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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cover the Conventions: Whose Job Is It?

Professional journalist Bob Mercer says it's we politicos' fault that the media didn't show up for our party conventions last weekend. Send out more press releases, says Mercer, jazz up the conventions... oh, and if you want the press to come next time, stop saying mean things about us.


Mr. Powers is running a poll where you can register your opinion on who's to blame for the lack of convention coverage last weekend. I encourage you to click in and vote.

I can sympathize to some extent with Mr. Mercer's point. Reporters, like bloggers, can only cover so many stories. I certainly have to pick and choose my topics here. And when the parties work extremely hard to manage the message coming out of the convention and avoid any divisive controversy from the floor, I can understand the conscientious reporter wanting to perhaps stand back from the propaganda machine.

Then again, a reporter or two at the convention might be better positioned to dig up the stories that lie beneath the shiny happy press releases that come afterward, to get the unscripted, uncontrolled message from delegates and candidates who come to challenge the status quo of the state and of their own party.

As for giving the people what they want, well, yes, as my neighbor one state removed Mr. O'Loughlen notes, most folks do prefer to talk about the weather over who's running for PUC. But don't tell me that it doesn't run the other way, that what we want to talk about isn't shaped to some degree by what the press chooses to talk about. KELO can lead with storm damage photos to get the audience to tune in, then say, "Now that we've got your attention, let's look at some important political news that affects your life...." The press should function as educator and advocate as well as entertainer and sater of desires.

But hey, if the media needs us to spice up our conventions to get their attention, I can fill that bill. Bob, Kevin, Perry (yes, Perry: you know he'd be a hoot covering the convention!), in 2012, I will be at the South Dakota Democratic Convention. I will float my resolution supporting George McGovern's Medicare for Everyone again. I'll plan some tricky parliamentary maneuvers. I'll rewrite the education plank to dissolve the Department of Education and double teacher pay. I'll even wear my amazing orange fluorescent Hawaiian shirt for good visuals. It'll be a blast! Bring your notebooks and cameras!

Or we could just count on a nice normal political convention, with the informative and serious journalistic coverage we expect from the Fourth Estate.

Independence Day Requires Clean Energy -- Get to Work, Senate!

My friends Matt McGovern and Rick Hauffe from Repower South Dakota swung through Madison Monday to talk energy policy. We talked lots of details—last year's House bill, the Bingaman bill, the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill, the Lugar bill, and Krugman's Third Depression.

But here are the big things we need to understand as the Senate gears up to rock and roll on some sort of climate change and energy security legislation this summer.

The biggest: Passing a sensible energy policy now does not revolutionize the economy overnight... but it lays the groundwork for a long-term econoic revolution. Pass the strongest possible combination of the above proposals, and we'll still be burning coal and oil tomorrow and for years to come. But we start the long process of shifting our reliance to more domestic renewable sources, like the wind on our prairies, the geothermal heat beneath our feet, and the sun that shines on every American's roof. We start the process of using all energy sources more efficiently, so that every drop of oil and turn of the wind turbine pushes our cars and computers farther.

The sooner we get serious about basing our economy on clean domestic renewable energy, the less need there will be for us to go after the hard oil. The easy oil is gone: we're going to extremes like drilling 30,000 feet below the sea floor and squeezing oil from sand and shale. The price of extracting those fossil fuels will only go up; the price of processing the wind that keeps blowing and the sun that keeps shining will only go down. The sensible course is to start using those renewable sources now and engineer a smooth, long-term energy transition, while we still have some fossil-fuel wiggle room, rather than trying to manage a crash-course conversion to new energy sources when our fossil-fuel tank really is on E.

Some things can happen quickly. McGovern tells me that last summer's House bill targeted a 17% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. He says just a couple years of recession has already gotten us halfway to that goal.

Of course, buying less, doing less, and leaving millions of Americans out of work aren't the most favorable options for energy conservation. Repower South Dakota would rather see us pass clean energy legislation now to unleash the industrial oomph that's just waiting for Washington to finally set the rules for the new energy economy and say Go! Pass legislation now, and the utilities will get busy with those transmission lines we need for the South Dakota wind industry. Utilities and big industry will start trading happily under a cap-and-trade system (just as they did, successfully, in the 1990s under the Clean Air Act). Energy projects would take off, bringing jobs and economic activity just when we need another big push to get the economy out of its rut.

Oh yeah: and strong clean energy legislation will cut pollution, save lives, and keep our kids from having to evolve gills and webbed feet.

Legislators will be home over the Fourth of July to help us blow things up in celebration of our independence. This patriotic holiday would be the perfect time to remind them we could boost American independence and blow fewer things up in the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East if we pass serious climate change and energy security legislation.

Arndt Switch Prompted by Last-Minute Democratic Caller

Oh ho! The story turns! Secretary of State Chris Nelson gives Kevin Woster his version of events of what led to Lieutenant Governor candidate Ben Arndt's last-minute conversion to the party nominating him. Secretary Nelson swears up and down that his call Friday to the Heidepriem-Arndt campaign was motivated by his fair reading of the law, not political chicanery. Given Nelson's clean track record as Secretary of State and willingness to torque off even members of his own party in the cause of upholding electoral law, his claim is not to be dismissed lightly.

Nelson does dismiss my thesis (and Heidepriem's) that SDCL 12-6-3.2, which says the party can only nominate its members for office, only applies to primary elections, not convention nominations. And then Nelson tells Woster something really interesting:

...[Nelson] presumed after he read in the Rapid City Journal (OK, or maybe some other news source) about Heidepriem picking Arndt for his LG mate that they would check the law and figure out they couldn’t do that.

“They have smart people working on that campaign. I just assumed that was one of the things he’d get done before the convention,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he took some calls checking on that point after Heidepriem picked Arndt. And he got a call from a Democrat at their convention in Sioux Falls last Friday afternoon as he was driving to the GOP state convention in Huron.

“I told them what the statute says and how we interpreted it,” Nelson said. “My assumption was that by then Mr. Arndt had changes his party registration.”

When Nelson found out otherwise, he notified the Democratic caller that it should be done ASAP [Kevin Woster, "And the Secretary of State Repsonds," Mount Blogmore, 2010.06.29].

Holy buckets! Was this minor excitement actually provoked by a trouble-maker from the Democratic Party? If so, mystery caller, give me a call! I want to shake your hand! After a weekend of tight party discipline determined to manage the message and not make waves, I am actually pleased to hear someone in our party shook things up, brought a potential legal complication to light, and got Ben to join the right party.

Now don't think I'm changing my mind on the Heidepriem-Arndt ticket. I still think Team Heidepriem could have made a strong case for its interpretation of electroal law, and they certainly did not make this decision lightly or inattentively (contrary to the GOP's efforts to keep squeezing juice out of this story). Secretary Nelson has at least made a reasonable case to the contrary, that statute does require constitutional officers to be members of the parties nominating them.

By making his or her call on Friday afternoon, some lucky Democrat provoked a chain of events that on the whole boosts the Heidepriem-Arndt ticket. I could feel it Saturday. I was not the only person in the convention hall feeling a little sheepish about cheering for a Republican at our podium. When Heidepriem announced that Arndt was South Dakota's newest Democrat, he gave the party faithful reason to cheer and give the ticket that much more support.

