Brendan Johnson, alas, is changing jobs. Kristi Noem, alas, is not.

Tony Mangan at KCCR runs two stories of nearly identical and minimal news value on the non-intentions of U.S. Attorney, soon-to-be-just-Citizen Johnson and Congresswoman Noem to run for the offices for which everyone else likes to speculate they are running. Johnson offers the firmer rejection of any political notions:

Brendan Johnson

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson

Outgoing U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says while others may be thinking about his political future, he is not.

Johnson announced Wednesday that he is resigning March 11 to go into private practice in Sioux Falls. Johnson, the son of retired Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, has long been rumored to be a possible candidate some day for a statewide office.

But Johnson, who has declined in the past to speculate about any such intentions, tells KCCR News that he is not now thinking about that possibility [Tony Mangan, "Johnson Not Thinking about Politics," KCCR Radio, 2015.02.19].

Rep. Noem actually announces her intention to re-up in 2016 and admits she's deciding whether to run for Governor in 2018:

Rep. Kristi Noem

Rep. Kristi Noem

U.S. Representative Kristi Noem says she has received encouragement to run for Governor in 2018, but says it will be some time before she makes a decision on whether to actually run.

...Noem, who was on KCCR Radio Thursday, says there may be opportunities available in the future. But Noem says her current plan is to keep serving in the House and run for re-election in 2016.

The Congresswoman says there is no timetable for a decision on the Governor’s race. Noem says she is not afraid to wait until the last minute to enter a race [Tony Mangan, "Noem Not Thinking about Governor's Race Yet," KCCR Radio, 2015.02.20].

Tony, reread your headline. Noem's words indicate she is thinking about the Governor's race.

An objective reading of the two articles suggests that Noem's statements are bigger political news than Johnson's. But the Republican spin machine, which remains miffed that it didn't get to run all the character assassination it had planned for Johnson in 2014, chooses to focus on the threat they fear from Johnson. Press-release peddler Pat Powers spotlights the Johnson non-article as a "hint" about Johnson's political future while ignoring the Noem news.

Brendan Johnson is going into private practice. Kristi Noem wants another term as a do-nothing Congresswoman and Twitter selfie queen while she teases the electorate and warns other candidates with a reminder that may jump into the 2018 Governor's race late. You tell me which is the bigger, more concrete political news.

49 comments

While I was out and about on my blog tour last August, I learned that Jackson County was balking at a federally funded, state-approved plan to open a satellite early-voting center in Wanblee, a mostly Lakota community 28 miles from the courthouse in mostly white Kadoka. Four Pine Ridge Reservation voters sued the county in September for equal early-voting access.

That lawsuit prompted Jackson County to open a satellite voting station in Wanblee on October 20, giving them eleven days to vote early out of the 46 days before the election that early voting opens in South Dakota. Jackson County thinks that action makes everything hunky-dory and wants the lawsuit dismissed. Luckily, our U.S. Attorney, Brendan Johnson, disagrees:

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says the county’s refusal to open a satellite office – the cost for which can be reimbursed through Help America Vote Act funds – was not a reasonable response, given the state’s history with the Native American community.

“Let’s be clear, South Dakota does not have a proud history when it comes to providing Native Americans an equal right to vote,” Johnson said. “We should be doing more, not less, to protect the right of every South Dakotan to vote in our elections” [John Hult, "U.S. Attorney Scolds County on Voting Law," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.02].

U.S. Attorney Johnson's Department of Justice has filed a brief arguing that Judge Karen Schreier should not grant Jackson County's motion to dismiss:

The Department of Justice response says the issues raised in the lawsuit are clearly within the scope of the act, however, and deserve a fair hearing.

“Courts have consistently interpreted Section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act) to cover all manner of voting procedures,” the DOJ brief says. “In particular, courts have repeatedly entertained Section 2 claims that involve access to polling places, to voter registration, and to opportunities for absentee and early voting” [Hult, 2015.01.02].

Our new Republican Secretary of State, like the last one, thinks satellite early-voting centers in Wanblee and other isolated American Indian communities are unnecessary. We'll see if their white-privileged thinking prevails with Judge Karen Schreier.

Update 09:44 CST: The Republican spin machine, which is still sore that it didn't get to run all of its pre-packaged propaganda against Brendan Johnson in the 2014 election, suggests that the only reason Johnson would "interject" the DOJ in the Jackson County voting rights dispute is to position himself to run for office in 2016... because, you know, it's inconceivable to Republicans that Lakota equality and the Voting Rights Act would motivate men of good conscience to act.

