Well, that's one way to get to Sioux Falls....  Photo by Charlie Hoffman, on the prairie northeast of Eureka, South Dakota, 2014.08.19

Well, that's one way to get to Sioux Falls.... Photo by Charlie Hoffman, on the prairie northeast of Eureka, South Dakota, 2014.08.19

Hey, Sioux Falls readers! After loads of fun in Spearfish, Piedmont, Manderson, Mission, Eureka, Mitchell, and the Colman backcountry, the rollicking statewide blog tour is now in the great Queen City of East River, Sioux Falls. Here are the big public events:

  1. At noon today, I'll be speaking at the Democratic Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW, on South Minnesota just north of I-229. Folks from all parties and from no party are welcome!
  2. At 4:30 p.m. today, KSOO Radio will allow me the privilege of speaking on the public airwaves as a guest on Viewpoint University. Rick Knobe and friends can't fit spectators in the studio, but you're all welcome to tune to AM 1140 for all the fun and excitement (and, as you listen, for the full effect, be sure to imagine me waving my arms).
  3. From 9 a.m. to noon tomorrow, I'll be hanging out Tweeting and blogging at Josiah's Coffeehouse. I'd love to see you there, just to have the chance to thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and making this blog the best political blog in South Dakota.

I'm also conducting more interviews, with more great road posts to come. Stay tuned, and come join the fun in Sioux Falls today and tomorrow!


Bob Mercer knows how to strike when the iron is hot. The South Dakota journalist asked Attorney General Marty Jackley to release the records of his investigation of Richard Benda's suspicious death last December. AG Jackley rebuffed Mercer on extra-legal pretense and got a state hearing examiner to back him up last May.

Now, just as the EB-5 scandal, which was torn open by Benda's death, begins to rain real fire on Jackley's political pals, Mercer shovels more coals into the furnace with a lawsuit to get the Benda death investigation records.

How a court will rule is up in the air. But for those of you keeping score at home, Mercer's lawsuit has already caused Jackley to commit two unforced errors in the form of two unnecessary and absurd statements.

First, Jackley claims to be a champion of openness:

"I would have been operating within my statutory authority to just flat-out deny access, and I did not do that," Jackley said. "I chose the route of openness and have been nothing but criticized for that" [David Montgomery, "Lawsuit Seeks Access to Benda Death Reports," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.08.22].

Openness? Openness?!Please, Marty, don't hurt yourself. And the rest of you, don't hurt yourself laughing.

Second, while Independent gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers engages in a macabre re-enactment of Benda's death based on an allegation that Myers himself admits is "an undocumented, unsupported assertion," AG Jackley responds with an incredibly injudicious walk-back of his conclusion on Benda's death:

Jackley said he is confident in the suicide ruling but declined to expand on any evidence that supports that ruling except to site the number of entities involved in investigating Benda's death. The suicide ruling itself was made by a forensic pathologist, not by him or his investigators, Jackley said.

"I never said specifically it was a suicide. I said our findings are consistent with the cause and manner of death determined by the forensic pathologist," Jackley said [Denise Ross, "Gov. Candidate Doubts Benda's Death a Suicide," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.08.20].

Jackley's statement is factually, technically true. I noted the absence of an explicit declaration of suicide in Jackley's own words last November when he released the state's report on Benda's death. But why give the doubters and blog sensationalists who so grate his cheese with their speculation and misinformation a line like "I never said... it was a suicide"? The Attorney General has gone from saying "there are absolutely no credible facts or evidence calling into question" the suicide ruling to opening the door for Sam Kephart to come back and talk about the Chinese mafia.

Doubts linger, but the press has mostly adopted without caveat the interpretation that Benda committed suicide. Governor Daugaard has said Benda committed suicide. Why say any little thing to back away from that mostly accepted fact?

People say stupid things for a variety of reasons. Stupid people say stupid things, but I think we all agree Marty ain't stupid people. People may be tired from an exhausting statewide blog tour, but Marty is no blogger.

People also say stupid things when they are scared, under assault, and stressed out. And you know, with a political scandal dominating the news and the debates, with his pals and his own office getting bad press, with the ACLU and his buddy U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson challenging South Dakota's Indian Child Welfare Act violations, Attorney General Marty Jackley just might feel a little harried.


Imagine a Rip Van Dakota conking out 41 years ago and waking up yesterday at Dakotafest. After saying, "Jeepers, those are big tractors!" and asking, "Where'd everyone get the Star Trek communicators?" Rip grabs a ribeye sandwich (eight bucks? Lucky for Rip he fell asleep with a gold coin in his pocket), and ambles over to the blue and white SDSU tent, where the Senate candidates' debate is just starting.

Rip listens earnestly to these four unfamiliar men. While the alphabet soup confuses him (ACA? EB-5?), Rip can evaluate their intellect and tone. What does he conclude?

Knowing nothing else, reading no polls or press, not chatting yet with anyone in the crowd, Rip thinks, "Gee, all four of these guys are serious and smart. That Howie guy sounds a bit wrapped up in abstractions and absolutes, but they all four sound about equally ready to be Senator.

"And boy, the other three really don't like that reedy-sounding Rounds fellow."

Here's my report of what Rip would ahve heard the candidates saying.


Gordon Howie featured his fondness for alliteration, saying our nation is in trouble because we are electing people "more concerned about polls, politics, and personality than principle." With his smooth video preacher's voice (I might be happier if he forsook politics for that calling), Howie said we need to return to "faith, freedom and purpose" to make our country great again.

Howie alluded to EB-5, saying people shouldn't be able to buy citizenship.

Howie said America faces "dangerous days ahead" (a phrase that epitomizes the millennial language of church-state minglers like Howie), with the President behaving like an emperor, the Senate intent on destroying freedoms, and "GOP power brokers telling us we need to compomrise principles and vote for a big-government tax-and-spend politician." (I lean over an nudge Rip: He means that Rounds guy! Rip nods and shushes me; he's trying to listen.)

Abandoning any pretense of seeking common Indy ground with Democrats, Howie said he is a lifelong Republican and embraces the GOP platform. Howie called himself "the voice for change and a return to principle."

Republican Mike Rounds started by touting the 30% property tax relief that passed the Legislature while he was in the Legislature, as well as his ability to focus on issues and get results when he was governor. He bragged about balancing the budget every year (which Governor Dennis Daugaard had said in the same tent two hours earlier Rounds had not)

Rounds trotted out the "South Dakota common sense" line that he loves. Wait—trotted isn't accurate: He galloped that slogan with the same pep-squad passion I heard at the Lawrence County Lincoln Day dinner last April. We need to get big government out of South Dakota farms and ranches! he hollered. We need to pass Keystone XL and stop the carbon tax!

