Tornberg joined District 21 Senator Billie Sutton from Burke, former District 4 Representative Kathy Tyler from Big Stone City, former (and it sounds like future!) District 1 Representative and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Susan Wismer from Britton, and Santema’s Aberdeen blog neighbor me to discuss GEAR UP, EB-5, the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel, and other topics of interest to local Democrats and other interested South Dakotans.
Santema broke out his new camera and found he can get 90+ minutes of quality video on one battery. He breaks that 90+ minutes into three segments for your YouTube pleasure. I commend Santema for taking the time to document this public event and share the views of an opposing party with the general public. Watch, comment, and share!
After maybe a few too many years of deliberation, President Barack Obama came to the conclusion to which Dakota Rural Action and other patriotic Americans have been urging since before he became President: the Keystone XL pipeline would not serve our national interest. This morning, upon receiving Secretary of State John Kerry’s final recommendation to that effect, President Obama says he is denying TransCanada a permit to build Keystone XL.
Here, for the record and for our celebration is the President’s full speech, a brilliantly clear, point-by-point takedown of this unnecessary project, followed by a positive roadmap for American leadership on energy and the environment, as transcribed by the White House, via Newsweek, with hyperlinks to this blog’s past coverage on Keystone XL:
Good morning, everybody. Several years ago, the State Department began a review process for the proposed construction of a pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through our heartland to ports in the Gulf of Mexico and out into the world market.
This morning, I also had the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada. And while he expressed his disappointment, given Canada’s position on this issue, we both agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward. And in the coming weeks, senior members of my team will be engaging with theirs in order to help deepen that cooperation.
Now, for years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.
To illustrate this, let me briefly comment on some of the reasons why the State Department rejected this pipeline.
Our businesses created 268,000 new jobs last month. They’ve created 13.5 million new jobs over the past 68 straight months—the longest streak on record. The unemployment rate fell to 5 percent. This Congress should pass a serious infrastructure plan, and keep those jobs coming. That would make a difference. The pipeline would not have made a serious impact on those numbers and on the American people’s prospects for the future.
Second: The pipeline would not lower gas prices for American consumers. In fact, gas prices have already been falling—steadily. The national average gas price is down about 77 cents over a year ago. It’s down a dollar over two years ago. It’s down $1.27 over three years ago. Today, in 41 states, drivers can find at least one gas station selling gas for less than two bucks a gallon. So while our politics have been consumed by a debate over whether or not this pipeline would create jobs and lower gas prices, we’ve gone ahead and created jobs and lowered gas prices.
Third: Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security. What has increased America’s energy security is our strategy over the past several years to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world. Three years ago, I set a goal to cut our oil imports in half by 2020. Between producing more oil here at home, and using less oil throughout our economy, we met that goal last year — five years early. In fact, for the first time in two decades, the United States of America now produces more oil than we buy from other countries.
Now, the truth is, the United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition—as we must transition—to a clean energy economy. That transition will take some time. But it’s also going more quickly than many anticipated. Think about it. Since I took office, we’ve doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025; tripled the power we generate from the wind; multiplied the power we generate from the sun 20 times over. Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all-in on clean energy. And thanks in part to the investments we’ve made, there are already parts of America where clean power from the wind or the sun is finally cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.
The point is the old rules said we couldn’t promote economic growth and protect our environment at the same time. The old rules said we couldn’t transition to clean energy without squeezing businesses and consumers. But this is America, and we have come up with new ways and new technologies to break down the old rules, so that today, homegrown American energy is booming, energy prices are falling, and over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.
Today, the United States of America is leading on climate change with our investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. America is leading on climate change with new rules on power plants that will protect our air so that our kids can breathe. America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. In part because of that American leadership, more than 150 nations representing nearly 90 percent of global emissions have put forward plans to cut pollution.
America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face—not acting.
Today, we’re continuing to lead by example. Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.
As long as I’m President of the United States, America is going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world. And three weeks from now , I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.
If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now. Not later. Not someday. Right here, right now. And I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together. I’m optimistic because our own country proves, every day—one step at a time—that not only do we have the power to combat this threat, we can do it while creating new jobs, while growing our economy, while saving money, while helping consumers, and most of all, leaving our kids a cleaner, safer planet at the same time.
That’s what our own ingenuity and action can do. That’s what we can accomplish. And America is prepared to show the rest of the world the way forward.
Thank you very much [President Barack Obama, speech, The White House, 2015.11.06].
Dakota Rural Action was helping landowners defends themselves against TransCanada’s eminent domain lawsuits for the pipeline route before other environmental activists even knew how to spell Keystone XL. What does DRA have to say?
