We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Friday, October 31, 2008

County Commission Candidate Anderson Gets DUI Ticket

If the sentiments of my poll-takers in the right sidebar are any indication, the Lake County Commission race just changed from a five-man to a four-man race: Gene Anderson, Democratic candidate for the commission, was arrested for driving under the influence here in Madison last Friday.

Now an anonymous tipster sent me info to this effect Tuesday, and an anonymous commenter posted the same this morning. I prefer a little documentation over anonymous chatter, so I waited. Besides, I figured if it was true, it would hit the papers pretty quickly.

But I haven't heard any formal public mention of it yet. So finally today, I got a bunch of other matters crossed off my to-do list and visited the Clerk of Courts.

Yup. DUI ticket, first offense. Gene Oscar Anderson, Volga, SD. Friday, October 24. Officer Varilek also cited Anderson for open container and failure to dim headlights. Ordered to appear in court November 13th.

Now unless there's another 60-some-year-old Gene Oscar Anderson in Volga, voters have an interesting question: do you want to hire someone to run the county who has been charged with a crime similar to what led a Lake County deputy sheriff to resign last year? (See also the case of Roy Meyer, former Highway Safety director who resigned from his job in Pierre after a DUI arrest.)

Go ahead, accuse me of a rush to judgment, but alcohol and drinking and driving are a touchy subject with me. If I were a woman and a Christian, I'd probably be a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union ("Touch not the cup!").

Anderson just made my mind up: If Anderson's ticket is kosher (and you're really going to have to work hard to convince Officer Varilek is out framing political candidates), Anderson has just demonstrated a lack of judgment unacceptable for an elected official.

Drinking in excess is bad enough. Thinking you can drive while drunk and thus endangering others' lives is even worse.

But consider the political side: Suppose you are running for public office. You have a chance of winning, but you face some tough competition. You supposedly want to win and serve the public. It's less than two weeks before the election. You have to be either stupid or arrogant to think it's a good idea to go out, get drunk, and then drive home.

Innocent until proven guilty—indeed, Anderson will have his chance to demonstrate that he is neither stupid nor arrogant in court November 13. But the election is November 4. And I'm having a hard time picturing any positive circumstances that might explain Anderson's encounter with Officer Varilek just before midnight last Friday in any positive way.

Commenters, fire away. But unless I hear a compelling counter-story, my vote is set: Johannsen, Giles, Bohl.

Coach Ditka: Make an Effort! Gehl Workers: We Were!

Ex-Bears/Saints coach turned sportscaster Mike Ditka campaigns with Gov. Sarah Palin in western Pennsylvania today. Getting off message (must be contagious around Palin:

Departing somewhat from John McCain's argument that failures on Wall Street and in Washington have imperiled the American worker, Ditka argued that anyone seeking employment can find a job — as long as they’re willing to make an effort.

“This is the land of opportunity,” he said. “It's not a land of handouts. If you’re willing to work, you can find a job. If you're willing to work, you can find a job.” [Peter Hamby, "Mike Ditka Hits the Campaign Trail with Palin," CNN.com Political Ticker, 2008.10.31]

Let's hope that's all it takes for the 45 workers who just lost their jobs at Gehl in Madison to find new jobs. They were making an effort, producing such a quality product that the French company Manitou just bought Gehl to add Gehl/Mustang skidsteers to their product line. But then the Bush Recession killed hundreds of orders, and Gehl had to shed 45 people who were perfectly willing to work.

So you tell me: is now the time to elect someone who sounds like Herbert Hoover?

Saying Atheists Give You Money Is Defamation of Character?

North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole runs an ad claiming her challenger, Democrat Kay Hagan, pals around with atheists. Kay Hagan responds by forcefully declaring her belief in God, pointing to her work teaching Sunday School, and filing a lawsuit claiming defamation of character.

Not that there's anything wrong or character-defaming about being an atheist, much less associating with an atheist, or taking his money (Dan Roemen still takes my cash for groceries)... or leaving comments on an atheist's blog....

Share the Wealth: Who Said It?

Here's today's quiz—no prizes other than what you take from it: a chuckle, enlightenment, whatever you like!

Who said the following as a positive defense of specific socialist government policies?
We can afford to share resource wealth...

...unique fiscal circumstances... warrant a special one-time payment to share some of the state's wealth....

...it's collectively [citizens who] own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.
  • A. Barack Obama
  • B. Karl Marx
  • C. Che Guevara
  • D. Hugo Chavez
  • E. Sarah Palin
Here, watch this video while you think about your answer...

...and the answer is... E. Sarah Palin!

Share the wealth! Share the wealth! Even Sarah Palin believes it's a good idea. I'm surprised freedom-loving Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (alias "Joe" the "Plumber") would even stand on the same stage with the socialist McCain-Palin ticket.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama: The Conservative Choice

Obama is clearly the feminist's choice, the farmer's choice, the intellectual's choice... but the conservative choice? Yes, argues The Economist, those ultra-rational Brits who have now themselves endorsed Obama. The famously conservative magazine cites the rise of Obama conservatives—"Obamacons"— including Colin Powell, Susan Eisenhower, Christopher Buckley, and even some Libertarians (pay attention, Matt!):

The rise of the Obamacons is more than a reaction against Mr Bush’s remodelling of the Republican Party and Mr McCain’s desperation: there were plenty of disillusioned Republicans in 2004 who did not warm to John Kerry. It is also a positive verdict on Mr Obama. For many conservatives, Mr Obama embodies qualities that their party has abandoned: pragmatism, competence and respect for the head rather than the heart. Mr Obama’s calm and collected response to the turmoil on Wall Street contrasted sharply with Mr McCain’s grandstanding.

Much of Mr Obama’s rhetoric is strikingly conservative, even Reaganesque. He preaches the virtues of personal responsibility and family values, and practises them too. He talks in uplifting terms about the promise of American life. His story also appeals to conservatives: it holds the possibility of freeing America from its racial demons, proving that the country is a race-blind meritocracy and, in the process, bankrupting a race-grievance industry that has produced the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton [emphasis mine; "The Rise of the Obamacons," The Economist, 2008.10.23].

Call him transformational or just the leader of a new team of Transformers, Barack Obama has proven he can bring everyone but a few plumbers and moose hunters together. Join me, conservatives, in voting for someone who actually supports your values: vote for Barack Obama!

Internal Johnson Poll: McCain 45, Obama 40

...and Joel who?

Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic gets hold of an internal poll from Senator Tim Johnson's campaign (papers do just float about in funny ways, don't they?). You can read the full document here (Word format). Highlights from the 613 likely South Dakota voters surveyed Monday and Tuesday of this week:
  • McCain leads Obama 45% to 40%. (Bush beat Kerry in SD in 2004 60% to 38%.)
  • The sample included 41% self-identifying Republicans, 35% Democrats, and 24% Independents. Should boost McCain's numbers.
  • The sample could be said to skew older (though that depends on your definition of old): 41% over 55, 32% under 40. Should boost McCain's numbers
  • The sample skewed educated: 44% college graduates, 27% with only HS diploma or less. Should boost Obama's numbers.
Laugh line of the poll: Joel Dykstra has a lower favorability rating in South Dakota than Barack Obama... and one week before the election, 42% of respondents still say they have never heard of Dykstra. (3% say they've never heard of Senator Tim Johnson... who are you people?)

The GOP presidential nominee winning South Dakota by 5 points, against a black Democrat who came in second in the South Dakota primary. The GOP Senate candidate still unknown to 2 out of 5 likely South Dakota voters. If there's any truth to Johnson's numbers, heads are gonna roll at GOP campaign headquarters....

