The Legislature’s Executive Board will hear a report on the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service tomorrow afternoon. Issue Memorandum 2017-02, prepared by Jeff Mehlhaff of the Legislative Research Council, includes results of a 2013 survey of 400 South Dakota crop and cattle producers on their perceptions of the Cooperative Extension Service.
The good news is that, in 2013, our farmers and ranchers put the greatest faith in scientists, including the experts at Extension. The bad news is that they didn’t trust their own specialized media. It would be useful for Extension to commission a survey update to see if the current anti-press and anti-science climate has affected these attitudes.
Most surprisingly, Kroger said, some of her newest members are disappointed Trump voters. The uncertainty over health-care policy has become a top issue driving first-time activists to join their ranks, Kroger and other grass-roots organizers said.
“The exciting thing about our events is that every time we hold one, I always ask ‘Who here is new?’ and about half the people raise their hand,” said Kroger, co-chair of LEAD South Dakota, an abbreviation for Leaders Engaged and Determined. “I’ve heard from a few women who voted for Trump and have since had a change of heart” [Rhonda Colvin, “Resistance Efforts Are Taking Root in Pro-Trump Country—and Women Are Leading the Charge,” Washington Post, 2017.08.14].
Kelly Sullivan, a 30-year-old restaurant server in Sioux Falls and member of LEAD, noted that rural America has long been politically diverse, but the recent surge of political activism has made it more noticeable.
“People like us in smaller places and people that are in the rural communities, we’re just the same as the big city slickers,” Sullivan said of her fellow rural activists. “The feeling that we’re not being represented, or the feeling that the current administration is doing things that we disagree with, we’re on the same page as the people who are in the big cities” [Colvin, 2017.08.14].
Colvin reports that Sullivan is one of 75 candidates with whom LEAD South Dakota is working. 75 anti-Trump candidates, just in South Dakota. Gallup polling be jiggered—plenty of South Dakotans are fed up with Trump, and LEAD SD may be fielding a whole crop of candidates who are willing to explain why.
Sutton and Bjorkman both launched their campaigns on their home turf—Sutton out in Gregory County, Bjorkman in Canistota—which means neither launched in a major media center. But the Sutton event was clearly designed to accommodate the statewide media who would make the drive. Team Sutton staged its show on a Wednesday at 11 a.m., allowing plenty of time for reporters from Sioux Falls and Rapid City to drive to the Sutton Ranch and still get home in time to file for the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news. Team Sutton set up a flatbed trailer behind the crowd to give the press good camera angles. The campaign distributed signs during the show to enhance the visuals. The campaign incentivized attendance with a tease: they didn’t say for which office Sutton was declaring, meaning reporters wanting the first headline or Tweet had to be at the event.
Team Bjorkman didn’t tease us with any, “Will Tim go for House or primary Billie?” Bjorkman declared for House on Monday. Nor did Bjorkman’s launch lean toward the media in the other ways Sutton’s did. Team Bjorkman scheduled his launch for Thursday at 6 p.m.—good for friends and neighbors getting off work, but rotten for reporters who have to hustle after hours to make the 10 p.m. TV deadline or the print deadline for Friday’s paper. There was no flatbed or special media section; camera operators just grabbed the best free patches of grass they could find among the crowd. I didn’t see any campaigners handing out signs, though volunteers from out of town brought some well-used signs from this year’s frequent Resistance activities.
The Bjorkman campaign did appear to have a leg up on the Sutton campaign with handouts. When I parked down the street and started getting my gear out of my car, one member of a crew of very young volunteers approached and offered a Tim Bjorkman for Congress bumper sticker. Volunteers were also manning a sign-up table and handing out smaller shirt stickers, which were donned by numerous attendees. I arrived later at the Sutton event, so maybe I missed their handouts, but I didn’t see bumper stickers at the ranch. (But I was also mistaken about the composition of Sutton’s beef sandwiches, so I welcome correction!)
