Mike Huether has waded into the snowplows-for-Jesus debate; I guess I have to, too.

The City of Sioux Falls let some school kids paint their snowplows. Naturally, some Lutheran kids painted happy Jesus messages (along with one improperly cited Bible verse). The Siouxland Freethinkers suggested religious messages on public equipment is inappropriate. The city lawyers said, "Ah, you may have a point" and asked the kids to repaint the plows.

Then Mayor Mike Huether comes barreling in for some wrongheaded grandstanding:

"I don't want to repaint over those snowplows," Huether said. "To me, we should repaint over all of them at the same time and that's at the end of the snow season."

Huether told me that he hoped to bring together the schools, the Siouxland Freethinkers and city officials to find a compromise.

But Huether seemed adamant that the plow blades wouldn't be removed.

"We are not going to be painting over those plow blades. We will not be painting over them unless I get some Supreme Court case that says that I have to," Huether said.

Heuther is also reluctant to suggest changes to the "Paint the Plows" program for fear of trampling on the First Amendment rights of participating schools.

"That's one of the things we're struggling with," said Huether. "How do we move forward and still allow people to have freedom of expression?" [Greg Belfrage, "Huether: 'We Are Not Painting Over Plow Blades'," KELO-AM Radio, 2014.10.28]

Mayor Huether, we are not talking about First Amendment rights of participating schools. No one has a right to paint messages on public equipment... although if that's what you're positing, don't let Ryan Gaddy and Annette Bosworth near City Hall. The city invites schools to decorate snowplows. The city has complete control of the forum and the content participants post, just as it asserts control over what people can say and when they can say it at City Council meetings. The city has an obligation (which it failed to fulfill in this case) to establish and explain clear criteria for the use of the privilege of decorating snowplows.

Imagine if some smart kids had painted "Vote for Rick Weiland" or "Hillary 2016" on the plows. The city would have shut that noise down right away. We have laws restricting the use of public resources for such politicking.

Better yet, imagine if some Muslim kids painted "Allahu Akbar!" on a plow. Let Greg Belfrage see that holy cry bearing down on him in his rearview mirror, and he'll get why some of us would prefer the city not be toting giant Jesus messages around on its equipment.

Mayor Huether, the city messed up. Instead of acting like Mike Rounds, how about 'fessing up to your error, owning the problem, and saying you'll do better at teaching kids about the First Amendment in full next time around?

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Last night's KELO Senate debate was an example of substandard political journalism by South Dakota's broadcast media. Moderators Ben Dunsmoor and Don Jorgensen failed to live up to their own promised format, to manage the debate fairly, or to ask any probing follow-up questions of the candidates.

Jorgensen and Dunsmoor opened the show by promising something different from the usual debate format. They promised a free-flowing conversation, with time limits only on the opening and closing statements. They said they would intervene if candidates got off track. They said they would jump in to move the conversation along and ask follow-up questions.

No such forum happened. We got the usual debate format: question, responses and rebuttals in pre-determined order. The conversation never flowed freely. On one occasion when Howie tried to challenge Rounds out after the usual rebuttal cycle, Dunsmoor cut him off and moved mechanically to the next question on his list. There were no follow-up questions.

Jorgensen engaged in no watchdoggery of "off-track" answers. Amidst a sea of evasion from Rounds, Dunsmoor remained silent and reserved his interruptions for Howie. Consider the EB-5 question. Rounds mentioned EB-5 specifically for maybe the first ten seconds of his response, then went off on a complete tangent about needing to review every federal program. He reverted to his standard rants about ObamaCare and Keystone XL, programs that have nothing to do with the merits of EB-5. Dunsmoor, who has been KELO's EB-5 hawk, made not one peep and let the Governor ramble unleashed away from the question.

But on the next question about Keystone XL, Dunsmoor jumped all over Howie. Our friend Gordon gave a concise answer: he believes the pipeline will be a net gain for the state. He then tried to invoke the "free-flowing" spirit of the conversation with a smart segue: he said we're having trouble passing Keystone XL because we have trouble believing our leaders on the pipeline details. Howie then tried to turn back to Rounds's dismissal of his EB-5 attacks as mere falsehoods. I believe Howie tried to invoke the stunning revelation that Rounds's campaign manager, Rob Skjonsberg, used his government position to send government to a corporation in his investment portfolio. Dunsmoor interrupted Howie and said the question was about Keystone XL.

That moment demonstrated a clear bias on the part of the moderators. Dunsmoor didn't dare interrupt the frontrunner Republican on a clear evasion, but he stopped the Independent Howie from trying to follow the stated format of the program.

