Kudos to Ken Santema for making the drive out to Ipswich for Monday's District 23 GOP House candidates forum. His summary of the candidates' responses to audience questions is a useful guide for voters in the sparse but sprawling north central district.

Of all the instructive policy statements staked out by the candidates, Mr. Powers chooses to focus on the vague partisan snark issued by Democratic Party apostate Dale Hargens. District 23 voters frankly don't care about that. They want to know which of the five candidates can best represent their views on property taxes, education, and social issues.

Santema notes that all five candidates—Hargens of Miller, Michelle Harrison of Mobridge, Gene Toennies of Cresbard, Larry Nielson of Tulare, and incumbent Rep. Justin Cronin of Gettysburg—appear to view economic development as a priority for government. Hargens said his departure from the Democratic Party came because of a "surge to the left" by our party, but I remain fascinated at supposedly free-market Republicans' ongoing surge toward leftist government intervention in the economy.

On education, all five candidates appear to defer the question of education funding to local control... because legislators would hate to be responsible for advocating the tax increases necessary for schools to end South Dakota's humiliation of teachers with the lowest salaries in the nation.

Santema reports some predictable fuss and feathers about Common Core. But someone phrased the Common Core question perfectly, asking the candidates what they thought would happen if there suddenly were no standards in public education. Harrison, Toennies, and Hargens gave the right answer: teachers would go right on teaching, proving there is no need for top-down standards and political reform movements like Common Core and No Child Left Behind.

On gay marriage, Nielson appears to have offered the greatest offense, saying (in Santema's paraphrase) that gay marriage is "nothing but a topic brought forth to expand benefits...." Yeah, because all you non-heterosexuals aren't looking for equality or justice or respect; you just want your partner's pension, and that's just evil. We should get rid of all those greedy spousal benefits for everybody!

On the hopeful side, Harrison said gay marriage and abortion are morality issues and that (reports Santema) "she doesn’t believe the government has the right to choose these issues for people." Hey, Charlie Hoffman! Can you get your neighbors to recognize the true conservatism in that statement?

Alas, Santema notes that all five candidates said they support the Keystone XL pipeline (Hargens on the false assertion that TransCanada's export of tar sands oil to China will promote our energy independence) and that not one addressed the issue of property rights and eminent domain that ought to raise Republican ire over Keystone XL.

Thank you for that report, Ken!

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Michael Larson reads NPN's report that the PPACA Medicaid expansion could save 38 to 95 South Dakotans' lives, uses the word deontological, and declares Dennis Daugaard a death panel of one. Brilliant!

The Governor's decision to not expand Medicaid fails basic levels of moral reasoning. On a utilitarian level, the expansion would actually improve South Dakota's economy, improve access to healthcare for thousands, reduce the financial burden on counties, and save lives. On a deontological level, expansion saves lives, and that is a universal action that can and should always be followed. The Governor's arguments about cost were addressed, the Governor's compassion for the state's working poor have been found lacking, and now the Governor's decision has allowed him to play the role of Sarah Palin's death panels in regards to South Dakota's citizens [Michael Larson, "Daugaard's Death Panel of One," Taking a Left Turn in South Dakota, 2014.04.22].

Save money, save lives: expand Medicaid! And if your Governor won't do it, elect Democrats who will.

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My blog friend John  Tsitrian picks up on the Oligarchy not a Democracy study and says, No big deal:

CNBC's Robert Frank writes a nice critique and analysis of the study I reference and calls attention to the fact that for every right wing rich guy promoting schemes that Democrats abhor, there's probably a wealthy leftie advocating the opposite. As Frank notes, for every Koch there's a Buffett. I'd add that for every George Soros there's a Sheldon Adelson--and I'd probably be able to match Big Rich Lib with Big Rich Rightie for as long as necessary to make the point. Weiland's mentor Tom Daschle generally raised millions for his senatorial campaigns here in South Dakota and I don't recall Weiland or any other Democrats bemoaning the influence of Big Money when it suited their party's purposes back then. So what changed? Just the fact that Weiland hasn't been able to scare up 7-figure totals for his campaign now is about all I can see [John Tsitrian, "The Problem with Populism, Rick Weiland Style," The Constant Commoner, 2014.04.22].

Frank's critique rests on a lot of always:

  • "...it's misleading to say the wealthy always get what they want
  • "Our evidence does not indicate that in U.S. policymaking, the average citizen always loses out."
  • "But the notion of the rich always shaping policies at the expense of the rest of the country is simply misleading."
  • "...what [the rich] want is not always so different from the rest of America."

