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Sunday, October 31, 2010

GOP Invades Mailboxes with Manufactured Scandal

I hear from our party chair that the Republicans violated federal law to bring me my weekend dose of Republican lies. According to a press release from the state Dems issued Sunday at breakfast, Republican operatives placed campaign literature for Kristi Noem, Rich Sattgast, and other candidates directly into mailboxes across Madison. Anyone other than the mailman or the owner sticking anything into a mailbox is violating federal law.

But violating the law and the truth hasn't bothered Republicans much this year. They were probably just in a hurry, right?

Among the pieces of mail Republicans have placed in my box this weekend is the newst big lie and distraction from real policy issues from the state GOP: the accusation that Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's $1300 expenditures of taxpayer dollars at "exclusive baby boutique" Baby Elements in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, represent some scandalous "silver spoon" "spending spree."

Hmmm... how does the GOP lie to us? Let me count the ways:
  1. "Exclusive": I'm reviewing the store's description and not seeing how they "exclude" anyone. The "exclusive" part of this store is that it features handmade pieces available exclusively in Sioux Falls.
  2. The GOP implies these were irresponsible expenditures. As Dr. Newquist points out, the expenditures were authorized, audited, and approved by a standard Congressional budget ovesight procedure... the kind of fiscal responsibility our South Dakota Republican crony capitalists don't follow as they issue no-bid contracts and bloat the state motor pool to benefit their wealthy friends.
  3. Dr. Newquist informs us that these expenses were far from outlandish expenditures; they are pretty much the cost of doing business as a Congressperson:
    And what were the funds spent for? For the mounting and framing of historic documents, photographs, and cultural materials, such as star quilts, for the member offices to inform visitors of the traditions under which Congress operates and to promote the features of South Dakota. Anyone can view these items on display at the offices [David Newquist, "The Annals of Libel: A Campaign Strategy," Northern Valley Beacon, 2010.10.30].
  4. In spending taxpayer dollars for standard office decoration, the Congresswoman bought goods and services from a local South Dakota craftsperson.
  5. The Congresswoman did exactly what her Republican challenger Kristi Noem did on a much larger scale with the stimulus dollars: bringing federal dollars that would have been spent elsewhere here to South Dakota. $1300 in framing for the office is peanuts dust compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars Noem and Governor Mike Rounds have spent from the federal stimulus package to avoid making hard state budget choices.
  6. Remember, Herseth Sandlin has a tendency to put money back into the South Dakota economy, while Noem prefers to export our money to John Thune's adman in Texas.
  7. Republicans tell you Speaker Nancy Pelosi is evil... but they wouldn't even have the information they are twisting into lies if Pelosi had not ordered the online publication of the House Disbursements in 2009.
  8. Thanks to Speaker Pelosi's drive for transparency, we can also learn that Minnesota GOP Congresswoman and conservative firebrand Michele Bachmann spent almost $44K in taxpayer money on franked mail. Bachmann spent more than twice as much in total and per household on mass mailings to constituents than did Herseth Sandlin over the period reported.
From this manufactured non-issue to the "failed" stimulus, Republicans from Kristi Noem on down are cheating and lying to us six ways from Sunday to win this election. Fellow Dems, if for no other reason, get up out of your chairs and vote Tuesday to reject this politics of deceit.
Update 2010.11.02 10:05 CDT: Jeff Long, postal inspector and spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service out of Minneapolis, tells Austin Kaus at the Mitchell Daily Republic that the illegally placed campaign materials included literature for District 8 State Senator Russell Olson. Alas, says, Long, prosecution for this misdemeanor offense is unlikely. As usual, we aren't supposed to pay attention to Russell Olson's violations of the law.

RCJ Ignores Noem Conflict of Interest on Crop Insurance

The Rapid City Journal is one of the few major newspapers endorsing Republican Kristi Noem over Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. (Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and Mitchell papers are backing the incumbent.)

RCJ bases its endorsement on bogus arguments:
  1. They grumble that SHS hasn't been visible enough in West River, yet they say nothing about Noem's skipping the KOTA debate, the Rapid City Tea Party rallies, and even a visit from her own national party chair to stay home in East River and shoot birds.
  2. They brand the stimulus a Democratic boondoggle, ignoring the good the stimulus is doing in their own backyard.
  3. The biggest whopper: the RCJ editorial board chafes at Max Sandlin's lobbying but ignore the Noem family's own blatant conflict of interest:
    Some of Herseth Sandlin's decisions have been difficult for the congresswoman, when her personal and/or party's convictions cross with those of her constituents. Noem would have no such conflict [editorial, "Noem in Tune with West River," Rapid City Journal, 2010.10.31].
No such conflict? Bull-roar. In addition to surviving on farm welfare payments, Kristi and Bryon Noem sell crop insurance. Crop insurance has been recognized by Republicans and Democrats as a "textbook example of waste, fraud, and abuse in federal spending." Crop insurance companies have regularly made three to nearly five times the benchmark rate of return on their policies. A 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office found that from 1997 to 2006, 42 cents out of every federal dollar spent on the crop insurance program went to the crop insurance companies, not to farmers.*

In response to this waste and inefficiency, the 2008 Farm Bill includes a new Standard Reinsurance Agreement that cuts six billion dollars from the crop insurance program and applies some of those savings to reducing the deficit. Those savings come in part by capping commissions for crop insurance agents like the Noems.

Those caps don't kick in until next year. Put Kristi Noem in office, and she'll have a chance to repeal those caps before they cut into her family's crop insurance profits. Wouldn't that be a nice little anniversary present for Bryon?

No conflict of interest there, is there, Rapid City Journal? Noem is clearly in tune with West River and South Dakota values of taking every penny we can from Uncle Sam.

Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has explicitly addressed concerns about her potential conflict of interest... in the pages of the Rapid City Journal itself. Kristi Noem has said nothing about her own direct business interest in the federal crop insurance program that she'd like the chance to vote on. In manufacturing its endorsement of Noem, the Rapid City Journal is holding the GOP challenger to a much lower standard than it applies to our incumbent Congresswoman.
Bonus endorsement ding: RCJ concludes its Noem endorsement by saying "This country needs elected officials with positive, proactive solutions." That's funny: Kristi Noem hasn't offered any positive, proactive solutions. She hasn't even offered a clear agriculture policy.
*That same 2007 GAO report suggest another possible connection between Noem, crop insurance, and the Farm Service Agency. The GAO found that the Farm Service Agency was not conducting enough inspections to prevent bogus crop loss claims. Crop insurer Kristi Noem served on the state committee of the Farm Service Agency in the 1990s. What government connections might Noem have made then that are now helping her crop insurance business?

Bjorklund's Dreaded "Legislation, Taxation, and Regulation" Comes from Kristi Noem

"Independent" candidate for District 8 State House Jason Bjorklund continues to insist that "legislation, taxation, and regulation" caused the recession and put his trucking company out of business. Yet in his campaign literature and forum speeches, Bjorklund has failed to identify specific South Dakota "legislation, taxation, and regulation" that caused these problems and that he would repeal. Where'd all this evil "legislation, taxation, and regulation" come from?

