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Mr. LaPlante, Pat Powers on Line 2 with an Apology…

In trivial pursuits, SDGOP spin blogger Pat Powers decides to accuse “Dems” of historical amnesia by citing a statement by one Democrat, former state secretary of tribal relations and now Avera Health tribal relations director J.R. LaPlante:

JR LaPlante
J.R. LaPlante

“I believe that we will have equality in the state of South Dakota when white people elect a person of color to state office, and not just a district position, but an at-large position, at statewide election,” LaPlante said [Evan Hendershot, “Democratic Town Hall Meeting Sets the Stage for Possible Campaign Announcement,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2017.07.07].

Ben Reifel! shouts Pat PowersBen Reifel!

LaPlante seems to be suffering selective political amnesia in the case of Congressman Ben Reifel, a Republican who was elected as the first Lakota to serve in the House of Representatives. He served five terms as a Republican United States Congressman from the First District [Pat Powers, “Heinert Posturing for US House, Dems Suffering Ben Reifel Amnesia,” Dakota War College, 2017.07.08].

In his enthusiasm to overtag a story (again mistaking singular for plural, one Democrat for the whole group), Powers failed to recognize that LaPlante’s carefully chosen words reflected history better than Pat’s shouting.

Rep. Ben Reifel
Rep. Ben Reifel

Ben Reifel sure enough was Lakota, born on the Rosebud. He bounced around (funny Pat didn’t use the word carpetbagger) to Brookings, Mission, Pine Ridge, Pierre, Fort Berthold (North Dakota), and then Aberdeen, from where he launched his successful bid to represent South Dakota’s First Congressional District in 1960.

First Congressional District? Yeah, as in alongside South Dakota’s Second Congressional District. South Dakota had two Congressional Districts throughout Reifel’s five terms, from 1961 to 1971. When he won his first election, First was East River, Second was West. Redistricting in the ’60s moved that boundary east to include 21 eastern counties:

Jeffrey B. Lewis, Congressional district map of South Dakota, 90th–92nd Congresses.
Jeffrey B. Lewis, Congressional district map of South Dakota, 90th–92nd Congresses.

Look again what LaPlante said: “…elect a person of color to state office, and not just a district position, but an at-large position, at statewide election….” Reifel was a person of color, but he was elected to a district position, not a statewide position. He stood for election on ballots in eastern counties, but never on a statewide ballot. We didn’t have a single, at-large Congressional district until 1981. Powers knows this… but sometimes Powers’s enthusiasm for taking a cheap shot overrides his attention to historical fact.

I disagree with the overall position LaPlante takes: South Dakota will not achieve equality when we elect a Lakota Governor or member of Congress on a statewide ballot any more than America achieved equality when we elected Barack Obama President (twice!). But LaPlante’s carefully chosen words about “district” and “at-large” elections indicate LaPlante is perfectly aware of Ben Reifel’s service to this state and the fact that Reifel’s wins in eastern South Dakota were not statewide electoral victories.


  1. grudznick 2017-07-10 17:26

    I dare say you are quibbling with Mr. JR’s words, Mr. H. I read his statement to mean “elected to district 28” or “elected to _A_ district, such as the insaner district 30” not one of multiple districts from back when we had two house members. Heck, we have “A federal district” now, which young Ms. Noem was elected from. We just don’t have two of them and it isn’t called “District 1” or “District A”, it is just “The District.”

    Mr. JR was meaning to have a fine Lakota fellow like himself elected to statewide office. Not an office of a single district in the legislatures. Your rage at Mr. PP has you really lashing out and I’d say he sure got your goat on that one. Mr. Mercer says he hit one out of the park against Ms. Krebs, so at least you probably kept him in the yard and held him to maybe a double.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-07-10 17:51

    Grudz, why make excuses? On this story, Powers swung at and completely missed a pitch he shouldn’t have bothered with. LaPlante’s language is clear. The exact terms he used apply to Reifel’s election victories in the old First Congressional “District”.

    Your discussion of rage and gotten-goats are another effort to fabricate a story where there is none. The story here is simple. Pat got LaPlante’s words and history wrong.

  3. grudznick 2017-07-10 18:05

    No, Mr. JR probably doesn’t even remember that we once had a single “congressional district.” If he had said “congressional district” I’d be with you here, Mr. H, but he clearly meant “legislative district.” gruznick has ruled.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-07-10 18:16

    No, Grudz, as I just explained to Coyote on another thread, there is no such clear meaning. To the contrary, LaPlante’s words—”elect a person of color to state office, and not just a district position, but an at-large position, at statewide election”—emphasize that he’s thinking of state office, so he’s already moved beyond Legislature, and he uses the word “and” to emphasize not just a Congressman elected to a district as was possible in Reifel’s time but an at-large, statewide official. LaPlante uses terms (key: “at-large”) that apply to the history of our Congressional seats but not to our Legislative races.

