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Peterson, Schoenfish, Finck Jump in Mental Muck Together on Ballot Measures

A Republican campaign guru said something earlier this campaign season about how newsletter inserts in the local paper are a waste of campaign funds. (My third campaign newsletter will appear in the Aberdeen American News later this month—stay tuned!)

That guru must be apoplectic over his own District 19 GOP favorites’ ignoring his advice and wasting monumental sums on a full four-page insert masquerading as the James River Republican in the latest Emery Enterprise and Alexandria Herald:

clip from "James River Republican" campaign newsletter, June 2016
clip from “James River Republican” campaign newsletter, June 2016

The newsletter appears to be paid for by the District 19 GOP wonderkids: incumbent Rep. Kent Peterson of Salem, incumbent Rep. and arguably myopic Mid-Central Educational Cooperative auditor Kyle Schoenfish of Scotland, and Governor Dennis Daugaard’s favorite newcomer Caleb Finck of Tripp. All three stand in Tuesday’s primary against arguably more conservative challengers.

I’m still waiting to obtain a complete copy of this gem, but none of the clips I’ve seen bear a complete byline. Whoever wrote this GOP mainstream rag thinks the most valuable use of their front page real estate is not “VOTE FOR THESE GUYS” but a lengthy ramble about the merits of the Electoral College, the U.S. Senate, and federalism. I appreciate a good civics lesson, fellas, but I guarantee you, nothing on that front page adds a vote to your column.

Elsewhere, the newsletter turns to ballot questions, wherein we learn you won’t learn the facts about ballot measures from Republicans:

clip from James River Republican campaign newsletter, June 2016
clip from James River Republican campaign newsletter, June 2016

“JUST SAY NO on everying,” says the nameless Editor, who apparently didn’t edit much.

Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck attack all ten ballot measures not by discussing the details of each measure and the faults therein. Instead, they encourage reactionary do-nothingness (oh, right, these are Republicans) by advancing the thesis that out-of-state groups are duping South Dakotans into passing laws that the Legislature hasn’t reviewed.

Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck drop so many Buridanian haystacks of fallacy that I almost can’t pick where to start munching. Almost.

Out-of-state groups have pushed some unwise ballot measures in South Dakota. But they haven’t enjoyed much success: South Dakotans soundly defeated the two examples offered, legalization of medical marijuana and the whacky, Cliven-Bundyesque JAIL amendment. (To the best of my knowledge, no South Dakota ballot measure has ever sought to “legalize drugs”… and I am open to correction from Bob Newland and other experts on just how much out-of-state support was behind the 2010 and 2006 medical marijuana measures and the 2002 industrial hemp measure.)

Initiated Measure 21, the real 36% rate cap on this year’s ballot, is not the product of an out-of-state group. The sponsors and heads of South Dakotans for Responsible Lending are Sioux Falls men Steve Hildebrand, Steve Hickey, and Reynold Nesiba. Of the roughly $28,200 in campaign contributions reported on South Dakotans for Responsible Lending’s 2015 year-end and 2016 pre-primary reports, $2,200 has come from out-of-state donors, and $2,000 of that “imported” money came from former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle in Washington, D.C. North Carolina’s Center for Responsible Lending has provided over $5,800 in consulting as an in-kind contribution, but that hardly looks like an outside group dominating the drive to cap interest payday lending rates at 36%.

Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act, is spearheaded by Sioux Falls businessman Rick Weiland. (I guess to these District 19 boys, Sioux Falls feels like another state rather than the home of a quarter of the people they serve in Pierre.) His South Dakotans for Ethics Reform Committee has gotten all of its actual $228,500 in campaign cash from Represent Us, which oh-my-Gaia is based in Massachusetts. Boom! Out-of-state funders! Must be evil! Take your state ethics commission, lobbying reform, campaign finance limits, and voluntary public campaign finance system and pahk ’em in Hahvahd Yahd!

