Pat Powers presents the perfect Christmas card from South Dakota's next Senator, M. Michael Rounds:

Mike Rounds Christmas card, December 2014, posted by Dakota War College.

Mike Rounds Christmas card, December 2014, posted by Dakota War College.

A shady snow job: Mike Rounds and the South Dakota Republican Party to a T.

21 comments

David Montgomery leaves us with a report on the Minnehaha County Commission's decision to drive more bicyclists off the road by rumble-stripping the Wall Lake Road. The shoulder there is already narrow; rumble strips will make the rideable shoulder perilously thin. The county does not plan to pony up the cash to expand the shoulder to a safer width for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Understand, motorists, than if the county is going to render the shoulder unrideable, we cyclists will expect you to share the driving lane with us. Keep your eyes open.

But we know we'll have to pedal to the shoulder every now and then, so in hopes that the engineers will offer cyclists some accommodation, so Minnehaha County, at least keep the grooves thin and shallow, and space them out.

Or better yet, since the rumble strips are there to deal with inattentive motorists, why not place the inconvenience in the motorists' lane? Instead of taking five inches away from bicyclists, why not cut those grooves on the left side of the white stripe? Give motorists a rumble before their tires hit the line, and before their mirrors are sticking out into the shoulder where they can slip bicyclists? Left-cut rumble strips would guarantee that I would stay on the shoulder instead of swinging an extra foot out into the driving lane.

Once again, Left-leaning policies are better for everyone.

1 comment

Attorney General Marty Jackley held a press conference in Sisseton Friday to discuss the details and conclusions of the state's investigation of the November 22, 2014 murder-suicide that shocked Sisseton and briefly put the entire tri-state area on alert. AG Jackley confirmed that Colter Arbach shot and injured Karissa DogEagle and shot and killed Vernon Renville Jr., Angela Adams, Candice Labelle.

DogEagle was Arbach's girlfriend. In the wee hours of November 22, he punched her three times. DogEagle's three friends took her outside to a car. Arbach followed and fired 18 rounds from a .223 rifle and three rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. Arbach shot Renville, Adams, and Labelle dead at the car; he shot DogEagle several times in the back as she returned to the house. According to this shooting diagram released by the Department of Criminal Investigations, Arbach shot himself in the driveway.

Arbach shooting crime scene diagram, prepared by Special Agent Jeff Kollars, SD Department of Criminal Investigation, 2014.11.22 (click to enlarge).

Arbach shooting crime scene diagram, prepared by Special Agent Jeff Kollars, SD Department of Criminal Investigation, 2014.11.22 (click to enlarge).

The detailed information Attorney General Jackley released Friday raises three questions:

  1. AG Jackley said nothing (at least nothing published) about his office's failure to positively identify the dead shooter at the scene, an error that led law enforcement to unnecessarily alarm the public with warnings that Arbach was on the loose, armed and dangerous.
  2. The crime scene diagram identifies Item #22 at the foot of Arbach's corpse as a "Beretta 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun." The diagram and the Attorney General identify the other weapon, found in the front passenger seat of the white GMC, only as a .223 caliber rifle. Why does the AG specify the shotgun but not the rifle that did most of the rapid-fire killing? Is there a magic word we're not using to avoid grief for our NRA donors?
  3. This crime scene diagram offers significant detail about a crime about which there has been little public doubt. Why has Attorney General Marty Jackley not released a comparable crime scene diagram from his investigation of Richard Benda's death? With conflicting evidence and widespread public doubt about the plausibility of the official finding of suicide, it would behoove the Attorney General all the more to release the crime scene diagram and other details, like those released Friday in the Arbach case, to assure the public that law enforcement has done its job.

Attorney General Jackley's openness in the Arbach shooting is admirable, if incomplete. AG Jackley should revisit the Benda shooting with similar openness.

12 comments

Meade County Commissioners have what seems like a good transportation idea: they'd like to build a bypass east of Sturgis to connect state Highways 34 and 79 straight south to Interstate 90:

Proposed East Sturgis Bypass (annotations mine; map from Google; click to embiggen!)

Proposed East Sturgis Bypass (annotations mine; map from Google; click to embiggen!) 

