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  • Youngberg Task Force to Address Gap in Reporting Corporate Contributions, Revisit IM22 Campaign Cash Caps

    The campaign finance draft legislation I was looking for last week is finally up on the Government Accountability Task Force’s website, just in time for Monday’s 10:30 a.m. meeting. Let’s preview the eight draft bills that Chairman Jordan Youngberg (R-8/Madison) and his colleagues will be wading through:

    Draft #134 does nothing, absolutely nothing, other than make existing campaign finance limits more verbose. It leaves in place the ability of political action committees (PACs), parties, and candidate committees to give unlimited contributions to each other and to statewide and legislative candidates. It also leaves in place the ability of darn near anyone to give unlimited sums to ballot question committees.

    Draft #209 appears to do nothing other than style-and-form rewordings and removal of superfluous language.

    Draft #206 does almost nothing… but what little it does matters a lot. Apparently when the Legislature approved allowing “entities”—the new legal term introduced by the Legislature this year to cover businesses, labor unions, non-profits, and other organizations that aren’t natural persons or political committees—to contribute directly to candidates (something FEC rules don’t allow businesses to do for federal candidates), they forgot to require candidates to itemize contributions from those entities. As it stands right now (in SDCL 12-27-24), businesses and unions could pour all the money they want into Kristi Noem’s, Marty Jackley’s, and Billie Sutton’s campaigns, and Kristi, Marty, and Billie could just write on their 2017 year-end reports, “$2,000,000 from entities” and not tell use who those entities are. Even if the Legislature passes Draft #206 as quickly as it repealed IM22, Kristi, Marty and Billie will still be able to submit their 2017 year-end reports by January 26 and not itemize their corporate overlords donors.

    Draft #176 would leave “entities” with far fewer opportunities to contribute to candidate. This draft revokes the ability of entities to contribute directly to anyone other than ballot question committees and proposes the yearly campaign finance limits of Initiated Measure 22 that voters passed in 2016 but which Chairman Youngberg and his Legislative colleagues swiftly repealed last winter:

    1. To gubernatorial candidates: $4,000 per PAC or candidate committee, $40,000 per party, zero from an entity.
    2. To candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general: $2,000 per person, PAC, or candidate committee; $20,000 per party; zero from an entity.
    3. To secretary of state and other statewide candidates: $1,000 per person, PAC, or candidate committee; $10,000 per party, zero from an entity.
    4. To legislative and county candidates: $750 per person, PAC, or candidate committee; $5,000 per party; zero from an entity.
    5. To PACs: $2,000 per person, entity, PAC, party, or candidate committee.
    6. To parties: $5,000 per person, PAC, or candidate committee; zero from an entity.

    Like IM22, Draft #176 would treat “all committees established, financed, maintained, or controlled by the same corporation, labor organization, person, or group of persons” as affiliated units subject to a single, shared contribution limit. Draft #176 drops the Class 2 misdemeanor for first offense and moves violators straight to Class 1 misdemeanor. Finally, to avoid complications, Draft #176 seeks an enactment date of January 1, 2019, so PACs and parties can still have their unlimited fun in the 2018 election.

    Draft #191 tinkers with the Legislature’s own definition of “gift” that it wrote last Session in House Bill 1073, one of its IM22 make-up bills. HB 1073 Section 4, now SDCL 2-12-18, excludes from the definition of “gift” many things, including, “Any service or event to assist a public official in the performance of official duties, including any cost to educate or inform the public official on matters of public policy; any advice, information, consultation, or communication regarding actual or proposed legislation; any service to constituents or to promote the economic development of the state….” Draft #191 strikes that exemption and inserts, “educational material to inform public officials on a matter of public policy.” It leaves all of the other exemptions (including food and beverages) alone.

    Turning to ballot measures, Draft #166 clarifies the definition of “ballot question committee.” Right now, SDCL 12-27-1 says a ballot question committee is “a person or entity that raises, collects, or disburses contributions for the placement of any ballot question on the ballot or the adoption or defeat of any ballot question.” Draft #166 makes clear that that definition includes both “proponents” and “opponents” of the “placement of any ballot question on the ballot.” The thinking there is that, technically, one could read the existing definition to say that opponents don’t have to form a committee and file campaign finance reports until after the question is certified for the ballot, not during the petition stage. But that would hinge on saying “defeat” does not include sabotaging the petition drive to keep the ballot question off the ballot in the first place.

