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Ferguson Finds Farmers Union Family Tie to Lawyer Saying Contested Election Was Legit

Dana Ferguson treats us to the family tie of the week in her paper’s first mention on the dust-up at Farmers Union. As you dear readers know, disgruntled Farmers Union members are calling for the resignation of the South Dakota organization’s leadership and a new election to make up for alleged misconduct in the December election. Farmers Union says outside legal counsel has reviewed the December election and found no reason for concern.

Ferguson notes that “outside” may stretch matters a bit:

“We followed all of our bylaws,” Kecia Beranek, a union spokeswoman said. “Our board and an outside lawyer looked at the result and said it’s solid.”

The outside lawyer hired to review the results, Angela Brandt of the St. Paul-based firm Larson King, is the sister-in-law of the board’s spokeswoman [Dana Ferguson, “Farmers Union Feud Could Hinder Redistricting Reform,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.04.14].

All the lawyers in the world, and someone in the Farmers Union office says, “Get your sister-in-law on the phone”? Outside observers may understandably wonder if there’s a conflict of interest in the conclusions of that attorney.

As for Ferguson’s headline (I know, Ferguson probably didn’t write it, some copy editor in Dubuque did), the article offers no supporting analysis of any connection between this leadership spat and Amendment T, the proposal to empanel and independent redistricting commission to end gerrymandering, only one quote from Save Farmers Union Coalition leader Michael O’Connor, followed by an opposing quote from initiative maven Rick Weiland:

Who are they to talk about election reform when they can’t even conduct their own?” Michael O’Connor, a union member leading the charge to force the top officers’ resignation, said. “This insults the integrity of this 100-year-old institution and I can’t believe they allowed this to happen.”

But Rick Weiland, former U.S. Senate candidate, and South Dakota Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann Tornberg said the internal conflict at the union likely won’t affect the constitutional amendment gaining traction at the polls.

“I don’t see that as an issue,” Weiland said. “Those are separate issues, it’s like apples and oranges” [Ferguson, 2016.04.14].

O’Connor is correct that evidence of malfeasance in the conduct of its own election might undermine Farmers Union’s ethos as a spokesgroup for redistricting reform. But Weiland is more correct that this internal spat and Amendment T are separate issues. The alleged malfeasance within Farmers Union has nothing to do with drawing legislative district boundaries. Farmers Union is not seeking the authority to draw those boundaries. No detail of this strife, rooted largely, it seems in perceptions of personalities and office politics, has any bearing on the merits of taking the power to draw legislative districts away from self-interested partisan legislators and assigning that weighty task to an independent commission, as is done in Iowa, Arizona, and elsewhere.

The only practical complication, not addressed in Ferguson’s article, is whether the Farmers Union conflict will paralyze Farmers Union’s other operations and prevent the group from effectively fundraising and campaigning for the ballot measure it is sponsoring. If such paralysis happens, it will simply behoove other defenders of democracy to stand up and explain to voters the merits of Amendment T… which shouldn’t be hard, since I haven’t heard a good argument against making our election map fairer.


  1. grudznick 2016-04-15 07:53

    Unions are mostly corrupt. It is a good thing they are dying and going away.

  2. Jenny 2016-04-15 08:03

    Blue Collar boys in MN are making a living wage thanks to Unions.

  3. leslie 2016-04-15 08:09

    grudz u r such a pig under your bridge.

    all republicans are corrupt.

  4. happy camper 2016-04-15 08:24

    “Unions are mostly corrupt. It is a good thing they are dying and going away.” What about corporations and government? Blue Collar boys in MN are making a living wage thanks to better jobs and higher demand cause it’s a better place to live. Still too cold though.

  5. truthhurts 2016-04-15 08:32

    Family connections are very common in Farmers Union. 2 of the contested delegates who were allowed to vote in this election were the daughters of Secretary/Treasurer Hofhenke. They carried the votes for Brule county who had 33 votes and for years was an unorganized county until just days before the convention. Also Lincoln county, who actually decided to not attend and vote at the convention, but somehow the Secretary/Treasurers daughter showed up to vote for them as well, carrying 46 votes. Add in the 18 votes Ann Tornberg, the credentials chariman carried for her unorganized county, 45 votes for Jerauld/Buffalo that was hotly debated on the floor of convention by an ex-board member who spoke of their counties inactivity, and the 101 votes for Codington/Hamlin that somehow managed to again become active and allowed to vote after years of inactivity and we see a pattern emerging. Also somehow communications specialist Kecia Beranek carried the votes for Hand county, and employee Pam Evenson and husband were delegates for Spink county. All of this is very unethical, if not illegal if you study SDCL 47-17-4.1.

  6. Jenny 2016-04-15 08:48

    I know for a fact that Unions boys make a much better wage. Ask the Teamster boys at Kemps Dairy.

  7. happy camper 2016-04-15 09:11

    “all republicans are corrupt.” Such comments are a mindless way to demonize a whole segment of people just as stupid as racism.

    Maybe those jobs at Kemps are worthy of a better wage. Possibly not, but in states where unions are strong the non-union workers get a big rub.

    Corporations collude to not hire away each other’s workers, especially in tech. They don’t deserve any sympathy Grudz.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-15 17:12

    Hold on: is it accurate to refer to Farmers Union as a labor union like the Teamsters? Farmers Union is a cooperative. They conduct educational programs. Like labor unions, they lobby for legislation to promote their members’ interests, but unlike labor unions, they don’t do collective bargaining.

  9. Who Cares 2016-04-15 19:09

    Who cares who they hired for their lawyer? She is still a lawyer right? Sounds like a group of cry babies who didn’t get their way with election. Must be a very slow news day if this is what the Argus had to write about. Use to be actual news there. This story is lame.

  10. clcjm 2016-04-16 00:29

    Yea, what Cory said! Farmers’ Union is a trade association of people who make a living from the same or very similar businesses! They are business owners who work together to promote their business and products to enhance their ability to make a living! No your facts before you throw stones!

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-16 07:41

    I find folks who cry “slow news day” are usually folks who don’t want a story to be news. Ferguson’s story is factual and addresses problems in an organization keenly involved in South Dakota politics and in one of South Dakota’s largest industries. That sounds like actual news to me, far more newsworthy than the entire sports section or the typical crimes and crashes of the week.

  12. Paladn 2016-04-16 16:36


    It is nice to know that there remains a need for public schools in our world. What an analysis of the Farmers Union.

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