“As a property owner in South Dakota, and who was coerced into a settlement agreement through eminent domain, I am deeply grateful for the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline,’ says John Harter, Dakota Rural Action Vice Chair and a landowner crossed by the former proposed Keystone XL route.
“South Dakota landowners have been fighting TransCanada in their use of eminent domain for over seven years now. Dakota Rural Action has organized landowners who are against the Keystone XL and Dakota Rural Action has allied with like-minded groups in North Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska. Dakota Rural Action has also worked closely with native grassroots groups as well as various South Dakota tribal councils to stop the Keystone XL. Building the Keystone XL has always been a bad idea and we are thankful that President Obama has realized this. Grassroots groups have been the boots and moccasins on the ground in this fight. Never again will a company such as TransCanada so seriously underestimate the power of grassroots opposition,” says Dakota Rural Action member and landowner crossed by the former route Paul Seamans. “Thank you President Obama. Let the celebrations begin.”
Senator John Thune ignores property rights, the environment, and the national interest and whines at this snubbing of his oily corporate cronies:
“I would say that I’m surprised, but with President Obama’s commitment to appeasing the far-left environmental wing of his political base, today’s decision is par for the course,” said Sen. John Thune. “The Obama administration has spent seven years delaying this common-sense project. It has reviewed thousands of public comments and completed five environmental impact statements — all of which found the pipeline would have no significant impact on the environment. The pipeline would immediately support thousands of shovel-ready jobs during construction, including 3,000-4,000 in South Dakota alone. The only explanation for today’s decision is that the administration has squeezed from this project’s unnecessary delay every last bit of political expediency that remained” [“Obama Kills Keystone Pipeline,” AP via Black Hills Pioneer, 2015.11.06].
Denial is a river of tears running from John Thune’s office. Keystone XL is no longer a river of accident waiting happen taking away South Dakota’s land and water security for the profit of a foreign corporation. Rock on, President Obama! Every lame-duck President should do this much good.
Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) takes a look at the Mid-Central/GEAR UP scandal and comes to an obvious conclusion: Melody Schopp should resign as Secretary of Education:
Republican State Representative Lance Russell of Hot Springs recently sent a letter to South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp, saying that the management of the GEAR UP grants concern him greatly.
…Russell adds that the utter lack of oversight of millions of dollars that were flowing through the Department with almost no accountability for a number of years is unacceptable.
Even the Democratic leadership in its response to Attorney General Marty Jackley’s failed attempt at press-conference closure Tuesday didn’t go as far as Rep. Russell. Minority Leaders Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) and Rep. Spence Hawley (D-7/Brookings) didn’t mention Secretary Schopp specifically; they stuck with general statements about the corruption that inevitably blooms under one-party rule.
The Department of Education rebuts Rep. Russell’s claim that they have exercised no oversight:
Secretary Schopp exercised oversight when she canceled the GEAR UP management contract because of her concerns with its administration. She is staying on the job and will continue to oversee this program. She is looking forward to the new partnership with the Board of Regents [Mary Stadick Smith, Department of Education spokesperson, e-mail to KCCR Radio, in Larsen, 2015.11.05].
That’s kind of like if Bill Clinton had said, I’ve stopped having sexual relations with that woman in the Oval Office, so you have no reason to say I’m not fit for the job. Rep. Russell cites a lack of oversight that went on for years and enriched GOP cronies. Secretary Schopp didn’t notice or didn’t want to notice anything was wrong until the Department of Legislative Audit dropped so much evidence in her lap that she had to act.
[Grant expert Michael] Wyland also points out that the state’s objectives for the program are vague and hard to measure. And we discovered in the application that South Dakota applied for a waiver from having to use any of the money for college scholarships for Native American students.
“50 to 75 percent of GEAR UP funds are designed to be spent on scholarships. South Dakota requested a waiver to spend no money on scholarships, but rather to spend 100 percent of the grant on college preparedness and college readiness. And so that was a major departure from the original intent of the federal law,” Wyland said [Angela Kennecke, “SD GEAR UP Grant Application,” KELO-TV, 2015.11].
There’s a lot less money to disappear into “overhead” and “consulting” and big dang houses with two security systems if we’re writing checks directly to Indian kids or the colleges they choose to attend.
Rep. Russell is an occasional thorn in the side of the Republican establishment, so expect the GOP spin blog to accuse Rep. Russell along with Senator Sutton and Rep. Hawley of dancing on children’s graves. But Rep. Russell is calling for one of the basic actions of a true leader: to take responsibility for mistakes and, when those mistakes are sufficiently grave, to step down and let new leadership set things right.