While both men downplayed partisan politics, the speakers at each event showed that Team Sutton was more consciously targeting a statewide Democratic audience. Introducing Sutton were three South Dakotans well known in Democratic circles: Sutton’s wife and Gregory County commissioner Kelsea Kenzy Sutton, former legislator Bernie Hunhoff, and former Texas Congressman Max Sandlin, who is now a Sioux Falls guy and husband of our former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Bjorkman’s introducers were more local and personal: his sister Nancy Pulford, his neighbor and former Canistota school superintendent Keith Ligtenberg, and his friend and local grocery entrepreneur Jeff Nielsen. Bjorkman’s speakers basically said, “We know and love Tim.” Sutton’s speakers said the same thing, but they sent an additional message. The presence of Hunhoff and Sandlin said, Billie is the Party’s guy. Primary him at your peril.
Bjorkman mustered a bigger crowd than Sutton. I guesstimated 130 at Sutton’s launch and 170 at Bjorkman’s. South Dakota Democratic Party chair Ann Tornberg attended both campaign kick-offs, as did prominent former Democratic legislator Scott Parsley from Madison. While my face-count is far from comprehensive, I saw a few more Democratic colleagues and candidates in Sutton’s crowd. Sutton drew folks like Mark Winegar and Quinten Burg, while Bjorkman drew former legislators Rod Hall and Frank Kloucek. Bjorkman’s crowd included a contingent of Sioux Falls Democratic Forum regulars. Bjorkman also drew the attendance of Republican District 25 Representative Tom Pischke and an observer from the Daugaard Administration… although I think those two Republicans were just in town for Canistota Sport Days.
Sutton’s launch clearly played up his rural credentials—at the ranch, Missouri River bluffs and boundless sky in the background, hay bales for seating, Sutton beef for lunch. The Sutton crowd was also rich with cowboy hats. I saw one cowboy hat in Canistota, and that was on Bjorkman’s son John. Bjorkman’s Canistota setting was far from urban, at the small-town veterans monument, in front of their small-town K-12 school, just up their small-town Main Street from the Sport Days carnival rides as they started up. (Patrick Lalley still would have called it too rural.)
But looking at the candidates themselves, you’d have taken Bjorkman for the more rural man. Sutton the cowboy left his hat on the ground and spoke in a dark business suit. Even with no necktie, Sutton was still a bit fancy for the local bar. Not Bjorkman: the former judge stepped out in broken-in jeans and a short-sleeved checkered shirt, closer to the regular rural guy many South Dakotans fancy themselves to be. Now there’s an argument to be had about dressing for the job for which one is applying, but there’s enough polo shirt and blue jeanery going on among our Congressional candidates for that argument to make much of a difference.
These observations about the optics of Sutton’s and Bjorkman’s campaign kick-offs probably won’t amount to a hill of beans in determining whether they win on Election Day (lo! these many months from now). But they do suggest that, out of the gate, the Sutton campaign is more attuned to the press and perhaps the dynamics of intra-party politics. I don’t mean to say that tuning a good thing; I just mean to say that tuning is a thing.
After his first big campaign speech, Democratic U.S. House candidate Tim Bjorkman huddled with reporters for thirteen minutes of Q&A. KELO TV used about 20 seconds for its personality/horserace question; KDLT used about 25 seconds of Bjorkman’s comments on his judicial experience and his view that we need a federal solution on health care to make up for South Dakota’s failure to expand Medicaid.
Bjorkman’s first response, on why he’s running for Congress, reveals a deeply humanitarian, service-oriented motivation. He served the public for years as a judge. The problems he saw from the bench—mental health, drug addiction, health care in general—affect not just the defendants who came before him but their families and especially their children. Bjorkman speaks of kids in “highly dysfunctional” homes living “lives of quiet desperation in the shadows of our culture.” Without hope and guidance, those kids “fall into the patterns of their parents and experience poor educational outcomes,” and “all too often they’ll fall into alcohol and marijuana use” before their teens. Those children and their parents “need a counselor more than they need a guard. They need treatment more than they need jail or prison.” Bjorkman says he can’t get those people the help they need from the bench; thus, he feels compelled to seek solutions as a Congressman.
At 3:13, Bjorkman says three magic words: “universal health care.”
