Speaking of religion and bullying, House State Affairs showed a modicum of decency last week and killed House Bill 1220, certain conservatives' continued attempt to disguise anti-LGBT legislation in freedom of religion.

Eight committee Republicans joined two Democrats in deferring HB 1220 to the 41st day, leading right-wing blogger Bob Ellis to shout that Republicans hate religion. (At least South Dakota Republicans; Indiana Senate Republicans voted unanimously for a similar pro-discrimination bill last week.)

Ellis notes that Equality South Dakota did not testify against HB 1220. Curtis Price explains EqSD's absence from House State Affairs last week:

Equality South Dakota and many of our allies strongly opposed this bill, and, in coordination with others, encouraged our members to track it through our Facebook group.

Equality South Dakota did not testify on HB 1220 since the way it was written the bill did not directly address LGBT issues. It was felt if EqSD would testify, this would bring attention that this is a LGBT related bill and thereby hinder the possibility of killing it [Curtis Price, "HB 1220 Killed," Equality South Dakota blog, 2015.02.28].

I understand the tactical decision, though I cringe at the fact that LGBT is such a dirty acronym in South Dakota that an equal rights organization's best tactic on vile legislation is silence. Bob Ellis views EqSD's tactics as more of the nefarious gay agenda luring unsuspecting dupes into something like political rape:

The homosexual movement has learned that if it can get “useful idiots” in more mainstream organizations to do its dirty work for it, the odds of success for their agenda are much better than if people actually realize the investment of the homosexual agenda in the issue [Bob Ellis, "Religious Freedom Again Treated with Contempt by South Dakota ‘Republicans’," American Clarion, 2015.03.02].

The "useful idiots" in this case are the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners, the Board of Regents, and the Department of Corrections, all of whom testified that HB 1220 is not just unnecessary but harmful to basic governmental functions, not to mention civil rights.

I suppose I'm just another useful idiot who hasn't noticed the gay-agendeers pulling his strings, but as a member of the atheist minority in South Dakota, permit me to remind Bob that "decent, law-abiding God fearing people" are not under any "withering attack." Christianity is not about to disappear. Neither, alas, is Bob's hateful theology.

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House Bill 1201, which Dakota Rural Action has deemed the worst of the CAFO bills in this  year's Legislative Session, heads to Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources this morning at 10:00. HB 1201, the only bill on the committee's agenda, would make it harder for citizens concerned about stink, water contamination, and other damage caused by big livestock feedlots to block such harmful ag-industrial developments in their neighborhoods.

Dakota Rural Action's excellent legislative blog notes that the state, which views farming as nothing but economic development, not land stewardship or community building, goes to great lengths to promote big CAFOs. This post from Meghan Thoreau describes the state's County Site Analysis Program and its focus on Big Ag:

The Program has been under development for the past several years and involves several key players, such as the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, First District Association of Local government, Planning and Development District III, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member and a few others. As it stands today the program is attempting to grow AG related industries through pre-qualifying sites for Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Agriculturally Related Industrial Development (ARID), such as ethanol plants, cheese plants, granaries, and agricultural manufactures alike. The current methodology and analysis applied is very landowner and CAFO-ARID-operator centric, involving the landowners of pre-qualifying sites and operators of CAFO and ARID industries, with no great effort to secure public participation in the selection of sites, nor communities’ or the environment’s interests. (The only environmental factor taken into account is the area within the protected aquifer zone.) [Meghan Thoreau, "South Dakota's County Site Analysis Program," Dakota Rural Action legislative blog, 2015.02.25]

The County Site Analysis Program isn't about helping counties identify good locations for community gardens, farmers markets, or other small-scale agricultural projects that would promote sustainability and local self-sufficiency. The state wants factory farms. The County Site Analysis Program flags land for such development, and now House Bill 1201 seeks to weaken the review process that allows citizens to weigh the pros and cons of dedicating their land and water to meat and milk factories.