    Draft #153, the most poorly written draft on Monday’s agenda, attempts to undo the unnecessary and onerous requirement, passed in 2016, that ballot question committees terminate at the end of each election cycle. Draft #153 would allow ballot question committees to file a statement of intent after each election to remain organized for the next election, thus satisfying part of what the Chamber of Commerce has asked for.

    Finally, Draft #210 softens the possible blow to anyone who might run afoul of our state campaign finance laws… not that we have any campaign finance cops to run after any such fouls. Section 2 would add a new section to Chapter 12-27 declaring, “Any person who has made a good faith attempt to comply with the requirements of this chapter may not be convicted of a Class 1 or Class 2 misdemeanor under this chapter.” It also adds “knowingly” to a new 2017 statute punishing false allegations of campaign finance violations—which change I would appreciate but which doesn’t do anything about the other weaknesses in the whistleblower law passed last winter.

    Draft #176, with its new campaign finance limits and reversal of corporation’s new freedom to back candidates, would be the most sweeping change. But since it reinstates a crucial part of IM22, it won’t make it past Chairman Youngberg and his Republican friends.

    Other than that, Draft #206 is an urgent reporting requirement, perhaps worth a special session (perhaps in December, when legislators gather for the Governor’s budget address?) to avoid any more dark corporate money sliding into our governor’s race. Draft #210 is a boon for non-professional campaigners who perhaps shouldn’t pay fines or sit in jail for making an honest effort to comply with the state’s sometimes confusing forms and conflicting advice. Draft #166’s ongoing ballot question committee would be nice, but one could argue that, practically, it only changes the heading on one required filing.

    I may have missed something in the seeming wordplay of Drafts #134 and #209; tune in tomorrow to the Government Accountability Task Force feed via SDPB at 10:30 a.m. CDT to see what surprised legislators may find in these drafts!

  • After 21 Years in SD, Lederman Cancels Iowa Voter Registration

    Dan Lederman gives Todd Epp at KELO Radio answers about his curious dual voter registration in South Dakota and Iowa.

    First, that dual registration is about to end: 21 years after moving to South Dakota, Lederman has finally asked the Iowa Secretary of State to cancel his voter registration:

    Dan Lederman, request to cancel Iowa voter registration, 2017.10.12; obtained by Todd Epp, KELO Radio, 2017.10.13.

    Dan Lederman, request to cancel Iowa voter registration, 2017.10.12; obtained by Todd Epp, KELO Radio, 2017.10.13.

    Lederman also provides his South Dakota voter registration form from 2002 to explain why Iowa might not have gotten word of his departure from Iowa’s electorate:

    Dan Lederman, voter registration card, Pennington Count, SD, 2002.05.29; obtained by Todd Epp/KELO Radio 2017.10.13.

    Dan Lederman, voter registration card, Pennington Count, SD, 2002.05.29; obtained by Todd Epp/KELO Radio 2017.10.13.

    South Dakota Republican Party head Dan Lederman did fill out a voter registration form when he moved to South Dakota from Iowa–and the form he provided KELO.com News does not include a space to indicate his prior address.

    In a text, Lederman took strong exception to an Iowa Secretary of State spokesman yesterday saying Lederaman failed to correctly fill out his South Dakota registration form. (See top right.) He says the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office should have known better to make “such a strong statement” [Todd Epp, “Lederman Answers Questions About Iowa Voter Registration,” KELO Radio, 2017.10.13].

    Keep in mind timeline here: Lederman moved to South Dakota in the 1990s. He still voted in Iowa in 1998 and 2000. Citing the above card, dated May 29, 2002, as the voter registration Lederman “did fill out… when he moved to South Dakota from Iowa” doesn’t fit the timeline given by other sources for Lederman’s move.

    The address given to Pennington County also does not match any of the past-address data available for Lederman on various online directories:

    The only connection between Lederman and that downtown Rapid address is reference to 612 1/2 St. Joseph as at least a former address of Lederman’s Speedy Bail Bonds. As with his long-standing Iowa vote registration, Lederman used his business address to register to vote.

    Iowa statute prohibits registering a commercial address for voting purposes. Lederman tells KELO he didn’t break the law; he lived in the apartment above his Newton, Iowa, bail bonds office for about a year.

    Lederman also explains away the hypothesis a sharp reader here helped bring to light, that Lederman kept his voter registration to stay on the books as an Iowa resident and thus to remain a bail bonds agent in Iowa. Our read of the law was correct, but Epp says “Lederman said he hasn’t written any Iowa bail bonds in years and has a number of agents in Iowa who can do that.