Meanwhile, outside the hall, Arndt can still portray himself as a candidate for whom party affiliation isn't that big a deal. He picked being able to participate in the process and work to solve South Dakota's problems over clinging to an old affiliation on some card. Well played, Mr. Arndt!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Welspun Supplies Defective Steel to Six Pipelines: Plains Justice Seeks Keystone Investigation

Indian steel used to construct TransCanada pipeline in South Dakota, 2009"Made in India": photo taken September 3, 2009, of Welspun pipe laid in Miner County farmland as part of TransCanada Keystone pipeline in South Dakota
Want to avoid BP on the prairie? Then you might want TransCanada to suck the oil back out of the Keystone pipeline and check for defective steel.

Plains Justice has documented a pattern of defective steel used in the pipeline construction boom from 2007 to 2009. Much of the defective steel found in six Kinder Morgan and Boardwalk pipelines was produced by India's Welspun, which also supplied 47% of the steel for the Keystone pipeline, which TransCanada laid across eastern South Dakota last summer.

The 3710 pages of federal safety documents obtained by Plains Justice through Freedom of Information Act requests find several instances of defective steel rushed into production and installation during the same time period as the building of the Keystone pipeline. The documents from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration include no evidence of defects in the Keystone pipeline... but they also include no evidence that the PHMSA conducted any investigation of the materials that went into the Keystone pipeline.

Plains Justice reports they have since received phone calls (but no documentation) from the PHMSA assuring them that the agency will require TransCanada to conduct a
Someone remind me: how many sticky gas pedals did we have to find before Toyota recalled 5.3 million cars?
high resolution deformation scan of the already buried Keystone pipeline and a high resolution deformation tool run of the planned Keystone XL pipeline that will cross West River.

Now recall, TransCanada already got permission to use thinner than normal steel on Keystone and wants to do the same on Keystone XL. Thinner steel means they've already sacrificed some safety margin that might have mitigated danger from flawed steel.

Plains Justice is alarmed, as ought be every South Dakota landowner with possibly untested and defective Indian pipe running under their land ready to spring an oily leak. In a June 28 letter to the PHMSA, Plains Justice requests that the feds require TransCanada to conduct an in-line inspection before starting regular operations and publicize the results. Among other things, Plains Justice also recommends TransCanada take the prudent step of reducing the operating pressures in the Keystone pipeline and documenting the source of all steel used in Keystone's construction.

Just in case you don't want to read the 3710 pages of federal safety documents yourself, Plains Justice boils them down to a 17-page report on the use of substandard steel in U.S. pipelines.

For the sake of farmers like Mike and Sue Sibson, not to mention our wetlands and drinking water, let's hope that Plains Justice is wrong and that TransCanada just happened to get all of Welspun's good steel.

Minnehaha Taking Eliason to Court over Smut Shop Proximity to Park

Sioux Falls smut-peddler and subject of restraining orders David Eliason may be headed for court again. Eliason, whose life calling appears to be the sale of sex toys and similar offensive materials, owns the Love Shack (and thereby sullies one of the best songs of my youth) on 41st Street and runs the most atrocious ads I've heard on Sioux Falls Top 40 radio.

Deputy States Attorney Justin DeBoer says Eliason's perversion palace violates state law that prohibits "adult-oriented" businesses from setting up shop within a quarter mile of schools, parks, churches, or pools. DeBoer points to nearby Jefferson Park as cause for the complaint. Eliason insists his shop operates "100 percent in compliance with the law," but if I'm reading Google Maps right, his clinic for the sexually inadequate is just a tenth of a mile from the nearby ball diamond. (Note to Eliason: yes, 1/10 really is less than 1/4.)

The smut shop's neighbors don't seem to mind Eliason's wares. A worker at a neighboring shop calls the Love Shack a "good neighbor" and the clientele "normal, everyday people" (none of whom apparently stopped with their plain paper sacks to talk to the press).

Quote of the week goes to Curt Colter, neighboring Oreck vacumm cleaner store owner, who says he has no problem with the nearby smut shop. "Their customers might be my customers. Everybody needs a good, quality vacuum."

Now that's cross-marketing.

Tea Party Rejects Judicial Activism, Expansion of Federal Power in Gun Ruling

...right? Right?!?

The Tea Party seems awfully quiet lately. BP turns the Gulf of Mexico in an oil holding pond, and the Tea Party has nothing to offer as citizens' anger rises at government for not doing enough.

Maybe the Tea Party can get back in the headlines by attacking the judicial activism and federalization of power in yesterday's McDonald v. City of Chicago gun rights ruling. Five men in Washington stripped power from your local and state governments and gave more power to the federal judiciary. Those five conservatives also engaged in the very sort of judicial activism that Republicans allegedly loathe as they look for a reason to quash Elana Kagan's nomination. Justices Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy have grafted a new individual right, self-defense against common crime, onto a Second Amendment predicated entirely on the principle of common defense against invaders and possibly an illegitimate government. (McDonald v. Chicago can't be about the "well-regulated Militia"—how can a ruling that only extends pistol rights as far as your front door help you play Red Dawn*?)

If I understand the Tea Party—if there is any Tea Party philosophy to understand—McDonald v. Chicago represents everything these angry conservatives hate: a power-hungry federal government violating the Founders' intent to expand its dominance over our duly elected local officials. But the Tea Party won't go there, because they are not a party of principle. They aren't even a party. They're just a writhing mass of inchoate rage with no coherent plan for practical governance.

But maybe deep down the Tea Partiers really do want anarchy. Ugh.
*Oh my: there's a remake coming. Get you pistols ready for Chinese paratroopers!

How Do Dakota Conservatives Cut Federal Spending?

An eager reader notes the campaign rhetoric of Rick Berg, Republican candidate for North Dakota's lone U.S. House seat. He sounds an awful lot like South Dakota's GOP hosue candidate, Kristi Noem. He says he wants to "return common sense" to Washington. He says he will "work to make Washington more like North Dakota."

Jack Zaleski of the Fargo-Moorhead Inforum says North Dakota's balanced budget and economic success actually depend on Washington's continued big spending:

North Dakota gets approximately $2 in federal money for every $1 state taxpayers send to Uncle Sam, according to the Tax Foundation. That’s one helluva return. Without it, the state’s bright budget picture might be dim.

...Lawmakers who are in the mode of biting the hand that feeds them would be hard-pressed to come off as such economic wizards were it not for the billions of dollars that flow into the state from federal programs. Tick ’em off:
  • Military spending at two Air Force bases, which has more to do with pumping dollars into the state’s economy than with national defense.
  • Farm programs that range from crop subsidies and emergency disaster appropriations to conservation incentives and food security.
  • Social Security payments that rise annually as the state’s population ages.
  • Medicare for Grandma and Grandpa – and, of course, for the thriving elder-care industry and medical/hospital sector, where good jobs are being created daily.
  • Flood control projects, water-delivery systems and highway and road work that would never get done without federal participation. Good jobs there.
  • Education and research grants to enhance public/private partnerships on the state’s university campuses. More good jobs.

