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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South Dakota Democratic Party vice-chairman Joe Lowe is organizing a big West River town hall meeting next month for all folks interested in building a winning Democratic Party.

Party chair Ann Tornberg will lay out her vision for the SDDP. Tornberg and Lowe will present results of a statewide survey of party members and to hear the concerns and recommendations of West River Democrats. I'll even drop in, review the 2015 Legislative Session, and call for all good Dems to give Republicans a good butt-kicking in 2016.

Admission, refreshments, and discussion are free, but the party welcomes donations alongside ideas any time.

8 comments

The Republican majority in the South Dakota Legislature is enjoying its power this week, kicking two Democrats out of Pierre. They've refused to allow the Legislature's Democrats to hire Ann Tornberg as their Senate caucus secretary and Kathy Tyler as their House caucus secretary.

Booting Tornberg is clearly political mischief. Democrats elected her as their party chair last month, so the Republicans are just being mean. The majority leadership has the authority to make or refuse appointments pretty much at its sadistic pleasure.

Booting Tyler is likely a punctuation mark on the vendetta Republicans went on to unseat Tyler from her District 4 House seat last fall after her outspoken resistance to Republican abuses of power like the EB-5 scandal. But instead of just owning this mischief, Republicans are trying to justify their firing as a legal matter. Speaker of the House Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) says he had to fire Tyler because the state constitution says former legislators cannot hold a state job for a year after their terms end.

Well, I'm all about the constitution. Let's review the language in question:

No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any civil office in the state which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased during the term for which he was elected, nor shall any member receive any civil appointment from the Governor, the Governor and senate, or from the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, and all such appointments and all votes given for any such members for any such office or appointment shall be void; nor shall any member of the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within one year thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the state or any county thereof, authorized by any law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected [South Dakota State Constitution, Article 3, Section 12].

This statute exists to prevent clever legislators from passing a law that would create jobs and perks for themselves. It's a good idea. But read carefully:

  1. Was the office of caucus secretary created during Tyler's term? No.
  2. Was Tyler elected to that office during her term? No: the current legislature, after Tyler left, had to choose her.
  3. Was the contract of the caucus secretary authorized by a law passed during Tyler's term? No... unless the argument is that the caucus secretary's contract is authorized by the FY 2015 General Appropriations Bill passed last year and providing the funds for this year's Legislature.

If Democrats are violating the constitution by hiring Kathy Tyler to a state job, then nuke 'em... just as we should nuke any other former legislators whose organizations or businesses may be engaged in contracts with the state. (Let's all start sorting through contracts involving Russ Olson, Chuck Jones, and any legislative lawyers whose firms do work for the state.) But I'm not convinced the Republicans have constitutional cover for their partisan mischief against Tyler. I am convinced they have no such cover for their partisan mischief against Tornberg.

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Tornberg

Ann Tornberg, SDDP Chair

Habemus sellam... et subsellam! The Central Committee of the South Dakota Democratic Party yesterday elected Beresford farm gal, former debate coach, and former Sioux Falls teachers' union president Ann Tornberg as statewide party chair. Tornberg may have sealed the deal by inviting former state fire chief and Democratic gubernatorial primary challenger Joe Lowe to run for the Vice-Chair position. Lowe ran unopposed for and won that second slot.

If Lowe did indeed tip the scales, Tornberg had an unfair advantage. Barth could not offer Lowe the vice-chair position: as I understand it, the state party requires that chair and vice-chair be of opposite sex... although a review of the party constitution finds an opposite-sex preference stated for county and legislative district chairs and vice-chairs but no similar language for the top two state officers. (The SDGOP explicitly requires that gender equity of its state chair and vice-chair in its bylaws, Section 1, Clause 4.)

My comment section lights up with discontent. John Tsitrian (just a Republican provocateur, right?) hears grumbling from a Central Committee member that the vote was pre-ordained (like how Republicans pick their chair). Another party observer says the Tornberg-Lowe team represents "more of the same" keeping the "current clique... in control of the state party."

Democratic candidate for South Dakota Governor Joe Lowe

Joe Lowe, SDDP Vice-Chair

We should not be surprised if internal party affairs are scripted events rather than genuinely exciting and open contests of ideas and strategies. But I would like to take issue with the notion that selecting Joe Lowe as a party official represents an embrace of insiders and a failed status quo. A year ago, Lowe rattled Democratic insiders with his surprise bid for governor. He jumped in before the party's preferred candidate, Rep. Susan Wismer, could make her announcement. He ran a more aggressive, ambitious, and inspiring primary campaign and lost only because Wismer (whom Tornberg supported) could rely on an old-guard network. Anyone who thinks Joe Lowe would accept a figure-subhead position to bolster a mostly powerless clique has probably not spoken to Joe Lowe or reviewed his record.

