The Washington Post has already picked up today's big story about Mike Rounds's admission that he knew his economic development chief Richard Benda was planning to cash in on the EB-5 funded Northern Beef Packers project that he and Rounds had promoted and did not question that conflict of interest. "New Development in Scandal Dogging Mike Rounds Could Spell More Trouble," headlines WaPo for all those national readers and potential donors. Dogging... more trouble... thank you, sir, may I please have another?

But now I see why some of my readers were initially so grouchy about that Sioux Falls paper's coverage of the story. The original headline posted online overnight* and on the printed front page is "Benda 'Misled' Me, Says Rounds."

That Sioux Falls paper, clip from front page of print edition, 2014.10.22

That Sioux Falls paper, clip from front page of print edition, 2014.10.22

At some point this morning, the editorial board realized the bigger story was not Rounds's continued effort to blame the dead guy (on the first anniversary of Governor Dennis Daugaard's get-ahead-of-the-story announcement that Richard Benda had been found dead of a gunshot wound), but Rounds's admission of silent complicity in Benda's (and Bollen's!) $550,000 gambit. "Rounds knew of Benda conflict in final days of term," reads the updated headline.

Dear readers, I'm interested to hear what you think of that Sioux Falls paper's evolving editorial position on this story.

Bonus Legs: As October Surprises keep rolling, KELO's Ben Dunsmoor wakes up and offers a one-sentence scoop: the FBI is still investigating South Dakota's EB-5 program.

*Update 17:08 CDT: Mr. Montgomery tells me the web headline hasn't changed since posted the story to his blog section of the paper's website last night. But just after midnight, someone at the copy desk posted the Benda-focused headline:

Earlier online headline, screen cap of Google Cache version of Montgomery's Rounds-Benda story, 2014.10.22 00:24 CDT

Earlier online headline, screen cap of Google Cache version of Montgomery's Rounds-Benda story, 2014.10.22 00:24 CDT

That's the version folks were sending me at breakfast. That online version has gone poof, leaving only the print world thinking the main point of the story is that Benda was naughty.

72 comments

Some of my readers think David Montgomery has sold out to the good-old-boys' network on whom he and his employer depend for access and advertising dollars.

If that were the case, I don't think that Sioux Falls paper would slap this headline on Montgomery's latest EB-5 report:

Rounds knew of Benda conflict in final days of term

This headline comes not from diligent investigative reporting but from Mike Rounds's own mouth. The Republican Senate candidate said in yesterday's live interview with 100 Eyes that he knew Richard Benda, his economic development chief, was going to work for an "investor" in Northern Beef Packers, the stalled economic development project toward which he directed $2.36 million in state grants during the last few weeks of his governorship.

Benda didn't identify which investor he would be working for, and Rounds said he didn't press. Benda went to work for SDRC Inc., a company managing EB-5 foreign investments for projects, including Northern Beef. On Tuesday, Rounds said he now feels Benda "misled" him by not disclosing where he was going.

At the time, though, Rounds didn't ask Benda for more details.

"I said 'Good, I'm glad to hear that he's going to be actively involved in the beef plant,'" Rounds said in a live interview on the Argus Leader's "100 Eyes" online show.

Rounds' focus at the time, he said, was on which of his Cabinet secretaries "should I meet with to find out if they need assistance in finding other opportunities" — not whether they were "leaving government with a conflict of interest," as Argus Leader managing editor Patrick Lalley asked Rounds. Benda already had lined up a job, so Rounds said he focused attention elsewhere [David Montgomery, "Rounds Knew of Benda Conflict in Final Days of Term," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.22].

Permit me to paint a managerial scenario, and you tell me whether I'm viewing the situation with hindsight or South Dakota common sense:

  1. I'm an outgoing governor, tying up loose ends in the Capitol.
  2. Among the loose ends are various fiscal and policy decisions to keep one of my marquee legacy projects alive. It's running over two years late and way over budget.
  3. I'm taking a risk writing some pretty big checks to keep the legacy project alive.
  4. I can't afford any bad press dragging this precarious project down.
  5. I find out one of my cabinet members who's been key in saving that project is now going to work for that project.
  6. I say, "Wait a minute, Richard. What exactly are you going to be doing for the project?" I listen closely. If I sense any hedging, I say "Cut the crap" and get the full story.
  7. Whatever answers I get, I think ahead to appearances, if not legal questions, and I say to my cabinet member, "I think it's best that, for these last couple weeks, we put a big brick wall between you and any policy decisions affecting the folks you're going to work for."
  8. I review all of the checks and other papers I've signed over the past few weeks for the project and make sure everything looks kosher.
  9. And above all, I make sure my guy going to work for the project is not the guy who carries the million-dollar state check to that project.

Rounds gets to my step 5, then veers off the road of good management, saying, Rich has a job? Great! Now I can focus on helping all my other pals get golden parachutes.

