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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Technical Difficulties Cleared! MadvilleTimes.com On Again!

Whoo-hoo! After a three-day database disaster, my main blog site, MadvilleTimes.com, is back online!

Thank you, dear readers, for your patience while I wired things back up. I have copied all of the posts from the past three days from this site to the main site. I welcome your continued conversation on MadvilleTimes.com!

Debunking Two Big Lies about Initiated Measure 15

I voted for Initiated Measure 15, the extra-penny sales tax to fund K-12 education and Medicaid. I'm not deeply enamored with IM15. There are decent arguments against this regressive tax. Whether IM15 passes or not, we will have some serious legislating to do to make our state taxing and spending more just and effective.

But I can recognize bogus arguments made against Initiated Measure 15. Two of the biggest fibs about Initiated Measure 15 are the following:
  1. IM15 is the biggest tax increase in state history.
  2. IM15 dumps much more money into education and Medicaid than has been cut.
The first one is a matter of mathematical interpretation. The dollar figure, $180 million in new revenue, may be correct. But raw dollar figures over time and inflation are bogus. Percentages matter. Jon Walker lists changes in the sales tax in his November 4 article on IM15. We implemented a state sales tax of 2% in 1935 (in the midst of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, no less!). In 1937, we upped it to 3%. Adding that extra penny increased the net sales tax by 50%. In 1969, we added another penny, a 33% increase in the sales tax. In 1980 and 1987, we implemented brief extra-penny increases, each of which was a temporary 25% increase. IM15 proposes to increase the state sales tax from 4% to 5%, a 25% increase. That's a lot of money, but proportionately, it is not the biggest tax increase in South Dakota history.

The second claim above is also untrue, at least in terms of K-12 funding. Jon Walker provides the following numbers on our state per-student allocation for K-12 education:

per-student state aid
PSA if  increased by 3% 
2006 $4,238
2007 4,365 3.0%
2008 4,529 3.8%
2009 4,665 3.0%
2010 4,805 3.0%
2011 4,805 0.0% 4949.15
2012 4,390 -8.6% 5097.625
2013 4,491 2.3% 5250.553

I added the fourth column to show what would have happened to the state per-student allocation if we had followed the funding formula in 2011, 2012, and 2013 and increased education funding by 3%. We'd be at $5,251 per student. That would be $760 more than we are spending this year per student.

According to this year's sales tax revenue and K-12 enrollment, Initiated Measure 15 would increase state spending on K-12 education by about $720.

In other words, Initiated Measure 15 restores 95% of the funding that schools should have received if Pierre had not reneged on the K-12 funding formula for three years in row. Under IM15, compared to where they would have been under the the fiscal policies preceding 2011, our K-12 system will still be running short $40 per student, or a touch more than $5 million statewide.

IM15 is a big tax increase, but it is not the biggest in South Dakota history. And it does not put back into education more than has been cut. It actually falls just short of filling the gap our legislators have dug in the last three budgets.

Howie Hates Interracial Marriage and Women in Workforce

The worst writer (and that's saying a lot!) in Gordon Howie's Potemkin blog village, Brad Ford, sullies Election Day with a double dip of doofusry, exposing the true racism and sexism behind Gordon Howie's "conservative" agitation:
After all, isn’t the political “Iron Triangle”–government, education, media–really “owned” by the Left?  Does anyone think for a minute that Western Civilization, Christianity, and traditional values will fare well under liberals of any stripe?  Gay sex will prosper, racial blending will surge, a food-stamp mentality will flourish, and harassed women will be prominent in the consumer-driven workforce-but is that really progress? [emphasis in original; Brad Ford, "Right Must Work Harder Regardless of Who Wins," Right Side, November 6, 2012]
Good grief. I know Howie likes Mein Kampf. But wow: in one sentence, Ford says that interracial marriage and women in the workforce are both bad things.

I don't know who's funding Gordon Howie's little media fantasy game. But we need to find them, show them the racist, sexist garbage Howie is peddling, and ask them if that's really how they want their money spent. If they don't, then they can pull their funding, and Howie can pay his own way for his organization's White Man's agenda. And if they do, we can hold them accountable right along with Brad Ford and Gordon Howie for their retrograde racism and sexism.

Adventures in Online Campaign Finance: Lindsay Late, No Supplemental Filing Button

David Montgomery says Secretary of State Jason Gant's new campaign finance system still gives him fits. Yes, it's an improvement over the old paper system, but it's still a pain in the neck for users, especially for the candidates who count on this system to file their legally required data.