Of course, if Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck were really trying to make a case against the evil of out-of-state ballot measures, they’d have focused on the most glaring examples on this year’s ballot. IM 22 may have out-of-state backers, but they were set in motion by South Dakotan Rick Weiland, who recognized the need for reforms, talked with lots of South Dakotans about options, picked a couple, and then went looking for funding. Peter-fish-Finck can stage a much bigger foreign freakout over Amendment S, the duplicative crime victims bill of rights. The entire text of that ballot measure as well as nearly every dollar of the over $792,000 poured into that ballot question (year-end, pre-primary) has come from one man, California billionaire Henry T. Nicholas.

Likewise for Amendment U, the fake 36% rate cap. This deliberately deceptive ballot measure, a blatant attempt to use our initiative laws to undermine the genuine, grassroots Initiated Measure 21, has received nearly all of its $2.43 million (Furlong year-end, pre-primary; Thuringer year-end, pre-primary) from one source: Select Management Resources, Rod Aycox’s Georgia-based payday lending corporation. (By the way, the third committee created to fight the real rate cap, consisting of Pierre lobbyists Brett Koenecke and Doug Abraham, terminated itself May 24.)

If out-of-state involvement in ballot measures is an offense, Peter-fish-Finck would be spotlighting the worst offenders. But that would also mean spotlighting one of their best Republican buddies, Pierre-based GOP consultant Jason Glodt, who is fronting Henry T. Nicholas’s vanity project in South Dakota.

The District 19 boys’ failure to discuss the Nicholas/Glodt Amendment S shows their failure to think through their argument on two other fronts.

Reread their penultimate paragraph, where they say we need to “take a far more critical look at all these laws that people are attempting to pass that have not gone through the state legislature.” I’ve already noted that Peter-fish-Finck aren’t taking a critical look at all these laws; they are taking a misleading glance at two of the ten. But then they add this remarkable criterion that a ballot measure lacks merit if it has not first been reviewed by the Legislature.


  • Initiated Measure 21 exists specifically because former legislator Steve Hickey tried more than once to get the Legislature to pass reasonable restrictions on payday lending. When the payday lenders offered to support a compromise bill and then reneged, Hickey turned to the initiative process.
  • Initiated Measure 22 includes a state ethics committee. Rep. Peggy Gibson has tried multiple times to get the Legislature to restore the state ethics commission, to no avail.
  • Amendment T would end gerrymandering with an independent redistricting commission. Former legislator Bill Thompson and others have offered multiple redistricting reforms, all of which have been killed by a Republican majority heck-bent on keeping its map advantage.
  • Initiated Measure 23 would allow unions to collect “fair-share dues” from non-members whom the law requires unions to represent in collective bargaining. Rep. Patrick Kirschman brought a similar proposal before the Legislature in 2009, only to see it defeated.
  • Amendment R is on the ballot because the Legislature put it there.

“all these laws… that have not gone through the state legislature”?! Heck—five of the eight initiated measures that Peter-fish-Finck want us to reject out of hand have had legislative review.

The clearest example of a measure coming out of nowhere, with no legislative consideration, is the Nicholas/Glodt Amendment. I’ve argued previously that if there really were gaps in victims’ rights, local advocacy groups and prosecutors would have brought those gaps to the Legislature’s attention, and legislators eager for a passable softball would have jumped at the chance to sponsor such a feel-good measure. No such noise has arisen. Nicholas and Glodt have blindsided the Legislature and the public with a measure no one not on Nicholas’s payroll has been crying for.

When these three District 19ers cry “Legislature first!” they either don’t know the history of these issues or are simply grasping for arguments that they haven’t really thought through.

