My readers at South Dakota Magazine may not think minimum wage workers deserve any consideration, but fortunately, the are in the minority. Thanks to the good sense of 55% of South Dakota voters, minimum wage workers will get a raise on January 1, from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour.

But what about all the jobs ALEC says we're going to lose? South Dakota's going to end up a wreck like Minnesota, where they raised the minimum wage even more this summer, right?

On August 1, Minnesota hiked its minimum wage for small employers from $5.25 to $6.50 an hour and for large employers from $6.15 to $8.00. Those are hikes of 24% and 30%, respectively. South Dakota's upcoming increase is 17%.

Let's look at what has happened to employment in Minnesota since then, with some numbers from the whole past year for context:

Month Labor Force Jobs Unemployed Unemployment
rate
2013-07 2,969,376 2,818,339 151,037 5.1
2013-08 2,968,353 2,819,609 148,744 5.0
2013-09 2,968,482 2,822,623 145,859 4.9
2013-10 2,970,349 2,826,633 143,716 4.8
2013-11 2,965,982 2,828,347 137,635 4.6
2013-12 2,971,572 2,834,248 137,324 4.6
2014-01 2,985,354 2,843,982 141,372 4.7
2014-02 2,995,127 2,850,755 144,372 4.8
2014-03 3,002,431 2,856,843 145,588 4.8
2014-04 3,001,998 2,860,415 141,583 4.7
2014-05 2,999,601 2,860,560 139,041 4.6
2014-06 2,995,361 2,859,447 135,914 4.5
2014-07 2,987,768 2,854,409 133,359 4.5
2014-08 2,981,147 2,852,956 128,191 4.3
2014-09 2,983,397 2,860,969 122,428 4.1
2014-10 2,988,155 2,871,566 116,589 3.9
Source: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

Three months after imposing a higher relative increase in costs on minimum-wage employers than South Dakota's increase will, Minnesota has 17,157 more jobs. Unemployment ticked down two tenths of a percentage point in August, in September, and again in October.

The last three months continue a steady upward economic trend in Minnesota that has taken place under a strong regime of Democratonomics that the Republicans are acknowledging they probably aren't going to overturn with their new State House majority.

Minimum wage goes up; job growth hums along. Minimum wage decriers, cry away.

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The Lake County Commission delayed action this week on a conditional use permit for a private campground on the southeast side of my beloved Lake Herman. Terry and Bev Timmer acquired Larry Dirks's land and proposed building a campground up the hill from the lake in 2012. Timmers have done the first phase, doing dirt work for 16 campsites and installing septic systems. They now seek a permit to move more dirt and add 20 campaign pads. But the county said hold your horses when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Timmers are in violation of their existing state General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction Activity.

Uff da—what's it take to get DENR to jump on a developer? Oh, maybe the developer getting cited for violations in July, ignoring the DENR's request for a report on fixing those violations, and leaving violations for the DENR to find still occurring in November?

That's the story that comes from the inspections conducted and letters sent to Terry Timmer by DENR water quality engineer Jill Riedel. During an inspection in early June, Riedel found dirt washing off the campground construction site onto adjoining land due to inadequate sediment controls. Timmers also appear not to have filed the Storm Water Pollution prevention Plan required by their construction permit. Riedel's July 24, 2014, letter documented those violations and asked for a response by August 4.

Riedel's November 14, 2014, letter indicates that Timmers never wrote back. The latter letter, with more bold type and "WARNING LETTER" printed at the top, includes a report from Riedel's November 7 inspection finding several violations unaddressed.

Photos 7 & 8, taken by Jill Riedel, DENR engineer, inspection of Timmer campground site, Lake Herman, South Dakota, 2014.11.07, included in warning letter from DENR to Terry Timmer, 2014.11.14

Photos 7 & 8, taken by Jill Riedel, DENR engineer, inspection of Timmer campground site, Lake Herman, South Dakota, 2014.11.07, included in warning letter from DENR to Terry Timmer, 2014.11.14 (click to embiggen!)

DENR expects a reply by November 26. To perhaps focus Timmers' attention, Riedel reminds them, in bold type, that "violations of the general permit can subject you to enforcement action, including penalties of up to $10,000 per day per violation."

