Senator Julie Frye-Mueller (R-30/Rapid City) got suspended and censured for making unprofessional comments about sex and lactation to a Legislative Research Council employee. Can Senate President Pro-Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) now get suspended and censured for making unprofessional comments insulting the State Treasurer and ad hoc Public Utilities Commissioner?
On September 11, the Public Utilities Commission rejected Summit Carbon Solutions’ application to build a pipeline network that would ship carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to underground sequestration in North Dakota. Just days earlier, the PUC blocked a similar CO2 pipeline proposal by Navigator CO2 Ventures, which has since canceled its project.
Treasurer Josh Haeder filled in for Commissioner Kristie Fiegen on the PUC on the Summit docket after Fiegen recused herself for a conflict of interest. Haeder joined regular Commissioners Gary Hansen and Chris Nelson in voting against Summit’s proposal, saying county ordinances blocking pipeline construction made the proposed route unworkable.
Back in February 2022, Senator Lee Schoenbeck threatened to kill the Summit pipeline himself when he thought the route was going to plow through the Benedictine Sisters’ Harmony Hill housing development. Senator Schoenbeck was looking at an old map; Summit had already changed its route to swing wide of Harmony Hill and Lake Kampeska in its last stretch toward the Glacial Lakes Energy ethanol plant. Senator Schoenbeck then became a keen advocate for Summit’s pipeline and its use of eminent domain.
But evidently the Senate President Pro-Tempore Schoenbeck felt Commissioner pro tempore Haeder’s rejection of a legally impossible pipeline makes Haeder a spineless lunkhead:
The above screen cap shows a text conversation between Schoenbeck and Haeder. The message itself is labeled “Today 5:31 p.m.”; Haeder emailed it to himself on September 14 at 8:42 a.m. It appears Schoenbeck sent the above insults to Haeder after the PUC’s Monday morning vote on September 11, but it’s not clear whether he thumbed his noogies to Haeder on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. But on Thursday of that week, Haeder evidently decided Schoenbeck’s comments were worth memorializing. The conversation does not mention the Summit CO2 pipeline, but Haeder felt that was the real subject, as he had it posted on the PUC’s archive of comments received on the Summit project. All of the other comments posted since the September 11 hearing so far are thanks and keep fighting the pipeline; Schoenbeck is the only commenter taking the commission—or at least Haeder—to task.
We should note that Haeder has made no public comments against ethanol. My interactions with Haeder have provided evidence that he has a higher IQ than the average South Dakota Republican voter and possibly equal to that of the average Democratic voter. And if we’re counting vertebrae, it took more political courage for Haeder and his fellow Republican commissioners to vote against a pipeline backed by Schoenbeck, the SDGOP mainstream, and rich Iowa Republicans represented by recent SDGOP chairman and lobbyist Dan Lederman and instead side with a less powerful coalition of landowners and elements of the mostly feckless radical right fringe of the Republican Legislative caucus.
South Dakota Landowners Thursday have called on Senator Lee Schoenbeck to resign following a series of inappropriate texts he sent to South Dakota Treasurer Josh Haeder.
…Landowner Ed Fischbach released the following statement:
“This is intimidation and totally unacceptable behavior from a sitting senator in a leadership position. Because of this, our landowner group is calling for Senator Schoenbeck to resign” [staff, “Landowners Now Calling for Senator Lee Schoenbeck to Resign Following a Series of Malicious Texts,” Hub City Radio, 2023.10.26].
Schoenbeck darn near resigned from the Legislature once before after calling his House Majority Leader Brian Gosch all sorts of fun names for voting against the sales-tax-for-teacher-pay plan that Schoenbeck saved.
The Senate doesn’t convene until January, so no members (like a perhaps vengeful Frye-Mueller, who pals around with the radical GOP fringe who spoke up against the pipeline) can file a formal resolution against Schoenbeck until then. But we should thank the PUC for taking the position that texts sent between legislators and other state officials ought to be public record and thus allowing us to consider whether Schoenbeck’s criticism of Haeder constitutes proper behavior from our elected officials.