Washington more like North Dakota? In practical, measurable terms, there is little difference. The state feeds at the federal trough not because it’s wedded to pork, but because history, geography and climate put the state at a disadvantage. That disadvantage has been addressed by the federal government since before statehood – from the Homestead Act to the most recent farm bills [Jack Zaleski, "Make Washington Like North Dakota?" Fargo-Moorhead Inforum, 2010.06.27].

Hmm... sound like any Dakota you know?

I ask Kristi Noem and her supporters the same question Zaleski asks Berg (and the same question the Tea Party faker she beat, R. Blake Curd, could never answer consistently): to put your "common sense" rhetoric into practice, what federal assistance to South Dakota will you eliminate? The new drone program at Ellsworth Air Force Base? The farm subsidies that kept your ranch afloat? Medicare and Social Security? Funding for the U.S. Forest Service and the Mount Rushmore National Monument?

Let's see Noem spin her way out of that one.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Madison Pix: High Sun, High Water, High Corn

Bicycle, camera, no need to rush home... photos around town! (Click pix to embiggen!)

NW 1st Street, Madison, SDLooking west down Northwest First Street... in prairie towns, the sky is still the biggest thing around.

Silver Creek, Madison, SDSouth on Highland Avenue, the water in Silver Creek is about two feet from the bottom of the bridge.

Silver Creek high, Madison, SDOn the town side of the road, the ditch toward Gehl is full of water.

good June corn, SW of Madison, SDI take it all this rain has been good for corn... at least the corn on the high ground. This corn on the way to the state park looks like "knee high by the Fourth" won't be a problem. But like the water elsewhere, this corn is creeping into the ditch.

Lake Herman spillway topped out, June 28, 2010Lake Herman spillway, topped out, South Dakota, June 28, 2010
The Lake Herman spillway that sends water to Madison (and Lake Madison, and Lake Brant, and ultimately the Big Sioux River) is topped out.

high water on dock, Lake Herman, SDDick Simpson's dock isn't fit for sitting... unless you're wearing your swim trunks. His dock panels wait on shore for drier fishing weather.

boat ramp, Lake Herman, SDGF&P is keeping its dock at the public boat ramp just barely above water. Last year around this time, nine or ten of those big concrete slabs forming the boat ramp lay above the water line. This year, only four slabs are dry. Another gauge: I went swimming yesterday in front of my place. The shore where I could just get my toes wet last June is now under two and a half feet of water.

High water, Lake Herman, SDWe refer to the bump in the shore southeast of the boat ramp as "The Point" (akin to "The River," "The Hills," and "The Cities"). I think some maps call it "Stony Point." From the boatramp, one usually sees a long line of rip-rap stones where fishermen can sit in the shade. Those stones are all submerged.

algae in Lake Herman, SDThe lake is also thickly green. The water was remarkably clear after our dry April. The May and June rains have brought in more field runoff, which I suspect means more nutrients from fetilizer and more food for algae. Those little green stringies really catch in a guy's whiskers....

Grassland Wilderness Opponents: Are You Sure Thune's on Your Side?

Senate Bill 3310, the Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act of 2010, gets coverage from Kevin Woster in today's Rapid City Journal. Woster tells us that 13 of the 15 grazing permit holders oppose the bill, which would create America's first national grassland wilderness right here in South Dakota.

"It's kind of like a land grab," says opposing rancher Travis Bies. Actually, it's not a land grab at all. Not one acre of the 48,000 to be designated wilderness belongs to private landholders. It all belongs to us, the public. Neighboring ranchers have the privilege of buying leases from us and running their cattle on public land.

Perhaps these ranchers have the federal government confused with an entity that really does want to grab their land, the DM&E railroad. Now part of Canadian Pacific, the DM&E has long wanted to build a rail extension from the coal fields in the Wyoming Powder River Basin, around the south edge of the Black Hills, and up through that ranchland and grassland up to Wall. DM&E has threatened landowners with eminent domain to get what they want. DM&E has long tried to get special federal loans and other gimmes to make the PRB extension fly. These efforts have thus far failed, despite the dogged assistance of their former (?) chief lobbyist, Senator John Thune.

Hey, wait a minute: isn't Senator Thune also leading the charge against this wilderness designation? I've heard he extended a special invitation to Hermosa rancher Scott Edoff to come to Washington, be wined and dined, and testify against S. 3310. Fascinating: The Edoff family is among the ranchers who have staunchly opposed Thune-backed DM&E's land grab and rail extension. Thune singled Edoff out as representing South Dakota's ranch community, ignoring Edoff's neighbor and fellow Hermosa rancher Dan O'Brien, who came to speak in favor of the wilderness bill. (If I, a fellow South Dakotan, go to Washington to testify before the Senate, and Senator Thune declines to acknowledge me like that, I'll be torqued.)

It sounds to me like Senator Thune is rousing some ranchers to act against their own interests. S. 3310 explicitly addresses every concern voiced by the ranchers, thanks, according to Woster's report, to significant input already received from area ranchers. The legislation clearly protects existing grazing activities. It guarantees continued authority to address problems with epidemics, disease, insects, and prairie dogs. It even allows one road down the center of the Indian Creek area to remain, allowing continued public access for the old folks and people with disabilities Edoff tells Woster he's worried about. Supporters of the law tell Woster federal wilderness designation could actually improve ranch operations by providing better protection against destructive off-road vehicle activity than shifting Forest Service rules can.

Wilderness designation may also provide better protection against development like the DM&E Powder River Basin rail extension. Look at the maps of the proposed PRB route, the existing Buffalo Gap National Grassland, and the proposed grassland wilderness. DM&E appears to want to run its rail extension through the current grassland. I can't tell if the route would intersect the proposed wilderness, but if it crosses Edoff land, it must come close. There's no way DM&E would get to run rail across wilderness. Even if the route doesn't intersect the wilderness, one would think that raising the profile of the Cheyenne River Valley as home of the nation's first and only grassland wilderness would help the ranchers enlist more allies in keeping DM&E from resurrecting its Powder River Basin rail plans in the area. Might DM&E recognize this prospect as well and be asking their man in Washington to prevent it?

Ranchers, when Senator Thune comes knocking, pay close attention to what he's after. He's willing to make noise about protecting your right to lease federal land for your business efforts... even though the bill he's fighting includes clear language protecting exactly that right. But when DM&E offers you lowball prices and then tries using the courts to take away your land for their private business interests, does he take your side, or the side of his former employer?

Gun Rights Predicated on Regulation

Among other juicy topics, the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a ruling on gun rights today. That got me wondering: does the Second Amendment contradict itself?

I doubt that: the Founding Fathers were smart enough not to write illogical statements into the Constitution (well, except for that three-fifths clause). The contradiction I feel coming lies more in the irrational reasoning of folks like the Second Amendment Sisters, who think you ought to be able to pack heat anywhere, anytime, or Governor Rounds and far too many of our state legislators, who think you should be able to make and use guns and ammo in South Dakota without any federal regulation.

Did someone say regulation? Let's review the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

First phrase: well regulated Militia. The Founding Fathers framed the proper keeping and bearing of Arms in the context of regulation. The Constitution gives Congress the power to call up, organizing, arm, and discipline that militia. Our right to bear Arms appears to exist, in the Founding Fathers' minds, under the assumption that Congress gets to regulate those Arms.

