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Original Blog Reporting in 2018: Ten Big Stories Worth Reading

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 and hunting party near Elk Point, SD, fall 2015.
Maria Butina: more of a threat to national security than any mixed-race person Al Novstrup has met. Hunting party near Elk Point, SD, fall 2015.

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
Can you tell the difference? You can if you read Dakota Free Press!

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.

Dan Kaiser and Mark Milbrandt, screen caps from DFP video, 2018.05.09.
Dan Kaiser and Mark Milbrandt, screen caps from DFP video, 2018.05.09.

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.


  1. leslie 2019-01-01 17:40

    Butina is as much a story about GOP back room machinations by Rep Dusty and operative Paul Erickson the “Daschle Assassin”, as it is about the jailed Russian spy and grooming K-12 children. SDGOP is pulling out the stops the survive the blue waves. Little rural controllable states like SD are apart of the 50 year Goldwater-Gingrich/Reagan,Trump strategy to destroy Democracy in sea arch of GOP survival😠

  2. leslie 2019-01-01 17:43

    a part


  3. leslie 2019-01-01 18:15

    See also “What to expect from Mueller 2019” k. Dilian NBC 12.31.18. As said before trump is toast the GOP is toast and we will save Democracy from the billionaires, the Russians, and put Iran and N. Korea in manageable denuclearization, all the while pivoting hard on global warming

  4. grudznick 2019-01-01 18:28

    I don’t know about you being a “journalist” like Messrs. Woster and Mercer, but you certainly do blog up some reasonable stuff, Mr. H. You do have stuff worth reading. You might even consider selling it to the Aberdeen American News or that Gannett thing and see if they’d put you in the newspapers, like Messrs. Woster and Mercer used to be. Tell them you are “grudznick approved” and you’ll get a more favorable review.

    Good job on a good year, Mr. H. grudznick appreciates your attention to your blogging hobby, and highly recommends you.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-01 21:13

    Thank you, Grudz. Would AAN and Gannett recognize your name? They might need an actual recommendation letter with your signature and contact information. ;-)

    And hey, if I sold my material to the AAN, it wouldn’t be a hobby anymore, would it? Wouldn’t that take all the fun out of it?

    Just ring the Blog Tip Jar. I still find spontaneous, non-contractual donations to be all sorts of fun.

  6. Roger Cornelius 2019-01-01 21:32

    Cory is a journalist, a investigative reporter, and South Dakota’s most successful blogger. Cory doesn’t need anyone to pin those labels on him, all you have to do is be a steady reader of the blog.
    I wasn’t able to comment on Dakota Free Press for the last four months of 2018 because of illness, but rest assured there wasn’t a day that passed where I didn’t read every word of Cory blogs and all the comments.
    My daily reading includes the Washington Post, New York Times, the L.A Times and the two largest newspapers in South Dakota as well as watching credible news programs on cable news. Cory’s Dakota Free Press ranks right up there with the major media outlets that I read everyday.
    Thank you Cory and the many readers and commenters that continue to educate me everyday.
    2019 looks to be a turbulent year for South Dakota and the country and I look forward to Cory’s breaking news and daily bloggings.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-01 22:03

    Roger, I’ll cheer your continued presence and participation, that’s for sure. I’m glad we’re part of each other’s days.

    As for a turbulent time… well, I don’t wish turbulence on anyone, but living in interesting times does make for better blogging!

  8. Roger Cornelius 2019-01-01 22:57

    Cory, my comment about turbulent times wasn’t about any physical contact like “gut punching”, it was more about the national political scene and what is to come on or after January 03 when the new congress is sworn in.
    And yes it will be interesting with 5 Democratic congressmen and women chairing investigative committees with subpoena power to go after Trump.
    It appears that you will have plenty to blog about in 2019.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-02 05:11

    Roger, I wouldn’t mind avoiding even that turbulence. Trump could make his life and everyone else’s smoother if he would just resign Thursday afternoon, take Pence with him, and let us have President Pelosi.

  10. John 2019-01-02 17:19

    Consider adding your photos of Mr. Erickson, Mr. Dusty Johnson, and perhaps others, to this meme.
    “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
    See, I’m not humorless.

  11. Nick Nemec 2019-01-02 18:28

    Your reporting on Kristi Noem’s estate tax woes was top notch. I had long felt her story didn’t add up and you were the only reporter to take the time to track down the facts and lay out in very simple terms why her sob story was a load of BS. She had been peddling that BS for years and there were lots of buyers, you shined a little light on it and the roaches scurried for cover.

  12. Kal Lis 2019-01-02 20:57

    I agree with Mr. Nemec 100%. The Noem estate tax posts were some of the best things I read in 2018.

  13. grudznick 2019-01-02 21:41

    Mr. Nemec, as a fellow Nicholas, I realize this is off the topics but do you allow people who cannot walk in the field with a shotgun to partake in your hunting luncheons? Are you ADA compliant?

  14. Nick Nemec 2019-01-03 04:40

    We have had a number of people attend who simply went along for the walk without carrying a shotgun. Technically we are not ADA compliant but over the years have accommodated those who have difficulty walking by making sure they are transported to locations at the ends of the fields where they will have a chance to get a shot off at a passing rooster or if not shooting will have an opportunity to witness the flush up close.

  15. Nick Nemec 2019-01-03 04:44

    The end of the day chili dinner is open to all the only requirement is to take part in the conversation and if disagreeing on a topic of discussion to do so without being disagreeable.

  16. mike from iowa 2019-01-03 07:21

    Them dang rooster flushes are not for the faint hearted. I often wondered why, as a youngster, I was willing and eager to slog through weed patches, thickets and standing corn all for the chance to have a year’s growth scared out of me.

    Good for you, Nick. I am grateful you grace this blog with your good and true comments.

  17. Porter Lansing 2019-01-03 08:23

    You got that right, Mike. I’m still carrying a lead BB under the skin below my left shoulder (on the front side, ha ha) from blocking when I was 16. She was a good girl, though. About eighteen. Hadn’t hunted much. Saw her a bit, when she got out of the penitentiary. Nick’s hunts and dinners sound epic. Agreed that he’s a blog jewel, these days.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-03 19:49

    Thanks, Nick and Kal Lis! And you know, even though I did all the heavy reporting on that in 2017, it certainly affected Noem’s campaign. We didn’t hear one word from her about estate tax during this campaign. Of course, the news did not change South Dakota’s willingness to elect a teller of tall tales… to put it mildly.

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