    Lederman touches on most of the legalities involved here, but the timeline still has some irregularities. Given the documents above and previously published, plus biographical information online, Dan Lederman moves to South Dakota around 1996, but votes in Iowa in 1998 and 2000, and doesn’t get around to registering in South Dakota in 2002. So even though Lederman had changed his residence to South Dakota, he kept voting in Iowa and didn’t declare himself one of us for a few years.

  • Friday Night Rights: Racism Nixes Football, Prompts Rally for Unity in Sioux Falls

    Short notice: friends of racial respect and equality are holding an “Alternative Homecoming: Friday Night Rights” rally in Sioux Falls this afternoon from 5 to 6 at 10th and Minnesota.

    Join us tonight from 5-6 p.m. at the SE corner of 10th Street and Minnesota Avenue in Sioux Falls, SD to send a message of unity and love in response to the racist homecoming incident in Sturgis, SD earlier this week. We will gather with signs showing our community’s support for Native students in South Dakota.

    Materials for making signs will be provided. Please share information about this demonstration to help spread the word! [Facebook event page, 2017.10.13]

    The Meade School Board voted 8–0 yesterday to cancel all remaining homecoming activities this week at Sturgis Brown High School and forfeit their football game to scheduled opponent Pine Ridge. The board was responding—quickly, correctly, instructively—to racist images and messages arising from an unofficial homecoming activity Wednesday evening.

    “That’s not what western South Dakota or Sturgis is about,” [Superintendent Don] Kirkegaard said. “I can’t defend those actions, but I can try my best to make sure it never happens again.”

    Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen said the greater community needed to also make a statement condemning the incident and reaffirming inclusive values. He planned to meet with city council members soon to consider the options.

    “Our community does not treat people that way,” Carstensen said [Mark Andersen, “Sturgis Cancels Homecoming Game as Fallout from Insensitive Message Continues,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.10.13].

    It’s a darn shame that a few bad apples have to spoil the game, parade, and dance for all the kids in Sturgis. But that’s what happens when we let racism go unchecked: we all suffer the moral and reputational taint. Likewise in Aberdeen: a few racist know-nothings holler about brown people and throw the occasional stink bomb of a letter into the newspaper, and the whole town suffers as workers and investors look at Aberdeen as an unwelcoming place to do business. Likewise in the world: we send an ignorant racist to the White House, and no, Mr. President, Pakistan and the world don’t “start[…] to respect the United States again“; other nations question our leadership.

    The imminent rally in Sioux Falls is 370 miles away from the Sturgis football field darkened by its young residents’ thoughtless (we can only hope) racism, but one racist outburst in one South Dakota town makes all of South Dakota look bad. Reconciliation is a statewide effort. Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and Sturgis must consider each other neighbors as surely as we have to start thinking of Pine Ridge and Agency Village as our neighbors.

  • Schools Failing Funding Accountability Rules Raised Teacher Pay 13.5%; Others, 13.6%

    I find two interesting statistics so far in the report on how well South Dakota’s public K-12 school districts met the state’s accountability standards for putting the new sales tax revenue appropriated in 2016 toward teacher pay.

    First, the 34 school districts* that failed one or both of the requirements all managed to increase teacher pay. The average teacher-pay increase among those 36 districts was 13.5%. The 113 fully complaint districts raised teacher pay by 13.6%. Both groups of school districts managed to raise their average teacher pay by an average of over $5,000. The difference between the compliant and non-compliant districts is thus pretty small.

    Second, all of the non-compliant schools and 101 of the compliant schools failed to reach the state’s target salary of $48,500. Only 12 schools managed to reach $48,500 (and one, Douglas, was already above target in FY2016):

    • Brandon Valley
    • Dakota Valley
    • Douglas
    • Dupree
    • Eagle Butte
    • Huron
    • Mitchell
    • Oglala Lakota
    • Rapid City
    • Sioux Falls
    • Watertown
    • Yankton

    I’m looking at some other averages, but without teacher counts from each school, I can only figure averages by district, which tamp down the effect of lots of teachers making bigger salaries at larger schools. Working just with those averages by district, I can say that, prior to the sales tax hike, in FY2016, the average teacher salary at the now non-compliant districts was $1,144 below the average at districts that were able to comply with the state’s new rules. In FY2017, that gap widened to $1,364.

    That widening gap suggests that the new funding formula is having the effect some smaller schools have suggested the Governor and legislators may have intended: directing more money toward large schools and quietly starving small schools toward consolidation.

