When Charlie Hoffman and I got done riding four-wheeler around the prairie (and have I mentioned how big I smile when I say that phrase?), we went inside to talk politics. And oh, did we talk.

Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) discusses Pierre politics at his dining room table. (Photo by CAH, 2014.08.19)

Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) discusses Pierre politics at his dining room table. (Photo by CAH, 2014.08.19)

Charlie Hoffman has served three terms as a Republican Representative from District 23. He sat out this year's election, leaving incumbent Rep. Justin Cronin and new-Pierre-comer Michele (one L, just like Bachmann) Harrison to win the GOP primary and ascend without challenge to the State House.

Hoffman is yielding the House floor this year for a handful of personal reasons. He'd like to travel more with his wife, Survivor survivor and motivational speaker Holly Hoffman. Some business matters require his attention back at the ranch. And he has a new hunting dog that he wants to train and bond with properly.

But Hoffman makes his stepback sound like a break, not retirement. He's already looked ahead and seen 2016 as a good opportunity to get back into the House. Rep. Cronin will be termed out, leaving an open seat Charlie can seek without challenging a fellow Republican incumbent.

Hoffman's break appears to have some political motivation right alongside the personal. Hoffman expresses a notable disgust for several aspects of how things are running in Pierre right now. And he said these things to me, a liberal blogger, without the influence of scotch. "I'm a haystacker at heart," said Hoffman, "not a statesman, not a diplomat."

I should check that: did he say haystacker or haymaker? Here they come:

Self-Servers and Legislative Autonomy

Hoffman sees coming a tussle for majority leader in which he does not want to partake. He cites a Janklovian aphorism: "In every class of twenty-some new legislators, fifteen know they'll be governor someday." Hoffman says lots of legislators are serving their political ambitions and trying to put their names (Hoffman offers none) on the marquee. Hoffman would prefer to serve with and be one of the legislators who come to Pierre to serve their districts.

Hoffman says those marquee-seeking legislators create a major problem for the legislative branch. As majority whip, Hoffman says he has seen the Governor happily exploit those self-servers to encroach on the Legislature's proper autonomy. The night before each Legislative workweek begins, Hoffman says the Governor hosts a meeting for all of the GOP House and Senate leaders at the Governor's mansion (read: homefield advantage). The Governor's entire staff attends. The "conversation," says Hoffman, flows mostly one way, as the Governor informs the "leaders" of his plans and priorities for the week. The Governor does not inquire, says Hoffman, about the legislators' plans and priorities. And the GOP leaders, mostly concerned about their place in line, generally accept their weekly marching orders.

Hoffman says this one-way relationship is not how the balance of powers is supposed to work. The Legislature should act independently to bring forth different ideas and allow the best policies to rise via competition. One branch dictating the policy agenda means poorer policy. (What was that Charlie said about pastures with only one kind of grass?) Hoffman wants the climbers to quit climbing and recapture their autonomy and vision. Short of that, Hoffman wishes he could have the opportunity to serve under a Democratic Governor who would rekindle his comrades' commitment to the separation of powers.

(The weird subtext here: we could encourage Republican Charlie Hoffman to run for Legislature in 2016 by electing his Democratic House-mate Susan Wismer Governor this year. Charlie, want to help?)

Harmful Partisanship

Hoffman also expresses annoyance with partisan politics. He says the South Dakota GOP has damaged itself and its candidates by allowing Tea Party agitators to pull the party further right. Local radicals may have gotten a kick out of the SDGOP's impeach-Obama resolution, but recall that such absurd radicalism has boosted Democratic fundraising. Hoffman looks beyond our borders to add that such honyockerism may damage the chances of the national party choosing John Thune for Vice-President in 2016.

Partisanship can damage policy along with party. Hoffman says that, without Medicaid expansion, county governments face higher indigent-care costs, and hospitals either eat losses or pass them on to the rest of us. Expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would erase those costs, says Hoffman. Permit me to remind you that, as Rep. Wismer said Wednesday, the only reason Governor Daugaard seems to have for not expanding Medicaid is partisan ideology.

Future Plans: Raise Teacher Pay!

If circumstances draw Hoffman back to the House, he says he may spend his entire term working on one project: raising teacher pay. He suggests starting by diverting 10% of all gambling revenue (that cut would be over $10 million) to a teacher-pay trust fund. When the fund accrues enough interest, start writing checks, once a year, to every public K-12 teacher in South Dakota.