At first I thought Independent Larry Pressler sounded tame in comparison to Rounds's whoopedy hollerin'. But for all the guff and chuckles I've heard from folks who question Pressler's mental acuity, Pressler came out sounding as sharp and statesmanly as anyone else on stage. "I am heartbroken at poisonous relationship between Democrats and Republicans," said the former Senator. He lamented the growing debt and the inability of Congress to do anything.

Pressler then noted a New Year's Watertown Public Opinion editorial that said Pressler could be "game changer" in a closely divided Senate. If elected, Pressler would join two other Independents in the Senate who could work together to break the partisan gridlock. Pressler said an independent Senator (Sanders from Vermont) led the recent veterans bill to passage. Pressler said he could similar power for South Dakota.

Given such power, Pressler said he would work to relocate troops back home and use them to secure the border (careful, Larry: Posse Comitatus). He wants to reduce overseas spending, enhance some revenues, and work toward a balanced budget. He would also work on state projects as he did in the good old days with McGovern, Abdnor, and Daschle (McGovern! Rip whispers. Whatever happened to him? I shush him; I'm busy taking notes.)

Democrat Rick Weiland admitted that he's angry (but it's o.k.: we like Rick when he's angry!). Why shouldn't we all be angry when we have a "broken government hijacked by big-money special interests"? Watch that phrase: Weiland rang that populist theme consistently throughout the debate. He said the big thing he's heard on his every-town tours has been that South Dakotans want someone who will fight for everyday folks, not the big corporations that dodge taxes, and not Big Oil and Big Ag and Big Insurance that dictate policy.

Unlike Howie, Weiland skipped allusion and said "EB-5" up front. EB-5 fits his main theme as "the most egregious example" of big-money power gone wrong. He said we should not be selling citizenship through EB-5.

Top Priority

Weiland went right to his populist theme and said his number-one priority is to get big money out of public policy. For example, Weiland said the farm program takes our tax dollars and hands 75% of that money to big corporations (some would call that income redistribution). For further example, Weiland said we could have gotten better health care reform if insurance companies hadn't dictated the terms of the Affordable Care Act. (Hey, that's two priorities! But Rick is working on a theme here.)

Weiland said he looks at every issue through the prism of big money: "If you don't think [big money]'s a problem, you're not paying attention."

Howie said his first job will be to address "Obamacare." He believes in repeal and replace: repeal the law and replace anyone who supported it.

Then Howie cheated like Rick and named other priorities, although not as explicitly wrapping them in a theme. HOwie said he wants to stop government growth, cut spending, and put a lid on the debt (which latter idea I've told him is arbitrary and silly). "We've lost our way," Howie moaned (reaching again for that preacherly vibe). "The free market has made America great."

If Rounds had a unifying theme, it was to try to out-Howie Howie. Speaking to a tentful of farm-show attendees, he said he wants to "get control of" and "shut down" the EPA. He said the EPA is out of control and wants to regulate ditches and farm ponds. (No, it doesn't.) He said the EPA is doing more damage to the U.S. than (I was waiting for ISIS or auto-tune) any other bureaucracy.

For his own priority-creep, Rounds then jumped to saying we've got to fire Harry Reid as majority leader, begin balancing budgets, and repeal the ACA and replace it section by section with a portable patient-centered plan.

And then he repeated the claim that was debunked long before he started making it for political points, that we need to stop the ACA from taking $700 billion from Medicare. At this point, Rounds drew shouts of "No!" and "Lie! from the audience. Yes, Weiland had a lot of Dems in the audience, and they were torqued.

Rounds jumped back to bashing the EPA, saying the agency wants to increase the cost of energy, thinking higher taxes will encourage conservation. But Rounds said that won't work, because we'll all keep using the same amount of energy (demonstrating that Mike Rounds doesn't believe in empirical economic data that shows the obvious and predictable fact that if fuel prices go up, people use less fuel).

"Big government is biggest challenge," Rounds said passionately. He went almost shrill saying that government is trying to take our money and tell us how to run our businesses.

Pressler said his main priority is to "restore honesty in budgetary matters." Pressler appeared to mean telling the truth about both parties' fiscal values. He said the GOP is not more conservative on corporate subsidies or overseas military spending. Playing to the liberals (or is it just decent human beings?) that Howie doesn't want, Pressler said his fiscal conservatism isn't about cutting help to the poor and the elderly).

Flipping the partisan card, Pressler said President Clinton balanced the budget. He said that while he "disagree[s] with many things my friend from Harvard Law School association" Barack Obama does, he doesn't like the SDGOP resolution to impeach the President. "He's our President," said Pressler. "We need to work with him, talk with him." Playing the practical statesman rather than the right-wing panderer, Pressler said we won't be able to repeal the EPA, but we can get better treatment by working with the President instead of against him.

Now far from his original theme of fiscal honesty, Pressler threw in that Senator John McCain "has never met a war he doesn't like and would have had us in Syria had he won the Presidency. Pressler then returned to the idea of working with the President for his remaining two years in office on getting landowners relief from the EPA and improbing roads and airports through bipartisanship.

Congressional Approval

Given a rather broad question about changing Congress's abysmal public approval, the candidates basically had free shots for their favorite brief book pages. Howie wished for straight talk, then diverged unnecessarily to criticize Governor Daugaard, without saying his name, for not ruling out a fuel tax increase. Howie vowed not to vote for any tax increase.

Rounds said folks unhappy with Congress want straight talk (Mike! Gordon said that! Don't say what Gordon says!) and results. He then rattled off a series of lines, some new, some reheated, in this order:
—South Dakota balances its budget every year. He then
—We can't promise everything and borrow from future generations.
—Government should help those who can't help themselves.
—D.C. has decided they know better than we do how to spend our money.

Rounds spent a larger chunk of time rejecting no-tax pledges (here he goes responding to Howie again, and when you're responding to Gordon Howie, you're not winning). He doesn't do no-tax pledges because many in D.C. have taken the pledge and spend the money anyway (which seems like saying, "Other people take marriage vows and then cheat or divorce, so I'm not going to take marriage vows", not nearly as cogent a response as the pragmatic rejection of pledges last year). With the debt going up, pledges are the wrong solution.