This east bypass would run from the Elkview Campground near Exit 37 straight north to the Buffalo Chip entrance. The project would cut a couple miles of new road from the south end of 131st Avenue to the north end of Cardinal Place. Both of those roads appear to be gravel (I invite updates from local travelers!), so I assume the project would also include paving those existing roads.

The new road would nicely entriangle Sturgis. Folks coming from Rapid City to visit the Chip and Bear Butte would not have to drive through downtown Sturgis traffic, which on normal days may cut just a few miles and minutes from the trip but which during the Rally could shorten through-time by at least half an hour. Commissioners also say that the Fort Meade VA Hospital needs this road as a second emergency access route.

The Meade County Commission hasn't poured asphalt yet, but they are taking names: Pleasant Valley Parkway, Fort Meade Expressway, Ronald Reagan Road, Todd Beamer Road, Oren Hindman Road.... Residents will get to vote online over the Christmas break, and the commission will adopt the new name at its January 14th meeting.

But the commissioners may not get to build their road, due to their choice of funding mechanism: tax increment financing. To bring in the two million dollars needed to build this bypass, the Meade County Commission has drawn up a gargantuan serpentine TIF district: 

Proposed Meade County TIF 2014TIF districts usually are neighborhood scale. TIF districts usually encompass the immediate area where improvements will be built. Build new streets or sewer or other public improvements, and property values on adjoining lots should rise, as developers build homes and businesses to take advantage of the new infrastructure. Those increased property values provide the tax increment that pays off the financing that built the improvements.

The proposed bypass would lie in one township at the southwest corner of the TIF district. The TIF district paying for it spans 24 townships (total land area over 600 square miles), including 11 entire townships to the immediate north and east of Sturgis. East of those townships, the TIF district abandons Highway 34 and bends north, east, and back southeast to take in land on the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.

That northernmost jut is the real moneymaker: it appears to encompass KXL pumping station #17 near Opal (according to the map TransCanada submitted to the PUC). Commission Chairman Alan Aker says the TIF District captures enough taxable land value to pay off the road project in 20 years even if Keystone XL does not come to fruition, but the pipeline and especially Pumping Station #17 would help Meade County pay off the TIF much faster.

The TIF would prevent the Meade County School District from cashing in right away on any added tax value from the pipeline, the pumping station or other development in the expansive district. Locking that future value into the new connector road could deprive the school district of $1.6 million over the next five years. The Meade County school board doesn't like that idea:

Superintendent Don Kirkegaard says the board is not opposed to the road, nor to TIF’s in general, but this particular TIF seems nothing more than a shift in taxes.

“I did a five-year estimate and I believe the district would lose about $1.6-million in future revenue based on projections. It really is a 2-mile road and we’re shifting the taxing structure for over 300 sections of land to pay for the road. It seems like the school is the only player in the new revenue source and the district just can’t support this particular map.”

Kirkeggard says typically, a TIF is designed to be a small area of property to help with the infrastructure in that small area. But in this one, he says it’s more of a “rob Peter to pay Paul” situation.

“The rezoning of the how we are going to use those taxes has nothing to do with the project. It’s just a way, as I say, “rob Peter to pay Paul,” and in this case, we’re Peter. So, we can’t support this particular map. It has both short term and long term impacts to the district. We’re strapped for cash, just like the county is, and we don’t think this is equitable for the school district” [Gary Matthews, "Meade 46-1 School Board Opposes County's New 131st Avenue TIF Map," KBHB Radio, 2014.12.10].

The Meade County Commission doesn't appreciate the school board's resistance. They may face broader public opposition. Under the banner of Meade County Taxpayers for Responsible Government, TIF opponents are petitioning to subject the county's funding plan to a public vote. They have until early January (January 7, by my calculation) to gather at least 762 signatures.

8 comments

Last weekend, usury boss Chuck Brennan warned that we'd be party-poopers if we dared to pass an initiative to cap lending rates at 36% and effectively put him and other payday lenders out of business.

It turns out that was just a political head fake. Brennan announced yesterday he's having to postpone "Chuck's Kegger," his proposed Ribfest-challenging chili-and-music festival, not because of political pressure, but because he couldn't get his groups in a hoop:

Brennan said the inaugural Chuck's Kegger would be delayed and attributed the delay to scheduling problems with performers.

"Everyone is on board with the project but artists' schedules are hard to predict and the stars have not quite aligned yet," Brennan wrote in a statement posted Thursday on the event's website. "We appreciate the avalanche of support that we have gotten on the kegger and I'm sure there will be more news to come."

