Two weeks ago, Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Jackley released his “Hometown South Dakota Initiative,” a gussied-up endorsement of South Dakota’s economic development status quo.
Now his primary challenger, Kristi Noem, releases her “Sunshine Initiative,” a government-openness proposal that’s mostly thin on executive detail and completely devoid of funding but still shows a couple faint glimmers of initiative. Let’s look at each of her six sunshine planks.
1. Bring Debates from the Boardroom to the Living Room. Noem wants every state board, county commission, and school board to livestream its meetings online. Noem says we can use free technologies like YouTube and Facebook Live, but Noem ignores the cost of decent video equipment, data streaming, and someone to set up and run the hardware and software.
2. Modernize and Expand Open.SD.gov. The state’s website for payroll, contracts, and other public documents is pretty cool. Noem says she wants “universal posting of all agendas, minutes and livestreams to a modernized and easily searchable Open.SD.gov.” Given the Legislature’s persistent resistance to ending the newspaper-publication requirement, making local governments submit their documents and videos to Open.SD.gov will represent an additional cost, in time if not money, to local governments. 66 counties, 149 school boards, 300-some municipalities, and an assortment of other political subdivisions dumping new documents and videos on the state each month (if not more frequently) will mean some poor webmaster at BIT will have some extra scramble in her day.
3. Develop an Online Property Tax Toolkit. In one of the few things Noem says she’ll up and do on her own, this plank promises a “digital disclosure database” offering a breakdown of “how many dollars go to the school district, the county, the state, and elsewhere”… which is funny because (1) we get that already from out county auditor and (2) the state gets no property tax dollars. Noem also failed to edit out the wonky line some consultant put in about the OPTT being “paired with links to available programmatic information”—holy cow! When did Kristi start talking like that?
4. Enable Independent Reporting to Hold State and Local Government Genuinely Accountable. Oh my gosh—it’s a blog law!
Fact-based reporting can be a valuable tool in upholding the integrity of government entities. On the federal level, it helped shine a light on VA abuses against our veterans. In the state, it’s essential in getting to the bottom of the recent EB-5 and GEAR UP scandals. Even so, South Dakota reporters can be forced to testify for investigating important stories. If elected, I would support a commonsense Reporter Shield law, protecting the constitutional right to a free and independent press [Kristi Noem, “Sunshine Initiative,” campaign website, 2018.03.06].
Shield Law! Shield Law! Here Noem is advocating a real change in the status quo—South Dakota has no shield law. She also has an issue on which she can whack Marty and win points with the press. Last spring Attorney General Jackley tried to subpoena journalist Dana Ferguson to testify in his spectacularly failed effort to prosecute the Flandreau marijuana entrepreneurs. Noem can also press Jackley on his failure to hold anyone accountable in the EB-5 scandal and goad him on the upcoming GEAR UP trials (none of which, alas, will happen until after the primary).
5. Limit Confidential Settlement Agreements. Noem says she wants to “limit” the state’s ability to negotiate confidential settlements except “when necessary to protect a victim’s privacy.” The Legislature had before it a bill to do something like this Session, Senate Bill 84, but House Judiciary killed it last week 10–3. Here again, Noem is siding with the press over the trial lawyers, who opposed SB 84, along with the school boards, the sheriffs, the county commissioners, the contractors, insurers, and Heartland Consumer Power District.
6. Review Open Meetings Laws. Here Noem just says she’ll review open meeting laws and “work to move as much official debate as possible into the public domain.” Given the lack of public debate in Congress last year on her failed effort to repeal Obamacare and her successful effort to give her rich friends tax breaks, Noem doesn’t seem the most credible candidate to make even that vague promise.
Noem’s transparency initiative scores a couple more points than Jackley’s economic development initiative in that it actually initiates a couple of policies, like the reporter’s shield law and maybe that cute little property tax widget. We now wait to see if the GOP primary opponents will continue to duel with policy proposals or if they will start pouring their seven-figure war chests into mean-old character attacks.
As far as “transparency” goes, most of can already see right through her.
It seems to be pretty good to me.
1. Livestreaming would just be minor addition to what many larger governmental entities already are doing. State boards would be a great addition. Some of this happens in Wisconsin, so it shouldn’t be too hard to set it up in SD.
2. I like this, too. A centralized place to go to will help citizens keep tabs on what’s going on, how to get involved, etc.
3. This info is usually available without too much hassle, but this would provide a central location. Property taxes aren’t collected by the state, but they do get figured into state aid calculations.
4. Shield laws should have been done years ago.
5. Generally supportive of this, but sometimes confidentiality can be a way to get someone to settle. I’d have to see the specifics.
6. Open Meetings Laws need to be looked at. As a school board member I always felt queazy going to the back room. Mostly, it was used correctly, but there were a few times things went beyond that law.
I’d add Whistleblower Protection and and real reform, rather than deform, of the ballot issue process.