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Top Ten Stories of 2023: The Dakota Free Press Wish List!

Don’t look back, I say, thinking of a song from 45 years ago:

Don’t look back, ooh, a new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind, ooh, where I get taken
The road is callin’, today is the day
I can see, it took so long just to realize
I’m much too strong not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around
Oh, yes, I will [Boston, “Don’t Look Back,” Don’t Look Back, 1978].

If I do look back, I see that my annual blog wish lists rarely serve to predict South Dakota’s future. Kristi Noem did not abdicate and elope to Idaho with Corey Lewandowski, Bonnie Specker did not run for Governor, and South Dakota still kills prisoners but refuses to tax billionaires.

The Dakota Free Press Wish Lists defy the tradition of looking back at the  top stories of the last twelve months and turn our imaginations to the twelve months to come and all the wonders that could surprise us… if only anything interesting ever happened in South Dakota. ;-)

But enough foreplay: here are the Top Ten Stories of 2023 that I would get a kick out of reporting on Dakota Free Press!

1. Leaked Spy Papers Show Climate Denial Part of Russian Plot (Sioux Falls, SD—January 14, 2023): Russian spy documents show that Maria Butina’s influence campaign among South Dakota Republicans in 2015 was part of an extensive and ongoing effort by the Russian government to interfere with American politics, with the specific aim of preventing the United States from implementing any effective policies or leading any global initiatives to combat climate change. The documents, recovered from a dumpster near the apartment complex of Butina’s former boyfriend Paul Erickson, indicate Vladimir Putin himself approved and oversaw the plan to disrupt and sabotage the American political process. The immediate benefit Putin sought was to keep markets open for Russian oil and natural gas; the long-term aim was to see unchecked climate change wreak havoc on Western nations and Asian coastal powers while Siberia would simply become warmer, more habitable, and more arable, resulting in geopolitical advantages for Russia….

2. Schoenbeck Surrenders, Senate Passes Noem’s Food-Tax Repeal (Pierre, SD—February 28, 2023): The South Dakota Senate today voted 33–2 to approve House Bill 1199, Governor Kristi Noem’s election-year promise to repeal South Dakota’s sales tax on food. Among the ayes was Senate President Pro-Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, which he called a “fiscal disaster”. Schoenbeck’s reversal came after at least six hours of closed-door meetings with the Governor, complete with shouting and sounds of breaking glass audible to observers in the Second Floor hallway. Schoenbeck’s only comment on his reversal came in terse floor remarks before the vote: “I’m much too strong not to compromise. Vote aye and hang on. Everyone will get what they deserve”….

3. Oglala Sioux Tribe Takes Possession of Grand Gateway Hotel (Rapid City, SD—March 21, 2023): One year after the previous owners attempted to ban Indians from the property, the Oglala Sioux Tribe took possession of the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Bar in Rapid City. “We got taken!” screamed Connie Uhre as Lakota security guards escorted her and family members off the property. “The lawyers and the contract said we were selling to USA-L’Algo, a bunch of nice white guys from Alabama!” USA L’Algo did buy out the Uhres, but it was a shell created by the Oglala Sioux Tribe to acquire the property. “A new day is breaking in Rapid City,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Star Comes Out. Tribal leaders say they will rename and renovate the motel to become a premiere destination welcoming Indians and repentant colonizers alike. They indicate they expect to win back their purchase price from the Uhres and then some in the still-pending civil rights lawsuit in federal court.

4. Noem Appoints Schoenbeck to U.S. Senate (Watertown, SD—April 18, 2023): Governor Kristi Noem today promoted Watertown Republican Lee Schoenbeck from the South Dakota Senate to the United States Senate. The appointment comes less than 24 hours after Mike Rounds announced his immediate resignation from the Senate. Governor Noem said that Schoenbeck will bring his widely recognized problem-solving skills to Washington.

5. Board Rejects Hillsdale Curriculum Standards (Watertown, SD—May 3, 2023): After taking hours of public comment and thousands of written reponses, the Board of Education Standards today rejected K-12 social studies curriculum standards written by Hillsdale College and backed by Governor Kristi Noem. “These standards are impractical and inimical to quality social studies education,” said board vice-president Terry Nebelsick. After the 5–2 vote to reject the Hillsdale standards, the board voted 6–1 to approve Nebelsick’s motion to resurrect the revised standards prepared by South Dakota teachers in summer 2021 and submit those standards for public comment and board consideration. Governor Noem was traveling to Republican events in New Hampshire and Florida and could not be reached for comment.

6. House Impeaches Trump (Washington, DC—June 12, 2023): In a surprise move, embattled Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy resurrected the 2021 articles of impeachment against Donald Trump and pushed them to a successful vote. McCarthy joined 52 Republicans in voting with all 213 House Democrats to impeach Trump for the third time. “Trump is a threat to our Constitution,” said Congressman Dusty Johnson of South Dakota during floor debate before casting his vote in favor of impeachment. “We must act now to ensure he is never again in a position to do harm to our Republic.”

McCarthy kept this move secret until today. Sources say he was working on this impeachment with leaders from both parties over the past several weeks. Among prominent figures seen coming and going from a late gathering at McCarthy’s townhouse last night were former Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney and new South Dakota Senator Lee Schoenbeck.

7. Noem Announces Presidential Bid; Schoenbeck Becomes Governor (Castlewood, SD—August 7, 2023): Speaking to a few hundred supporters sheltering in her barn from a steady summer drizzle, Kristi Noem officially declared her long-anticipated 2024 Presidential bid. “The Lord is calling, and today is the day,” said Noem. “But answering God’s call to defeat evil Joe Biden will be a full-time job, and so with a heavy heart I resign as Governor of South Dakota.” Minutes later, Lieutenant Governor Lee Schoenbeck took the oath of office in a ceremony at Watertown City Hall. “I didn’t expect to be Governor,” said Schoenbeck, “but here we are. I wish Kristi well on her latest campaign. I will do my best to carry out the mandate voters gave our party just nine months ago to lead South Dakota effectively for four more years.”