Planning for the event had been underway for around six months and included a website, logo, ticket prices and informational packets.

It's unclear when Chuck's Kegger will now occur, if ever.

Brennan did not return a call for comment Thursday [David Montgomery, "Week After Announcement, Rock Festival Delayed," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.19].

Oh, yeah, announce your music festival before you ink the musicians—brilliant.

Poof goes one empty threat from the nervous usury industry. Keep your eyes open for more as the interest-rate initiative gets rolling in 2015.

Tangentially related update (12:57 CST): No kegger, but more Keg: Keg Chicken is returning to Sioux Falls.

4 comments

The obvious solution to South Dakota's vo-tech workforce shortage is higher wages. But if our business and political leaders are committed to ignoring that option, perhaps we can consider another solution: immigrants.

The Pew Charitable Trusts just issued a report on "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population." It includes this map of counties where the population of U.S.-born residents has declined over the last couple decades:

Native-Born Population Declines in Middle America, 1990-2012. Source: Pew Charitable Trusts, "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population," 2014.12.18

(click to embiggen!)

See that big blue band down the middle of the country? Those are counties where there are fewer natives born Americans. More of East River is emptying out than West River.

A lot of counties in that band of demographic blues are countering that population loss with immigrants:

"Immigration Slows Population Declines in Middle America"—Source: Pew Charitable Trusts, "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population," 2014.12.18

(click to embiggen!) 

The dark green counties saw foreign immigration growth outpace the native population loss. The lighter green counties saw foreign immigration slow their shrinkage. Notice that green starts to peter out around the Dakotas.

South Dakotans, like all Americans, are getting older and having fewer babies. The Pew report says immigration is key to filling the workforce:

In addition to having the potential to offset population decline in some areas of the country, immigrants can also compensate for the aging of the native-born population. The median age of the total U.S. population is rising, and the ratio of seniors (ages 65+) to working age people (ages 25-64) is increasing. Immigration mitigates these trends by adding working age adults to the U.S. population. Nearly half of immigrants admitted between 2003 and 2012 were between the ages of 20 and 40, while only 5 percent were ages 65 or older.

The size and makeup of the U.S. population has important implications for economic productivity, taxation, and spending. Immigrants are already disproportionately represented in the labor force with a share of about 16 percent, while they make up about 13 percent of the overall population. The Pew Research Center has determined that if current immigration trends and birth rates continue, by 2050 virtually all (93 percent) of the nation’s working age population growth will come from immigrants and their U.S.-born children [Pew Charitable Trusts, "Changing Patterns in U.S. Immigration and Population: Immigrants Slow Population Decline in Many Counties," December 2014].

South Dakota has shown its willingness to use immigration as an economic development tool in the past. The state appears to recognize at least part of the immigration–economics equation in its new Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship program:

But with high school graduation classes declining, South Dakota also must lure more people here from other states. Build Dakota understands that, its designers say. Out-of-staters entering one of South Dakota’s four technical schools will be able to apply for full scholarships, too, as long as they commit to working at least three years in the state after they graduate [Steve Young, "Build Dakota Offers Promise for Workforce Growth," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.19].

But notice the limits there: we're thinking about students from other states, not workers from other countries. We're targeting youth who will in a couple years turn into technicians who will work for three years with entry-level skills at entry-level wages. Where's the component of our economic development plan that targets experienced workers, foreign and domestic, who could come to South Dakota and add value right now with better skills and bigger families?

Our workforce shortage is not magic. South Dakota has more retirees, fewer workers, and fewer kids stepping in to replace them. Our workforce recruitment efforts need to do more to ride the immigration wave that is boosting other parts of Middle America.

15 comments

I yield the floor to Zach Crago, who yields the executive directorship of the South Dakota Democratic Party to the next willing and able madman.

Crago is leaving South Dakota for graduate school... but not without offering a valuable review of the work he thinks the SDDP has done during his watch. Here's Crago's exit report, plus a real trooper's exhortation to action.

Zach Crago, SDDP executive director until January 1

Zach Crago, SDDP executive director until January 1

Dear South Dakota Democrats,

As I’ve long planned, I’m resigning as Executive Director of the South Dakota Democratic Party at the end of this calendar year with good news to share about the state of the State Party that you all deserve to hear.