The right solution, apparently, is to cut the EPA, to which Rounds eagerly returned. He said South Dakota farmers and racnhers do a better job of farming than bureacrats (a good continued focus on the Dakotafest audience). But then for good measure, Rounds jumped to another old hobbyhorse, his unbelievable and state-budget-busting call to abolish the Department of Education. Cut those 5,000 (unnamed, easily vilified for political purposes) bureaucrats making $102K each on average, he said, and spend that money to teach our kids.

Pressler returned to promoting the power of independents, claiming that the eleven Indies who have served in D.C. since his time in the Senate have all been very powerful for their states. He said Connecticut's Joe Lieberman found he became more powerful when he switched to the big I because he could work with both sides. Pressler disdained the "childish competition" betwee the two parties.

Pressler repeated the Watertown editorial and emphasized his pledge to serve one term. He said most Senators spend 52% of time raising money for next election; with no intent to seek re-election Pressler vowed, "I will work full time for you!" He said his one-termedness would leave the door open for all the young pols in the audience to plan to replace him. (If I hadn't been so fixed on taking notes, I'd have glanced around to see whose eyes twinkled more at that mention, Dusty Johnson's or Ryan Brunner's.)

Pressler expanded on his proposal to reduce overseasemilitary spending by bringing troops home. Troops in the U.S. would stimulate the economy around Ellsworth and elsewhere. Securing the border with our military would help clear the decks for immigration reform without spending another dime. Pressler averred that his "bring 'em home" and "secure the border" pitches are not isolationist. As the only veteran in the race, he believes in a strong defense but also in modernizing our forces and reducing waste.

Pressler threw in a call to repeal corporate, personal, and charitable deductions, but time ran out before he could specify which constituencies he would enrage with that revenue enhancement.

Weiland constructed the most coherent response to the question posed. "We gotta get big money out of politics," he repeated. Contributions from special interests cause pols to lose their way and represent donors instead of voters. Congress becomes beholden to special interests, people give up, and that's why the Congressional approval rating is so low. That was the question, and Weiland answered it.

Weiland then razzed Rounds, saying Mike wasn't interested in limiting contributions and SuperPac cash and did not respond to Weiland's offers to discuss doing so.

Weiland went after Mike's (and Weiland was first-naming here) EPA tirade, saying that repealing the EPA is not realistic. The EPA may overreach, but it does good for the country. He said the same of Rounds's inauthentic call to abolish the Department of Education. Weiland detoured into the state teacher shortage and lack of teacher pay, which really has nothing to do with the federal Department of Education, but which he used to lead into pointing out that as governor, Rounds cut education 25% over eight years (careful, Rick: on raw budget numbers, that statement is false; he needs to elaborate and talk about the state's share of K-12 funding compared to local and federal dollars... though I', not sure that share has gone down so much as been consistently awful throughout the Rounds Administration).

Speaking of bureaucrats, Weiland asked how many Rounds added as governor. The answer: 1,500! "That's a problem!" shouted Rick (and since Rick respects public servants, I'm sure he meant a problem for Rounds's political consistency). "People want honesty," Weiland said.

Affordable Care Act

I've alluded to this question as the point where Rounds lost his focus and momentum, showed his thin-skinnedness, and lost the debate.

The former governor said we have to repeal and replace the ACA section by section in a process that will take more than two weeks. Rounds seemed to claim that the ACA has no funding mechanism, even though that is patently false: the ACA included funding mechanisms and deficit reduction, unlike the Medicare drug benefit that President Bush signed in 2004.

Rounds raised the usual spectres, saying the ACA is the government thinking it knows better than us how to do health care, that "you can keep your doctor" was a lie (wait: who hasn't been able to keep their doctor?) just like "you can keep your insurance."

Rounds said we need to assure competition as we did in South Dakota, where we had 17 insurers to choose from, and let people choose their coverage (wait: we can choose our coverage; it's that a number of insurers have chosen not to offer plans on the exchanges that allow us to access the premium tax credit that Rounds's Republicans want to take away from South Dakotans).

Rounds decided he'd exhausted his ACA rhetoric, so he returned to saying the EPA must go away. He wants to get rid of the EPA's authority with the Raines Act to require Congressional approval for rule changes. And in complete divergence from the question, Rounds repeated that we balanced the budget every year when he was governor and offer the second-lowest taxes in the nation if smoke and the lowest if you don't smoke.

Pressler again played the grown up, saying we "have to keep ACA as practical matter," but change it as necessary. After two Presidential elections, a Supreme Court ruling, and even this year's election, the Senate won't have the votes to beat cloture, let alone a veto. "My purpose in going to Washington is to get things done," said Pressler. He noted that after the SDGOP voted to impeach President Obama, he invited the President to come to South Dakota and talk about how to better fit the law to South Dakota counties.

Staying on topic better than Rounds, Pressler said the ACA has done some good things for South Dakota. He said South Dakota doctors tell him the law supports low-wage workers and rural health care needs.

Weiland licked his chops and said he's been eager for this conversation with Rounds. He said Rounds's claim to be losing sleep over the ACA taking Medicare away from his dear old dad about his sleeplessness and his dad has been bunk since 2012. He said Rounds's own ad admits that the ACA added ten years to trust fund solvency, and the Medicare trustees just added another four years, saying the ACA's changes have extended the viability of the fund to 2030. "Don't let Rounds get away with [his Medicare claim], because it's not true."

Weiland said the problem with the Affordable Care Act is that it is not affordable enough. He said that back when he ran AARP and today as he tours the state, no one on Medicare ever offers to trade it for private insurance. That's why Weiland wants to open Medicare to folks of any age who want to buy in. You want choice? Let consumers choose between "Mike's big private insurance policies" and Medicare!

Weiland said making Medicare a public option would make Medicare more solvent. He pointed to Medicare's lower overhead, noting that the Medicare chief gets $175K a year, far less than private insurance executives.

THrowing one last punch before time was called, Weiland reminded us that the Affordable Care Act stopped insurers from yanking our coverage when we get sick and need insurance most. That response drew the loudest cheers of the day from his supporters.

Howie said the ACA is a bad law "from start to finish." But he went straight to questioning Rounds's credibility as an ACA opponent, saying the governor sent his chief of staff to kill Howie's ACA nullification bill in 2010. Howie says he had run his bill by Attorney General Marty Jackley and gotten confirmation that his bill would not have hindered the state's (mostly unsuccessful) lawsuit against the ACA and had the potential to help.