Instead of reading deep machinations into the situation, let's look at the two new party leaders we have. Tornberg and Lowe are both fighters and effective managers. Tornberg's experience with the Sioux Falls Education Association should reinforce the party's commitment to labor. Lowe brings the West River voice to the head table. Lowe can organize Dems in the Black Hills. He can connect with the nascent Rapid-City based South Dakota Progress, increasing the chances that the two organizations will communicate and synergize rather than drifting off to work at cross-purposes. Tornberg and Lowe both strike me as leaders who can help the party learn from failure and fight for success.

P.S.: For those of you thinking Tornberg's election hinged on her not-quite-pro-choice politics, remember that Joe Lowe was the Democrat last spring explicitly calling for repeal of South Dakota's 72-hour waiting period and state-mandated anti-abortion propaganda sessions.

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Todd Epp stirs the pot with an unsourced story claiming that the contest between Jeff Barth and Ann Tornberg to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party could hinge on their apparently conflicting stances on abortion:

Pro-Barth party activists point out that in Tornberg’s unsuccessful 2014 run for the District 16 state Senate race, she called herself “pro-life” as well as note her ties to other pro-life groups and legislators. The activists say the Democrats at the 2014 state convention adopted a pro-choice platform and that Barth is pro-choice [Todd Epp, "South Dakota Democratic Party Chairmanship May Turn on Abortion Stand," Northern Plains New, 2014.12.12].

Epp's anonymous sources don't specify that votes today at the SDDP Central Committee meeting in Oacoma will swing on that policy difference. We have heard this abortion rumble here in the comment section.

But hey, you Democrats waking up this morning on the Missouri River, listen up:

If you are thinking of casting your vote for party chair based solely on the abortion issue, stop.

Today you are electing a party chair. You are electing an administrator, not a policymaker. You are electing someone to raise money, organize volunteers, and win elections. Delegates in 2016, not the chair, will determine whether "reproductive rights" remain in the party platform (the Sioux Falls paper tells me that's what the platform says, but I can't check, because the SDDP never appears to have updated the website with this year's platform, an administrative thing the new chair should tell the exec to do!). Legislators, not the chair, will decide what issues to focus on in Pierre. Candidates, not the chair, will decide what issues get the spotlight in 2016.

SDDP Central Committee members, if you are voting today on abortion, you are voting in the wrong election. You want to fight about abortion? Petition an initiative to repeal South Dakota's mandatory counseling and 72-hour-plus waiting period for abortion. But today, pick someone who can do the job.

Related Thought Puzzle: What impact did SDGOP chairman Craig Lawrence's position on reproductive rights have on the 2014 election?

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Union County Democrat Ann Tornberg shares a letter she has sent to Democratic Party county officers statewide before Thanksgiving to convince them to pick her as the state party's next chair. At the top she makes clear that she will yield the chair to former Senate candidate Rick Weiland if he says he wants the post.

Commenters here complained that Tornberg's press release on her candidacy spoke of progress the party had made but did not itemize that progress. Tornberg offers more detail in her pitch to the voters:

  1. Tornberg organized the Young Elected Legislative Leader program with Ryan Cwach (another high school debate alumnus! My confidence grows!), doubled participation from 2013 to 2014, and thus started building a pool of future Dem leaders.
  2. Tornberg forced GOP noisemaker Dan Lederman to spend $75,000 to keep his seat.
  3. Tornberg claims credit for adding $6000 in annual commitment in one day to the Founder's Club, the circle of donors who pledge ongoing monthly contributions. Tornberg says the Founder's Club is key to sustaining staff and volunteers who can do some of the things others have been hollering about, like rebuilding county parties, supporting tribal organizers, recruiting and training candidates, and registering voters.

Summoning her Glengarry Glen Ross Alec Baldwin (actually, Tornberg may have coached Baldwin), the chair candidate closes her ask for the job with an ask for money. She urges every party leader reading the letter to write a check to the Founder's Club, write a bigger check to the Founder's Club, or recruit a new member to write a check to the Founder's Club.

Here is the full text of Tornberg's letter to county officers, who can vote as members of the South Dakota Democratic Committee on December 13:

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter and giving me an opportunity to introduce myself.

I’m seeking to serve as the next Chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party. I hope to have your support when we gather at the Cedar Shores in Oacoma for Central Committee on Sat. Dec. 13th. I want you to know upfront that I have spoken to Rick Weiland who is presently considering running for State Chair. If he decides to do this, I will withdraw and run as Vice Chair. Either way, I hope you’ll consider my candidacy. I have a lot to offer our state party.

I’m a retired educator having spent 31 years in the classroom as a high school English teacher, speech and debate coach. I taught in Beresford, Sioux Falls Lincoln, and then was elected President of the Sioux Falls Education Association, the largest professional association in the state of South Dakota. I was raised on a farm and 38 years ago married Mike Tornberg, a third generation SD dairy farmer. We raised two daughters who were Beresford grads. One is a doctor and the other is a teacher. Both are married to farmers. We are blessed with five very cute grandkids!

