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Noem Picks Ben Jones as Temporary Education Secretary

Kristi Noem just appointed Cooter Secretary of Education! Yeeha!

Oh, possum on a gumbush—wrong Ben Jones. Dr. Benjamin F. Jones will take six months off from deaning Arts & Sciences to hold the post while our incoming Governor figures out who she wants for keeps in the position.

Interim-Secretary-Designee Jones already has some homework from the new boss:

Dr. Benjamin F. Jones
Dr. Benjamin F. Jones

“Governor-elect Noem has asked me to work on ways to improve school performance with an initial focus on civic education,” Jones said. “I will also develop a plan to increase transparency and accountability within the Department of Education.”

“The State Historical Society and the State Library are also within the responsibilities of the Secretary and I am excited to look for ways those two agencies can have be a greater resource for South Dakotans,” Jones said [Dakota State University, press release, 2018.12.20].

Dr. Jones will need to work fast: he says in his DSU press release that he looks forward to returning to DSU in May. Perhaps in asking Jones to focus on civics during his brief tenure, Noem is signaling that she reads Dakota Free Press and foresees that Rhode Island lawsuit leading to a court order that schools provide richer civics education.

Jones is a reasonable pick for a civics focus. He has an honest-to-goodness Ph.D. in history, earned from the University of Kansas in 2008 for his 437-page dissertation on General Eisenhower’s use of Special Forces units in collaboration with French Resistance guerrillas in World War II France. But he’s a relative newcomer to teaching: he was a logistics guy (uh oh) for the United States Air Force for 18 years before turning to teaching at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 2008. He’s been at DSU since 2013 but lives in Minnehaha County, where he led a petition drive in late 2014–early 2015 to block the Sioux Falls School District’s annexation of the Cherry Lake subdivision from West Central’s tax rolls. Jones’s neighbors overruled him and okayed the boundary change in May 2015… but hey! a guy with a history degree and some petition experience should make a fine civics teacher… or advocate civics teaching!

No word though on why Noem is taking on a temp instead of filling the Secretary’s seat for keeps.

But in tonight’s coincidence file, historian Jones’s current address as listed online is 5203 S Sweetbriar Circle, Sioux Falls. Who lives right next door in the cul de sac? Fellow historian, advisor to Senator John Thune, and Noem donor Jon Lauck:

Kristi Noem pre-general campaign finance report, excerpt, filed 2018.10.22.
Kristi Noem pre-general campaign finance report, excerpt, filed 2018.10.22.

I don’t know what Cooter thinks, but the Cylons say there’s no such thing as coincidence.

Also setting off the Cylon DRADIS is another temporary Noem hire today, of someone whom any smart Governor would be fighting to keep for the duration:

Senior Advisor: Tony Venhuizen will serve the Noem administration as senior advisor. Venhuizen, an Armour native, currently serves as chief of staff to Governor Dennis Daugaard and has been the liaison between the Daugaard administration and Noem transition team. He will be staying with the Governor’s Office into the spring to ensure a seamless leadership transition [Noem transition team, press release, 2018.12.20].

(I love how that South Dakota paragraph lights up my spellcheck like a Christmas tree.)

“Into the spring”… which is when Jones says he’s done, which is when we may assume Noem will name a new Secretary of Education, which is when Venhuizen, having successfully guided Noem through her first Legislative Session in the big chair, will be looking for his next gig.

You know, Venhuizen did serve five years on the Board of Regents in his youth. I might be crazy, but I ain’t dumb: my DRADIS says Noem wants Venhuizen as Secretary of Education but she needs his brainpower to get her through Session first.


  1. Moses6 2018-12-20 20:00

    Like we need one education will not be funded like normal.Students will continue to go out of state and get education.They will migrate to the blue states where wages are better and benefits .We will continue to lose teachers at enormous rate as usual also due to pay.Merry Christmas.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-20 20:18

    Moses, you get me thinking: will an interim Secretary be able to lobby effectively for more Legislative support of K-12 education?

    Or is it possible that, as a guy with no long-term plan to stay, Jones will be able to come through on the second part of his agenda, transparency and accountability, and really go after the facilitators of the GEAR UP corruption?

  3. Moses6 2018-12-20 22:08

    Cory I hope your right.I hope its diffrent then the past.

  4. mike from iowa 2018-12-21 07:38

    Cooter Davenport was an honest to god actual congresscritter from Georgia. And a Democrat.

    Former Rep. Ben Jones, a Democrat who played Cooter on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” was crowing Wednesday after having urged Democrats in Virginia to vote against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Tuesday’s primary.

    Cantor pollster John McLaughlin said Wednesday that this “Cooter Factor” caused a surge of last-minute Democratic votes for the eventual winner, David Brat.

  5. J 2018-12-21 10:21

    It might be helpful to have a Secretary of Education who actually has a degree in education (a Ph.D. in history is NOT a degree in education) and has actually worked at a k-12 school. I am not doubting this gentleman is intelligent, but what type of knowledge does he have about how DOE decisions impact k-12 education and not just higher ed?

  6. grudznick 2018-12-21 19:09

    Where are the facilitators of the gear up fiasco these days?

  7. mike from iowa 2018-12-21 19:26

    Under the haystack fast asleep. The sheep have scattered.

  8. grudznick 2018-12-22 08:15

    This is a real serious question, Mike. Although you are from Iowa and your opinion matters none to the elections in South Dakota, there are those in this great state who may actually wonder who the “facilitators” were that were not prosecuted and where they are today. If anybody knows, it would be Mr. H and he’s not saying, only insinuating there are facilitators going away free as Scott.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-22 08:29

    J, Melody Schopp’s Ed.D. didn’t do much to keep us out of the GEAR UP mess.

    But if we really want a veteran with an education degree to steer things in the right direction in Pierre, maybe we should bring the guy who recommended my firing in Madison, Dr. John Sweet, out of retirement. According to his résumé, Sweet worked as a guidance counselor and superintendent in South Dakota and Minnesota from 1971 to 2012. That’s a lot more education experience than Jones.

  10. mike from iowa 2018-12-22 08:49

    Grudz, since you seem to have been asleep or unconscious for the past umpteen years, you haven’t noticed the total lack of effort to prosecute or even really investigate white collar crime in your beloved crony mess. The state gets the blame and the electors get their share for electing less than stellar public servants. Your state government stinks. I’d say try deodorant, but honest to goodness responsible oversight would go a long ways in reducing the stench.

  11. Jason 2018-12-23 10:38


    Link us to the SD statute that says vouchers are unconstitutional in SD.

    As a bonus,

    Link us to the Iowa Statute that says vouchers are unconstitutional in Iowa.

  12. mike from iowa 2018-12-23 10:50

    Look them up yerself, Troll. If my civics education serves me the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of which laws are constitutional. Even at state level. Knock yerself out.

  13. mike from iowa 2018-12-23 10:52

    Except some state Supreme Courts are appointed to be rubber stamps for right wing guvs and legislatures. I’ll bet even a Troll knows which ones I am talking about.

  14. Jason 2018-12-23 10:59

    Why would I look it up when you are the one that stated it?

    Just admit you lied and move on.

  15. mike from iowa 2018-12-23 11:13

    My final word, Troll, bull tacos.

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