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Monday, July 12, 2010

Mainstream Press Demeans Senator-Elect Buhl

The journalistic cheap shot of the weekend comes not from the blogosphere but from the mainstream media, as reporter Jonathan Ellis takes a swipe at State Senator-elect Angie Buhl. Ellis's political column in the Sunday edition of that Sioux Falls paper is mostly fair, confirming with the Legislative Research Council that Buhl is making history as the youngest woman ever elected to the South Dakota Legislature. SDPB's "political junkie" concludes, however, with this condescending bit of junk:

Buhl has plenty of time to ponder what, if any, long-term future she wants in politics. For now, it's probably best that she master parliamentary procedure [Jonathan Ellis, "25-Year-Old Democrat Heading to State Senate," that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.07.11].

Ugh. Ellis should be ashamed. He recognizes that Buhl ran a surprisingly effective campaign, raising $20,000 for a Senate primary, knocking on every Democratic door in the district, focusing on bread-and-butter issues while not hiding her progressive Democrat stances, and beating an established incumbent 59% to 41%. His own text proves Buhl is no political lightweight. But his last line throws that all away, suggesting she's just a little girl who needs to go to Pierre, be quiet, and keep her nose in that big tough rule book.

Maybe I'm just sensitive. But somehow, I think Buhl already has Mason's Manual and all that covered. Anyone who thinks otherwise is in for a surprise.


  1. I think you protest too much Corey. This is the same advice every freshman is given. If they want to be effective long-term, new legislators observe their first year. You want to be a flash in the pan, go in the first day and start to propose legislation.

  2. I'm a little bothered by the idea that a district that has the temerity to elect a new legislator deserve "sit down and shut up" representation for a year. Shouldn't each district have an equal voice, regardless of the urge "senior" legislators may have to relive high school?

  3. Troy, I tell all my students that you don't know anything about anything until you've made your first 2,000 mistakes on the subject.

    Why should Angie spend her first year sitting around watching a bunch of old farts sitting around talking to lobbyists? She's got the whole rest of her life to do that ;^)

  4. Cory,

    This isn't a partisan matter. Success in the legislature requires context and relationship, neither of which new members have.


    Sometimes sitting around and observing can get one just as wise without the mistakes. :)

    I should have just kept my mouth shut. I never do well when I try to give advice to the other side.

  5. I agree, Troy, that it's not a partisan issue. It's a question of equal representation. Certainly, on balance, I'd expect a fresh face in the Legislature to lack some of the "context and relationship" that veteran legislators might have. But suppose a district elects a new legislator specifically because they want some new legislation introduced and passed and because that new person promises to be a vigorous and vocal advocate of that legislation. Should that voice really be squelched out of respect for... what? Tradition? Senior legislators' egos?

    And let's test the non-partisan nature of this argument: if we want to keep a strong voice in Washington, does the expectation that "freshmen" remain quiet serve as a justification for voting against Kristi Noem?

  6. Cory, don't you like how Troy says it's not a partisan issue, and then identifies us as being "on the other side." That's excellent. You're the best, Troy. I love you, man. (In a manly way, of course.)

    Just a parting shot. If Cory and Troy and Bill all kept their mouths shut and waited for context and relationship to somehow seep into our beings, I wonder if it would ever happen. Let me be the first to admit that I'm probably way to impatient to find out.

    Besides, who would we choose to set us a good example? Schoenbeck?

  7. Cory,

    You are reading a bit more into it than I intended. I was just trying to say Ellis' point wasn't as insulting as you inferred. She can introduce legislation and she definitely needs to do her committee work. Ellis' advice was as a freshmen, she needs to learn some institutional matters of which she has none. I was just saying that some early time (of which there is a limit) and concentration on these matters has long-term pay-offs plus gives the other members an idea she intends to be a serious legislator.

    Noem has legislative experience plus she will have a staff to assist on the parliamentary items. In the South Dakota Senate, Buhl will have limited staff support. I was just trying to help someone new who has never served before. Also, there is this reality. Members of Congress are one of 435 which is a totally different dynamic where so much is done in committee. In the South Dakota Senate where there are 35 members, parliamentary understanding creates unique opportunities to further your cause. The slower she takes to learn the nuances (related to time invested in learning and observing) the less effective she will be and it might lead to some big mistakes. In Congress, each party an entire staff dedicated to understanding the parliamentary nuances and opportunities.


    LOL. I was more referring to my personal credo, "My advice to Democrat office holders will be looked at askance so you might as well keep your mouth shut." :)

  8. Troy, I agree with most of what you say. Buhl does need to do her homework (and I'm willing to bet she is) so she can fully and effectively represent her constituents. I'd certainly take your advice if I were headed to Pierre!

    But you're working awfully hard to distinguish Buhl from Noem. I could argue from what you say that we should spend more on staff for our state Legislature so that districts that elect new members are not placed at such a disadvantage in having their voices heard.

  9. Corey,

    With every candidate, there are trade-offs. A new voice sacrifices experience. An experienced voice sacrifices a different or new perspective. A Democrat (or Republican) in the majority can accomplish things differently than a Democrat (or Republican) in the minority.

    Take away the policy differences, there are still great differences between Angie and Kristi for which there are trade-offs. They are going into different bodies (state vs. national/House vs. Senate) and these differences are very real.

    All I want to say is there an apples to oranges in many ways between the two and comparison's are not always appropriate, as I believe in this case.

    Nothing I said (nor Ellis) was to impugn or praise either Angie (or by analogy) Kristi. The question is only Angie is in a situation (Minority State Senator with no elective experience) which requires a different focus than Kristi's. More so than the State House (and alot more than the US House because of its rules), parliamentary understanding for a minority Senator is invaluable. And this understanding takes time.


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