    Words matter. LaPlante appears to have chosen his words carefully to avoid ignoring Reifel’s election victories.

  5. grudznick 2017-07-10 18:24

    I believe it appears you are wrong. Words do matter, and you are putting many into Mr. JR’s mouth without speaking to him.

    The officials in New York have reviewed the bloggings. grudznick’s ruling stands. Mr. PP got under your skin. Double.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-07-10 18:30

    I put no words in LaPlante’s mouth. I used his exact words, nothing but. LaPlante’s minor historical subpoint is accurate; Powers’s blog post on this topic is a swing and a miss.

  7. Adam 2017-07-10 20:48

    Cory, you’re on the money. Crudnick’s just throwing the crud at the wall.

    Equality in one of the last white pockets of America will be tough to achieve. It’s important for the average South Dakotan to be reminded that this really isn’t a white country – it just looks and feels like one locally. It’s important for Natives to be reminded just the same. So many colors of people have succumbed to and prevailed over racial discrimination in this country since its inception. America has become a place where people – from all over – go out into the depths of and attempt to reach for their greatest potential.

    Of course, President Chump and Republicans might set us back a bit more with their Idiocracy revolution, but soon, this will be a fully brown country. I hope I live to see a good portion of that happen. Hybrid vigor always wins – in nature! Isn’t that what we hyper-competitive American capitalists really want?! – LOL – to always win the Olympics and have the smartest kids? Let’s do it!

  8. Porter Lansing 2017-07-10 21:12

    Hear, hear Adam

  9. Doug Kronaizl 2017-07-10 21:42

    Interestingly enough, Representative Reifel – in his campaigning – often made a concerted effort to emphasize his German ancestry and Protestant roots, though it’s tough to say whether those were his own beliefs or rather his perception of what might resonate with the voters.

    In his collection at SDSU (MA 9, Box 5, Folder 4 “Reifel’s Stand on Issues 1960”), he has a paper titled “Questions likely to be asked” the first two entries (question followed by his preset answers) were as follows:

    1. Do you think your Indian blood and background will place you at any disadvantage in working with other members of Congress?

    No. I am proud of the fact that I am half Sioux, just as many South Dakotans are proud of the fact that they are half Norwegian, or half Irish, or half German, or half Swede. It should be remembered that I am also half German and that I have lived and worked for many years in a white man’s society and a white man’s government. But first and last, I am an American and I would consider it the highest possible honor to serve both the whites and the Indians of this district in the Congress of the United States. There are several Negro members of Congress who have never complained of any discrimination in committee assignments or other matters.

    2. Do you think religion is, or should be, an issue in this campaign?

    It definitely should not be. I have never referred to it in a single address, advertisement or campaign statement and I shall not do so in the future. [crossed out] It matters not in the slightest to me, and it should not matters to the voters of this district, that my opponent and the Democratic presidential candidate are members of the Catholic Church. In fact, I admire them for their convictions to enter this campaign even though their religion might be held against them. [/crossed out] Religion should be an issue only when a candidate has none.

    Another document in the same box and folder lists 10 campaign photos, how they’re to be shot, and what the implied messages are. Here are two excerpts:

    2. Reifel and family — whites, not Indians. Scandinavian names of children

    3. Reifel at church — Non-Catholic

    Just a tad bit of history! Despite serving a decade in Congress, you don’t hear much about Reifel, which is unfortunate. Calling all historians (and not simply because he fought to secure federal funding for the humanities while in DC)!

  10. Spike 2017-07-10 21:53

    I agree with Cory. JR LaPlante knows whom Ben Riefel is and what he did. Powers missed totally. Riefel was elected by republicans that had confidence in him and his beliefs… repubs of a different breed with different values in a different time than the current version.

    Speaking of Olympic champions Billy Mills 1964.

    Ben Riefel 1961-1971.

  11. Donald Pay 2017-07-10 22:07

    Doug Kronaizl provides an interesting window on how elections were often conducted in the past. Or is all this stuff left in the past. It’s sickening that people even today have to think about appealing to the prejudices of petty people by puffing up their supposed “church” connections. Anytime I see that I vote against it.