Our quick calculations suggest this plan might initially place just $500 extra in each teacher's pocket, only a small step toward beating lowly Mississippi, but one must start somewhere. And Hoffman agrees that raising pay will boost the labor pool and ease the teacher shortage.

But wait: gambling revenues currently support property tax relief. Would Hoffman really support taking away that relief? Yes. Instead of handing out pennies per acre, the state could hand that 10% of gambling revenues to the state Investment Council to generate a far larger return.

Agricultural Productivity Tax

If landowners feel harmed by the reduction of gambling-revenue tax relief, Hoffman will make it up to them by getting rid of the agriculture productivity tax. Hoffman says this bastardization of the property tax is even worse than a straight income tax. This tax, which based on the predicted agricultural production value of land instead of its actual productivity or sale price, deters farmers from raising prairie grass and drives hyper-production of only a few high-priced crops. Farmers who switch from corn and beans to grass this year will still pay tax based on what they could have made raising corn for the next eight years. Even farmers who stick with corn will suffer as corn prices drop: they'll makes three to four dollars per bushel this year, but the county will tax them for the next couple years as if their land were seven- or eight-dollar-a-bushel corn. Hoffman says the Legislature needs to change the productivity tax to something fairer.

* * *

I asked Hoffman if he worried that my reporting the above comments might harm his chances of returning to the House. He paused to think, but pretty quickly said nope. If I'm reading him right (and stop me if you think I'm letting my hopes and the joy of riding four-wheeler all afternoon confound my judgment), Hoffman is professing a commitment to a less partisan, more pragmatic, and more independent Legislature. Let's see if Charlie and District 23 share that commitment in 2016.

Bonus "Did You Know?": One of the photos in Hoffman's home office shows a man riding down Main Street (I forgot to ask where) atop the backseat of a red convertible with a placard on the door reading "Hoffman for Governor."Charlie said that's his dad Leroy Hoffman, who ran against Bill Janklow in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 1978.

Leroy Hoffman also sang opera. He built the house in which Charlie and Holly have raised their family with a beautiful vaulted ceiling for his singing. In the 1960's Hoffman sang well enough to tour Europe professionally. Charlie lived in Europe with his dad for two years during that portion of Leroy's career.

But if you're looking for records, you have to search George Hoffman, not Leroy.

"What," I asked. "Leroy not operatic enough?"

"Yup," said Charlie.

31 comments

If you see a pasture with just one kind of grass, that pasture's dead.
—Rep. Charlie Hoffman, 2014.08.19

My friend Charlie Hoffman (yes, that Charlie Hoffman) wasn't talking one-party rule in Pierre. (We'll get to that issue in another post.) He was talking about the prairie, several acres of which he currently occupies east and north of Eureka, west of Long Lake.

Charlie invited me up to his McPherson County farm last week to get the four-wheelers out and learn what the prairie is really about. I was all excited to hear a Republican legislator go all Aldo Leopold, but four-wheelers? I hadn't ridden four-wheeler since I was kid and rode three-wheeler. I figured I'd break my neck trying to keep up with hell-for-leather Charlie before I could get back to the motel to write up his prairie oasis.

Fortunately, Charlie showed less enthusiasm for the throttle than for the native grasses, the virgin soil, and the economy, geography, and archaeology of his land.
Hoffman4wheelerfarmCharlie Hoffman shows the cropland he's restoring to grass. He said his dad once told him there's no money in crops; the route to coming out ahead in farming is grass and cattle. Read the rest of this entry...

24 comments

South Dakota voters won't get to vote for term limits on the 2014 ballot. Well, actually, they'll have the usual opportunity to limit the terms of local incumbents like Jason Frerichs, Phil Jensen, Steve Hickey, and Fred Romkema. They just won't get to vote on either of the constitutional amendments legislators proposed to change the term limits under which they labor.

Rep. Stace Nelson wanted to tighten term limits; Rep. Charlie Hoffman wanted to loosen them. My analysis of South Dakota electoral history showed that South Dakota voters don't really need either proposal. Both constitutional amendments died, Rep. Hoffman's just this week before an unsympathetic Senate.

