Betty Olson has her name on another gun bill! Whoo-hoo!

Actually, Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) is leading the way on Senate Bill 162, a proposal to allow legislators to carry concealed weapons in the State Capitol.

Freeze, Brock—tell us the last time you or any other legislator experienced a threat in the Capitol that would have warranted response with a firearm. If you can cite any such instance of clear and present threat, tell us the last time state troopers were not available to handle said threat.

Conservatives like Greenfield, Olson, and its House sponsors DiSanto, Latterell, Russell, and Stalzer should revolt at a bill like Senate Bill 162. Isn't a situation where only the government has guns exactly the tyranny gun nuts dread?

Imagine I approach Senator Corey Brown at the Capitol for a sincere Cory-to-Corey chat about how his efforts to undermine Independents and ballot initiatives are unjust (and about how he spells his name wrong). After a few moments of looking past me, he opens his jacket, exposes the pistol holstered under his shoulder, and says, "I'm sorry—are you talking to me?" Legislative immunity won't excuse Brown's shooting me, but I'm not sure I like the power imbalance.

If we're going to let legislators swagger about the Capitol packing heat, doesn't fairness (not to mention Sean Connery in The Untouchables) demand that we let everyone carry a gun? Ah ha! In comes House Bill 1183, where Olson and Greenfield switch sponsor slots and call for repealing the entire ban on concealed weapons in the Capitol. I think they're just trying to trick us into "compromise."

But HB 1183 exposes another aspect of gun-advocate thinking that I don't get. HB 1183 removes the Capitol from the general ban on guns in courthouses, but then it writes a new statute that makes it a misdemeanor to carry a pistol in the Capitol unless you carry it concealed, under a concealed weapons permit. Why would you make it a crime to openly carry a gun into the Capitol but not to sneak a gun in in your britches (or, in Senator Olson's case, your mountain lion-skin purse)?

The State Capitol, our great Temple of Democracy and Reason, is no place for guns. Both House Bill 1883 and Senate Bill 162 are expressions of unwarranted fear and a lack of faith in our institutions of civil society. Senate Bill 162 is gun control at its worse, where only outlaws and legislators have guns. (I invite you to discern which are which.)

p.s.: I can imagine a similar critique of Senate Bill 105, in which Senator Betty Olson and numerous co-sponsors asked that legislators be given access to the Capitol complex tunnels. If legislators get to venture into the underworld, so ought we all! Senator Olson withdrew SB 105 yesterday; I say bring it back, bigger and better, for all South Dakotans!


I like Oren Lesmeister. The Democratic District 28 Senate candidate took time to talk to me about his politics in the middle of a hard-driving campaign. He spoke freely about most issues, and I can roll with most of his positions. On sheer image, he brings a rugged cowboy ethos that challenges the stereotype of Democrats as something other than true South Dakotan. With hat, cattle, and the mustache that I maintain would have added ten points to Larry Rhoden's and Chris Nelson's tallies, Lesmeister projects the image of the cowboy that many South Dakotans think they are.

Oren Lesmeister, Democrat for District 28 Senate.

Oren Lesmeister, Democrat for District 28 Senate.

But on two important question in our conversation, Lesmeister showed no desire to take the bull by the horns, exemplifying an uncowboylike weakness too common among South Dakota Democrats.

What sparked my interest in interviewing Lesmeister were the embarrassing racist comments of his opponent, Republican Representative Betty Olson. Democrat Joe Lowe of Rapid City has said her blanket insult to all Muslim Americans, as well as her perpetuation of the racist lie that President Obama is a Muslim, warrants her resignation.

I thought maybe Lesmeister would have something to say about Rep. Olson's racism. He did not. When we set up the interview, Lesmeister's diligent campaign manager, Ethan Marsland, ruled out any comment on the topic. When I spoke with Lesmeister directly, he maintained that line. When I asked if Lesmeister at least recognized that the President of the United States is a natural-born citizen, Lesmeister declined comment.

It's one thing not to want to get involved in another candidate's media storm. It's a similar thing not to want to go negative. But it's a whole 'nother thing to decline comment on a statement of fact, documented time and time again against a vile campaign of racist myth-making. We have a moral obligation to defend basic truth against both ignorance and malice. John McCain had the guts to challenge the "Obama is an Arab" lies of his own supporters in 2008; Oren Lesmeister should have the guts to challenge his opponent's lingering birtherism in 2014.

