Senator Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) provides evidence that, whatever corruption may have taken place in the past, Pierre has gotten its act together and will not let any errant misappropriation of taxpayer dollars slip past its watchful eye:
Eight bucks, for parking? Nuts to that—go park at a park along the river, and ride your bike to the meeting!
But if you can’t make that walk, our State Auditor is deadly serious: save your receipts, or no reimbursements!
I will require at least 10 hours time on the GOAC schedule at the Vermillion map, and I will need the assistance in serving witness summons on at least 6 people.
In that Senator Peter’s letter is an official letter to me as a SD Senator & member of the GOAC, I request the appropriate staffing and support to provide a thorough response for the record.
Please make an impartial attorney available, two staff members to help prepare, and logistical support and approval for meeting with those persons to compile my official testimonial & documentary response.
Since it is impossible to transfer the entirety of the research material available to Pierre, we will need to meet in Vermillion for several days to prepare and for the GOAC inquisition on what myself and others know about the corruption Senator Peters is attempting to distract from and run “interference” for [Senator Stace Nelson, e-mail to Department of Legislative Audit et al., 2017.08.23].
Senator Nelson e-mailed this request this morning to Auditor General Marty Guindon, DLA audit manager Tim Flannery, Attorney General Marty Jackley, and Legislative Research Council exec Jason Hancock. Senator Nelson cc’s this e-mail to GOAC chair Peters, GOAC vice-chair Rep. Jean Hunhoff, Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield, his occasional colleagues in GOP rump rebellion Senator Lance Russell and Rep. Elizabeth May, and members of the press.
Just to make clear he’s not gladly responding to the request for his testimony, Senator Nelson mans the guns and asks Pro-Tem Greenfield to kick Senator Peters off GOAC:
Senator Greenfield, I renew my request for you to remove Senator Peters from the GOAC. With her efforts to illegally trade votes to have me removed for my January email asking questions of Rep. Schoenfish’s involvement in GOAC; her recent Op Ed claiming nothing is amiss (before we even got the answers back from preliminary witnesses?!); and now her abuse of her position as chairwoman serving letters on committee members who are not material witnesses in attempt to intimidate and distract from the corruption at hand; she has demonstrated (as astutely pointed out by Representative May) that Sen Peters is NOT running an impartial legislative investigation into this ugly public corruption scandal, but “running interference” for her patron benefactor’s administration.
Please provide the requested assistance immediately [Nelson to DLA, 2017.08.23].
One could argue that Senator Peters has simply requested that Senator Nelson present information, and that he could respectfully decline that request with no consequences, as did the four people GOAC invited to testify about GEAR UP next week. Instead, Senator Nelson is treating Senator Peters’s letter as a official request—note his use of the word serving in that last paragraph—and threatening to knock her out of her committee seat before she can knock him out of his Senate seat.
As a candidate and a sitting legislator, Stace Nelson has sounded the alarm over the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal and South Dakota corruption in general more loudly than anyone else in Pierre. Many of the written questions sent to invited witnesses Melody Schopp, Tamara Darnall, Randy Schoenfish, and Brinda Kuhn were composed by Senator Nelson. Unable to get regular people to come respond to those questions in person, GOAC chair Senator Deb Peters and and GOAC vice-chair Representative Jean Hunhoff are asking their Republican GOAC colleague Senator Nelson to take that empty witness seat. Peters and Hunhoff are asking Nelson to reveal “the sources of any information you have regarding the investigation of the GEAR UP program,” any evidence he has of criminal activity, and recommendations for legislation responding to what GOAC has learned about GEAR UP.
Any person who, being present before either house of the Legislature or any committee thereof authorized to summon witnesses, willfully refuses to be sworn or affirmed, or to answer any material and proper question, or to produce upon reasonable notice any material or proper books, papers, or documents in his possession or under his control, is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor [SDCL 2-6-6].
The GOAC chair is asking a GOAC member to present himself before GOAC and answer material and proper questions. The GOAC chair is asking a GOAC member to produce “sources” of information, which could include papers and documents. The GOAC chair has given the GOAC member “reasonable notice,” a good week-plus, to prepare his responses and documents. If the GOAC member takes the witness chair and doesn’t produce, the GOAC member could face a Class 2 misdemeanor charge.