    *The schools who failed to meet one or both of the accountability standards are mostly small schools. The only Class AA school in trouble is Pierre:

    1. Bowdle
    2. Canistota
    3. Clark
    4. Colome
    5. Corsica-Stickney
    6. Doland
    7. Edgemont
    8. Edmunds Central
    9. Faith
    10. Faulkton
    11. Garretson
    12. Gayville-Volin
    13. Gettysburg
    14. Henry
    15. Herreid
    16. Highmore-Harrold
    17. Hitchcock-Tulare
    18. Hoven**
    19. Jones County
    20. Kadoka
    21. Kimball
    22. Lead-Deadwood**
    23. Lemmon
    24. Lyman
    25. McLaughlin
    26. New Underwood
    27. Newell
    28. Pierre
    29. Plankinton
    30. Rosholt
    31. Sanborn Central
    32. Sisseton
    33. Summit
    34. Wall
    35. White River
    36. Willow Lake

    **Correction 2017.10.14 12:30 CDT: I thought Lead-Deadwood’s presence on that report sounded funny. As the Mitchell Daily Republic reports, Lead-Deadwood and Hoven don’t receive state aid. DOE listed those two districts’ teacher pay stats correctly, but since they don’t receive state aid, they don’t face any penalty for not meeting their teacher-pay targets.

  • Trump Approval Down in South Dakota But Still Higher Than His Incompetence Warrants

    South Dakota has given unrealistically high approval ratings to the current occupant of the White House, whose arrogance and expensive suits would get any other Manhattan billionaire snickered out of most board rooms and barnyards in this state. But even here, common sense is catching up with emotion, and Donald Trump is losing support.

    Bob Mercer notes that Trump’s approval rating in the Morning Consult survey has dropped from 54.2% in January to 50.7% in September. Folks who remained agnostic in January have come down heavily against Trump: his South Dakota disapproval has jumped from 33.5% to 43.5%. His positive spread in South Dakota has thus been cut by two thirds, from just about 22 points to a slimming 7.

    Morning Consult’s full figures show Trump holding on to net approval in 22 states, down from 45 in January. Those 22 net-approval states hold only 193 Electoral College votes.

    We should not be surprised. In nearly nine months in office, Donald Trump has shown no aptitude for the office America gave him, no sign of growing or maturing into the enormous responsibilities of the Oval Office. He has not enunciated or explained, never mind passed, any substantive policy proposal. As on the campaign trail, Trump speaks rarely in complete sentences and never in paragraphs. Any attempts at true statesmanly speech are scripted affairs that he recites in his bored wheeze, then dashes to oblivion with his next frenzied Tweets.

    Jonah Golberg offered this accurate assessment of Trump’s performance yesterday on NPR:

    INSKEEP: That was a trick question, a trick question. Let’s start with the Republican senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee, retiring chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, widely respected, works in a bipartisan way, has also tried to work with the president, vital to the president on issue after issue. Why go after him?

    GOLDBERG: For the same reason Trump goes after anybody. He’s a counterpuncher. He doesn’t like to be disrespected. He’s easy to provoke, which is sort of proving part of Bob Corker’s point, which is that Donald Trump’s behavior on Twitter and elsewhere is endangering to the country and is ill-advised. I do think trying to find a long-term strategic vision to the Twitter account is a bit like trying to find a long-term strategic vision to a runaway monkey from a cocaine study. It’s just not…

    INSKEEP: (Laughter).

    GOLDBERG: It’s not a fruitful enterprise because he makes these decisions on his Twitter account in a glandular, sort of instantaneous, gut way. And then the White House has to clean up the mess, which, again, is sort of what Corker’s point was [Jonah Goldberg, interviewed by Steve Inskeep, NPR: Morning Edition, 2017.10.09].

    Glandular cocaine monkey—that those three words can objectively the normal behavior of a person with unchecked authority to launch nuclear weapons should terrify the world… as should the fact that a majority of South Dakotans can still say they approve of such a person holding such power.

    Donald Trump’s own staff admits that it is using toddler-diversion tactics to keep our Toddler-in-Chief from making bigger messes:

    As White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus mused to associates that telling President Donald Trump no was usually not an effective strategy. Telling him “next week” was often the better idea.

    Trump would impulsively want to fire someone like Attorney General Jeff Sessions; create a new, wide–ranging policy with far–flung implications, like increasing tariffs on Chinese steel imports; or end a decades–old deal like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Enraged with a TV segment or frustrated after a meandering meeting, the president would order it done immediately.