Lesmeister also let me down with his response on abortion. I ask candidates about abortion with trepidation, because I recognize that South Dakota Republicans like to use abortion to dog whistle their base and use emotion and pictures of babies to distract us from all their other awful policies. But abortion deserves attention, because Republicans (and some complicit Democrats) have imposed insulting, paternalistic, and dangerous restrictions on women's constitutional rights.

When I posed the general question about women's rights, Lesmeister's campaign manager paused our conversation for a muted confab with his candidate. When Lesmeister opened the line again, he spoke of the need for better enforcement of laws to protect women from violence and trafficking. When I redirected the question toward abortion restrictions like our 72-hour waiting period. Lesmeister said a legislator should never decide such issues. He said abortion is too big of an issue. He said he would not support any further legislative interference with abortion and would want any abortion measures submitted to the ballot so all voters can decide.

Lesmeister's response sounded very much like District 14 Democratic House candidate Chris McClure's position of leaving the status quo alone and not presuming as one man to comment on the appropriateness of legal restrictions on abortion. Like McClure's position, it sounds like a poorly cloaked dodge:

  1. You cannot say, "Legislators should not decide abortion," and then accept the decisions legislators have made on abortion.
  2. If abortion is so "big" that the Legislature should defer all rule-making to ballot initiatives, then what about gay rights, Medicaid expansion, education funding, or the state budget in toto, all of which were bigger issues in the 2014 Legislature than abortion? I see no constitutional or philosophical provision setting a bar of "bigness" over which the duly elected representatives of the people are incapable of intelligent discourse and lawmaking. I see political calculation that says, "I'm afraid voters will disagree with me, and I don't have the guts to defend my position."
  3. Candidates have an obligation to lead intelligent conversations. To shrug off a major question of the day by saying, "Let's do whatever the people want" avoids an intelligent and necessary conversation.
  4. Democrats have an obligation to change the narrative. Republicans like Betty Olson bank on our cowardice. They bank on our leaving their restrictions and stigmatization of abortion unchallenged. They bank on casual observers voting on unexamined emotional responses to shouts of "We love babies!" instead of vigorous public debate of the real constitutional implications of treating women as second-class citizens.

Rick Weiland is in a very different race from the Lesmeister–Olson tilt. Abortion hasn't figured prominently in the U.S. Senate race, but Weiland has not been afraid to distinguish himself from the field by saying he's the only candidate who would not repeal Roe v. Wade. He may not win on that issue, but he's getting the support he needs to have a fighting chance... and he's saying the right thing.

Weiland doesn't run around in a cowboy hat, but he isn't afraid to cowboy up on the issues.

When faced with misogyny and racism, "no comment" is not the right answer for cowboys, Democrats, South Dakotans, or anybody. When Betty Olson spreads a racist lie about the President, and when Betty Olson passes laws that hurt women, we have an obligation to point those facts out and encourage voters to reject her racism and misogyny.


Rapid City businessman, Piedmont resident, and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Lowe submits this letter to the editor speaking directly to Rep. Betty Olson about her "sense of humor" about Muslims. He's not joking.

Representative Betty Olson’s remarks are racist and disgusting. Now that it has created a media storm, she claims it was only a joke. Face the facts: you are a racist. You are unfit to represent the people of South Dakota.

Your “jokes” focus around Muslims filling jobs like cab drivers, motel clerks, and other menial paying jobs. According to a Pew 2007 study, Muslim Americans generally mirror the U.S. public in education and income. In fact, 24% of all Muslim Americans and 29% of immigrant Muslims have college degrees, compared to 25% for the U.S. population. 41% of all Muslim Americans and 45% of immigrant Americans report annual incomes of $50,000 or higher. This compares to the national average of 44%. Immigrant Muslims are well represented among higher wage earners in this country. 19% of immigrant Americans claim annual household incomes of $100,000. This is due to the many Muslim professionals in this country. You must have not known this.

Your comments also offend the millions of Muslims in our country and act as a great recruiting tool for the enemy—ISIS. Do the citizens of the state a favor and step down from office.