Howie said the ACA is a budget buster (no, it reduces deficits), then said Rounds imposed regulations on raw milk, and we can't trust that mindset to eliminate the EPA. Howie added that Rounds sat on the National Governors Association board that created Common Core. (Just how hard do we have to work to keep these guys focused on one question?)

At this point, Rounds fatefull invoked the rebuttal rule and ripped into Howie, as I've reported elsewhere.

Rounds also threw out the hyperbole that Rick likes having the feds in control of our health care. He said (incorrectly) that putting everybody on Medicare (which is not Rick's plan) would hurt those who have it now (which ignores the logic of Rounds's own insurance industry that says inviting younger, healthier people into a risk pool helps everyone on the plan)

ROunds repeated his claim that the ACA takes (he used the verb "changes") $716 billion in the Medicare trust fund. And then, in a fit of foolishness, invoked Sarah Palin's death panels, called them rationing panels, and exhorted us all to look them up in ACA Section 3403.

Howie gamely retorted that other states passed nullification bills like his (to no effect, obviously, since we're still having the ACA debate. He invoked the 10th Amendment and the sovereignty of states but did not wave a Confederate flag.

Weiland dished back at Rounds, saying that balanced budget ROunds brags up is required by our state constitution. He said Rounds left seven of eight budgtes unbalanced and took money from the feds to reach balance. He said South Dakota gets 47% of its budget from the federal government (the number varies; this year's budget puts our federal mooching at 39.6%). Weiland doesn't call it mooching; he calls it a partnership.

Weiland said Rounds "isn't being completely honest" about Medicare. He said that if Rounds doesn't like government running health insurance, then Rounds must be advocating that we get rid of Medicare. He hung the Paul Ryan budget on ROunds's neck and said that while Medicare may need reform, he'd rather give people a choice than follow Rounds's insurance industry perspective.

Pressler joined the rebuttal fray but didn't say much about ACA. He talked about deficit reduction, expressed concern that a dollar collapse would hurt agriculture, talked about Goldwater campaigning for him as a fiscal conservative way back when, and advocated increasing teacher pay, taking care of senior citizens, and cutting corporate subsidies. "Throwing apples at each other on Senate floor and at the PResident, we're not going to accomplish anything."

The final question was on EB-5, which I have already documented as a serious and successful bombardment exposing Mike Rounds's weakness on this crucial issue.


Howie closed by calling Weiland and Pressler back Obama's liberal agenda, while Rounds left South Dakota a deficit and vetoed the first abortion ban. Howie offered a better choice, "principled conservative leadership."

Rounds said he believes in results and said his results as governor are why young people are coming back to South Dakota in droves (what? where?). He said we don't buld quality of life by asking for more federal dollars. We need the right to pick our doctors (I'm still looking for the line by which ACA limits my doctor choice more than my private insurer).

Pressler said with the enthusiasm of a younger man that he is eager to go back to Washington and do a whole number of projects. He said he's "brimming" with projects, like air service and grain shipping. He's eager to work on a bipartisan basis. He asked for cash, noting he has 1% of the money his two major opponents have raised. But even if he's not swimming in cash, he said he's basking in the "glorious freedom of independence."

Weiland got the last word, noting that he has never held public office in Pierre or D.C. He will continue to visit town after town. He told voters to follow the money. He said the great challenge of this generation is to take the country back from big money that gets in the way of good government.

* * *

So again, I look at Rip Van Dakota and ask what he thinks. He smelled the standard level of bull and digressions. He's really eager to learn about these hyperlink thingies that I tell him will provide background on all the claims he heard. But not knowing anything else he says the performance on that stage showed him four men equal to the task of debating, with no clear front-runner.

Rip is eager to hear the remaining debates, which promise to be lively and interesting. But first, he wants to get one of those communicators....

Independent candidate for U.S. Senate Gordon Howie, Dakotafest, Mitchell, SD 2014.08020

Gordon Howie—mostly harmless, right?

It's hard to tell who won yesterday's Senate debate at Dakotafest. But Mike Rounds lost. You know how you can tell? The Republican frontrunner took time to attack Tea Party conservative Gordon Howie, the candidate who places fourth in every poll that bothers to mention him, the man with the least chance of beating him in November.

This telling exchange came in Question #4 of the Dakotafest debate, on the Affordable Care Act. Rounds said repeal and replace. Independent Larry Pressler said more fuss over ACA repeal wastes time better spent getting things done in Washington. Weiland said the Affordable Care Act, while good, didn't make health care affordable enough and pitched his Medicare-as-public-option plan. He also said Rounds was lying in an earlier response when he said that the ACA was robbing Medicare. Howie said nuke the ACA and complained that Rounds killed his bill to nullify the ACA in 2010.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Mike Rounds, Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, SD, 2014.08.20

Oooh, that Gordy! Oooh, that Gordy! He makes me so mad! I'll fix him—I'm gonna write him a mean letter....

While Howie spoke, Rounds leaned over and whispered something to moderator Jerry Oster from WNAX. When Howie finished, instead of moving on to the next question, Oster announced that Rounds would get a chance to respond. No such rebuttal had taken place in either debate Wednesday, but evidently and happily, the rules allowed such responses. Rounds opened his rebuttal by attacking Howie. He said, quite reasonably, that Gordon (Rounds said Gordon) can't change federal law with state law.

But then Rounds took another swing at Howie. He said that as a legislator, Gordy (Rounds said Gordy) voted on four budget bills to spend $66 million more than the Rounds Administration had requested. Rounds went on to say Medicare means government controls your health care and mentioned Sarah Palin's death panels.

The other candidates got to rebut as well and did so ably. But the kicker here is that Mike Rounds bothered to attack Gordon Howie as a bigger spender than he. (Seriously, anybody who believes Mike Rounds is a bigger fiscal conservative than Gordon Howie probably also believes that Benjamin Sisko was a better captain that James T. Kirk.)

We bloggers can spend our time razzing Gordon Howie, because Gordon is all sorts of fun. But Mike Rounds is not a blogger. (Heck, he's not even a Tweeter, or an e-mailer.) He's the Republican front-runner, the sure thing, the guy who by his vaunted polling data ought to be able to coast to coronation in November without dirtying his hands with so much as a faint dismissive wave toward Gordy, Larry, or Ricky.

But there Mikey went, letting Howie get under his skin and draw an absurd attack that makes Rounds look small (excuse me, smaller) and Howie look serious.