    Delaying the decision would give Priebus and others a chance to change his mind or bring in advisers to speak with Trump — and in some cases, to ensure Trump would drop the idea altogether and move on [John Dawsey, “White House Aides Lean on Delays and Distractions to Manage Trump,” Politico, 2017.10.09].

    The people closest to Trump recognize he is a child—unfortunately, an enormously powerful child—whom they must constantly scramble to distract from using his power in destructive ways.

    South Dakotans, Donald Trump does not deserve your approval. He wouldn’t last an hour on a South Dakota dairy farm or construction site before mouthing off, wrecking some piece of equipment, or hurting someone.

    Democrats and other sane citizens, have faith: the reality of Trump’s incompetence will overwhelm whatever emotional attachment some South Dakota voters haave formed for this reality-TV charlatan. Any Republicans who cling to Trump will lose more voters than they win in 2018. Democratic candidates, Trump and his incompetence are your path to victory and to re-establishing good government in South Dakota.


  • GOP Legislators’ Former Status as Dems Gets Press; Substance of Voting Records Ignored

    Yesterday South Dakota Citizens for Liberty released a new Legislative scorecard attempting to quantify the conservatism of South Dakota’s legislators. The scorecard also includes the claim that twelve Republican legislators are former Democrats. The SDGOP establishment spin blog predictably pitched a fit and accused them of making things up.

    Citizens for Liberty responds this morning with a copy of an e-mail they say they sent to Senator Jim White (R-22/Huron) while researching their scorecard, asking him to share his conversion story:

    Honorable Jim White,

    SD Citizens for Liberty, Inc. has been doing extensive background research in conjunction with our voting record scorecard for this year’s legislature which is scheduled to be released soon.  That research indicates you and numerous other Republican legislators have a history of membership in the Democrat Party prior to holding office as a Republican in the South Dakota Legislature.

    Winston Churchill is credited with saying:  “If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you aren’t a middle-aged conservative, you have no head.”

    That is why we are interested in your conversion story.

    We would like to include your responses to the following questions as relevant background information in the final report.

    • What inspired you to change your registration from “Democrat” to “Republican”?
    • What planks of the National Republican Party platform are most important to you?
    • Which planks of the South Dakota Republican Party Platform are most important to you?
    • Are there any planks of either platform with which you disagree
    • How would you describe your current governing philosophy?

    Thank you for your time and service.

    Mrs. Tonchi Weaver
    SD Citizens for Liberty, Inc.

    Citizens for Liberty says Senator White ignored their inquiry:

    The above email was sent to Senator White’s personal and legislative email addresses twice, once on August 22, and the second on September 19th.  He opened it repeatedly and did not correct our understanding that he was in fact previously registered as a Democrat.  We took it as a tacit confirmation [SD Citizens for Liberty, press release, 2017.10.10].

    Voter registration record, Jean Hunhoff, signed 1992.07.28.

    Voter registration record, Jean Hunhoff, signed 1992.07.28.

    Citizens for Liberty then explains that it has the voter registration records to support its claims, to question Senator White’s statement to that Sioux Falls paper that “I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I was raised as a Republican and I’ve always run as a Republican” (which carefully avoids mentioning voter registration status), and to directly refute Rep. Jean Hunhoff’s (R-19/Yankton) statement that, “I’ve never registered as a Democrat. I’ve always been a Republican.” Citizens for Liberty claims that finding those voter registration records was made more difficult by SDGOP spinster Pat Powers himself and his former boss Jason Gant, who as Secretary of State allegedly ordered the destruction of voter registration information archived in Pierre that documented changes of voter registration as people moved from county to county:

    Our requests to the Yankton and Brown County auditors specifically about Representative Hunhoff and Senator Novstrup elicited the attached voter registration cards.  Our efforts to research our elected officials were made difficult due to the multiple decades worth of voter registration information expunged by SOS Gant & Mr. Powers [SDCFL, 2017.10.10].