Fetal Rights Make Women Wards of State, Criminals

Promoted from the comments (and from my wonderfully intelligent wife): a powerful video that explains why measures purporting to give rights to fetuses, like South Dakota's Initiated Measure 11 and Colorado's Amendment 48, will do all sorts of harm to the rights and health of women and fetuses. Note the woman highlighted in this video are staunch opponents of abortion, but they recognize that bad laws like IM11 are not the solution to this intensely personal issue.

...and while you're protecting women by voting against IM11, vote against John McCain, too, who thinks "mother's health" is just a buzzword and whose health care "plan" would push more women onto the individual insurance market, which already treats women as second-class citizens by charging them hundreds of dollars more than men for coverage.

Grading the District 8 House Candidates: Mitch Fargen

After a few days, my odds for the District 8 State House race remain the same:

I've explained my thinking on Stricherz, Johnson, and Lange; now let's turn our attention to the new golden boy of District 8 politics, Mitch Fargen of Flandreau.

There's been talk that current Representative and now Senate candidate Russell Olson is the rising star of the Republican Party, a young man being groomed for bigger things. Olson has been handed some plum jobs—work in the Governor's Office of Economic Development, then directorship of the Lake Area Improvement Corporation—that gave him an easy platform for building image and connections.

Olson may find himself replaced and outpaced, however, by Fargen, who has been busy building his own political cred. Fargen, a decade younger than Representative Olson, has laid his own groundwork for the District 8 House race. Fargen warmed up for politics with an active career in SDSU Student Senate politics. Currently the SDSU Student Senate is the most active and effective student governing body in the state, and it is turning out a corps of young leaders who are ready to take over South Dakota politics (see also Ryan Brunner).

In his first jump into the big pool, Fargen has built the most active and financially successful of this year's District 8 House campaigns. He has raised $3,600 from PACs, $3,725 in itemized donations, and $8,415 in donations under $100. in other words, Fargen has been able to raise a majority of his campaign finances in small donations, the "ten here, twenty there" small change that takes a lot of time and supporters to raise. Compare this to Russ Olson's debut, his 2006 House campaign, during which Olson raised only $1,533 in donations under $100, less than 10% of the direct donations he received. Olson relies on deep pockets; Fargen relies on lots of pockets.

Fargen has showed the most hustle in our local House race, raising more money from more donors, running more ads, and, most importantly, knocking on more doors than any of his fellow House candidates. He's a dynamic campaigner who also happens to know what he's talking about, especially on ethanol and farm issues. He's demonstrated that he is willing to do the hard work necessary to be a good legislator.

Now certainly, there are some folks who may vote against Fargen just because he's a young rookie, although that didn't stop folks from putting Olson in office last time. Some others will vote against him just because he's a Democrat, although partisan politics don't seem to figure big in a lot of local folks' votes for State Legislature.

But in the context of the candidates he's running against, Fargen's "negatives" (if you can call energetic youth and a party affiliation negatives) are significantly smaller than those of his opponents. Fargen is a strong candidate on his own merits; his odds of winning are increased by the more galvanizing negatives of his opponents. Follow this ballot math:
  • On our "pick two of the four" House ballot, Stricherz will be lucky to get 25% (and if folks read her advocacy in the Leader this week of toll roads and school consolidation, that number will be more like 15%). Three out of four District 8 voters will still be asking "Stricherz? Who the heck is that?" and choose among three: Johnson, Lange, and Fargen.
  • Some folks will absolutely refuse to vote for Johnson, for political reasons, personal reasons, whatever. Stricherz may get a few of their votes, but the majority of the anti-Johnson camp will be left with Lange and Fargen as their choices.
  • Some folks will absolutely refuse to vote for Lange, for political or personal reasons. The political portion of the anti-Lange camp leans GOP anyway and will mark Johnson and/or Stricherz. But the less political among the anti-Langers will tend toward the names/faces they recognize, and that will mean a number of anti-Lange votes going for Johnson and Fargen.
Alternatively, let's look at it more positively. Suppose folks have picked someone else as their first choice; whom will they pick for their second spot?
  • Folks who pick Stricherz first will come mostly from her homebase in Moody County. That's Fargen's stomping grounds as well; folks who make the geographical choice for Stricherz will tend toward Fargen as well.
  • Folks who pick Lange first will tend to be Dems and will pick Fargen second. Lange may also have an edge with farmers, and those folks will lean toward Fargen with his ethanol advocacy and experience with the Farmers Union.
  • Folks who pick Johnson first will split 40-40-20, Fargen-Lange-Stricherz.
Now my numbers are reasoned speculation, not formal scientific survey, so I welcome readers to offer their own analyses.

To make it to the House in District 8, you don't have to be the best; you just have to come in second. Fargen has the strongest campaign in the race, and he has nothing like the negatives dragging down the other candidates. Those factors combined are worth at least a second-place finish, if not a surprise first for the young newcomer. That's why Mitch Fargen is the safest bet to win a seat in the State House for District 8.

New Poll: Does Criminal Activity Disqualify a Candidate

And now for a new poll: up in Alaska, Senator Ted Stevens just got convicted of corruption. He's still campaigning, and it's still possible he may win. So I got to wondering about our local electorate. How do you feel about candidates who get caught breaking the law?

Job applications regularly ask "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" Should voters ask the same question? Is even an arrest enough reason to exclude a candidate from your consideration in the voting booth? Thus, two questions for today's Madville Times poll:
  1. Would you vote for someone who's arrested for a serious crime during the campaign?
  2. Would you vote for someone who's been convicted of a serious crime?
Vote in the right-hand sidebar, and leave your comments here!

Polls: Parsley Persists over Olson

Gallup isn't dropping by Lake County, and the Party central committees aren't about to release their internal data, so this is the best District 8 polling you're going to get: Democrat Scott Parsley beats Republican Russell Olson in the latest Madville Times poll on the District 8 State Senate race. Parsley pulled 62% of our click-inclined readership (actually, 34/54 rounds up to 63%); Olson drew 37%.

For those of you who can't get enough of clicking for Scott or Russ, KJAM's Senate poll remains active. After our call to arms yesterday morning, Parsley is back on top as of 07:35 CDT, 58–42.

Veblen Dairies Raided for Illegal Immigrants

A juxtaposition:

(1) One of the latest near-full-page spreads from the Russell Olson campaign touts the increased production of milk in our state and says Olson will keep that milk flowing. I'm still trying to figure out from the ad exactly what Russ did to expand the dairy industry (was he out milking cows himself while our other elected officials were legislating?), but far be it from me to criticize a Republican for running an ad that will alienate the lactose-intolerant.

(2) Our industrial dairy operations won't continue to expand if the Department of Homeland Security keeps paying visits. Yesterday Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raided dairies up in Veblen (originally on KSFY; see this Aberdeen American News article) and arrested 27 people: 14 for immigration violations, 13 for identity theft.

Details aren't in yet, but Madville Times readers will recall that Rick Millner of Veblen is CEO of Prairie Ridge Management, the outfit that runs the Excel Dairy in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, a big confined animal feeding operation that stunk neighbors out of their homes last June. The Minnesota Department of Health declared Millner's Thief River Falls CAFO a public health hazard this month. We'll find out soon enough if Millner's Veblen operations are responsible for polluting our state with criminal labor.

That our growing industrial dairies turn their profits on illegal immigrant labor is no secret. Faced with a proposed CAFO, folks in Grant County were more worried about the potential damage to air, water, and roads. But they also complained that these big dairies provide more jobs to illegal immigrants than to locals, and all those reasons together elicited enough citizen opposition to kill the project.