There’s a solution to our problems. All the other countries that are developed have developed it. Heritage magazine did a study of the most economically free countries in the world… ten of the eleven more economically free countries than the United States all had universal health care. That’s Heritage Foundation. Forbes magazine addressed it [Tim Bjorkman, press conference, 2017.07.13, timestamp 2:50].
Bjorkman was referring to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, on which in 2017 the United States has slipped to #17, and this 2015 Forbes article, which said that, sure enough, ten of the eleven nations that beat us in 2015’s Heritage economic freedom rankings had universal coverage:
The two advanced economies with the most economically free health care systems—Switzerland and Singapore—have achieved universal health insurance while spending a fraction of what the U.S. spends. Switzerland’s public spending on health care is about half of America’s, and Singapore’s is about a fifth of ours. If we had either of those systems, we wouldn’t have a federal budget deficit [Avik Roy, “Conservative Think Tank: 10 Countries With Universal Health Care Have Freer Economies Than The U.S.,” Forbes, 2015.01.27].
At 3:50, Dana Ferguson asked if Bjorkman thinks 2018 will be a good year for Democrats in South Dakota. Bjorkman showed no interest in handicapping the partisan horserace. He similarly declined to wave the partisan flag in response to the next question, about how a Democrat can win in a red state, by saying that sure, party matters, but that he believes South Dakotans vote for the person.
At 5:50, Bjorkman reiterated the call he made in his speech to raise the federal minimum wage:
Yes… the federal government should increase the minimum wage. I just suggest $11 an hour. It would be $11.25 an hour today if we’d kept pace with 1968. I think we’re as great a nation today as we were in 1968 and that we should pay $11 or $11.25 an hour. If we did, that’s an anti-poverty… an anti-welfare or a welfare-cutting program, because it will remove people from the welfare rolls if they’re earning a fair wage, and we will not have to subsidize the people who are paying low wages [Bjorkman, timestamp 5:50].
At 7:50, Bjorkman avoided (ducked! dodged! dang it!) my question on his stance on immigration. Having just announced a “few minutes ago,” Bjorkman said he wants “to give thoughtful answers” and “not just give off-the-cuff responses” that “wouldn’t be worthy of the question you asked.” He did promise to address immigration and other issues in position papers and invited all of us reporters to come back and interview him in-depth on those positions as the seventeen months of the campaign progress.
Bjorkman also left me hanging at the end on my question about engaging young voters. He certainly believes young people should be interested and involved in this House contest, because the race is all about “preserving the American dream for their generation and their children.” Preserving the American dream ought to be enough to mobilize everyone to study the candidates and vote, but preserving the American dream is a banner any candidate can wave. Bjorkman the man of principle, policy, and problem-solving will want to sit down with his team of campaign strategists and marketers to figure out how to distinguish himself in the marketplace and uniquely appeal to the young voters who, if properly motivated, could tip the election in his favor. (Of course, Bjorkman may have already distinguished himself from all comers by saying “universal health care” and “increase the minimum wage.” Team Bjorkman: are you positioning Bjorkman as South Dakota’s Bernie Sanders?)
Around 8:45, Bjorkman spoke of the hard, lonely accountability of being a judge:
There’s nobody else to point a finger at or blame for any decision you make. You alone stand accountable for it. You alone are responsible for it, and it’s a very lonely job to sentence somebody for first-degree murder.
A trial judge makes thousands of decisions that impact people’s lives in important ways every year, and every time your duty is to do what’s right, what’s fair and just. So do I think that’s a good exercise for making decisions for the public on issues? Yes, I do, I think it’s good training for that [Bjorkman, timestamp 8:45].
Bjorkman should speak of that experience and responsibility every chance he gets. That judicial experience may even excuse, explain, and justify his not having a quick answer on immigration. As a judge, Bjorkman spent years making decisions with grave consequences. The liberty, health, safety, financial well-being, and the very lives of citizens, not to mention the proper application of law, hung on his thoughts and words. The details of his every decision were subject to review by higher courts. Bjorkman had to take his time to make sure he reviewed evidence from all sides and worked toward a just decision. The courtroom is no place for off-the-cuff statements. Neither is the campaign trail or Congress, not for Bjorkman, a thoughtful decision-maker who recognizes the impact of his words and policies. He won’t wing it; he’ll take his time and think it through. (Another note to Bjorkman’s campaign staff: on this key quality, thorough, thoughtful Bjorkman is the anti-Trump. Keep him off Twitter!)