But 30 days and $500 is small potatoes to what Peters and many in the South Dakota Republican Party might really want. Consider SDCL 2-6-7:
The conviction of a member of the Legislature of any crime defined in § 2-6-5 or 2-6-6 involves as a consequence, in addition to the punishment prescribed therein, a forfeiture of his office and disqualifies him from ever thereafter holding any public office under this state [SDCL 2-6-7].
If Senator Nelson fails to answer the above questions to Chairman Peters’s satisfaction, Chairman Peters may invoke SDCL 2-6-6 and SDCL 2-6-7 to disqualify Stace Nelson from his Senate seat and from any future elected office in South Dakota. Governor Daugaard would then be able to appoint a replacement. Governor Daugaard’s logical choice would not be Democrat Russell Graeff, the runner-up in the 2016 general election in District 19, but Republican Caleb Finck, the loyal young GOP establishment minion whom Nelson vanquished in the 2016 primary with some savage personal attacks.
The South Dakota GOP establishment has never liked Nelson, in part because he makes so much noise about the corruption that their monolithic rule has fostered. At next week’s GOAC hearing, Senator Nelson should tread carefully to ensure the GOP establishment doesn’t use his aggressive anti-corruption rhetoric to judo-throw him right out of the Senate.
Education Secretary Melody Schopp raised my eyebrows with her claim last week that the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative scandal didn’t lose any federal GEAR UP grant money. That claim has Republican Senator Stace Nelson livid:
The burden of ongoing corruption in SD just got real for the taxpayers in Armour, Burke, Colome, Corsica, Ethan, Gregory, Kimball, Mount Vernon, Plankinton, Platte-Geddes, Stickney, Wessington Springs, White Lake, and Wolsey-Wessington School Districts! On June 29th, the “Lead Grant Partner” to MidCentral Education Cooperative (MEC), responsible for the administration, management, and oversight of the GEAR UP grants since 2005, named those schools contracted to MEC for services in its $4.3 Million lawsuit to recoup monies fraudulently misappropriated. The “Lead Grant Partner?” The SD Department of Education (DOE)!
Wait! It gets worse! DOE Secretary Melody Schopp testified before the Government Operations & Audit Committee (GOAC) on July 24th, claiming her office did a great job of managing GEAR UP over the years. Sec. Schopp claimed she didn’t have any indications of inappropriate financial dealings until 2015. Sec. Schopp claimed that independent auditors at Schoenfish accounting repeatedly cleared MidCentral as operating properly which caused her to continue to approve the contracts over the years.
The money DOE is suing school districts for? That Schopp’s office was responsible for administrating? Really isn’t missing… Maybe! Sec Schopp explained the monies are only missing if the federal government does not find out the $4.3-million massively bloated appraisals for donated free Microsoft software (a claim submitted by DOE & MEC), was an illegitimate claim. South Dakota Legislative Audit considered it illegitimate, and its been used against Phelps, and Guericke in their criminal trials by the attorney general.
The twelve years of DOE mismanaging the GEAR UP program Sec. Schopp is proud of? Approximately $60 million spent (about one quarter considered suspect by legislative auditors) to prepare Native American youth for college, with only 285 students claimed enrolled in higher education!
More bad news for the 14 school districts? A class-action lawsuit by Native American students against MidCentral naming Round’s former Secretary of Education Rick Melmer, DOE’s GEAR UP grant writer/program evaluator Brinda Kuhn, and USD GEAR UP Evaluator & South Dakota Board of Education member Kelly Duncan. They could name the districts in their suit.
U.S. history is replete with political corruption like New York’s Tammany Hall, and the Chicago Daley political machines that robbed taxpayers from within government through cronies protected from prosecution. We are seeing the same subversion of law in South Dakota for protection of cronies, in an ever brazen fashion.