In a violation of common debate protocol, KELO gave the candidates a heads-up on the hardest question of the night. As they headed into the first commercial break, Dunsmoor said they'd be asking about EB-5 next. Dunsmoor at least was fair in giving all four candidates a minute or so of prep time for the question, but the point of a debate is to see the candidates thinking on their feet, not giving them time to rehearse their talking points off-camera. Dunsmoor ignored that debate protocol and instead played standard "stay tuned!" showmanship.

Dunsmoor and Jorgensen also chose and framed their questions poorly. The EB-5 question—whether candidates would support the federal-level review called for by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley—avoided prbing for answers to questions about South Dakota's EB-5 program. KELO biased the Keystone XL question by phrasing it in terms of a poll showing 60% of South Dakotans say they support the pipeline. In the biggest journalistic error, Dunsmoor floated a question on restrictions on assault weapons and large magazine. Guns have not floated to the surface as a pressing issue in this Senate campaign. Compared to EB-5, Keystone XL, the Affordable Care Act, or the Farm Bill, gun issues have little impact on South Dakota's daily well-being or our ability to distinguish the candidates' trustworthiness. Yet Dunsmoor wasted precious minutes on this question, crowding out time for more relevant discussion. When Dunsmoor squeezed in that last question about the ACA, he cut candidates off at 30 seconds and allowed no rebuttals.

This forum was better than nothing. We should appreciate KELO for giving up this smidgeon of prime-time ad revenue (although programming against Game 7 of the World Series, how much did KELO really lose?). And Don Jorgensen is cute to look at. But KELO failed to deliver the unique format, journalistic inquiry, and fairness that they promised with this forum.

9 comments

Democrat Rick Weiland and Independents Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie spent the final debate of South Dakota's U.S. Senate campaign doing what they should have been doing from Day One of their campaigns: calling Republican Mike Rounds out on his lies and corruption. Rounds offered three main responses:

  1. Blame Obama.
  2. Be a crybaby.
  3. Keep lying.


The first words out of Rounds's mouth were "Barack Obama," followed quickly by "South Dakota Common Sense," "D.C.... dysfunctional," and "ISIS and Ebola." His opening statement also included two blatant lies:

  1. "A vote for any one of my opponents is a vote for President Obama's failed policies."
  2. "My opponents—they think big government is the answer."

Rick Weiland would certainly be more supportive of President Obama's policies than Mike Rounds, though he stated the obvious that "I'm not Obama." Whether Weiland favors "big government" or "smart government" is a diverting rhetorical exercise. To claim that Gordon Howie and even Larry Pressler are big-government Obama liberals is laughable. Howie lit into Rounds's "misleading" claim as characteristic of the entire Rounds campaign and its willinginess to perpetuate statements that Rounds knows aren't true. Howie reminded voters that he proposed legislation to block the Affordable Care Act but that Governor Rounds killed that bill. Pressler said he has a 22-year record of voting against big government. Yet Rounds, without citing examples, kept lodging the same bogus claim against all three of his opponents.

Asked about supporting Senator Grassley's call to review the EB-5 visa investment program, Rounds completely avoided the question. He said we should review all federal programs and repeated his comments on ObamaCare and Keystone XL. Weiland said Rounds's evasion on EB-5 showed Rounds refuses to accept responsibility for what happened with EB-5 under his watch in South Dakota. He said Rounds makes up EB-5 job-creation numbers just as he makes up Keystone XL job-creation numbers and lies about Weiland wanting to kill Ellsworth Air Force Base. Gordon Howie jumped in to defend Weiland, saying Rounds knows Weiland doesn't want to kill Ellsworth. Howie then branded Rounds's EB-5 response as n example of "professional deceit." Pressler responded to Rounds's evasion by stunningly asking Rounds why he thinks Richard Benda killed himself and why the autopsy report as been sealed.

In response to that pummeling, Rounds kept evading. He gave no direct rebuttal; he only whined that his opponents were throwing "trash talk" and "innuendo" and (don't even try to restrain your laughter) "avoiding real issues." Weiland and Pressler both leapt on the question of issues. Weiland noted that Rounds spent most of the campaign avoiding debates and forums where the other candidates did talk about issues. Pressler agreed with Weiland that Rounds has skipped opportunities to talk policy and said he resents Rounds's suggestion that Pressler avoids real issues. (Pressler's resentment is justified, given that Pressler wonked out on specific legislation all night, as he has done in every debate).

