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Top Ten Stories of 2020: The Dakota Free Press Wish List

Past DFP/MT Wish Lists:
Twelve years of jump-off points to alternative South Dakota futures!

2013: no list! Distracted by trip to France!

I start every blog year with a list of the top ten stories I hope will happen in the coming year. A look at past lists should dissuade me from such wanton optimism. Looking at just last year’s wish list, I find…

  1. Governor Noem did not appoint Tony Venhuizen Secretary of Education (though she is bringing him back to manage her Legislative agenda again!);
  2. Larry Rhoden is still Noem’s lieutenant;
  3. TransCanada hasn’t canceled Keystone XL (but they haven’t built it yet, either!);
  4. South Dakota’s abortion restrictions are still in place (and our members of Congress are pleading for more);
  5. The Maria Butina affair didn’t produce any new evidence of Trump-Russia collusion (though Butina went to prison and Paul Erickson will likely follow);
  6. Neither of my ballot measures roused enough interest from voters to make the ballot (although I’ve found another avenue for protecting democracy!);
  7. Augie is still going D-1;
  8. Voter registration in South Dakota actually went down (thanks to Secretary Barnett moving almost 5,000 voters to inactive status in December);
  9. Governor Noem did not expand Medicaid (although Dr. Holm says she still should!);
  10. Mayor TenHaken hasn’t adopted the Green New Deal (although he is cool with that new northwest bike trail!).

Yet my hopes spring eternal. Here are the top ten stories I hope I’ll get the chance to blog for you in 2020!

Senator Mike Rounds
Senator Mike Rounds

1. Mike Rounds Leaves Politics (Washington, DC, March 19): Senator Marion Michael Rounds announced today that he will not seek reëlection. “My family has had a hard year,” said the junior senator from South Dakota in an emotional speech from the Senate floor, “but America has had it worse, and I’m partially to blame. For too long I remained silent about the President’s constant lies and abuses of power. The War Powers debate made me realize just how far I’d sunk, sacrificing principles and American security for misguided partisan loyalty to a President who deserves no loyalty. I dedicate the remainder of my single term here to speaking the truth and stopping this White House from doing any more damage to South Dakota and to America.” Rounds’s announcement comes less than two weeks before the deadline for filing to run in the June 2 primary; so far, only Scyller Borglum of Rapid City is circulating a petition for the Republican nomination.

2. Legislature Overrides Five Vetoes (Pierre, March 30): Legislators today passed five bills over the objection of Governor Noem. Working together, Republicans and Democrats overrode five vetoes to legalize industrial hemp, implement anti-nepotism reforms, cap advertising budgets for state agencies, fund 3% raises for teachers and state employees, and make minor reforms in the ag productivity tax formula. “We can’t figure out why she vetoed that last one,” said House Majority Leader Lee Qualm after the final and unanimous veto override vote on House Bill 1199. “She’s been awfully distracted this last week with her new Senate campaign.”

Theresa Stehly, back to work....
Theresa Stehly, back to work….

3. Voters Return Stehly to City Council (Sioux Falls, April 14): Incumbent City Council member Theresa Stehly edged former legislator Alex Jensen 51% to 49% last night to win another four years at City Hall. Stehly won 6,420 votes, a thousand more than she won in the 2016 election, over Jensen’s 6,195. According to the most recent campaign finance filings, Jensen spent at least $400,000 on his losing bid, while Stehly’s reported expenditures so far are under $20,000.

4. Schaunaman Loses Recall Election (Aberdeen, June 3): Aberdeen voters ousted Mayor Travis Schaunaman last night and replaced him with former mayor Mike Levsen. Aberdeen Welcomes Everybody, an ad hoc committee of local employers and activists, filed a recall petition in March after Schaunaman declared Aberdeen off-limits to refugees. “We thought that, as a businessman, Travis would govern with the best interests of business in mind,” said Aberdeen economic developer Mike Bockorny. “But his short-sighted attempt to block refugees was bad business for all of Aberdeen.”  The recall vote went 56% for Levsen, 44% for Schaunaman.

5, Redistricting Petition Makes November Ballot (Pierre, July 8): Secretary of State Steve Barnett verified today that an initiative petition submitted by Dan Ahlers on Monday has 34,888 valid signatures, enough to qualify Ahlers’s redistricting amendment for the November ballot. The original deadline for initiative petitions was last November 4, but in January, a federal court declared that deadline unconstitutional and extended the deadline to July 6, the same as North Dakota’s initiative deadline. Absent a court challenge, Amendment CC will give South Dakotans a chance to vote for ending gerrymandering by empowering an independent commission to draw Legislative boundaries in 2021.

