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Mickelson and May Show GOP Philosophical Conflict on Amendment R

The Pro and Con statements on Amendment R, the measure to clarify governance of our vo-tech schools, show a battle between the two wings of the South Dakota Republican Party.

In a rather puffy statement that evades the actual text of the amendment, Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) touts R as a way to “strengthen the ability of the four technical institutes to meet the work-force shortages in a number of critical industries….” Yet Mickelson errs in his Pro statement saying R “passed the legislature overwhelmingly” and “there were no opponents.”

Technically, Amendment R itself did not pass the Legislature; the Legislature passed 2015 House Joint Resolution 1003 to put Amendment R to a public vote. Legislators can oppose an amendment yet favor putting it to a public vote.

Rep. Mickelson also forgets that there was an opponent: Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle). How Rep. Mickelson forgets opposition from the legislator who sits right behind him escapes me, but he has his forgetful spells in Pierre. Rep. May refreshes her colleague’s memory by penning the Con statement on Amendment R. Rep. May slightly overstates what Rep. Mickelson completely understates about the immediate, practical impact of R:

Constitutional Amendment R would change the South Dakota Constitution to authorize the Legislature to establish a new, unelected and tax-funded governing board which would help the State shift the cost of technical schools from the State budget to the budgets of already overburdened counties, cities and school boards [Rep. Elizabeth May, Con statement on Amendment R, 2016 Ballot Question Pamphlet, Secretary of State’s Office, issued August 2016].

Rep. Mickelson says nothing about R’s authorization of new vo-tech governance; he just says R lets the vo-techs “consider evolving” from part of the K-12 system “toward a dedicated and independent system.” Rep. May reminds voters that evolution means another board that costs money and that, unlike the current K-12 school boards that govern the vo-techs, would not answer directly to local voters.

Rep. May chooses her words carefully to offer a worst-case scenario. Let’s review the key clause that Amendment R would add to our constitution:

Postsecondary technical education institutes that offer career and technical associate of applied science degrees and certificates or their successor equivalents and that are funded wholly or in part by the state shall be separately governed as determined by the Legislature.

That clause authorizes but does not require the Legislature to create a new vo-tech governing board. Post-R, the Legislature could leave vo-tech governance in the hands of the K-12 schools (although Rep. Mickelson’s Pro statement makes clear that’s not his vision.) But rejecting R would leave hanging the question of whether the current K-12 governance of vo-techs is constitutional or whether the Regents could step in and assert their authority (although has anyone seen the Regents chomping at the bit to do so?).

Greg Von Wald, former Mitchell Technical Institute president and now leader of the committee promoting R, rebuts Rep. May with a clearer case than Rep. Mickelson makes:

The legislature can determine that governance. But right now they’re already governed, okay? This constitutional amendment doesn’t change that. It puts the authority in the hands of the legislature, instead of having to get into some sort of a tug of war between the regents and tech schools. It says “Hey, Regents, you do this, tech schools, you do this, and if there’s any governance issues the legislature will determine it.” That’s what it is. It does not create another government structure [Greg Von Wald, in Lee Strubinger, “Amendment R Opponent Disagrees with Proponents on Cost,” SDPB Radio, 2016.08.25].

If there’s any governance issues—while ungrammatical (if there are, plural), Von Wald more aptly describes the exact legal impact of Amendment R itself than either Rep. Mickelson or Rep. May. Yet the Pro and Con statements represent the two main flavors of rhetoric offered by the South Dakota Republican Party. Rep. Mickelson’s Pro on R represents the mainstream Chamber of Commerce wing, which justifies every policy by shouting “workforce!” and “business needs!” Rep. May’s Con on R represents the arch-conservative wing, which justifies every vote by shouting, “Less government, less taxes!” It’s fun to see these two wings flapping in opposite directions on the least important of this year’s ten ballot questions.


  1. John Wrede 2016-08-27 10:20

    If there isn’t a problem or perceived problem for the jumbled minds of conservatives in SD to argue about, they’ll fabricate one. Its amusing that these folks feel like they have to not only persuade us mental midgets that there is a problem but then they insist on parsing words to explain their theory in greater detail. To heck with interpreting language literally. May reads things into language that isn’t there and Mickelson avoids language that is there. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”! “Effectively” Reading comprehension is the real problem.

  2. rich rauch jr 2016-09-26 13:47

    I am not real savy in political speak, but if this makes it easier for our young people to get a good paying job with out a lot of time being spent, and a lot of debt being incurred, then I am all for it. if there is a bad reason for this amendment r maybe someone can tell me . in plain English please, thank you.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-26 14:15

    Hi, Rich! If Mickelson and May are too political-speaky for you, I’ll take a swing.

    By itself, R doesn’t “do” anything. It doesn’t make it easier for anyone to get a job. It doesn’t create jobs. It doesn’t change how much school costs.

    All R does is change the state constitution to allow us to run the vo-techs the way we have all along, through the K-12 schools, or open the door for the Legislature to create a separate board to run them, or come up with some other scheme for running them. Right now, the constitution says the Board of Regents should be running the vo-techs, right along with the rest of post-secondary ed. The Regents have been nice so far and not pressed the issue.

    Rep. May is saying that voting for R could cost us money. R doesn’t spend any money by itself, but it gives the Legislature the option to create a whole new board to run the vo-techs, which would, of course, cost somebody some money. Whether creating a separate board would cost more than having each vo-tech run by a separate K-12 school district as we do now is anyone’s guess.

  4. John Wrede 2016-09-26 16:43

    Given the need for consistency and uniformity in academics, and programming, is there a solid reason why the Board of Regents can’t be tasked with the administration of these schools whether they want the added responsibility or not? Part of the problem now is the sometimes significant differences between school district philosophies that administer the tech institutes and I can’t imagine that that issue doesn’t lead to budget, curriculum, and other problems. Frankly, until the legislature demonstrates some honest and efficient problem solving skills that actually do something to improve the status and direction of advanced education in South Dakota, no matter it’s the State supported colleges or the tech institutes, I’m not real crazy about giving them the authority to decide whether or not to create a state board or not. We already have a “state board” in place and that is the BOR and while that organization has it’s issues, in my estimation, its a lot less problematic to admonish that group to “handle it” rather than encourage more misplaced argument between the May and Mickelson factions of the party of overbearance in SD.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-28 08:16

    John, which should be most efficient: overseeing each vo-tech separately under four existing school boards, folding oversight of all four vo-techs into the existing Board of Regents, or assigning oversight of all four vo-techs to a new separate state board?

  6. John Wrede 2016-09-29 09:12

    You make my point Cory! While I often question the wisdom and intent of the Board of Regents, they are already in place, have significant experience with managing education however well or badly, and we don’t have to go through the expense and political wrangling in he legislature to create a new board….. If we keep adding more boards, more administrative positions, more meetings and so on add nauseum, the only thing we create is more confusion and topics for shallow political debate. Enough already.

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