We will continue to debate who won Wednesday at Dakotafest (and I have full analysis of the Senate debate coming up). But Mike Rounds's thin-skinnedness shows that he lost.

Susan Wismer, Democratic candidate for governor, Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, South Dakota, 2014.08.20

Susan Wismer, Democratic candidate for governor, Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, South Dakota, 2014.08.20

This is the Sue Wismer we've been waiting for.

This is the Sue Wismer who would have beaten Joe Lowe by 30 points.

This is the Sue Wismer who can beat Dennis Daugaard.

South Dakota's three gubernatorial candidates debated in the steamy Dakotafest tent right by Mitchell yesterday. Nobody wilted, but Democrat Susan Wismer bloomed. In a display of rhetorical grit that nobody expected (seriously, I challenge you, find someone who did), the accountant from Britton snapped her pencils and took it to Governor Dennis Daugaard on Medicaid expansion, education, EB-5, and the failure of one-party rule in South Dakota.

The opening statements were mild and predictable. Independent Mike Myers, with his usual deliberate yet pointed delivery, said he's too old to be bought and needs a job. He spotlighted his health co-op plan, which he said would put us in control of health care instead of the Sanford/Avera corporate complex.

Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, at Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, SD, 2014.08.20

Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, at Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, SD, 2014.08.20

Republican Governor Daugaard rattled off his achievements in the "big job" to which we elected him four years ago. He said his administration eliminated a budget deficit (pre-emptively refuting his predecessor, Mike Rounds, would claim in the subsequent Senate candidates' debate that there never was a deficit). The Governor then said he's faced record flooding, widlfires, ice storms, a blizzard, a tornado... which might lead some to worry that God isn't raining favor on the current administration. Daugaard then touted his criminal justice reform bill and the addition of K-12, college, and vo-tech programs (which Mike Larson will tell you is specious poppycock, considering all the cuts Daugaard made to worsen the education crisis).

Wismer offered her own homey-farmy biography, but then she went on offense. She said she is running for the people not represented by the current administration. Opening the theme of one-party rule, she said she wants to bring to Pierre a healthy competition of ideas that has been missing for a long time.

And Wismer kept punching throughout the debate.

Top Priorities: Medicaid Expansion vs. Austerity

Asked about top priorities, Wismer went right to Medicaid expansion. She said that South Dakota could get $272 million a year and health coverage for 48,000 South Dakotans with the stroke of a pen. Instead, Daugaard refuses on ideological grounds to expand Medicaid under the ACA, leaving hospitals to write off $88 million in uncompensated care and leaving counties and the rest of us to should those costs.

Independent candidate Mike Myers, at Dakotafest, Mitchell, SD, 2014.0820

Independent candidate Mike Myers, at Dakotafest, Mitchell, SD, 2014.0820

Myers spoke more generally of the need to move away from political, economic, and financial bankruptcy and reduce insurance premiums that cost more than monthly mortgage payments. He said took another shot at the corporate health care complex, saying their high-price ads and executive salaries call into question their non-profit status. He also spoke of shifting money from end-of-life care to long-term care.

Daugaard avoided addressing Wismer's and Myers's concerns about health care and rattled off more of his fiscal conservatism, saying his budget cuts were great and courageous and that we can't afford to spend money we don't have. He also cited the #1 ranking for business that all of his fiscal conservatism won for South Dakota from CNBC, but didn't address why this year CNBC dropped us to #11.

K-12 Education Funding

Asked how to establish stable long-term funding for K-12 schools, Myers piled together comments about investing in children, looking at  pay and Common Core, and putting teachers and parents in charge of the process. Myers did not address the specific question of how to fund K-12 priorities.

Daugaard said that even with his 2011 cuts (which he said were the least amount taken from any budget area), the state still spends more general fund dollars on education than anything else. He said the current funding formula works and is providing schools this year with an increase twice that of inflation. He then repeated his implication that K-12 ed is bloated, with 50,000 fewer students than when he went to school but 10% more teachers and double the administration and other staff. Daugaard averred that he was "not saying that's right or wrong; it's a fact," but candidates don't say things in debates just to inform us; they make normative statements to persuade us that their policies are right and others are wrong.

Daugaard said the NEA says we're 51st in teacher pay but not 51st in per student funding... but keep in mind that our per-student funding reflects all sources, including the over-reliance on local and federal funds that makes up for the state's last-in-the-nation share of K-12 financial support.

Daugaard said the "first place I look to spend extra money is education," which contradicted a statement he made in his answer to the opening priority question, in which he said he used $100 million in unexpected revenue last year to reduce South Dakota's debt load.

Wismer began by saying that Lyman County still hasn't filled all of its teacher slots. She said the teacher shortage has been slow to come to public attention because schools don't like to admit that they are they are tight on staff and filling spots with what few warm bodies come forward.

Then she attacked again, asking why we love the free market but don't apply that thinking to teacher pay. She said South Dakota disrespects teachers in rhetoric and in financial priorities, making it easy for students to leave the state for the $10K or $15K more they can make teaching in neighboring states.

In a marquee line of the campaign, Wismer said, "It takes more than low taxes and great hunting" to attract young people. She said her uncle and grandpa who served in the Legislature didn't pay lip service to education and then cut the budget. "We are chasing our future right out of this state," said Wismer, and to get that future back, the tone coming from Pierre desperately needs to change.


Asked how we can export our ag products when our roads are falling apart, Daugaard drew a distinction that may start to wear on local leaders: he asserted that state infrastructure is hunky-dory while local roads and bridges are suffering. (This is akin to his answer on teacher pay, which he says is a local decision, not the state's—translation: don't blame Dennis!) Daugaard said the state highway system is in the best condition it's been in many years because (oh, drumroll, please!) we got over $200 million in stimulus that accelerated our road projects.

Say it with me: self-reliance.

Daugaard said county and local officials report lots of roads in fair to poor condition and many bridges functionally obsolete, unable to accommodate the width and weight of new farm equipment. He said his staff and the Legislature are studying the issue and considering solutions, including an increase in the gasoline tax.

Wismer looked Washington-ward and urged Congress to get its act together on highway funding. She agreed with restrained irony that the federal stimulus helped a lot. She said past leaders showed foresight in buying and preserving the core rail lines and said we should expand railroads to ease the strain on our highways.