If I’m going to blame Republican Sioux Falls legislators for failing to produce solid results on the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel, I’ve got to look west and hand some of that blame to their Democratic neighbor Rep. Paula Hawks in District 9 in Hartford. Of course, since Rep. Hawks is seeking to supersize her Representative title by replacing Kristi Noem in Congress—and since their other State House member, Steve Hickey, resigned this summer—District 9 is already sure to elect new representation next November.
Rep. Hawks is inclined to agree with the assessment that the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel delivered less than promised. Hawks tells Beth Warden of KSOO that she’s disappointed that the panel couldn’t produce a solid plan at its final meeting on October 29:
Rep. Hawks still hopes the panel can put together a plan that the Legislature can pass, but she signals that she won’t waste her time pitching a plan that she herself can’t strongly support:
The Blue Ribboneers declared on their Process webpage that they would issue their final report in October. Hawks and her compadres are now five days late in issuing that report. Let’s hope Rep. Hawks is backing this front-channel broadcast challenge with some backchannel calls and e-mails to rally her fellow task force members to put forward a real plan for South Dakota’s teachers.
The GOP spin blog has no response to the substantive charges afoot on the corruption of GEAR UP, EB-5, and Jason Gant. But Sioux Falls columnist Stu Whitney does: transparency in government.
It’s an attainable goal to place glass walls around the machinery in Pierre, but it takes leadership. Daugaard and Rounds are so busy distancing themselves and finding scapegoats in the GEAR UP and EB-5 aftermath that the ability to learn from these debacles is lost.
That’s a non-leadership response. That’s petty self-preservation reserved for lower-rung public officials, not the person in charge of the state.
We need someone with the guts to step up and say public funds were mismanaged to the point where people lost their lives, and that will never happen again. We need someone to lay out steps to avoid such calamities in the future and ensure citizens that stronger background checks, stricter oversight and greater transparency will restore confidence in the process.
That’s what the role of governor used to be about. For the sake of our state’s reputation, let’s hope that it is again soon [Stu Whitney, “Financial Misdeeds Put State in Poor Light,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.11.04].
Whitney isn’t dancing on anyone’s grave. He recognizes the horror of the killings in Platte that are widely suspected to be connected to corruption in the DOE–MCEC GEAR UP contract. But he also recognizes that two generations of visionless apparatchiks in Pierre have led us to a dysfunctional political climate in which corruption like GEAR UP, EB-5, and the Gant Secretaryship can blossom. Whitney recognizes that fighting corruption requires courageous leaders, and Whitney recognizes that, right now, we don’t have one in Pierre. Every candidate for Legislature next year should talk about that absence of leadership and what he or she will do to bring transparency to and restore public trust in state government. That’s not dancing on graves; that’s trying to stop the corruption that keeps leading to shotgun deaths in Charles Mix County.
The only dancing here is Pat’s—his constant dancing around the truth. (Check the record: Powers hasn’t written one word about EB-5 since we learned about the USCIS’s affirmation of South Dakota’s corruption of the program from Bob Mercer on October 18.) We aren’t dancing on the graves of the Westerhuis children; Powers is trying to hide his complicity with corruption behind their headstones.
Small segments of voters should not be tied by ribbons with very different voters from distant parts of the state — just because those voters have a history of supporting candidates inconsistent with the majority in the legislature. The poor quality of representation afforded by such districts cannot be justified by the desire of the legislature to so firmly determine the make-up of our House delegation.
…As a litigant and a proud Common Cause member, what’s most exciting about all this is that the impetus for change is coming from citizens who’ve seen a problem and have resolved to tackle it. America was founded on the principle that power should flow from “we the people.” That’s what our Constitution says. The growing redistricting reform movement is evidence that that idea remains relevant today [Stephen Shapiro, “Md. Case Pushes Boundaries of Redistricting Reform,” Baltimore Sun, 2015.11.03].
At stake in redistricting process is the basic, constitutional issue of fair representation for every voter. Who votes where, and for whom, is an issue on which everything else we do as a democracy flows. Every citizen has a direct stake in that issue. Placed side-by-side with a measure to legalize pot, redistricting reform won nearly twice as many votes in Ohio last night.
Blue Ribbon K-12 panelist Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) impressed me last week, saying on South Dakota Public Radio that he’s willing to fight for $75 million to fund teacher pay raises. Hearing a Republican of Brown’s ilk utter such a commitment makes me think there’s a chance the Blue Ribbon panel‘s work may not have been for naught.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force appointed by the Governor and chaired by Sioux Falls Senator Deb Soholt to make recommendations on our low teacher pay and scarcity of teacher situation barely qualifies for a white ribbon.