Lawsuits still surround the Rounds/Daugaard Administration’s EB-5 corruption, one for $32.5 million and another against South Dakota for $18.55 million. Legislators they endorsed, and provided significant help to get elected, willingly shut the GOAC down from fully investigating. Contrary to legal precedents dating back to British jurisprudence, they claimed the legislature did not have authority to investigate state corruption or require witnesses appear to testify. In a complex scheme involving numerous state officials and $120 million missing? Not one state official was ever held accountable. It was all conveniently blamed on a man dead under mysterious circumstances, the file of which the attorney general sealed.
Ten years of millions of dollars of government corruption at the center of the mysterious deaths of four children and their parents? Again! Politically connected responsible state officials not charged, and establishment elected officials outrageously again claiming the GOAC cannot investigate or summon witnesses despite extensive legal precedents to do so (Google: Anderson v. Dunn (US 1821); Kilbourn v. Thompson (US 1880); In re Chapman (US 1897); Harriman v. Interstate Commerce Commission (US 1908); Marshall v. Gordon (US 1917); et al). Cover up or intentional incompetence?
Reports are former directors of DOE Indian Education blew the whistle to Sec. Schopp before 2011; one was fired the other was forced to leave. What will history call South Dakota’s corrupt machine? [Sen. Stace Nelson, op-ed, received by Dakota Free Press 2017.08.03]
That Sioux Falls paper picks up the story we discussed here back on July 1, that sponsors’ incautious editing may have limited the scope of its recreational-marijuana initiative to legalize pot paraphrenalia but not pot itself. Naturally, the SDGOP spin blog sees the story as an opportunity to ridicule the sponsors personally. I see a more instructive opportunity to highlight some unusual bipartisan cooperation inspired by the ballot question:
Sens. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, and Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, said they worked with [ballot question sponsor Melissa] Mentele and [Legislative Research Council director Jason] Hancock to understand the discrepancies between the language submitted and the assessment of the measure.
If the measure is approved at the ballot and he is re-elected in 2018, Nesiba said he would be willing to bring legislation clarifying the bill’s intent.
Of course, Senator Nelson’s respect for the initiative process gives him a justification for voting against amending any flaws in the recreational marijuana measure:
The opponent of recreational marijuana who represents Mentele’s district said he was sympathetic to the ballot measure sponsor’s concerns but likely couldn’t justify voting to amend a voter-approved law down the road [Ferguson, 2017.07.31].
I can’t fault Senator Nelson for that position: if voters approve a ballot measure, legislators should leave it alone. Senator Nelson took exactly that position last winter when he bucked his party’s repeal of Initiated Measure 22. However, if the voters place this recreational marijuana initiative on the ballot and approve it in 2018 with the intent of legalizing, regulating, and taxing recreational marijuana, and if state officials foil that intent by interpreting the initiative to permit only the possession of empty bongs, one could argue that Senator Nelson would show more respect for the voters by supporting the sort of amendment Senator Nesiba suggests to clarify the resolution’s intent. But Senator Nelson is right to be cautious of tinkering with voter-approved initiatives and should support no amendment unless it is backed by genuine and widespread grassroots voter demand.
The Court’s ruling allows the Trump White House to keep out visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen and refugees in general unless those individuals have family, jobs, university admission, or some similar “bona fide” relationship stateside. Absent any such bona fide relationship, the government’s compelling interest in national security prevails unchecked:
The interest in preserving national security is “an urgent objective of the highest order.” Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 561 U. S. 1, 28 (2010). To prevent the Government from pursuing that objective by enforcing §2(c) against foreign nationals unconnected to the United States would appreciably injure its interests, without alleviating obvious hardship to anyone else.
…An American individual or entity that has a bona fide relationship with a particular person seeking to enter the country as a refugee can legitimately claim concrete hardship if that person is excluded. As to these individuals and entities, we do not disturb the injunction. But when it comes to refugees who lack any such connection to the United States, for the reasons we have set out, the balance tips in favor of the Government’s compelling need to provide for the Nation’s security [Supreme Court of the United States, Per Curiam, Trump v. IRAP and Trump v. Hawaii, 2017.06.26].
