Who wants to read party press releases all year? Not you, dear readers! You come to Dakota Free Press in search of intelligent analysis and original reporting. Here are just ten of the important topics on which I offered some original reporting in 2018
Maria Butina: The saga of the Russian agent who worked her allure on a variety of South Dakota conservatives provided me with a chance to read lots of court documents and Russian websites and write up Butina’s hunting adventure near Elk Point, her work with a Russian billionaire’s gun-contestant/manufacturer wife to woo NRA officials, and a possible connection from Butina through that billionaire patron to South Dakota’s EB-5 scandal.
Al Novstrup: Not everybody in Aberdeen is a racist hypocrite, but Al Novstrup is, and, apparently, the majority of District 3 voters don’t mind having a Senator with such flaws. Someday when District 3’s conscience kicks back in, voters will want to review the willfully racist statements Senator Al Novstrup made in favor of racial profiling in a Senate State Affairs hearing on February 21. I also documented the exact an unapologetic words that Senator Novstrup used to justify his call for racial profiling at an Aberdeen crackerbarrel three days later. “[H]ere’s what a terrorist looks like: they are of mixed racial background,” Novstrup said. Someday, some electorate will hold him accountable for that vile, un-American language.
Jason Ravnsborg: That Republicans nominated the least qualified of their three contenders for Attorney General showed that the GOP cares more about political cronyism than actual qualifications and capability to do government work. That the general electorate followed suit and chose Republican Ravnsborg, who has never tried a criminal case in front of a jury, over the far more qualified Democrat Randy Seiler, who put bad guys away in the U.S. Attorney’s office for years, will bring us shame in the press and defeat in court. My June 24 post on Ravnsborg is the best article on the kakistocracy that Ravnsborg represents.
Dusty Johnson and Tim Bjorkman: Lest you get the idea that all I do is pick on Republicans, review my April 25 article on then-candidate, now-Congressman-Elect, Dusty Johnson. I sat with Johnson and his Republican friends at the Airport Café, listened to his policy-heavy campaign talk, and produced a report that was at least as fair, more detailed, and a little more fun than anything about Johnson in the mainstream press. I gave similarly detailed coverage, with video, to Johnson’s opponent, Demcorat Tim Bjorkman. Reading just those two original posts would have placed a voter among the upper decile of informed members of the South Dakota electorate.
Foster, Pourier, and Schoenbeck: I was the first journalist to write up the flimsy allegations that Senator-Elect Red Dawn Foster and Representative-Elect Peri Pourier. This specious attack on two elected Lakota women by right-wing extremists Shad Olson and Jordan Mason isn’t done yet; during the holiday break, these allegations were forwarded under the sneaky and Newspeaky pseudonym “Native Integrity” to every legislator with a call not to seat the Democratic women that District 27 voters elected to represent them in Pierre. This story may not be done yet, but the news I broke just last Saturday of formidable Republican Senator-Elect Lee Schoenbeck’s declaration that the allegations are “stupid” suggests this right-wing attack is a step too far for the Republican majority.
Adamson and Kovach: I’m not afraid to call out Democrats who don’t follow election rules. In May, I reported the clear evidence that Bill Adamson and Zach Kovach, the Democratic nominees for District 7 House, committed fatal errors on their nominating petitions that made them ineligible to appear on the ballot. A district court judge accepted an incredible argument based on obsolete case law that allowed these two illegal candidates to remain on the ballot. Kovach proceeded to compound his illegitimacy by breaking campaign law in failing to submit his pre-general campaign finance report. (Kovach finally submitted that report on December 13, seven weeks late.) Neither Adamson nor Kovach won a House seat.
Milbrandt vs. Kaiser: I offered complete video coverage and objective analysis of the May 9 debate between Sheriff Mark Milbrandt and the man who tried and failed to replace him, State Representative, city cop, and fellow Republican Dan Kaiser. I declared Milbrandt the winner of the debate but still offered detailed reporting on his role in protecting the men who sexually harassed Kaiser’s wife when she was a DCI agent. Kristi Noem deftly used that sexual harassment case to beat Marty Jackley in the GOP gubernatorial primary, but Brown County voters saw no reason to punish Milbrandt for his role in that tawdry affair.
Elections: Following the primary and general elections, I offered lots of original analysis of results, voter turnout and statistical patterns, and ballot measures. My analysis was even good enough to get me on the radio.
Podcasts! I don’t do much audio, but when I do, it’s pretty good. I had engaging and informative conversations with Democratic candidate for Attorney General Randy Seiler, ACLU-SD policy director Libby Skarin, and health policy activist Adam Weiland.
Wayfair v. South Dakota: I analyzed Attorney General Marty Jackley’s shaky but ultimately successful appearance before the United States Supreme Court to argue for South Dakota’s right to conscript out-of-state companies to collect South Dakota sales tax. From its inception in 2016, this case was touted by Republicans as an opportunity for South Dakota to boost revenues by collecting uncollected taxes on online sales by remote vendors, but in our first post-Wayfair budget, Governor Dennis Daugaard has assumed zero new dollars from remote online vendors.
Note this isn’t a hierarchical Top Ten list; it’s just a collection of ten political stories that leap to my recollection where I added value with my original reporting. I welcome your recollection of good original stories that you enjoyed reading on Dakota Free Press in 2018.