Schoenbeck resigned from the U.S. Senate on July 24, three days after emerging as the key Republican Senator in rallying 16 other Republicans to join all 51 Democratic Senators in voting to convict Donald Trump and preclude him from holding any public office again. Noem then appointed Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden to Schoenbeck’s U.S. Senate seat and appointed Schoenbeck to replace Rhoden at her side.

8. Venhuizen Saves Abortion Rights Petition; Secretary of State Staffer Facing Charges (Pierre, SD—November 10, 2023): Representative Tony Venhuizen (R-13/Sioux Falls) prevented the illegal destruction of initiative petition sheets bearing the signatures of tens of thousands of voters calling for a statewide vote on abortion rights. “I was heading for Governor Schoenbeck’s office,” explained Venhuizen, “when I bumped into [Deputy Secretary of State] Logan Manhart—literally. Logan was hurrying out of the Secretary of State’s office with a few thick manila folders stuffed with papers, and few fell out. Logan didn’t stop to pick those papers up; he just hurried to the north exit. I looked at the sheets that had fallen out and realized they were signed, notarized sheets from the abortion amendment petition. I scooped up the sheets, ran outside, and the next thing I saw was Logan throwing those folders into the dumpster.”

Capitol groundskeeping staff witnessed the ensuing altercation: when Venhuizen asked Manhart what he was doing, Manhart replied, “Taking out the trash…and saving babies!” When Venhuizen approached the dumpster, Manhart shoved Venhuizen back. “You’re breaking the law, Logan,” Venhuizen said. Venhuizen advanced again. Manhart threw a right hook, knocking Venhuizen’s glasses from his face. The men then exchanged blows until five members of the groundskeeping staff separated the two while a sixth recorded the entire incident.

“Bring that camera over here!” Venhuizen can be heard shouting in the now-viral video of the scuffle and aftermath. The camera passes a restrained Manhart and peers into the dumpster, where Venhuizen fishes out the manila folders and the papers spilling from them. “Look at this!” Venhuizen shouts, holding one of the papers close to the camera. “These are genuine petition sheets, genuine voter signatures, and an employee of the Secretary of State just tried to destroy them!”

With the help of groundskeepers, Venhuizen retrieved and documented over 2,500 sheets bearing roughly 20,000 signatures from the dumpster. Petitioners reported submitting 60,000 signatures Monday, so those salvaged signatures could easily make the difference in the sponsors’ attempt to put abortion rights to a vote in 2024.

Capitol police immediately arrested Manhart for assaulting Venhuizen. Attorney General Marty Jackley says his office is considering charging Manhart with felony violations of election law. Secretary of State Monae Johnson has refused to comment.

9. Johnson Resigns Amidst Scandal; Barnett Returns (Pierre, SD—December 4, 2023): Following weeks of intense media scrutiny and pressure from the Governor’s office, Secretary of State Monae Johnson resigned today. Breaking down in tears while speaking to reporters in the Rotunda, Johnson said, “I don’t understand what happened! God told me I’d be so good at this job!” Johnson’s twelve months in office were marred by a revolving door of disgruntled staff, an attempt to disenfranchise tens of thousands of RV voters that drew an immediate injunction and a still-pending class-action lawsuit that could cost the state millions in damages, and an attempt to destroy a legal initiative petition that fired staffer deputy Logan Manhart says was ordered by Johnson.

Governor Lee Schoenbeck responded to the resignation with typical bluntness: “This is what happens when wack-a-doodles take over. Good riddance.” Schoenbeck said he will appoint former Secretary of State Steve Barnett to return to the job from which Johnson ousted him last year.

10. Noem Ends Campaign; Schoenbeck and Venhuizen Host Cheney Fundraiser (Lead, SD—December 22, 2023): Plagued by single-digit polling, broadly panned debate dullness, and now a leaked recording that features Noem talking about plotting the Trump impeachment to open the door for her run for President, Kristi Noem today suspended her 2024 campaign. “This wasn’t the deal!” Noem could be heard shouting in her campaign before spokeswoman Amelia Joy stepped out to shoo away reporters. “I told Lee—I told him! I deserve—I deserve—”

Coincidentally, Republican frontrunner Liz Cheney announced she will be attending a rally in Rapid City, and a fundraiser featuring skiing at Terry Peak followed by Rocky Mountain oysters and rum at the Terry Peak cabin of Governor Lee Schoenbeck. “I’m proud to have the support of Governor Schoenbeck and Lieutenant Governor Venhuizen,” said Cheney amidst a day of social media comments that ignored Noem’s departure from the race. “They’re doing fine work restoring the Republican brand in South Dakota, just as my campaign is working to turn our party and our country around at the national level. See you on the slopes, Lee and Tony!”

If anything like those stories come to fruition in 2023, I guarantee you’ll learn all about them here on Dakota Free Press! Happy New Year!

*      *     *

Past Dakota Free Press/Madville Times Wish Lists: Fifteen years of jump-off points to alternative South Dakota futures!

2022 2021 2020 2019
2018 2017 2016 2015
2014 2013: no list!
Distracted by
trip to France
2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007



  1. P. Aitch 2023-01-01 19:40

    Well crafted, Mr. H. You’re a clever feller. 👍🏻😊

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-01-02 18:08

    Thanks, P! I am pleased to fill the gap in speculative fiction dedicated to South Dakota politics. You will not find anything like my wishlists anywhere else—not in the papers, not at the bookstores, and nowhere else on the Internet.

Comments are closed.