legislators far from home for nine weeks a year. The conversation diverted briefly to another solution for sexism in Pierre: moving the capital!
Lalley:Isolation of Pierre is a huge problem in a lot of ways, and there’s really no solution to it, because until we—
Toft:—because they’re not going to move the capital?
Lalley:—they’re not going to move the capital to Mitchell as I have suggested. See, I didn’t even ask for it to be put in Sioux Falls. People think I hate everybody out there. I say put it in Mitchell. I would even say put it in Huron, which, that’s a little bit of a drive, but Mitchell’s doing o.k. Put it in Huron.
Toft:I think there’s still a bring it back to Yankton movement that’s pretty popular in those parts as well
Lalley: I could get behind that [Carmen Toft and Patrick Lalley, interview, KSOO Radio, 2017.11.03].
Lalley’s proposal for banning booze would be cheaper. Toft’s effort to elect more women would promise surer results. But maybe we should think about having the Legislature rotate from city to city, as the Supreme Court does with its hearings. Instead of the Governor’s mostly ceremonial Capital for a Day, let’s have a real Capitol for a Week program. Do the first two largely ceremonial and wasted weeks and the last two crazy busy weeks in Pierre. But during each of the five intervening weeks, convene the Legislature in a different South Dakota city:
January 9–19, 2018: Pierre
January 22–25: Aberdeen
January 30–February 2: Watertown
February 5–8: Sioux Falls
February 12–15: Mitchell
February 20–23: Rapid City
February 26–March 9 (and Veto Day, March 26): Pierre
Each week out of Pierre is a week with a different set of lawmakers closer to the scrutiny of their friends, neighbors, and local reporters. Shall we give it a try, and see if a little time under other watchful eyes gets our legislators to treat women a little better?
Argus Leader Media reached out to every woman currently serving in the Legislature as well as many former legislators, lobbyists, interns and pages. Many of the more than 30 women interviewed said sexism in Pierre is nothing new.
Longtime legislators and lobbyists describe the atmosphere as a “good old boys’ club.” Women have never been proportionately represented in the Legislature, and for much of the last decade, they’ve accounted for only about 1 in 5 lawmakers.
The boys’ club mentality is exacerbated by the Capitol’s remote location, more than three hours from the state’s largest cities. Far from home and their families, male legislators are well-positioned to do what they want without fear of consequences.
“Men have the feeling that they can just behave any way they want and get away with it,” said former Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron. “There’s a ‘what happens in Pierre stays in Pierre’ mentality.”
Gibson and others made sure newcomers to the Capitol were warned about the sexism they’d likely face, though harassment is not commonly discussed among those working in Pierre [Dana Ferguson and Megan Raposa, “Sexism in the Statehouse: Women Detail Harassment in Pierre,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.10.21].
None of the women speaking out name specific offenders.
Joining Gibson in speaking on the record to Ferguson and Raposa about sexist, objectifying language and behavior in Pierre and the culture of intimidating women into silence:
Former legislator Paula Hawks, who briefly shook up her U.S. House race against Kristi Noem last year by making public her story of being raped in college. Hawks says “90 percent of the time” Pierre offers a “safe culture” but “The fact that that exists, even to a small extent, is unacceptable.”
Former lobbyist Ro Ann Redlin
Former lobbyist Tiffany Campbell
Former legislator Caitlin Collier
Rep. Susan Wismer (D-1/Britton), who recalls harassment when she was an intern in the 1970s.
Former legislator Lora Hubbel
Former legislator Elaine Roberts.
Poo-pooing the problem:
Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle): ““I have never felt uncomfortable…. I’ve never felt out-gunned. I’ve never felt my opinion didn’t matter.”
Sen. Kris Langer (R-25/Dell Rapids), who claims these reports are just Democratic smear tactics: “It’s not something that’s ever bothered me…. There’s never anything said that you wouldn’t tell a good friend.”