Joe Lowe

[links added; Joe Lowe, letter to the editor, 2014.10.08]

It's good to hear a prominent West River voice raised against Rep. Olson's racist remarks. I doubt we'll hear any Republicans call for Olson's resignation, but could we at least hear some due criticism? Governor Dennis Daugaard wasn't afraid to step out and call GOP Senator Phil Jensen's comments about the Ku Klux Klan and the free market "completely out of line with South Dakota values." Rep. Bett Olson's comments are at least as insensitive and politically wrong-headed, and deserve similar disdain.


Rep. Betty Olson (R-28B/Prairie City) remains impervious to modern decency. After catching heck for spreading racism, religious bigotry, and birtherism in the local paper, Rep. Olson says we're the jerks for not laughing along with her:

Olson said she was surprised by reaction to her commentary, which she defended this week.

“They saw no humor in my joke,” the 68-year-old legislator said. “My local folks did. I re-posted it on my Facebook page and so far everybody on there has liked it. I do feel bad that so many people don’t have a sense of humor [Tom Griffith, "State Rep. Betty Olson Condemned for 'Joke' about Muslims That Went Viral," Rapid City Journal, 2014.10.08].

Yes, when all your neighbors laugh, it must be o.k. And hey, all is permissible when some of your best friends are married to black people:

Added Olson: “I wasn’t trying to achieve anything. I was just trying to end with a joke like I normally do. Apparently some people didn’t find it funny. As far as being racist, the guy who sent it to me is married to a black lady, so I don’t think racism had anything to do with it” [Griffith, 2014.10.08].

Betty, Betty, Betty. Even if there's no fixing you, could you at least do us the favor of acknowledging that your Neanderthal attitudes make our dear state look really bad, and that we might be better off if you stopped saying such things?


I can only take so much Betty Olson. That's why I missed Republican Representative's September 9 column. Rep. Olson, who is seeking to switch from House to Senate for District 28, reaches far above her pay grade and tries to talk foreign policy. She chants some thoughtless slogans about the so-called "Islamic State" terrorists (press her for a real solution, and I'm sure she'll prescribe requiring every American to carry a gun). She then tells a racist joke... which the Rapid City Journal has the poor taste not to reject:

A second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, was beheaded by ISIS this week. The terrorist group has taken over most of Iraq and formed an Islamic State. ISIS still has more Americans in its blood-stained hands and is willing to butcher more innocents in the name of its perverted cause. The world can no longer turn a blind eye. Whether or not the Commander-in-Chief leaves these terrorists alone, it is high time that a strategy is formed to defeat them.

On a lighter note, Dave Kurth sent me a copy of the threat the Islamic terrorists released before they started beheading Americans:

This morning ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood warned the United States that if the United States continued meddling in Iraq, Libya, and other potential hot spots in the Middle East, they intend to cut off America's supply of 7-11 and Motel 6 managers.

If this action does not yield sufficient results, cab drivers will be next, followed by Dell, AT&T and AOL customer service reps.

Finally, if all else fails, they have threatened not to send us any more presidents either.

It's gonna get ugly, people [Rep. Betty Olson, "Grand River Roundup," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.09].

Rep. Olson's birther outburst is bringing South Dakota more embarrassment in the national press. But I have a bad feeling that such press will only reinforce Olson's hatefulness.


Now the House is just picking on Betty Olson. Last month, the good Representative from Prairie City proposed House Bill 1114 to yank all the reflector poles out from alongside South Dakota's state highways. The Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety said no, Betty, that's a really bad idea. House Transportation agreed 10–3.

Apparently worried that Rep. Olson may try taking matters into her own hand, the House has pending before it Senate Bill 103, which drops a bigger hammer on folks who swipe highway signs. Right now, stealing or messing with highway signs and markers is a Class 1 misdemeanor (see SDCL 31-28-23). SB 103 tacks on up to a $2,000 civil penalty, at the discretion of the court. This additional punishment has cleared the full Senate and the House Transportation committee; we'll see if the House acts today to raise the stakes on Rep. Olson or anyone else who tries to... raze the roadside stakes.

But remember, Betty and all you party people in the House: it's just a reflector....


Rep. Betty Olson (R-28A/Prairie City) exposed her own ignorance and irresponsibility when it comes to her pet gun proposals and her own gun-carrying habits.