Farming turned into a factory operation is bad enough environmentally and spiritually. Industrial agriculture based on criminal activity is all the worse. If dairies can't make it without illegal immigrant labor, is that really the kind of industry we want to promote?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Madison Meter Madness: Fence Ordinance Afoot!

Fences make for good neighbors... but they evidently also make for grumpy meter readers. An eager reader alerts me to the Madison City Commission's first reading last night of a new fence ordinance that makes homeowners foot the bill for a thousand-dollar solution to a 27-cent problem. Read the full story at RealMadison.org!

Grading the District 8 House Candidates: Gerry Lange

Once again, here's my best guess at the odds for our District 8 State House candidates:

Now I haven't subjected these numbers to rigorous mathematical tuning; please view them more as a comparative measure of the candidates. Stricherz is still a very long shot; if Johnson's name recognition and business ties can pull him through, it's a safe bet he will be the only Republican heading to the House for District 8.

So how do I figure Gerry Lange's odds are equal to Jerry Johnson's? As regular readers know, any assessment I make of Gerry Lange's political possibilities is profoundly skewed by my affection for him as a neighbor and friend. I see in him the kind of man I want to be when I'm 80: physically and mentally vigorous, idealistic, forthright. He reads voraciously, sells lots of Kiwanis pancake tickets, and gardens with a skidsteer. Even if were still a Republican, I would still admire Gerry deeply. We should all be as engaged in family and community as Gerry.

I thus shift with difficulty to offering a clear-eyed assessment of Lange's chances of winning a return trip to Pierre. Take it for what it's worth.

I set Lange's odds equal to Johnson's in this race for several reasons. Both men have similar name recognition. Lange may even have an edge. Johnson had Lange as a professor at Dakota State College back in the 1970s, as did many area residents. Where Johnson has two terms as city commissioner under his belt, Lange has 16 years of experience in the State Legislature. He's been at the forefront of politics in this district for two decades.

But where Johnson's disadvantage is that he doesn't say much, Lange's may be that he says too much. He has a million things on his mind, and he's passionate about them all. (I know this problem; I have this problem.) From his reading and his long experience, Lange sees connections between our lack of investment in education in South Dakota, our selfish consumerism, the profligacy of Wall Street, and the irresponsibility of tax breaks during a time of war, and he wants to talk about all of those things.

I love that big philosophical view. Voters who know Gerry will say, "Yup, that's our Gerry!" But a lot of voters will say, "What the heck's he talking about?"

We have seen the ups and downs of Lange's wide-ranging knowledge and rhetoric at the two candidate fora in Madison. Lange was wonderfully forthright about various issues, calling the Regents' paydate-shifting scheme a shell game and noting without apology that South Dakota is behind other states in education and energy development. Where most Democrats try to cast their education proposals as doable without raising taxes, Lange has been willing to speak up for tax reform as a necessary part of solving the education funding problem. But if tax reform means new taxes, Lange says it also means getting rid of bad taxes like contractors excise tax, which stands in the way of developing wind power. He showed he can be practical, too, noting that a smoking ban in bars and restaurants might be good in theory but would not fly politically.

But Lange also showed he can go off on tangents. He was a little less focused in his opening and closing statements in the Madison Chamber forum. The jokes he shared from his Indian friend over by Flandreau fell flat, and pitching his book from the podium made even me squirm a bit. He strives at times for Lincolnesque oratory, but even attempts at developing an intelligent, extended theme can seem wildly out of place among other speakers offering two minutes of bullet points from their resumes. I admire such efforts to elevate the discourse, but again, a lot of local voters may just wonder, "What's he talking about?"

And then there's age. Some folks appear to think Lange is just too old for the job. Some will try softening the argument and phrase it as, "Well, Gerry's had his time in Pierre. He's done his service. It's someone else's turn now."

I don't like that argument. I've talked with Gerry. I've read his numerous e-mails, articles that he forwards about all sorts of political issues. I know he's as sharp and as capable of legislating as anyone else in the race. In some cultures, age is a sign of wisdom: the smartest man in the room is the grayest. But the anti-old-guy sentiment is out there, and it will deflate Lange's vote count.

Lange is the most experienced public servant in the District 8 race. That means he's been around long enough to make great friends and great political enemies. He has as much passion for public service as Jerry Johnson professes; the only difference is, Lange shows it. That passion manifests itself in elevated oratory and discussion of issues that sometimes seem out of place in plain old local politics.

Lange's idealism, intelligence, and experience set him apart from all the other candidates and give his supporters great reason to vote for him. Lange's ideas and age also give opponents handles for criticism. How those factors will balance out at the polls is perhaps the most interesting local question in next week's vote.

Lange has as good a shot as Johnson at winning a seat in the Legislature. Coming up, I'll tell you why Mitch Fargen has an even better shot.

Once More Unto the Breach: Parsley vs. Olson on KJAM!

Sound the trumpets, Parsley partisans! Lorin Larsen must have seen the Madville Times Senate poll (up there in the right-hand corner—vote now!) and decided he needed to counter by rerunning KJAM's poll on the District 8 Senate race between Democrat Scott Parsley and Republican Russell Olson. Back in September, after a hard-fought online battle, Parsley and Olson came out about even (anyone remember the final numbers?). Now we see the numbers flipping back and forth: Parsley had a commanding 62-38 lead yesterday afternoon, but then CreditSoup must have sent the kids home to do some Web-surfing and flip the numbers: Russ is back on top 64-36.

My friends, there is but one appropriate response: Charge!!! Get over to KJAM, cast your vote, and show the world that District 8 is all about truth, justice, and online citizen activism... or at least having fun with online polls!

(By the way, Lorin, I'm still waiting for my commission on all the extra hits you got last time... ;-) )

Socialism: Not a Voting Issue

I've said it before, I'll say it again: We are all socialists. We are all redistributionists. We all believe in sharing the wealth.

If you still don't believe that, if you believe that you can't vote for anyone who espouses tax policies that it comforts you to call socialism, well, you can't use that belief to choose McCain-Palin over Obama-Biden. McCain and Palin both believe in taxing the rich and redistributing wealth, just like those other guys.

Hendrik Hertzberg highlights the sheer nuttiness of the McCain-Palin adoption of "Socialism!" as the last-gasp battle cry of the 2008 campaign by pointing to the words and deeds of McCain and Palin themselves:

During the 2000 campaign, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” a young woman asked [McCain] why her father, a doctor, should be “penalized” by being “in a huge tax bracket.” McCain replied that “wealthy people can afford more” and that “the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do.” The exchange continued:

YOUNG WOMAN: Are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?. . .
MCCAIN: Here’s what I really believe: That when you reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

And as for Palin...

Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs” [emphasis mine; Hendrik Hertzberg, "Like, Socialism," The New Yorker, 2008.11.03].

As I've said before, a voting issue is "a fact, policy, or moral position (or a set of several such things) that distinguishes one candidate or position from another and thus can justify, singly or in concert with other issues, voting for one candidate or position over the other." Sharing the wealth is simply not a voting issue. At every turn—experience; guns; impressive oratory; palling around with bad dudes, whacky pastors, and folks who hate America; and now socialism—McCain and Palin have negated even the silliest arguments they could make against Obama and Biden by their own beliefs and policies. There is no honest reason left in the GOP rhetorical ammo bag to vote for McCain-Palin over Obama-Biden.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Christian Science Monitor Replacing Print with Web

An icon of South Dakota high school speech activities is about to undergo a landmark change: The Christian Science Monitor, which turns 100 on November 25, has announced it will become the first national newspaper to shift from print to Web. In April 2009, CSM will end its daily print edition, produce daily e-mail and weekly print editions, and focus on expanding its online content. (No word on whether the Webification of the monitor will also sound the death knell for the really bland editorial cartoons.)