    My grandfather told me stories of how important it was to have exactly the right flavor of campaign chair and treasurer. If you had a German name, you needed a Norwegian or Swede as campaign chair. And vice versa. Forward thinking men (it was always men back then) in Sioux Falls would put forward an Irish campaign chair (but rarely a candidate). Irish surnames, of course, implied a Catholic. Back then, they would just make up a Norwegian name and stick it on the advertising. I’m not sure how many people were fooled. they thought they had hit the jackpot with Nils Boe.

  12. Porter Lansing 2017-07-10 22:09

    Great history, Mr. Kronaizi … thanks, brotha’ 😁

  13. Porter Lansing 2017-07-10 22:11

    Hear, hear Don Pay ….. outstanding 👌🏻

  14. Thomas 2017-07-11 00:15

    “He bounced around (funny Pat didn’t use the word carpetbagger) to Brookings, Mission, Pine Ridge, Pierre, Fort Berthold (North Dakota), and then Aberdeen”

    So, because he didn’t stay on the reservation, he wasn’t native enough to claim his culture? Cory, it sounds to me that you think he might have been a little too “uppity” for your tastes? I have a nephew and three nieces who are bi-racial. Guess what; they have just as much Irish heritage as they do African heritage. Should they stay in the back seats of the Democrat party’s bus until your party needs darker skin to make a political point?

  15. Nick Nemec 2017-07-11 01:08

    Pat Powers has never apologized for anything and isn’t about to start.

  16. The King 2017-07-11 06:54

    Person of Color: a person who is not white or of European parentage

    South Dakota Senator James Abourezk (1973-1979) was of Lebanese-Antiochite descent.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-07-11 08:54

    Doug—fascinating! And clever that reference by Reifel to his opponent’s Catholic faith. That was 1960, the Kennedy/Nixon race. Reifel says it shouldn’t matter, but he floats it and invites others to draw their conclusions. Sneaky.

    Abourezk! Now that’s a good counterexample. Does Abourezk’s election win call into question LaPlante’s premise?

  18. Nick Nemec 2017-07-11 09:06

    Jim Abdnor was also of Lebanese descent.

  19. Don Coyote 2017-07-11 10:22

    @cah: “Abourezk! Now that’s a good counterexample. Does Abourezk’s election win call into question LaPlante’s premise?”

    Not according to the US Census Bureau which currently classifies people of Lebanese (Middle Eastern) descent as white.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-07-11 11:05

    Oh no! So Powers can’t even claim Abourezk to salvage his false insult against LaPlante’s historical intelligence. Oh well. :-D

  21. Don Coyote 2017-07-11 12:20

    @cah: “Oh no! So Powers can’t even claim Abourezk to salvage his false insult against LaPlante’s historical intelligence. Oh well. :-D”

    Well the Abourezk argument put forth by King was fallacious to begin with. However, how you want to parse LaPlante’s use of “district” still makes Powers (and mine) assertion still truthful. Maybe LaPlante can be more explicit when he is making race-baiting remarks.

  22. Don Coyote 2017-07-11 12:24

    @Porter Lansing: That would have been the Obama White House. Is President Trump continuing along with this change?

  23. mike from iowa 2017-07-11 12:46

    Porter, your article is dated Sept 30, 2016. This round goes to Coyote. Sorry.

  24. Porter Lansing 2017-07-11 12:53

    I know it was from Obama. That’s my point. Sorry if I was vague. If I was from Middle Eastern descent I wouldn’t want to be labeled by the census. It would be easier for Trump Administration to single out the group as the census dept. did to Japanese during WWII. I’d label myself as “other”.

  25. Donald Pay 2017-07-11 14:47

    Someone once told me in all seriousness, in an attempt at a political smear, that former State Senator Homer Harding was partly black, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and implied that I shouldn’t vote for him, not that I was going to anyway. This was imparted to me by what was known then as an arch-conservative. Harding was one of the most conservative people around Pierre, but he tended to be a little too pro-Janklow for some conservatives, which is probably why I was privy to this smear attempt. But if Harding was black, this would make Powers right, since Harding was Treasury Secretary and won state-wide office.

  26. Robin Friday 2017-07-11 16:58

    Just my opinion, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to claim a person of Mediterranean descent as “not white”. Yes, we should elect more Native American people and what’s more important is character and philosophy, not skin color.

  27. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-07-11 17:24

    I don’t have to parse or spin. LaPlante’s exact words—”district”, “at-large”—are correct. Powers owes LaPlante an apology.

  28. grudznick 2017-07-11 17:42

    Mr. Pay, the brothers Gamble, both who served state wide, “at-large”, were pretty swarthy fellows as well, were they not?

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