The case may moot itself before the Supreme Court hears arguments on the merits in October, since the travel ban lasts only 90 days. The Economistreads sneaky genius on the part of Chief Justice John Roberts:
So, despite granting Mr Trump’s plea to hear his case and largely lifting the lower-court stays on the travel ban, Chief Justice John Roberts apparently worked out an ingenious compromise with his liberal brethren and the swing justice, Anthony Kennedy, that injects the Supreme Court only minimally into a big question on the scope of executive power in the Trump era. The chief justice has avoided making politically volatile judicial pronouncements on presidential immigration powers, anti-Muslim bias and the justiciability of tweets, and has positioned himself somewhere to the left of the court’s new conservative triumvirate [“The Supreme Court’s Curious Compromise on the Travel Ban,” The Economist, 2017.06.26].
But let’s entertain Senator Nelson’s position. Suppose Ms. Islam and I are wrong. Suppose the anti-Muslim propagandists to whom we’ve been responding are 100% correct: Muslims are waging civilization jihad, every mosque is a bastion of jihadi occupation, every Muslim will lie and do violence for Allah, and every liberal or Christian who promotes honest dialogue with Muslims is a dupe supporting terrorism and Sharia. I am not exaggerating—such are the core tenets of every presentation made by the anti-Muslim speakers whom Senator Nelson praises and whom Ms. Islam and I have decried.
If Senator Nelson and those tenets are correct and Ms. Islam and I mere dupes, then today’s ruling by the Supreme Court leaves America open to jihad. The anti-Muslim slideshows in Rapid City, Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, and elsewhere teach that all Muslims our out to topple Western civilization. These slideshows make no exception for Muslims with “bona fide” relationships with American citizens or institutions. The Muslims among us are part of the threat, perhaps the greater threat, since they have already established homes, mosques, income streams, and (gasp!) citizenship that allows them to vote, run for office, and change our laws to Sharia. The Supreme Court’s partial implementation of the travel ban does nothing to stop those most dangerous Muslims among us from bringing in their sisters and brothers and other partners in jihad.
If Senator Nelson were right, if I were defending radical Islamic terrorism, if I were faking peaceful atheism to hide a craving for violent theocracy, then I would cheer the Court as nine more useful dupes in jihad. Far from supporting the Commander in Chief’s “number one responsibility… to keep the American people safe,” the Court’s ruling leaves the door open for evil Muslims in America to invite their evil cousins from overseas and for those scheming liberal universities to keep recruiting jihadi students and professors.
KCPO-TV occasionally airs The Facts, an ironic exercise in trying to get “facts” from a stream of right-wing wishmongers. The Sioux Falls station hasn’t posted new “Facts” online since last November. However, KCPO is advertising a new program that appears to be dedicated to South Dakota politics—The Nelson Verity:
Ching-chings for EB-5 and GEAR UP, but what was that sound effect for the Mathew Wollmann sex scandal—Godzilla terrorizing Tokyo? An angry bull in the dog pound?
I don’t see Soli Deo Gloria in the Secretary of State’s corporate filings or fictitious names registry. But the swords and shield certainly reflect Stace Nelson’s military background, and that cross in the middle is the official logo of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, of which the church Stace attends, Zion Lutheran in Mitchell, is a member. We can only assume that the producer of the production company logo has secured permission from the executive director of LCMS communications, who, according to the LCMS Logo Usage Terms and Conditions, may make “rare exceptions” to the LCMS policy that “Private businesses may not use the logo; nor may LCMS congregational members use the logo for business or personal use.”
Is Stace Nelson ready to boost KCPO to the top-rated TV station in Sioux Falls that doesn’t broadcast Hawaii Five-O? Will his program be more Bill O’Reilly or William F. Buckley? And could a TV talk show be a launching pad for another statewide candidacy for Nelson? Put some extra aluminum foil on your rabbit ears and see if you can pick KCPO out of the ether to find out!
p.s.: Show’s not even on yet, and already we have to fact-check… or in this case, spell-check. It’s Merriam-Webster. And that’s a verity… er, fact.