Editor-in-chief Mary Trammell sees CSM's enhanced online presence as key to continuing the pursuit of founder Mary Baker Eddy's vision of "journalism that seeks to bless humanity, not injure, and that shines light on the world's challenges in an effort to seek solutions."

Not a bad standard to live up to. "Injure no man, but bless all mankind"—remind me of that when I get cranky. Maybe remind the supporters of Initiated Measure 11 of that as well, as they try to win votes by waging personal attacks on Tiffany Campbell (remind me again—who are the Christians in the room?).

Going online offers some obvious business advantages:
  • Instead of waiting for the mail five days a week, readers can get updates 24/7.
  • CSM can reach a bigger audience with less investment.
  • Websites are cheaper than printing presses.
Don't I know it! Just today 300 of you have stopped by to read what I have to say, and it's cost me nothing more than a little typing on a $600 machine that I've gotten good use out of almost every day for over two years. If I had to crank out photocopies and deliver them to all of your houses every day, well, obviously, the Madville Times wouldn't exist.

Oh, what's the connection between the Christian Science Monitor and South Dakota speech activities? Well, for years, a donor from Brookings has paid for CSM subscriptions for every high school in the state with an active National Forensic League chapter. I have thus heard hundreds of extemp speeches backed up with evidence from the trusty Monitor. I have also seen kids loading the buses with big plastic tubs stuffed with expertly organized folders stuffed with CSM articles on everything from the Albanian economy to Zoloft.

As the Christian Science Monitor goes electronic, perhaps we will see those hulking extemp tubs replaced with iPhones downloading the latest CSM right at the tournament. The novi can only hope. ;-)

Bush to Banks: Spread the Wealth!

America would never elect a President who would spew such socialist nonsense as "Spread the wealth!" It's inconceivable that any patriotic American in the White House would ever advocate any sort of redistribution of anyone's hard-earned money....

WASHINGTON – An impatient White House served notice Tuesday on banks and other financial companies receiving billions of dollars in federal help to quit hoarding the money and start making more loans.

"What we're trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America. And banks exist to lend money," White House press secretary Dana Perino said...

Said Perino: "The way that banks make money is by lending money. And so, they have every incentive to move forward and start using this money" ["White House Tells Banks to Stop Hoarding Money," AP via Yahoo News, 2008.10.28].

I have never lived in more interesting, more exciting, or, on occasions like this, more hilarious times.

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated G-O-P's do it! Let's do it, let's spread the wealth!

Alanis Morissette sings Cole Porter to the Avengers: makes as much sense as anything John McCain has said this month. Readers and commenters, enjoy! :-D

Madville Times Voters Guide: The Amendments!

Jon Hunter beats me to the punch, posting his recommendations on the constitutional amendments on our ballot before I do. Nuts!

One little quirk before we get to business: the Madison Daily Leader publisher writes that there are three constitutional amendments on the November 4 ballot.

What? I flip through my voters guide: Amendments G, H, I, J: that's four! Ah, Jon Hunter must be using Firefox: I discovered a glitch the other day on the Secretary of State's website that causes a Amendments I and J (as well as IM9) not to display. This glitch only happens in Firefox, not IE. (Don't worry—Chris Nelson's people are working on it!)

But anyway, our man Hunter weighs in on Amendments G and H, characterizing them as "housekeeping" amendments that we should pass.

On Amendment G, the measure to increase the mileage reimbursement for legislators, Hunter and I agree. A quirk of our Constitution limits the reimbursement for a legislator's trip out to Pierre at the beginning of the session and a legislator's trip home at the end to five cents a mile. Legislators get the state rate (32 cents per mile, says Hunter) for every other trip. We're not talking a massive expenditure here: 105 legislators × $0.28 more per mile × 400 miles (one trip out, one trip back) = $11,340 a year. Heck, we could fund that by cutting the Governor's press secretary's pay 10%.

Legislators are state employees; they deserve a fair rate of reimbursement for all of their travel expenses, just like every other state employee. Vote yes on G.

Hunter and I disagree on Amendment H (and thank goodness—what fun would it be if we agreed on everything?). Where Hunter sees housekeeping, I see more power for corporations. Perhaps some business types can better explain to me the practical ramifications of South Dakota's apparently old-fashioned and more restrictive rules on corporations, but in my ignorance, I'm adhering to principle (have fun with that one, commenters!). Corporations have too much power already. We recognize them as persons, for Pete's sake! Amendment H would limit shareholder power and make it easier for corporations to incur debt (mortgage meltdown, anyone?). Vote No on H.

Hunter does not address Amendments I or J in yesterday's editorial. Amendment I gives the Legislature the option to extend even-year sessions from the current 35 days to 40 days, the same length as odd-year sessions. I can sympathize with Senator Jerry Apa's argument on the ballot question pamphlet that a longer session just gives legislators more time to procrastinate. (I can also laugh at Apa's argument that a longer session means cities, counties, and schools will have to pay lobbyists overtime to stay in Pierre another week "defending these groups from proposed legislation"...an amusing reflection of Apa's apparent view that legislation is always a monster coming to gobble us up.) Still, Mitch Fargen has told me that one problem in the even-year sessions is that revenue estimates don't come out until later in February, leaving legislators scrambling to craft a working budget. Five more days isn't much, but in the crucible of late February, it could do a lot of good. And the legislation doesn't mandate 40 days; it simply gives the legislators the option if they feel they need it. I'm a choice guy, so that helps me lean just slightly in favor of the proposal. Neither I nor the Republic will be crushed if Amendment I fails, but I'll mark Yes on I.

Finally, Amendment J: repealing term limits. This one's easy: you betcha! We've got term limits: they're called elections. If you like your legislator, keep her (or him). If your legislator is a meathead, you get a chance to oust her every two years. Again, as a choice guy, I'm all about this one. Don't just vote yes—vote Heck Yes! on Amendment J.

Coming up, the Madville Times Voters Guide gets personal and recommends candidates... stay tuned!

Update 2008.10.29 17:25: Our man Hunter comes out against Amendment I. Still waiting for Amendment J....

Update 2008.10.31 06:55: There it is! Hunter editorializes in favor of Amendment J. Hunter confuses the State Legislature with the U.S. Senate, saying that "one-third of the legislature could change in a single election," when in fact the entire Legislature could change in one year (consider District 8 itself: we will have new people in all three of our seats). But Hunter gets the big point: "The South Dakota legislature has plenty of turnover even without term limits, and we lose valuable experience when we force out legislators unnecessarily." Let the voters rule: Vote Yes on J!

Protect Women's Equality -- Vote No on 11

I've said it since April: the main reason to vote no on Initiated Measure 11 is that it would make women second-class citizens. Incredibly, some readers still don't get it. They can't think past their Animal Farm bleat of "Live baby good, dead baby bad!"

If you still don't get it, you should read Rebecca Terk's powerful post on the issue:

The wider question of Initiated Measure 11 is not just about babies. The question is whether women are persons in their own right, with their own lives and motivations and needs, and with their own bodies that they are in full possession of.

The question is whether or not we should “allow” women life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–or whether we should circumscribe what should constitute their lives, the extent of their liberties, and what ought to make them happy [Rebecca Terk, "Trying to Find Words," Flying Tomato Farms, 2008.10.27].

As Terk says, we shouldn't have to ask this question. We should be able "to ignore it—not even to dignify it with a response."

Unfortunately, some people in this state think that their ticket to salvation lies in making South Dakota a territory where women's constitutional rights are perpetually subject to a public vote. And so we must respond:

No. No. No. No. No. No.