17 comments

It took Mike Rounds five months to come up with answers to the questions Bob Mercer submitted to him in May concerning Joop Bollen's EB-5 visa investment scam. Amidst repeating eight times that he was not involved in the "transactional details" of a program that was crucial to his legacy-building Northern Beef Packers project, Rounds throws this grenade into his own foxhole:

[Bob Mercer]: In March 2013, Gov. Daugaard's office received a federal grand jury subpoena. Were you the target of any part of that subpoena? If so, for what purpose?

[Mike Rounds]: No. And, I believe the federal subpoena should be made public. So Attorney General Marty Jackley has repeatedly stated that I was [not] a target of the investigation. Eight separate law enforcement and investigatory agencies have reviewed various aspects of this case. Local, state and federal authorities have worked cooperatively. And yet, the U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson maintains his silence. The federal subpoena was delivered to the state in March or April of 2013, Governor Daugaard notified SD Attorney General Marty Jackley a short time later, the SD attorney general concluded his investigation in October 2013 — almost a year ago. The U.S. Attorney, Brendan Johnson, has had this file longer than anyone — despite the SD Attorney General concluding his investigation almost a year ago. The U.S. Attorney should release the federal subpoena [emphasis mine; Bob Mercer, "Rounds Answers Reporter's Questions on EB-5 Scandal," Black Hills Pioneer, 2014.10.02].

Notice that if Rounds were just answering the question, he could have stopped at "No." But Rounds then returns to this strange SDGOP obsession with a U.S. Attorney who is not on the ballot. Rounds and the GOP are like the bullies shooting spitwads at the smart kid in study hall who's just sitting quietly at his desk doing his homework, trying to goad the smart kid into doing something stupid that gets him in trouble and keeps the teacher from noticing what the smirking bullies are up to.

Round also misses one key fact. A subpoena involves at least two parties. Brendan Johnson is the subpoena-er. The state is the subpeona-ee. Governor Daugaard or Nila Novotny or somebody in the Capitol received that subpoena on our behalf last March. Now I know Mike says folks in the Governor's office are kind of bad at keeping the boss up to speed on such legal matters, but I'm sure someone in the Capitol has the subpoena says should be made public.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mike Rounds that the federal subpoena that Governor Daugaard announced last year should be made public. I think all eight of the subpoenas relating to the federal investigation of Rounds and Daugaard's EB-5 program and who knows what else should be made public. And Rounds's buddy and ticketmate Governor Daugaard could make that happen right now.

("Thanks, Mike," Governor Daugaard is muttering under his breath.)

24 comments

Pat Powers is having as bad a week as Mike Rounds. First he fouls the leverage his party minders could have gained with the Wismer plagiarism story by implicating his favorite flatteree Rounds in his fabricated fuss over Wismer's stock photos. And now real journalist Seth Tupper finds Powers flat wrong in his rumor-mongering about Brendan Johnson's house sale.

Powers had tried to Febreze his musty press releases by posting information about the U.S. Attorney selling his house, offering unsubstantiated anonymous hints that the Heidepriem law firm was rearranging partners, and concluding (behind the shield of blog-headline question marks, of course) that Johnson was quitting his job and heading to private practice in preparation to run for office in 2016.

Tupper, who now works for the paper that Powers criticized Wednesday for not maintaining a political reporter, reported yesterday that Powers is wrong:

It turns out the reality isn’t as buzzworthy as the gossip, according to Brendan Johnson. In an interview, Johnson said he has no plans to leave the U.S. attorney’s office in the immediate future and simply sold his former house in Minnehaha County and bought a different one in neighboring Lincoln County.

A check of records in Lincoln County confirms that the Johnsons bought a house there Aug. 18. A county fee of 50 cents per $500 was charged, and that fee came to $1,500, which means the purchase price was likely around $1.5 million.

“Just wanted to be closer to my wife’s office and have more garage space for our two teen drivers,” Johnson said [Seth Tupper, "Tongues Wagging Prematurely about U.S. Attorney," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.26].

Jeepers! If Pat Powers were reporting on the Governor's Office of Economic Development/Northern Beef Packers/EB-5 scandal, Pat Powers-of-Deduction would be "reporting" that Richard Benda was abducted by aliens who sucked all the blood out of his body through a single small hole in his abdomen. Gee—that might actually be more fun than his endless and error-riddled obsession with Brendan Johnson.