That response to charges of oligarchy drowning democracy is somewhat like saying evolution doesn't happen because less well-adapted organisms don't always miss out on the chance to reproduce. Sure, slow frogs get to lay eggs, too, but over time, more slow frogs get eaten, and fast frogs dominate the frogosphere.

Saying that rich people don't always win or even that there are rich people with competing interests (and I'd like a breakdown of how often the Soroses and Steyers beat the Kochs and Adelsons) does not change the fundamental critique that the interests of the vast majority of Americans either are not being heard or at best are only heard coincidentally. I don't want coincidental democracy. I don't want oligarchy masquerading as democracy. I want honest, functional democracy, where voices are heard and decisions are made by head count, not bank account.

 

10 comments

Democratic candidate for governor Joe Lowe thinks the EB-5 scandal is worth talking about in the gubernatorial race as well as the Senate race. In his latest press release, Lowe calls it "inexcusable" that the Legislature is ignoring its duty to hold hearings on EB-5 and the financial shenanigans in the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

...The citizens of our state need to demand that an independent audit be done because it is important to finally resolve this issue. However, it seems our legislature has more important things to do.

Our state taxpayers lost $4.3 million; the Governor says EB-5 records were lost; 50 or so Asian Investors lost $500,000 each and some did not even get their green cards; lawsuits are pending; and a federal investigation may be ongoing [Joe Lowe, press release, 2014.04.21].

Lowe questions his opponent's professed ignorance of malfeasance in GOED and EB-5:

Governor Daugaard claims he knew nothing about the program when he was Lieutenant Governor. I find this interesting since each Division Director, and I was one, had to turn in a monthly governors report that spoke to what each division was doing and report accomplishments. I would presume that the Governor kept the Lieutenant Governor in the loop on what was going on in each division of state government [Lowe, 2014.04.21].

Lowe frames EB-5 and corruption as a primary theme of his campaign:

It is well past time to end this culture of corruption. Our citizens deserve answers. At best, EB-5 was bad business and lacked the proper oversight and protections that the program needed [Lowe, 2014.04.21].

I encourage South Dakota Democrats to run unashamedly as Democrats. But even I recognize that the EB-5 scandal is a powerful campaign issue for Lowe and other Democrats because it does not require speaking in some unique Democratic voice. Critiquing the current administration on EBAY doesn't require citing a single plank of the Democratic party. It just calls for advocating responsible supervision of government programs, something everyone can agree is a good idea... and something all but the most diehard partisans can agree didn't happen with South Dakota's EB-5 program.

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The Displaced Plainsman is right: Larry Rhoden's new TV ad for his U.S. Senate campaign is a bunch of bull:

Larry, get real. Liberals aren't out to destroy anyone's way of life. Big spenders may be, but they are the corporate oligarchy to which your party is beholden and to which your cowboy act gives no evidence of any serious thought or challenge.

But let me ask this: does slapping a bumper sticker on a critter's hindquarters fall under the new animal cruelty law about which Senator Rhoden raised a false fuss before gladly attending the law-signing photo opp last month?

40 comments

KELO-AM's Greg Belfrage gets to point on the EB-5 scandal much more succinctly:

The lack of oversight and accountability that plagued the state's EB-5 program is staggering. Tens of thousands of dollars in payments made without receipts. The concerns of EB-5 partners unheard. Those involved with administering the EB-5 program drifting from state to private employment without any oversight concerns from state officials. State EB-5 records lost or destroyed. Promised visas never delivered. Company partners bankrupt. Lives ruined.

It's not hard to see why money is missing and one former state employee is dead. This is a fiasco from start to finish [Greg Belfrage, "Shedding Light on the Chaos of EB-5," KELO-AM: The Daily Dose, 2014.04.21].

That's the EB-5 fiasco that Mike Rounds spins and clutches close to his breast on the Senate campaign dance floor. That's a voting issue for anyone interested in honest government.

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Multiple eager readers have forwarded me this article by Paul Shannon of the Tea Party Tribune, who promises a multi-article exposé of M. Michael Rounds's incompetence or complicity with respect to the GOED/EB-5 scandal. Shannon launches his series by grasping at three strands of the scandal: bad business at the EB-5-funded Dakota Provisions turkey plant in Huron, secrecy in the Governor's Office of Economic Development, and suspicions about the state's investigation of Richard Benda's death.