Republicans, School Choice, and Consolidation

More evidence that South Dakota Republicans see education as an expense, while Democrats see education as an investment....

A conversation with Dr. Carl Fahrenwald, superintendent of the Rutland School District, got me thinking about an interesting contradiction that has bubbled up on the District 8 campaign trail. Dr. Fahrenwald has been working hard the last few years to keep his small school alive by marketing it aaggressively to parents in surrounding communities. Rutland's ads in the Madison Daily Leader have portrayed Rutland as a good alternative for parents who want their kids to receive more one-on-one attention from teachers in a small, tightly-knit community. A number of area parents have chosen that alternative, helping Rutland grow from 110 to nearly 130 in just a couple years.

Republicans should be all about that sort of school choice. Yet here in District 8, all three of our Republican legislative candidates appear to oppose school choice. State House candidates Jerry Johnson and Patricia Stricherz have both said they'll consider closing and consolidating small schools (granted, Johnson's mention was a slightly more oblique reference to "answering tough questions," but if a politician wants the Rutland/Ramona/Woonsocket vote, he'd better make sure the word consolidation appears in close proximity to no, not, and never). State Senate candidate Russell Olson has voted to make it happen, forcing the closure of Conde and several other school districts.

School choice is rare in South Dakota. Even in our biggest city, there are only six high schools (plus Joe Foss if you go all Ponyboy on us). Miner County is one school district. And out in Faith or Bison, school choice means deciding whether you're going to play hooky or not. Why would Republicans want to make school choice even harder to obtain here in South Dakota?

South Dakota Republicans will offer you nice rhetoric about "parental choice and local control," but, just like George W. Bush, they aren't willing to put their money where their mouth is. The only way they can think of to find more money for one school is to close another. In District 8, the Democrats running for the Legislature—Scott Parsley, Gerry Lange, and Mitch Fargen—have all three stated their determination to find the funding to support the schools we have. And in our state, that means it's the Democrats who are the real supporters of school choice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vote Yes for Life Breaks Law, Spends Dirty Money

Kudos to DakotaWomen for breaking this one: Vote Yes for Life, the group committed to putting abortion bans on every ballot until the Second Coming, has violated South Dakota campaign finance law by accepting and spending anonymous contributions. The main supporters of Initiated Measure 11 reported $11,300 in anonymous contributions on their pre-general campaign finance report. Anonymous contributions are illegal and must be refused or handed over to a nonprofit charitable organization (SDCL 12-27-11).

Terry Woster reports Vote Yes for Life "won't keep" the contributions, but VYfL only has $5,041.16 in cash on hand, and it's in debt another $7,530.59.

"Won't keep" the money? They've already spent it! That's a Class 2 misdemeanor: 30 days in jail, $500 fine, maybe both.

Cuffs for Brandi Gruis! Say it with me, kids: Perp walk! Perp walk!

Numbers: Campaign Finance in District 8

Campaign finance numbers for District 8 legislative candidates (all links to PDF docs on the most informative website in Pierre, courtesy of Secretary of State Chris Nelson):
Candidate Total Donations (Direct and In-Kind) Total Individual Donations, i.e. not from party or PAC
(% of total donations)
Unitemized Individual Donations, i.e. $100 or less
(% of indiv donations)
Amount of own money spent
Russell Olson $59,984.25 $31,316
Scott Parsley $34010.65 $25,860.65
Mitch Fargen $15,740 $12,140
Jerry Johnson $7,118.25 $5,900
Gerry Lange $1,025 $175
Patricia Stricherz $2,938.25 $100

South Dakota Gets Press on Abortion, Pressler Defection

More of South Dakota in the national press:

  • NPR's Morning Edition today covers the retread abortion ban.
  • So does the Los Angeles Times.
  • Politico.com gives this amazing quote from former Senator Larry Pressler, on why he cast his early ballot for Barack Obama: "We have to be a moderate party. We can't be for all these foreign military adventures. We have to stop spending so much money. My God, the deficit is so high! The Republican Party I knew in the 1970s is just all gone" [emphasis mine].
  • AOL newsblogger David Knowles puts South Dakota alongside Arizona as "Red States in Play." GOP slipping in South Dakota and its nominee's Western home state—yikes.

Stricherz Posts Website: All District 8 Candidates Online!

Finally, a campaign website from District 8 House candidate Patricia K. Stricherz! I know that the Internet hasn't become a central part of campaigning in South Dakota state politics yet, even in our hundred-mile-long district. But for us bloggers, being able to direct readers to candidate websites is a great relief, an easy way for us to back up our arguments with a quick link that says, "See for yourself!" It may represent a watershed moment for local politics when all of our candidates for Legislature have fucntional websites. Forward the e-revolution! (Curious: how many districts in South Dakota still have candidates who haven't built websites?)

Stricherz's website is not as flashy as the standard-issue CreditSoup sites for fellow GOP House candidate Jerry Johnson and GOP Senate candidate Russell Olson. She also didn't go the route of her Dem opponent Mitch Fargen or Dem Senate candidate Scott Parsley, who both are using pre-built software (Facebook and Wordpress). Instead, Stricherz appears to be using a wholly home-built website, much like Dem House candidate Gerry Lange.

Stricherz's website could serve her campaign well: she finally publishes her rather compelling biography. Her issues page is all abortion, adoption, gays, and vets, which doesn't do much for outlining a practical legislative agenda on education, energy, and economic development but could resonate with some voters who haven't gotten to know her yet. Adoption and vets issues at least show Stricherz's desire to do real good for her neighbors, although I'm still unclear on what role the state legislature can take in vets issues when the federal government does most of the work there.

If I knew more people in District 8 were actually reading the Web, I might have to raise Stricherz's odds from 10:1 to 9:1. We'll see....

Palin: Crony Politics and Corporate Welfare for TransCanada

It just keeps getting worse for John McCain's ill-chosen running mate. I told you back in August that Governor Sarah Palin was in bed with TransCanada, handing them 500 hundred million taxpayer dollars not to actually build a natural gas pipeline, but just to seek customers and federal approval for maybe building a pipeline later.

Now the paid journalists at Associated Press uncover the whole unseemly process behind Palin's handouts for Big Canadian Oil: bidding rules crafted to favor TransCanada, TransCanada lobbyists working for Palin, improper communications between the governor and bidders, and all bidders but TransCanada disqualified on technicalities.

But here's the kicker: reporters Justin Pritchard and Garance Burke find six confidential sources and sworn testimony from Palin's pipeline team leader and former TransCanada lobbyist Marty Rutherford that four years ago, TransCanada was willing to build the pipeline with no $500M subsidy from Alaska.

So, Governor Palin redistributes income to a foreign corporation to entice the corporation to do something it already said it can do without government subsidy. "Share the wealth," indeed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Larry Pressler Votes for Obama!

Former South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler clearly reads the Madville Times: he voted for Obama!

Former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), who was the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the United States Senate, is the latest Republican to back Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Politico learned Sunday.

Pressler, who said that in addition to casting an absentee ballot for Obama he'd donated $500 to the Illinois senator's campaign, cited the Democrat's response to the financial crisis as the primary reason for his decision.

"I just got the feeling that Obama will be able to handle this financial crisis better, and I like his financial team of [former Treasury Secretary Robert] Rubin and [former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul] Volcker better," he said. By contrast, John McCain's "handling of the financial crisis made me feel nervous" [Alexander Burns, "Former GOP Senator, Vet Backs Obama," Politico.com, 2008.10.26]

Good call, Larry! Whether you did it for the reasons above or to lead Operation Chaos II, you did the right thing.