I have the background and passion to promote education and agriculture, as well as other core issues important to South Dakota Democrats. There are several reasons why I believe I will be the right leader at the right time for our Party.

Democratic Party Leader

With Jay Williams from Yankton, I served as co-chair of the 2014 State Convention. Serving as Union County Chair since 2010, I’ve been active on the Central Committee and also serve on the Executive Board.

Grooming Leadership for our Future

Along with Ryan Cwach from Yankton, we organized the YELL (Young Elected Legislative Leader) program, a student legislature for young Democrats across South Dakota. Originating in 2013, we doubled the number of participants to close to 50 students in 2014. In addition to organizing and participating, I was a primary financial sponsor of these leadership events. The YELL Fellows program (which trained young Democrats to work with candidates on legislative races) followed next. We’re building some incredible leaders for our future! I’ll be organizing a similar event for 2015 and we hope to build on our past success.

Experienced Legislative Candidate

I know what it’s like to run a campaign, and what Democrats are up against. I worked hard at candidate recruitment and have a strong working relationship with the staff at the state party. While there are 2,800 more Republicans than Democrats in District 16 where I ran, I narrowly lost the House in 2012 by 124 votes out of 11,000 total cast. In 2014, I gave incumbent State Senator Dan Lederman a run for his money! (He spent $75,000 to defeat me despite his huge GOP registration advantage).

Valued Member of the Democratic Caucus in Pierre

After narrowly losing the District 16 House seat in 2012, I went to Pierre as a volunteer. I worked each day of the 2013 Session as a legislative aide. In 2014, I was hired by LRC as House Secretary for the Democrats. I will return to Pierre as Senate Secretary in 2015. Please ask any of our state legislators for a reference. I believe they will tell you they have witnessed first-hand how hard I work and how dedicated I am to the issues which define the beliefs and values of SD Democrats.

Successful Fundraiser for Democratic Causes

While working in Pierre, I was the primary organizer for the Majority Project’s Lobbyist Party.

The Majority Project uses funds raised on legislative races. If elected as your State Chair, recruiting candidates and helping to fund elections will be my highest priority. The job of the State Chair is to diligently work to raise funds. I have the ability and experience to fulfill that role.

That’s why the back of this letter is the MOST IMPORTANT PART YOU WILL READ……

Founder’s Club Member and Supporter

I have been a member of the Founder’s Club for many years and will actively work to grow our membership. I spoke at the 2014 McGovern Day Luncheon to promote the Founder’s Club. We were able in that one day to increase our donations by another $500 per month and now bring in a total of over $6,000 per month. This exceeds the goal we set in early 2014 to expand the Founder’s Club.

Why the Founder’s Club is so important

While we appreciate all donations to the SDDP, the Founder’s Club represents a sustaining contribution given monthly. Our current donations range from $3 dollars per month to $300 dollars per month. (I personally donate $100 per month and have done so for the past four years). This on-going type of donation sustains our party’s most basic organization needs (our 3-person staff, their benefits, our rent and utilities, etc.).

Most importantly, it is the only way we can reliably sustain growth and plan for our future. If we know there is money coming in on a regular basis, as a Central Committee, we are able to help manage it to grow our party. What could that growth look like? Perhaps it could mean more staff and trained volunteers dedicated to...

  • Grassroots organizing of the county parties
  • Tribal Organizers who work on issues vital to the Native Community (including but not limited to just voter registration and turnout)
  • Legislative Candidate Recruiters and trainers who starts NOW for 2016
  • Connecting Democratic State Legislators to the State Central Committee
  • Voter Registration
  • Initiatives and Referrals vital to Democratic Core Values

As your State Party Chair, I will work to expand the Founder’s Club as a means to a successful strategy to move Democrats forward in South Dakota. That’s why I challenge all 138 individuals receiving this letter to join the Founder’s Club if you’re not a member; increase your monthly donation is you are already a member; or recruit one new member from your county.

Bring the enclosed Founder’s Club form with you to Chamberlain on Dec. 13 or mail it into the office.

Tell them “Ann Sent Me” and win or lose in the State Chair race, we’ll all WIN by working together to grow a stronger Democratic Party in this great state we call home.

Hope to see you in Chamberlain on Dec. 13th. I would appreciate your support [Ann Tornberg, letter to South Dakota Democratic Party county officials, 2014.11.24].

23 comments

Here, have another turkey sandwich...

Pat Powers commits more blogospheric malfeasance with a gratuitous attack on Ann Tornberg worthy of the Stranahan School of "Journalism." If you're able to read past the paralyzing funny headline, in which the man who defines party hackery calls Tornberg and Jeff Barth "Democrat party hacks," you'll find Powers reaching for an excuse to mention "Ann Tornberg" and "sexual assault" in the same paragraph.