The follow-up question about whether handing out all those sentences might produce a backlash at the polls from convicts and families didn’t faze Bjorkman. “Most people who go to prison, they’re struggling and they know it, and their families know it.” He said many people he sentenced told him, “I don’t want freedom; I want to be cured.” Bjorkman comes across not as a hard case who doesn’t care about the defendants who’ve come before him; quite the contrary, he sounds like a judge at peace with his conscience who has used the bench to help broken people.
Making none of the press coverage was Bjorkman’s suggestion to the press for a really useful news story:
You want to see what’s going on in our culture… sit in court for a day, or better yet, do a story where you’re following someone into the couet system and through the penal system, parole system afterward. You’d have a very powerful story. It might win you an award if you want to do that. It just takes some work and effort. I’ve recommended that to several reporters. Nobody’s taken me up on that. The parole board will welcome you on that end, too, to sit in on hearings, they’ve told me that [Bjorkman, timestamp 11:45].
On this suggestion and in his resistance to standard reporters’ horserace questions, Bjorkman signaled a practiced, professional, and gently sparring relationship with the press. “I’m not gonna do what you’d like me to there,” Bjorkman said to KELO’s question at 12:20 about why voters should choose him over his Republican opponents Dusty Johnson and Shantel Krebs. Bjorkman is not nihilist tyrant Donald Trump trying to delegitimize the national press that is exposing his sins. Nor is he a naïf frightened or bedazzled by the cameras and mics. Bjorkman is gently challenging the local press to focus on issues that matter and not falling into the quick-hit horserace comments that make it easier for reporters to meet the ten p.m. deadline.
I still want answers on immigration and engaging young voters in democracy (plus education, Native American relations, net neutrality, privacy…)… but as Bjorkman noted, I’m asking several months before anyone will really be paying attention. I have high expectations, and Bjorkman has time to meet them. In his first campaign press scrum yesterday, Bjorkman showed he may have the chops to do it.
That Sioux Falls paper unfairly brands Rick Knobe’s really good letter about ballot measures resulting from Legislative inaction with a photo of our Congressional delegation standing around chatting. I understand that South Dakotans hearing the word “inaction” may automatically think of three of the biggest elected do-nothings in the history of our state, Mike Rounds, John Thune, and Kristi Noem. But to illustrate an opinion piece on ballot measures resulting from legislative inaction, editors would do better to choose a photo of the relevant culprits, distracting and thumb-twiddling state legislators like Isaac Latterell, Arch Beal, and Kyle Schoenfish who don’t get the people’s business done in Pierre.
The misaligned photo critique doesn’t stop Knobe from making his point, that the Legislature is working harder to defend its exaggerated prerogative than to do the people’s business:
Some in legislature resented the fact that voters had 10 ballot issues to consider in the 2016 election. Several bills were introduced to control or stifle citizens’ voices. In fact, they even went so far as to create a task force to consider ways to reduce the public’s right to initiate and refer issues. They fail to recognize that their inaction on important issues facing our state caused many of those issues to end up on the ballot….
We don’t have a problem with initiative and referendum in South Dakota, we have a problem with enmeshed politicians who are unwilling to take on the tough issues, and who then get upset when the people do it for them [Rick Knobe, letter to the editor, that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.07.07].
Thune, Rounds, and Noem are related to this problem. When South Dakota Republicans can coast to Congress without demonstrating any desire to get things done for the people, Republicans in the Legislature start thinking they are entitled to the same cushy treatment. Disrupting their one-party complacency by replacing Princess Noem with a Democrat who listens to the people may inspire some of our arrogant, insular legislators to respect the rights and desires of us voters.