Compare the phrasing of the Second Amendment with its neighbors. No other Amendment feels the need to explain itself. The First Amendment does not say why we need freedom of religion and speech ("A well exercised and expressed conscience, being necessary to the functioning of a free Democracy and personal integrity..."); it goes right to business, saying "Congress shall make no law...." Same with the other amendments: Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, et al. don't explain why the government can't quarter soldiers in peacetime or search without a warrant or impose excessive bail. The later amendments don't go there, either: the Constitution doesn't tell use why we can't have slaves or why we should have an income tax or why we should not or should have a stiff drink.

The Second Amendment is an anomaly, specifying the context motivating its protection. And that context is not individual self-defense or pheasant hunting or a God-given right to blast old buckets with your AK-47 (that happens here at Lake Herman). The Second Amendment explicitly assumes our guns exist in a framework of regulation to serve the State. If you want to posit other gun rights and oppose gun regulation, you can't rely on the Second Amendment; you have to hope for judicial activism.

Montrose Shows Potential for Local Food Renaissance

Regional neighbor Joe Bartmann sees hope for his hometown of Montrose and similar small burgs in feeding the world. No, not that nutty industrial monoculture model where corporate drones in giant machines produce government-subsidized commodities to load unto ships, ship overseas, glut foreign markets, and drive their independent local farmers off the land just like ours. Bartmann sees his Montrose neighbors producing real food for real people right here in South Dakota. On a trip to the Montrose suburbs, Bartmann finds goose, veggies, beef, and honey produced in his immediate neighborhood.

Maybe we can be the Hardwick, VT of South Dakota one day (read “How Food Saved a Town“). Local Foods is the real deal (just ask Mike), and it’s a serious opportunity for us in small towns–to feed surrounding communities, to live healthier lives, and to re-connect with this land and it’s [sic] bounty in new-old sacred ways [Joe Bartmann, "Montrose, South Dakota: Local Foods Mecca," bartblog, 2010.06.27].

The strongest, most lasting economic development we can generate is business owned and operated by local people, using locally available resources to produce locally consumable goods and services. Local foods don't require expensive government subsidies to attract fickle investors who have no interest in South Dakota beyond the hope of exploiting our tax and labor laws and inflating their profits. Local foods don't depend on far-flung buyers and suppliers. Local foods keep the dollar cycle entirely in South Dakota.

And best of all, local foods make more local families and producers the captains of their own destiny, making their living on the land they love.

Update 11:00 CDT: Editor and legislator Bernie Hunhoff notes that the growth of the local foods movement depends in part on the government regulations that promote or throttle it. Hunhoff cites the upcoming labeling rules for farmers market vendors to be discussed at a Legislative Rules Committee meeting next month. These rules arise from the really important HB 1222, which Hunhoff and his Pierre associates enacted into law this year.

Perhaps related to another of this morning's posts: is there something funny going on when our Legislature works to ensure that proper labeling and safety regulations are maintained for South Dakota-made food but votes to strip all federal regulation from South Dakota-made firearms? I feel a guns-or-butter argument coming on....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Secretary Nelson Says Law Demanded Arndt Switch: Which Law?

Secretary of State Chris Nelson weighs in on the GOP's gamesmanship on Ben Arndt's political affiliation:

Secretary of State Chris Nelson said Democrats were told Heidepriem's running mate would have to register as a Democrat.

"There's a state law that says if you're going to be nominated as a candidate of the party, you have to be a member of that party," Nelson said Saturday in Huron, where he was attending the Republican State Convention. "It's been on the books forever" [Wayne Ortman, "Lieutenant Governor Candidate Switches to Dems," Rapid City Journal, 2010.06.26]

Now I'll admit, I thought there might be such a rule. Requiring Democratic nominees to be Democrats sounds like common sense. We require it of our Party officials.

But whatever books Secretary Nelson says he's reading, I can't find them or this alleged rule anywhere online. I know the question is moot with Arndt's switch to the right party, but the question remains intriguing... especially given that either I or Secretary Nelson is quite clearly and publicly wrong. Here's a breakdown of the relevant Party rules and statutes I can find:

Secretary Nelson is likely referring to this statute, SDCL 12-6-3.2:

No person may sign a declaration of candidacy or be nominated as a political candidate for a party unless that person is a registered voter with that party affiliation.

If this is the statute Secretary Nelson is citing, it appears to have been on the books since 1998, somewhat short of "forever." But notice that dot before the 2? This statute appears in Chapter 12-6 on Primary Elections. There's room for arugment here, but if I were lawyering up, I'd place my bets that a rule written in a chapter on primary elections applies strictly to primary elections.

No other statute or party rule appears to support the argument that a party nominee for a constitutional, non-primary office must be a registered member of the party. To wit:

South Dakota Codified Law 12-5-21:

Nomination of state candidates not voted on at primary--Presidential electors and national committee members. The state convention shall nominate candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, commissioner of school and public lands, and public utilities commissioner and in the years when a President of the United States is to be elected, presidential electors and national committeeman and national committeewoman of the party.

No mention of party affiliation. And note this is a separate SDCL chapter on Political Parties and Party Affairs.

South Dakota Democratic Party Constitution, Article I, Sections 1 and 2:

SECTION 1: Any person 18 years of age, who is a registered Democrat in South Dakota may participate fully in any public Party meetings and be elected to any Party office, except where specifically prohibited by law.

SECTION 2: All meetings at all levels of the Democratic Party are open to all members of the Democratic Party of South Dakota.

...elected to Party office... That means positions like precinct commitee member, county chair or treasurer (like me!), or state chair. Lieutenant governor is a Constitutional office, not a Party office.

SDDP Const, XIII.10:

In addition to the members listed previously in this Article, all Democrats who are currently serving as an elected State-wide Constitutional officer, an elected member of the Public Utilities Commission, the floor leader of the Senate and House, or as a member of the U. S. Congress shall have voting privileges on the Executive Board.

Close, but no banana: this rule says a lieutenant governor has to be a Democrat to participate as a voting member alongside the Party officers of the Executive Board. But it does not stop us from nominating a non-Democrat to the lieutenant governor's position; we can nominate and elect such a candidate, but when he shows up at an Executive Board meeting, we simply say, "Sorry, pal; no vote for you."

SDDP Const, IX.18-19:

SECTION 18: The State Convention shall nominate candidates for Lieutenant Governor, and other constitutional offices as proposed by the pre-convention caucus.. In the years when a President of the United States is to be elected, the Convention shall nominate Presidential Electors and National Committeewoman and Committeeman of the Party.

SECTION 19: Nominations shall be made by majority vote of the votes cast, and shall be certified to the Secretary of State by the officials of the Convention, immediately at the close of the Convention.

These sections say nothing about party affiliation of the nominees. Convention officials certify the vote and send it to the Secretary of State.

Dear readers, I welcome further reading and interpretation of state election law and party rules. Knock yourselves out... after you've finished picking up branches and mowing the yard.

GOP, Dems Convene, Name Candidates; KELO Talks About the Weather

Screen capture of KELOLand.com website, 2010.06.27 09:27 CDT, showing absence of political convention coverage. Click to enlarge; green dots mark weather stories.
If you get all of your news from television, you'd think nothing happens in South Dakota but wind and rain. I check the KELO website this morning and find that 15 of the front-page headlines deal with yesterday's stormy weather. Of 21 headlines, not one links to either the Republican or Democratic state conventions held this weekend.