Rounds's most laughable lie came in the discussion of Keystone XL. KELO loaded the question, framing it around the 60% approval rate Keystone gets from South Dakota voters and thus daring candidates to challenge the majority. Weiland boldly took the challenge, offering his bold and accurate three-point critique:

  1. Rounds's job numbers (inflated last night to 42,000) are bogus: Keystone XL will create 1,350 temp jobs and 35 permanent jobs.
  2. Keystone XL will send oil to the Gulf and overseas rather than boosting our energy independence.
  3. Rounds and Big Oil have lost those first two arguments, so now they're making up a new argument about pipelining Bakken oil to free rail cars for grain shipments, when that won't happen either, since the Bakken producers want to send their oil east for domestic refining and consumption, not south to the Gulf for export.

Pressler added that Rounds's KXL-Bakken-rail claim is false because the shippers can't mix Canadian tar sands oil and North Dakota crude.

Rounds responded that 10% of Keystone XL is reserved for carrying Bakken oil. How does he know this? The folks at TransCanada told him so, he said, and they wouldn't say that if it weren't true.

As Rick Weiland said during the EB-5 discussion, we just saw the real Mike Rounds. If a big corporation tells you something, it must be true.

Mike Rounds hid behind the bogeyman he makes of Barack Obama. He cried that his opponents are talking trash instead of addressing the specific questions and rebuttals they offered to his claims. And when pressed on his lies, he repeated them and told bigger lies.

Rick, Larry, Gordon, I can't tell which of you won last night. But you all three, working together, definitely beat Mike Rounds in the debate. If voters hear the messages you sent last night, you will beat Mike Rounds and his whining dodging and deceit at the polls. Which of you will win the election? Don't sweat that question. Beat Mike, and let the chips fall where they may.

20 comments

On October 15, Gary Coe of Lead filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to create Many True Conservatives. Coe sells magic pills of unknown composition. By waiting so late to create his PAC, he can now sell political messages with unknown donors.

Coe, who ran for District 31 House as a radical Tea Party Republican in 2012, is spending his mystery money attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds and boosting Independent Gordon Howie, whose Republican gubernatorial campaign Coe managed in 2010. A reader submits this robocall from Many True Conservatives:

Gary Coe Many True Conservatives robocall 20141029

Hi, this is Gary Coe with Many True Conservatives. We need a real conservative to represent us in the U.S. Senate. Mike Rounds gave us the EB-5 scandals, higher taxes, the largest budget deficit in South Dakota history, and now he refuses to take the no-increase-in-tax pledge. No wonder the Senate Conservative Fund refused to endorse Mike Rounds.

We have a real choice this election. Gordon Howie is pro-life, pro-gun, and the Tea Party leader taxpayers can trust. Please cast your vote for Gordon Howie the real conservative. Paid for by Many True Conservatives, 605-559-2345 [links mine; Gary Coe, Many True Conservatives Super PAC robocall, 2014.10.29].

I first thought I heard MiniTrue, but Coe isn't peddling Newspeak. Coe, like Howie, would bring us an economic and cultural train wreck if we gave them the keys to the Democracy Maserati, but when it comes to Mike Rounds, their conservative critique is pretty accurate.

But it would be nice to know who's footing the bill for Coe's attacks and just what percent of Rounds's voters those attacks will pull away.

26 comments

Elm Springs rancher Pat Trask boils the case against Mike Rounds into one simple message: Mike Rounds puts big money over the interests of South Dakota.

"I voted for Reagan, Bush, Thune -- but I can't vote for Mike Rounds," says Trask, with all the calm force of a Badlands heat wave.

Even objective reporter David Montgomery has to admit this ad from Mayday PAC is not just "effective" but "quietly devastating." Sure, outside money paid to put the ad on TV, but the words come straight from a South Dakota Republican, a man with a pick-up truck with South Dakota plates and horses grazing along the Cheyenne River, saying the words South Dakota needs to hear: Mike Rounds doesn't deserve your vote.

p.s.: The Displaced Plainsman is throwing in the towel for all Democrats, including Weiland. But Mayday PAC and I ain't heard no fat lady! Share this video, and Get Out The Vote!

39 comments

The main arguments against Initiated Measure 17, the "Any Willing Provider" law, appear to be that insurance salesmen need more freedom and that our costs will go up. The former just makes me laugh; the latter is up for debate.

But a press release from the Yes on 17 crew points me toward a recent Yankton Press & Dakotan article in which state medical association president Dr. Mary Milroy says there is no evidence that AWP laws raise costs...

Milroy said there’s a lack of evidence that prices would rise, based on the experience of other states that have implemented similar programs.