Then came more Wismer buckshot. The state, she said, is passing the buck (not the bucks) to the locals, leaving struggling to pass wheel taxes. Responding to Daugaard's promise of diligent study, she said the state studies this issue all the time but doesn't dare talk about solutions, let alone act. "This administration continues to stand in way of allowing locals to take care of their own issues," said Wismer. "That will change with me as governor."

Myers said the counties are contributing to road problems by draining water away to their downstream neighbors, washing away their roads. He noted that his clique of old and cranky breakfast companions told him that in his days as a legislator, Daugaard supported regional water district but now as governor opposes them. "Where a person stands depends on where they sit," said Myers.

Medicaid Expansion Redux

Moderator Jerry Oster asked all three candidates to address Medicaid expansion and the millions non-expanding states are losing.

Wismer again cited the 48,000 people, the population of Mitchell and Brookings combined, who right now go to bed not knowing if they can afford whatever might happen tomorrow. Wismer said expanding Medicaid would provide preventive care that would decrease costs, emergency conditions, and ER visits.

Wismer claimed the Governor's refusal to expand Medicaid is an ideological problem. Wismer said Daugaard is perhaps handcuffed by extreme right-wing voices, costing South Dakota $272 million a year.

Myers didn't talk about Medicaid expansion. He talked about deaths from iatrogenesis and said, "access saves and access kills." There's a point there, but explaining it requires more text than Myers fit into his two minutes. Myers proposed a "Health Care Financial Informed Consent Act" to require up-front sticker prices on every medical service. That's a totally sensible idea, but it also fails to answer the Medicaid question.

Daugaard opened with another lecture about the mechanics of the topic. Eventually getting to the question, Daugaard said that because Ben Bernanke is worried that Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable, South Dakota should not buy into expanding Medicaid as a third entitlement. He fretted about the state cost: expanding Medicaid would cost South Dakota only a couple million the first couple years, but state costs would grow to $36 million a year over time. What trade-offs, cuts, deprivations to education or other needs will we be making, Daugaard asked.

Daugaard said, "We value self-reliance (see above, on stimulus and roads). We should "help those who can't help themselves." He said half of the 48,000 Wismer cites can already get insurance on the federal exchange (though I suspect he supports a lawsuit that would make that insurance unaffordable for those South Dakotans).

But in his final word on the topic, Daugaard said he's "open to considering expansion." We didn't have time to wonder at that whiplash, because then rolled forth the thunder of...


Myers, who was shaking his head during the question, sadi EB-5 is the most visible sign of South Dakota's oft-highly ranked corruption. He applauded Wismer's efforts to dig deeper.

Then Myers got weird, saying a Republican legislator told him that an FBI report says the muzzle of the shotgun was more than 18 inches from the tummy. That's how Myers said it, not filling in the name of Richard Benda, the disgraced Rounds/EB-5 official (and fall guy?) who died of a shotgun blast last October. He offered to show a copy of Benda's death certificate and have a helper demonstrate how Benda would have had to hold the shotgun to kill himself after the debate. I did not attend this promised sideshow, and I am unclear on how such a macabre demonstration advances the debate on EB-5.

Myers did say his first action as governor would be to appoint a special prosecutor to find where our money went in the EB-5 scandal and make sure we don't lose such money again.

Daugaard again signaled that if EB-5 goes south, he will cut Rounds loose. EB-5 "started before my administration," said Daugaard, and he emphasized that his Office of Economic Development hasn't used it. He suggested that the investigations of a Republican state attorney general and a Demcoratic U.S. Attorney are sufficient assurance of fair and thorough investigation. He lauded the three audits he ordered and says he has implemented every recommendation of those audits to ensure the problems that have arisen from EB-5 don't happen again.

"I wasn't there!" said Daugaard. He said he is trying to be as transparent as he can and is not hiding anything.

Wismer spoke of EB-5's "long, tortured history" and "several bankrupt projects" (easy, Sue: here in South Dakota, it's two: Northern Beef Packers and the Veblen dairies... though South Dakota legal usage equates several and two). Wismer said the EB-5 promoters "used state's good name to make promises the state couldn't keep." Bad actors abused our state's credibility.

On a policy level, Wismer said we shouldn't invest foreign money in projects that South Dakota money was smart enough not to invest in. We shouldn't support a program that lets foreigners buy way to the front of the green-card line.

Wismer challenged the Governor's audits, saying they were very carefully designed to avoid the questions we are asking today about how the state ran EB-5. The lack of a second for her motion to subpoena EB-5 mastermind Joop Bollen shows the ills of one-party rule. EB-5 is "emblematic of the larger issue of one-party dominance of both branches" that is "just not healthy," said Wismer. "There are people whose jobs depend on telling the governor what he wants to hear and not the truth."

Economic and Workforce Development

Asked what role the state should play in developing the economy, workforce, and wages, Daugaard offered three goals. We should encourage existing South Dakota businesses to grow with a stable, low-tax, low-cost, reasonable-regulatory environment. We should attract outside businesses, as we did with 3M and AKG. And we should encourage entrepreneurial spirit, as we did by letting Joop Bollen and Richard Benda run EB-5 without proper oversight (oh, sorry—that's my example, not Dennis's).

Daugaard said the state can provide low-cost loans, tax incentives to compete with other states, trade missions to help manufacturers find new markets, and provide good infrastructure. Daugaard did not mention education as a component of economic development, but he did fret over imaginary federal rules that would keep children from driving tractors.

Wismer said she was proud to be a part of a solution during the 2013 session, "what we thought was going to be a good economic development plan." (Hear Susan winding up again?). The voters' rejection in 2012 of the governor's plan to hand money from the general fund to corporate interests allowed a real bipartisan discussion and compromise. Wismer said 2013 Senate Bill 235 put legislators on the state economic development board, funded housing development (especially in small communities), directed money to infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, etc. to support business), and directed money toward community development. But this winter, says Wismer, Governor Daugaard ripped out the funding mechanism for that compromise and left funding to the Governor's discretion.

Myers said that economic development in South Dakota has suffered from bad actors (and into my head pops the Reagan presidency), and as governor he will pose economic development questions to Daugaard and Rounds, either voluntarily or under oath, but he didn't say what questions.

Myers then bent the question to one of his favorite issues, hemp. He said politics gets in the way of good solutions. Hemp could be a billion-dollar industry in South Dakota and could thrive especially on the reservations, but Myers said the Big Oil, lumber, and cotton lobbyists oppose hemp for business reasons. Besides, as he wittily put it, hemp makes rope, rope rhymes with dope, and that means marijuana! In his his best laugh line of the afternoon, Myers said that by the same thinking, we should ban corn because it can make whiskey.