KSFY doesn't offer much better. On their newly revamped site—more butch banner font, but content scattered, slow, and video-heavy—convention info is absent from the front page, and the Vote 2010 widget hasn't been updated since the primary. There might be something convention related on the Latest News widget, but at the moment, that block at the top of the KSFY site is empty.

The Republican convention in Huron saw three contested constitutional offices. The Democratic convention in Sioux Falls surprised some observers by recruiting candidates every statewide office below that embarrassing spot we left open on the U.S. Senate line. The Dems also had a battle for the PUC nomination, with Doyle Karpen edging out John Zaiko on a tight margin inflated by the weighted voting system (political conventions in South Dakota do not operate on the "one man, one vote" principle, per SDCL 12-5-18—you should see our vote-count spreadsheet!). The Republicans launched a sneaky tricks lawsuit campaign against the Democrats' lieutenant governor nominee, and the crafty Dems defused the ploy with a quick voter registration switch.

KDLT and KSFY repeated the AP story on the Arndt kerfuffle, and KELO ran some AP releases Friday, but none of the local TV stations did original reporting on the conventions.

Once again, if you want good political coverage, you have to hit the papers or hit the blogs. Kudos to Dakota War College for updates from the GOP convention floor in Huron. And hand me my own horn: I did what I could to blog and Twitter from the Dems convention in Sioux Falls. I'll admit, it's easier to cover a story when you're not an active participant—pretty tough to tweet when you're crafting an education plank, listening to testimony on charter schools, and checking spelling and grammar. But when the paid journalists won't haul their TV cameras across town to cover the story, well, we participants have to do what we can to keep the public informed.

Update 2010.06.29: Professional journalist Bob Mercer responds to our criticism, blames the political parties for the lack of media coverage, and says we have to talk nice to them (or at least not talk mean) if we want them to come next time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Storm in the City as I Wait to Drive Home

Want to experience separation from reality? Walk into Barnes and Noble as a thunderstorm approaches.

We've seen the storm coming for an hour. We've felt it coming all day. Weather like today's heat and humidity doesn't just hang; it hangs, then bangs.

I had hoped to go for a bike ride around Sioux Falls this evening. But when I stepped out of the Dem convention and found the solid grey wall of a thundercloud looming over Sioux Falls, I decided there were better places to be than the open road.

I ran a couple errands, hung a concert poster, got a cheap juice and jam and cheese, then stopped at the mall for a burger. Then I went back outside, to see what was coming.

Shoppers and clerks and mall security guys were stepping outside—sure, it fits: the security guys are paid to monitor threats, the storm's a threat, so sure, let 'em go outside to check the weather.

...is it gonna rain?...

...look at that one, little spin there...

...man, temperature dropped, like forty degrees...

Forty degrees is an exaggeration, but the churn of the clouds and the lightning isn't. it is noticeably cooler, and after a day of still, heavy air clinging to our clothes and hair and skin, this mild movement, the beginnings of mist, is a great relief.

When I was little, Mom said green clouds mean trouble. I looked west and north. The clouds were green.

The people around me—not shoppers, not consumers, not worker drones, but people again, made natural and primal in the face of a storm—have forgotten what brought them out to shop as nearly as I have forgotten the handshakes and nominations and debates about the need for verbs in sentences that brought me to the city. We wonder at the clouds, the wind, the swirling tiny fireflies of dust-mote droplets in the headlights. Only 6:30 p.m., and the street lights have snapped on. The storm is coming, and we are tiny before it, tiny as our cars and streets and the entire city, dwarfed by the towering, lumbering clouds.

I walk through that mist, cross lot and lanes to Barnes and Noble. There, too, on the north side of 41st Street, people stand outside, not completely afraid (or they wouldn't be here), but all with a palpable sense that they shouldn't stand and watch the coming storm for much longer. We can smell the lightning.

And then I walk inside, the double doors an airlock to altered space. Just four steps in, with a clear view out and first fresh whiffs of the tousle and damp we bring inside, the nice girl at the front table shows nothing but cheery determination to equip all mankind (or Sioux Falls-kind) with Nooks. The music plays on the speakers, a straggling clientele thinned by supper and storm buys fancy coffee. The books and sale placards remain orderly, the music hip and purchase-inducing. Nothing like the artificial world of commerce to make the real world disappear.

I sit to blog, and that outdoor anxiety disappears. Amidst all these books and commerce, there is no knowing of what is coming, only...

Crack! Crack! Boom!

...the sudden realization that it is here, a storm bigger than anything we do...

BOOM! Whoa!

...a crack of thunder over the pounding torrent sharp enough that people inside jump. Lights inside flicker, swift enough we aren't quite sure—did the power just blink? Is the storm that big? Power out at home, alone or with your family, is one thing. Power out in the city, in a store, surrounded by strangers... oh, the primal instincts of self-preservation that arise. I hear someone mention flashlights.

But the lights stay on. Behind me, three young people respond to the thunder as best humans can: with laughter. Around me are Star Wars Lego ships (my old X-Wing! oh, to be young and build it myself!), a Spanish Bingo set, and a girl in a black and white dress with a yellow flower in her hair.

I leave the coffee shop, head for the front of the store. People come in now less jaunty, drenched in summer clothes, now shivering in air-conditioning set for the hotter weather of an hour ago. I sit by the front window (lightning, thunder, wind, and I sit by five-foot sheets of glass—how does our species survive?) Trees and steel lamposts and the wide Wendy's sign alike shake. Sheets of rain—we can hardly see across the now great wet river of 41st Street.

...is it still raining? asks a man sitting with his back to the window, talking on his phone. A man at the door says this'll stop in 20 minutes. It's breaking up in the west, an old girlfriend's dad would always say in the midst of the most thunderous drenching. But yes, those little trees are shaking less. And how much more water can there be in one sky?

C-click, c-click, c-click, c-click... the girl in the black and white dress steps as softly as she can on tile in her summer shoes to the window to survey the storm. Her yellow flower, big as her face, is the brightest reflection in the window. Bright as the sunshine—yes, just that shade—that will break in twenty minutes and see us all home.

Why Yes, Ben Arndt Is a Dem. What Are You Republicans Afraid Of?

South Dakota Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem sets the record straight on why his running mate, Ben Arndt, switched his registration yesterday from Republican to Democrat. No, it wasn't the law. Heidepriem and Arndt were happy and ready to offer South Dakotans the chance to vote for a bipartisan ticket for governor and lieutenant governor. But at 4:45 p.m. yesterday, the Republicans (I haven't gotten clear on which ones—Nelson? a litigious party chair?*) made clear they would block the certification of the Heidepriem/Arndt ticket based on Arndt's status as a registered Republican.

Now you can bet that Heidepriem scrutinized the law in much greater detail than I ever will. Heidepriem was confident that if the Republicans tried to stop the Heidepriem/Arndt ticket in court, the Dems would win and the Arndt nomination would stand. There is no law preventing us Democrats from nominating a Republican or an Independent or any other citizen who meets the legal qualifications for office.

But check it out: the Democrats and Ben Arndt just spared us taxpayers another unnecessary lawsuit. Ben Arndt said, no problem, I'll re-register.

As Jim Abourezk said this morning, "Ben Arndt didn't leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left him."

And as Scott Heidepriem noted this morning, if the Republicans are willing to break out the legal trickery and obstruction already just to challenge our lieutenant governor candidate, they must really not like Ben Arndt... or what he brings to Team Heidepriem. "There's something about this guy that has the Republicans scared to death," says Scott.

Ah, I love the smell of Republican fear in the morning.

*Update 2010.06.27 08:22 CDT: Let's clarify: Team Heidepriem checked with two lawyers before announcing Arndt's addition to the ticket a month ago. They found no law or party rule under which Arndt's candidacy could be challenged. They checked with the Secretary of State's office, which said it saw no legal problem with certifying a mixed ticket. At 4:45 p.m. Friday, a tipster contacted the campaign, let them know the Republican chicanery afoot, and informed them that the Secretary of State had changed his position to say the law on this matter is not clear.

Dems Nominate Ron Volesky for Attorney General

Sure enough: we get to vote for Ron Volesky after all! Jessica Hotchkiss from Beadle County just nominated one of my favorite Democrats and orators to run for Attorney General. Mr. Volesky delivers a rousing address to the assembled delegates of the Democratic Convention. He wryly notes that he and our gubernatorila nominee, Scott Heidepriem, were once considered competitors, then declares his pride in joining Heidepriem on a united slate of Democratic candidates.

Volesky promises as attorney general to be guided by the moral test of government: how it treats the young, the aged, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped. He promises to protect workers' rights to organize, to root out corporate crime as diligently as street crime, and to enforce the laws for all citizens. He also promises to protect the fundamental rights of all, regardless of where they live or what race or religion they belong to.

Let's hope he'll also pull South Dakota out of silly lawsuits like Marty Jackley's doomed crusade against health insurance reform.

And Volesky makes the ballot unanimously. Yahoo! We're filling the slate!

More updates from the 2010 South Dakota Democratic Convention on Twitter at #SDDems!

Ben Arndt Now a Dem? Not That I Mind...

Pat Powers and his commenters are having inordinate fun talking about Ben Arndt's rumored last-minute switch from Republican to Democrat. There's no mainstream confirmation yet... though I suppose I can ask Ben and his running mate Scott Heidepriem myself at the convention this morning.

If Ben has switched, I simply say, "'Bout time! Welcome to the party!"

But I would like some clarification: Powers is suggesting Arndt had to switch under state law to qualify for the ticket. I've perused state law, the state constitution, and the party constitution, and I see no clear requirement that the lieutenant governor register in the same party as the governor, or that a candidate has to belong to the party to receive the party's nomination (although as a party activist, I'd ask a non-party member some hard questions about why I ought to nominate him). But I'm also hurrying through breakfast, so I may have missed something.

Dear readers, your homework for today: find the statute or by-law requiring Arndt to be a Democrat. Also, let me know how much Ben Arndt's party registration matters to you.

Canadian Tar Sands Company Liable for Duck Deaths

If South Dakota's sportsmen are concerned about preserving waterfowl for our recreation and tourism industry, they should be concerned about the expanding Keystone pipeline system and the dirty tar sands oil TransCanada will transport. Even if those pipelines never leak and pollute South Dakota's wetlands, the production of the oil they carry has already killed wildlife in Alberta.

I reported on duck deaths in the toxic tar sands tailings ponds in 2008; now an Alberta court has found tar sands producer Syncrude guilty of killing nearly 1600 ducks (well over anyone's limit). Syncrude faces up to 800,000 dollars Canadian in fines for its negligence.

Syncrude initially reported that 500 ducks were killed when it didn't maintain its bird-shooing cannons in working order. The company now admits it lowballed that number: the actual count was more like 1600. Gee, oil companies underestimating the impact of their mistakes... where have I heard that before?

Friday, June 25, 2010

U.S. Health Care: Twice as Costly, Less Effective

I'm on the Education subcommittee along with my neighbor (and chairman!) Gerry Lange at the Democratic convention this weekend, so I really ought to be reading up on education issues (like our state's willingness to federalize education with silly national standardized tests that take away local control and professional autonomy).

But then an eager reader sends me The Commonwealth Fund's latest update on the pathetic performance of the American health care system, and I'm all riled up on health insurance again:

In 2007, health spending was $7,290 per person in the United States, more than double that of any other country in the survey.

Australians spent $3,357, Canadians $3,895, Germans $3,588, the Netherlands $3,837 and Britons spent $2,992 per capita on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at $2,454.

This is a big rise from the Fund's last similar survey, in 2007, which found Americans spent $6,697 per capita on healthcare in 2005, or 16 percent of gross domestic product.

"We rank last on safety and do poorly on several dimensions of quality," [Commonwealth Fund's Cathy] Schoen told reporters. "We do particularly poorly on going without care because of cost. And we also do surprisingly poorly on access to primary care and after-hours care" [Maggie Fox, "U.S. Scores Dead Last Again in Healthcare Study," Reuters, 2010.06.23].

This year's health insurance reform law be damned—we need real reform. We need a robust public option, if not a full-tilt single-payer system. We need government-run health coverage, like the systems in all the countries that kick our cans in cost control and health care performance. We need universal public insurance like the Medicare program that treats Grandma and Grandpa (and George McGovern!) so well.

We need to acknowledge that the American health coverage system is broken. We need to acknowledge that the status quo is inequitable and unaffordable. We need to acknowledge that this year's reform is a step in the right direction, but not enough to fix a system where medical debt plays a role in more than 60% of personal bankruptcies.

Medicare for everyone. It works in other countries. It'll work here.

May Unemployment Mixed in Lake County Area

The South Dakota Department of Labor has posted the local unemployment figures for May. After a healthy drop from March to April, Lake County's jobless rate jumped back up a tick to 4.8%. The actual numbers aren't earth-shaking: 15 folks left the local workforce, but 20 jobs disappeared. But when Dwaine Chapel needs to make 835 jobs appear by the end of next year to meet the Forward Madison labor goal, we can't afford any slippage.

The job numbers are mixed for the surrounding counties. Brookings County jumped back up to 3.9%, with 90 more people out of work in May (the college kids leave, but so does a lot of business). McCook and Miner counties saw increases, too. Kingsbury, Minnehaha, and Moody counties all managed to create a few jobs. but what we're all waiting for, a good strong surge for everybody, was nowhere to be seen in May.

Karpen Lobbies Dems for PUC Nod; Where's Zaiko?

Doyle Karpen hits my mailbox, and the mailboxes of other Democratic convention delegates, to ask for our vote to make him the Democratic nominee to challenge Dusty Johnson for the Public Utilities Commission.

I've made clear that I have trouble getting excited about a Democrat (or anyone else) who calls the proposed Hyperion refinery "fantastic" and a "boon." So you can expect my read of Karpen's campaign literature to be less than favorable.

As I read his letter, the first thing I learn is the length of his marriage and the names of his wife, kids, and grandkids. Yes, yes, we all have wonderful families. Yes, I'm proud of my daughter, too, but that doesn't render my political judgment any more valid.

