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Caron Wins Watertown Mayoral Race, Beats Thorson and Lederman PAC Money

Sarah Caron
Watertown’s Mayor-Elect Sarah Caron

Sarah Caron earned herself a promotion—or perhaps a remotion?—from Watertown voters last night. Fired just three months ago from her position as assistant city engineer (salary $55,488–$62,489), Caron got 2,557 of her Watertown neighbors (52.38% of those voting) to make her their new mayor (salary $80,437.20).

Caron sounded appropriately positive last night, practical notes with the media, saying she wants to meet with local developers right away to assure them she’s ready to work with them, not retaliate against them as the man she defeated, outgoing mayor Steve Thorson, alleged she would during the campaign.

Caron also spoke the appropriate positive words about her defeated opponent:

I know that Steve loves Watertown and he poured his whole life into being the mayor, and I want to thank him for his dedicated service to the city if Watertown as councilman for four years and as mayor for four years. He really gave it his all and to his credit, he deserves a huge word of thanks for that, and I give it to him, and I appreciate everything that he did [Mayor-Elect Sarah Caron, transcription of audio, in Mike Tanner, “Sarah Caron Elected Watertown Mayor,” KWAT Radio, 2017.06.20].

For his part, Mayor Thorson goes out sounding a little less classy:

When contacted, Thorson, who earned 44.41 percent of the vote, said he hopes Caron can move the baton of leading the city forward.

“I certainly hope she can do a better job than I did. She seems to feel as though she can do that,” he said [Dan Crisler, “Caron Wins Watertown Mayoral Election over Incumbent Thorson,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.06.20].

Thorson’s Facebook kiss-off isn’t much better:

Mayor Steve Thorson, election night Facebook post, 2017.06.20.
Mayor Steve Thorson, election night Facebook post, 2017.06.20.

Complaining about “extremes” by some unnamed “they” seems odd for Thorson, who enjoyed at least tens of thousands of dollars worth of campaign intervention by Rushmore PAC, the out-of-town partisan campaign fund operated by South Dakota Republican Party chairman and Dakota Dunes bail bonds operator Dan Lederman. Rushmore PAC blanketed Watertown with pro-Thorson postcards, radio ads, newspaper ads, and canvassers. Thorson said he had nothing to do with Rushmore PAC’s activity in Watertown:

I have received requests for more information regarding the contributions from the Rushmore PAC and would like to respond to accusations that I am somehow responsible for the formation and contributions to this PAC. These accusations are completely false. From what I understand and gather, this PAC is involved with a number of local people that fear retaliation from the public in both their professional and personal lives to give their support to our campaign. If any of you follow social media you can attest that some comments can be quite harsh and with family and friends at arms length it can be a touchy subject. We have many people that have contributed directly to our campaign and thank those who support us directly and indirectly however we have no control over the content of this PAC. From what I have seen the PAC has not been negative and we hope their message stays with the positive direction we are running this campaign [Steve Thorson, “Statement Regarding The Rushmore PAC,” campaign Facebook post, 2017.06.15].

Rushmore PAC drew a strong rebuke from local newspaper publisher Mark Roby, who criticized “anonymous outside influencers” for playing D.C.-style politics in a local election. Last night 52% of voters seconded that rebuke of Lederman, his outside interference, and his political money laundering.

Caron starts running Watertown July 3. Steve Thorson will then be free to work on other projects… like maybe paying his ten-year-overdue taxes.

Related Blogosphere Snark: Rushmore PAC crony and sometime employee Pat Powers has used the issue of outside dark money to criticize public figures whom he doesn’t like. But with his buddy Dan Lederman using dark money and out-of-town influence to sway a local election, Powers finds himself obliged to equivocate about the proper role of outsiders in our elections.


  1. Sam2 2017-06-21 06:47

    That says it all. Mayor Fires Caron Caron runs for mayor voters fire mayor and Caron is mayor elect

  2. Porter Lansing 2017-06-21 06:50


  3. Jenny 2017-06-21 07:51

    What a sore loser. Pubs need to realize that money doesn’t always buy elections.

  4. DR 2017-06-21 07:59

    Lederman PAC Money vs Nancy Turbek-Berry Money…but of course you cannot prove the ladder….

  5. Dave 2017-06-21 08:14

    At least she won’t use a city car for personal use…… she doesn’t like to drive..

  6. Lee SCHOENBECK 2017-06-21 08:33

    A bit ironic. Your comments about trying to buy elections are relevant this morning – did you read about that Georgia congressional election yesterday?

    Watertown had a good spirited elections. Communities benefit when candidates create market places in the public square for ideas, by having vigorous elections.

  7. Sam2 2017-06-21 09:17

    I wonder if Rushmore PAC will payoff Steve Thorson’s tax liens now that he is soon to be unemployed? Likely less expensive

  8. Porter Lansing 2017-06-21 10:36

    To Future Republican Candidates … If you hire Pat Powers and Dan Lederman’s “dirty political machine” to, as Pat puts it, “LET’S GET YOU ELECTED”, be aware of his style. If you win, Lederman/Powers will take all the credit. If you lose, they’ll blame you. They’re your campaign donations and said political postcards, signs, counterfeit news articles, simplistic political advice etc. can be purchased on the internet much cheaper or just GOOGLE it. Thousands of articles have been written on how Republicans in every state and region can get elected, without shady consultants.
    (*See Power’s/Lederman’s excuse for Thorson’s loss, written before the election and after. “Thorson didn’t get us involved soon enough … when Mayor Thorson claims he didn’t ask them to the election, at all.”)