Finally, crying “JUST SAY NO” is not the “critical look” Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck ask for. It’s the frustrated cry of sub-par candidates with an allergy to critical thinking. Ballot measures aren’t drugs, Nancy—they are policy proposals that each deserve serious analysis and votes. Peter-fish-Finck can’t even exert the mental muscle to craft a position that tackles the measures they oppose without undermining the measures their party pals want. By crying “NO×10,” Peter-fish-Finck show they didn’t get the memo from their party buddy Jason Glodt that Amendment S is a good thing. They do my devious Democratic bidding by telling people to vote down Referred Laws 19 and 20, the Incumbent Protection Plan and youth minimum wage that their GOP leaders passed out of partisan snark in 2015. They help me out by knocking down the payday lenders amendment that could protect their industry buddies from our Sandersesque urges once and for all. Crying NO×10, far from clever strategy, only grates your pals’ cheese, spots me four big wins, and lets me focus on prying away just enough votes on the other issues to advance the Democratic agenda.

Look, if you guys just don’t want to think about the issues and prefer just to grunt NO on everything, that’s your business. But don’t burn up good newsprint with flimsy, false attacks that encourage the rest of the electorate to adopt your obfuscatory incuriosity.

Now, how can I boil all that down for my next simple, cost-effective, single-page campaign newsletter?

Bonus Campaign Finance Challenge! I invite readers and the Secretary of State to discuss whether Peterson, Schoenfish, and Finck need to file an Independent Expenditure statement (within 48 hours of publication!) in accordance with SDCL 12-27-16 for issuing a political communication that expressly advocates against multiple ballot questions.


  1. owen reitzel 2016-06-05 19:26

    I don’t know if this is the smart thing to do. Seems phony to me. Sometimes I wonder but most people aren’t that dumb and they’d see through this.

    Go after Stace on the issues face to face. People might disagree with you but they’d respect you more. At least that’s my opinion.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-05 19:47

    Owen, if this advertisement is Peterson/Schoenfish/Finck’s attack on Stace Nelson and House challenger ReGina Osborn, how does this bumbling attempt to advocate “NO” on the ballot measures advance their cause in the primary? Have Nelson and/or Osborn been making a big deal about the ballot measures?

  3. Nick Nemec 2016-06-05 21:40

    Don’t Peterson/Schoenfish/Finck realize that South Dakota was the first state in the nation to adopt initiative and referendum specifically to address the legislature’s inaction or bad action?

  4. Donald Pay 2016-06-05 21:46

    That piece on the ballot measures ought to disqualify all of these candidates from office. These guys are bemoaning the fact that they have to sift through a dozen of so ballot questions, but legislators have to sift through 500-plus bills per session. If they can’t handle a dozen, they certainly can’t handle 500. They have made the argument for why no one should vote for these clowns.

    Yeah, I hate the fact that out-of-state interests have gotten involved in South Dakota’s initiative process. You can mostly thank the right-leaning Supreme Court justices and Republican-backed legislation for that. A number of court cases through the decades have equated money with speech. The rich and powerful not only get to pour their money into candidates without any constraint, but they also get to hijack the citizen’s initiative process as well.

    Then, of course, you have stupid Republican legislation enacted in South Dakota over the last 15 years or so that have so complicated the initiative process that it takes more up-front time and money to actually get something on the ballot. As I warned back in the 1990s, such legislation discourages citizens from the process, but brings in the professional political class and the backing of out-of-state groups and monied interests.

    Voting “NO” on everything is really a stupid idea, but then that’s the Republican Way in the Age of Obama. It’s as if they are massaging the poor dumb folks (probably the Trumpites) who believe that strategy will save them a couple hours of real citizenship studying the issues and making a decision that would be best for them. Hey, why actually be a citizen when a strongman will take care of everything for you?

    Again, these guys are too dumb to be legislators. Vote against every one of them.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-05 22:42

    Nick, they refer to SD as “one of the early states,” but they evidently missed the fact you note, that, thanks to our own Father Robert Haire, we were the first to empower the voters to initiate and refer laws.