Former House Speaker Dean Wink: “I think the South Dakota Legislature is probably considered one of the safest for women… There are obviously exceptions from time to time.”
Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, who presides over the Senate: “Any perception that there is some sort of culture that exists during the legislative session, I would absolutely reject that out of hand.”
Numerous 2017 interns, who say “they never experienced sexism or harassment.”
Somewhere in the middle:
Rep. Julie Bartling (D-21/Gregory) says she’s never been harassed, but “I believe the legislators are becoming more cautious as to what is going on and how it’s perceived.”
Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton says legislators could use “awareness training.” (How one ropes lobbyists into such training is an open question.) House Majority Leader Lee Qualm says he’s open to more discussion.
In the online discussion, frequent blog commenter Anne Beal proves women can be sexist pigs, too, by trying to distinguish between sexism at the Capitol and sexism at the bars:
The State House is a business environment. A bar is a social environment.
If people go to a bar after work, start drinking, dancing, and flirting, well, that’s what happens in bars. If two people go into a bar together, that’s a date. If they go alone, that’s cruising.
If a woman doesn’t want men hitting on her, she doesn’t go to bars unescorted.
Of course there are some people who say that a woman should be able to go to a bar by herself and drink all she wants and nobody should bother her, but she should let the waitress or bartender know “I don’t want anybody buying me drinks tonight” so that they can make sure it doesn’t happen. She might explain she’s just had a tough day and wants to get hammered all by herself.
Otherwise some guy will have a drink sent over to her and she’ll be expected to let him join her. So the staff needs to know ahead of time.
Here Beal is contending that the default setting for women at bars is “Fair Game!” and that women have the burden to remove themselves from public ogling, groping, and other objectifying behavior. In other words, Beal is saying life is a meat market, and women are meat that men are welcome to sample until told otherwise.
Let’s reverse that. Let’s tell otherwise now.
Women are not meat. Women do not exist to satisfy men’s lust. Women are not ours to grab, proposition, or ogle. Women don’t need to jump through hoops to invoke their rights. Their rights exist from birth, before they say a word, and we men have an obligation to respect those rights.
The burden is not on women to tell men to leave them alone. The burden is on men to leave women alone.
Update 09:33 CDT: Former legislator Fred Deutsch wants equal time for his perceived grievances. Dana Ferguson is willing to give it:
Go for it, Dana: let’s hear Fred’s woeful false equivalency and tearful tale of men oppressed by women in Pierre.
Quartz offers a remarkable summary of Donald Trump’s war on women. Tying together cuts in foreign aid for reproductive health, the cancellation of a plan to gather data on pay equity, the lifting of the requirement that employer plans cover birth control, the House’s recent vote to ban abortion after twenty weeks, and Betsy DeVos’s changes to guidelines on investigating sexual assault on college campuses, Annalisa Merelli sees a misogynist President systematically undermining trust in women:
Merelli notes that, with regard to the campus rape/Title IX issue, an Obama Administration report found that only 2% to 10% of rape reports are false. The Trump Administration removed that report from the White House website and now has its Education Department peddling the unevidenced claim that “90% ofassaultaccusations ‘fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.””
The board of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota is proud to support our executive director, Samantha Spawn, in her courageous public fight against the culture of sexual assault and intimidation. We were saddened to hear reports of the treatment she survived, yet we strongly commend her bravery for speaking about it publicly to raise awareness of how this behavior affects women across our state. Samantha’s story puts a spotlight on the culture of misogyny and hyper-masculinity that is rampant in the state capital. For too long, women who choose to serve our state have had to contend with a toxic culture in Pierre that belittles women and subjects them to abhorrent behavior that includes sexual harassment and sometimes assault [Amy Kelley, Antoinette Miller, Jeri Reed, Kadyn Wittman, and Tiffany Cambpell, NARAL Pro-Choice SD Board of Directors, statement, 2017.10.16].
