The truest statement of the day comes from Sen. Tim Rave (R-25/Baltic), discussing calls from his colleagues Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) and Sen. Larry Lucas (D-26/Pickstown) to bring Mike Rounds, Dennis Daugaard, Joop Bollen, and Jeff Sveen in for questioning in their investigation of the EB-5 scandal:

Investigating... it's not really in our skill set or our wheelhouse....

[Sen. Time Rave, quoted in Charles Michael Ray, "Dems Push for EB-5 Inquiry," SDPB Radio, 2014.08.27]

You know, Senator Rave, kids come to my classroom all the time and say, "I'm not good at French (algebra, speech, taking tests...)." I say to them the same thing I say to you: "There's no better time to get good at it."

15 comments

The Richard Benda Memorial Apartment Complex holds an open house today in Madison to celebrate the vital role crony capitalism plays in meeting market needs.

Jane Utecht's report on the tax-increment-financed Lake Area Townhomes indicates there is great demand for housing in Madison:

"We have a lot of people call because there is not enough housing in Madison," said Jamie McKinney, manager of the Mills Property office in Madison. Because of this shortage, 15 of the 28 townhouses are already rented, she said, even though only 14 are complete.

McKinney said some calls come from college students, but most of the townhouses are filling with people new to town -- some working at local factories, some at the university, some in health care.

"You hear countless stories of people who commute or turn down job offers" because they can't find housing in the Madison area, said Julie Gross, executive director of the Lake Area Improvement Corporation. "If we want to grow, we need housing [Jane Utecht, "New Townhomes Hosting Open House Wednesday," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.08.26].

Utecht notes that the Lake County Commission just approved another tax increment finance district to support a similar housing development on the east side of town.

Utecht fails to find anyone who can answer this fundamental political and economic question: if these housing units are such a sure sell, if "countless" commuters and job-seekers are aching to come to Madison, why does government have to lift a finger—or in this case, one penny of tax burden—to meet this market need?

8 comments

Remember how they nailed Al Capone?

One of the trickiest parts the EB-5/Northern Beef Packers/Governor's Office of Economic Development scandal is figuring out whether anyone broke the law. We've gotten mixed signals from the Governor and the Attorney General about Richard Benda's culpability, but since Benda is dead, we'll never get a verdict on whether he committed any outright crimes. Who's left to perp walk, and for what?

How about Joop Bollen, for tax evasion?

Joop Bollen's private company, SDRC Inc., makes loans and mortgages through subsidiary paper corporations. SDRC Inc. took $550,000 from Northern Beef Packers to pay Richard Benda monitor SDRC Inc's loans to Northern Beef Packers. As I reported last November, one would think this activity would make SDRC Inc. a bank.

SDRC Inc's lawyer Jeff Sveen thinks so. In a May 11, 2011 letter pertaining to litigation in California, Sveen says pretty much what I'm saying, that SDRC Inc., like a bank, lends money:

SDIBI is primarily involved in export promotions and facilitating direct investment for the State of South Dakota. It involves many components, including seminars and workshops, export finance, international trade resources, assisting companies with the South Dakota Foreign Trade Zone, Trade Lead Generators, and South Dakota Exporter's Directory.... It promotes economic development in South Dakota. EB-5 is just one component of the foreign direct investment activities offered by SDIBI. Under that EB-5 component, only equity projects are promoted. In contrast, SDRC, Inc. is completely different in its functions. It is not a facilitator in any equity programs. SDRC, Inc. does not promote economic development, but simply obtains funding through EB-5 and functions similar to a bank by lending those same funds to projects in South Dakota" [Jeffrey T. Sveen, letter to Jennifer S. Elkayam, 2011.05.11].

SDRC Inc. lends money, like a bank, says SDRC Inc's lawyer.

Why does this matter? Because South Dakota imposes an income tax on banks. We call it the bank franchise tax. If you make money lending money—and SDRC Inc. did—then you pay taxes on that money to South Dakota—and SDRC Inc. did not.

Look at the list of money lender licenses issued by the South Dakota Banking Commission. The economic development corporations in Aberdeen, Huron, Webster, and Eureka have had to get lending licenses. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had to get one for who knows what. But SDRC Inc. doesn't have a money lender license.

Now lending money without a license is only a misdemeanor. But not paying bank franchise tax to the state... that will hit players in the pocketbook. If SDRC has avoided getting a lender license, it has likely avoided paying the 6% on its net income required by the bank franchise tax. It's hard to know how much Bollen, Sveen, Benda, and friends have skimmed from the millions in EB-5 investment, but if they're loans, they owe South Dakota some bank franchise tax, plus penalties and interest.

So if Bollen and Sveen and Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard will appear before the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee on September 24, or heck, maybe at Friday's State Fair debates, we should open with these questions:

  1. Was Joop Bollen running a bank?
  2. Did Joop Bollen license his bank?
  3. Did Joop Bollen pay bank franchise taxes?
  4. On #3, if not, why not, and when will we?

Richard Benda is dead. Saying we would have arrested him or fired him is unprovable hindsight fall-guyism. We have Joop Bollen right there, sitting in his nice house in Aberdeen, quite possibly still collecting interest on loans floated to EB-5-backed enterprises and sitting on money that lawfully belongsto the State of South Dakota.

Attorney General Jackley, Governor Daugaard, are going to collect that bank franchise tax? Or are we o.k. with tax evasion?

Update 09:32 CDT:P&R says he'd get rid of EB-5 even if there were no illegal or unethical activities in South Dakota's exploitation of that program. But the point here is that there may well be illegal activities. That's what makes the EB-5/Northern Beef Packers/GOED/Benda/Bollen story so complicated: we have at least two levels of critique, with bad actors abusing bad policy.

23 comments

I see South Dakotans Against Prohibition plan to disrupt the South Dakota State Fair with a protest parade in favor of medical marijuana and industrial hemp. Organizer Cody Gardner of Huron says he has 150 protesters ready to march and thinks he can get a full 1,000 to take over Third Street, the main city street that bisects the fairgrounds.

Protesters plan to cheer for Independent Mike Myers at the State Fair gubernatorial debate on Friday, then march east on Third Street to Dakota Avenue with most if not all of the Libertarian statewide candidates. They say it will take them 30 minutes to march those eight blocks... which makes me think part of the failure of the pro-hempers and Libertarians is an inability to get their rears in gear. (I hear pot does that to people.)

Another potential failure of the Libertarian-hemp movement: the inability to recognize good marketing synergy. They stage their march when everyone's at work on Friday morning, a slower day at the Fair with all those plain old candidates. They miss the chance to march on Saturday, when they could synergize with grandstand entertainer Stoney LaRue. Marketing, fellas... marketing.

p.s.: I support keeping government out of medical decisions. I also support growing hemp to boost South Dakota's economy and improve our soil and water quality. I have yet to see any South Dakota Libertarians capable of organizing an effective movement toward those policies.

57 comments

While Corinna Robinson talked sense about the Keystone XL pipeline (risk to water supplies, oil shipped to China, jobs nowhere near as numerous or impactful as TransCanada pretends), I hear Rep. Kristi Noem is trying to spread the flow by arguing that TransCanada's tar sands pipeline will free up more rail capacity for farm products.

Alas, farmers are buying this baloney:

Farmers and ranchers have a stake in the Keystone XL project, said Randy Miiller, who farms near Mount Vernon.

Miiller said trucks carrying oil from North Dakota are damaging roads in South Dakota. Meanwhile, the oil companies have been driving up the cost of rail for farmers. There is less rail capacity for farm products, and it's more expensive.

"Without the XL pipeline, to me it's a slow cancer to all the farmers," Miiller said. "It's going to kill us" [Jonathan Ellis, "Noem, Robinson Disagree on Keystone XL Pipeline," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.08.19].

Pssst, Randy! Did you notice that the first Keystone pipeline through East River didn't do diddly to free up rail cars for your corn? That pipeline isn't moving any Bakken crude. 92% of the oil in Keystone XL will be Canadian oil. Even if Bakken producers can get any oil into Keystone XL, they might still prefer to use your rail cars, since they get access to more refineries.

Here's a thought, farmers and Republican Congress critters: if you really think the rail shortage is critical, why not entertain some other, less risky solutions? Instead of eminent domaining West River landowners to transfer their property rights to a private foreign corporation, why not impose on the railroad corporations' rights? Why not require that, at the peak of the harvest, the railroads give priority to American agricultural products?

If we're going to use eminent domain, shouldn't we use it for American interests? And what meets American interests more: shipping mostly Canadian oil, or shipping American corn?

22 comments

An Exclusive Madville Times Interview

Somewhere in my piles of stuff is a photo of Senator Larry Pressler with me and a nice girl from Vermillion, Angeline Wilson, at the U.S. Capitol on a muggy June day 25 years ago.

Larry Pressler, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2014.08.23

Larry Pressler, Independent candidate for U.S. Senate, proudly displays a photo of his grandkids.

On this muggy Saturday in Sioux Falls, as candidate Pressler and I discussed policy and politics at his Sioux Falls office, I mentioned that brief meeting, one of thousands the Senator politely hosted during his time in Washington. Pressler said recollections like that are one of the small joys of his campaign. As he tours the state, people come up to shake his hand and say they're glad he's running again (though Pressler himself muses that maybe those folks are just being kind to an old man). And often they'll show him a picture from back in the day of Mom, Dad, and the kids (now with grandkids) with Pressler in D.C. or the State Fair or some such remarkable moment in their families' lives.

Ah, nostalgia. It's like Styx coming back and riffing out "Mr. Roboto" on the casino circuit. But will we elect Dennis DeYoung to the Senate?

You wouldn't think so, when Pressler has maybe a hundredth of the money of his main-party opponents. Pressler admits that, as a rule, "Money is determinative" of electoral success. "We"—and he looks around the office at his wife Harriet, his one paid staffer, and a friend-volunteer—"will be the exception."

Pressler's run at age 72, 16 years after losing his seat to the now retiring Tim Johnson, is not a return from retirement. Pressler has been teaching and serving on boards ever since leaving the Senate. He says he will always work. But he'd like to give South Dakota six more years of his work.

Pressler's Legacy: The Telecommunications Act

Pressler runs on the record of what he achieved for South Dakota. He refers to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as his "magnum opus," a project that consumed his efforts for ten years. That law created the Universal Service Fund, a tax that he had to rename a fee to get past the Gingrich Congress (sound familiar?). Pressler notes that Tim Johnson was one of only 16 votes against that fee and the final form of the bill in the House. Johnson may have had his reasons, but Pressler says the Universal Service Fund subsidized installation of fiber-optic cable across the country.

Larry Pressler, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2014.08.23

Maybe Al Gore invented the Internet, but Larry Pressler brought it to Pukwana. Candidate Pressler discusses the importance of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Basically, says Pressler, the USF allowed us to have Internet and cell phone service almost everywhere in South Dakota, not just Sioux Falls and Rapid City. The Telecommunications Act made long-distance calls an ancient artifact, made phone calls cheaper than they were in the 1950s, and stimulated the economy by bringing almost everyone, including rural folks, access to the newest communications technologies.

Pressler says he wanted the Telecommunications Act to include cable TV regulations that would have given customers à la carte channel selection, pricing controls, and a 15% cap on ad time. But Pressler says that after attending a cable industry convention in Las Vegas, President Bill Clinton sent VP Al Gore to the Senate to kill those regulations.

Pressler would like the chance to revisit those regulations and restore the public service requirements for broadcasters. However, Pressler would place more priority on enforcing existing anti-trust laws to keep media companies from consolidating and monopolizing. Calling himself a "Teddy Roosevelt trust-busting conservative," Pressler says Time-Warner and Comcast are too big and that we need more competition in the media. He says the big media companies got a break by getting Congress to move anti-trust enforcement on their industry from the Department of Justice, which knows anti-trust law, to the Federal Communications Commission, which finds anti-trust law somewhat out of its ken.

Deficit and Taxes

Larry Pressler will raise your taxes. He said at Dakotafest that he would cut corporate, personal, and charitable tax deductions. In our interview, he said he would vote to increase the gasoline tax to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. He says Congress's temporary fix is irresponsible, since it adds to the deficit. Pressler sees great danger in the deficit and says we must get serious about fixing it.

Military and Foreign Policy

Pressler is the only candidate for South Dakota's open Senate seat who served in the military (U.S. Army, Vietnam, two tours, 1966–1968). The veteran is not eager to give today's young men and women the same experience. When it comes to foreign military intervention, Pressler labels himself a "Ron Paul Libertarian": he would send troops overseas only to secure "substantial American foreign policy interests."

I asked if that standard justifies intervention in the Islamic State's slaughter of the polytheist Yazidis in Iraq. Pressler said it may, depending on information that the President may have, but where there is doubt, he would err on the side of non-intervention.

Pressler worries that President Obama has erred in the other direction with his use of force in Iraq this month. He notes that he voted for Obama in 2008 for conservative reasons, expecting Obama to entangle us in fewer wars than John McCain. Pressler says McCain would have maintained permanent U.S. military presences in Iraq and Afghanistan and sent troops to Syria.

Pressler regularly cites the example of a U.S. fort that he and his wife visiting in northern Italy. Far from repelling the Slovenian menace, that base serves mostly to stimulate the local economy. If the military must be a jobs program, Pressler would prefer to bring those jobs home and boost the economy here. But "the whole economy has been taken over by the military-industrial state," says Pressler, and he would like to restore our military focus to military objectives, not big money.

Defining Independence

Pressler holds out his own Senate candidacy as a jobs program for young pols across South Dakota. He vows to serve just one more term, meaning that a whole crop of aspiring candidates will be able to rev their campaign engines in 2020. I ask if there's any chance he could be re-seduced by the power and celebrity of D.C. life. Pressler says absolutely not: he's been there, done that, and won't get stuck. One term—Pressler means it.

Larry Pressler with Joe Lowe photo of Mount Rushmore. Pressler campaign office, SIoux Falls, SD, 2014.08.23

Hanging on Pressler's office wall is this panoramic photo of Mount Rushmore, a unique view showing the most-photographed faces in the world small in the breaking dawn, in the context of the entire geological formation. The photographer? Rapid City artist Joe Lowe, a Democrat who ran for governor last spring.

That one-term promise is crucial to his expectation of what he regularly refers to as "the glorious freedom of independence." He says Senators and Congresspeople of both parties have to spend more than half of their time in Washington raising money. They aren't just filling their coffers for their own reëlections; the party leaders set quotas on contributions to colleagues' campaigns as conditions for plum committee appointments.

Pressler says nuts to that. While John Thune runs across the street each day to beg for money, Pressler says he will be working full-time for South Dakota. Even if he did reach for cash, Pressler knows he'd come up short, since the special interest groups don't stand to gain from candidates who free themselves of partisan and reëlection pressures. Ah, independence!

Blogospheric Curiosity

Say, remember that Internet that Pressler's Telecommunications Act helped bring to everybody? (Harriet jokes that she thought Larry, not Al Gore, invented the Internet.) Candidate Pressler shows a marked curiosity about the Web he hath wrought. He spent a few minutes at the beginning of our interview grilling me about the South Dakota blogosphere and the journalistic quality of its various nodes, including my own. I wouldn't say Pressler is taking his cues from the blogs, but he is paying attention to them.

Pressler's curiosity about our homegrown use of the Internet stands in marked contrast to his opponent Mike Rounds, the former governor who leaves all that Web stuff to his lackeys. Rounds's techno-aloofness makes him a little less qualified to legislate amidst the ongoing technological revolution than the ever-curious Pressler, who gave that revolution an early boost.

8 comments
Chris McClure, Democratic candidate for District 14 House, Sioux Falls, SD, 2014.08.23

Chris McClure, Democratic candidate for District 14 House, Sioux Falls, SD, 2014.08.23

I'll bet Dennis Daugaard wishes this philosophy major would take up welding. Democrat Chris McClure wants to bring his political philosophy and experience to Pierre as District 14 Representative.

McClure emphasizes that he views himself as a moderate. He says he sees no need to raise taxes or impose an income tax. He considers the state's fiscal situation to be pretty good. He supports small business. Harkening to his working-class upbringing (Mom and Dad both worked retail), he believes firmly in personal responsibility. At the same time, he supports social programs that help hard-working families advance.

McClure applies a bothersomely cautious moderation to women's issues, specifically to abortion. He says he's personally pro-life but respects the Constitution. Unfortunately, he also says he would leave South Dakota the way it is, which those of us fighting for women's reproductive autonomy will tell you is mean and misogynistic. McClure says that as a male, it's not his place to comment on whether South Dakota's 72-hour abortion waiting period is appropriate (if we were philosophizing, I'd say he's inconsistently yielding to those males who think it is their place to impose such a waiting period).

We all can understand why McClure and other Democrats in South Dakota may shy away from abortion as a campaign issue: speak up for abortion rights, and it's far too easy for Republicans to mobilize the rabid right and distract us from discussing the shambles GOP policies are making of our schools, roads, and workforce. And as I found with my Catholic socialist neighbor Gerry Lange, we South Dakota Democrats can't afford litmus tests.

But moderation that allows women to be second-class citizens is bad moderation. I'll keep working on McClure.

Now if I got really cranky and exclusive, I could tell McClure to take his moderation to the GOP. McClure says Republicans have indeed tried to recruit him. But he won't bite. "I believe in being the party of reason," says McClure, and that means being a Democrat (yes!). He sees the right wing taking the GOP so far right that Democrats now represent the center. There is no far left in South Dakota, says McClure, among candidates or in the media. McClure says that if he were in Massachusetts, he might be a Mitt Romney Republican... although he carefully points out that he means Governor Mitt Romney, the guy who invented ObamaCare, not 2012 Mitt Romney, the guy who tacked unconvincingly right to get the ultra-conservative donors and votes.

However moderate McClure may be, his main issues mirror those his cross-town counterpart Ellee Spawn puts at the front of her campaign: teacher pay (raise it!), Medicaid expansion (do it!), and minimum wage (boost it and more!).

When I ask if he has a plan to raise teacher pay, he says yes, he does: "Pay teachers more!" There's no complicated socio-economic phenomenon depressing teacher salaries: we pay teacher rock-bottom "because that's what Republicans want to do." McClure calls it "ridiculous" (did someone say moderate?) that South Dakota pays teachers $17,000 to $18,000 less than Wyoming, Minnesota, and the national average.

He says we need to pull more money from the surplus and from economic growth into education, cut other programs, and establish reliably dedicated funds. But voters don't trust Pierre to do that because they have seen that Pierre does not prioritize education, and that's the fundamental problem that we must solve.

McClure says that moderates and conservatives alike should be able to agree that Medicaid expansion roacks from a fiscal perspective. McClure says we're giving up 1,900 jobs and $420 million in federal funding over three years by refusing to expand Medicaid. We'd help workers get health care, which means they'd stay healthy, work more, and boost the economy. Either way, we're paying taxes to cover the expansion, but our recalictrance means we get zilch in return. That, says McClure, is a "very bad financial decision."

McClure says Initiated Measure 18, which will boost the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, won't create a living wage, but it's closer. He says 70% of South Dakotans support raising the minimum wage and predicts IM 18 will pass. McClure argues that, just like expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage makes sense, since lower-income workers are more likely than anyone else to spend their additional dollars and stimulate the economy. Boost the minimum wage, and you boost everybody.

At 32, McClure is the youngest candidate in District 14. Yet his résumé makes a strong case for his ability to legislate. He worked as head attorney for the state's child support enforcement division. He saw children and parents suffering under loopholes in the state's child paternity laws, and he helped the 2012 Child Support Commission revise those laws to establish a clearer process for determining paternity and better protect children's best interests (see 2013 House Bill 1021). McClure is now an associate at Swier Law Firm in Sioux Falls.

Prior to his work in government and law, McClure was student body president at Augustana. He helped start the Big Event concert series, which has brought some pretty big musical names to Sioux Falls. McClure points to that organizing experience as evidence of his ability to defy expectations and get things done.

McClure majored in philosophy at Augustana. Plato said that we'd get the best government when philosophers became kings or when kings started philosophizing. But have no philosophophobia: McClure won't fill you full of abstractions. He'll get a little Socratic, saying that we must recognize that we cannot know everything and thus that our intellect can always err. But he says that knowledge of our fallibility must not stop us from doing our best and acting against injustice. McClure says he'd like to hear more politicians acknowledge their fallibility, admit when they are wrong, and not fear changing their positions for the good of the state.

And that's about as philosophical as McClure gets on the campaign trail. He says the key to winning votes is (his slogan!) "Hard Work and Common Sense." For McClure, hard work means knocking on more doors than the other candidates, who in District 14 include fellow Democrat Valerie Loudenback and Republicans Larry Zikmund and Tom Holmes.

Hard work also means getting people of all political persuasions back to talking to each other. In that spirit, McClure says, "Let's do lunch!" Really! McClure extends an open invitation to any resident of District 14 to join him for lunch between now and November 3 to talk legislative issues. It's first come, first served, so call or Facebook McClure, pick a date, and have lunch with candidate McClure.

I'll remind my new philosopher friend that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. But McClure will remind his friends and neighbors on the campaign trail that his moderate political philosophy and useful experience can bring good policy for District 14 and South Dakota.

145 comments

On January 16, 2014, Governor Dennis Daugaard asserted that Northern Beef Packers did nothing wrong in diverting $550,000 of a $1,000,000 state grant to Richard Benda and SDRC Inc. Attorney General Marty Jackley stunningly reversed that official position on July 29 when he told the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee that he prepared a warrant to arrest Benda for that diversion.

Apparently that reversal has been in the works for months, perhaps since before Governor Daugaard told us the grant diversion was kosher. David Montgomery reports that the state has hired attorney Paul Bachand to look into the viability of a lawsuit to recover that missing half-million:

Last month Bachand was given confidential documents prepared last year by criminal investigators. Under the special court order obtained with Attorney General Marty Jackley's consent, Bachand can review but not copy the investigation file and isn't allowed to disclose its contents to anyone other than Daugaard and other top state officials.

The trove of documents Bachand obtained includes witness interviews, emails and letters, bank statements, canceled checks, "evidence of wire transfers and other evidence of transfers of funds," Benda's credit card statements, receipts and cell phone records, and Northern Beef's private contracts, employment records, time sheets and other relevant records.

"It's a voluminous record," Venhuizen said. "I'm sure that's taking some time."

It's also taking some money. Bachand has billed the state $21,222.49 for work done since Nov. 1. Most of that money, Venhuizen said, relates to Bachand's study of the missing $550,000.

Bachand is billing the state at a rate of $155 per hour, meaning he's put in nearly 137 hours of work since November [David Montgomery, "Daugaard Trying to Get Back $550K Benda Allegedly Stole," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.08.22].

Bachand has been on the Northern Beef Packers–Benda money trail since November. If the state thought it might have grounds to try recovering the money Benda took from Mike Rounds's Future Fund Grant #1434, why would Governor Daugaard not have told us sooner? Was there really any downside to telling us from the start that Benda did wrong and that the state would do everything in its power to get those tax dollars back? Would announcing an aggressive state effort to recover its money have somehow fouled the sale of bankrupt Northern Beef Packers to White Oak?

Why Governor Daugaard would not have assured taxpayers from the get-go of his diligent prosecution of this wrong-doing perhaps pales in importance before the fact that his administration really is prosecuting. But if the Daugaard Administration had come clean from the start, it would not suffer now, just as the election season kicks into high gear, from the bad press of this curious reversal.

16 comments

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