Kristi Noem. Russell Olson. The very Republicans whose signs Bjorklund places in his yard. The Herseth Sandlin campaign points out that Kristi Noem has supported and sponsored at least seven tax increases in the South Dakota State Legislature:
  • In 2010, Noem cosponsored SB 186, which increases taxes on small businesses to cover shortfalls in the state unemployment insurance fund. (Senator Olson backed that, too.)
  • In 2009, she was the prime sponsor of HB 1217, which gives the Governor authority to raise taxes unilaterally by suspending tax exemptions – such as exemptions on churches, hospitals, doctors, clinics and prescription drugs.
  • She was also the prime sponsor of HB 1218, which increases taxes by raising fees collected by any state department or agency by 2.5% per year since the last time they were raised.
  • She was also the prime sponsor of HB 1229, which increased the gross receipts tax on South Dakota’s tourism industry by 50%.
  • She voted to increase vehicle license fees by 67% (HB 1007), and cosponsored another bill to raise license fees on vehicles older than 5 years by an additional 33% (SB 11). (Senator Olson did vote to table the former.)
  • She cosponsored SB 116, which imposes a new gas tax for ethyl and methyl alcohol used in motor vehicles. (Senator Olson also sponsored that one.)
Noem supported increased business regulation with this year's HB 1203 and 2008's HB 1128.

Noem also voted to raise her own pay 33% with HB 1250 in 2008.

Bjorklund has a profound capacity to ignore the reality of South Dakota politics: nearly all of the South Dakota legislation, taxation, and regulation under which he labors and against which he rails have been passed by Republican legislative majorities and signed by Republican governors. Bjorklund's and the Tea Party's darling Kristi Noem has promoted that very legislation, taxation, and regulation.

Argus Endorses Racist Peters from District 9

South DaCola reports that Representative Deb Peters (R-9/Hartford), the Republican who received the endorsement from Sioux Falls's big liberal-media newspaper, believes our Native American neighbors' problems are their own darn fault. In a debate Friday with Democratic challenger Rob Wilson, Peters said twice that Indians are "genetically predisposed" to many of the problems they face.

In other words, to make life better on the reservation, it's not Peters's job to come up with the kind of practical policy solutions her Democratic challenger Rob Wilson would work for. In Peters's happy world, we can blame the Indians and focus on simply teaching them how genetically inferior they are to us white folks who wisely used alcohol and deception to conquer them.

Nice endorsement, Sioux Falls newspaper.

In related news, there is a hilarious story of thoughtless sleaze floating around District 9 about another candidate. Alas, I can't get anyone to go on record about it. The standard reason for declining runs along the lines of, "It's true, the behavior was inappropriate and should be called out, but this person has power and we have to work with this person, so we'd better not mention it."

In other words, "South Dakota Nice" means we only call out the people who don't have power they might use against us... rather like the Madison Daily Leader going after State Senate candidate and assisted living center operator Clark Schmidtke's criminal record but not State Senator and economic development officer Russell Olson's criminal record.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

South Dakota Dairy Industry Continues to "Grow"

I guess you can call it growth: South Dakota has more dairy cows producing more milk than it did five years ago. However...

The state’s dairy herd currently stands at 94,000 head, up significantly from its low point of 80,000 head in 2005. The state currently has approximately 400 dairy operations. Ten years ago, South Dakota had about 1,200 dairy operations and a dairy herd of nearly 100,000 [Jerry Nelson, "South Dakota's Dairy Industry Continues to Grow," Dairy Star, 2010.10.25].

Even all the fancy equipment and hormone treatment isn't putting out that much more milk: the Nelson article includes a graph that shows South Dakota's annual milk production is just barely higher than it was in 1983. We may be getting more milk per cow, but those cows are also concentrated into much larger facilities, posing more environmental risk than cows given room to roam.

South Dakota's dairy operations are an example of the real redistribution of wealth that should worry us. In just ten years, the wealth of South Dakota's dairy industry has been redistributed from 1200 independent operators to just 400. That's money and power concentrated in fewer hands... and that's not healthy for the economy or for democracy.

Vote Now: Do Criminal Records Matter in District 8 Senate Race?

The last Madville Times poll before the general election asks two questions:
  1. Will Clark Schmidtke's criminal record affect your vote for District 8 State Senate?
  2. Will Russell Olson's criminal record affect your vote for District 8 State Senate?
I'll take votes here in the right-hand sidebar until noon on Monday. Tell your friends, and vote now! And then 24 hours later, we can all head to the polls and finally cast the votes that matter.

Worth noting: you can read another, less well-written version of Mr. Schmidtke's troubles with the Minnesota court system in Friday's Madison Daily Leader. You cannot yet read any version of Senator Olson's encounters with the South Dakota court system in the Madison Daily Leader (at least not the online version), which has made thousands of dollars in advertising from Olson over the last four years.

Noem Not Paying Attention at Church, Either

The ringing in Kristi Noem's ears from directing handbell choir must have made it hard for her to hear this statement of belief about civil government from her Foursquare church in Watertown:

We believe that civil government is by divine appointment and that civil laws should be upheld at all times except in things opposed to the will of God (Acts 4: 18-20; Romans 13:1-5).

That Romans passage is particularly compelling.

So when Noem speeds and skips court, is that just her nature, or is it the will of God? Better check with Pastors Steve and Kathryn on that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Candidate Forum as Job Interview: Who Gets the Job?

The videos for last night's candidates forum here in Madison are up and ready for your viewing and sharing! The Madville Times channel on YouTube has 39 videos from last night, featuring opening remarks from all 15 candidates for the five offices on the local ballot, along with all 17 questions asked during the forum. 17 questions: we covered a lot of ground!

As you watch these candidate videos, think of the forum as a job interview. All 15 of these citizens want a job. You and I and every other voter in Lake County are on the hiring committee. Who did the best job in these interviews?

I welcome you all, friends and neighbors, to review the candidates' statements and performances last night and at last week's AAUW forum here in Madison. Compare notes in the comment section below.

Here's how I evaluate these job interviews:
District 8 State Senate: Senator Russell Olson has the advantages of incumbency. Having served two terms in Pierre, he has more bill details handy for discussion. However, while the bduget is a difficult beast, Schmidtke seems more committed to protecting priorities like education and health care from budget cuts and cites a more detailed list of places to seek efficiencies, largely state perks and jobs. Schmidtke is not as informed on the ag productivity tax; however, Olson demonstrates a pigheaded commitment to an obsolete and unfair taxation model based on market value of land rather than the actual income and ability to pay of the owner.

Olson is the better salesman (political donations from car dealer Prostrollo tend to rub off on people). Schmidtke represents the better positions for District 8.

District 8 State House: Representative Gerald Lange manifests the clearest sense of greter purpose to serve South Dakota. He is motivated by his conscience and his church to lead South Dakota in a greater conversation about justice and equality. He sees our tax system imposing inequalities not only in wealth but in power. He sees rich elites controlling the state, hoarding their wealth, and shifting the burdens of paying for public functions onto the poor. He understands the long history of Republican domination and hypocrisy in the state.

Yet even as he lays out these grand perils to democracy, he always couches the discussion in terms of specific South Dakota policies: our immoral tax on food, our unethical reliance on video lottery (because, Lange sees, we'd rather get our money from losers than from winners), our failure to live up to our constitutional mandate to provide adequate and equal education for all students. Lange even offers the clear and obvious solution to the state budget deficit that no one else has the guts to mention: making Wal-Mart and other corporations pay their fair share with a corporate income tax, just like the income tax we currently limit to banks and insurers. Lange can be the practical and moral conscience of the Legislature. We need a voice like that to remind us of our highest ideals and say the things others lack the courage to say.

Representative Mitch Fargen stumbled a bit in his introduction, losing track of a recitation of his own key legislation from last session. However, he recovered with further discussion of specific legislative proposals and positions during the questions. He also offered a strong indictment of the idea that we have to cut education to balance the budget when we could instead just stop giving handouts to oil corporations.