But before we close those resolutional caskets, permit me to mention Rep. Hoffman's main reason for wanting to extend term limits from eight consecutive years to twelve in each chamber. Before a Miller crackerbarrel crowd and on South Dakota Public Radio, Rep. Hoffman said longer term limits would benefit slow learners in the Legislature:

"When you come into the House or Senate and you are a freshman, it’s a straight-up learning jump. You don’t have a curve; you have to get it right off the bat," Hoffman says. "You have to learn how to do process. You have to learn how to be a good committee member. You have to learn the rules in either house that you’re on" [Kealey Bultena, "Term Limit Extension Proposal Alive," SDPB Radio, 2014.03.03].

Experience matters, in legislating as in any other job. But I don't think we need to amend our state constitution to address that vertically asymptotic learning curve that Rep. Hoffman finds so daunting. Maybe the solution to that problem is much simpler: maybe we should just elect smarter legislators.

11 comments

Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) made waves last summer when he told his parishioners (strangely long word... what if we said parishites?) that he had changed his mind on capital punishment. The Christian conservative said in June that he would draft a bill to repeal South Dakota's death penalty. Rep. Rev. Hickey told KSOO listeners yesterday that he's following through on that promise and will sponsor a death-penalty repeal bill in Pierre during the 2014 session.

According to Todd Epp's report, Hickey says there is "more support for the repeal among legislators than one might think."

I've already found one legislator ready to co-sponsor Hickey's bill. Rep. Charles B. Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) says bring it on... and hang 'em high!

I will sign onto Hickey's Death Penalty repealer bill. The way we perform the death penalty; like putting a loved animal down, is the stupidest anti-crime measure on the American judicial books. Public hanging would set some kids on a new crime free path but putting a horrendous criminal to death by way of pleasure sleeping away with no pain; not [Rep. Charles B. Hoffman, e-mail to Madville Times, 2013.12.05].

That may not sound like support for straight repeal of the death penalty. It sounds like Rep. Hoffman supports capital punishment in principle, just not in current... execution. But his point about deterrence reflects what Rev. Hickey said to his flock last summer. As I described his sermon in my June coverage, Hickey says the death penalty as practiced has no proven deterrent effect. He thinks it would if we made it "swift, painful, ugly, and public." But such cruel punishment, even if made usual, would be unconstitutional and bad for our souls.

When can the state kill a citizen? That is a central question of statecraft. Our state plans to kill a man in January, the same week our legislators will convene for the 2014 session. There is no better time for Hickey and Hoffman to lead their colleagues in this important conversation.

42 comments

One moment Rep. Charlie Hoffman is crazy; the next moment he talks perfect sense. Rep. Don Kopp and some of his colleagues want to give pistol packers a pass by making carrying a concealed weapon without a permit a secondary offense. One would expect rootin'-tootin' Republican Rep. Hoffman to love Rep. Kopp's HB 1015; however, Mr. Mercer reports that Rep. Hoffman has identified a possible fatal flaw in the bill: it could allow mentally insane people to carry concealed weapons.

Mercer says Rep. Hoffman suggests HB 1015 is unnecessary, given that South Dakota already has some of the loosest concealed-weapon laws in the nation. Rep. Hoffman also suggests that HB 1015 may be just more fodder for the "conservative scorecards" being used by certain right-wing agitators to accuse much of the Republican party of ideological impurity. Indeed, the bill's sponsors include Rep. Stace Nelson and Rep. Betty Olson, two of the highest scorers on the three conservative scorecards issued last year (see the John Birch Freedom Index, the SDRepublican.org report, and the Gordon Howie exercise in inaccuracy). Rep. Hoffman, who is far too conservative for my taste, scored 50% or less on all three conservative ratings.

49 comments

Sorry about the delay: the Divine Miss K needed some fairy tales of a different sort....

Oh, we were having such a nice discussion of the purported benefits and politics associated the Keystone XL pipeline. But then my suggestion to Mr. Jopling that we could still justify voting for President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney even if the President approves Keystone XL prompts Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) to reveal birtherism is all too alive and well in District 23 and the South Dakota Legislature:

Cory you and Rush are one in the same. Spamming for a fight, hooking a left hoping for a return right. Barrack Hussein Obama has not worried about his next paycheck or meal or airline ticket back to his Muslim Motherland since he became a US Citizen sometime back around 1979. He[re] is a link for all your readers to contemplate the validity of the current US President. (And you can call me insane, stupid, dumb, ignorant, country, farmer idiot, whatever; the facts don't add up.) [Rep. Charlie Hoffman, comment #19, "Analyst: Republican Keystone XL Rush 'Nothing But Negative'," Madville Times, 2012.01.14]

Wait: Charlie says I'm just spamming for a fight?