Correction/Update 16:11 CDT: Auditor General Marty Gunidon e-mailed me to correct my original report. He will not be presenting his final report on Mid-Central/GEAR UP on Tuesday. He is appearing before the Government Operations and Audit Committee to brief new members of the committee on “the timeline and nature of the work we have conducted regarding the Department of Education, Mid Central Education Cooperative and related parties and the status of where we are with the reports. I will not be discussing the reports or the findings contained in those reports at Tuesday’s meeting as they are not yet ready for release.”
I regret the error and have amended the headline to reflect Auditor General Guindon’s statement. I apparently misread Mercer’s statement, “Come this Tuesday, he presents his report to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee” to mean Guindon would present his final report rather than a version of the briefing he presented to the Legislative Executive Board this week. Even absent a final report, expect Senator Nelson to seek an opportunity to ask some hard questions.
I leave the original text of my post below, with new italics to reflect my erroneous statements.
There have been significant concerns and questions expressed by voters in our district, by other legislators, and even KELO’s Angela Kennecke in a news story, regarding our district Rep. Kyle Schoenfish’s reported involvement in the auditing of certain entities at the center of this scandal. On Jan. 31, I officially forwarded those questions to Rep. Schoenfish. He responded on Feb. 4 stating the questions were “..fairly easy to address.” Despite that statement, to date he has refused to provide answers to those questions asked by Kennecke and others. Additionally, Rep. Schoenfish failed to show up for two of our district’s five cracker barrels (legislative forums), one in Corsica on Feb. 16, and the other in his hometown of Scotland on March 11. He now claims repeatedly in his articles to our local papers that he has been “attacked” by “dishonest politicians and people” and claims to be a victim of “meritless political attacks.”
Rep. Schoenfish is being “attacked” by his own record and the ugly appearance that comes from avoiding answering questions that the public has a right to have answered. In regards to his missing or avoiding cracker barrels, if I as a husband, daddy, grandfather, small Sioux Falls business manager, hobby farmer and busted-up old Marine can make time to meet my obligations and drive several hours to attend the voters’ cracker barrels to be answerable to you, I expect a young, single man living at home and working for his father to make time for the responsibilities he knowingly signed on to (and got paid for), or to resign if he is unwilling to do so [Sen. Stace Nelson, “Facing Corruption; Facing the Voters,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2017.04.17].
If Senator Nelson uses Tuesday’s Mid-Central discussion to continue his vengeful assault on Rep. Schoenfish, he may not find back-up on the committee. Six of the seven other Republicans on the committee are reliable GOP mainstreamers who seem inclined to avoid in-caucus attacks on committee time; the seventh, Senator Neal Tapio, is too busy dreaming of federal office to pay attention to Nelson, Schoenfish, or GEAR UP. If Nelson turns to the two Democrats on GOAC, he’ll find Rep. Susan Wismer likely focusing her sharp accountant’s mind on the numbers, not the names, and Senator Billie Sutton balancing his duty to his District 21, where GEAR UP blew up, with his urge to moderation (and possibly the need to finish his McGovern Day speech announcing his run for Governor).
Senator Nelson’s tough questions are a side reason to tune in to GOAC on Tuesday, April 25. The main reason is to listen to Auditor General Marty Guindon and read his report on what he has found in the dark, twisted accounts of the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative.
We should not be surprised: Stace Nelson has voted Nay on 80% of the state budgets presented to him (Aye in 2011, Nay in 2012, 2013, 2014, and now 2017.)
Senator Nelson complained about the budget process at Saturday’s Scotland crackerbarrel:
That was a brand new bill yesterday. Voters didn’t have a chance to look at it. I didn’t have a chance to look through it thoroughly. Any legislator that says they looked through that bill thoroughly in the little bit of time we had might not be telling the whole truth [Sen. Stace Nelson, in “SD State Senator Stace Nelson Unhappy with Budget Process,” WNAX, 2017.03.13].