The state already gives factory farms numerous advantages. Let's not take away the few remaining advantages citizens have to protect their counties from over-industrialization. Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources, vote no today on HB 1201.

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There goes P&R Miscellany again, riding his Tolerance sled down his slippery slope. As he did last year when South Dakotans rejected anti-gay legislation, P&R contends that opposition to legislative efforts to repeal the SDHSAA's transgender athlete policy (HB 1161 and 1195 come before Senate Education this morning) is but the thin edge of the wedge the intolerant gay lobby will use to force things down Christians' throats:

We are fast coming to a time in this country, largely because of the offensive intolerance of the homosexual rights community, when it will be both illegal and a "hate crime" to hold to biblical morality on questions of sexuality and marriage.  There is a concerted effort to demand the church cave to the immorality, vulgarity, and yes, hate of our present age.  The church's schools, both Protestant and Catholic, will be the first major target.

It will start, as it is in South Dakota, with obscene regulations as a condition for participation in sports leagues.  It will seem a small thing to many parents for whom athletics are the dominant purpose of a school.  Once the schools give on this, though, they will find it harder to gin up the necessary will to resist further incursions and, as they will have already given some ground, the law will not support them when they try to say some other point is a line they cannot cross.  Yes, presently the proposed regulation in South Dakota makes an exemption for religious schools—added only after protests.  How long will that last?  The "exemption" addition itself almost invites lawsuits against religious schools on this issue and the courts have indicated a rather glaring weakness in this area of religious liberty.  Before it even gets to that point, we must ask what these regulations will mean when a Christian school hosts a visiting "girls" volleyball team that includes a young man who cannot deal with biological reality?  What good will this "exemption" do them then?  What will the Christian school do when a couple guys start making out in the stands?

Teenagers making out at basketball games! Dogs and cats living together—mass hysteria!

Accommodate transgender students in high school sports, and boys will start making out with each other? The logic escapes me, as does the challenge for crowd control. If two young people start necking in the stands, the coach or the principal or the janitor breaks them up and says such intimate physical contact is inappropriate. That simple discipline works regardless of who's kissing whom and whether they are flaunting their hormonality at Central or Roncalli.

P&R's logic remains elusive in the slippery-slope argument. He cites the willingness of the high school activities association to make an exception to its transgender policy for religious institutions as a sign that the unnamed gay lobby will get rid of exceptions for religious institutions. The status quo demonstrates its responsiveness to religious concerns, but P&R dismisses that tolerance by crying, "How long will that last?" I suspect it will last as long as the First Amendment lasts (which may not be long, since P&R's conservative compatriots in Pierre have called for an Article V Convention that increases the opportunity for the "gay lobby" and other special interests to rewrite the Constitution in ways P&R and I both might find objectionable).

Not escaping me is the high insult the often otherwise civil P&R heaps on transgender students. Young people whose brains and bodies disagree on their gender are "obscene" and "cannot deal with biological reality." P&R shouts these insults as he calls his fellow Christians to "resist" rather than "cower," but he sounds like he is rallying his discomfited majority to bully a very small minority of vulnerable youth who would just like to play basketball. Are these kids really such an abomination in the Lord's eyes that they deserve such treatment?

I hope Senate Education will eschew both insult and slippery slope this morning and shut down the bills blocking the SDHSAA's respectful and realistic transgender policy.

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When I visited Charlie Hoffman last August, the outgoing state representative and passionate prairie grasser said that the current agricultural land tax formula discourages grassland restoration and preservation and drives turning prairie grassland to row crops. Hoffman suggested our property tax system should look at actual use of ag land instead of potential use.

Toward that end, the interim committee that studied ag land assessment recommended Senate Bill 4, which would have funded research by SDSU economists on the impact of switching to an actual-use formula. SB 4 wouldn't change the tax system; it would just study a possible change.