Of course, the thesis that we need more women in Pierre to put an end to the bad old boys’ club leads me to an awkward question: would Kristi Noem in the Governor’s office mitigate the harmful, hyper-masculine Capitol culture in a way that neither Marty Jackley nor Billie Sutton can?
We need you there to show the whole state – and especially the political establishment – that the people are committed to putting an end to self-serving politics-as-usual.
It is time to say “Enough is enough!” No more personal gain from public office. No more foreign money in our elections. No more overturning initiated measures. The voters should always have the final say.
Join us next week as we gather to submit those signatures and make a statement that South Dakota still lives up to its motto: “Under God, the People Rule.”
We will gather at the smaller set steps on the sidewalk on Capitol Ave (pictured above) across from the Military & Veterans Affairs Building before heading inside with our boxes. If you are coming into town, plug 425 E Capitol Ave into your GPS for an accurate set of directions [Represent SD, Facebook event details, retrieved 2017.10.15].
Recall that the Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment essentially writes major provisions of Initiated Measure 22 into the state constitution, where Republican legislators will not be able to repeal it the way they voter-face-slappingly repealed IM22 last winter. The VPACA omits public campaign finance (the “Democracy Credits” that drew heavy fire in the 2016 campaign). The VPACA does enshrine in our constitution many of IM22’s campaign finance limits and lobbying rules and replaces the new State Government Accountability Board with IM22’s toothier state ethics commission. The VPACA adds provisions protecting ballot questions from Legislative interference, like requiring changes to voter-approved initiatives or the initiative/referendum process to be approved by public vote.
Represent SD’s submission comes almost three weeks before the initiative petition deadline of November 6. That could mean many of Represent SD’s circulators will be freed up to work for other petition drives. Nine measures are still seriously circulating:
If the Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Act is the first measure submitted and certified, it should appear as Amendment W on the 2018 statewide ballot.
* * *
Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, the Koch Brothers, and other opponents of serious anti-corruption reforms may want to scrutinize signatures collected in Sioux Falls for Represent SD over the past week. Patrick Anderson reported Friday that Batman was circulating the VPACA petition on Philips Avenue:
His audience: An older couple wearing sweaters for the fall weather. They strolled by Coffea when the Caped Crusader approached with clipboards and a pitch for reforming campaign finance in South Dakota.
Batman declined an interview. He asked Argus Leader Media get permission from his supervisor. Batman’s supervisor objected to the interview, then called Batman’s cell phone as a reporter continued to take photos.
Away from the rooftops and down on solid ground, Batman wasn’t fighting super villains or even crime. His goal Friday was to gather signatures in support of a constitutional amendment that would introduce more restrictions to the state’s election and ethics laws [Patrick Anderson, “Batman Visits Downtown Sioux Falls, Carries Clipboard for Election Reform,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.10.13].
If that was Batman, any signatures he collected are illegal. Only South Dakota residents may circulate petitions, and if Bruce Wayne is registered to vote anywhere, it’s Gotham City… or maybe Newton, Iowa.
But that couldn’t have been Batman—Batman answers to no supervisor! He takes the law into his own hands!
But seriously, running around in a cape and mask may be great for fighting crime and cheering up sick kids. However, if you are circulating a petition to create a new law, and if you are asking people for their names and addresses, you have a moral obligation to operate cognito. As we suspect dark money in politics, so ought we suspect Dark Knights.
In a public Facebook post, Buhl O’Donnell recounts offensive sexual comments made to her in 2016 by then-House Majority Leader Brian Gosch. She says Gosch made lewd references to her body, then, later that same evening, asked for a hug.
Buhl O’Donnell says she heard stories of Gosch treating other women inappropriately in Pierre:
Later that day, I was discussing the incident with other female colleagues, who had their own Brian Gosch harassment stories to share. We had all had individually felt like we should just handle it on our own, but hearing similar stories from other women made it clear this was a pattern, and not likely to stop if we remained silent. We were also keenly aware that we worked in a building with lots of young women serving as interns; if we as experienced legislators were struggling with this, how would an intern feel?