$10,000 a day? If the construction site has been in violation for 108 days (let's be generous and just count from the day they were supposed to reply in August), that's over a million bucks DENR could ask for. (Yo! Governor Daugaard! Does the state have any lawyer bills it needs paid?) I don't know what Timmers plan to charge for a night of camping, but if they're going to compete with Lake Herman State Park just up the shore at $19 a night (and really, Timmers will need to charge less, since they offer no trails, less shade, less room for the kids to play, much less shoreline, and a harder to find gravel road for access), but it would take 36 campsites 1,579 days (15 summers!) to generate the revenue necessary to cover that bill.

Since Timmers won't have 36 campsites until the county approves their second conditional use permit, and since that approval won't happen until DENR is happy, maybe the Timmers need to stop disregarding environmental rules and pay more attention to their erosion controls and their paperwork.

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The Nee York Times turns some socioeconomic statistics into a map of the quality of life in every county in the United States. Looking at "education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity," the Times calculates that much of South Dakota is in the top quarter of the nation's 3,135 counties. Lincoln County actually ranks 8th nationwide (if NYT included the impact of being Todd Epp's neighbor, Lincoln County would've made the top five).

Alas, the big islands of orange trouble amidst South Dakota's healthy blue on the NYT map are Indian Country. Shannon/Oglala Lakota County is not the worst in the nation, but it's down there, ranking 3,080 out of 3,135. That's still better than the ten worst counties by this measure, six of which are in eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains and all ten of which are in the South.

But Oglala Lakota County likely would have come out worse with a closer look at unemployment. NYT says unemployment on Pine Ridge is 13.7%. Some would argue that 13.7% is closer to the employment rate, not the jobless rate, on Pine Ridge.

Whatever the actual numbers, the gross disparity between economic metrics in Indian Country and the rest of South Dakota should call the Legislature to action. Instead of fussing about who wrote which parts of science curriculum standards, legislators (especially those from districts with large Indian communities) should focus their attention on the number-one economic development problem in South Dakota: providing infrastructure, jobs, and better quality of life on Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and the rest of our Indian reservations.

4 comments

South Dakota Republicans brag about their budget-balancing prowess. They don't like being reminded that they are balancing the budget by shifting burdens onto private citizens.

Consider higher education. South Dakota is part of a national trend in which states are reducing their proportional and real-dollar support for universities, leaving students to foot the bill through higher tuition. In South Dakota, that means that while the Governor can brag about meeting his statutory obligation to balance the state budget, college graduates are carrying more student loan debt. South Dakota has the second-highest percentage of students graduating in debt.

My friend Dr. Nesiba says that's a problem for anyone interested in upward mobility:

Economics Professor Reynold Nesiba says while public higher education is more affordable in South Dakota; wages are still low, making it difficult for families to afford it.

"Something has to happen. Either schools are going to have to figure out how to provide more aid, or the federal government has to provide more aid; or we're going to see a smaller proportion of our populations take advantage of higher education," Nesiba said [Angela Kennecke, "SD Second Highest Percentage Of Grads With Student Loan Debt," KELOLand.com, 2014.11.14].

Dr. Nesiba recommends more debt forgiveness and/or more state support for higher ed. The Opportunity Scholarship might be one place to start: Kennecke reports that the Regents would like to boost that merit-based scholarship from $5,000 to $7,000, which would cost the state $1.6 million a year. Heck, recoup the money the EB-5 scammers pilfered from the state, and we could pay for that measly increase for 80 years. Heck, fees from just one EB-5 project would cover eight years of such scholarship support.

Or we could just get back to taking higher education seriously. Maybe the start should spend less money on trickle-down handouts to corporations and more on trickle-up seed money invested in our universities. Make college affordable for everyone, and we can produce a lot more graduates who can add a lot more value to our economy, not just with their Regentally fostered knowledge, skills, and critical thinking, but with all their immediate spending power that they can pour into cars and houses instead of student loan debt.

6 comments

Can we all just get along?

Sixteen people (fourteen in the room, two on the phone) met in Rapid City Saturday to talk about how to elect more Democrats. These citizens discussed how to organize a quadfecta of political action committees that will recruit and support local and legislative candidates. The discussants included Pennington County Democrats, a former legislator, tribal members, a registered Independent, and LGBT advocates. Tentatively calling themselves South Dakota Progress, the group agreed enough to endorse a mission statement:

To elect Democratic Candidates to public office in South Dakota by drafting, implementing and following a cohesive plan that will support and facilitate the election of candidates for local offices up to the state legislative level.

They also agreed enough to schedule a second meeting for December 6 in Rapid City. The ball is rolling.