  9. Don Coyote 2017-06-21 10:39

    Thorson very well might have an IRS installment agreement whereby he is making payments on either the whole tax liability or a negotiated reduction of the liability. The tax lien wouldn’t be released until whatever the remaining liability is paid.

  10. jerry 2017-06-21 14:55

    Then again, Thorson may not have an installment agreement. At any rate, he is now a private citizen that can do as he pleases. He will not be selling any real property though without takin care of business with us’ins on his back tax though, so we have that going for us, which is good.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-21 19:16

    DR, we can document the Lederman money, but not the local sources for whom he laundered. Can you document the the Turbak-Berry money?

    I sure do hate watching rich people fight. Same reason I don’t watch much NFL football anymore. ;-)

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-21 19:18

    Dave, who needs to drive in Watertown? Everything is within biking distance… except maybe Schoenbeck’s house… but who needs to go see Lee? :-D

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-21 19:22

    Lee, I agree that a good vigorous election putting ideas in the marketplace is great. Was Dan Lederman doing that? Were the anonymous donors doing that (and if so, what retaliation is there to fear from bringing ideas to the marketplace)?

    At today’s I&R task force hearing, the SD Chamber’s David Owen quoted George Will, saying elections are great, but “You’re not seeking to inform the public; you’re seeking to incite the people to vote your way.” Was Lederman’s money informing or inciting? And does the difference depend on which candidate you’re backing?

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-21 19:29

    Sam2, I’m not sure if PACs can make such a personal gift… unless… wait! Rushmore PAC could make an $83K donation to the Thorson campaign, and then, since the Sutton Amendment (Senate Bill 54, Section 41) doesn’t kick in until July 1, Thorson could convert that donation to personal this week and pay off his tax liens!

    Of course, if he does convert those funds, he’ll have to declare them as personal income on his 1040.

  15. Adam 2017-06-21 20:24

    Rural state Republican voters usually won’t look into it if the money for ads comes from out of state UNLESS they are told that the money is coming from out of state – then it really bothers them – but only for races smaller than legislative districts. IMO

  16. Lee Schoenbeck 2017-06-22 07:52

    A whole range of issues were vigorously debated. George will and Dave Owen are bright folks, and they maybe accurately describing the motive, but the consequences of information on free minds and free wills is beyond the control of the original motivator (like tossing a snowball down a hill). Vigorous campaigns may be jump started by ads, but the real campaign they inspire is then played out in restaurants and grocery store aisles and parks across the community. Happened that way in watertown

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-22 09:28

    So Lederman gets credit for sparking a debate that resulted in the defeat of his candidate?

    Was the campaign and the local conversation not already vigorous and substantive before Lederman’s intervention? How much of the conversation resulting from Lederman’s intervention was about Watertown issues and practical municipal governance, and how much of the conversation that Lederman’s big-money campaign provoked was about Lederman and big-money campaigning?

  18. Porter Lansing 2017-06-22 10:04

    Asserting that the “consequences of information on free minds and free wills is beyond the control of the original motivator” discounts …
    1. Hate groups ability to incite violence.
    2. Unscrupulous business leaders ability to inspire tunnel vision in their employees, who then use terms like “greasing the wheels” and “financial engineering” to make their corruption seem more acceptable.
    3. Bullying and fat shaming’s effect on the self esteem of teens.
    4. Excessive desire for extreme wealth leading to feelings of injustice and jealousy which lead the weak to become more selfish, as they focus on success and individual needs over other factors.
    Do you need more examples?

  19. Sam@ 2017-06-22 12:13

    I was in those coffe shops, Thorson had did most of the damage himself, by getting in deep with certain groups He then pulled a Hillary and forgot those people that helped him get to where he was.

    The Thorson campaign was nothing more than character assassanation of Sarah Caron. There is no way she could have screwed up city like she was accused of she was not the boss -The Mayor and City council are the final decision makers. It was childish of Thorson and Rushmore PAC to do what they did.

    Rushmore Group confirmed to many he was desperate and not the right person to lead Watertown.

    In Layman’s terms the Rushmore PAC was the ton of bricks that sealed his fate.

    Hopefully he can find a better pay job to get his tax liens payed off.

    If Sarah can keep a balance between the blue collars and the Good Ole boys she will be mayor as long as she wants the job

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-22 14:24

    Interesting that Rushmore PAC would be part of a desperate rescue operation. I’ll be curious to see the campaign finance reports to see just how much Rushmore PAC profited from this deal. They don’t get reputation points for the win. The press they got pre-election was uniformly negative. Did anyone make money other than the postcard printers and the local media?

  21. Porter Lansing 2017-06-22 15:24

    PP prints his own cards.

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