    Donald makes a good point about these three candidates’ apparent legislative acumen. If they give such bad reasons for voting against ten ballot measures, which we will have had over a year to study, they’ll settle for even worse reasons for their votes on the torrent of bills they have to process in 40 days in Pierre between Chamber of Commerce wienie roasts and crackerbarrels. Where are our statesmen?

  6. MJL 2016-06-06 00:51

    When will they talk about how ALEC controls and influences the state legislative process?

  7. mike from iowa 2016-06-06 06:47

    Hey, why actually be a citizen when a strongman will take care of everything for you?

    Hasn’t this pretty much been the wingnuts biggest gripe about the Kenyan Usurper in their White House?

  8. owen 2016-06-06 08:51

    I haven’t heard anything about the ballot issues from Stace or Osborn.
    Only thing I’ve heard from them is abortion and using the term “tax and spend” and that we have the money in the budget to raise teachers salaries and pay for roads and bridges.

    Oh, I almost forgot. Ripping liberals.

  9. M.K. 2016-06-06 09:16

    I feel like South Dakotans are not dumb and can see phony and deceit. Having said that though; in a state with older citizens; if they know the candidates; they are Republican and the people like what candidates are saying and like what they themselves are reading; they are unlikely to challenge it. If people are working; they go about their business; it seems to me. On this site; people are vested. We are curious enough to question. How many citizens are going to dig deep into ballot measures? Maybe those very controversial such as abortion… I DO wish we could get more even balance in Democrat representation.

  10. Steve Sibson 2016-06-06 10:08

    “I hate the fact that out-of-state interests have gotten involved in South Dakota’s initiative process.”

    Even though the out-of-staters are being forced to pay for our wants via the Federal taxing authority? Another violation of coveting, and this time it is also coming from the SDGOP. Liberals are running both parties in South Dakota.

  11. owen 2016-06-06 10:37

    about time you learn another word Sibson

  12. Steve Sibson 2016-06-06 11:22

    “I feel like South Dakotans are not dumb and can see phony and deceit.”

    They believed that we had to raise taxes to fix roads and bridges and to pay teachers. How many South Dakotans really understand the state budget?

  13. owen 2016-06-06 12:24

    show us where the money would come from the budget Steve. Enlighten us

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-06 12:29

    Steve, what’s your opinion on the campaign finance reporting requirement? Does the above clip constitute an independent expenditure by the three District 19 candidates in advocacy against all ten ballot measures? Do they each have to file ten Independent Expenditure reports to the Secretary of State?

  15. Steve Sibson 2016-06-06 12:57

    Cory, I am also trying to run down a copy. Nice to know what the real source is. Obviously looks like someone tied to the SDGOP establishment. The question is, how tied are they?

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-06 15:26

    Steve, I have no doubt of the GOP establishment origins of the flyer, not to mention the candidates themselves. I have confirmation that the bottom of the back page carries a disclaimer citing the three Republican candidates’ committees as the source of the funds for the flyer. They are thus responsible for the words on the page. But Steve, if you can find out who wrote the words (i.e., whom they hired to write the words, or what source they pulled the words from), I’d love to know.

  17. Melissa 2016-06-07 08:36

    I will try and run down a copy of this in our paper today. I know I saw a few copies in the local gas station.

    I am very disappointed in the inflammatory comments about “legalizing drugs” & “vote no on everything” in these rural areas many of our residents take things like this as word of God when going to the polls. I feel this newsletter hurts our democratic process and the candidates who wrote this should be ashamed of themselves.

  18. Bob Newland 2016-06-07 12:22

    It’s a fairly regular occurrence; a legislator says something stupid. Less regular is a group of legislators conspiring and premeditating and publishing a really stupid and really arrogant statement advocating a political policy.

    Nemec commented: “Don’t Peterson/Schoenfish/Finck realize that South Dakota was the first state in the nation to adopt initiative and referendum specifically to address the legislature’s inaction or bad action?”

    I think it’s unlikely they realize it, Nick. When you are a legislator, to get knowledge, it must be delivered by folks so you can strain it for whatever you agree with.

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