Landowners, the Farm Bureau, the Cattlemen's Association, Ducks Unlimited, and the Izaak Walton League thought a study on actual-use assessment sounded like a good idea. The Corn Growers did not, and neither did the full Senate. Last Wednesday, the Senate killed SB 4 16–18. That may sound close, but remember that, as a bill planning to spend money (and Senate Appropriations had already one-bucked the original $151K price tag to keep the bill moving), SB 4 required a two-thirds vote, or 24 Senators. All 18 nays came from Republicans, who apparently not only won't implement a better tax system but won't even let us study possible improvements in our tax system.

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Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) took the House floor last Tuesday and argued against the proposal from "our fine Governor" to create captive insurance companies—i.e., state-run, state-funded pools to insure a variety of state facilities. House Bills 1185, 1186, and 1187 appropriate a total of six million dollars for this purpose. All three passed the House last week with their funding intact, unlike a host of other bills that have limped out of the House with their appropriations dropped to a placeholder buck pending the resolution of economic forecasts and budget priorities.

Rep. Bolin doesn't need to wait; he already has his budget priorities in order. In a stemwinder against HB 1185, the incandescent Cantonian made a brilliant and specific case against funding a state insurance pool over other more pressing fiscal needs. He listed several of the Governor's requests for one-time money that he supports: funding Ross Shaft upgrades at the Lead science facilities, replenishing emergency funds spent in this fiscal year, helping low-income seniors make their tax payments, and recruiting medical students for rural areas. But he said the Governor's captive insurance company doesn't make his cut:

But on this program, I must draw the line. In a year when revenue increases appear to be minimal, and in age of fiscal uncertainty, we're planning to spend four million dollars on a very questionable and unneeded program that we have not deemed necesary for the last 125 years. Now I want to emphasize again, this state has survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, repeated forest fires in the Black Hills, grasshopper plagues, the farm crisis of the 1980s, and the recent Missouri River floods without captive insurance companies.

Furthermore, we're making this financial decision at the same time that we as a state, we're proposing to change our financial responsibilities by pushing the sparsity programs for rural schools, among other items, onto the local taxpayers [Rep. Jim Bolin, remarks on House Bill 1185, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 49:25].

Rep. Bolin refers here to a budget trick the Governor is using to inflate the state's increase in K-12 school funding from 1.5% to 2%. The state is "saving" $2.6 million by making a portion of funding for the sparsity adjustment, technology, and assessment programs to local school districts. Expect to hear more about this issue as the Legislature finally rushes toward discussion and passage of the state budget.

Showing he's not just a naysayer, Rep. Bolin lists a number of other programs that are more worth the six-millio-dollar investment:

People, this is not so much about captive insurance companies or even if I may say emancipated insurance companies so much as about our financial priorities as a state and as an elected Legislature.

There is no need to go down the captive insurance road. The four million dollars mentioned in this bill and the two million in the companion pieces of legislation can be better spent in a wide variety of areas or... in terms of our current financial situation, maybe we should just let it fall to the bottom line.

The choices we might make with this money might include fighting the pine beetle plague in the Black Hills with extra funds, buying down tuition for in-state students in our Regental universities, funding needed programs at tech schools, or helping community support providers who do much for those less fortunate in our state for a pittance. Community support providers face tremendous problems because of high turnover in their workforce because of low wages.

The bottom line is this: that this expenditure of one-time money for this purpose should not be a priority for this Legislature [Bolin, 2015.02.24, 50:23].

Pine beetle, tuition relief, tech schools, social services—those are all areas where various advocates have identified real, current harms that increased funding would immediately ameliorate. Self-insuring state buildings responds to potential, future harms that have not happened; HBs 1185, 1186, and 1187 spend money that does no immediate, tangible good for the state.

Rep. Bolin didn't win the day—the House voted 50–20 for HB 1185 and by bigger margins for the other two bills—probably because he again reminded his fellow Republicans that low wages lead to high turnover and difficulty filling jobs, something legislators don't want to think about as they take no serious steps to address South Dakota's rock-bottom teacher pay and the resultant teacher shortage.