“The interesting thing is (those other states) have not seen any increase in cost,” she said. “The opponents to 17 have said that it will increase costs. I will say there really is no credible evidence to suggest that would happen. ... I really think some of the main opposition has come from the business aspects of medicine” [Rob Nielsen, "Choice or Chaos?" Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2014.10.17].

...and David Owen, Chamber of Commerce chief and IM 17 opponent, concedes the point:

Owen said while they haven’t found a concrete example of price hikes in other states that have implemented similar programs, he says the scale isn’t quite comparable.

“Half of the states are pharmacy-only — South Dakota has any willing provider for pharmacy costs,” he said. “Very few of the states would have as broad of ‘any willing provider’ as we have here. What gets interesting is we have not been able to find a smoking gun by finding another state and saying, ‘Their rates are higher now because they adopted ‘any willing provider’” [Nielsen, 2014.10.17].

If you're going to make a cost argument, you'd better have some examples. The IM 17 opponents' cost alarm is ringing more faintly all the time against the clear gain in medical choice (also known as freedom) for health insurance customers.

42 comments

Curmudgeon does not begin to plumb the depths of commentator David Newquist's disgust toward the corruption of South Dakota politics. In his latest blog post, Newquist examines the difficulty South Dakotans have in facing the corruption in their midst:

People in the state speak of being “South Dakota nice,” which is the façade of bonhomie which covers a resentful insularity toward people who don’t conform to and endorse the South Dakota attitude. The so-called EB-5 scandal, which should properly [be] called the South Dakota tradition of corruption, produces the response of many people that they are tired of hearing about it. Some simply do not want to face the fact that there is a huge blemish of corruption on that face of niceness. Others, a plurality, support, endorse, and enable those who practice the creed of greed, power, and corrupt relationships with their corporate gods. They cannot or will not face the looming fact that dominant culture in the state supports and enables corruption, nor can the plurality accept the fact their attitude bears final responsibility for promulgating and protecting the corruption. The corporate gods beam down on them through Mike Rounds’ smile [David Newquist, "The Seeds of Corruption Produce Bumper Crops in South Dakota," Northern Valley Beacon, 2014.10.27].

South Dakotans, do yourselves a favor and prove David Newquist wrong. Show that you can recognize and reject corruption when you see it. Vote accordingly.

19 comments

Dreamers in Spearfish are bringing the Passion Play Amphitheater back to life. Local organizers Scott and Mary Temple, Terri Dunwoody, and Zach Eixenberger has rechristened the 6,500-seat arena the Lookout Amphitheater and are doing real renovation to reopen the facility for meetings, reunions, speakers (can you say Chautauqua?), and big summer outdoor concerts:

The organizers said that there are a lot of details yet to determine, but Temple said they play to offer smaller events in the former ticket building at the top of the site starting this winter, with the full venue open next summer. They’ve discussed how the site could host weddings, receptions, meetings, old movie nights, speakers, graduations, reunions, concerts – “It is up to people’s imaginations what can be happening up here,” Dunwoody said. “Of all of the ideas the group has had as they’ve discussed its future.”

They want to model the amphitheater after other successful venues, such as Red Rocks, an open-air amphitheater in Red Rocks Park, Colo.

“Why reinvent the wheel?” Dunwoody said, adding that the group will work to model the success of other popular venues. Temple added that the group plans to cement working relationships with as many venues as possible, to help one another to get various bands and entertainment offerings to make this area a destination on their concert tours [Kayla Swisher, "Resurrecting a Spearfish Landmark," Black Hills Pioneer, 2014.10.17].

Red Rocks?! Heck yeah, dream big! Owner Rand Williams reminds us that the Passion Play was huge. For decades, big crowds flocked to the Queen City to watch Josef Meier re-enact the execution of a Jewish carpenter and troublemaker; why can't we imagine that thousands of people would come again for music and fun under the backdrop of Lookout Mountain at sunset?

I admire this sort of vision and ambition. At the same time, I am somewhat relieved to read in Swisher's article that plans for a giant Jesus sculpture on the amphitheater grounds have been scaled back. There's big, and there's too big.

Whatever shows come to the amphitheater, I can already spot my favorite seat in the house... which won't actually be in the house. Spearfish architects Andy and Shauntel Fett have built a rammed-earth bench up the hill from the amphitheater, just below the Thoen Stone monument. You may think bench-schmench, but the South Dakota chapter of the American Institute of Architects found the bench so remarkable that it feted the Fetts with a merit award for sustainable design and materials. The view from that bench of Spearfish and Lookout Mountain is more than enough reward for the mere quarter-mile uphill hike to the monument.

5 comments

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