12 comments

Jonathan Ellis doesn't see a knockout, he says Democrats are landing body blows on Mike Rounds with the EB-5 issue. The Sioux Falls columnist also proposes a novel quid pro quo for one of the "you're stonewalling—no, you're stonewalling!" angles of this complicated story:

Republicans on a legislative committee that supposedly is investigating the issue haven’t done much to inspire confidence. Rather than call in the guy who ran the program — Joop Bollen of Aberdeen — you’d think they were more obsessed over whether commas were used appropriately in the audit reports of EB-5.

...Republicans argue that Brendan Johnson could clear all of this up by publicly saying if there’s an ongoing investigation. Johnson refuses, arguing he can’t confirm or deny, the standard hideout used by law enforcement authorities to withhold information from the public.

If it’s true that U.S. attorneys can’t confirm or deny investigations, then I’ll look forward to the removal of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, whose office last week confirmed that it continues to investigate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the “Bridgegate” incident.

Maybe the two sides should make a deal. In exchange for Republicans subpoenaing Joop Bollen to testify, Johnson could acknowledge if there’s an investigation.

Problem solved [Jonathan Ellis, "EB-5 Offers Democrats New Campaign Ax to Grind," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.21].

Ellis mistakenly equates U.S. Attorney Johnson's conscientious protection of the integrity of his office with the political stonewalling of Republican legislative leaders who may be in deeper doo-doo than they were ready for. But if the New Jersey comparison is valid, then I say fine. I'll happily trade bringing U.S. Atorney Johnson to the mic to utter one sentence for sitting Joop Bollen down before the cameras to spend a morning telling the public about his activities as a state employee carrying out Mike Rounds's economic development plans.

20 comments

Dick Wadhams and the South Dakota Republican Party are really good at hearing only what they want to hear and not what is actually said. Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City) spent 20 minutes Monday laying out the case that a Board of Regents employee tricked the state out of millions of dollars with then-Governor Mike Rounds's knowledge and tacit approval, putting the GOP Senate candidate in a very bad light.

All Wadhams heard was two sentences:

"I'm unaware of anything that he's doing. I've talked to him and he can't say anything. I've talked to him and he can't say anything."

That's what Rep. Tyler said in response to reporter Ben Dunsmoor's question about whether U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson will testify to the legislative committee that Rep. Tyler hopes will subpoena Rounds and his cronies on this apparent fraud. Here's how the Republican party spokesman Goebbels up that statement:

The only "revelation" at today’s partisan sideshow is that a partisan Democrat State Representative admitted that she had secret conversations with the publicly silent, partisan Democrat U.S. Attorney, Brendan Johnson, who continues to stonewall the people of South Dakota on the results of his investigation.... South Dakotans deserves [sic] to hear directly from Brendan Johnson but apparently he will only talk in secret with a fellow partisan Democrat [Dick Wadhams, SDGOP press release, 2014.09.08].

Wow. To cover for stonewalling by Mike Rounds, Dennis Daugaard, Marty Jackley, and Joop Bollen on the investigation of Bollen's no-bid contract, South Dakota's exploitation of the EB-5 visa investment program, and Richard Benda's death, Wadhams says that the U.S. Attorney, who has good excuses to keep quiet (ongoing investigation, electoral non-interference), is stonewalling. He wraps what Tyler actually said—"I've talked to him and he can't say anything," something every good reporter in the state can probably say about conversations with U.S. Attorney Johnson—into the tinfoil of secret conversations.

Add his unevidenced hyperbole about Rounds creating more than 5,000 jobs with the EB-5 program, and Wadhams appears to be as resistant to truth and scruple in his use of words as Annette Bosworth.

6 comments

Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) is working to improve on her 2013 legislative output (and perhaps distract from a lackluster performance on the Farm Bill Conference Committee) by shepherding a bill through Congress this year to clarify that people who pay for sex can be charged with human trafficking under existing law.

In her announcement last week claiming the Republican leadership that hasn't listened to her about the needs of farmers and ranchers has listened to her when it comes to this topic, Noem said she's been promised a week in the House dedicated to addressing her bill and others related to human trafficking. That amount of time rivals the week South Dakota Public Broadcasting spent in special reporting on human trafficking in our state earlier this month.

That SDPB coverage is among a lot of attention that the issue of human trafficking has garnered in South Dakota since the Polaris Project ranked our state worst in the U.S. for legal protections against human trafficking and U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson announced a task force to address this apparent deficiency. Now Noem is both pressing the issue in the halls of Congress and lobbying her colleagues in South Dakota's Statehouse to beef up the local efforts.

