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11 Brave South Dakotans Testify Against Tapio’s Failed Refugee Ban

After Senator Al Novstrup got done calling for racial and ethnic profiling, Senate State Affairs shot down Senate Bill 200, Senator Neal Tapio proposal to ban refugees from South Dakota “until we figure out what the hell is going on.”

Those were the words Senator Tapio used before the committee in rebuttal, words aping Donald Trump, words intended more to rally his Bigot Brigade  than to explain the actual, unconstitutional, unworkable border-closing policy proferred by his bill. Were I to use such words in testimony before a committee of the South Dakota Legislature, I would expect the chair to deliver a stern rebuke and remind me of decorum.

SB 200 drew no support except from bigot-beholden Al Novstrup in part because no one from South Dakota testified in favor of it. Senator Tapio recruited testimony from grandstanding racist alarmists and propagandists from Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia. The opponents outnumbered them and all came from South Dakota:

  • Matt Konenkamp, Governor’s Office
  • John Cunningham, self, Sioux Falls
  • Brett Koenecke, SD Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Malcom Chapman, Lutheran Social Services
  • Betty Oldenkamp, Lutheran Social Services
  • Taneeza Islam, SD Voices for Concerned Justice
  • Debra Owen, Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce
  • Hattie Seten, self, Sioux Falls
  • David Owen, SD Chamber of Commerce & Industry
  • Sister Kathleen Bierne, Presentation Sisters
  • Missy Slaathaug, self, Pierre

Senator Tapio claimed in rebuttal that people from Aberdeen and elsewhere in South Dakota wanted to testify but were afraid to speak up for fear death at the hands of foreign Islamist fatwa-ists. Tapio made a similar claim about an international conspiracy of death in his Congressional campaign speech in Aberdeen to explain the lack of South Dakota voices speaking up for his anti-immigrant propaganda; it seems a simpler explanation for the absence of South Dakota proponents is that there are no South Dakota proponents.

And it’s funny that, despite the demonstrated violent impulses of Tapio’s Bigot Brigade, eleven South Dakotans were willing to stand up to them and say in public, on the record, that the bigotry inherent in Senate Bill 200 “is not South Dakota.” (Thank you, Missy Slaathaug, for that apt summary.)

Senator R. Blake Curd (R-12/Sioux Falls) said in committee that he regretted not hearing from South Dakota residents about real concerns surrounding refugee resettlement and family reunification. He said he has spoken with South Dakota law enforcement and other officials and has heard without exception that those officials have no concerns specific to what Senator Tapio is shouting about in SB 200. Senator Curd noted the obvious: that immigration is controlled mostly at the federal level, that the Supreme Court has laid narrow parameters for state action on immigration, and that SB 200 failed to follow those parameters.

Senator Curd did make one error in his comments during committee discussion. He said that he doesn’t want to dismiss the discussion raised by Senate Bill 200 out of hand. No, R. Blake, don’t fall for Trumpist relativism: it’s o.k. to dismiss bigotry out of hand. It’s o.k. to turn to Senator Novstrup and say, “No, you can’t stop and frisk brown people and not white people.” You can turn to Senator Tapio and say, “No, you’re a bigot, and your allegations and professions of faith don’t change the fact that South Dakota can’t set up border checkpoints and turn away refugees.”

No one from South Dakota but Neal Tapio and Al Novstrup would speak up for bigotry and fear. Most of Senate State Affairs listened to South Dakotans instead of out-of-state fearmongers and voted down Neal Tapio’s latest patriot act. Now let’s hope South Dakota voters will do the same in June and November.


  1. Dana P 2018-02-22

    Glad that this was voted down.

    Common sense wins. Which is sometimes rare in Pierre.

  2. Donald Pay 2018-02-22

    Glad to see the Chamber speaking up on this. I like to run them down on most issues, (eg., ballot measures, where they have been wrong for decades). This is the kind of issue where they often lead, and their leadership is often critical to nailing down a victory.

  3. jerry 2018-02-22

    Indeed Mr. Pay, it is clear that the likes of Lance Russell (wife is suing her former employer for discrimination of all things), irony alert. Tapioca and Little Al, just got their arse’s handed to them as well. Smart, legitimate business wins the day. How can business people in Watertown and Aberdeen support these embarrassments?

  4. mike from iowa 2018-02-22

    Speak of terror, isn’t Curd the guy who imported terrorist man/cop eating Tibetan Mastiffs?

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-02-24

    Jerry, I plan to ask the Chamber your closing question. Our business leaders need to decide whether they can continue to support Republicans who are doing such damage to South Dakota’s ability to recruit the workers the Chamber says it so desperately needs. If the Chamber isn’t willing to support some reasonable Democrats to remove the Bigot Brigade from office, the Chamber should at least field some primary candidates to scare Novstrup and his ilk.

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