Here's one sign that Democrat Robin Page may beat Phil Jensen out of his District 33 Senate seat:

Campaign signs, one block west of Pennington County GOP HQ, West Main St., Rapid City, SD, 2014.10.22.

Campaign signs, one block west of Pennington County GOP HQ, West Main St., Rapid City, SD, 2014.10.22.

This photo comes from one block west of Pennington County Republican headquarters on West Main Street in Rapid City. We see the expected Republican signs for Daugaard, Rounds, Krebs, and Gosch. But we see no sign from the GOP incumbent Senator Jensen. Representing District 33 is Democratic challenger Page.

Remember that Senator Jensen drew disdain from his own party last spring for his hangup on social issues and his awkward commenters on racism. Senator Jensen only narrowly survived a primary challenge. Page is now working hard with direct mail and door-knocking to put Jensen out of a part-time job.

This vacant green hosts a couple other non-Republicans amidst the usual conservative suspects. District 34's GOP Rep. Dan Dryden has his sign up, but instead of fellow Republican Jeff Partridge, we find Democratic candidate Steve Stenson advertised. And from District 35, we get the strange mix of Tea-flavored spokesmodel Lynne Hix-DiSanto and Democrat Dave Freytag, with no visible sign from incumbent GOP Rep. Blaine "Chip" Campbell.

One would think every Republican in the neighborhood would want to get his or her name up next to the party leaders on that street and crowd out those pesky Democratic interlopers. But it could be that the Republican sign-minders down the street are sending a message to Jensen in tolerating Page's challenge.

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The early voting stations for American Indians in South Dakota aren't running too smoothly. Fall River County auditor Sue Ganje set up the Shannon County station in a five-foot-by-ten-foot entryway, making it hard to process all the Indian voters who were coming to exercise their Constitutional rights. Ganje's response (so I hear from someone who's been on the scene): those Indians need to exercise their Constitutional rights more slowly.

Auditor Ganje has also had the sheriff out to the polling station in Pine Ridge twice. Ganje says she received complaints that Indian voting rights group Four Directions, which has fought for years to establish early voting stations on the reservations, was coercing voters. Shannon County Sheriff Jim Daggett thus cruised out to see what the fuss was about. He found no fuss, of course, but take a moment to envision a sheriff summoned by a white county auditor to stand at the door of a polling place in front of American Indian voters. What was that you were saying about voter intimidation, Susan?

Enter the unlikely hero, Secretary of State Jason Gant. Our Secretary of State has fought these early voting stations, but yesterday, he evidently came to their assistance:

Four Directions officials were upset that the early polling place in Pine Ridge was set up in a small entryway. After complaints to Secretary of State Jason Gant, a new, larger polling place was found Thursday.

Bret Healy, a spokesman for Four Directions, complimented Gant for personally investigating and finding a new location.

“This was a public official doing the public’s business in a very admirable way,” Healy said [Jonathan Ellis, "Voting Accusations Fly in Reservation Areas," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.24].

I find it hard to put Jason Gant and admirable in the same quote, but there they are. The Secretary can't tell the sheriff to stay the heck out of Pine Ridge, but he appears to be doing his job to make voting run as smoothly as possible for all South Dakotans.

Now if he could just straighten out Buffalo County, which has reneged on its promise to open a satellite voting station:

Commissioners last year said they would establish an early voting center in Fort Thompson if they could do so using Help America Vote Act money. Elaine Wulff, Buffalo County’s auditor, said the county has about $20,000 in HAVA [Help America Vote Act] money.

But Wulff said the commissioners didn’t want to use the county’s HAVA funds, but instead wanted to use state HAVA funds. When the state funds weren’t available, the commission decided not to open an early vote center in Fort Thompson.

“We’re really short of funds, and we could not afford it,” Wulff said, adding that it would cost the county about $200 a day.

But Healy said the county was treating its allotment of HAVA money as if it belonged to the county. He also criticized the commission for “changing the benchmark after the fact,” and he said the commissioners were not the type of people he would trust to buy cattle from [Ellis, 2014.10.24].

Buffalo County has HAVA money in its pocket, but it's refusing to use that money for it's intended purpose. Secretary Gant, maybe you need to swing through Fort Thompson on your way back to Pierre.