The legislative structure generally relies on self-policing, so we made the decision to speak with the presiding officers of both the House and the Senate. They were both understanding and not at all dismissive of us, and were appropriately disgusted (though I can’t say either of them looked surprised). They told us it would be dealt with, and that if we wanted to file a formal complaint we just had to say the word. We also had indications that Representative Gosch was not planning to run for re-election, so I told myself that handling it internally was fine. I didn’t want to make a fuss [Angie Buhl O’Donnell, Facebook post, 2017.10.13].
Just three hours after Buhl O’Donnell posted her story, NARAL/Pro-Choice lobbyist Samantha Spawn posted to Facebook and confirmed to Ferguson that she was raped last March by (Ferguson’s words) “another person who works in the Capitol.” Spawn writes on Facebook that, the day after the rape, her attacker cornered her outside a Capitol committee room and asked her if she was going to report the crime. She didn’t, out of fear that such a report would hurt her personal reputation and her ability to do her job in Pierre.
Like Buhl O’Donnell, Spawn says bad male behavior is common in the Legislature:
Other unwanted contact from male legislators and lobbyists was also common in the Capitol, she said. Spawn often received unwanted hugs, kisses on her cheeks and had men touch her waist [Ferguson, 2017.10.13].
I’m bringing this to light not in search of personal gain or out of political motives: neither of us are in the legislature at the moment, and I’m 2 months away from finishing my nursing degree and moving with my family to Minnesota. I’m just tired of feeling like it’s a thing I should keep quiet out of deference to my harasser, because that allows the behavior to continue. I’m sharing my story in the hopes that people will remember that this isn’t something that happens only in “other places,” this happens right here in South Dakota. That it doesn’t matter how much “planning” someone does or how much of a feminist you are – you can’t predict how you will react in the moment, and those reactions are simply a survival mechanism and do not define us. I’m telling my story because it is the only way to call out the culture in Pierre and elsewhere that shrugs off this behavior. I’m saying this how in the hope that other women will feel empowered to speak up, until harassment is no longer a thing that “just happens” [Angie Buhl O’Donnell, Facebook post, 2017.10.13].
The Oscar (and maybe my gubernatorial vote, if he wants to change his mind throw his Packers helmet in the 2018 ring) goes to Lt. Gov. Michels for playing along with a thrilled, “I get to go, too!”, then responding to his wife Karen’s admonition to “Stay with Dennis—don’t go off on your own” with a wonderful politically pregnant pause (o.k., maybe just waiting for Karen to finish her line, but please, allow me my theatro-political readings).
Oh! And then Governor Daugaard contradicts all the fanatic economic developmentism of the SDGOP and waxes environmental!
I hope we don’t become too developed. I think many states, they’ve become so densely populated, they’ve become one big urban landscape, and nature has been overtaken by managed lawns and trees and concrete pavement [Gov. Dennis Daugaard, interview with Larry Rohrer, SDPB Facebook video, 2017.10.11].
What I’ve seen here in the last 30 years is a complete reversal in terms of what newspapers and TV stations cover here in the Capitol. We went from having ten year-round reporters here in the 1980s—two for the AP, two for the UPI, three daily papers, two TV stations, public radio—and it gradually has diminished, and it’s gotten to where right now there are two of us left. There is an AP reporter whose job is the entire state, and then we have me.
I think that is counterproductive, because then what you get is superficial reporting. You don’t get depth.
For example, in our Legislature, there are 105 members, and every one of those people comes into the Capitol with something they want to accomplish, or many things they want to accomplish, whatever the case may be. I don’t think that on any given day a third of the committees get covered during Session. And then in the afternoons they run dozens of bills, pieces of legislation, through, and I don’t think that beyond one or two or three that those get covered. And yet they’re all laws that people want passed, or want to kill, whatever the case might be.