I ask the good Representative if he is seriously going to flog the pretty thoroughly refuted birth certificate and Muslim memes. Rep. Hoffman doubles down:

Cory I do not trust anything Barry has done since he became Barrack. What we see and what we know about Obama is very little. The trusted State Senators I have met from Obama's home state tell me that he never once brought up anything in the Ill State Senate close to what he spoke while running for US President. Everyone today seems to just have given him a pass on his citizenship. I doubt very much that he is far away from George Soros in anything he does.

If anyone in America wants to stand up and shout out "Obama is a Christian!", please do so now so we know who you are. Whatever he is Cory I do not know, but a Christian he is not. Christians do not shout out G_d D__n America while attending their weekly church services [Rep. Charlie Hoffman, comment #21, "Analyst: Republican Keystone XL Rush 'Nothing But Negative'," Madville Times, 2012.01.14].

(Note: "God damn America" came from Pastor Jeremiah Wright, not Barack Obama. I think both men are Christian.)

Just to cap it off, Hoffman pokes me thus:

Cory do have any idea how many more votes I get in District 23 when arguing with you over Obama? [Hoffman, comment #25]

And the crowd goes wild.

Charlie, I have no idea how many more votes you get in District 23 when you talk this nonsense. I'd love to find out firsthand. Years ago I kissed a girl from Eureka and found the experience enjoyable; I'm sure a visit to the town itself would be at least as thrilling.

How about you and I discuss President Barack Obama's religion and/or citizenship in a public debate in Eureka? It'll be Lincoln and Douglas! Darrow and Bryan! Welch and McCarthy! Heck, stage it during the Eureka Carp Tournament (and really, what better day for our carping?), and I'll bet we could double the normal turnout.

We can set up tip jars in the back, let the listeners vote with their cash. The person with the most cash in the jar is declared winner of the debate. You keep the cash in your jar; I give the cash in my jar to whatever noble Democrat stands up to challenge you for your seat in the House... unless said noble Democrat fears that any association with that dastardly socialist atheist blogger might hurt him at the polls.

Gas money would be nice, but I'll settle for being able to video and rebroadcast the debate here on the blog... and to cite the amount of money in your jar as evidence of the sympathy for "insane, stupid, crazy, dumb, ignorant," and most importantly, just plain wrong (wrong! wrong! wrong!) ideas among your constituents.

After Eureka, we could take the show on the road. We could open for Kristi Noem and Matt Varilek/Jeff Barth, who naturally will want to debate imaginary dust regulations. Of course, I'd much rather we all get together in Eureka or elsewhere to debate real policy issues. Anyone game?

127 comments

Some public officials shun and denigrate blogs and other social media. Some of these blog-wary officials may simply be unfamiliar with the technology; others (like, I speculate, members of the Madison Central School District board and administration) are stung by the criticism voiced and published for the record on such websites and thus try to discourage participation.

Fortunately, it seems that more public officials in South Dakota are realizing that blogs and social media are really extensions of the public sphere, an ongoing crackerbarrel where they can interact with the people they serve just as they are expected to do at their meetings, in their offices, and at the coffee shop.

Example #1: Rep. Steve Hickey. This Sioux Falls pastor has a lot on his plate, yet he manages to make the rounds of the South Dakota blogosphere and make substantive, instructive comments. When he catches heck on controversial issues, he doesn't run and hide. During his first session as a legislator, Hickey used his own blog to provide a series of posts outlining his thinking on various pieces of legislation, complete with charts and graphs! He left his comment section open and took comments from supporters and opponents alike. He appears ready to do the same this year, offering a blog post summarizing the big topics in Pierre at the opening of the 2012 session. "Let the townhall meeting begin," says Rep. Hickey, acknowledging exactly what his blog and others can be.

Example #2: Rep. Bernie Hunhoff. The South Dakota Magazine publisher has plenty of practice communicating with South Dakotans. Last year I noticed he started to make great use of his Facebook page to update his constituents on doings and misdeeds in Pierre and provoke discussion. He's doing the same this year: for example, Wednesday he offered the trenchant observation on the state's corrections spending:

Chief Justice David Gilbertson just finished his State of the Judiciary speech here in Pierre. He said South Dakota is "dead last" in substance abuse courts even though the one we have in the Northern Black Hills has been a great success. Isn't that a workforce issue? if we can get our youth off to a healthy and sober start, they might contribute more to the workforce? It costs just $3 to have someone on probation -- and $63 a day to incarcerate them. Yet we never question the corrections budget, while we chronically underfund schools and programs for youth. (The conclusion is my own, not the judge's) [Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, Facebook post, 2012.01.11].