    Citizens for Liberty then returns to the salient point: whereas the SDGOP establishment has responded to the fringe issue of who was registered what when, the Republicans chapped by the scorecard have not responded to the real substance of their voting records and what Citizens for Liberty deems their failure to uphold the Republican Party platform:

    We reject Mr. Powers claims that we are attacking the Republicans on the scorecard.  We have simply pointed out their official voting records & previous registration. If their records are “attacking them,” then the only people to blame for such are the legislators themselves.  Voter registration changes are relevant as voters deserve to be able to determine if it was a political ideology change or a matter of convenience.  There are several of these politicians who were life-long Democrats who changed parties right before running for office in heavy Republican majority districts. Some of them within days of running. Many of these former Democrats continue to vote more often with the Democratic legislators than with Republican principles [SDCFL, 2017.10.10].

    I myself have switched party affiliation (though in a more positive, progressive direction than White, Hunhoff, and other now-Republican legislators). That’s the minor story. The issue CFL should push and that legislators should explain is how the Republican slogans many of them run on in November don’t translate into consistent conservative votes in January, February, and March. Honesty about principles would help voters get beyond party labels and focus more on real policy in their political discourse.

  • “Happy” Native American Day? Hickey Says That Takes More Than Wishes

    South Dakota sorta-kinda observed its pioneering Native American Day today. Aberdeen took the day off school; Webster did not.

    Native American Day, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, does not lend itself to the holiday frivolity and tacky capitalist excess typical of Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, and Mothers’ Day. These two holidays invite historical discussion of entire peoples who have been denied full access to the American dream, not to mention our frivolity and capitalist excess.

    Predictably, the SDGOP spin blog misses the importance of this holiday. Dakota War College posts a glib “Happy Native American Day from your friends at Dakotawarcollege.com“. When theologian and former Republican legislator Steve Hickey questions how many friends our Lakota brothers and sisters have on their side of the aisle and invites serious discussion of a White/Native Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Dakota, DWC censors Hickey’s comment while letting stand comments from comment-section regulars who say Indians need to “develop a sense of personal responsibility and pride in themselves” and then respond to complaints by tooting the Trump train whistle.

    Hickey has spoken provocatively on Native issues before.

    In my continuing (and unplanned) series today of posting dissenting voices within the Republican Party, I reprint Rev. Hickey’s comment in full:

    Steve Hickey

    Steve Hickey

    Pat, I rarely detect any warmth from you and others on this side of the aisle toward SD natives. What does “happy Native American day” mean to you? Or maybe others can answer. Honest question. Don’t mean to jibe.

    It’s my view SD’s greatest challenge is that we have third world living conditions within our borders, hopelessness and hurting people— and excuses… it’s a Federal problem, tribes are corrupt, personal responsibility, yada yada. Our national guard can go to Puerto Rico or wherever to help and that’s fine but where is good ole SD neighborliness toward natives?

    We need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to get the past on the table so we can deal with it properly and set out on a good future together.

    Mickelson has the mantle and we need a leader like him. That what I tell him. I’ve asked him to start a Mickelson foundation for reconciliation and get those big donors in our state to invest in something that matters, not more stadiums. I was bummed he didn’t run for governor but maybe that day will come. I’ve told him no one will remember a governor who rides the waves of the economy in a certain decade but the governor who does who can be done to fundamentally change things for the better in relations with natives and quality of life for them will leave a legacy long long remembered.

    My family is deeply vested in this matter and that’s why I won’t shut up about it. No other issue in the state is near as important unless we just don’t care that human beings are really suffering [Steve Hickey, comment on Native American Day, in response to and censored from Dakota War College, 2017.10.09].

    I won’t presume to know the hearts of my Lakota neighbors, but I speculate that some might consider the happiest Native American Day would be the day we immigrants all go back to Europe. Absent that prospect, I suggest that, for now, a happy Native American Day in South Dakota is a day we spend speaking with our neighbors about our shared history, our not entirely willingly shared land, and our practical ideas for more equitable sharing.

  • Mercer Tells C-SPAN Journalism in Sad Shape in South Dakota

    C-SPAN is ran its Cities Tours feature on Pierre this weekend. During their early September visit, C-SPAN spoke to Bob Mercer, one of only two remaining full-time political reporters stationed in our state capital. Mercer says the decline in reporters stationed in Pierre leaves South Dakotans ill-informed about state politics:

    Bob Mercer, "State of the News Media," C-SPAN, 2017.09.04. Screen cap from C-SPAN.

    Bob Mercer, “State of the News Media,” C-SPAN, 2017.09.04. Screen cap from C-SPAN.

    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, WatertownYankton, 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.*

    Watch the full video of Mercer’s 13-minute chat with C-SPAN here. It’s not as cheery or boostery as C-SPAN’s visits with Pioneer Girl Project chief Nancy Tystad-Koupal or Capitol tour guide Tony Venhuizen, but it is the most topical of the several vignettes from the seat of South Dakota government.