Rounds said at Dakotafest in August that if he'd known what Benda had been up to with respect to Northern Beef Packers and EB-5, he'd have fired Benda. In yesterday's interview, Rounds said, "Richard Benda did some things in the last couple of weeks (of Rounds' term) that I did not know about, and that I'd like to ask him questions about." But when Benda was right in front of him, and the issues all hot on his plate, Governor Rounds chose not to ask.

And the day Mike Rounds didn't ask Richard Benda those questions at the end of 2010 may have been the day that Mike Rounds lost the election of 2014.

26 comments

Susan Wismer and Mike Myers go to Sioux Falls tonight to debate Governor Dennis Daugaard on KELO-TV for his job. Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Gordon Howie, and Mike Rounds go to Vermillion tomorrow night for their first big broadcast Senate debate.

Partial solar eclipse, animation of lunar penumbra and terminator, October 23, 2014. From NASA!

Partial solar eclipse, animation of lunar penumbra and terminator, October 23, 2014. From NASA! (Time in UTC; subtract 5 hours for Central, 6 for Mou

The gods evidently see more portent in the Senate debate; they are throwing a pre-game eclipse party! The new moon's shadow hits Kamchatka at their Friday dawn, then slides across Alaska, Canada, the Lower 48, and Mexico throughout our Thursday.

According to the United States Naval Observatory, the partial eclipse begins in Vermillion at 4:23 p.m. Central, and maxes out just after 5:36 p.m., when the moon will obscure just about 49% of the sun. The moon will still be taking a bite out of the sun when the sun sets at 6:33 p.m. Predicted cloud cover for Vermillion tomorrow p.m.: 14%–17%.

Out in Spearfish, the eclipse begins just before 3:10 p.m. Mountain, just in time for the kids to get out of school and see all the freaky shadow effects. Spearfish eclipse max is at 4:28 p.m. Mountain with 53% solar obscuration. The moon scoots past the sun completely at 5:38, about 22 minutes before Spearfish sunset. Predicted cloud cover: 28%–33%.

Go see the eclipse (but how many times do we have to tell you: don't look directly at the sun!), then see who eclipses whom at the SDPB Senate debate!

Bonus Third-Grade Science/Halloween Humor:

—How does a deaf astronomer know what ghosts are saying?
—She reads the eek-lips.

7 comments

I love South Dakota. I love ladies. So why doesn't South Dakota love ladies?

Never mind the syllogistic stretch; check out why 24/7 Wall Street says South Dakota is the seventh-worst state in the Union for women:

Median earnings for women in South Dakota were roughly 75% the earnings of their male counterparts in 2013, one of the lower rates in the country. The lower earnings may be due to the relatively small percentage of women in management occupations. As of 2013, slightly more than 31% of workers in managerial roles were women, well below the national rate of 39.2%. Working women in South Dakota cannot take paid time off to care for sick family members or tend to their own health or pregnancy. Moreover, South Dakota has not begun to implement the expansion of Medicaid benefits allowed under the Affordable Care Act. With women accounting for nearly 55% of all state residents living below the poverty line in 2012, expanding Medicaid benefits would likely improve the living conditions for women [Thomas C. Frohlich, Alexander Kent, and Alexander E.M. Hess, "The 10 Worst States for Women," 24/Wall Street, 2014.10.16].

I love South Dakota. I want to say good things about South Dakota. But candidates like Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard are claiming they deserve your vote because they've done good things for South Dakota, when in fact they have only left in place a political and economic system that denies a huge majority of moms (and dads!) the opportunity to leave one parent at home to raise their kids, then hurls those women into an oppressive business regime that excludes them from lucrative positions of power.

Women, you appear to have your doubts about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Susan Wismer. You should harbor even greater doubts about the economic status quo in which the Republicans vest their interests. Check your pocketbooks, and vote accordingly.

13 comments

Mr. Ehrisman wonders why we haven't seen a big Governor Dennis Daugaard endorsement ad for Mike Rounds for Senate.

Well, Senator John Thune is on the air telling folks to send him Rounds to join him for No Theater:

Be patient: I suspect a Daugaard endorsement ad is in the chute, ready to go after the Thune ad tires the viewers out.

But if the absence of a Daugaard ad for Rounds catches our attention, so should the absence of an ad from Senator Tim Johnson for Rick Weiland. John Tsitrian senses what he calls tepidity from Senator Johnson and other South Dakota elder Democratic statesmen. Tsitrian also links to this milquetoastery from Senator Johnson:

Of course I'm in favor of Rick Weiland, but they're all good candidates and I'll stay away from the politics [Sen. Tim Johnson, in Tessa Thomas, "Senator Stops in Rapid City for His 'Tour of Thanks'," KEVN-TV, 2014.10.20].

Senator Johnson, I appreciate the Lutheran equanimity, but don't give Mike Rounds a grace he doesn't deserve. Now is not the time to call Mike Rounds a "good candidate" or to stay away from politics. You can use this crucial last moment of your political career to make this the last moment of Mike Rounds's political career. You can use you last hurrah  to give South Dakota the great hurrah of a candidate as honest and hard-working as you have been.