Teacher Shortage

Asked if there is a teacher shortage and what the state ought to do about it, Wismer said we need to "change the tenor of the conversation from Pierre" that currently disrespects teachers. She said our budget cuts have driven the teacher shortage. Our budget cuts forced schools to cut the vo-tech programs that produced the welders and machinists of whom the Governor now complains we don't have enough.

Wismer said we are reaping the consequences of 40 years of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation. "The free market works, folks. Why are we surprised?" She cited a university president who told her Appropriations Committee that South Dakota is short of math and science teachers. Asked how to recruit new teachers, Wismer said the university president gave a simple answer: "Respect them and pay them better; end of story."

Myers said we have to spend money to make money but must spend it in the right places. He said he can't think of a better place to invest than education, but it has to be relevant education. He talked about kids using the Internet, but failed to tie that to addressing the teacher shortage.

Daugaard said, "The teacher shortage is no different from the shortage in other fields." He said he has tried to address that general shortage through his bull sessions—er, I mean, workforce summits.

He admitted the shortage is a supply and demand issue (so more pay should work to prove our demand and increase supply, right?), but he said the problem exists in other states (in other words, again, don't blame Dennis!) He said we have trouble finding teachers because of our low unemployment rate.

He said the free market does work, but he then shifted blame to the evil teachers union. He said the union demands pay based on tenure and college degrees, not quality of performance. He touted his 2012 plan to pay math and science teachers more (you know, the plan we voters soundly rejected).

Daugaard gave away his ground by affirming Wismer's position: "I'm open to paying more based on market conditions; more money will attract more people to these professions." But in his final dodge, Daugaard said school boards set salaries, not the state.

Closing Statements

Myers repeated that we should subpoena Rounds and Daugaard on EB-5. He made a new promise to abolish the Governor's Hunt and establish the People's Hunt. Saying he's not a career politician and not for sale, he exhorted us to think for ourselves.

Daugaard clsoed by saying, "I appreciate that several people are still awake out there." (Translation: I really hope you found everything Susan said boring, because if you were paying attention, you saw here give me a beating!) "I am honest... I'm not motivated by money or power; I left a good job in banking... to take less money to work in a children's charity." Daugaard promised to "never stop listening, never stop learning, never stop working for you."

Wismer pressed her attack right to the end. She harkened to her days on the swather and having a broken sickle section. That broken part would leave a row uncut, and that flaw wouldn't go away by ignoring it. She had to stop and fix it.

Wismer said our ancestors left us a well-run swather, but the current administration is letting sickles break and not replacing them. We're letting roads and bridges decay and letting schools decline. The Governor won't acknowledge the damage, said Wismer, but the damage is there, and the consequences are mounting.

Wismer closed saying we need to "change the priority from taking care of Pierre to taking care of people."

Susan Wismer brought exactly the fire that an underdog needs to beat an incumbent, to pierce the shield of unearned popularity that leads many observers to think Daugaard is a shoe-in. Wismer brought this fire for the first time, surprising everyone who expected the Wismer of the primary who didn't project the same charisma, leadership, and righteous anger as primary challenger Joe Lowe.

For the uninitiated, the Dakotafest debate showed a passionate and aggressive Democratic candidate who is ready to go toe to toe with a Republican Governor, challenge his one-party complacency and blame-shifting, and lead this state back to the right path.

Susan Wismer sounds like the new woman (the new Amazon?) that we Democrats want and need and that Republicans should fear. Go get 'em, Susan!


Independent Senate candidate Gordon Howie thinks his Republican opponent Mike Rounds took a beating today. Howie does what a smart challenger should... rubs it in:

Funny that Rounds could motivate both Howie to get active in the Republican Party and motivate me to abandon that party. I'd like to hear from Rep. Noem herself whether Rounds's death-tax votes had anything to do with her political aspirations... but I do find it interesting that Howie is buttering up Noem... perhaps as penance for bolting the party and challenging their favorite this year?


At Dakotafest today, Gordon Howie doubled my projection of his vote total in South Dakota's Senate race to double digits.

The Howie boost doesn't come from his good hits on Rounds on EB-5 in today's debate (though I wholeheartedly approve, Gordon—carry on!). It wasn't his amazing ability to draw Rounds into attacking him (really! Rounds did it, saying Howie isn't fiscally conservative! That's worth a couple brownie points!). It wasn't his discourse on the Tenth Amendment and state sovereignty (I take those brownie points right back).

No, the Howie boost comes from the man in this photo:

Gordon Howie, Independent candidate for U.S. Senate, and Nick Reid, campaign manager.

Gordon Howie, Independent candidate for U.S. Senate, and Nick Reid, campaign manager, at Dakotafest, outside Mitchell, South Dakota, 2014.08.20.

Meet Gordon Howie's campaign manager, Nick Reid. Douglas High School debate coach Nick Reid. Debate coach.

We all debate coaches are destined to rule the world. If Gordon can listen to Nick, he just might beat Pressler!

And if he can play that last name right, he might even win the still up-for-grabs endorsement of the Senate Majority Leader.

1 comment

The Dakotafest debates are over. The Robinson-Noem tilt was a missed opportunity for the Democratic challenger in the House race, but gubernatorial candidate Susan Wismer and Senate candidate Rick Weiland both did Democrats proud, landing the punches that need to be landed on the Republican frontrunners. And this afternoon, Weiland got help pounding Republican Mike Rounds from his Independent compatriots Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie.

The debates were long and hot and filled with important policy disagreements. I'll get to those, but in this post, let's focus just on the ultimate issue raised in the Senate debate, the EB-5 visa investment program, also known as Mike Rounds's glass jaw.

The question offered was, simply, whether the candidates support continuing the EB-5 program, which has stirred controversy in South Dakota since last October, when we learned of federal investigations into the conduct of Rounds's deceased economic development chief and EB-5 promoter Richard Benda.

Larry Pressler (I)

Larry Pressler (I)

Pressler drew the mic first. Addressing the policy itself, Pressler said he would not be in favor of continuing EB-5 program. As for the brewing scandal in South Dakota, he said we need to investigate the state's execution of the program much more thoroughly.

