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Relationships? Novstrup’s Code for Kissing Caucus Keester

At last Saturday’s Legislative candidate forum, Senator Al Novstrup drawled out his usual mushmouthed trope about “relationships.” We hear this every election year from Novstrup: Aberdeen needs a legislator who can use his “relationships” to win votes for bills supporting Northern State and other important local needs.

Novstrup, of course, is trying to create the impression that his opponent on the 2018 ballot (that’s me!) is unable to get along with Republicans and Democrats alike.


C.A. Heidelberger at the Capitol with Sen. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) and Rep. Dan Ahlers (D-25/Dell Rapids), 2018.02.13.
C.A. Heidelberger at the Capitol with Sen. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) and Rep. Dan Ahlers (D-25/Dell Rapids), 2018.02.13.

That’s me in winter reporting mode, getting on peaceably in the Capitol with conservative Republican Sen. Lance Russell and good Democrat Rep. Dan Ahlers. As I look through my contacts this year, I find I’ve had multiple serious, civil, and occasionally productive conversations with independents, Libertarians, and variety of other politically minded South Dakotans all over the geographical and ideological. The only people I have trouble building relationships with appear to be the handful of arrogant crony insiders like Senator Novstrup and Speaker Mickelson who don’t like having their privilege and voting record questioned.

Speaking of voting record, Novstrup’s record belies the claim that he has effective “relationships” in Pierre: he underperformed the majority whip average for getting his bills passed in 2017, and this year, he was outperformed passage-percentage-wise by three other majority whips:

  • Sen. Bob Ewing (R-31/Spearfish): 3 for 3.
  • Sen. Kris Langer (R-25/Dell Rapids): 2 for 3 (withdrew one).
  • Sen. Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen): 2 for 3.
  • Rep. Arch Beal (R-12/Sioux Falls): 0 for 0 (primed no bills).
  • Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City): o for 3.
  • Rep. Leslie Heinemann (R-8/Flandreau): 3 for 4.
  • Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea?): 0 for 3.
  • Rep. Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center): 3 for 4.

The only whips Novstrup outperformed with his “relationships” were radical Reps. DiSanto and Latterell, who get whip positions to placate the wingnut base but whose bills never go anywhere, and the profoundly lazy Rep. Beal, whose public service consists mostly of moving to adjourn.

But more importantly, “relationships” is Novstrup’s code word for belonging to The Club. Novstrup views legislating not through the lens of citizens seeking a better South Dakota but from the perspective of a lackey heeling to the commands of powerful elites. Novstrup hears his exclusive club leaders grousing secretly behind their closed caucus doors about my honest reporting on their arrogant disregard for the people and for their own campaign promises and party principles and mistakes those complaints about critique of their privilege as a justification of his continued enjoyment of that privilege.

Novstrup’s cry for “relationships” admits that Pierre is broken. Novstrup is saying to Aberdeen, “Legislators won’t vote for Northern State because it’s a good investment in education. Legislators won’t raise pay for Aspire because it’s a vital public service. The Republican caucus votes for their cronies, on the basis of personal favors and grudges, not the public good. And I fit perfectly in that crass, crony system.”

Yes, Al Novstrup does have “relationships” in the crony system. And that’s exactly the system that Aberdeen and voters across this state should shatter this year. We need Senators and Representatives who are less interested in bow-and-scrape relationships with party elites and more interested in relationships with the voters, supported with daily, public interaction and education, online and off. We need to talk less about relationships with party favorites and more about relationships of policy to the public good. That’s why I’m able to talk to just about any honest public servant, from anywhere in South Dakota, because we share the same interest in the public interest. That’s why I’d make a good Senator.

And that’s why Al Novstrup doesn’t like talking to me, because I show his “relationships” are far more narrow and selfish than he will admit.


  1. Stace Nelson 2018-09-01 10:54

    @CAH This story is factually incorrect. Without even researching I know that Representative Disanto was a House prime sponsor of SB93 that became law as it was my bill. She was instrumental in passing the legislation: We’ve had enough of the fake news from the Powers peanut gallery. Anyone who claims that the opposing chamber’s sponsor doesn’t deserve credit for passing a bill they are a primary sponsor on, is ignorant of the legislative process. According to the Powers fake news syndicate, I passed 0 bills into law this year. The reality is I passed 3 with a 4th getting vetoed by our Chicago lawyer in chief.