Roy Lindsay likely feels that way this fine election morning. The Democratic District 8 House candidate did not have a campaign finance report on file by the October 26 deadline. Secretary Jason Gant himself said that he had received no pre-general campaign finance report from the Lindsay campaign as of yesterday morning. Team Lindsay swore to me last week that they had filed it.

It's there now, dated yesterday, November 5. Lindsay has $8,687.81 on hand, mostly his own money, after spending a meager $1,792.19 so far. At least $250 of that will go to Secretary Gant as the penalty for not filing on time.

But it's hard to tell if the screw-up was really Lindsay's or the system's. Consider this cotemporaneous tale of Gant-tastic computer adventures:

I hear another person who runs a PAC (runs it? I think he is a PAC... but that's a whole nother blog post) was trying to file a supplemental report yesterday. PACs and other committees have 48 hours to file those reports from the time of the receipt of big chunks of cash; if they fail to meet that deadline, they face a Class 1 misdemeanor penalty, which can be a year in jail and a $2000 fine.

So PAC-man's clearly motivated to file that paper pronto. He logs into his account on the Secretary of State's website. He's looking for the button to file "Supplemental." Button, button, button... no button. I haven't filed reports on the new system, so I don't know if there's a supplemental report button or not. But PAC-man says there was one and that it disappeared from his account. He's got a time-sensitive document and the button that would have allowed him to file it has gone poof? That's a hair-raiser!

PAC-man called and got help: the Secretary of State's office advised simply printing a form and faxing it in, as apparently have other committees with last-minute contributions to report. There's just one more flaw in Secretary Gant's online jalopy: during the busiest time of the campaign, the system does not allow online filing of the most time-sensitive document required by the campaign finance system.

Help Your Neighbors: Keep Affordable Care Act Alive, Vote Obama

A friend of mine is looking for health insurance. He got laid off (these things happen) and thus lost his employer-based health plan. He has a pre-existing condition. He's been turned down by Sanford, which needs to save its money to build sports complexes. He'll probably be turned down or charged impossible premiums by every other private insurer. To participate in the American health care system, he'll face two choices: become filthy rich or go bankrupt...

...at least until 2014, when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act takes full effect. President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress's single greatest piece of legislation recognizes that health care does not work under free market rules. Health care is a community affair that works only when everybody helps everybody else. No citizens other than plutocrats like Mitt Romney can afford their own health care. The only feasible way for the vast majority of Americans to access health care is through cooperative insurance, where we all agree to pay for other folks' medical bills, in return for the assurance that when we get hurt or sick, other folks will chip in to cover us. 

Private insurers pervert that system by denying that security to the folks who need it most, the folks who have been sick and who stand a greater chance of getting sick again and requiring our help.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act fixes that problem. On September 23, 2010, it got rid of insurers' ability to exclude children from insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. On January 1, 2014, it will extend that sensible protection to Americans of all ages. If my job-seeking friend can hang on for fourteen months, he can walk back into Sanford and get a policy. 

But not if we do something silly like elect Mitt Romney.

Not if we do something silly like re-elect Kristi Noem to keep voting to repeal the PPACA.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is one of the best things the Obama Administration has done for this country. It is helping more people than Mitt Romney and Kristi Noem ever will. When it takes full effect in 2014, the PPACA will help even more people, including my friend.

Don't let Mitt Romney and Kristi Noem shut it down. Vote accordingly.

Monday, November 5, 2012

District 3: Dan Kaiser Would Eliminate State Funding for NSU

Last week I discussed Dan Kaiser's avid support for Ron Paul and the reasons District 3 voters might want to steer clear of his nullificationist libertarianism.

But if discussions of abstract and mostly ill-thought-out political philosophy don't get District 3 voters out of their chairs, let's try a bread-and-butter issue: Kaiser supports closing Northern State University, one of District 3's biggest employers.

Say what? Kaiser couldn't have said something so political suicidal, could have he?

I don't put it past Ron Paul supporters to say any number of crazy things. Kaiser hasn't said, "Let's close NSU!" in so many words. But let's look at Dan Kaiser's responses to the VoteSmart.org Political Courage Test, under "Budget, Spending, and Tax Issues" and "Education." According to VoteSmart,
  1. Kaiser would "eliminate" higher education funding. (He would also eliminate state funding for health care and welfare. He'd give K-12 a "slight increase.")
  2. Kaiser favors increasing tuition at public universities.
  3. He opposes state funding for financial aid for college students.
Now Kaiser does contend later that he "will be a legislator for the poor and middle class." Yet by removing all state support from higher education, Kaiser would more than double the cost of the college education that is already beyond the means of too many poor and even middle-class families.