Patricia Stricherz (who is a paying sponsor of this blog, but whose $25 has not bought these remarks) has shown clear improvement as a candidate since her first run for State House in 2008. Her prepared opening remarks shared a strong anecdote about her ability to fight against long odds to build and sustain a charitable organization, followed by a well-composed campaign pitch about her sympathy for the concerns of working people. She has studied the state budget and improved her command of practical facts and figures related to the job of State Representative. Her experience campaigning has increased her perspective on South Dakota issues. Were either Lange or Fargen not available for this job, Stricherz might be a reasonable second choice.

Jason Bjorklund still appears to have come to the wrong job interview. Bjorklund advocates repealing the national health insurance reform law. South Dakota cannot do that. He blames the recession on "legislation, regulation, and taxation." South Dakota legislation, regulation, and taxation did not cause the recession. He advocates expanding conceal-carry gun rights in other states. South Dakota has no say over other states' gun regulations. He advocates expanding free-market competition and choice in education. South Dakota lacks the wealth and population density in all but a handful of communities to make broad private education or charter schools in competition with existing public schools viable. Bjorklund is interviewing for a guest-host position on conservative talk radio, or maybe for U.S. Senate, most certainly not for South Dakota State Legislature.

Lake County Auditor: Roberta Janke has an obvious advantage over Shelli Gust. She brings 23 years of experience to the position, having worked in the office under retiring auditor Kay Schmidt. Both candidates share a commitment to public service and increased transparency. Both have demonstrated professionalism and ability to work with other departments. Janke simply has the longer, stronger resume.

Janke is essentially a status quo candidate; no one has demonstrated a need to change the status quo. With no ill reflection on Gust, I can say that Janke is the sensible business choice for stability in the auditor's office.

Lake County Sheriff: All three candidates are experienced law enforcement officers. Younger candidates Dan Wyatt and Jason Lurz have an advantage in expressing themselves with energy and enthusiasm. However, last night, current Sheriff Roger Hartman demonstrated he too can connect with citizens. In a question about dealing with crisis situations, Hartman told the most compelling story. He spoke of responding to a fatal car wreck, three children killed on a Sunday morning on the way home from church. With a somber simplicity that would do John Wayne proud, Hartman said that in an emergency like that, you do what you have to do. Then you go home, hug your own children, and then find a private place where you can shed a few tears of your own.

We have three good men running for sheriff.

Hartman can point to various administrative accomplishments in terms of hiring a fourth deputy and bringing in grant money for safety equipment. Lurz and Wyatt feel the sheriff's department needs to pay more attention to budgeting and public outreach. Both Wyatt and Lurz exhibit more inclination for proactive management and law enforcement. And it would appear, given concerns expressed at both fora about the need for better rural response and budgeting, improved management would be good for the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

Lake County Commission: Incumbency has its advantages. As I cited in my evaluation of the Lake County Commission candidates at last week's forum, Commissioner Scott Pedersen has the smarts and people skills to explain very clearly the actions of the commission and the needs of the county. Craig Johannsen is not quite as well-spoken as Pedersen, but his ten years of experience on the commission and with numerous other public bodies in the county inform his answers quite well.

In their first runs for public office, candidates Kelli Wollmann and Doug Erickson have both indicated a general desire to serve the community. That willingness to serve is admirable. However, campaigns are a competition. Everyone who files a petition demonstrates a willingess to serve; candidates must then distinguish themselves as communicators and policy experts. The proposed zoning ordinance revisions are a perfect test of candidate abilities. The zoning ordinance changes are clearly on the radar of Lake County voters, as indicated by the questions from the audience at last night's forum. Drafts of the zoning revisions have been floating around town since March. Pedersen has seen these revisions as commissioner; Johannsen has seen these changes as a member of the water quality committee. That work gives Pedersen and Johannsen have an advantage, but it is reasonable to expect other candidates to do the homework necessary to match such advantages. If Erickson and Wollmann have done that homework, they did not make that clear in their performances during last night's job interview. Judging by the information presented, Pedersen and Johannsen are the better candidates.

Dang, local politics is fun! Stay tuned for my final assessments and endorsements of the local and statewide candidates, plus ballot issues, coming soon!

Health Care Solution: Apply Presidential Disaster Declarations to Sick People

Here's how my brain works:

Wednesday evening on Marketplace, Jimmy Carter recalled how Ted Kennedy killed his plan to guarantee catastrophic health care coverage for all Americans and then expand that plan into universal coverage.

Then I (along with one of the lovely ladies with whom I was having dinner) thought about Kristi Noem's willingness to defend the enormous government handouts to her farm because "Agriculture's important, and it's a national security issue...." on the basis of national security.

Well, people are important, too, right? If people get sick, they can't work or pick up their shotguns to repel Chinese paratroopers. If consumers are mired in medical debt, they can't buy the houses and cars and other goods that keep the economy humming. And if folks can't afford care and thus die, well, they can't pay taxes to buy tanks and B-1 bombers. Those are all national security issues, right?

So maybe folks with catastrophic medical problems should get the same treatment as counties and states with catastrophic problems: declare them federal disaster areas. If get laid low by cancer or some other awful act of God that's going to cost, say, a whole year's salary to fix, let President Obama issue a Presidential Declaration of Individual Disaster. Let the President release federal funds—money from all of us, your fellow citizens—to cove your medical bills and help you get back on your physical and fiscal feet to rejoin the fight to keep America marching forward.

We do it for roads and bridges and flooded soybean fields. Why not do it for our fellow citizens?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Madison Chamber Forum: What the Candidates Said

Not a bad crowd, considering there was a ball game on TV.
(And no, Bob was not checking scores on his Blackberry while emcee-ing!)

Hey, late night readers! I just got back from recording tonight's candidates forum, sponsored by the Madison Chamber of Commerce and broadcast live by KJAM. Tonight was the last big public event for all of the local candidates Lake County voters will see on their ballot on Election Day, November 2, just five short days away.

Below are my notes of what the candidates said on the issues. With fifteen candidates for five different offices, there was a lot to take in. Read, digest, and stay tuned for my commentary tomorrow.

The notes are rough paraphrasings [with just a few moments of editorializing in brackets]. Occasionally I'll slip into first person, writing things as the candidates said them. If you want exact wording, see the videos. Yes, there will be video! I got everyone on video this time (including you, Bobbi! :-) ), and I'll be uploading those Chamber Forum videos overnight to the Madville Times channel on YouTube. Enjoy!
* * *
Round 1: Bob Sahr masters the ceremonies, and we start with the District 8 Senate candidates. Pictured above: Sahr at the mic, Senator Olson to his left, then Schmidtke at end of table. Introductions first, then questions.

Senator Russell Olson gets to introduce himself first.
  • Lists committees, including Tribal Relations
  • Says politics is risk vs reward for candidates; you risk time away from family, hard to travel to Pierre with new baby only 2 months old, missed half of the little one's life during last session
  • risk not keeping everyone happy, differing with supporters.
  • reward is being able to represent voters and keep promises: I've fulfilled every promise I made as State Senator
  • we've balanced the budget without raising taxes or using reserves
Clark Schmidtke introduction:
  • Married for 23 years, director of Trent Assisted Living Center, Army vet
  • Pierre is broken and needs to be fixed.
  • I've always been a fighter for what I believe in and will fight for District 8.
  • We need to cut the budget, and I have specific cuts in mind. I'm against raising taxes but also against cuts in education and Medicaid.
  • We are in a recession, but a lot of our problems did not come from the recession.
Question #1 (from Chamber Governmental Affairs Committee): South Dakota faces budget shortfall, no stimulus: what do we do?