Grading the District 8 House Candidates: Jerry Johnson

Yesterday, I laid the odds for our District 8 State House candidates:
I explained why I rank Stricherz the longshot; now let's grade Jerry Johnson.

The short form: If you're looking for an inspiring, dynamic leader, Jerry Johnson is not your man. If you're looking for quiet, competent governance, well, then you might be able to make case for Johnson.

The Excitement Factor: there is none. In the AAUW forum a couple weeks ago, Johnson referred to a "passion and desire" to serve. Passion and desire aren't the first words that pop to mind when listening to Jerry Johnson speak. Watching his SDPB video is less exciting than watching paint dry. (Drying paint at least sometimes changes color.) His campaign website doesn't demonstrate a lot of effort. The Johnson website still has no Issues (which could be a good thing, depending on your interpretation of issues), no Photos, and no News, just a duplication of his Events page. His Speech Gallery does offer one exemplar of Johnson oratory, his 2008 Lincoln Day address, four paragraphs inexplicably posted as a bulky PDF document rather than simple text, in which his rousing closing argument for why he should be elected appears to be, "Why not?"

Why not? Johnson just doesn't sound very excited to be running for office. It's as if the Lake County GOP got together, and Julie Gross said, "Well, darn, Russ wants to run for Senate; who are we going to get to run for House?" and Dwaine Chapel raised his hand and said, "Well, why don't I ask Jerry?" And Jerry shrugged and said, "Why not?"

Of course, I am an outlier, a devoté of dazzling, dramatic political rhetoric surrounded by laconic Midwesterners. If Jerry Johnson is... quiet, he may be the perfect legislator for my neighbors who want government officials to keep quiet and just do their jobs. And Jerry Johnson does his job, competently if not flashily. His trucking business makes money. Madison didn't collapse in scandal or bankruptcy during his two terms on the city commission.

Johnson has said some good things in his campaign. At both the AAUW and Chamber fora, he has opened by saying, "I don't have a chip on my shoulder; I don't have a hidden agenda." Such humility is a dutiful nod to the expectations of South Dakota voters... although one must wonder there statement carries a suggestion that folks might think he does have a chip or a hidden agenda, or that one of his opponents does.

Johnson has also emphasized that he's not about party politics, but just about serving the District and getting the job done. His Lincoln Day address didn't use the word Republican once. At the Chamber forum, he noted that he would break with his party and advocate spending more of the state reserves to give more funding to education.

Still, Johnson hasn't said much else. Other than the above comment about spending down state reserves, Johnson has outlined no clear action that he would take as a legislator. Johnson has said the right things about encouraging communities to cooperate on regional economic development and educational opportunities, but his answers have mostly resolved around private or local action rather than specific legislative action.

So will Jerry Johnson win? He's not doing much to fire up the voters. But then District 8 voters may not need much firing up. He's got name recognition, a record of public service, and good community business connections. He's got this district in his blood, having graduated from Madison HS and DSU and built his business here. And he can keep up with Gerry on the tennis court.

As it stands, I put Johnson even with his old professor Gerry Lange but just slightly behind young, dynamic campaigner Mitch Fargen. We'll talk more about that in the coming days.

Giago: South Dakota Unemployment Figures Bunk

Tim Giago gets South Dakota some press in the Huffington Post. Giago notes that he has cast his early ballot for Senator Tim Johnson. Giago says some of the hateful, ignorant attacks against Johnson don't change the Senator's "impeccable integrity."

Giago doesn't see similar integrity in the unemployment numbers the State of South Dakota likes to tout. He criticizes the claim that South Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Only "14,000 people looking for a job in the state"? Giago claims there are 40,000 unemployed on our reservations alone. The government, says Giago, papers over this lack of jobs by saying the labor stats consider only the unemployed who are actively seeking work. "The fact of the matter," says Giago, "is that they are still unemployed and if there are no jobs available on the reservations where they reside it is not their fault."

South Dakota's overall unemployment rate is 3.2%. That's great. But unemployment on the Pine Ridge stands at 80%. In 2003, the Bureau of Indian Affairs found 84% unemployment among members of federally recognized tribes in South Dakota. The same BIA report found that even 49% of those who held jobs still lived in poverty (PDF alert).

We talk a lot about how South Dakota needs better jobs and more economic development. But if anyone needs help right now creating jobs, it's not us white folks. It's our neighbors, our fellow citizens, on the reservations.

I notice Russ Olson's full-color, full-page ad in Friday's MDL features Steve Erickson, bragging about how Olson helped him find all sorts of state and local loans to help him build the new Shipwreck on Lake Brant. Helping a guy who already owns a business (in Trent) get government money to build another bar in Lake County while 80% of South Dakota Indians are unemployed seems kind of like buying Pat Prostrollo a smoke alarm while ten houses south of the tracks burn down.

Giago's critique reminds us that there's a big chunk of South Dakota we haven't paid attention to since the Mickelson administration. With just a few days left in the campaign, let's hear the legislative candidates talk about helping folks who really need help.

Operation Chaos II: A Proposal for GOP True Believers

There's a fight coming in the Republican Party. During the primary season, the fundagelical wing of the party thought all was lost, as its possible standard bearers (Tancredo, Hunter, Romney, Huckabee) failed to rally a majority and moderate media darling John McCain ambled down the middle to the nomination. The religious Right wrought a reality-defying resurgence at the convention, throwing the Colorado Springs cabal some red moose meat by rejecting McCain's preferred moderate running mates and forcing one of their own, Sarah Palin, onto the ticket. That choice energized the religious base (not to mention the misogynist meatheads who think, "Yeah, I'll vote for a hot chick!") but triggered the dismay, if not defection, of the GOP's intellectuals and pragmatists.

The Dobson-Dykstra camp and the Buckley-Powell camp are not hermetically sealed polar opposites. There's plenty of overlap, shading of the spectrum, just like there is among the various factions of the Democratic Party. But contrary to the conventional wisdom that we Dems are the experts at dividing and conquering ourselves, we see a Democratic Party emerging from the tightest, most divisive primary season in recent history to unite solidly behind its nominee. Meanwhile, the Republicans, whose primary season effectively ended four months before the Dems', still don't have their poop in a group. The division in the GOP is creeping all the way up to the presidential ticket itself, where McCain's people and Palin's people are already sharpening the knives to plunge into each other's backs at 8:01 p.m. November 4. (A VP candidate "going rogue" on her running mate? In what possible parallel universe is that good news for the ticket?)

United we stand, divided we fall. The divided Republican Party is about to fall. The question for GOP true believers is, will it fall hard enough to trigger a vigorous reëxamination, reconceptualization, and reunification of the Republican Party?

Republicans, you don't want to win this election. The man inaugurated on January 20, 2009, stands a good chance of presiding over a nasty recession (or worse) and budget constraints that may prohibit pursuing any new initiatives that could positively define that President's term. Tom Daschle, one of Barack Obama's closest advisors, has said the next President has at best a 50 percent chance of winning a second term in 2012.

More importantly for your party, victory nine days from now will forestall the fight you need to have between your Ralph Reeds and your George Wills. Even closing the gap and coming within a Gore–Bush margin of beating Obama could defy expectations and create the false impression within your party that "everything's fine, we did the right things, we just need to stay the course and yell Abortion! and Socialism! a little louder next time."