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Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Mike Rounds, and Gordon Howie "debated" on South Dakota Public Broadcasting last night to prove who ought to be South Dakota's next Senator. Here are the most important observations to come from the debate:

  1. Gordon Howie wins on points. He challenged Mike Rounds directly on EB-5, saying the former governor had brought the scandal upon himself by skipping debates and giving false information. He challenged Rounds to testify under oath on EB-5. Howie blasted Rounds for doubling the state budget and leaving a $127-million structural deficit. And Rounds ignored those points. Ignoring points usually means you lose a debate.
  2. Gordon Howie railed against "corruption" and "crony capitalism," yet he used the public airwaves to plug a private company. He joked that all the campaign ads were crowding out Taco John's commercials. Hmm... is Gordon making a deal for his own Schiefferesque cavalry cash from a conservative businessman and USD grad?
  3. Mike Rounds implied EB-5 is good, because it's a program just like Canada has (well, had: Canada decided the visa investment program doesn't pay off and canceled it this year). By that logic, Rounds should embrace single-payer health insurance.
  4. Weiland felt too restrained, especially at the beginnings of his responses, as if he was overplaying the humble country-boy image. I understand the psychology at play, but gentle aw-shucksery will not defeat the Rounds machine. Weiland did build fire in each of his answers, but beating Rounds requires pushing Rounds off his script and forcing him to answer questions. (Remember: Rounds has proven really bad at answering questions!) Blend Weiland's policy and Howie's relentless attack last night, and you keep Mike Rounds out of the Senate.
  5. Weiland does get points for blowing raspberries at Senator Harry Reid. Weiland said he will not vote for Harry Reid or Republican Senator Mitch McConnell for majority leader, saying both men have led the Senate into dysfunction. He cleverly challenged Rounds to make the same pledge. Rounds muttered about Reid but didn't mention McConnell.
  6. Weiland also gets points for common sense solutions. Weiland advocated Senator Tom Harkin's bill to eliminate the income cap on Social Security tax and get Bill Gates to pay for protecting Social Security. Rounds called that a $100 billion tax hike on "job creators," which is code for reducing the middle class to serfdom under the wealthy elites backing Rounds.
  7. Speaking of Social Security, Pressler rejected Democratic arguments that he wants to raise the retirement age. Pressler said last night he would leave the retirement age where it is.
  8. Weiland pinned the Ryan budget on Rounds, saying Rounds backs the GOP House's intentions to gut Head Start, Pell Grants, and other programs that benefit the middle class. Weiland said Rounds would voucherize Medicare so old folks could take the Ryan coupons to buy insurance at Fischer Rounds. Rounds repeated his feeble dodge that he "admires" Paul Ryan's fiscal efforts but has never said he supports the Ryan budget... which is code for, "You have no idea what I'll do to you in office, and I don't have to tell you."
  9. Weiland also nicely flipped the Rounds argument that an obstructionist Senate is to blame for our woes. Weiland said we could have immigration reform now, with more secure borders, if Speaker Boehner would just take up the bipartisan bill the Senate passed last year 68-32.
  10. Rounds is now fully on board with Republican fear-mongering. Invoking ISIS and Ebola (thank goodness for one-word threats), Rounds repeated "safety and security" as much as he repeated "South Dakota common sense." He also said we should impose a travel ban to stop Ebola "right now."
  11. Pressler continues to look every bit the capable statesman alongside his younger, less experienced counterparts. He recites the same points in every debate—Independent caucus, obsolete bases in Italy, three-point immigration plan—but that's a focused candidate staying on message. And he keeps coming up with new images for his campaign. He's gone from naked rabbit to last night's David up against twelve goliaths (Rounds, Weiland, and PACs), with a slingshot of idealism and friendship (translation: paint your own signs, because Harriet and I can't afford them!). Pressler still talks policy and turns phrases as effectively as anyone else in the campaign.
47 comments

Campaign manager Rob Skjonsberg has had an awful time explaining away his boss Mike Rounds's foibles. Now he has to explain his own. The Nation's Lee Fang discovers that Skjonsberg used his position on the state Board of Economic Development to funnel taxpayer dollars to a company he and Rounds have invested in.

In 2012, Skjonsberg formed Lake Sharpe Investments, which invests in new companies. Mike Rounds had over $50K in Lake Sharpe Investments in early 2013. Lake Sharpe has invested in Novita LLC, a company hoping to build a plant near Brookings to produce oil and livestock feed from ethanol processing by-product. (Remember, Skjonsberg worked for Poet Ethanol.) In September 2013, Novita got a $771K grant from the Board of Economic Development. And Skjonsberg, appointed to the Board of Economic Development by Governor Dennis Daugaard in January 2013, voted for that grant.

Read that back: a guy invests in a company. Guy gets on public board. Guy votes to send public dollars to that company. Guy has a conflict of interest, right?