Schmidtke: First thing is to push for capping spending at 3% or rate of inflation, cut full-time state employees; we had 12,800 pre-Rounds, now 14,500. Consolidate departments, use computers to save staff. Restore competition, eliminate no-bid contracts.

Olson: We also have to keep dangerous people incarcerated; ed, med, and jails leaves only 5% of budget; we could cut everything else and still be $30M in the hole! We made difficult cuts last year, we will continue to find even more efficiencies next session.

Question 2 (Chamber): What would you do to spur economic development in District 8?

Olson: I sit on board of directors of economic development; we are totally reviewing policies to get more capital in hands of small business owners. Just have to get the right funds in the right hands of the right people.

Schmidtke: Try to raise money without raising taxes; focus on low/no-interest loans for businesses we already have in South Dakota instead of wining and dining big biz from elsewhere.

Question 3: (from me!) Farmers have expressed dissatisfaction with the ag productivity tax. Would the candidates support replacing the ag productivity tax with income tax; if not, how do we fix this troublesome tax system?

Schmidtke: Not really up on the property tax situation; I'll look at it, see what the options are. People are telling me they don't like income tax structure, but in time I think we'll need something like that. We need to help the farmers, but I don't know what to do with it right now. I'll listen, study, find out.

Olson: If you want to get rid of me in Pierre, get a majority to do income tax. [Well, now I finally know how to get rid of Russ!] I will never be part of a body that supports income tax. I never supported ag productivity model; I support fair and true market system; we could exclude top third and bottom third of sales, get good value from middle third.
* * *
Round 2: District 8 State House Candidates!
District 8 State House candidates (seated at front, L to R):
Jason Bjorklund, Rep. Gerald Lange, Rep. Mitch Fargen, and Patricia Stricherz.

Patricia Stricherz:
  • Says she built Operation Homefront non-profit chapter in South Dakota from scratch, did it while recession hit and national office began focing national organization to cut and merge chapters.
  • Has fought to keep the program open, even though national office took away her equipment and funding. Stricherz has continued helping families using own resources to convince national office to return support; plans to charter independent chapter next year.
  • Folks are worried about keeping jobs, keeping food in table; I've had tough times, can identify with your struggles and concerns. [Appeal to emotion... pretty well-composed.]
Rep. Mitch Fargen:
  • Chose Education and Commerce committees, important to District 8.
  • Worked on bills protecting landowner rights on wind easements and promoting blender pumps. [stumbled just a little in this part, had trouble remembering second half: I think Mitch has been having some long days at work and on the campaign trail]
Rep. Gerald Lange:
  • Again, celebrating democracy! [same theme as in his opening remarks at AAUW forum last week]
  • Democracy is not easy, but politics, now a nasty word.
  • Came to Madison in 1964, saw history major at DSU eliminated by computer revolution.
  • Won election to Senate in 1990 after two unsuccessful campaigns.
  • I sought office because "there was a bigger classroom." We need to understand South Dakota has a rotten tax system. [Gerry! You just defined leadership! Leading a the conversation, treating the community as a classroom where we must all help each other learn through conversation! Big hearts on the flow!]
  • The bishops came to us a few years ago and asked us to get rid of the sales tax on food.
  • Losing election in 2006 got my dander up, showed me we still had to make an effort for tax reform.
  • We have an income tax on banks and insurance companies, why not Wal-Mart? There's the answer to the $100M deficit right there.
Jason Bjorklund:
  • Born and raised in Madison
  • Currently truck driver for MN company [hey, Jason, why haven't they moved here?].
  • Recession caused by too much "legislation, regulation, and taxation."
  • Worked in law enforcement in Air Force, also as sniper-spotter.
Question #1 (Chamber): What are your thoughts on education funding?

Fargen: last year, I proposed a 1.2% increase, that got killed last session. We had the money for it, but gave away cash to TransCanada. We only needed $4M for education increase! We could also have put money toward roads and bridges, toward raises for state employees.

Lange: In 1993 or so I introduced a bill to tax the 1099 stocks bonds CDs and other intangibles. Two Republicans (Keith Paisley and Larry Gabriel) had introduced that idea in 1989; state chose video lottery instead. We'd rather get the money from losers than from winners; that's a sad commentary on our ethics.

Bjorklund: We're in a recession, we need to hold the line on education spending. We do not need to spend more on education; look at Washington DC and Detroit with highest spending per student and highest dropout rates and highest failure rates.

Stricherz: I ran in 2008: it's sad that we're still arguing about this issue. Gov. Rounds initiated a pilot laptop program that cost the state $2.9M a year to sustain; we should cut failed programs like that, put it back in general education.

Question 2 (Chamber): Top priorities if elected?

Lange: Get rid of sales tax on food. Then eliminate sales tax on other items. Folks in lower income bracket pay 10% of income in taxes; that's basically an income tax! Those folks would spend that money on other things and stimulate the economy. The folks controlling the state pay about 2% of income in taxes. That's not democracy.

Bjorklund: Defend rights to life, liberty, and property. Second, work on repeal of national health care bill: people should have right to choose own doctors, access best medical care they can afford. Finally: expand gun rights. I want to see us be able to conceal-carry in more states.

Stricherz: Most important: dive into budget, get closer into balancing it. Can't do anything else effectively if we don't do budget right. Then cut excess spending, take care of education, roads, bridges.

Fargen: Balance the budget! We haven't done it seven of last eight years!

Question 3: (No one else in audience raises hand, so I take another swing): Given the state budget crunch, can we save money by consolidating schools? What is the minimum size of school district the state can afford to support?

Bjorklund: I'd like to see all of our schools stay open. Have tax dollars stay with student, let parents decide where kids go to school. Market would make that decision for us. Chester has had good bump just with open enrollment; need to expand choice.

Stricherz: School funding formula is per child, $4654 per child. Funding is there; we need to fund our schools, not worry about size.

Fargen: Should not force any consolidation! I want to get rid of the 100-school minimum. Conde was mostly funding its own school with local money, state still forced schools to close. Closing schools doesn't save state money when state money follows child to next school. Both gub. candidates support getting rid of forced consolidation as well.

Lange: School funding lawsuit challenging state to live up to Constitutional mandate for adequate and equal education to all students. They are 17% of the population but 100% of the future. We must help our kids!
* * *
Round 3: Lake County Auditor!

Shelli Gust:
  • Lifelong SD resident, raised just outside Alcester, has lived in Madison last four years.
  • SDSU grad 2003! [Go Jacks!].
  • Look to perform duties efficiently and effectively, provide fresh perspective.
  • I will ensure fiscal responsibility and accountability, openness and accessibility to county records; will post more public records online.
  • Emphasize "serve" in "public service"
Roberta Janke:
  • Lifelong Lake County resident.
  • Experience and qualifications: 23 years of hands-on work experience in Lake County auditor's office. Hired in 1987 by current auditor Kay Schmidt.
  • I handle payroll, benefits, deposit reports, voter registration, operation of election scanner, health/vision/life insurance.
  • Served on recount board in 2008.
Question 1 (Chamber): How do you foster lines of communication with other departments and a smooth working relationship?

Janke: I've been working with these departments for the past 23 years. Register of Deeds, Treasurer, Equalization... every office's business comes through auditor's office.

Gust: Me too! State's Attorney's [where Gust works] office involves similar cooperation. Need to make sure every office knows what's coming down from the commission.