Friend of the blog Tasiyagnunpa Livermont is acting as steering committee chair for SD Progress. Livermont says she got involved with this project because she feels "disenfranchised" by the existing party mechanism. She saw great organization and outreach from Rick Weiland's Senate campaign, and she found a place for her desire to help in Robin Page's District 33 State Senate campaign, but she didn't see the SDDP making a similar effort to engage new, young volunteers across the state.

Echoing that sentiment is MRC Miller, a metallurgical student at School of Mines, LGBT activist, and former Page volunteer:

I'm involved out of anger.... Republicans didn't win 2014, Democrats didn't fight. Half the time there wasn't one on the ballot. What few candidates could be found were generally weak, because they were unsupported by what passed for a party [MRC Miller, South Dakota Progress, press release, 2014.11.19].

Some Democratic candidates and organizers may take Miller's and Livermont's criticism personally, making it difficult for SD Progress to live up the intention Livermont states of working in parallel with the South Dakota Democratic Party. But Bajun Mavalwalla, who helped build the Page campaign convened and advised Saturday's meeting, says the group assembled Saturday consists of "professionals who will lay down hard feelings and use their passion to further mobilize their constituents in a precise, organized way." In a sign that Democratic Party members can do the same, Pennington County Dems invited SD Progress participants to their regular meeting Tuesday night to further discuss how the groups can work together. Rapid City Police received no reports of shots fired.

Prior to Saturday's meeting, SDDP exec Zach Crago cautiously welcomed the new group's effort:

“Our state party welcomes input from any Democrat or others from across the state,” Crago said. “These kind of discussions with folks like Bajun are healthy for the party.”

But he defended the SDDP’s work raising money and recruiting candidates for local races — even if it hasn’t borne much fruit in elections the past few years [David Montgomery, "South Dakota Democrats: An Idea to Rebuild," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.14].

Former SDDP chair/exec Ben Nesselhuf dismisses the group as unnecessary:

“Everything that he’s suggesting there is (already) being done through the state party,” said Ben Nesselhuf, the former chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party, after reviewing Mavalwalla’s proposal. “I think Democrats would be much better served by putting their time and energy into the state party structure than dividing up their resources with competing organizations” [Montgomery, 2014.11.14].

There seems to be a difference of opinion as to just how much support the state party is offering to local and legislative candidates. We'll let Crago address that in his speech tomorrow at Democratic Forum.

There should not be a difference of opinion about what to do with South Dakota Progress. Democrats, a group of over a dozen activists want to help us win elections. Our immediate response should be, "Yes, please!" Party leaders should have open, thoughtful conversations to help South Dakota Progress develop a plan that is truly complementary to and not wastefully redundant with existing party efforts. But as long SD Progress does nothing that hinders the SD Democratic Party's efforts to raise money and recruit volunteers and candidates, we should welcome the help.

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The Democratic Forum of Sioux Falls (which sponsors this blog—thank you, friends!) hosts what could be a newsworthy program this Friday. Zach Crago, executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, will deliver what I believe will be his first extended public remarks since the midterm election. Crago will discuss the recent election and, according to the Democratic Forum, "what the party needs to do to plan for the future."

Democratic Forum is open to the public, and speakers generally do big Q&A, so let's warm up some questions for Crago! Here are the top five that jump to my mind:

  1. What current SDDP projects are working and should continue?
  2. Closely related to #1: What metrics indicate those projects are working?
  3. How much money does the SDDP need to raise to be competitive with the SDGOP?
  4. What does the SDDP do to overcome disillusionment among donors and reach that competitive level?
  5. How long can we keep you as party exec?

Meanwhile, here are the top five things you won't hear Crago say on Friday:

  1. I'm quitting the SDDP and joining the Libertarians to help them capitalize on their role as South Dakota's true opposition party.
  2. Ssshhhh... we're luring the Republicans into overconfidence.
  3. I'll be bringing a proposal to the State Central Committee at its December 13 meeting to amend the SDDP constitution to choose all nominees for statewide office via online polls on the Madville Times.
  4. Now that South Dakota voters have declared that EB-5 is not a political liability, the South Dakota Democratic Party will raise $140 million by forming its own Regional Center to compete with the state in recruiting and managing EB-5 investments. (Hey, wait a minute—that's not a bad idea!)
  5. And now presenting our next Democratic Party chairman, Larry Pressler!