Or maybe Rep. Bolin lost because he cited the Steve Miller Band and his colleagues are all Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. Rep. Bolin crescendoed to this impassioned plea: "In the name of Billy Joe and Bobby Sue, don't let 'em take the money and run, vote red!"

Some Republican legislators challenge the party line by saying outlandish things. Rep. Jim Bolin challenges the Governor with passion, fun, and grown-up budget priorities. I've got to respect that.

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Mr. Kurtz alerts us that our Lakota people may translate their dissatisfaction over Rapid City's response to an alleged racist attack on 57 American Horse School kids at a Rush hockey game in January into boycotts. An anonymous source tells the press the Oglala Sioux Tribe may be asking tribal schools not to hold events in Rapid City. That boycott would include the Lakota Nation Invitational, a massive athletic, academic, and arts event that brings $5 million to $6 million to Rapid City's economy. The Oglala Sioux Tribe will press an LNI boycott if tournament organizers don't move LNI to another city.

Comparing the proposed LNI boycott to the 1955–1956 Montgomery bus boycott may be instructive. The Montgomery bus boycott worked because it exerted economic pressure directly on the entity exercising discrimination, the public transit system that segregated buses. It was tolerable to the city's black residents because boycott organizers were able to organize viable alternatives to the boycotted service. Even this effective boycott ended not because the city relented but because the Supreme Court ruled that segregating buses was unconstitutional.

Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker says an LNI boycott would unfairly target Rapid City for a crime perpetrated by one guy from out of town. Indians could boycott Philip, the hometown of the man charged with throwing beer at the American Horse School kids, but who from Pine Ridge ever shops in Philip?

Boycotting LNI and other events in Rapid City does not directly target the police or the state's attorney responsible for the criminal charge that Indians perceive as insufficient. The indirect pressure on city and county officials may not outweigh the direct negative impacts on kids and families denied an opportunity to enjoy big events in Rapid City.

Boycotting communities will need to offer alternative venues and events. Moving LNI this year would be tough; it's not until December, but the contracts are already signed, and finding another West River town with enough lodging and contest space not already booked may be impossible. Alternative events may have to be part of a long-term strategy: Pine Ridge leaders may have to look at investing in larger event facilities, hotels, and restaurants that could handle LNI for one week, but making such facilities financially viable would require a broader marketing strategy that would bring other big events to town throughout the year. Turning Pine Ridge into a tournament/conference/tourism destination would be great for tribal economic self-sufficiency, but it would require far more sustained planning, investment, and collaboration than simply telling people not to go to Rapid City.

Boycotting Rapid City may register anger, but it won't convict Trace O'Connell of any stiffer charges. A boycott may comfort racists in Rapid City—Ah, fewer Indians stinking up our town! The goal can't simply be to reinforce segregation and let Whitopia stand. The goal must be to engage all parties—including us white folks—in making Rapid City a place where everyone is welcome.

p.s.: Speaking of white folks, where is the state's Tribal Relations Office? One would think that the state would take a keen interest in mediating the most prominent current white-tribal dispute in the state. But last week, the Tribal Relations Office's priority was flacking for the Department of Agribusiness and promoting CAFOs on the rez.

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You think I've been hard on Republicans today? Pat Powers is so disgusted with his fellow Republicans that he interrupted his usual lazy Sunday press releases to write his own blog post to blast Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge) and Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) for exposing the vile, selfish thoughtlessness that having an R in front of one's name excuses in South Dakota:

How does saying test anxiety is contributing to a disturbing suicide rate encourage a young professional businessperson to run as a Republican candidate for office when asked? When going door to door, how does saying “Planned Parenthood is beheading children people like ISIS terrorists” convince people that helping Republicans get elected is a worthwhile cause?

The answer is that they don’t. They’re just incendiary bombs being lobbed for the sole purpose of getting personal attention. And of course they’re going to get attention. They’re over the top, offensive and just plain stupid. And all that attention comes at the expense of all the other Republicans who are trying to do the difficult job of governing, and are now at risk of being painted with the same broad crazy brush by Democrats and the media who look for these opportunities.