Question 2 (I think this was an audience question): What's the biggest problem you anticipate if elected?

Gust: I wouldn't characterize them as problems, but greatest challenge I see is making more information avaialble to the public. Great open meetings laws took effect July 1; we can work for more transparency, but it will take time to scan documents, make people aware those documents are available.

Janke: Having worked in the auditor's office for 23 years, I say things are working well! Get more information online.

Question 3 (me again): Are electronic voting machines secure, reliable, and feasible for Lake County?

Janke: You need a paper trail on an election. [Really, that's all she said! She pretty clearly does not want electronic voting machines.]

Gust: We work with Sec. State's office. The current automark system has lots of checks, the machines they have now are tested to make sure they are accurate. If we're talking about completely electronic voting, that would take lots of cooperation with Pierre, would require a great deal of testing before implementing at local level.
* * *
Round 4: Lake County Sheriff!

Sheriff Roger Hartman:
  • Worked as deputy for 12 years for Sheriff Herb Lurz, sheriff 12 years after that.
  • Over 1000 hours of in-service training.
  • I've kept sending down, won over $100K in grants for security equipment.
  • We've added a fourth deputy to increase patrols.[sounds like Roger was listening last time!]
Jason Lurz:
  • From Madison, married 16 years [good grief, Jason! you've got a lead on me!], moved back here 2004.
  • USAF veteran, served in SDHP before Lake County sheriff's office and current Madison city policeman: only candidate with law enforcement experience at city, county, and state level.
Dan Wyatt:
  • Served in USAF, worked drug patrols in Panama for Army;
  • worked for Lake and Moody County drug task force (thanks to federal money), then went to Madison Police Department.
  • I can be a leader thanks to military and local leadership classes; 1000 hours of civilian training, 2000 horus of military training.
  • Primary goal: keep us all safe. This is my home, I worry about what's going on here.
Question 1 (Chamber): How will you react in a crisis?

Lurz: We respond to a variety of situations. City police respond to medical calls on regular basis, very hard when there are family members present. I've been recognized by Red Cross with a life-saving award. First priority must be to take care of the patient; sometimes when you're the only person there, you have to find things the family members can do to help, keep busy.

Wyatt: Few years back, we had an individual in Wentworth douse himself and yard and house wall with gasoline; he held a lighter, threatened to light up; I had to talk this guy down. I'm also able to talk people down in domestic dispute situations. We've all three notified loved ones of deaths.

Hartman: You see many things in law enforcement. One vehicle accident, 15 or so years ago south of town, Sunday morning, family coming back from church, three kids in car dead, parent strapped in car still alive. You do what you have to do, go home, give your kids a hug, then go shed some tears in private [dang: that's a pretty sensitive and compelling narrative, the best-told story of the three].

Question 2 (audience, I think): need for changes at sheriff's office?

Wyatt: First changes behind the doors. First contact other counties, see if we can arrange to hold their prisoners, make some money to make improvements. We'll go slow and easy, make sure things get done in orderly fashion. Second, I will be a working sheriff out in the community. I'll be out and about, asking for your input.

Hartman: Lots of changes in last 12 years; I want to continue this work. 12 years ago there was only one computer in the whole office, on secretary's desk; now every staffer has one, plus computers in cars. DNA testing is a new development. You do have to keep room in jail for our local inmates.

Lurz: In my study of the budget, I see a lot of ways to save money. First priority should be to save, not spend. Over $500K for sheriff and jail now. We have lots of overtime, some reimbursed by federal government, need to reduce! We can hire part-timers to alleviate that problem. We also need service from sheriff, must be involved with community.

Question 3 (from Neal McIntyre): better response to remote areas of county? Maybe cooperate with other counties? [remember, Neal lives closer to Salem than Madison]

Hartman: We're in the middle of the county, and we do the best we can. There's a deputy out every night, sometimes two. Other counties: we have an unwritten agreement to provide mutual assistance. 20 years ago we were all dispatched to help with the Hobo Day riot.

Lurz: Be a leader, schedule appropriately. Some nights those deputies go home by 9 p.m. Some days we have two deputies working a day shift; no need for that when we have a sheriff who can do more during the day. Cross-deputization is overdue: we should extend liability coverage and allow city police to respond in country. Part-timers can also fill some gaps. Wait for response should be no more than drive time.

Wyatt: Where Neal lives is a problem way out on edge of county. We take care of business in our own counties, but we help each other when necessary. More deputies? We can hire part-timers and cross-deputize. Also, call the sheriff; the sheriff should respond.
* * *
Fifth and Final Round: Lake County Commission!
The Lake County Commission candidates (seated at front, L to R):
Craig Johannsen, Doug Erickson, Kelli Wollmann, and Commissioner Scott Pedersen

Kelli Wollmann:
  • Lifetime resident of county, husband Darwin with Madison Police Department for last 23 years.
  • Mostly stay-at-home mom, but worked in management
  • active in providing music at various events and fundraisers
  • involved in Lake County Historical Society and Prairie Village boards.
Commissioner Scott Pedersen:
  • End of this year makes 16 years of public service [career politician? any Tea Party protests? ;-) ].
  • Unlike the state legislators, we've balanced our budget every year.
  • We have wheel tax (all spent on 220 miles of banked highway, 74 miles of gravel roads) and property tax (about 23 cents of every dollar stays here); we must continue to work hard to grow the county and the taxbase.
  • Two big projects; public access area at Lake Madison (working out well, willing to expand) and Water Quality Committee (wonderful thing, in infancy, has lots of potential).
  • Do me a favor: when you're in the courthouse, thank Kay Schmidt for many years of good service [amazingly, the audience does not burst into spontaneous applause... but hey, we're Lutherans. ;-) ]
Craig Johannsen:
  • Commissioner for 10 years until 2008: worked on drainage ordinances, laid groundwork for public access on Lake Madison.
  • Serve on all sorts of area governing boards.
  • I pledge to be accessible to anyone who has concerns or problems.
  • I have the "time, experience, and commitment" to be a good commissioner.
Doug Erickson:
  • Born and raised around Junius, farmed until 1993.
  • Lifelong resident.
  • [pause...] "As you can tell, I'm a little bit nervous."
  • Currently have a small construction business, work all around the county, well aware of many of the problems here.
  • Willing to work with everybody to solve problems.
Question #1 (Chamber): Renovations to courthouse, infrastructure needs, new employee: how do we meet those new budget demands?

Pedersen: Renovation: we're in process of working with Sioux Falls firm and Pierre bonding company: we'd issue 17-year bond with about 1.5-2% interest rate, but different from traditional loan; we'd put principal payment in separate account, could pay off in 13-14 years. New employee: Lake Madison Assoc. and East Dakota Water District kicking in to help.

Johannsen: Bonding better way to go with renovation; there are reserves, but we don't want to take them too low. New employee: grant money from EDWDD and Lake Madison for new employee.

Erickson: At peril of repeating those fellas... there are some avenues where we can save money. I'm not for any more taxes; as a small businessperson, I'm taxed out!

Wollmann: With Internet, it's very important to work together with other counties and agencies to come up with solutions. We can't be the only ones with new building needs; there are many grants available that, working with other communities, we may be able to get a lot done for less burden on the taxpayers.

Question 2: Charlie Scholl takes aim at Commissioner Pedersen: Pedersen has pushed for new zoning rules including unelected, unqualified folks to sit in at meetings and vote [what? really?] Why?