You can hear what Zach Crago really has to say and pitch your own questions about the future of the South Dakota Democratic Party Friday noon, November 21, at the Sioux Falls VFW, 3601 South Minnesota Ave.

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Stace Bare is a big man; he fits in my Bug the way Captain Kirk fit that K'normian trading ship through the passage between the approaching Klingon structures. He served in the Army in Bosnia and Iraq. He came back to America in 2007 with big problems: post-traumatic stress, adjustment disorder, depression and brain injury. After self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, Bare found salvation (yes, he uses the word saved, and later the word grace) in rock-climbing and the great big wilderness.

That's why he now directs Sierra Club Outdoors. That's why he takes fellow veterans on wilderness adventures. That's why he thinks the 1964 Wilderness Act is one of the best health care laws we have ever passed.

About a half hour after my TEDx Brookings talk, Stace Bare stood up in his hometown and delivered this oratorical masterpiece. (Again, what do you expect? He graduated from Brookings High School, and he debated for Judy Kroll.) He weaves personal pain and growth, American history, and love of nature into a compelling call to go outside:

Next time you hear someone call the Sierra Club and environmentalists in general a bunch of liberal un-American tree huggers, send them this video. Let big Stace Bare explain to them why the wilderness is essential to America's health and identity and why protecting that wilderness is a patriotic and humanitarian duty.

22 comments

Fellow South Dakota blogger Scott Ehrisman is seeking appointment to the Minnehaha County Commission. Commissioner John Pekas won election as Second Circuit judge this month, so the county needs someone to fill his term through 2016.

Ehrisman offers the commission a diverse blue-collar and creative work experience (and he grew up on a sheep and hog farm!) that would bring a healthy new perspective to county government. I whole-heartedly endorse his candidacy.

Whoops—make that 95%-heartedly. Ehrisman makes one promise that I can't back:

I know you have concerns. I maintain a controversial website about local government. It is my child. It’s premise is simple, to inform and to entertain through political satire and activism. I often tell people, “If you can’t laugh at politicians, you will only end up hating them.” I am not a hater. I have often tried to use the blog as a catalyst for change and activism. Sometimes it achieves those goals, sometimes it falls on it’s face. It has given me a very thick skin, but it has also made me aware of the public’s sensitivities. If appointed to this commission, I would stop the blog or pass on the reigns to another author. I HATE conflicts of interest with public officials, and I would find it necessary to eliminate them by ending my authorship. I believe it is difficult to stop ALL conflicts as a public official, but also believe we have clear choices, and unlike other candidates applying for this position, I would CHOOSE to eliminate as many conflicts as possible [Scott Ehrisman, "I Announced Today My Intent to Be Considered for Appointment to the Minnehaha County Commission," South Dacola, 2014.11.18].

I agree that Ehrisman's engagement with the public through his blog has enhanced his skills as a politician (I'm using the word in its best sense, Scott, meaning a practitioner of civic discourse and policy-making, an engineer of the polis). Blogging done right (i.e., reading, interviewing, thinking, and writing your own material, not regurgitating the press releases of one's patrons) improves one's understanding of the community. It improves one's ability to speak and to listen. Blogging has made Ehrisman a better public servant.

For those reasons, I disagree with Ehrisman's feeling that he must stop blogging if appointed as a potential conflict of interest. His interest as a commissioner would be to stay connected with his constituents, to hear their concerns, and to lead useful public conversations. Ehrisman's blog could play a vital rile in serving the public interest.

I recognize that Ehrisman would find himself unable to blog about confidential county business. Decorum would require caution in criticizing fellow commission members, commission decisions, and county employees. Some subjects might well be better handled by guest blog authors.

However, Ehrisman's blog would be a perfect forum for informing his constituents about issues before the commission, for soliciting public input outside the strictures of official meetings, and for developing and explaining his own thinking on county policy.

State Rep. (now State Senator-Elect) Bernie Hunhoff wrote and edited South Dakota Magazine during his tenure in the State House. He avoided any conflict of interest while still using his forum to connect with his constituents. Rep.-Elect Fred Deutsch has blogged as a Watertown school board member; we can only hope he will carry on the practice of Rep. Kathy Tyler, whom he unseated this month and who regularly and informatively blogged during her tenure in the State House.

Bloggers can serve in political office. Politicians can serve the public by blogging. Minnehaha County, put Ehrisman to work for the people. Scott, keep working for the people by blogging!

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