After ascribing his political activities to the inspiration of "the spirit of the pioneers who made our country great," Karpen gets down to the real résumé, citing his experience on township board, school board, and county commission. Interestingly, in discussing his tenure as a Union County Commissioner, he does not mention the words "Hyperion" or "refinery":

Being Chairman of the Union County Commissioners fostered in me the importance of allowing everyone the right to be heard while ensuring that the wishes of the majority are sustained. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all citizens" [Doyle Karpen, campaign letter to Democratic convention delegates, June 2010].

Well, at least Karpen is good at spin.

Karpen does mention Hyperion on his online résumé. Karpen says he "focused on laws and ordinances rather than emotions"... since, of course, if you oppose an unsustainable, polluting, economically unviable oil refinery, you're just being emotional.

I'm starting to worry that when Karpen talks about bringing "the pioneer spirit... back to the people of South Dakota," he's really talking code for letting big oil corporations pioneer their projects roughshod right over us natives (ah, just like the 1800s).

But where's our alternative? Challenger John Zaiko hasn't sent out similar mail. He did click "attending" on the Democratic convention Facebook page, so I'm hoping we can have a conversation in Sioux Falls Saturday... and maybe at least one interesting vote at the convention!

Madison's Next Subsidy: Downtown, Pavement, Utility Bills

The latest Madville Times poll shows readers split on what the ever-generous City of Madison should subsidize next. With handouts recently to Madison Farmers Elevator, East River Electric, Inter-Lakes Community Action Program, Rosebud, and James River Equipment, it seemed logical to ask what important project deserves the next round of funding from the City Commission. The five options presented in the Madville Times poll drew a divided response from 61 readers:
  1. Renovating downtown storefronts: 16 votes (26%)
  2. Paving gravel streets: 15 (24%)
  3. Reducing utility rates: 15 (24%)
  4. Building wind turbines: 8 (13%)
  5. Restoring Masonic temple: 7 (11%)
Votes were evenly split among the top three suggestions. A quarter of respondents would like to renovate our downtown storefronts, perhaps by ripping out the chintzy tin work and other shoddy signage and restoring some of that lovely old brick work, not to mention looking up and fixing the old architecture that's crumbling all along the second level of our downtown buildings.

Another quarter would like to pave our gravel streets—as my mother has pointed out, folks on those gravel streets have paid for curb and gutter; they deserve some effort by the city to civilize the rest of their street.

Another quarter say everyone in Madison should get a subsidy in the form of a reduction of their utility rates. I'm actually surprised more readers didn't mark this option, given that the city raised electric rates 10% in this year's budget. I find it interesting (and heartening!) that, amid the din of the 9-12 Project hollering for smaller government, three in four readers are willing to keep paying their bills and directing their tax dollars toward projects to benefit the general welfare. (Then again, my sample consists of Madville Times readers, who surely include a disproportionate number of Communists and other unsavory elements, right? :-) )

The remaining quarter are split between providing incentives to build wind turbines around town and getting the Masonic temple back into shape. Alas, I'd like to see the Masonic temple at the top of that list, but that's why we have the discussion, to find out where the popular will lies. Too bad local government doesn't do more of that.

Thanks for voting, dear readers! Stay tuned for more fun, exciting, and locally relevant polls throughout the summer!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

PUC Johnson Reads Blog, Gives Qwest What-For

South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson
My blog just earned its pay for the month... and so did Dusty Johnson!

Yesterday morning I vented about Qwest's inability or unwillingness to fix the midnight phantom ring on my phone. Yesterday afternoon, the phone rang. It was no phantom: it was Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson. I was out, but Commissioner Johnson told my wife the PUC had contacted Qwest and asked them to discontinue the test line to my house.

My wife and I stayed up late last night. No phantom ring.

One night is not proof—we've called Qwest previously, gotten assurances, then had the phantom rings return weeks or months later—but I called the PUC back this morning to thank Commissioner Johnson. That the Commissioner would take this action, without my even contacting him directly, demonstrates a sincere commitment to listening to and serving the public.

I'll still be voting Saturday to nominate John Zaiko (if he's still in!) to run against Dusty Johnson for PUC. But for now... keep up the good work, Dusty.

Oil, Tsunamis, Ethanol -- Grim Notes

Two dozen tabs open on my browser—time to clear the cache and lament the ongoing disaster of our irresponsible energy practices.
  1. Scott and Megan at The Post revisit that amazing BP oil spill overlay map and find the great blob of careless greed stretching from Sissteon to Rapid City.
  2. Maybe mushrooms can clean up the BP oil spill. I'd certainly give that a shot before trying the mushroom cloud option.
  3. Fungus or nukes, the eggheads had better find a solution fast. If you think oily birds and beach tarballs are bad for tourism, try double exploding methane-triggered tsunamis.
  4. Maybe someone should have mentioned tsunamis to Judge Feldman before he overturned the federal moratorium on further deepwater oil exploration. One rig blowing up and spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico doesn't mean all such rigs are dangerous, does it? I susecpt such a conclusion makes more sense to a judge who has invested in numerous oil companies, including the outfit that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig.
  5. The solution is not magic mushrooms or more drilling. The solution is for us Americans to grow up, sacrifice for future generations, and get the heck off oil. That change will be slow and painful, but we Americans ca do it. At least that's what conservative commentator David Frum will tell you:
    We want to get the country off oil? Tax it. (Politicians may not wish to say it, but their advisers can at least think it.) Then liberate people to find their own best alternative -- and incentivize industry to develop alternatives that make sense at the new higher price. And be prepared to argue candidly and straightforwardly in the marketplace of ideas why this new tax is right and justified [David Frum, "Getting off Oil Easily Is a Fantasy," CNN.com, 2010.06.21].
    I'll make that argument. Tax oil hard. Game on!
  6. And for those of you thinking ethanol is the best way to get off oil, there's a strong argument that ethanol, via corn production and fertilizer runoff, has been contributing to hypoxia, algae blooms, and the massive "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico for years. But hey—that ongoing disaster is only the size of New Jersey.
And now I'm hopping in my car to burn three gallons of gasoline and ethanol to go to Brookings. I smell exhaust and hypocrisy.

Five Years after Kelo v. New London: Fight the Capitalist Dogs!

Mr. Woodring at Constant Conservative reminds us of the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London decision. I agree with my conservative blog colleague that Kelo was an abominable decision, foisted upon us by my fellow liberals on the court who got property rights and eminent domain dead wrong. I am proud that South Dakota was the first state to pass legislation in response to Kelo to outlaw exactly the sort of private-private eminent domain transfer that Kelo upheld. (HB 1080 passed the 2006 Legislature with near unanimity.)

But I suggest that repudiating Kelo v. New London is not strictly Ron Paul libertarianism (a philosophy for which I still harbor sympathies). The City of New London forced homeowners to sell to Pfizer on the promise that Pfizer would build an extravagant research park that would raise property values and swell the city coffers. (Pfizer's promise fell through, and the land transfer was for naught.) In Kelo, the court narrowly held the taxable dollar value of land to supersede other values, like the sense of place, of home, of neighborhood. The court said that if you don't want to act like a capitalist and generate as much wealth as possible with your property, the government should take your property and hand it to a more avid exploiter.

As a homeowner who was able to build a fine lake house for a humble $100,000, amidst more extravagant lakeside temples to consumption worth triple and triple again as much, I found Kelo terrifying. I could easily see the Lake County Commission looking at my cheapskatery and saying, "Heidelberger's house is only generating $1700 in property tax. We know a Sioux Falls developer who can subdivide Heidelberger's land, build two McMansions, and generate ten times the property tax. Evict Heidelberger: we've got roads to fix."