But let’s get right to the point on everyone’s mind - the 2014 elections were painful for Democrats. Nationally, Republicans padded their majority in the US House of Representatives, and the GOP swept nearly every single competitive Senate race to capture the US Senate majority. It wasn’t much better here in South Dakota either. We lost Senator Tim Johnson’s US Senate seat and all other statewide races. And while we gained one seat in the State Senate, we lost five seats in the State House.

Some are saying the South Dakota Democratic Party is broken, but fact of the matter is nothing could be further from the truth. While the Party exists to win elections, we must also be good stewards who protect our Party’s viability beyond any single election cycle. Despite a dismal election here and across the country, the South Dakota Democratic Party has made enormous progress this election cycle in fundraising, field organizing, and our future leadership to build a party that lasts.

The South Dakota Democratic Party has a mixed past when it comes to raising money. We’ve raked in cash with powerful federal office holders & strong state party leaders and held literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after elections gone bad. The boom and bust cycle made it impossible to retain top quality staff, attract new talent, or inspire confidence in prospective candidates and volunteers.

Chair Deb Knecht and I decided we were going to escape the broken boom and bust cycle when we took charge in July of 2013. At that time, the South Dakota Democratic Party was raising $1963 a month from the Founders Club, the monthly sustaining donor program George McGovern started in the 1950s - barely enough to cover rent, phones, and office supplies every month. Today with the support of over 160 Democrats, the South Dakota Democratic Party raises $6360 a monthfrom Founders Club members like you. With the DNC’s additional $5,000 a month State Partnership Program contribution, our ongoing revenue matches our ongoing expenses nearly dollar for dollar for three full time staff.

And guess what? When the ongoing expenses are covered by ongoing revenue, it’s a lot easier to raise one-time money for targeted programs too. In fact, the South Dakota Democratic Party raised $458,959 in one time contributions this year from revamped events like our “Tribute to Tim” McGovern Day Dinner with over 725 people and over a dozen house parties, a new monthly mail program, an aggressive email operation, and regular call time from our state party chair and staff among other successful fundraising initiatives.

When you’re raising that kind of money, you can spend it on field organizing that makes a difference. The South Dakota Democratic Party wasted no time in 2013 when we partnered with our friends in organized labor to sponsor an initiated measure to raise the minimum wage. In 60 short days, we hired 1 Field Director and 10 organizers, recruited over 500 petition circulators, and submitted 25,681 signatures from registered voters to put our initiated measure on the ballot. With $330,000 supporting the IM 18 campaign, 55% of South Dakota voters said Yes on 18, giving 62,000 South Dakotans a raise. In an otherwise rough election, YOU can be proud that the South Dakota Democratic Party championed this issue for working families across the state.

We made big investments in the field to help candidates win up and down the ballot too. The South Dakota Democratic Party hosted 7 webinars and 41 one on ones to train our candidates. We rewarded candidates who knocked doors and raised money with 32 rounds of free mail. We created the first ever YELL Fellows program with 21 young Democrats who were paid staff paired with 21 legislative candidates with half the expense covered by the Majority Project and half by the candidates. We hammered away at the Mike Rounds EB5 citizenship-for-sale scheme through 12 press conferences that among other things generated over 12,500 articles on Mike Rounds and the EB5 scandal. With the additional scrutiny, Mike Rounds dropped to a 4 point lead in the polls in early October.

We also made big five figure investments in our Get Out The Vote program. With Democratic County Party GOTV offices across the state, volunteers like you made approximately 31,000 calls. Our GOTV headquarters in Sioux Falls incorporated predictive dialers and canvasses to make 313,764 calls. Add to that a special targeted effort to reach Democrats with a low to mid likelihood of voting, and the South Dakota Democratic Party made over 573,000 phone calls across the state! Strong candidates with proper trainings and a focus on turnout allowed us to gain a seat in the State Senate - one of only 14 legislative chambers in the entire country in which Democrats gained seats.