SD’s $4.5 BILLION annual budget bill at about 2:20PM during the last two hours of session on the last day of session. Printed copies of the proposed new budget bill showed up on desks around 12:40ish, but we were still in and out of session debating bills. Before any legislator had any time to properly read, review, and verify the brand new annual budget bill with the budgetary information of the last 3 months, or the public to even do so, the bill was passed out of both chambers and everyone was gone by 4:37PM…. It was 31 pages long with vague accounting information that has to be cross referenced in order to see where the money is going. Let that sink in [Sen. Stace Nelson, in Todd Epp, “Legislative Procrastination on a $4.55 Billion Budget Is What a Teenager Might Do,” KELO Radio: Token Liberal, 2017.03.12].
Epp notes that rookie Representative Greg Jamison concurs to some extent with Senator Nelson about the relative rush and opacity of the state budget process, especially compared with the lengthier, more open budget process Jamison experienced as a Sioux Falls city councilman.
I understand why Senator Nelson would feel frustrated about the most important bill of the Session popping out of committee on the last day, leaving just enough for pat backs and vote before banging the gavel and running home. I agree in general with Senator Nelson about the need for transparency on every bill. No bill should emerge with amendment from committee a go to a floor vote unless legislators and regular citizens have had at least 24 hours to review the amended text.
I also share Senator Nelson’s frustration in trying to interpret the budget. The appropriations bill presents only the figures for the coming fiscal year. That’s all Senate Bill 178 really should say—a bill is the language to be enacted as law, not an econ/civics textbook. But it would be nice to have some notes attached to the bill allowing legislators and the rest of us to drill into the numbers and view comparisons to past years’ budgets.
However, I must defuse Senator Nelson’s critique with two responses, one technical, one practical.
We should note that the budget bill passed Friday was only technically a new bill. The first budget draft was posted on February 3 as Senate Bill 175. On Friday, March 10, the committee tabled that bill and put up a new budget in Senate Bill 178. However, 72% of the line-item dollar totals and 97% of the full-time job totals remains unchanged from the original draft. Thus, the great majority of line items in the budget presented to the full Senate and House for final votes on Friday had been available for review for 35 days.
The 52 line-item totals that did change cut the original $4.6-billion budget by just 1.1%. The five FTE changes in the new budget cut the original state workforce proposal from 13,862 to 13,858.8, a decrease of 0.02%.
Beyond the relative magnitude (parvitude?) of the changes, we should consider the work that produces the budget now and ask what work Senator Nelson wants the Legislature to do.
If we really want to open the budget for a department-by-department, line-by-line, employee-by-employee debate, we may need to throw out the Legislative Budget Handbook and make everyone an Appropriator. Divide the Session in half: get all the silly bills and resolutions—guns, gays, God, Trumpism—out of the way in the first five weeks, then dedicate the last four weeks to nothing but the budget. Seat each legislator on one of a dozen subcommittees, each assigned two or three department budgets to hash out. Those subcommittees pass their recommendations to Joint Appropriations, which pieces everything together into a complete budget package, which goes to the Senate and House floors for at least one full week—and it will take that long—of tedious dollar-by-dollar debate as legislators throw spreadsheets at each other.
To certain individuals, that may sound like a lot of fun. But would Stace Nelson want to give up four weeks of stroking the South Dakota Gun Owners to work on nothing but numbers?
Just be careful what you wish for, Stace: keep talking about your desire to study the budget more in-depth, and your Pro-Tem pal may stick you on Appropriations next year!
But this was hardly the first time. Several marriages have resulted in the past few decades from affairs involving legislators that occurred during legislative sessions. There was the ugly investigation involving a senator and a page a decade ago.
It took Nelson to finally get a straightforward ban in black and white. Admire him or detest him, he isn’t one to let something go.
He spent more than 20 years in military law enforcement. He is a U.S. Marine to his core and is proud of it.
In a Session where the Legislature exerted itself to whitewash its repeal of Initiated Measure 22 by creating the appearance of bipartisan concord on the need for ethics reforms, Senator Nelson still had to drag his colleagues to embrace banning what too many in Pierre have apparently viewed as a perk of serving in the Capitol. And Senator Novstrup’s final vote for that ban, lodged among several other rules, leaves us wondering if Novstrup really changed his mind from his three previous votes against banning sex with interns.