And so you’ll have tremendous debates on things that just never see a word in print or get a word on broadcast [transcript by CAH; interview with Bob Mercer, “State of the News Media,” C-SPAN, 2017.09.04].
Mercer also tells C-SPAN that while the Aberdeen American News is adapting reasonably well to the Internet age, that Sioux Falls paper is committing suicide:
In terms of where the newspaper industry is at in South Dakota, they’re transitioning to an online presence as well, but they’re doing it in different ways. The company I work for, which is a privately owned company, they prize local content. They want good newspapers. They provide grants to pursue projects, things like that, whereas the Argus Leader, which is owned by Gannett, they’re trying to just basically put themselves out of business. They want to go strictly online and not print a product at all. So we’re going opposite ways.
And then you have papers that are just slowly dying on the vine. They’ll continue to publish, but I don’t know for how long. I don’t know where they’ll be twenty years from now [Mercer on C-SPAN, 2017.09.04].
Mercer says that newspaper circulation has dropped in Sioux Falls and Rapid City while population has grown. He says newspaper circulation has remained steady in Aberdeen and Watertown.
Mercer mentions that when he wrote a column asserting that Trump changed the national conversation in his first hundred days, one of his papers declined to run it. (I can find that column in the Aberdeen, Watertown, Yankton, Pierre, and Spearfish papers.) Mercer says the paper “didn’t agree with what I was saying about him changing the conversation or attempting to change the conversation. They just thought he’s wrong.” Mercer says that’s the first time that a paper chose to “censor” him.*
*Mercer doesn’t go into further detail, but I can dream up one justification for that one paper’s rejection of his column. Mercer wrote, “Trump was, and is, right, in the allegations, the accusations, that some news organizations were, and are, dishonest in their treatment of him,” but Mercer offered no examples. A newspaper concerned about a frequently lying White House waging a concerted campaign to delegitimize the objective, independent press might rightly require that a columnist provide specific examples to support a claim that furthers that delegitimization. But even if such a position crossed the mind of the censoring paper, it didn’t stop five others from running Mercer’s column.
The discussion of Neihardt’s book “Black Elk Speaks” will be led by humanities scholar Jace DeCory, assistant professor emeritus at Black Hills State University in Spearfish. The program will begin at 7 p.m. CDT.
“Taking place the day after Native American Day in South Dakota, this is an opportunity to learn more about Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk,” said Michael Lewis, president of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society.
Amy Kucera is also going to speak about the John G. Neihardt Foundation and State Historic Site in Bancroft, Neb. She is the former director of that site and now works for the South Dakota Historical Society Press at the Cultural Heritage Center.
The foundation and the As the Pages Turn Book Club in Pierre are sponsoring the free program, made possible by a grant from the South Dakota Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Everyone is welcome to attend.
“Hehaka Sapa – Black Elk, is one of the most influential and celebrated Oglala Lakota individuals of all time,” DeCory said. “Black Elk’s teachings and experiences should be shared and discussed in order to better understand his spiritual legacy as a holy man. As an early cultural mediator, Black Elk continues to give special insights into Lakota culture and people” [South Dakota State Historical Society, press release, 2017.10.02].
Admission is free, and interested readers can borrow copies of Black Elk Speaks before the program from the Cultural Heritage Center.
I read Black Elk Speaks at SDSU in 1993, in the David Nelson philosophy class where I sat fifteen feet from my future wife but never spoke to her. Eight years later, when we finally did speak, I reread a chapter from Black Elk Speaks aloud as entertainment during our walk in the woods. 16 years after that, our copies of that book share shelf space with our child’s numerous tomes, and the tallest peak in South Dakota, which the three of us have climbed together, has been renamed in Black Elk’s honor.