At the same time we were ramping up our fundraising for big investments in field organizing, we were thinking about the future too. The question I heard most often as Legislative Director and then Executive Director is how do we get more young people involved in the Party? We tried answering that question. In 2013, the South Dakota Democratic Party started the first ever Young Elected Legislative Leaders retreat in Pierre for high school Democrats who draft bills, debate legislators, and decide issues on the state senate floor. 28 students participated in 2013, and the program was so successful among students 48 high schoolers participated in 2014. Know what they told us in a survey afterwards? They didn’t want to stop after the weekend. They wanted to find more ways to make a difference right now. So we answered their call too, and we formed the aforementioned YELL Fellows program where our 21 YELL Fellows knocked thousands of doorsand made thousands of phone calls for legislative candidates. And after the election was all said and done, we left $60,000 in the bank to continue building a better future right away.

To be sure, our efforts didn’t translate to the ballot box this year. But just because we didn’t see electoral gains from our efforts in a tough year doesn’t mean we stop raising money, recruiting volunteers, or bringing more young people into the Party for the next election cycle. It means we need to continue this work - and do more! We have to evaluate our efforts, adapt, and iterate - and once the statewide voterfile is released by the Secretary of State, the Party plans to model results against our targeted programs to see if our investments made an impact. Most importantly, we need to continue to add more value for the Party. We need to raise more money, rebuild county parties, recruit more candidates, and register more voters to win elections going forward.

Here’s the tough part: We can’t do this without you. Do you want a staff person dedicated to Democratic turnout? Be a Founders Club member with a monthly contribution of any amount that fits your budget. There’s no reason why the South Dakota Democratic Party can’t double our Founders Club program and with it double our number of full time staff for Democratic turnout, candidate recruitment, voter outreach, or rapid response communications.

Do you want to help build our county parties? Be a county party officer in your county. You can be appointed in vacant counties, or you can run for a filled county party office in April. The South Dakota Democratic Party is about to embark on an aggressive training program for county officers across the state so you have the tools to raise money, recruit local candidates and register voters in your county.

Do you want to bring more young people into the Party? Invest in the rapidly growing Young Elected Legislative Leaders program, where we are already training the next generation of South Dakota’s Democratic leaders.

Do you want to help in other ways? Let us know how you want to keep building the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Yes, I’m resigning my role as Executive Director, but the truth is I didn’t do this work alone. Not even close. State party leaders before me paid off all our remaining debt. Chair Deb Knecht called Democrats across the state to triple our Founders Club program. Volunteers like you gave your time to put minimum wage on the ballot. Donors like you funded a host of projects including the Young Elected Legislative Leaders program. County party officers like you guided us through thick and thin. And our unparalleled Field Director Ryan Rolfs & Finance Director Zach Nistler worked way too many hours for way too little pay to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

With the continued support of Democrats like you, truthseekers like Cory Heidelberger here at MadvilleTimes.com, and great new leaders like State Party Chair-elect Ann Tornberg and Vice Chair-elect Joe Lowe, the South Dakota Democratic Party’s best days are ahead. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you over the last four years. I look forward to volunteering my time, talent, and treasure right beside you going forward.
Zach Crago, Executive Director, South Dakota Democratic Party
[letter, 2014.12.19]

We didn't win elections, but we did a lot of things that will help us win future elections. All applicants for Crago's job (submit résumés to SDDP!) should read this letter and come to the interview with a critique of this assessment and an action plan for capitalizing on Crago's work.

Crago will continue to advise the party part-time after January 1 to help pass his knowledge on to the next exec. Good luck with the transition, Zach, and with the next big adventure!

38 comments

Time to set up some protest camps in East River! The Public Utilities Commission has received the formal application from Houston-based Dakota Access to build a Bakken oil pipeline across eastern South Dakota. To kick off the permitting process, the PUC will hit the road, hosting four public meetings January 21 and 22 to give Dakota Access officials a chance to explain their project and take questions from those of us who will host their environmental hazard:

  • Bowdle, school gym, Wednesday, January 21, noon to 3 p.m.
  • Redfield, school auditorium, January 21, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Iroquois, school gym, Thursday, January 22, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • Sioux Falls, Ramkota Roosevelt Room, January 22, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Bob Mercer reports that South Dakotans unpersuaded by the company's pitch will have until February 513 to file with the PUC as official intervenors in the hearing. The PUC will set a date for the evidentiary hearing and rule on the pipeline application by December 14, 2015.*

Correction 14:41 CST: The original post got the intervenor filing and final decision dates wrong. I have corrected those dates and apologize for messing them up in the first place!

2 comments

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