Everytime I read that kind of things, I find myself asking “For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand.” If you feel the need to say something offensive and incendiary, sleep on it first. Bounce it off of a colleague for a read on how it sounds [Pat Powers, "For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand. (And maybe sleep on it before you say it.)" Dakota War College, 2015.03.01].

Oh, Pat, you and your "brand." May and Latterell aren't "damaging" the South Dakota Republican brand; they are the logical product of the very Republicanism you peddle. They ooze Republican anti-intellectualism. They throw whatever they've got at their opponents. They say vile falsehoods to arouse their base, then assume they can wave the flag or hit Delete and make us all forget. May and (more so) Latterell are Republicans straight out of a Dakota War College lesson plan.

Because May and Latterell are products of the politics he practices, Powers can't issue a simple, uncategorical rejection of their errors. Powers still couches his critique in language about Democrats and the media that make it sound like we are to blame for talking about what Republican legislators say and do in Pierre. "Broad crazy brush"? Hey, if crazy Republicans were just the trim, I could use my narrow brush. But with Reps. Craig and Stalzer disrespecting students who beat their gun bill with smart lobbying, with Rep. Stalzer dissing cops, and with former Noem intern Tomi Lahren calling Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren men (why? why?!?), the "crazy" folks aren't the trim; they are the siding. I can paint all day with the biggest brush I've got and still not cover all the rank idiocy that South Dakota Republicans put out.

(Note: Powers has yet to critique Craig, Stalzer, or Lahren for saying things that hurt the GOP "brand".)

South Dakota Democratic Party chair Ann Tornberg, at whom Powers has regularly thrown mud, agrees with his assessment of Latterell's irresponsible headline-scoring. She sends out this comment appended to Huffington Post's coverage of Latterell's equation of Planned Parenthood and ISIS:

Our politics are cheapened when extreme GOP legislators resort to demagoguery to score headlines. No matter your position on issues like life and choice, South Dakotans deserve better than this kind of hateful rhetoric [Ann Tornberg, SDDP e-mail, 2015.03.01].

Tornberg is party chair; she has as much interest in promoting her party's brand as Powers does his. But for Tornberg, panning Latterell's comments is about respecting all South Dakotans and resisting demagoguery and hateful rhetoric. For Powers, it's just damage control, throwing a couple fellow Republicans overboard for fouling the party's effort to conceal its inherent extremism behind a marketing curtain.

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I didn't expect today's blog cycle to be the Thoughtless Comments from South Dakota Republicans series, but the hits keep coming.

Facebook friends share comments made at CPAC by Rapid City-born, San Diego-based former Noem intern turned conservative spokesmodel Tomi Lahren, who, in response to the charge that the GOP is the party of old, rich, white males, calls Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren men:

So, I think we’ve gone through this: Old, rich, white males. I want to remind you, let’s look at the top three Democrats for 2016. You’ve got Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden? Old, rich, white, and if the pantsuit fits, male too? [Tomi Lahren, quoted in Tony Ortega, "CPAC Speaker Calls Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren 'Old, Rich, White Males'," Raw Story, 2015.02.28].

Such absurdity warrants no rebuttal. But warranting more attention is Lahren's pro-choce declaration:

See, women like Sandra Fluke will have you believe the only way to be pro-woman is to lobby for free birth control. But, sorry, hun, I’m a Republican, and I can take care of myself. And besides that, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want the government anywhere near my body or my health choices, because have any of you seen how Obamacare or ‘healthcare dot dud’ has been working out? [Lahren, in Ortega, 2015.02.28]

Lahren cites her South Dakota upbringing in her speech to boost her down-home cred, so she must stay in touch with South Dakota politics. She must know her Republican kin back home have passed all sorts of laws dismissing the notion that little ladies like her have the mental wherewithal to take care of themselves.

But CPAC and the conservative media don't pick speakers like Lahren for their rhetorical rigor or mental acuity.

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