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.
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.