Republicans, you need to lose, and lose big... for your own good. And you can do it to yourselves:

Operation Chaos II:
The Road to Republican Victory... in 2012

In Operation Chaos I, Rush Limbaugh urged Republicans to switch parties and vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries in order to keep her in the race and soften Obama up for McCain in the fall campaign. Republicans, now it's time for Operation Chaos II: join Republicans like Colin Powell and Christopher Buckley and vote for Barack Obama. Give Obama a 30-point win in Jim Dobson's backyard, Colorado. Give Obama Florida by 20 points, Ohio by 10. Heck, give him South Dakota by 1 vote, and you signal to your party, "You have failed. It's time for something new."

Republicans, you need a civil war. No coasting, no compromise, but a full-tilt intra-party civil war where your opposing factions break out the brass knuckles and decide again once and for all (o.k., at least for a few election cycles) what the party is about and who is in charge. Who comes out on top—classical Burkian conservatives, neocons, theocrats—that's your problem.

But you're not going to win until you resolve that problem. The road to that resolution is not a close win or an honorable defeat. It is a crushing, humiliating defeat (and maybe four years of socialist revolution under the Obama-Pelosi-Reid triumvirate, right?).

You have the power, Republicans, to deliver yourselves that saving defeat. Republicans, vote for Barack Obama. Repudiate the schizophrenic failure of GOP 2008. Destroy your party so you can rebuild it, better than it is now. Better, stronger, faster... and ready to unite, lead, and win in 2012.

I mean, if winning matters to you.

Update 2008.10.28 16:46 CDT: Rachael Larimore, deputy managing editor and copy chief and the only staffer out of 58 at Slate who plans to vote for McCain, appears to agree with my thesis:

However, I also think an Obama presidency can be a boon for Republicans, and not just because of the havoc a Democratic White House and a Democratic Congress could wreak. I don't hate President Bush like so many do, but even I can say his presidency has been a disappointment. And the Republican-led Congress was a disaster, as McCain pointed out, not in so many words, in his convention speech. I'm hopeful that an Obama victory would be a wakeup call as well as an opportunity—an opportunity for those who believe in limited government, individual freedoms, and free markets (yes, even in this crisis) to regain their influence, to take back the party from the religious right and social conservatives that have gained so much influence. So regardless of what happens on Nov. 4, I won't be too upset. But neither will I be too excited.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Early Voting: Bane of Democracy?

Early voting is fine for those who can't make the polls on Election Day. In a year of intense voter interest, early voting may also avert the meltdown that some worry could happen if darn near everybody did show up to vote on Election Day.

Nonetheless, my wife and I prefer to vote on Election Day itself. There is something important in going to the polls with our neighbors, being part of a special event on a special day. The ceremony and public spectacle set it apart, and rightly so, from going to the courthouse to renew one's drivers license. When we vote together, on a single day dedicated to that purpose, we get a better sense of voting as something we do together as a community. (To understand the psychology here, see the great Northern Exposure episode "Democracy in America" from February 24, 1992.)

Dr. Blanchard is even less of a fan of early voting. His critique, as you might expect, is more rigorous and hardnosed than ours. The good professor worries that early voting is an abdication of one's duty, bailing out before having heard all of the arguments that the candidates have to make.

I'm tempted to say my conservative friend is wishing everyone would hold off voting until Election Day just to give McCain time to cry socialism! a few more times or find some other magic argument that could save the GOP from total defeat. But Blanchard gives the issue fair treatment, even pointing out that Obama supporters and McCain supporters are equally likely to vote early. The poll numbers showing Obama ahead in early ballots simply reflect the fact that there are more Obama supporters than McCain supporters throughout the electorate.

I have some sympathy for Blanchard's argument. There may well be people who voted two or three weeks ago who, based on new information they've learned since then, already wish they had voted the other way. Of course, there are lots of people now who wish they'd voted differently for President in 2000.

I wonder: is there a substantive difference between the person who chooses to vote on October 15, without the benefit of the last three weeks of arguments, attack ads, and stock market dipsy-doodles and the person who votes on Election Day but "decided" back in January that he would vote Republican or Democrat just like Grampaw always did and thus ignores all of the campaign news and analysis? Just something to ponder over your raisin bran....

Grading the District 8 House Candidates: Patricia Stricherz

If Vegas took bets on the District 8 South Dakota State House race, they'd offer these odds:
I don't lay these odds lightly, especially the last figure. Believe it or not, this liberal Democrat blogger has had a number of interesting, engaging conversations with Republican newcomer Patricia Stricherz. I'm convinced she has a good heart and a genuine desire and ability to serve the public. I'm also convinced she's going to come in last in this election. She has the least visibility in terms of name recognition, advertising, door-knocking, and even online presence. At the two public forums I've attended where she has taken the stage with her fellow candidates, Stricherz has shown the least grasp of the various issues raised. That's not to say Stricherz doesn't have strong opinions, policy positions, and life experiences worth listening to; she simply doesn't have the same political sense her opponents do of which points to focus on or how to "sell herself" to the voters.

Consider Stricherz's response last Tuesday night at the Madison Chamber forum to the opening question, "What do you hope to accomplish during your first term?" This one's a freebie: tee up your favorite talking points, your big vision, and swing for the back 40. Fargen talks ethanol and education. Lange talks tax reform and education. Johnson talks funding and accountability in education. Stricherz talks about not making guys register as sex offenders for having sexual contact with young girls in their peer group.

Now Stricherz was trying to make a point (one worth discussing) about the need for the law to distinguish between real offenders and teenagers who aren't dangerous criminals. She likely knows some young people who've been hit hard by the law for doing something that maybe all parties involved feel didn't do any harm. I hesitate to even write that last sentence, for fear readers may get the wrong impression from what I'm saying unless I write a lengthy explanation. I don't want to write that lengthy explanation, because, honestly, there are bigger legislative fish to fry.

Stricherz acknowledged those bigger fish—energy, education, the economy—but insisted that leniency for young sex "offenders" is the "one issue" that "keeps coming up."

Um, I've done some door-to-door this year. No one has brought this issue up. I haven't seen press on it. I haven't seen blog posts on it. Stricherz is the only person I've heard mention it.

On the one hand, I admire Stricherz for using the public forum to bring up an issue that maybe isn't on everyone's radar and perhaps should be. But politically, it was a mistake. She takes an easy question, brings up a sensitive issue that needs more explaining than time allows, gives opponents an easy line to twist, and makes an implausible claim to boot.

Stricherz also got hung up on solar energy. An audience member brought the issue up at the AAUW forum a couple weeks ago. Interesting, but not a front-burner issue for most voters. Yet Stricherz made it a centerpiece of her response on economic development Tuesday evening. Again, maybe there's a plan brewing here, something that takes longer to explain than a two-minute response, but Stricherz came off sounding like one of my young debaters who gets caught off guard by a tricky argument and then devotes herself to briefing out that one argument, even though in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big voting issue.

Understand, I don't say these things about Stricherz out of any personal or partisan animus. As I said, I've had enjoyable and extended conversations with her. I think she would be a good legislator, maybe even my favorite kind of legislator, a maverick who won't let anyone boss her around and will truly stand up for the little guy. Unfortunately, the Madison Chamber of Commerce—oops, I mean, the Republican Party—doesn't like that kind of maverick. And even if they did, Stricherz hasn't figured out how to project that spirit, that passion for service, into the public persona of an effective politician.

Stricherz has some great ideas that need to be heard. Unfortunately, we aren't hearing them on the campaign trail, and Stricherz won't get to make those ideas heard in Pierre... at least not this time around.

Stay tuned: more to come on Fargen, Lange, and Johnson!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Palin Stylist: $22,800. Foreign Policy Advisor: $12,500.

Obama victory in November: priceless.