Dakota Provisions was launched to process turkeys from Hutterite colony growers. Bob Mercer drew connections last November between Dakota Provisions chairman Jeffrey Sveen and the EB-5 program. The turkey plant has been kept afloat by three rounds of EB-5 visa investment totaling perhaps over $90 million, some of which was redirected to other South Dakota EB-5 projects, including the doomed Northern Beef Packers. Sveen has helped EB-5 impresario Joop Bollen recruit Chinese investors and structure his byzantine EB-5 business entities.

Shannon produces a February 5, 2011, letter from Jake Wipf of the Oaklane Hutterite Colony to the Dakota Provisions board complaining that the board is shorting the colonies. The Wipf letter claims that colonies not selling to Dakota Provisions were making a profit on their birds, while colonies dealing with Dakota Provisions were taking a loss. The Wipf letter says that instead of offering dividends that benefit non-producer investors, Dakota Provisions ought to pay producers better prices. This letter does not mention EB-5, but it perhaps adds to the groundwork laid by Mercer's reporting to see Sveen and Bollen's EB-5 projects as an exploitative money-making scheme.

Shannon then produces an excerpt from a state response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The state (and Shannon does not clarify which agency or agent is responding, to whom, or for what) says that it is not subject to FOIA. Shannon takes umbrage... but Shannon gets a bit distracted here. FOIA is not the issue. FOIA does not apply to state agencies. And Shannon admits that, in this case, the state still released the information requested. Work with me, Paul: there are plenty of other ways to show that GOED and other state officials are working hard to keep information about EB-5 out of our hands.

Shannon gets back on the trail by criticizing Attorney General Marty Jackley's resistance to releasing records from his investigation of former GOED chief Richard Benda's suspicious death. The Attorney General's slow investigation of Benda's apparent suicide, as well as his subsequent unwillingness to share the evidence that he says led him to the conclusion that there was no foul play in this case of enormous public interest, do leave a distasteful and distracting suspicion in the minds of almost every South Dakotan following this story.

Shannon has a lot of work to do to tie these three strands into a strong rope with which to pull down M. Michael Rounds. This first article doesn't add to our understanding of Rounds's involvement in EB-5. In general, I view the pronouncements of the Tea Party Tribune on South Dakota politics with skepticism. After all, these are folks who think that the Aberdeen newspaper is called the Times and that microphone-challenged political novice Jason Ravnsborg is the best candidate to challenge Mike Rounds and Rick Weiland.

That said, I'm glad to have more eyes on the GOED/EB-5 story. The more people watching and reading, the more chance we'll discover the big picture, and the more Mike Rounds will have to answer our questions about what went wrong with GOED and EB-5. I look forward to Shannon's further efforts to connect the dots.

Update 09:05 CDT: Ask and ye shall receive! Shannon has posted Part 2, looking more closely at the financing of Dakota Provisions.

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How do I get myself into these things? Heck, I just ask.

In this week's Bizarro-world video, Liberty Today becomes Madville Times as I interview aspiring and conditional Independent U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Howie:

The highlights:

  • Howie says he's ahead of schedule on gathering signatures for his nominating petition.
  • Howie views his campaign as a natural extension of the Stace Nelson campaign. If Nelson doesn't win the GOP primary, Howie believes Nelson conservatives will heed Nelson's Heck No and turn to Howie instead of Rounds.
  • While he plans to out-conservative any non-Nelson nominee, Howie thinks he can get votes from Democrats and Independents who are disgusted with leaders of both parties putting partisan power games above principle. (But Gordon, will those non-Republicans like your principles?)
  • Howie says his fourth-place, 12.44% showing in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary doesn't show that his natural statewide conservative base is too small to help him win an election. Howie contends his 2010 turnout was depressed by his being  "significantly maligned in the media." (Now who would have done a terrible thing like that?)
  • Producer Ed Randazzo's phone went off during the interview. Fortunately, no such thing happened with Ed's ever-present pistol.
  • Howie calls Pressler a "partisan hack" who cannot get the vote of any thoughtful Republican or Independent.
  • Howie says we shouldn't look for a five-point plan from a candidate (dodge?). He offers voters three general principles: cap federal spending, reduce taxes and regulation, and "return to the traditional values, the principles, that made America great."
  • Howie says he does not believe in a religious test for candidates.

Worth noting: Gordon and I both had fun in this interview. Conservatives, y'all and I should get together more often.

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