You don’t get to be Senate boss by being completely stupid.
Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) is attacking fringe House Republicans across the state with a postcard blasting them for voting this year for House Bill 1053, which would have allowed counties to impose a 0.5% gross receipts tax to pay for courthouses, jails, and other facilities. Here’s the version Schoenbeck’s PAC South Dakota Strong mailed to District 35 voters in Rapid City:
I’m working toward an argument that Schoenbeck isn’t stupid… but he’s not a good proofreader. He failed to catch, on the address side of the card, that he left off the word tax: “Representative Tony Randolph thinks we need to pay higher sales.” When you’re spending money on real ink and paper that you can’t pull back and fix, you have to get it right! (And while we’re at it, hyphens: “tax-and-spend politicians.”)
But the bigger issue for Schoenbeck is his blatant hypocrisy in criticizing “tax and spend politicians” for supporting “new and higher taxes” that “cost you more every time you buy milk, every time you but meat, every time you go out to eat, every time you purchase kids clothes, and much, much more.” Just six years ago, Schoenbeck was the big tax-and-spender, single-handedly salvaging 2016 House Bill 1182, a half-penny state sales tax increase on milk, meat, clothes, and much, much more that is now spent largely on teacher pay. For true fiscal conservatives, Schoenbeck’s 2016 vote should be viewed as far more egregious than Randolph’s 2022 vote. Schoenbeck raised taxes on every shopper in South Dakota; Randolph’s 2022 vote would not in itself have raised taxes on anyone—county commissions could ask for the tax, but county voters got the final say. Schoenbeck’s 2016 tax increase had a vague sunset clause, the Partridge Amendment, which the Legislature has never implemented and which Schoenbeck himself staunchly resisted this Session. Randolph’s 2022 county tax would have been tied to building projects; the tax would have ended once the project bonds were fully paid. Only the most amnesiac legislator could vote for a plank as big as 2016 HB 1182 and then chide colleagues for supporting the relative mote of 2022 HB 1053.
Schoenbeck is no amnesiac. Even though the point of an attack ad is not to engage in genuine discourse but merely to sway enough low-information voters to snap-judge and not vote for the target, Schoenbeck appears to foresee the potential response and tune his card to parry:
- Schoenbeck puts his criticism in the context of current economic conditions: “Tony Randolph thinks that during times of economic crisis and high inflation, people need new and higher taxes.” If someone throws 2016 HB 1182 in his face, Schoenbeck can say, “We weren’t in an economic crisis in 2016. We didn’t have high inflation.”
- Randolph “thinks government doesn’t take enough out of your wallet” and 2022 HB 1053 was too much “in addition to all the other taxes we pay.” Schoenbeck can argue that the current level of taxation, including the state sales tax that he raised to 4.5%, is enough, especially in the context of different economic conditions that make any new taxes unbearable in a way that his 2016 increase was not.
- “When politicians think we don’t pay enough in taxes, it’s time to drain the swamp!” In 2016, when Schoenbeck thought we didn’t pay enough in taxes, he drained himself from the swamp, choosing not to run for reëlection. He sat out for two years to contemplate his wickedness, then returned with his newfound conviction that South Dakota had reached optimal taxation.
I’m not saying these are good arguments. Schoenbeck’s thin veneer of weasel words leaves in place his fundamental self-contradiction. Schoenbeck and I might have lots of fun debating philosophical and economic frameworks that justify his statewide tax increase but condemn Randolph’s optional county tax, but most voters subjected to Schoenbeck’s twists and turns would smell sophistry and give him the hook.
But Schoenbeck’s contradiction doesn’t matter to the folks he’s attacking, because they aren’t running against Schoenbeck. If District 35 Republican House challengers Larry G. Larson and Elizabeth Regalado wave Schoenbeck’s card at Randolph and say, “Tony loves taxes! Let’s lose the liberal and elect real fiscal conservatives!” Randolph could try responding with a critique of the Senate President Pro-Tem, but District 35 voters in Rapid City would mostly shrug in non-recognition at this mention of some District 5 Senator way over in Watertown. “Schoenbeck Schmoenbeck!” Larson and Regalado could retort in a debate. “You’re the one who’s on our ballot, and you’re the one who voted for more taxes. Boo! Boo! Booooooo!”
And Schoenbeck doesn’t really have to worry about Randolph or anyone else he has targeted with this hypocritical attack card firing back at him to boost his primary rival, Watertown city councilman Colin Paulsen (who has supported liberal spending in Watertown). The right-wing radicals Schoenbeck is attacking don’t have the money, organization, or rich friends Schoenbeck does. What few resources those fringy Republicans can scrape together can’t be wasted on revenge shots at Schoenbeck in District 5; they must first be spent countering the damage Schoenbeck is doing to them on their home turf.
See? Schoenbeck has his difficulties with proofreading and logical consistency, but he’s not stupid.