    *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.

  • Task Force Waters Down Citizen Initiative Review Recommendation

    The Legislature’s task force on initiative and referendum wrapped up its work on Friday by taking the last good proposal it had, the Citizen Initiative Review Commission (CIRC), and watering it down to do less work to educate the public about ballot measures than I did in the 2016 election cycle.

    The draft bill presented at the beginning of Friday’s task force teleconference consisted of eight sections:

    1. Empanel eleven people, including two to four legislators, to review initiatives.
    2. Assign the Secretary of State to help the CIRC.
    3. For each initiative, require CIRC to hold one hearing in Pierre and compose a 300-word-maximum summary.
    4. Appoint CIRC subcommittees to compose Pro/Con statements for each initiative.
    5. Post CIRC summaries, Pro/Con statements, and other initiative-related docs online.
    6. Mail CIRC summaries, Pro/Con statements, and initiative text to every registered voter.
    7. Fund CIRC with general fund appropriations and private donations.
    8. Strike Secretary of State’s obligation to include initiatives in her ballot question pamphlet, but maintain her duty to distribute information about referred laws.

    According to Bob Mercer, the task force struck Sections 4 through 8. They preserved a bit of Section 5 by tacking on a sentence requiring that CIRC summaries be posted on the Secretary of State’s website. Task force member Linda Lea Viken voted for this reduced version, but she said, “This is like the tail. The dog has left the room.” As the draft stands now, the final work product of the CIRC will offer voters less substantive information about initiatives than I offered in my half-hour speech to the Brown County Democratic Forum in February 2016. By dropping its mailer plan, the task force envisions the taxpayer-funded CIRC making less effort to publicize its initiative information than I did in handing out over 15,000 cards with the titles of all ten 2016 ballot measures and a link to my online ballot measure information. The task force dropped the requirement to include the CIRC minutes on the Secretary of State’s website, so there’s not even a guarantee that the testimony solicited by at the CIRC hearing will be made available to all voters throughout the election season.

    The task force did nudge the draft language from “a” hearing to “at least one,” but that small change does not guarantee more than one public hearing anywhere other than Pierre. Section 1 keeps the odious presence of two to four legislators, who have no business sticking their nose into the citizens’ legislative process that is meant to check legislators’ neglect of important issues and abuse of power. The task force also appears to have left in place Section 1’s allowance of up to six members of the same party on the CIRC, meaning one party could skew the hearings and initiative summaries. The approved draft also leaves referred laws out of the CIRC hearing process, leaving voters less informed about that important set of ballot questions.

    The Initiative & Referendum Task Force had a chance to improve citizen democracy and protect ballot measures from Legislative interference. Instead, the task force watered the robust and active ballot measure education ideas proposed by Rob Timm of the Chiesman Center for Democracy at their opening hearing in June and made a passel of other recommendations that are mostly detrimental to the people’s ability to propose, petition, and pass laws.

    The task force’s recommendations pass now to the Legislature, where Republican leaders will surely do their darnedest to make those recommendations even worse. Get ready to call your legislators, small-d democrats, and defend initiative and referendum from our overreaching, power-hungry Legislature!

  • Citizen Initiative Review Proposal Not Bad, But Needs Fewer Legislators, More Hearings

    Yesterday I erroneously complained on Twitter that, with just two hours to go before the Initiative and Referendum Task Force met, the Legislative Research Council still hadn’t posted the final draft bill that panel would consider. I got mixed up on meeting dates: the I&R task force meets today, not yesterday. I apologize to our mostly efficient friends at LRC for my mix-up.

    Within minutes of my Tweet, LRC posted the draft bill in question, giving us all 26 hours to review the proposal for a Citizen Initiative Review Commission. The draft bill isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it still has been taken in a more anti-initiative direction than some preceding proposals.

    Here are the nuts and bolts of Draft #108:

    The State Board of Elections would appoint an eleven-member Citizen Initiative Review Commission (CIRC) to hold one public hearing in Pierre for each of the initiated laws and amendments that makes the ballot. The CIRC would produce a 300-word-maximum summary of each initiative and appoint one five-member subcommittee for each initiative to produce Pro and Con statements. No later than 60 days before the election, the CIRC would post these summaries and Pro/Con statements to the Secretary of State’s website. The CIRC would also mail these statements, along with full text of each initiative, to every registered voter in South Dakota. The Secretary of State’s obligation to “distribute public information” about ballot measures, including Pro/Con statements and fiscal notes, would be limited to referred laws.