As you can easily imagine, these calculations miss two key parts of determining actual market penetration. Each paper serves surrounding communities—the Black Hills Pioneer, for instance, serves four competing population centers in the Northern Black Hills, a demographic situation unique among all eleven dailies—meaning the actual circulation per market population ratios are even lower. In the other direction, one paper may be read by multiple individuals. One Aberdeen American News gets read by three people in my house (the little one regularly reads the comics, weather, obits, and crime reports—make what you will of that psychological profile). These two factors thus cancel each other out to some degree. Plus, they would affect most if not all dailies equally, suggesting we could take these circulation/local population ratios as reasonable guesses as to relative reach.
If I sum of those circulation figures and divide by the summed populations, I get a circulation/population ratio of 26.51%. Without Sioux Falls, the average for the other ten papers is 35.44%. Sioux Falls is thus really dragging down the statewide newspaper circulation/population ratio. If Sioux Falls printed papers at that otherwise statewide average, between the daily circulations of the Spearfish and Aberdeen papers, they’d be moving nearly 62,000 newspapers a day.
Not yet welcoming Sutton to the race is the other frontrunning Republican, Congresswoman Kristi Noem. Either Noem is feeling jealous of her title as thehat-wearing horse rider, or Jackley is subtly emphasizing that while Kristi has been away in Washington getting nothing done, he’s been back here in South Dakota making friends and practical legislative connections with folks on both sides of the aisle, connections that will be far more useful to the next Governor of South Dakota than whatever connections Noem has spent her Congressional career making.
Sutton an “interesting candidate”? That’s not a prediction of a landslide, but when’s the last time you heard a South Dakota gubernatorial candidate winning the interest of a national media reporter? The fact that a national reporter shares a South Dakota Democrat’s opening campaign video helps explain why Dan Lederman and the SDGOP are vomiting all over themselves over Sutton’s announcement: they know Sutton has what it takes to get noticed.
These “prenouncements” from Trump lure the media into a frenzy of prediction and pre-commentary that nicely fits Trump’s primary goal: moving media coverage in his direction. He grabs headlines over something he hasn’t done yet and crowds out news about the errors he and his Congress are already committing. As a bonus, he gets all the pundits to stream onto Fox News and other channels and talk about the impending policy so he can stick his finger into the TV wind. Instead of having to read long, boring policy briefings and listen to long, boring briefings from all the best people he said he would surround himself with in the White House, Trump can simply switch on the TV and get his talking points the same way he always has, picking out the tag lines that shout most clearly from the commercial-media squawkbox and cut through the haze of his addled attention.
Trump is TV become reverse-Ouroboros, a media dragon barfing out its own tail.
KCPO-TV occasionally airs The Facts, an ironic exercise in trying to get “facts” from a stream of right-wing wishmongers. The Sioux Falls station hasn’t posted new “Facts” online since last November. However, KCPO is advertising a new program that appears to be dedicated to South Dakota politics—The Nelson Verity:
Ching-chings for EB-5 and GEAR UP, but what was that sound effect for the Mathew Wollmann sex scandal—Godzilla terrorizing Tokyo? An angry bull in the dog pound?
I don’t see Soli Deo Gloria in the Secretary of State’s corporate filings or fictitious names registry. But the swords and shield certainly reflect Stace Nelson’s military background, and that cross in the middle is the official logo of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, of which the church Stace attends, Zion Lutheran in Mitchell, is a member. We can only assume that the producer of the production company logo has secured permission from the executive director of LCMS communications, who, according to the LCMS Logo Usage Terms and Conditions, may make “rare exceptions” to the LCMS policy that “Private businesses may not use the logo; nor may LCMS congregational members use the logo for business or personal use.”
Is Stace Nelson ready to boost KCPO to the top-rated TV station in Sioux Falls that doesn’t broadcast Hawaii Five-O? Will his program be more Bill O’Reilly or William F. Buckley? And could a TV talk show be a launching pad for another statewide candidacy for Nelson? Put some extra aluminum foil on your rabbit ears and see if you can pick KCPO out of the ether to find out!
p.s.: Show’s not even on yet, and already we have to fact-check… or in this case, spell-check. It’s Merriam-Webster. And that’s a verity… er, fact.
Democrats look kinda dumb for keeping the media out of their McGovern Day event with their national vice-chair Keith Ellison. Republicans look really dumb for electing a President who sends his press secretary Sean Spicer to the daily briefing to not take reporters’ questions: