Governor Dennis Daugaard has accepted the Interior Department's offer to let states pay for reopening certain national parks and monuments. However, as I suspected, Governor Daugaard doesn't think Mount Rushmore is important enough to spend South Dakota tax dollars on. Instead, he called his rich donors and got them to cough up $15,200 a day to reopen the Shrine of Democracy on Monday morning.
Rapid City hotelier John Tsitrian, who felt the partial federal shutdown put the pinch on his business, celebrates Rushmore's reopening as a clarion call to a privatization revolution. Rep. Mike Verchio (R-30/Hill City) smugly asks what we "smart a- dems" have to say about "those awful selfish corporations" saving the day.
On behalf of smart Dems everywhere, I say this is no way to run a country. Piecemeal funding, whether by public or private funding, leaves numerous vital functions unfunded. Even the handful of politically potent government functions that Daugaard and his private donors might choose to finance (and remember, of all the government functions that have been shut down, these rich donors are restoring just one recreational facility) are left in a ongoing funding limbo. Sure, a cadre of 16 donors have written checks for Mount Rushmore. That will keep the park open for a couple weeks.
What happens after that? If Congress continued to malfunction, how long would our corporate beneficiaries continue writing checks? And when would these laudably civic-minded corporate donors get around to funding crop insurance and livestock indemnity payments, and the U.S. Attorney's office, and heating assistance, and the federal prison in Yankton (where, interestingly, guards are forced to work without pay while inmates still receive checks)?
I love Mount Rushmore precisely because it symbolizes what we can do together as one nation, one community working together. Treasures like Mount Rushmore belong to all of us; if it really matters to us, we should all provide steady, ongoing, public funding so that it remains fully in our hands.
Governor Daugaard and his chortling corporate backers are engaging in temporary political theater, not sustainable statecraft. They cheapen Mount Rushmore with this crass exercise in privatization.