Forcing a property owner to sell that property to another private party who can make more money on that property is akin to forcing construction workers and custodians to move out of town because we want our community to be populated by doctors and lawyers and other wealthy folks who can buy more stuff and generate more sales tax (Vail is like that). Rights should not depend on your economic output. Kelo and the slim liberal majority got that point dead wrong.

Mr. Woodring is right to lament the Kelo decision. I lament it with him. But remember: a rejection of Kelo is a rejection of the capitalist imperative. Some things, like having your home on your terms, are more important than money.

Update 2010.06.25 09:20 CDT: Mr. Woodring continues the discussion! Worth reading!

Johnson Good on Grassland Wilderness; What's Thune's Problem?

map of proposed national grassland in western South DakotaLocation of first national grassland wilderness (blue zones), proposed in Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act of 2010. Click image to enlarge. [Image courtesy of South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition]
Senator Tim Johnson has a good idea. In May, he introduced S. 3310 the Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act of 2010. The bill, which got its first Senate committee hearing last week, would designate about 48,000 acres of West River grassland as national wilderness. That's about 75 square miles, a total area a little larger than Sioux Falls, declared off limits to development and mechanical travel (including my mountain bike) and kept about as natural as it can be.

The South Dakota Wild Grasslands Coalition released a survey last March finding about 60% support for this specific wilderness proposal among voters in the neighborhood of the affected lands. The survey even found majority support among snowmobilers and off-roaders.

Ranchers won't lose any grazing land if the wilderness designation passes. S. 3310 specifically excepts established grazing from the bill. In other words, if your cows eat grass near Red Shirt now, they'll be able to eat grass there after the bill becomes law.

Hunters and fishers would still get to enjoy the area right alongside backpackers, birdwatchers, and rock collectors. S. 3310 specifies that the state retains jurisdiction over fish and wildlife management, including hunting, fishing, and trapping.

Even Ellsworth Air Force Base gets to carve a niche in this bill. S. 3310 specifies that the military gets to keep its current flight training routes and can even declare new flight paths over the wilderness. (And you know, even when I'm backpacking, I think getting a good look at big jet planes is kind of cool... as long as that ordnance stays bolted on tight!)

Now Senator John Thune ought to be backing Senator Johnson on this proposal. Thune appreciates the value of protecting habitat and game populations for hunting and tourism.

But Thune is opposing S. 3310. He cites opposition from Governor Rounds, the Legislature, county commissioners, and area ranchers like Ken Knuppe and Scott Edoff, who worry their grazing permits will change.

The list of ranchers opposing the wilderness designation does not include Dan O'Brien, who holds the largest grazing permit in the northern portion of the targeted territory. He raises buffalo and is looking into eco-/agritourism. In his Senate testimony last week, he invoked the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt to declare the silence and solitude of the Indian Creek area a vital national resource deserving "maximum federal protection." He says wilderness designation would protect his own ranching and business interests as well as the rights of all Americans to enjoy the grasslands, which he says are "the least protected landscape in the world."

Senator Thune appears to be reaching for arguments, resorting to saying that the language in the bill doesn't say exactly what it says. He's rounded up the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association to echo his alarmism. The SD Wild Grassland Organization pretty effectively disposes with every one of Senator Thune's and the SDCA's stated concerns here.

The Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act would create a unique national wilderness, protecting a fragile prairie ecosystem that enjoys this sort of protection nowhere else. Right between South Dakota's two existing wilderness areas, the Black Elk Wilderness in the Hills and the Badlands Wilderness, the Indian Creek, Red Shirt, and Chalk Hills wildernesses would boost South Dakota's profile, tourism, and hunting without taking away from ranching. Passing this bill would honor the memory and wisdom of famed South Dakota outdoorsman Tony Dean, who appreciated the value of wilderness.

Senator Johnson recognizes the clear and immediate good S. 3310 would do. Senator Thune is grasping for hypothetical "potential" harms refuted by the spirit and the letter of this legislation, not to mention plain facts.

Come on, John: you can work with Tim on Ellsworth; you can work with Tim on wilderness. Drop the obstructionism, and support this good bill.

Update 19:37 CDT: I learn via Sibby that President Bush proposed creating a 71,381-acre Cheyenne River Valley Grassland. Sibby also leaves me to puzzle over how protecting wilderness ecosystems on federal land is part of the "socialist anti-property-rights agenda in South Dakota." Hmmm....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Podcast: Scott and Scott Rant a Bit

As if producing a music podcast isn't enough to keep a guy busy, Scott Hudson is teaming up with South Dacola's Scott Ehrisman to put together a political podcast, Rant-a-Bit with Scott and Scott. First episode, 62 snarky minutes of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and national politics, is available here.

There are naughty words... but hey! I'm listening after 10 p.m., so it's o.k., right? ;-)

Scott and Scott offer some reasonable political observations, like the suggestion that Kristi Noem's upset of Chris Nelson in the GOP House primary could be the anti-abortion vote rearing its head. But the conversation degenerates into insults to the Dakota Women bloggers and small-town South Dakota. Sure, Kristi Noem may call Castlewood home, but why hold that against Castlewood? Alas.

Climate Science Consensus Strong as Ever

State Representative Don Kopp (R-35/Rapid City) wanted to force South Dakota teachers to teach "the skeptical view of climate change." In this year's Legislative session, he sponsored an embarrassing resolution to that end... a resolution that, to our state's great discredit, passed thanks to the votes of folks like GOP House candidate Kristi Noem and my Democratic neighbor and candidate for re-election Gerry Lange.

If Kopp hasn't completely backpedaled from his absurd Big Brother anti-science position, he'd better write that alternate curriculum fast: he's running out of skeptics to cite. New research from Stanford University finds the consensus on climate change is as strong as ever:

...[T]he vast majority of the world’s active climate scientists accept the evidence for global warming as well as the case that human activities are the principal cause of it.

For example, of the top 50 climate researchers identified by the study (as ranked by the number of papers they had published), only 2 percent fell into the camp of climate dissenters. Of the top 200 researchers, only 2.5 percent fell into the dissenter camp. That is consistent with past work, including opinion polls, suggesting that 97 to 98 percent of working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change.

The study demonstrates that most of the scientists who have been publicly identified as climate skeptics are not actively publishing in the field. And the handful who are tend to have a slim track record, with about half as many papers published as the scientists who accept the mainstream view. The skeptics are also less influential, as judged by how often their scientific papers are cited in the work of other climate scientists [Justin Gillis, "Study Affirms Consensus on Climate Change," New York Times: Green, 2010.06.22].

In short: the scientists doing the hardest, most regular and reliable work agree we're changing the planet. The deniers do less science and less good science. Rep. Kopp would have us place our educational bets on scientific third-stringers and retirees who aren't keeping up with reality.

Update 12:45 CDT: Possibly related—79% of Europeans say they are moderately or very interested in science; 65% express the same interest in sports. In America, more people say they follow sports very closely than say they pay the same attention to science. Plus, the percentage of Americans following science news very closely has dropped by more than half since the 1980s.