For those of you not brought up in 4-H purple is the best, meaning it meets all standards. Blue conveys the effort meets most standards. Red stands for meeting some standards. Finally, white means the effort meets few standards and generally lacks quality.
Many hours of testimony, brainstorming, and discussion produced a report on the situation today. The Task Force did NOT make specific recommendations to fix what is clearly broken. They did put forth concepts, but not enough to warrant more than the white ribbon [Rick Knobe, “Gov’s Blue Ribbon Task Force Barely Earns A White Ribbon,” KSOO Radio, 2015.11.03].
Presenting parameters instead of a plan does make the Blue Ribbon panel sound like the 4-H’er who puts up a poster of her recipe for rhubarb pie but doesn’t actually bake and bring the pie. Heck, the Blue Ribboneers didn’t even settle on a recipe. But hang in there: the Blue Ribbon panel could still surprise us with a final recommendation to the Governor that how to bake a bigger pie for the teachers we’ve starved for decades.
Some days (i.e., days that end in -y) I can’t figure Gordon Howie out. This morning the arch-conservative is on the Intertubes berating Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds for cutting entitlements and government interference in the marketplace:
South Dakota Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune were among the Republican Senators who voted “YES” to this attack against seniors in America. The money paid into Social Security by millions of Americans was simply scooped out of the program in this late-night deal. $150 Billion dollars… GONE… in the blink of an eye.
As you can tell from the links Howie includes in that passage, Howie is steamed about what he characterizes as GOP capitulation on the budget. Thune and Rounds refused to crash the federal government (again) and voted for a two-year budget bill that spares us any more debt-ceiling brinkmanship until the next Presidency.
the budget deal also authorizes the Department of Energy (DOE) to spend up to $2 billion from additional SPR oil sales to ensure the SPR’s oil can reach the market in an emergency—and this is an urgent priority. Since the purpose of the SPR today is effectively to temper price shocks from global supply disruptions, not just replace barrels to a particular refinery, it must be able to add to the total world supply.
Several of the changes are aimed at rooting out waste: The bill expands the use of investigation units that partner with local law enforcement agencies to track down people who might be gaming the system. It also forbids ex-felons from making disability benefits determinations, beefs up penalties for fraud, and instructs the Social Security Administration to move everyone onto electronic recordkeeping, in an effort to avoid overpayments.
…Congressional aides expect the disability insurance tweaks in the budget will save $5 billion over 10 years, which is peanuts compared to the program’s $141 billion annual cost. The fact that Republicans didn’t win bigger cuts, however, is a victory for the Obama administration and a relief for disabled people and those who work with them [Lydia DePillis, “Budget Deal Tweaks Disability Benefits—and Not Only to Save Money,” Washington Post: Wonkblog, 2015.10.27].
I’m as eager as Howie to find bad votes to throw back in Thune’s face in the 2016 election. But saying that Thune and his little buddy Rounds have imperiled senior citizens and national security with these two provisions of the budget deal is incorrect.
“We are asking State (Department) to pause its review of Keystone XL based on the fact that we have applied to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for approval of its preferred route in the state,” TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said in a statement.
Nebraska-shmebraska—TransCanada must figure that the chances that a Republican will win the 2016 Presidential election are greater than the chances that President Obama will say yes to their pipeline. TransCanada’s willingness to delay may also have to do with the slump in oil prices: TransCanada may figure they can ride out the price trough and wait to build the pipeline until prices rebound and drillers can better afford to pull their product up out of the Alberta tar sands.
Either way, if the President grants TransCanada its suspension, West River landowners can get at least one more year of production out of their land before TransCanada seizes it with eminent domain, wrecks it with their pipeline digging, and places that land and our water at permanent risk of oil spills.
Boy, forget pot policy, Lynn! Hanging out with a political blogger like me ought to ensure defeat for the party, right?
Actually, Thursday night’s “Front Porch Conversations” here in Aberdeen should be good fun for area Democrats and everyone else who’s like to spend a pleasant evening with neighbors talking politics. The Brown County Democrats have assembled the following panel:
Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke)
South Dakota Democratic Party Chair Ann Tornberg from Beresford
Former District 1 Rep. Susan Wismer from Britton
Former District 4 Rep. Kathy Tyler from Big Stone City
Dakota Free Press blogger Cory Allen Heidelberger
The forum starts this Thursday, November 5, at 7:30 p.m. at the AmericInn, just east of the mall. The Brown County Democrats are also hosting a pre-event fundraising social hour at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’œuvres and a cash bar for $25. Come on out Thursday, talk teacher pay, Medicaid expansion, EB-5, Election 2016, and whatever else is on your mind!