Would eliminating state funding immediately close Northern State University? Maybe not. But as Charlie Johnson explained down the road a piece at the District 8 forum last week, you can't keep your university open if students can't afford tuition. And if the state isn't supporting it, it's not really a "state" university.

No more Northern State University—just one more practical consequence of electing avid Ron Paul supporters like Dan Kaiser to the South Dakota Legislature.

Worth noting: neither of the Democrats running for District 3 House, Zachary Anderson and Bill Antonides, have completed the VoteSmart.org Political Courage Test. Republican David Novstrup has: he would slightly increase funding for higher education. Alas, Novstrup would ban abortion in cases of rape and incest.

District 32: PACs Go Big for GOP Incumbents; Indivs Favor Dem Swanson

Here's a quick breakdown of the District 32 House money race between Republican incumbent gunbernatorial patronage beneficiaries Brian Gosch and Kristin Conzet and their sole Democratic challenger and teacher Jackie Swanson:

small indiv $8,015.00 $425.00 $7,900.16
big indiv $1,500.00 $650.00 $3,050.00
Parties $200.00 $460.00 $116.34
SD PACs $16,050.00 $10,850.00 $2,450.00
out-state PACs $5,550.00 $1,650.00 $0.00
candidate cmtes $0.00 $250.00 $0.00
in-kind $10.75 $0.00 $700.00
$31,325.75 $14,285.00 $14,216.50

Now let's break that down by percentage:

small indiv 25.6% 3.0% 55.6%
big indiv 4.8% 4.6% 21.5%
Parties 0.6% 3.2% 0.8%
SD PACs 51.2% 76.0% 17.2%
out-state PACs 17.7% 11.6% 0.0%
candidate cmtes 0.0% 1.8% 0.0%
in-kind 0.0% 0.0% 4.9%
100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

Every two out of three coins in Gosch's fountain splashed in from political action committees. Conzet got five sixths of her kitty from PACs. Swanson has gotten more than three-fourths of her campaign cash from individual donors, over half from folks giving a hundred bucks or less.

The Republican incumbents appear to be the PAC picks. Swanson appears to be the people's pick.

Kristi Noem Criss-Crossing South Dakota in Party Bus

Taking a page from the Gordon Howie campaign handbook, Kristi Noem has decided to counterprogram Matt Varilek's beautiful Buick and tour the state in a big RV:

Ah, the Noemobile. No word on how big a contribution you have to make to get a ride on Kristi's bus.

There's plenty of room for high-kicking daughters Kassidy and Kennedy. Komfy, I'm sure.

Noem is touring the state in RV comfort in what she calls the "Farms, Families, and Friends Tour." With this season-ending campaign blitz, Noem is effectively doubling the number of public meetings... although they aren't really public meetings open to all citizens, at least not citizens looking to document the vacuous campaign-trail malarkey Noem spreads.

On her entirely public Facebook campaign page, Noem snaps this metaphorically appropriate photo:
The water's rising, Kristi. Let's be honest, admit Noem is in over her head, and elect a Congressman who can do the job.

LAIC Buys into Main Street Program; Madison the New India?

Two noteworthy economic developments are afoot in Madison. First, I hear from my local correspondents that Lake Area Improvement Corporation director Julie Gross has officially endorsed—i.e., spent money!—on making Madison part of the Main Street program. The idea of the LAIC doing exactly what I recommend under previous do-nothing CYA director Dwaine Chapel. But Gross has bought into Main Street and convened a downtown development committee that is open to the public. I hope this isn't a sign that we are going to freeze over hard this winter.

The LAIC also gets to toot its horn about Dakota State University's new partnership with Advantenon, the evil overlord of Gamma Regulus whose robot hordes are invading this sector of the galaxy—oh, oops! Sorry, the cool alien name threw me.

Advantenon develops software for mobile devices. They base their business model on employing college students in rural areas to keep costs down—i.e., to pay less wages than they would hiring experienced talent in spendy urban areas. Advantenon discusses this strategy on a page called "Why Rural?"
Advantenon delivers mobile applications more efficiently, with fewer issues than applications outsourced to offshore teams, at costs up to 50% less than traditional on-site development.

