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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chris Nelson Lands PUC Nod

Chris Nelson rides again! Governor-Elect Dennis Daugaard has named him as heir to Dusty Johnson's soon-to-be vacated seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

After being term-limited out as Secretary of State and losing to Kristi Noem in the GOP primary for that U.S. House seat, Nelson has snagged a pretty nice consolation prize that will keep his brains and talent in Pierre serving the people.

But what's this -- no experience necessary?

Daugaard appointed Nelson despite the Secretary of State lacking any experience in the utilities industry, saying Nelson was the right person for the job.

"He's demonstrated time and again that he's willing to fairly interpret and apply our state laws without regard for politics," Daugaard said [David Montgomery, "Secretary of State to fill Johnson's PUC vacancy," Rapid City Journal, 2010.11.23].

No experience in utilities, and he gets the job? That's it—I am totally sending Daugaard a résumé. Make me Secretary of Education! I've at least been in a few classrooms! That's more experience than Nelson has for the job he just got.

The official Dems' line will surely echo what we heard from House Minority Leader Mitch Fargen yesterday on SDPB's Dakota Midday: same old bureaucracy, same old cronies.

But here's a more interesting narrative I see developing. Daugaard moves the chairs to give Dusty Johnson a better position from which to launch a statewide campaign... say, U.S. Senate in 2014. Daugaard finds a way to keep capable and decent public servant Nelson in the game. I see both of these moves as signals from the mainline South Dakota Republicans, the fellas who got a heck of a lot more votes than Rep.-Elect Kristi Noem did on November 2, that they're keeping their best guys in the chute for Tim Johnson's Senate seat. Noem won thanks to lots of outside Tea Party groups (and overheated conservative males searching "Kristi Noem bust" on Google Images) that pose a threat to the proper order of South Dakota Republicanism. The adults in the party aren't going to let that get out of hand.

My, we humans do tend to see patterns where there may be none, don't we?

Update 12:22 CST: The Dems' response, from party exec Erin McCarrick in a press release five minutes ago:

It looks like the Daugaard Administration is the new retirement home for State employees who are term limited or who have paid their dues to the Republican Party. How are we going to fix the huge budget deficit we are facing with the same players?

Just as many businesses are kept out of government contracts in Pierre through the no-bid process, possible qualified persons are being kept out of positions in Pierre. South Dakota should question the hiring process in Republican Administrations—are there no other qualified people in South Dakota, or do they already live in Pierre?


  1. Apparently, the 'spoils system' is alive & well in Pierre.

  2. Ben B. (from SF)11/23/2010 12:16 PM

    'To the victor go the spoils.' Andrew Jackson was famous for appointing his political allies to positions in his administration regardless of their previous qualifications. A big reason why we're supposed to have a functioning civil service system in government...apparently not in Pierre though.

  3. How do you think people get on the Board of Regents - what's Randy Schaefer's qualifications for that hefty pay raise?

  4. Actually, Eve, I'm not sure the Regents get paid. They get reimbursement for mileage and expenses coming to meetings, but I'm not aware that they get a salary.

  5. [Ah, that Ben. Thanks for the last initial, friend!]

    Eve, I checked with a Regent. They receive reimbursement for meals and mileage, plus $75 per diem when they do Regent business (calls, meetings, etc.) If the Regents worked a full 50-week work year, they'd make $18,750 on that per diem rate.

    But I will agree with Eve's larger point: these hires at least create the impression that getting a job in civil service can be as much about whom you know as what you know.

  6. Are people so surprised this is going on?
    This is the way government has been running for a very long time (not saying it's right or wrong).
    Sometimes those friends have the qualifications and no one questions the fact that they are a friend or some how related to the campaign. This has happened in almost every administration local, state, federal where they can appoint people to positions. The only way i can see to stop this would be to make all governing offices elected. You would still get people vastly under qualified for the position but then it would be the people saying we want those people to learn as they go.

  7. Darned if we do, darned if don't, Jim? I can think of a number of smarter, better qualified people who would struggle to win a public vote. Democracy promises more legitimacy, but does it promise better outcomes? (I hope it does!)

  8. Nelson can catch on quick. He's a smart man.

  9. Kelly Fuller11/24/2010 6:46 PM

    Yikes. I disagreed with some of Johnson's votes, but he was the Commissioner who had the best technical understanding of proceedings before the Commission. The problem with putting inexperienced people in as Commissioners is that some of what they decide upon is very, very technical. Inexperienced Commissioners will have to rely on SD PUC staff. In my experience, some of those staff define "in the public interest" differently than many members of the public would.


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