  2. Porter Lansing 2018-09-01 11:53

    Tell us what the bills you passed were, Sen. Nelson. Grudzie wants to know.

  3. Stace Nelson 2018-09-01 12:03

    @Porter Have little troll give me a call (605) 770-7461

  4. 96Tears 2018-09-01 12:48

    Considering the legislature has failed to do anything meaningful for several years now, Novstrup’s quest for a leadership position wins him a prize as one of the taller midgets in the pack.

    I don’t know why anyone wants to be a legislator in South Dakota. If you’re a Democrat, you don’t get elected, and if you do, your bills get blocked by the juvenile thugs in control. If you’re a Republican, why you could be the next, um, uh, Larry Rhoden. Wow.

    I look forward to the day when a few legislators with a notion of what public service is supposed to be walk in with some friends from the other party and decide to get something meaningful done, with or without another clueless caretaker governor.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-09-01 13:48

    Stace, I counted only the bills they prime sponsored in their own chamber. Call it prime-prime sponsor.

    96, I want to do it because I believe I can be part of a bigger wave of honest, mature legislators who will prove our worth to the people, win over colleagues, and be able to pass good policies for the public good. We just need to knock out the craven, juvenile brownnosers like Novstrup, Rhoden, et al. who accept cronyism and corruption as the normal order of business.

  6. Donald Pay 2018-09-01 14:02

    There is something Roman that I noticed about South Dakota Republican legislative caucuses. In the Roman culture there was a certain client/patronage system. Everyone stroked the ego and did the bidding of a man just ahead in rank and privilege. The stroking would continue up the ladder, up to the leader. If you wanted something, an introduction, a position or some financial consideration, you would have to make the appropriate genuflection, reminding your better of your service to him. At some point, after enough stroking and cajoling of the appropriate leader, someone might be able to leapfrog into the circle of the elite.

    When Sen. Novstrup talks about “relationships” he’s talking about being a lackey to someone else’s interests, so that he can advance up the ladder. That idea of leadership worked well in the Roman system, but it is considerably at odds with representative democracy.

    Northern State shouldn’t get state dollars because some lackey kisses the right ass. It should get it because the representative works with Northern State to make a valid case why they should get the money. A representative should make relationships with the people he represents so he can present the best case for them.

  7. Debbo 2018-09-01 20:12

    I think that as long as humans remain human a little cajoling and extra attention will probably play a role in legislative success.

    However, what we have now in the SDGOP, including Novstrup, is far, far beyond what I’m referring to. An excellent example is the faithfulness pledge the SDGOP has to sign, or be undermined by their own party.

  8. grudznick 2018-09-02 10:17

    Mr. Nelson is factually known to be the least effective in the Legislatures since Mr. Kloucek left and probably least effective of all time.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-09-02 10:33

    Exactly, Debbo. It’s one thing to understand that one can gather more flies with honey than with horsehockey (although has anyone rigorously studied that idiom? Set out a jar of honey and an equal mass of horse manure, then count the flies?) It’s a whole ‘nother to embrace the elitist club mentality, sign a loyalty oath, and pledge to keep secrets from the voters.

    Novstrup’s extreme cronyism is what’s wrong with Pierre. Voters need to upend that cronyism.

  10. Roger Elgersma 2018-09-03 15:28

    Getting bills passed is not just a matter of having buddies. Even more important is to know the issue well. Cory knows education so could be very good at promoting education. The best buddies in the world won’t vote for something you do not know much about.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-09-03 21:50

    Bingo, Roger. Knowledge matters. Relationships are a weak basis for good policy making if the people with whom you have relationships aren’t seriously studying the problem and looking at all the practical ramifications of action. If all they do in Pierre is say, “Oh, G. Mark and Brock like it? O.K., I’ll vote for it,” then we can only expect bad policy with numerous unintended consequences.

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