Now, I'll clearly state that I agree with John Hult's assessment during this summer's task force announcement-prompted analysis that the efforts of (in that case) Johnson and (now) Noem are reasonable, even admirable, public policy stances aimed at improving how our state and nation protect some of their most vulnerable citizens from subtle, or even outright, predation. But I also agree with Hult's statement that it's fair to consider the motives of agenda-setters.

And in such consideration, I find myself wondering what inspires both our U.S. Attorney and our lone U.S. Representative to be attacking, seemingly independently, the same issue one right after the other.

Could it be that this is the rare issue that calls officials across party affiliation and branches of government to all take notice and action?

Could it be that reports from organizations like the Polaris Project and stories like those told by activists and researchers devoted to stopping this vicious victimization have coalesced into a narrative that's impossible to ignore, or that effectively targeted lobbying by those same groups has gotten through to more than one government official?

Could it be that Noem saw Johnson gain notoriety for tackling the issue and saw an opportunity to gain her own policymaking notoriety, while also taking away Johnson's uncontested claim to the sort of crime-fighting accomplishments that could sound really good to a South Dakota electorate were he to be eying a chance to join or replace Noem in D.C. sometime down the line?

Any of those possibilities seems plausible to me, and any speculation about them should remain secondary to the discussions that Johnson's task force and Noem's legislation seem poised to spark. But just because the political questions are secondary to the policy ones doesn't mean the political questions shouldn't be asked.

7 comments

Republican state representatives Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) and Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) have bravely signed Rep. Kathy Tyler's (D-4/Big Stone City) petition calling for a special session to authorize a forensic audit of South Dakota's troubled EB-5 visa investment program.

Rumblings suggest that the Republican leadership is pressuring its members not to sign the petition and contending that the federal EB-5 investigation is all political machinations by U.S. Attorney and known Democrat Brendan Johnson. The latter is hogwash, given that great impetus for an investigation of the EB-5 program is coming from Republicans.

Recall that the federal investigation (read: the only serious investigation) of South Dakota's EB-5 program got rolling in part thanks to concerns raised at the national level by Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. Senator Grassley has been raising questions about the United States Customs and Immigration Service's supervision of EB-5 under Alejandro Mayorkas, who Grassley charges has fast-tracked Chinese EB-5 applicants as favors for well-placed Democrats Terry McAuliffe (now Virginia's Governor-elect) and Anthony Rodham (Hillary Clinton's brother). Mayorkas is President Barack Obama's nominee for Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. While the DHS inspector general is still investigating Mayorkas's conduct in USCIS, Senate Democrats have decided to push ahead with his nomination.

In 2008, the percentage of EB-5 investors coming from China was 25%. Under the Obama Administration, that percentage has jumped to around 80%. Immigration rules ban members of the Chinese Communist Party from receiving U.S. visas, but enforcing that ban requires diligent oversight. Senator Grassley is concerned that such oversight is taking a backseat to political favors.

Conservative Republican Senator Tom Coburn shares Senator Grassley's concerns. He offers this damning assessment of the EB-5 program:

I have serious concerns about national security and criminal threats associated with the EB-5 program.... The program is vulnerable to fraud, and we are not doing nearly enough to ensure that program participants are not a security threat. The administration needs to have a candid conversation with Congress and the American people regarding the program’s problems [Senator Tom Coburn, quoted in Jeffrey Anderson and Shaun Waterman, "Homeland Security's Fast-Tracked Checks of Foreign Investors May Put U.S. at Risk," Washington Times, 2013.10.27].

Since its inception in the 1990s, the EB-5 program has been a disappointment and an embarrassment. Key national Republicans are raising alarms that Democrats are using EB-5 to do political favors, at the expense of national security. If that's true, then a politically motivated Brendan Johnson would be the last person who would be giving the EB-5 program more scrutiny... and anti-Obama, anti-immigration, anti-Communist South Dakota Republicans ought to be the first.

The only people who don't want to look into South Dakota's EB-5 program are the people who are afraid they may find their friends implicated in green-card-buying schemes that have offsprung corruption, local economic damage, and possibly national security risks. But if those harms are happening, we must find out and stop them. Republicans should be as committed to that goal as Democrats.

Republicans, join your colleagues Rep. May and Rep. Nelson. Sign Rep. Tyler's petition. You may be doing the Chinese Communist Party and President Obama a favor if you don't.

16 comments

Support Your Local Blogger!

  • Click the Tip Jar to send your donation to the Madville Times via PayPal, and support local alternative news and commentary!

South Dakota Political Blogs

Greater SD Blogosphere

SD Mostly Political Mix

Greater SD Blogosphere

Madville Monthly

Meta