Johannsen: What exact position are you asking about? If you mean chairman of the zoning board, that person is as informed as any commissioner, if they vote, they are expressing their sense of feelings from the board. Scholl says appeal of planning board is to commission; how can we appeal if the same board official is hearing the appeal? Johannsen is unsure.

Erickson: That 150-page ordinance is a pretty big deal to be laying on the county right now. There's a lot of things that most taxpayers don't even know about in that new ordinance. having someone fill in for you voting, I'm not for that. I would strongly suggest being at the Nov. 9 commission meeting to get a better understanding of the whole zoning revision.

Wollmann: I'm not all that familiar with the problem, but it doesn't sound right. If you're elected by the people, you work for the people.

Pedersen: I'm the liaison between the commission and the zoning committee. We talked about the need for the zoning board president or vice-president to come to a commission meeting and present board's view if I'm not available, but we did not talk about letting that person vote. Come to Nov. 9 meeting, find out about it.

Question 3 [See second half of video] (Audience is fired up on county commission issues!): Wheel tax: first presented as temporary: started at $2 a tire, now $4 a tire; how much longer will that tax go? Some counties have gotten rid of it.

Erickson: The wheel tax has been on for as long as I remember. I don't like it, but we've got to get the money somewhere. I'm willing to work to find a solution. We're already taxed to death; small business guy can't go much more. I welcome taxpayers' input on finding solution.

Wollmann: Commissioners can't please everyone. There are reasons we have taxes to benefit the county. Get involved with your community, voice your opinion to get things changed.

Pedersen: Probably started in early 1990s, originally $2 a wheel, went to $4 a wheel around 1996 or 1997, stayed that level since. In 2009 we took in $268K. Max we can charge per vehicle is for four wheels, $16 per vehicle. Last year we had bids to overlay highway at $100K a mile. Forgive the wheel tax, and we can all drive on gravel. I don't want more taxes, but we have to pay for what we want somehow.

Johannsen: Wheel tax in place before I was on commission; we did increase it to tax four wheels. I have to agree with Scott: we have two sources of income, and that's it. Not my favorite thing, but we have to keep the roads up.

Question 4: (Neal McIntyre) Opportunity for public to vote on new zoning ordinance? Impact on average citizen?

Wollmann: Public vote would be good on this. Sometimes over-regulation is not always good, makes it more difficult for everybody.

Pedersen: No public vote opportunity on schedule. There is an opportunity for public input on November 9. Water Quality Committee has been reviewing this ordinance line by line [yup; I've been at those meetings!]. It is a big ordinance; putting 150 pages in front of public for vote would be confusing, but certainly we are open to changing things to make it work.

Johannsen: We work with First District Todd Kays; basically the changes coming are mostly updates for legal matters. A lot of it is just bookkeeping and updating so lawyers can't pick it apart as easily. Everyone is welcome to review it.

Erickson: I'm not for sure it's just an update. If it's going to affect everyone in the county, if it affects livestock, having old cars, etc. then it should be brought to vote of the people. If it's just a rewording, then I'm for it. It should not be just in five people's hands to decide.

Question 5: (Paul Nordaune) What was spent on the foolishness in Winfred cleaning up the Evans and J&J Farms? $40-45K or $100K? Why all the unnecessary cleanup, and why the sale of the land for just $2500?

Pedersen: I wasn't on the commission when the money was spent for the cleanup. We sold the property according to legal process. We advertised, put it up for sale. I think we spent $75K-80K, but I didn't authorize that expenditure. [Note: Charlie Scholl afterward questioned the timeframe, said Commissioner Pedersen was more involved in this process.]

Johannsen: I don't know how much was spent. We can dig and find the number. We sell the proerty for whatever we can get to get it back on the tax rolls.

Erickson: I don't know what was spent to clean it up, but if a person is running a business and following the rules on pollution and nuisances, I don't see why we had to spend tax dollars to clean up somebody else's land.

Wollmann: I also don't know expense. Quality of life to one person might be different for next person. Laws and ordinances are put in place to prevent nuisance problems within a community. We're all in it together, that's just the way it is.

Historian: Obama Pragmatist, Not Socialist

Hey, all you gooney-birds who think President Barack Obama is a socialist: maybe you should study what the President actually thinks and reads and writes.

Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg has. He has a book coming out on the President's intellectual evolution, Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition. Kloppenberg finds our President is a classically American pragmatist, a "philosopher president" like Jefferson, Madison, both Adamses, Lincoln, and Wilson. He finds a man dedicated like our Founding fathers to promoting civic discourse.

He does not find a socialist:

Conservatives who argue that Mr. Obama is a socialist or an anti-colonialist (as Dinesh D’Souza does in his book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”) are far off the mark, he said.

“Adams and Jefferson were the only anti-colonialists whom Obama has been affected by,” he told the audience in New York. “He has a profound love of America.”

And his opposition to inequality stems from Puritan preachers and the social gospel rather than socialism [Patricia Cohen, "In Writings of Obama, a City Is Unearthed," New York Times, 2010.10.27].

By Kloppenberg's analysis, President Barack Obama is not some outsider trying to disrupt the American Dream. President Obama is a product and proponent of the American Dream, trying to make America live up to its founding ideals.

Madville Times: 76% South Dakota Audience

From my morning site stats, a breakdown of Madville Times visitors by state:
Over three out of four visitors from South Dakota: not just random Googlers, but neighbors interested in finding out what's happening in our fair state. That's just the way I like it. Keep reading, neighbors!

Perhaps I can boost that South Dakota percentage tonight, with coverage of the Chamber of Commerce candidates forum! I probably won't be able to blog live—Madison Central administration is unlikely to let blogger access their network. But I'll put out a transcript and commentary as soon as possible!

Questions for Tonight's Madison Candidates Forum

Anybody running for anything in our fair county will be at the Madison High School lunchroom tonight at 7 p.m. for the Chamber of Commerce forum. Candidates will face a series of questions carefully vetted by the Chamber's Governmental Affairs Committee.

Maybe the Chamber will surprise me and permit some tough questions, like...
  1. For our District 8 Senate candidates: "Please explain the extent to which voters should consider your opponent's criminal record and your own in selecting our next state senator."
  2. For District 8 House candidate Jason Bjorklund (and anyone else who cares to jump in): "Do you believe the public schools in Madison, Chester, Rutland, and Ramona have failed? If so, with what practical alternatives should we replace them?"
  3. For all District 8 legislative candidates: "Senator Russell Olson said in Wednesday's Madison Daily Leader that the 2011 Legislature may face a deficit even greater than the projected $107 million. Yet Senator Olson's Republican colleague Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard optimistically assures us the deficit is only $80 million and falling. Who's right?"
  4. For all District 8 legislative candidates: "What's the smallest size school district that the state can afford to support?"
  5. For District 8 Senate candidates: "Who gets your vote for District 8 House?"
  6. For District 8 House candidates: "Who gets your vote for District 8 Senate?"
  7. For Lake County Sheriff candidates: "Should we allow public officials to hold full-time jobs with the county while collecting retirement benefits?"
  8. For Lake County Sheriff candidates: "Does Lake County have a drinking problem?"
  9. For Lake County Commission candidates: "What impact will the extensive proposed revisions of the county zoning ordinances have on Lake County resident?"
  10. For Lake County Commission candidates: "Do you support continuing to hand out $25,000 of county taxpayer money to the LAIC for failed job creation policies with zero public accountability?"
  11. For all candidates: "How are you voting on IM 13 on legalizing marijuana in South Dakota?"
I think that list of questions would make for a lively forum, don't you?