Powers drags up a 2005 incident in which some Sioux Falls Roosevelt student-athletes engaged in sexual activity on a school bus on the way home from a football game in Spearfish. The incident led to one player pleading guilty to misdemeanor sexual contact with someone under 16. Students and coaches were disciplined, although, per contract and policy, the district did not publicize that discipline.

Powers then makes out Tornberg to be evil for doing her job as teachers' union leader at the time and defending the privacy rights of employees. He cites this passage from an offline December 2005 article from Dan Lederman's opposition research folder:

Ann Tornberg, president of the Sioux Falls Education Association, said contract provisions to protect an employee’s privacy are crucial. ‘The policy protects the rights of the employee,’ Tornberg said. She said Homan and the school district had followed the letter of the contract. ‘I compliment her for that. They have a high degree of professionalism,’ she said “District: Contract prevents report,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2005.12.10, cited in Pat Powers, "Democrat Party Hacks Trying to Out-Hack Each Other to Be the New SDDP Chair," Dakota War College, 2014.11.28].

If Tornberg's answer bears any fault, it lies in not ripping Superintendent Homan for her incautious damage-control e-mail that alerted the media to the discipline of the coaches. Otherwise, Tornberg spoke simple truth: employee privacy matters. Contract provisions matter. There's no hackery there, and certainly no embrace of sexual misconduct, as Powers so Stranahannily insinuates.

South Dakota Democrats will spend the next couple of weeks debating the relative qualifications of Ann Tornberg and Jeff Barth (and maybe others!) to lead their party to recovery and victory in 2016. Pat Powers will have nothing of intelligence or integrity to add to that debate.

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Tornberg

Ann Tornberg

The hardest political job in South Dakota now has two candidates. Ann Tornberg publicly joins Jeff Barth in seeking to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Tornberg issued her press release yesterday, one day after Barth sent out his official pitch. Both Tornberg and Barth promise to reinvigorate the county party machine. Both mention the need for more diversity in the party: Tornberg speaks of registering more voters among "diverse constituencies"; Barth promises to recruit more youth and minorities as party leaders and candidates. Both mention a focus on fundraising.

Tornberg's and Barth's opening pitches differ on a few details. Tornberg emphasizes her fundraising skill, noting that she has recruited 20 new members of the Founders Club, the SDDP's base of sustaining donors pledging $120 or more each year. Barth emphasizes his ability to win elections as a Democrat amidst steamrolling Republicans.

Barth is a chess champion; Tornberg is a debate coach. This contest should be fun!

South Dakota Democrats now have two chair candidates from the southern I-29 corridor. If Rick Weiland announces, that would make three. West River, do you have an up-and-comer who'd like to jump in the fray? If these southeast South Dakotans split up the vote, a Black Hills or Pine Ridge candidate could consolidate the West River vote, work on northeast South Dakota, and pull out a victory as the I-29ers split up the big votes.

Sift through the candidate statements and the proportional-voting math, see if you can divine a chair-apparent!

Ann Tornberg announces she is running for SDDP Chair

Beresford, SD - Ann Tornberg, Chair of the Union County Democrats, announced that she is running for South Dakota Democratic Party Chair today. The election will be held among state central committee members on Saturday, December 13th, in Oacoma.

Tornberg released the following statement:

"Our state party has made a lot of progress over the last four years, but we're still not seeing results at the ballot box. I want to help change that.

I'm running for South Dakota Democratic Party Chair because we need to rebuild our county parties, raise money to expand our outreach, recruit a full slate of candidates at the local, state and federal level, and register new voters among diverse constituencies.

Working together from the bottom up, Democrats across the state can build on the progress we've made and fulfill the promise George McGovern instilled in our party to win elections up and down the ballot.

I look forward to hearing new ideas on how we can reach our goals and sharing my ideas during the Chair election and after."

Ann is a proven leader in the South Dakota Democratic Party. Ann is the Union County Democrats Chair, and she's a sitting member of the party's Executive Board. A long time Founders Club member, Ann has personally recruited over 20 new sustaining donors into the Founders Club program. Ann was instrumental in the creation of the first ever Young Elected Legislative Leaders program for high school Democrats, which has already hosted over 80 students in just two years. Last year, she served as House Secretary for Democratic legislators in Pierre and will return to the 2015 Session as Senate Secretary. Ann has run for state legislature, raising over $40,000 in her 2014 bid for state senate.

A retired high school English teacher and former President of the Sioux Falls Education Association, Ann places education funding and the teacher shortage as one of her highest priority issues. She is also a family farm owner and works with groups such as Ag United, SD Dairy Producers, and SD Farmer’s Union to promote agriculture and educate consumers [Ann Tornberg, press release, 2014.11.26].

35 comments

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