The part of Black Elk Speaks that sticks in my mind (thanks to Dr. Nelson’s emphasis) is the concept of the “hoop”, what we may interpret as “worldview.” Black Elk saw the white man’s coming as the destruction of his people’s belief system. He saw the Indians hanging around the fort, living off the government’s rations, while other tribes who resisted the colonizers’ restriction and tried to stay free on the plains suffered from the decimation of the buffalo, and he lamented, “How could men get fat by being bad, and starve by being good?” His people’s suffering called into question his worldview, his belief that his people could rid themselves of the white man and restore their greatness if they held to their Lakota ways. That belief—that “hoop”—was further “broken and scattered” by the massacre at Wounded Knee.
Black Elk’s discussion of the breaking of his hoop is about the centrality of philosophy to our lives. All of us require some framework of beliefs to make sense of the world and guide our actions. Great change—invasion, immigration, technological innovation—can present new situations of which our hoop cannot makes sense. If the new world refutes our hoop, our hope breaks, and we will live in despair if we cannot repair our beliefs to make sense of the world and our place in it.
Borrow a copy of Black Elk Speaks from the Cultural Heritage Center. Take that copy out to Black Elk Peak this weekend and read a bit from the mountaintop that figured centrally in Black Elk’s vision and to which he ventured as an old man in 1931 to pray to his gods for his people. Then join Dr. DeCory to discuss Black Elk’s book on Tuesday, October 10, in Pierre.
The C-SPAN Cities Tour has spotlighted the literary life and history of over 120 American Cities. Next week, the bi-monthly broadcast project finally comes to South Dakota. According to a press release from C-SPAN and Midco (remember, C-SPAN was created by and gets its funding from the cable industry), C-SPAN staff will be in Pierre next week, September 2–7, to shoot material for Book TV and American History TV.
The Pierre City Commission will welcome the C-SPAN crew at its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 5, at 5:30 p.m. Central at City Hall. C-SPAN will spend the week recording features on the following local leading lights and sights:
Interview with Mayor Steve Harding
Interview with Governor Dennis Daugaard
South Dakota State Capitol Tour
South Dakota Historical Society
Trail of Governors
South Dakota Historical Society Press Publishing History
South Dakota Historical Society Press Pioneer Girl Project
Jim McLaird, “Hugh Glass: Grizzly Survivor”
Cathie Draine, editor of “Cowboy Life”
C-SPAN will broadcast its Pierre material October 7–8. The Cities Tour webpage says C-SPAN will feature Sioux Falls November 4–5.
On the first day, Tuesday, June 20, the panel of legislators, election officials, and other appointees (but no independent advocates of the initiative and referendum process) will meet to listen to their chosen experts and each other first. Only on the second day, Wednesday, June 21, at 9:10 a.m., will they turn to the public and say, “Gee, citizens, who actually use initiative and referendum to check the power of us legislators, what changes do you think we legislators should make to the process?”
I’ll tell you what changes the Legislature should make: none. Keep your hands off the people’s legislative process. You’ve done enough damage, and some of you (Rep. Don Haggar, Sen. Jim Bolin, Sen. Ernie Otten, all on this task force) want to do more. Initiative and referendum, Father Robert Haire‘s gift to democracy, need more protection from your Legislative meddling. If you can bear it in your grasping arrogance, leave initiative and referendum alone, and let the people come up with their own solutions…
To review, the VIP Amendment would strengthen voter power through initiative and referendum process by adding these provisions to our state constitution:
Allow citizens to refer any law, except for the general appropriations bill.
Allow citizens to refer laws enacted with an emergency clause, but leave those laws in effect until voters get to vote on them.
Require a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature to amend or repeal any voter-approved law for seven years after enactment.
Clarify that if conflicting ballot measures pass, the measure with the higher vote total takes precedence.
Set the enactment date for approved ballot questions at 30 days after the election.
Prohibit the Legislature from changing the number of voters who must sign petitions to get measures on the ballot, the time available for circulating petitions, or the vote totals required to pass ballot measures.
Prohibit the Legislature from requiring more than 10% of qualified electors to sign petitions to place constitutional amendments on the ballot.