Kristi Noem
Kristi Noem, seeking her Next Big Thing

6. Governor Noem Resigns (Hayti, July 15) Kristi Noem brought weeks of turmoil and speculation to an end Tuesday as she released her official resignation as Governor of South Dakota. Acting communications director Kassidy Peters made the announcement from the Noem driveway near Hayti, where reporters had been camping out since June 12, when Noem went into seclusion following her loss to Congressman Dusty Johnson in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. “Mom is a visionary,” said Peters, who assumed the position as spokesperson just two weeks ago after the departure of nearly every member of Noem’s cabinet and official inner circle. “And now her vision is to seek other ways to serve our great President and our great country.”

7. State Sells Kadoka Line to Rec Trail Trust (Rapid City, August 7): The State Railroad Board announced today that it will sell 97 miles of state railway for one dollar to the Wakan Mako Sica Trail Trust, a coalition of tourism and sport entrepreneurs, tribal governments and activists, Black Hills philanthropists, and the City of Rapid City. Under the agreement approved by the board, the trust will develop the abandoned railbed into a recreational trail over a ten-year period. When the trail is complete, the trust will sell the trail back to Game Fish & Parks for eleven dollars, and the trail will become a state park.

8. Flandreau Adds 500 Hemp Jobs (Flandreau, October 3): Glanbia Nutritionals has announced plans to build a hemp processing plant just south of Flandreau. Glanbia’s proposed 120-person operation brings to 500 the number of new jobs created in and around Flandreau thanks to the tribal hemp program and the state’s legalization of hemp last spring. Area farmers are reporting good yields from the new crop. District 8 legislators are asking the Department of Transportation to expedite a proposal to expand Highway 34 to four lanes from I-29 to Highway 13, a mile east of the proposed Glanbia site.

9. Voters Approve Special Elections for Legislative Vacancies (Sioux Falls, November 4): In an undercard to Tuesday raucous election, South Dakota voters quietly but firmly approved Amendment BB, which will remove the governor’s authority to appoint legislators and instead will fill all Legislative vacancies by special election. “I’m glad we were able to restore this power to the people,” said Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls), who sponsored the original legislation to put this measure to a public vote. “Across the nation, this election was about voters rejecting an imperial Executive. Amendment BB will stop governors from stacking the Legislature in their favor.”

10. Fight for Democracy Spawns Blog Resurgence (Rapid City, December 28). Speaking at a League of Women Voters forum on civic engagement, South Dakota Standard editors-in-chief John Tsitrian and Tom Lawrence said the nationwide rejection of Trumpism inspired an explosion of South Dakota blogs. “When we started our multi-author blog last year,” said Lawrence, “we were one website out of maybe four or five writing seriously and independently about South Dakota issues. Now there are at least twenty… more than I can read!”  Tsitrian said citizens realized that they needed to do more than Like and Retweet. “Voters of all parties looked at our work and the work of other serious bloggers and realized they could inoculate themselves to social media propaganda not just by reading good blogs but by making the effort to write good blogs themselves. Voters rediscovered sincere civic engagement this year, and good blogging is the apotheosis of civic engagement.”

***And one bonus story for 2020:

Samantha Power
VP-Elect Samantha Power

We’re Still Here (Brookings, December 30): Speaking at Frost Arena this afternoon as part of the incoming Administration’s 50-state whistlestop tour, Vice-President-Elect Samantha Power said America has much to celebrate but much work ahead. “Thanks to your raising your voices,” Powers told a cheering crowd of around 2,500, “Congress averted an illegal war, staved off a recession, and reopened Chinese markets to South Dakota’s farmers. But now much harder work begins. We must rebuild America’s global reputation. We must win back our allies’ trust and our rivals’ respect. We must admit to the world the mistakes we made in these last four years recommit ourselves to the true American ideals of democracy, liberty, and equal dignity for all mankind. We must prove to the world that we can mean what we say again, that we want to be America, not the garish and perverted mockery of America that was foisted on us for four years, but the real America, the true America, the good America that our Founders called on us to perpetually perfect. That’s the good America, the ever-improving America, that our Administration will rebuild. That’s the good America we need you to help us rebuild.”


  1. Porter Lansing 2020-01-06

    2a. In addition to the five overrides, the legislature passed a resolution to dedicate South Dakota to supporting and empowering low income seniors financially, medically, and socially.

  2. Debbo 2020-01-06

    Good list. I clicked on the Power link to remind myself of her. I like her. Very clever that you didn’t name the Pres. 😉

  3. grudznick 2020-01-06

    Let us all hope that grudznick, the most loved Conservative with Common Sense on the blogs, survives to be a huge part of Mr. H’s wishing list #10 wish. I also hope my good friend Bob makes it that far, too.

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