    On the good side, this proposal places the citizen review process after the measures qualify for the ballot instead of before petitions circulate as Republican legislators Rep. Tim Reed and Sen. Ernie Otten wanted. This proposal explicitly prohibits anyone affiliated with a running ballot measure campaign from serving on the commission, thus avoiding conflicts of interest. It improves on the status quo, in which ballot question pamphlets go online and to the county courthouses, by making any effort to put this useful information in the hands of every voter by mail. And in a happy tweak, this proposal gives the citizen panel a little primacy over the attorney general by not including the sometimes biased explanation of the partisan Attorney General in the mailer.

    However, I found myself drawing a lot more cautious yellow and grumpy red lines through the draft than happy green.

    First, in expanding the Citizen Initiative Review Commission from five members to eleven, Draft #108 makes room to mandate the presence of two to four legislators on the panel. The legislators must have served at least two full terms in the Legislature, meaning those legislator-members will be more likely to be in good with the Legislative leadership, which over the past few years as shown strong hostility toward the entire initiative process. My inclination on walking into a CIRC hearing and facing legislators on the panel would be to shout, “Haven’t you done enough already?” Initiative is supposed to be a check on abuse and neglect committed by legislators. Putting the legislators we’re checking on this review panel is like putting inmates on the parole board.

    Second, Draft #108 allows for up to six members from the same political party. No political party enjoys a majority in voter registration in South Dakota; no party should be allowed to hold a majority on the CIRC.

    Third, this proposal calls for just one hearing in Pierre. A previous draft called for at least two hearings for each measure in separate locations in the state. Hearings at the Capitol are nice, but they are hard to get to for most South Dakotans, including most of our reporters. The CIRC can meet in Pierre, but it should hold at least one more hearing for each initiative in Brookings, Mitchell, Aberdeen, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, or someplace else that more voters and reporters can reach in an hour or so.

    Fourth, this proposal takes away the opportunity proponents and opponents have to provide the Pro/Con statements that are distributed to voters. The CIRC gets its objective say with its summary; let that summary be the panel’s sole input, and let the key players for and against each initiative continue to have their one brief chance to present their basic arguments to every voter, in writing, on an equal footing.

    Fifth, while Draft #108 keeps active ballot question campaigners off the CIRC, Section 7 rather shockingly allows the CIRC to accept donations to fund its meetings and mailings “from any source.” Holy cow! A panel that might review Rick Weiland and Drey Samuelson’s proposed initiatives on prescription drugs prices, voting by mail, and redistricting would be able to take donations from Weiland and Samuelson’s TakeItBack.org? The CIRC could take money from the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, which is trying to protect its lobbying power by stifling the people’s voice? That provision has got to go: no contributions from ballot question committees or any of their donors.

    Sixth, the CIRC would not hear testimony or produce documents on referred laws. I can understand the logic: referred laws get hearings before the Legislature prior to passage and petitionage. However, this bill would place initiatives and referenda on unequal footings. Voters would receive hearings about initiatives during the election year and publications about initiatives in their mailboxes. Voters would have to go to the courthouse (or this blog!) to get similar useful information about referred laws. Proponents and opponents of initiatives would not get to have their Pro/Con statements distributed by the Secretary of State, while referendum principals will continue to enjoy that privilege. Voters likely don’t see a distinction between initiatives and referenda; they are all ballot questions, and they all deserve equal attention. The CIRC should hear and publish information on referred measures the same as initiatives to ensure voters are equally well informed on all policy questions on which they have the chance to vote.

    The Citizen Initiative Review Commission is workable. Unlike most of the garbage floated by the Initiative and Referendum Task Force, the CIRC could improve the initiative and referendum process. But to ensure improvement, the CIRC proposal needs these changes:

    1. Remove legislators from the process.
    2. Ensure a better partisan balance (no more than four members from the same party).
    3. Hold more hearings in more places.
    4. Keep the proponents’ and opponents voice in Pro/Con statements.
    5. Ban money from ballot question committees and their donors.
    6. Include referred laws in the CIRC process and publications.

    The Initiative and Referendum Task Force meets today, Friday, at 3 p.m. in Room 412 of the State Capitol in Pierre. They aren’t taking public testimony, but perhaps some calls and e-mails before this afternoon’s meeting will help them see their way to a better citizen (emphasis on citizen) review panel.

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