Angela Kennecke did not spotlight the most significant text from her 33-minute interview with Governor Dennis Daugaard and Secretary of Education Melody Schopp this week. Right out of the gate, Governor Daugaard evaded Kennecke’s opening question, about whether the GEAR UP, GOED, and Gant scandals and our new third-worst ranking for preventing corruption are products of one-party rule and what he will do to regain his constituents’ confidence. Yes, the question was unwieldly, but even the best reporter can’t fit everything that’s going wrong in South Dakota government right now into one neat five-second pitch.
Governor Daugaard dodged thus:
I don’t think it’s the result of a one-party rule, nor do I give much credence to that report. I think if you look at that report, virtually all but a handful of the states in the nation were given a D or an F. It’s really a measure not of how much corruption exists within a state. It’s a measure of how many laws and regulations exist within a state [Governor Dennis Daugaard, video interview with Angela Kennecke, “The Dust Up over GEAR UP,” KELO-TV, 2015.11.12, timestamp 00:50].
Note the attempt to turn fair reporting about the low grade South Dakota gets on fighting corruption into an opportunity for ideological slogan reinforcement. Kennecke ably described the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis as a rating of the strength of institutions for fighting corruption. Governor Dennis Daugaard tries to make South Dakotans think that guarding against corruption with accountability, access to information, and oversight is just more “laws and regulations.”
Translation: Fighting corruption is a liberal plot to grow government.
The Governor resorts to a similar slogan-dig to Kennecke’s question about why we have so many scandals happening all at once. He contests the premise, saying there aren’t lots of bad things happening all at once; it’s just investigations dragging on, because…
…when government is involved, particularly the federal government is involved, things proceed pretty slowly [Daugaard, in Kennecke, 2015.11.12, timestamp 02:52].
Translation: Keep voting Republican, because the federal government is slow and shouldn’t spend so much time investigating our corruption.
The Governor also tries to deflect assignation of blame for corruption in Pierre by portraying the corruption investigations and scorecards as attacks on the good people of South Dakota:
I think in all walks of life, in all occupations of life, you’re going to have situations where someone has been susceptible to greed or to their own self-interest. I think that’s very much the exception in South Dakota business and south dakota politics. I think the rule in South Dakota that I’ve seen, public employees are the vast majority of them hard-working, honest, intelligent, and doing the best they can for compensation that’s generally below what their peers in the private sector are being paid. So I think to paint South Dakota as somehow corrupt is a mispainting of our state [Daugaard, in Kennecke, 2015.11.12, timestamp 01:29].
Translation: [Cue Mom, Legion baseball, and apple kuchen]—anyone saying there’s corruption in state government is really attacking you, the exceptionally good and moral people of South Dakota! How dare they!
Governor Daugaard just can’t call corruption in Pierre and efforts to fight it what they are. He can’t take responsibility for losing public confidence in their government. He can only take Republican cheap shots, with appeals to parochialism and tired, distracting slogans.
Reaching for one more Republican moldy-oldy, Daugaard resorts to this gratuitous and ill-phrased dig at his old college chums in Chicago:
I think it’s interesting that South Dakota got a grade that was lower than Illinois and two out of the last three governors of Illinois are in prison today. So I really give no credence to that report at all [Daugaard, in Kennecke, 2015.11.12, timestamp 01:15].
Related Reading: The spin offensive (or should I say offensive spin?) is on. Talking with Seth Tupper, Governor Daugaard says it’s “laughable to say that these events arose out of a consequence of one party having a larger representation in the political arena than the other…. I don’t know how one could lead from one to the other.”
Shall we educate the Governor?
In Chicago, corruption persisted, to some degree because the city never had the benefit of a reformist mayor like New York City’s Fiorello LaGuardia, who had political ties to FDR. Instead, Chicago moved towards a one-party system that made it even more vulnerable to corruption: The city’s last Republican mayor left office in 1931. Today, not even the Democratic primaries are competitive—for the most part, once you’re in office, you stay there. The weak campaign finance laws in Illinois probably helped to stave off competition in recent years [Daniel Engber, “Why Is Chicago So Corrupt?” Slate, 2006.09.08].
Senator Scott Brown said yesterday that the federal corruption trial of former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi highlights the dangers of one-party dominance in Massachusetts and a go-along-to-get-along political culture.
Injecting politics into a normally celebratory moment, Brown said in remarks delivered at the Lasell College commencement ceremony: “I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican — just as one political party can’t be right 100 percent of the time, it shouldn’t have 100 percent of the power. Unchallenged power grows arrogant over time. It is what has given us one case of graft after another” [Glen Johnson, “One-Party Dominance Can Lead to Corruption,” Boston Globe, 2011.05.16].