Senator Johnson, break out the camera. Leverage your gravitas and pathos. Shoot this ad:

I'm Tim Johnson. You've trusted me to work for you for 35 years. I've worked through challenges to live up to that trust and get things done for South Dakota.

Now I ask you to trust Rick Weiland. He'll pick up right where I'm leaving off, fighting for every one of us in South Dakota.

I will miss serving you. But Barb and I can rest easy with Rick Weiland as our next Senator. Thank you, South Dakota [fantasy ad, hopefully airing October 29, 2014].

Say those words to the camera. Play some "Morning in America" music. Push Weiland over 40%.

42 comments

Another South Dakota newspaper editor throws the B.S. flag at Republican Senate candidate Mike Rounds on the EB-5 scandal:

Brian J. Hunhoff, editorial cartoon, Yankton County Observer, 2014.10.17

Brian J. Hunhoff, editorial cartoon, Yankton County Observer, 2014.10.17

YCO editor Brian J. Hunhoff pens the above cartoon to accompany an editorial giving South Dakota a failing grade on open government. Hunhoff says Rounds's blame-dodging exemplifies our opaque government and insults the voters:

The blame-dodging by former Gov. Mike Rounds would be entertaining if it wasn’t so troubling. Of course, Rounds wants to keep his $9 million Senate campaign afloat, but he looks foolish denying any responsibility for a scandal that occurred on his watch. Many of his excuses insult our state’s collective intelligence.

Rounds’ arrogance was apparent in his refusal to appear in person before the impotent Government Operations and Audit Committee. His defensiveness was revealed in snarky written answers to questions about EB-5. His sloppiness was evident after one key response was quickly proved untrue and he asked to change his answer [Brian J. Hunhoff, "State Still Earning Bad Grades in Open Government," Yankton County Observer, 2014.10.17].

The Yankton County Observer echoes the disdain for Rounds that the Mobridge Tribune registered last week with Katie Zerr's indictment of Mike Rounds's dishonesty. How many more South Dakota newspapers will have the courage to deem Mike Rounds unworthy of South Dakota's trust.

18 comments

Republicans are desperate to beat back Rick Weiland's October surge. Alas, the only way the National Republican Senatorial Committee sees fit to do that is through more falsehood:

The two biggest lies in this ad are the claims that (1) Weiland supports cutting $700 billion from Medicare and (2) Keystone XL would create 40,000 jobs.

The claim that the Affordable Care Act cuts $700 billion in Medicare benefits was false before anyone had entered South Dakota's Senate race. The $700 billion claim was false when Mike Rounds made it in May. It's still false.

The claim that Keystone XL will create 40,000 jobs is fuzzy math of Mike Rounds/EB-5 proportions. A couple thousand workers will spend a few months crossing the high plains laying pipe. Some folks in the neighborhood of the work camps will sell more sandwiches. Then the workers and the jobs and the paychecks will go away, and there will be maybe fifty TransCanada workers left to monitor and repair pipe and pump stations.

Republicans have nothing left but falsehood. Voters, don't give your vote to someone who can't tell the truth.

29 comments

At the Dakotafest debate in August, Independent candidate Larry Pressler advanced the thesis that electing Mike Rounds would leave South Dakota with a "wounded Senator." Lincoln County Democrat Ryan Casey takes that thesis a step further, asking if an indictment against Rounds for malfeasance in his EB-5 program would leave South Dakota with no junior Senator:

Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution and the 17th Amendment give states the ability to fill U.S. Senate vacancies due to death, expulsion or resignation. In South Dakota, the governor makes an appointment to fill a vacancy until the next general election.

If Rounds is elected, indicted, and resigns, the governor can appoint his replacement almost immediately, preserving South Dakota's crucial representation in the Senate. If Rounds insists on remaining in office throughout his criminal proceedings, however, constituents will be left to question his effectiveness as a senator and his ability to serve their interests.

Luckily, there is still time on the clock. South Dakota voters can determine the outcome of this election [Ryan Casey, "Would Rounds Indictment Leave South Dakota Without a Senator?" Huffington Post, 2014.10.21].

Rep. Bill Janklow put us in that situation in 2003, not resigning until he was found guilty of manslaughter and not making that resignation effective until his sentencing, a month and a half after conviction.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves: Mike Rounds hasn't caused anyone's death that we know of, and we're still nailing what if any crime Rounds may have committed. (Remember: sloppy management and dishonesty aren't crimes.)

But voters, consider the odds: you have three Senate candidates who are not under any known federal investigation. You have one candidate who is at the center of a scandal under ongoing federal investigation, and that candidate has been spinning flexible and doubtful tales about his involvement in that scandal all year. Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, and Gordon Howie are more likely to be ready to serve on day one and not require any litigious sabbatical, let alone replacement by the Governor.

Dump Rounds, and focus on your viable Senate candidates.

14 comments

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