Eager readers, your additions to that list are welcome in the comment section. And candidates, if you're reading, your responses are welcome here as well.

Fossil Fuel Lobbyist Stenholm Propagandizing in Madison Nov. 8

Charlie Stenholm represented Texas's 17th District (home of President Bush's Crawford ranch!) in Congress from 1979 to 2005. Then he became a lobbyist for Olsson, Frank, & Weeda, a DC firm that makes millions working for folks like the American Petroleum Institute and the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

Coming up on Mr. Stenholm's lobbying agenda: Madison, South Dakota. The Madison Rotary Club is hosting Mr. Stenholm on Monday, November 8, high noon, to discuss the importance of remaining addicted to fossil fuels and not burdening the oil and gas industry with frivolous obligations like taxes.

Mr. Stenholm appears to be hitting the Rotary circuit nationwide to keep people toeing the Big Oil line. This year he's been in Raleigh, NC; Charleston, SC; and Farmington, NM, this year. He'll be in Muncie, IN, Nov. 2 and Joliet, IL, Nov. 30.

Boy, how do I get a job like that? Oh yeah, by saying things billionaires want people to hear. Oops: guess I'm out of that running.

And now for Mr. Stenholm's version of what the public can hear at his talk on November 8:

Charlie Stenholm, fossil fuel lobbyistCongressman Charlie Stenholm, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives (17th District, Texas), Senior Policy Advisor at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz, P.C.

Event: Stenholm delivers the speech, “Progress, Technology and the American Energy Future,” discussing:
  • The oil and natural gas industry’s response to the Deepwater Horizon accident, regulatory and legislative proposals resulting from the spill that would impede the country’s ability to develop resource, and the need to learn from the incident to ensure offshore energy development safety moving forward;
  • The importance of expanding domestic oil and natural gas development to help fuel our nation’s economic recovery, create new jobs and strengthen our energy security;
  • The potential consequences of at least $80 billion in new taxes on the oil and natural gas industry proposed in the fiscal 2011 budget; and
  • Innovative technologies, including hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, that allow America’s oil and natural gas companies to produce energy more efficiently and with minimal environmental impact;
  • The need for a comprehensive energy policy that supports the development of all resources.
Date: Monday, November 8, 2010
Time: Noon Rotary Meeting*
Place: Nicky’s Restaurant, 1407 NW 2nd Street, Madison, SD 57042-3804

About Congressman Stenholm

Born in Stamford, Texas, Stenholm went on to serve the 32-county, 17th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives for 13 terms, from 1979 to 2005. Stenholm was a member of the House Committee on Agriculture throughout his 26-year House career, serving as the committee’s ranking Democrat for his last eight years until 2004. He earned a reputation for building bipartisan alliances in areas as diverse as energy, resource conservation, agriculture, food safety, Social Security, health care and the budget.

In Congress, Stenholm was co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats who often bridge liberal and conservative positions. In this capacity, he worked across party lines to pass important energy legislation that replenished the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve and encouraged domestic energy exploration.

*This event is open to the public. An RSVP is requested but not required so that Nicky’s can better prepare to serve the meal. RSVP or send questions about the event to Ken Meyer, Madison Rotary Club President, at kennethhenrymeyer@gmail.com. The cost of the meal is $6.00.

$6 for lunch—that's not bad! Just be careful that your salad doesn't get too much oil on it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lake County Unemployment Drops to 4.3%

Is the stimulus working? We can debate that.

But more Lake County residents are definitely working! The latest figures from the South Dakota Department of Labor show Lake County's unemployment rate dropping a whopping seven tenths of a percentage point, from 5.0% in August to 4.3% in September. That number is straight-up good any way you slice it: 75 people joined our workforce (now at 6,590), and 120 new jobs got filled (total jobs now 6,310). That means the number of unemployed folks dropped from 325 to 280.

Our neighbors in Brookings County fared just a tick better, with September unemployment dropping from 4.2% to 3.4%, with gains in both labor force and jobs.

Around the septa-county neighborhood, the unemployment rate dropped for everyone but Miner County, where unemployment stayed steady at 5.2%. Elsewhere:
  • Kingsbury County: 4.4%, down from 4.9% in August, but labor force and jobs both shrank.
  • McCook: 4.3%, down from 4.7% in August, labor force down five, jobs up five.
  • Minnehaha: 4.2%, down from 4.5% in August, fewer workers, more jobs.
  • Moody: 5.7%, down from 8.7% in August, fewer workers, more jobs.
And in our ongoing tracking of the big Forward Madison job creation metric of sustaining the expected job growth of the status quo, we are now have only 375 fewer jobs than when the Lake Area Improvement Corporation started its big job creation push in October, 2006. We need to create just 775 jobs over the next fourteen months to meet the Forward Madison goal of creating 400 new jobs. Work harder, Boxer!

Bonus Local Stat: Taxable sales in Lake County in August increased 6.9% over last year. What recession?

Noem Says She'd Cut Budget By Cutting... Cuts?

Anyone else catch the SDPB Congressional candidates debate last night? GOP candidate candidate Kristi Noem once again demonstrated that she doesn't listen to the questions posed, only to the talking-point echoes pumped into her head.

The first question asked the candidates to cite specific cuts they would consider to get the federal budget under control. Both Noem and Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin opened with the usual empty fluff—very good question, thank you SDPB, blah blah. However, about 30 seconds in, Herseth Sandlin launched into a good bullet list of specific budget line items she would go after.

Noem, however, launched into her programmed screed on repealing health insurance reform. Noem said we need to cut health insurance reform because it raises taxes and cuts spending in various health care programs.

Reread that: asked what programs she would cut from the budget, Kristi Noem says she would repeal a law that makes cuts in the budget. Essentially, she just said, "I'd cut the budget by cutting cuts."

Kristi Noem: constant nonsense.

Sometimes Everyone on Message Is Not the Best...

I am not having a good week. The Mitchell Daily Republic catches us Democrats managing the message just a little too tightly:

The Daily Republic sent questionnaires to each [District 8] candidate. Two candidates, Fargen and Schmidtke, submitted nearly identical responses to most questions. Schmidtke, who has been Moody County Democratic Party chairman, said he had not seen Fargen’s answers and could not explain why they were nearly identical. He noted Democrats had discussed issues at the state level and are supporting gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem with talking points.

Fargen did not respond to several requests for comment [Melanie Brandert, "District 8 Incumbents Hope to Keep Spots in Legislature," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2010.10.27]

There's an obvious punchline here... but I'll leave it for commenters.

Jason Bjorklund Demonstrates Irrelevance of Glenn Beck Karaoke

Last week's AAUW candidates forum brought us the first major public performance of Madison's best example of a Tea Party candidate, Jason Bjorklund, "Independent" candidate for District 8 State House.

Check that: Bjorklund has been giving public "performances" of sorts for more than a year, leading Madison 9-12 Project meetings. Those performances have consisted mostly of aping the high-flown mishmash of political philosophy and paranoia that Bjorklund and fellow 9-12 Project members osmose from Glenn Beck and other conservative celebrity entertainers. They distinguish and comfort themselves with shibboleths like "full-reserve banking" and "We're a republic, not a democracy!" But they say little that is relevant to practical South Dakota politics.

Jason Bjorklund's performance at last week's forum was no different.