By leveraging technically competent resources in lower cost rural communities, project costs are significantly reduced. By combining staff located outside major metropolitan areas with a limited number of onsite resource Advantenon delivers the benefits of rural and onsite flexibility [Advantenon, "Why Rural?" company website, retrieved November 5, 2012]. 
For years, IT companies have been saving money by offshoring labor to India and other lower-wage countries. The labor cost-savings outweigh the disadvantages of language barriers, time-zone separation, and quality control. As wages in India catch up with the West, the cost advantage erodes. South Dakota wages may still carry a premium over India, but they are 29% lower than in Minnesota, Advantenon's home base. Hire college students, and the premium is even less. For their money, Advantenon gets quality work (you DSU kids do have the storied Midwestern work ethic, don't you?) from folks who sprechen sie Englisch, are smack in the middle of most North American customers' time zone range, and are a short domestic flight away from a snap inspection by the boss.

This can be our niche, South Dakota! Get trained, know your tech, and you can be the next Indians. You won't even have to make up a normal sounding name to answer the phone... until the Chinese become our primary customers.

And when you get done with work, you'll be able to walk downtown and enjoy a wonderfully revitalized commercial and cultural core district.

District 8 Legislative Candidates' Forum: What They Said

I managed to watch the final District 8 Legislative candidates' forum this weekend, courtesy of KJAM's diligent election videography.

Here's what I learned:
  1. Charlie Johnson could have become a lawyer. In his introduction, Johnson said he was accepted into USD's law school but turned that down to work as a small-farm advocate.
  2. The man Johnson wants to replace, Senator Russell Olson, doesn't understand the disconnect between what he says and what he does on education. He says he's deeply concerned about raising teacher pay. He says he opposes Initiated Measure 15 because it doesn't guarantee that the new revenue goes to teachers. He says he supports Referred Law 16 because it is the first time he and his fellow legislators have made an effort to pay great teachers more. But Russ, if paying teachers more is such a priority for you, why didn't you get around to it until the sixth year of your time in Pierre?
  3. Leslie Heinemann isn't a complete GOP tool. Instead of the vague, evidenceless claims that Senator Olson and fellow House candidate Gene Kroger make for Governor Daugaard's education agenda, Heinemann admits his reservations about the bonus program for teachers. He says he can "discriminate" in his small business and pay more to the employees he thinks are working hard. He recognizes, however, that it's difficult to impose the private business model on public schools.
  4. Charlie Johnson sums up Referred Law 16's merit pay plank best: "I don't cultivate, fertilize, and harvest only 20% of my acres. I take care of all my acres. That's the way we have to do education, take care of all of education." He says Russ and the Governor are using Referred Law 16 as a "diversion tactic" to keep us from focusing on the real problem if their neglect of K-12 education funding.
  5. Amendment M is not going to pass, and even Russ Olson doesn't care. He says the amendment on corporate voting and regulation would create a more business-friendly climate in South Dakota—and when Russ says "business-friendly," he means crony-capitalist. But Russ acknowledges that there hasn't been much effort to educate the public on the merits of M, so he appears to shrug at its prospects, as did most other candidates at the podium.
  6. As I expected, Gene Kroger is least equipped to deal with policy issues. On Initiated Measure 15, while the other candidates addressed the regressive nature of the sales tax, the size of the proposed increase (excellent rebuttal from Roy Lindsay, explaining that IM15 is not the largest tax increase in South Dakota history), and the merits of spending the money on K-12 education and Medicaid, Kroger reverted to his Grumpy Old Party talk about inflation and how he has to pay twice as much for his pork and beans. Note to Gene: under President Barack Obama, monthly inflation has averaged 1.6%. Under President George W. Bush, it was 2.8%. From 1914 to 2008, it was 3.4%.
  7. Asked about rising student debt, Kroger again shrugged his grumpy old shoulders and said students have to "decide if this is what I want to do and do I want to pay the price to do it." He asserted that South Dakota tuition is lower and students have less debt than in other states, which is GOP code for "Quit your bellyaching." It's also only one-third true. South Dakota graduates have the median student debt in the country, which happens to be less than the national average. But South Dakota has the second-highest percentage (76%) of students graduating with debt. And given that our wages are the second-lowest in the nation, those students have an even harder time paying off their debt.
  8. All six candidates expressed their eagerness to use government to create jobs by protecting and expanding Dakota State University. Senator Olson confirmed that he is hoping to arrange for the state to acquire the current Madison Community Hospital property when that organization builds its new facility on the south side of Madison.
  9. While Russ Olson thinks getting DSU more land and buildings will help the university, Charlie Johnson says that if we want students to fill those buildings, we need to find more state support to keep tuition affordable. 
On the whole, if you have to pick a Republican in District 8. He at least shows signs of critical thinking that go beyond what Fox News or Governor Daugaard tell him to think. But the joy of living in District 8 is that you do not have to pick a Republican. You have a full slate of Democratic candidates. Charlie Johnson, Scott Parsley, and Roy Lindsay will legislate with more concern for the common good and sensible, evidence-based policy than their Republican counterparts.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Matt Varilek habla español. ¡Sí se puede!