Conflict of interest. No member of the board or the GOED staff may participate in or vote upon a decision of the board concerning an application in which that member has a direct personal or financial interest. [South Dakota Administrative Rule 68:02:09:13].

Skjonsberg turns Republican relativist and says there's just a perception of a conflict of interest:

I am a member of a LLC. That LLC is subsequently invested in a separate fund. That separate investment fund, twice removed, has their own independent management and they make their own investment decisions. I am not fully versed on the investments, now three times removed, made by this separate fund—but nonetheless I’ve come to understand that the perception of a conflict has arisen. I’ve advised both the commissioner and the board chair that I have taken steps to ensure the perceived conflict is avoided in the future [Rob Skjonsberg, in Lee Fang, "Revealed: A New Ethics Scandal Involving the GOP’s South Dakota Senate Candidate," The Nation, 2014.10.23].

John Tsitrian sees through that relativism and challenges Skjonsberg to explain how voting for that grant and two extensions for Novita's construction delays is anything other than a conflict of interest. But we know Skjonsberg's style from the Rounds Senate campaign: he'll probably just ask to change his answer but still expect never to be held accountable for violating the public trust for his personal benefit.

64 comments

If Senator Tim Johnson was planning to engage in the climax of the campaign to replace him, I thought he would simply match Senator John Thune's pro-Rounds pitch with a warm, fuzzy pro-Weiland ad. This evening, an hour before the televised Senate candidates' debate on SDPB, Senator Johnson surprises us with a broadside fired at Rounds and the South Dakota Republican Party for politicizing Ellsworth Air Force Base and getting their facts wrong:

I know from my own personal experience that the paid political advertisement being run by candidate Mike Rounds claiming that Rick Weiland wants to close Ellsworth Air Force Base is false. I worked directly with Rick Weiland and Senator Tom Daschle for over a decade to defend Ellsworth Air Force Base from closure. Rick handled briefing materials for us and worked tirelessly as state director to defend, not to close, Ellsworth Air Force Base. I wish former Governor Bill Janklow were still with us because he too knew of and benefited from Rick Weiland's work to protect Ellsworth.

I will give Mr. Rounds the benefit of the doubt and assume he was unaware of these facts. But if his campaign continues to air this completely false advertising about Rick Weiland, it will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it and Mr. Rounds are more concerned about political gain than about Ellsworth's future.

Anyone who has ever worked to defend Ellsworth knows that politicizing the discussion of that critical base is the surest way to jeopardize its future, and that is what this kind of irresponsible political advertising does [Senator Tim Johnson, quoted in South Dakota Democratic Party press release, 2014.10.23].

Senator Johnson doesn't just point out the factual and moral errors of Team Rounds's charge that a Senator Weiland would throw B-1B bombers in the trashbin. Senator Johnson establishes Weiland's past participation in preserving Ellsworth. Senator Johnson also quite boldly invokes the ghost of Bill Janklow to scare his descendant Republicans from telling any more lies about Weiland's commitment to national defense and local economic development.

Thank you, Senator Johnson, for speaking up!

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I have contended that in allowing Joop Bollen to privatize South Dakota's EB-5 program, Mike Rounds sacrificed a key competitive advantage that we had over other private EB-5 regional centers.

Robert Stratmore, head of EB-5 recruiter Darley International, agrees. In his testimony on Day 2 of the Darley v. SDIBI arbitration hearing last April, Stratmore said that the association of our EB-5 agency with the state made it easier to recruit Chinese investors for South Dakota projects:

I actually was quite attracted to the fact that not only was it Northern State University but that it was the state of South Dakota and that would give a leg up for credibility in China that it would be a mandate that was given from the federal government to a state government [Robert Stratmore, transcript, Darley v SDIBI arbitration hearing, 2014.04.29].

EB-5 chief Joop Bollen pressed this advantage even after completely privatizing the EB-5 operation, as indicated by Chinese press material from October 2010.

If we accept Mike Rounds's thesis that EB-5 is a good program, if we accept the idea that raising capital from foreign investors more interested in green cards than business results is healthy, then we should expect state government to run the EB-5 program as competitively as possible. Yet Mike Rounds gave up the official state control of EB-5 that an EB-5 recruiter said would draw more EB-5 money.