Demonstrating a mental acumen that was evident throughout the debate and belies any of the insulting Republican talk of a daffy or detached Pressler, the former Senator then offered a new take on the scandal brewing in South Dakota. Pressler said that the South Dakota press is paid such low wages that they can't do real investigative journalism (every editorial page will now turn briefly and angrily against the kindly old statesman). Rounds thus won't be fully vetted unless he becomes Senator. Drawing on his experience in Washington, Pressler said the national press will dig into a newly elected Senator. When they find the connections between Rounds, Benda, Joop Bollen, and the EB-5 monkeyshines, they will tear Rounds up. That national media beating will weaken a Senator Rounds and leave South Dakota with less clout in the Senate, something we cannot afford to lose."We'll have a wounded Senator," said Pressler. "That hurts every person in this room."

With fatherly advice (and Pressler noted that Rounds's father is one of Pressler's best friends), Pressler thus recommended Rounds launch a pre-emptive strike. He called on Rounds to write a "memorandum of fact" explaining to the people of South Dakota everything about his relations with Benda. Pressler said that sitting down for a day and dictating everything he knows about EB-5 for publication would do us all a "great service."

Rick Weiland (D)

Rick Weiland (D)

Rick Weiland then took the mic. Following Rounds's earlier rhetoric in the debate about the Affordable Care Act, Weiland said we need to "repeal and replace" EB-5 with something that doesn't lead to "culture of corruption." Weiland said he was inclined to stick with discussion of the policy and avoid discussing the scandal side, but he said the refusal of the Legislature to subpoena Joop Bollen or even discuss seeking answers from the EB-5 impresario "crossed over the line." "The people of South Dakota are entitled to a real explanation," said Weiland. He said Pressler's new memorandum suggestion might be a good part of that explanation.

Weiland then fit EB-5 into his overarching campaign theme of getting big money out of government. Weiland said EB-5 solicits big money foreigners to buy citizenship. He pointed to Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who fundraised for Rounds in Iowa Saturday but who thinks EB-5 should go away.

Weiland complained that (contrary to Rounds's April SDNA debate assertion) EB-5 has cost South Dakota millions of tax dollars and the life of Richard Benda. EB-5 is "big money going wild," said Weiland. Weiland said that Rounds likes to talk about "South Dakota common sense" (and Rounds used that phrase early and often in the debate). But the EB-5 program, said Weiland, is "so unlike South Dakota." "How much common sense," asked Weiland, is there "in handing Richard Benda that million-dollar check? Whose watch was that on?"

Gordon Howie (I)

Gordon Howie (I)

Then Gordon Howie piled on. He disagreed with Pressler: echoing Democrats, Howie says Rounds should testify under oath as Governor Dennis Daugaard has offered to do. Howie joined in the chorus of late seconds for Rep. Susan Wismer's motion to subpoena Joop Bollen and said the failure of the Legislature to do so exposes a weakness in the SDGOP leadership against who he has rebelled. Howie says the state should release all e-mails among Rounds, Bollen, and Benda, as well as phone records, appointment logs, and other information that would help us understand who did what when and and who knew what when.

"EB-5 fosters crony capitalism and corruption," railed Howie. He repeated that $4.3 million dollars in tax dollars were lost in EB-5 and challenged an audience member who signaled disagreement with Howie's statement of fact. If Rounds deserves vindication, said Howie, we should know that now. But if "authority was misappropriated" (and that's as important a question as whether money was misappropriated), Howie said we need to know that now, too.

Partisans in the crowd cheered all three of those candidates' statements wildly. The big Weiland corps around me cheered Gordon Howie with gusto. (Pundits, pollsters, go ahead, start postulating the Howie draw from Democrats.)

Marion Michael Rounds (R)

Marion Michael Rounds (R)

Then the man taking all this fire took the mic. Rounds opened with a subdued explanation of the mechanics of the program: EB-5 is a federal program, with 500 offices nationwide using it to bring in outside investment.

Rounds said South Dakota "moved it outside" because most other programs operated as private companies. (Rounds did not say whether other states privatized their EB-5 program with no-bid contracts to former state employees looking to boost their personal profits.)

Rounds said EB-5 gives foreigners an opportunity to come to the U.S. if things go badly in their country not as citizens but on visas. That distinction matters only if Rounds is trying to deflate the semantics of critics who say EB-5 buys citizenship, but not if he's trying to defend the idea of buying one's way to the front of the immigration line.

Rounds claimed EB-5 did "over 80 different projects" in South Dakota... which I may have misheard, because I'm aware of only eight dairies, the Huron turkey plant, Northern Beef Packers, a power plant and a casino and maybe a project or two that I've forgotten, not 80. Rounds admitted that two of those projects didn't work because they didn't have enough money. From an economic development standpoint, his administration used EB-5 during the recession to bring more resources to help projects grow. But ultimately, Rounds said, EB-5 was good for South Dakota.

Turning from policy to scandal, Rounds said that if he had known what Benda was doing while he was governor, he would have fired Benda. But Rounds maintains the counterfactual position that South Dakota lost no tax money in EB-5. He repeated his argument that we gained more than we put in thanks to the taxes paid by the EB-5 projects

Rounds ended with a recital of the general facts of Future Fund grant #1434, the million-dollar check he wrote to Northern Beef Packers during the last days of his administration.

He finished with a thank-you for the opportunity to discuss the issue.

There were plenty of Rounds partisans in the audience. None of them cheered. None of them applauded. Rounds's discourse on EB-5 ended in silence.

Remember how a few months back, after the riveting autumn revelations about Benda, Bollen, and the Governor's Office of Economic Development, how EB-5 seemed to fade from the press? I wondered then if the press might just sit back on EB-5 until closer to the general election, when folks would be paying attention, until, perhaps, right before the debates began. Or maybe the candidates would wait until they got the chance to challenge Rounds face to face. Or maybe it would take some new development, say, the Legislature's rank dereliction of duty in refusing to take the logical step of subpoenaing South Dakota's EB-5 director, to snap the press's and the public's patience in seeking answers.

Whatever caused it, at the moment, I think we can say EB-5 is back, big and bad. Rick Weiland, believing he is within striking distance, is adopting a stronger attack on this front. Pressler and Howie very sensibly are focusing their fire on the frontrunner as well. All three are saying things that resonated with half of the Dakotafest debate crowd and left the other half squeamishly quiet.

And in response to this assault, the otherwise feisty and fiery Rounds could only respond with bland, technocratic explanations of things we already know that put no one's doubts to rest.

Weiland, Pressler, Howie, the EB-5 question is Rounds's glass jaw. Keep punching until he answers... or until you win.


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