Wow, haven't hit that button for a while!

While I continue to repair the MadvilleTimes.com database, I can't resist posting this remarkable video, in which Matt Varilek demonstrates that he's not only well-educated and well-traveled, but also bilingual:

In this interview with Sioux Falls media outlet La Voz, you hear Matt Varilek speak more Spanish than Kristi Noem has probably spoken in her life.

Meanwhile, conservative political scholar Jon Schaff doesn't even damn Noem with faint praise. He derides her non-record and her desperate campaign against Varilek as verging on "ignorant provincialism":
Noem seems to have little to offer as a candidate other than being "more South Dakota than thou."  As a challenger that isn't really a problem.  But cute ads and plaid shirts are not a subsitute for legislative achievement.  It is not enough that she shares the views and "values" of most South Dakotans.  She's not been elected to share our values, but to do something about them [Jon Schaff, "Noem Not Gonna Get Out Dakota'd," South Dakota Politics, November 4, 2012]. 
Bob Ellis suggests that a good stiff narrow victory may teach Kristi Noem to get back to her values. As a teacher, I reject the notion of giving failing students passing grades. They won't learn that they haven't performed up to standards from a passing grade. The best way to teach Kristi a lesson is to give her an F so she can go back to the farm, think about the errors of her ways... and brush up her Spanish for 2014!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

SDGOP Digging Fiegen's Grave with False Whining about McGovern's Name

South Dakota Republicans have been moaning about Matt McGovern's name since long before McGovern's run this year to replace appointee Kristie Fiegen on the Public Utilities Commission. They tried launching that moaning as a last-minute campaign ad yesterday:
Narrator: Who is Matt McGovern? Well, his real name was Matt Rowan. He was born in Wisconsin, moved here in 2004, worked for Obama and Gore’s radical energy policies, which would cost South Dakota families over $2,000 a year — an expense he said was “minimal.” He wasn’t born here, hasn’t lived here, changed his last name just to run for the PUC, and now he wants to be in charge of your utility bills. South Dakota can’t afford to be fooled by Matt McGovern.
I'd play the video, but the SDGOP has pulled it from YouTube. According to McGovern's Facebook page, so have five television stations, because the ad is malicious malarkey:
"It's unfortunate that my opponent and her allies have lowered themselves to false personal attacks rather than focus on the issues that matter to South Dakota families and businesses. I wasn't born in Wisconsin and I also wasn't born yesterday. I know that allowing the utility companies to hike rates on South Dakota families is the wrong thing to do. As Public Utilities Commissioner, I'll fight any rate hike that forces South Dakota families and businesses to pay more so that some over-paid CEO can avoid standing in line at the airport."
  • At age 2, Matt McGovern's parents changed his name from Matthew David Rowen to Matthew David McGovern-Rowen.
  • In 2007, he officially changed his name to drop the hyphenation.
  • He is the grandson of former U.S. Senator George McGovern.
  • 5 television stations have pulled the South Dakota Republican Party ad for inaccuracies [Matt McGovern for PUC, Facebook post, November 1, 2012].
SDGOP exec Tony Post sniggers that the only factual error in the ad was the misstatement that McGovern was born in Wisconsin. Post says, complete with snarky emoticon, that the party will be happy to correct the ad to say McGovern was born in Washington, D.C. If Tony keeps this kind of failure, he'll be out looking for a new job before the Republicans who will lose on Tuedsay.

The GOP's name game is foolishness. Kristie Fiegen changed her name, and no one freaks  out about that. "Fiegen" is as real a name as her maiden name. "Heidelberger" is as "real" a name for me as any of the matrilineal names in my family tree.

Matt McGovern is as much a McGovern as he is a Rowen; the only reason anyone notices is that we cling to patriarchal anachronisms that make Dad's last name somehow more legit than Mom's.

Republicans, if you want to defend Kristie Fiegen's seat from the McGovern surge, have the decency to stick to policy, not irrelevant distractions about names.