Hmm... $3 for probation, $63 for incarceration... is the Governor ignoring another field where we spend more without getting better results?

Example #3: Rep. Charlie Hoffman. This Republican from Eureka isn't afraid of online conversation. Of all places, he comes to this liberal blog to hear what folks are saying and add his two cents' worth. (And hey, Charlie: have you drafted that pipeline tax yet?)

Example #4: Mayor Sam Kooiker. Rapid City's chief executive has caught heck in the local press for his role in starting the fruitless witch hunt against Fish Garbage Services (see also here and here). One might excuse a mayor for trying to steer clear of such controversy in the blogosphere and the rest of the press. Yet Mayor Kooiker wades right in with the alligators with this comment on Mount Blogmore:

Andrea's recent articles and your Blogmore post implies that I am some sort of a mastermind who was, as 1 member of a 10 member council, able to: control a human resources department and a police department, a city council (6 of whom voted to censor me), a previous mayor (who was my opponent on four ballots — 2 general elections and 2 runoffs), multiple grand juries, a state's attorney, DCI and the Attorney General.

So let's do a brief recap. On 12/22/2009, The PW Director (Robert Ellis), City Attorney (Jason Green) and Mayor (Alan Hanks) held a press conference announcing the revocation of Fish Garbage's license. I was not present at the press conference nor was I invited to attend. As you may be aware, the previous mayor was not one of my biggest fans. The previous administration signed off on Meidinger's dismissal from employment. My predecessor's sudden amnesia in the recent RC Journal article is fun to read about, but perplexing [Mayor Sam Kooiker, comment, Mount Blogmore, 2012.01.12].

Mayor Kooiker goes on to invite his prominent detractors to lunch at Culver's. Indeed, if there is one shortcoming to blog interaction, it is that we can't pass the ketchup.

Now some public officials fear engaging in online conversation because they don't want their words to become part of the public record. They prefer private meetings, quiet lunches, and quick café stops where they can simply chat of the record. But with so many regular folks sharing their thoughts by Facebook and e-mail, even a brief chat with a voter at a restaurant can become a blog post, making diner conversations available to a much broader audience of constituents. That's not a bad thing; allowing everyone to be "in" on the conversation is quite healthy for democracy.

Reps. Hickey, Hunhoff and Hoffman, Mayor Kooiker, thank you for realizing something that all public officials and the rest of us citizens need to understand. Blogs, Facebook, and other social media are not just a pastime for kids throwing spitballs and sharing beer pictures. The South Dakota blogosphere is also an ongoing public conversation, open to anyone who can hunt and peck. It is a place where we can learn what our fellow citizens and public servants are thinking and provide input, just as we do at other public fora, to help guide public decision-making.

Steve, Bernie, Charlie, and Sam can do it. So can the rest of you.

5 comments

Rep. Charlie B. Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) provides the blog scoop of the day, declaring his support for a state pipeline tax. He still finds my anti-Keystone XL pipeline position misguided, but...

On the other side of the coin we must insist upon a penny or nickle per barrel of oil pumped through our state charged for the unlikely event of a major oil spill should one occur [Rep. Charlie B. Hoffman, blog comment, Madville Times, 2011.09.20 15:20].

I ask the representative whether he would co-sponsor pipeline tax legislation in the 2012 session. He responds thus:

...I am all over putting legislation together making sure SD does not have to go to court to obtain dollars needed in the event of an oil spill from a pipeline should the oil company not provide full compensation for clean up. It is on my list of things to do! [Hoffman, 2011.09.20 16:26]

When it comes to Keystone XL, I take even small things as cause for optimism. Various members of the South Dakota Legislature have proposed pipeline taxes in each session since 2008. The Legislature has whacked those bills each time (see killed bills from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011). I haven't noticed Hoffman's name on the sponsor lists of any of those previous pipeline tax bills. If he's willing to sponsor a 2012 pipeline tax bill, that may signal a greater willingness in Pierre to hold TransCanada accountable and seek an easy and easily justifiable revenue source for South Dakota.

Thank you, Rep. Hoffman, for brightening my day!

8 comments

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