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The Republican spin machine eagerly rebroadcasts an attack ad aired on KMSD Radio against Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City). Here's the text:

Being a state legislator has gone to Kathy Tyler's head. A small business man in Rapid City won a lawsuit against a customer that owed him money, but Kathy Tyler called and tried to overrule the judge. Kathy Tyler said she disagreed with the judge. She said she was a legislature [sic] and knew better. I don't know who she thinks she is trying to bully a small businessman. Kathy Tyler is a bully who misused her office. Please do not send Kathy Tyler back to Pierre. Give the little guy a break. Paid for by East River Concerned Citizens [political communication, transcribed from audio posted by Pat Powers, "Kathy Tyler Must Have Made the Wrong Small Businessman in Rapid City Mad," Dakota War College, 2014.10.22].

According to Rep. Tyler, East River Concerned Citizens has spent over $1,000 to broadcast this attack. East River Concerned Citizens is a PAC formed by Spencer Cody, vice president and assistant treasurer of South Dakota Right to Life. Cody attacked Rep. Tyler during the 2014 Legislative session, calling her a liar for opposing an abortion restriction that conservative Reps. Scott Munsterman (R-7/Brookings) and Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) voted against.

East River Concerned Citizens is breaking state law. Governor Dennis Daugaard, Attorney General Marty Jackley, and the Republican spin machine eagerly roasted Dan Willard for violating this statute with robocalls against sitting Republican legislators in 2012. SDCL 12-27-16 requires the following of ads like Cody's:

(1)      Any person or organization that makes a payment or promise of payment totaling one hundred dollars or more, including an in-kind contribution, for a communication which expressly advocates for or against a candidate, public office holder, ballot question, or political party shall append to or include in each communication a disclaimer that clearly and forthrightly:

  1. Identifies the person or organization making the independent expenditure for that communication;
  2. States the address or website address of the person or organization;
  3. States that the communication is independently funded and not made in consultation with any candidate, political party, or political committee; and
  4. If the independent expenditure is undertaken by an organization not including a candidate, public office holder, political party, or political committee, then the following notation must also be included: "Top Five Contributors" followed by a listing of the names of the five persons making the largest contributions to an organization during the twelve months preceding that communication.

A violation of this subdivision is a Class 1 misdemeanor... [SDCL 12-27-16].

The ad gives the PAC name, but it gives no physical or web address for contacting the organization. The ad does not include the "independently funded and not made in consultation" disclaimer. If I get ambitious and look up their statement of organization filed with the Secretary of State on September 14, 2014, I still can't send the PAC a letter, because Cody omitted the city and state, which is sloppy if not illegal.

Cody asks his Facebook followers for more money to expand his attacks to "the district 8 Senate race, district 26 Senate race, district 33 Senate, district 2 house, district 3 house, district 9 house, and district 15 house." He might want to save his money for a lawyer: surely the Governor and Attorney General will find this violation of campaign finance law just two weeks before an election on a hotly contested district as egregious as they found Dan Willard's robocalls two months before an election in which many of the targeted legislators faced no challengers.

Update 06:20 CDT: Funny that the ad pretends to defend "the little guy." As I understand from sources, "the little guy" appears to be the customer who paid a Rapid City business $1,600 and never received the merchandise he ordered. I'm working on that angle of the story....

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A couple weeks ago, Kevin Woster wondered when Larry Pressler's friend Kevin Schieffer would throw some money toward his old boss's U.S. Senate candidacy.

Schieffer is now throwing, forming a Super PAC to spend "a couple hundred thousand" on this ad with former staffers sticking up for the old man:

Go get 'em, boss. I say this as a devoted Weiland supporter: you may have just heard the best battle cry of the South Dakota election. Add the gentle tones, the nostalgia—and oh my gosh, the 80's hair!—and you have a beautiful if absolutely substanceless response to every possible critique that anyone might launch against Pressler. Rick Weiland can say Pressler is weak against Big Oil and weak on Social Security; Mike Rounds can say Pressler will back President Obama's liberal policies; Gordon Howie can say Pressler ate too much Camembert in Paris. Pressler can just flash this ad like a snazzy fake ID at the club: Go ahead and make those negative ads! They just prove what a nice guy I am!

Arrggh! That's not debate! That's bunnies and babies and getting people to vote because their hearts flutter!

Dang... and that's a pretty smart use of $200,000 in a race where voters' heads may be spinning from acrimony and acronyms.

Told tonight of Schieffer's investment in his campaign, Pressler blurted, "Oh God, that's awfully nice." When he recovers from that shock, Pressler can turn to Stuart Rothenberg, who opined Wednesday that the mostly unanswered GOP and Dem attacks on Pressler "appear to have worked," and channel Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day and shout, "I ain't heard no fat lady!"

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