Rep. Olson testified before House State Affairs this morning in support of her House Bill 1117, an ill-advised proposal to force schools and courthouses to pay for metal detectors and extra staff whenever they post "gun-free zone" signs. The brevity of her testimony suggested she knew her silly little bill was going nowhere.

The hypocrisy of imposing an unfunded mandate on local governments to notify citizens of state law forbidding guns from their premises is obvious to everyone but Rep. Olson. Committee member Rep. Brian Gosch asked whether Rep. Olson cared to address the conflict between her bill and SDCL 22-14-26, which requires counties to post notices that guns are prohibited in courthouses. Rep. Olson played the cute but clueless grandma, saying the lawyers on the committee knew more about the law than she and claiming that she thought her bill would automatically remove any conflicting statutes. HB 1117 consists of one sentence. It does not repeal or even mention any other statutes. Her bill would thus mandate that counties spend thousands of dollars on metal detectors and gun-check staff.

Perhaps feeling sorry for the poor woman, Rep. Brian Gosch attempted to shift the blame to the Legislative Research Council for not informing Rep. Olson of the conflicts in state law. But it's hard to blame the LRC, which is busy dealing with the extra work caused by SB 70 to prepare real legislation, for simply passing along Rep. Olson's latest gun-but time-waster. Rep. Olson is not a lawyer, but liek every legislator, she crafts laws, and she has as much obligation as anyone else in Pierre to understand the ramifications of the words she tries to write into South Dakota Codified Law.

Rep. Olson then demonstrated that we can't trust her with a gun, let alone gun laws. She told the committee, with what sounded annoyingly like pride ("I would love to answer that one," she purred) that she has "accidentally" brought her concealed weapon in the Capitol a couple of times. She says she knows of a few other legislators who have "accidentally" forgotten the guns in their pockets and brought their guns into the Capitol. She admitted that that forgetfulness, if caught, could have cost her a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Forget the law; let's just talk responsible gun ownership. If you carry a deadly weapon, you have a heightened obligation to be constantly aware of the presence of that deadly weapon. You have to be constantly aware of your surroundings, constantly watching for threats and the possibility of attacks or accidents that could result in your weapon firing. Rep. Olson fails to show that awareness.

Concealed-carry advocates like Rep. Olson insist that they are law-abiding, responsible gun handlers. Her testimony to House State Affairs proves she is neither law-abiding nor responsible. Her concealed weapons permit should be revoked immediately; her seat in the Legislature should be revoked in November.

House State Affairs killed HB 1117 on a 13–0 vote.


South Dakota law makes it a misdemeanor to carry a gun on school grounds and in county courthouses. As a courtesy, schools and courthouses usually put up signs to remind folks who might forget that guns really have no place in those public facilities.

Gun fanatic Rep. Betty Olson (R-28A/Prairie City) thinks there's something wrong with such reminders. With House Bill 1117, Rep. Olson seeks to ban such signs unless public buildings spend a whole lot of money:

No Gun Free Zone sign may be posted at any entrance to any state or local public building unless the building is equipped with a metal detector at each entrance to the building and the metal detector is staffed with trained personnel [2014 HB 1117].

This legislation is neither practical nor logical. Why, if state law establishes a rule, should schools and counties be restricted from informing their citizens of that rule? Rep. Olson may want to repeal that rule so she can carry her precious pistol wherever she darn well pleases, but if she can't win that quixotic political battle, why should she get to punish schools with an unfunded mandate?

If gun-free zones must be equipped with staffed metal detectors, must drug-free zones be staffed with nurses bearing potty cups and breathalyzers?

District 28A, do us a favor. We know you think Betty is all cute and folksy, and we know you like how she comes and sticks her finger in the eye of all the rest of those liberals trying to boss her and her gun around. But Rep. Olson's gun obsession produces a steady stream of dumb, distracting bills. If you want snark, just let Betty write her newspaper columns, and send a serious legislator to Pierre to work with the rest of us on real problems.

Tangentially related: HB 1130 seeks to let us hunt deer and other big critters with crossbows during firearm season. HB 1182 would establish a crossbow season during archery season. If those measures failure, perhaps Rep. Olson will advocate that all public hunting land be staffed with crossbow detectors.


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