In his prepared introduction, Bjorklund contends "regulation and taxation" caused the recession that put his trucking company out of business. Let's be generous and not cite numerous other possible causes, like bad theology, concentration of wealth, Bush tax cuts, consumer debt, and deregulation. Accept Bjorklund's thesis. Which specific South Dakota regulations and taxes caused the recession? What South Dakota regulations and taxes would Bjorklund repeal if elected?

Bjorklund says illegal immigrants are violating the rule of law, and rule of law is fundamental to a republic. True and good. But how does this Glenn Beck pastiche guide policy in Pierre? What legislation in any of the past several sessions has dealt with illegal immigration?

Bjorklund claims the term "regressive tax" is a little subjective. Actually, no, it's a pretty objective definition:

Tax systems can be progressive, regressive, or proportional. A tax system is regressive if taxes, as a percentage of income, are higher for low income households than for high income households. A tax system is progressive if the opposite is true--that is, taxes as a percentage of income are lower for low income households than for high income households. In a proportional tax system, taxes as a percent of income are about the same for low and high income households [Jeff Van Wychen, "Progressive Taxation: Not So Bad for Business After All," Minnesota 2020, 2008.01.21].

If Bjorklund is such a proud member of the working class, why does he not stand up for a fairer tax system for the working class? Because Glenn Beck preaches just enough pablum to win that audience share, but not enough to make them realize the policies his philosophy facilitates shifts income and burdens to favor rich folks like Glenn Beck.

Bjorklund claims we could reduce the state budget by taking less federal money. He contends that taking federal money actually increases our tax burden, since we have to come up with matching funds. I have seen no fiscal analysis that proves this. That's certainly not how the disaster funds we're begging for works. A federal disaster declaration makes it possible for us to get reimbursed for up to 75% of eligible disaster clean-up costs. We could choose not to apply for any federal disaster assistance... but then we'd be stuck paying 100% of the disaster clean-up costs. Rejecting federal funds does not save South Dakota money.

Bjorklund gets kudos from me for being honest about the extent of his teabaggery. In response to Gerry Lange's question about whether any of us would turn away the $4.5 million in federal stimulus dollars recently allocated to the Lewis and Clark water system, Bjorklund raises his hand to indicate he would. I give Bjorklund kudos for his consistency: he is the only South Dakota Republican/conservative candidate I've heard state honestly what all that anti-government rhetric would mean in terms of bringing new infrastructure projects in South Dakota to a grinding halt. I doubt you will hear any of Madison's political leaders offering similar kudos.

Bjorklund still can't just up and say that we were fools to hand TransCanada millions of dollars in tax rebates. He stumbles in the right direction, grasping for the property-rights talking point to criticize the use of eminent domain for the pipeline. But then he stumbles back to questioning why the taxes were so high in the first place that we had to give money back to TransCanada. Bjorklund is thus suggesting that that TransCanada should pay even less for the privilege of plowing two lines across our state and subjecting us to the environmental hazard of oil leaks and pipeline explosions. Accountability and responsibility are big buzzwords for the Glenn Beck crowd, but not if we try to apply those words to the responsibility big corporations have to the real South Dakota communities that assume their risks and make possible their wealth. Bjorklund just can't loosen his desperate grasp of the Glenn Beck talking points and talk about the practical fiscal and legal realities of the Keystone pipeline.

Bjorklund most effectively demonstrated the complete irrelevance of the Glenn Beck agenda to real South Dakota politics in the last question of last week's forum. Asked to discuss the South Dakota education system, Bjorklund launches into a declaration of the failure of the public education system. He claims to be a "victim" of Madison's public education system, bored and pushed into youthful trouble by insufficiently challenging curriculum (note how the great advocates of personal responsibility still manage to blame their own troubles on someone else). He says we need to infuse some free-market principles into education, let money follow the child, let parents make real choices. He points with no hint of irony to Washington, DC, as the model we should follow, with all of its competitive, low-cost private and charter schools.

Bjorklund's education response demonstrates the utter irrelevance of Glenn Beck talking points to practical local government. Bjorklund's boilerplate response about the erosion of the public school system ignores the fact that a lot of parents and teachers in Woonsocket, Howard, Ramona, Rutland, Madison, Chester, and Flandreau are awfully proud of the education they provide their students on pretty tight budgets. Bjorklund's response ignores the practical impossibility of establishing competitive, affordable charter schools anywhere in South Dakota except our largest communities. It ignores the fact that for a lot of South Dakota families, there just isn't a second school to choose from, not without incurring a lot more driving, a lot more expense, and a lot more time separated from family and community.

I could happily launch into a tirade about the general philosophical problem with running education like the free market: there are some valuable social goods, like education, that everyone deserves, regardless of ability to pay. The only way to ensure that kids from poor families have the opportunity to climb the economic ladder is to give them all the best education the public can support. Education must be "all together" not "every man for himself..."

...but over-general philosophical tirades are the preferred bailiwick of the Glenn Beck club. I could beat them there. But I prefer to challenge Bjorklund and the 9-12ers to try debating real, practical issues, specific to South Dakota, specific to Madison (like the luxury gym our school district wants to build: there's a slam-dunk issue for crusaders against government waste). Glenn Beck fans like Bjorklund can't do that, because Glenn Beck never tells them what to think about such state or local issues. The daily community governance problems we face in South Dakota never make Glenn Beck's radar because they don't draw audience share or advertisers.

Jason Bjorklund has lots of ideas about government. Unfortunately, those ideas have much more to do with the market-tested screeds of celebrity entertainers than with the practical business of levying taxes, paving roads, paying cops, and maintaining schools here in South Dakota. Jason Bjorklund and his 9-12ers make nice speeches, but they aren't ready to govern.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Barbour for Daugaard: Here Comes the Fox News Money!

Update 2010.10.27 08:59 CDT: That's what I get for wishful thinking. I review Daugaard's pre-general filing, and sure enough, there's RGA PAC, in for $51, 456.60, about the same as the $50K Heidepriem got from the Democratic Governors Association. Haley Barbour also stopped in Wyoming to stump for Republican Matt Mead, who is ahead of Democratic challenger Leslie Petersen by at least 30 points. So much for worry.

-----------original wishful post-------------
Republicans must be getting nervous if they feel the need to send to send Republican Governors Association chair Haley Barbour all the way out to South Dakota to stump for Dennis Daugaard. Perhaps they timed this visit to change the narrative from what they perhaps anticipated would be a really bad KELO debate for Daugaard against hard-punching policy aficionado Democrat Scott Heidepriem. (I haven't seen the debate yet, but Bob Mercer calls it a "clear victory" for Heidepriem.)

Or maybe Barbour and Team Denny timed the visit to keep RGA's Fox News money off the campaign finance books for as long as possible. Reviewing Daugaard's pre-general and supplemental campaign finance filings, I saw no sign of donations from the Republican Governors Association. RGA gave the Rounds-Daugaard campaign $100,000 in 2006. RGA also has a million dollars from Fox News to spread around the country for Republicans in need.

Heidepriem and Daugaard each reported a quarter-million cash on hand for the last week of the campaign. Actually, amazingly, Heidepriem reported just about $10,000 more cash available for the last push than the GOP favorite who started raising cash three years ago. Daugaard has already burned up his cash advantage, and in debates, Heidepriem is taking a mighty swing at showing Daugaard does not have the policy-wonk advantage one might expect from a sitting liuetenant governor. I still get nervous about wishful thinking, but Haley Barbour's last-minute visit, and the RGA/Fox News money he may bring, may show Daugaard really, remarkably, unexpectedly, is a Republican in need.

Don't forget, kids: If Mr. Barbour does bring Fox money, you need to tell us about it within 48 hours.