Here's one more reason the McCain campaign is losing: it has spent more on Sarah Palin's appearance than on getting good foreign policy advice. KELO points to this AP report that says the McCain campaign paid Amy Strozzi, Palin's traveling stylist, $22,800 for a few weeks work. During the same reporting period (at last as I understand it from the AP report), the McCain campaign paid its foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, $12,500. (And let's not get started on the clothing bill....)

Now heck, for that money, I'll take either job. But is making Sarah Palin look good really twice as hard or twice as important as knowing how to deal with the Russians?

Style over substance, indeed.

Hyperion's Big Slurp: Rural Water Customers Not Impressed

Flying Tomato swaps her garden bibbers for some local politics, offering fine coverage of the big Clay Rural Water System meeting last night in Vermillion. Forty citizens in attendance at a rural water meeting? Yeah, I'd call that big.

Those good citizens came to town to discuss with the Clay Rural Water board Hyperion's request for water service for its proposed refinery near Elk Point. I've heard Hyperion wants 9 to 12 million gallons a day; Flying Tomato reports Hyperion may need up to 15 million gallons a day. Fourteen Clay Water customers spoke last night, and their opposition to granting Hyperion this big slurp was unanimous.

And in response to this public input, the Clay Rural Water board voted 5–3 in favor of "investigating further" whether they should take on Hyperion's water demand. Funny: when I've conducted a public meeting and heard unanimous opposition from constituents, I've voted to drop the issue right then and there, not "investigate further." And in the case of Clay Rural Water, the constituents are paying customers. What ever happened to business listening to consumer demand?

Oh yeah—I guess when the out-of-state gorilla in the room is asking to buy six to ten times as much product as everyone else combined, the loyal local customers find their voices just don't matter as much.

Flying Tomato does give the board some credit: she indicates the board at least recognizes the consensus among its current members. Let's hope the board looks beyond Hyperion's "airy promises of jobs, development, and MONEY" and looks at its water as something to protect for future generations. Saving water for future population growth is a much healthier, safer, more stable basis for economic growth than a single massive investment in a dying energy industry.

15:45: Flying Tomato offers more on oil and water not mixing. She notes that Clay Rural Water was founded as a happy little non-profit, community-based project, there to provide a service for neighbors and members, not make money. And it's worked for 30 years. Say it softly (Flying Tomato does!): socialism....

Russell Olson Votes for Small Schools... to Close!

RussellOlson.com offers a cheerful little ad from the GOP candidate for the District 8 State Senate seat. (It was labeled "movie," but it's only audio. Darn!) Let's listen:

Note the continued shout-outs to the jockocracy of our district (funny—I don't recall football coming up much in the actual bills our legislators have to consider).

Alas, Olson's words don't align with his actions. The Republican candidate voted to force several small schools in South Dakota to close. 2007's Senate Bill 157 required schools with less than 100 students enrolled to reorganize—i.e. consolidate or shut down. Olson voted for it. Olson did vote against HB 1082, which would have closed schools with enrollments under 130. I guess local control is valuable unless you come from a school district to affect your party's chances of winning the next election.

It's nice to talk about how much we love small schools. But Russell Olson has voted to close small schools. Will he do it again? Folks in school districts like Oldham-Ramona (2007 enrollment 104), Rutland (114), and Woonsocket (172) might want to consider that question before November 4.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Russell Olson Spending $60K on State Senate Campaign

Campaign finance reports are coming in to Secretary Nelson's office. Scott Delzer has already submitted Russell Olson's [PDF]. Russ's campaign contributions so far (in-kind and cash): $59,984.25. That includes $10K from the state Republican party and another $10K from a couple other statewide Republican election committees (if I'm reading the report correctly). He's already burned up $37K on ads (putting your face on billboards is not cheap)... but he has another $22K left to spend. Expect your mailbox to be full.

More to come....

Bohl and Giles Stand out in County Commission Candidates Forum

After Tuesday night's Chamber forum, one of the Lake County commission candidates said to me, "I hate this s---. I just want to do the job."

Note to all commissioners: this "stuff"—public forums, answering questions, taking the stage and laying out your ideas for the county—is a central part of doing the job. Tuesday night, Chris Giles and Dan Bohl showed they are the best at that part of the job. Of the five candidates, Giles and Bohl were clearly the most at ease at the podium. They offered the most thorough and most direct answers. Giles demonstrates solid confidence in the public spotlight. Bohl can be a bit of a screwball, cracking jokes regularly, but his humor shows he truly enjoys the business of campaigning and governing. And if I'm conducting interviews for a job (and that's what we're doing here), I'd like the interviewees to demonstrate confidence and a love of the job.

You can compare the candidates yourself by checking out the video of their opening and closing statements. In the Q&A, I found it telling that Hageman found a way in three of the four questions to say, one way or another, that he wasn't sure or didn't know or didn't have any thoughts on a given topic. Such Socratic wisdom isn't a great selling point for a candidate; voters generally prefer candidates to have at least some answers figured out before we vote for them.

On specifics, I do have to ding Bohl on his response to the question on health insurance for commissioners. He did answer directly—"No. For commissioners, no way." He said he would take the $3,600 the county gives commissioners who opt out of health coverage (good) and donate that money to the Madison Public Library (great!) and the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce?! Dan, Dan, Dan—you have money to give, money you can help people in need with, and you give it to an organization consisting of the wealthiest individuals in town? Let's talk about some alternatives....

I was surprised to hear unanimous support for creating a county building inspector. Anderson and Hageman tried really hard to throw a lifeline to country folks who might not want bureaucrats to come snooping around their property or tell them how to build a shed. Anderson said creating the new position might not be feasible within our budget, and Hageman agreed with him that maybe we should just have a part-time inspector (Hageman's favorite words seem to be maybe and could be). But Johannsen and Giles talked about specific ways to make the position happen (increasing fees, partnering with the city, combining the position with other duties), and Bohl said the position would pay for itself in the long-run. So get ready for one more government official to get involved with your building projects.

On government openness, I was pleased to hear Bohl say we should move meetings to the evening, as the city does to make it possible for more working folks to attend. Hageman fretted that we might not be able to cover everything in the evening, but I notice the city and the school board manage to cover their agendae just fine in the evening.

I was also very pleased to hear Giles say that we need to "reduce and minimize" the commission's use of executive session. Hear hear!

Bohl and Giles gave the best answers at the forum. Johannsen's commission experience helped him keep up, although I was disappointed to hear him say on the health insurance question that he would "go along with whatever the rest of the board wants to do" (folks who go along with the crowd don't generally make the top of my voting list). Neither Anderson and Hageman sounded like they were terribly excited to be interviewing for the job.

I know some of you are thinking, "Oh, but that Cory, he just like big talkers. After all, he is voting for Obama." Quite right: I like a good speech. But speaking well in public isn't just "stuff" to be gotten done with; it's a key part of the job. It's how a politician demonstrates the skills, ideas, and values he or she will bring to the job. And Tuesday night, Chris Giles and Dan Bohl showed their skills, ideas, and values the best.

McCain-Palin: "No Chemistry... Negative Vibe... Know They're Losing"

The McCain-Palin ticket knows their victory and their partnership isn't meant to be, say Chuck Todd and Brian Williams (courtesy TPM's Josh Marshall):

"...on the verge of pulling a Bulworth." Oh, if only....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First Snow on Lake Herman!

Cross-posted at RealMadison.org!

View from the porch, Sunday, October 19, 2008. Gorgeous.

View from the porch, today, Wednesday, October 22, 2008. Snow! First snow! And not some wimpy, "Hey, did you see those four flakes that fell during lunch?" snow. Wet, sloppy, hate-to-be-out-biking-in-it snow!

I'm thinkin' one thing, Dad: snow tunnels.

Soon enough, sweetie. Soon enough.