Hey, that's my neighbor Charlie Johnson on the YouTube!

Actually, it's an ad from the Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing. But it's also a great nutshell explanation of the Organic farming philosophy Charlie inherited from his dad Bernard: "What goes on this land has to go on our tongue first." (I invite you to take up with Charlie what that means about his use of manure as fertilizer.)

Map of proposed Dakota Access pipeline route through South Dakota; see full route map at http://www.energytransfer.com/documents/DAPL_States_Counties.pdf

Map of proposed Dakota Access pipeline route through South Dakota (click to embiggen; see full route map at http://www.energytransfer.com/documents/DAPL_States_Counties.pdf)

Larry Pressler's pipeline plan is already rolling. The Dakota Access oil pipeline would ship Bakken oil from North Dakota to Patokia, Illinois, refineries. Thirty inches wide and moving 450,000 barrels per day, Dakota Access would match the first Keystone pipeline in size, destructive power, and, if our Legislature had the good sense to pass a pipeline tax, $200 million in budget-boosting potential.

Dakota Access, which is one of the heads of energy hydra Energy Transfer Partners, paid Strategic Economics Group of Iowa to write up an economic impact statement for its pipeline. SEG itemizes benefits for South Dakota:

Construction stage (2015-2016):

  • Estimated impact on production and sales: $835.8 Million
  • Estimated impact on labor income: $302.8 Million
  • Estimated number of additional job-years of employment: 7,100
  • Estimated increase in state sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $35.6 Million
  • Estimated increase in local sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $2.9 Million

Operations and maintenance stage (annually beginning in 2017):

  • Estimated increase in production and sales: $4.2 Million
  • Estimated increase in labor income: $1.9 Million
  • Estimated increase in full-time jobs: 31
  • Estimated increase in state sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $135,000
  • Estimated increase in local sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $62,000
  • Estimated increase in local property taxes: about $13 Million [Strategic Economics Group, "South Dakota Economic & Fiscal Impact Fact Sheet," November 2014]

Iowa State University economist David Swenson, who has not been paid by Dakota Access, is skeptical of this economic impact analysis:

“It’s not worthless, but it’s an industry-sponsored promotion piece designed to get the public to support it,” Swenson said. “Policymaker beware.”

...Swenson said the study uses a deceptive calculation for jobs, called job years. If one job existed for two years, it would be counted as two job years, he said. He said for the $1 billion economic output, a similar duplication by years is used, and he disputed using gross transactions as a measure of economic output [B.A. Morelli, "ISU Economist Doubts Study Touting Economic Benefits of Pipeline," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2014.11.13].

Orland organic impresario Charlie Johnson won't be swayed by economic abstractions. Dakota Access will cut through 160 acres that he farms organically. If our state's embrace of the Keystone pipeline and Mike Rounds's Big-Oil lies are any indication, Johnson won't get any sympathy from state courts or regulators.

But maybe Johnson can divert Dakota Access by getting creative and copyrighting his land as a work of art, as Alberta artist Peter von Tisenhausen did:

Tiesenhausen made the decision after years of legal battles with oil and gas companies that wanted access to the deposits of natural gas that sit just beneath his 800-acre plot of land. Under federal law, Alberta landowners have the rights only to the surface of their land. The riches that lie beneath are generally owned by the government, which can grant oil and gas producers access so long as the companies agree to compensate landowners. This compensation is usually for lost harvests and inconvenience, but, Tiesenhausen reasoned, what if instead of a field of crops these companies were destroying the life’s work of an acclaimed visual artist? Wouldn’t the compensation have to be exponentially higher?

...In 2003, he presented his copyright argument before the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, which told him that copyright law was beyond its jurisdiction and he would need to pursue that in the courts. So far that hasn’t been necessary. The oil and gas companies have since backed off, even paying for an expensive rerouting of pipelines, and have yet to bother testing his copyright [Amy Fung, "An Alberta Sculptor Fights Oil Companies to Exhibit Art on His Own Land," 2010.04.22].

Ah, so that's why Dennis Daugaard doesn't want kids majoring in liberal arts.

I invite the legal scholars in our audience to determine whether the land-copyright argument would transfer from Canadian to American law. Lawyer Monica Goyal notes that von Tisenhausen's argument hasn't faced court scrutiny yet; his willingness to lawyer up and press up has simply deterred the pipeliners eying his land from pushing the issue.

But Charlie, we know an artist or two around Lake County who like to work big. Perhaps a few acres of artistic ingenuity could keep that black snake from burrowing through your land. Start an art-protest-pipeline-barrier demo project, and perhaps Dakota Rural Action could collaborate with Christo to come up with a creative state-spanning installation that would keep Big Oil from trampling our property rights.


Want to know someone who's not terribly worked up over Rep. Kristi Noem's failure to pass a Farm Bill over her Republican colleague's do-nothingism? Orland farmer Charlie Johnson:

The corn has grown about a foot and the sun has rose in the east every morning since the U.S. house of Representatives failed to pass a farm bill. Now if the emphasis is about providing millionaire farmers billions of dollars in "safety net" measures such as taxpayer funded crop insurance, then perhaps life in rural America would be so much better without a farm bill. But if we are willing to allow farmers to assume and pay for their own risks while also working on measures that cares for the hungry, supports beginning farmers, highlights resource conversation, and addresses community development, then yes, let's move ahead on a farm bill. Until "we get it", the corn will grow and the sun will rise [Charles Joseph Johnson, Facebook post, 2013.06.30].

So how about that plan: let the Farm Bill's obsolete corporate welfare wither on the vine. Farmers tell potential Senate candidate Annette Bosworth we don't need farm subsidies. New Zealand got rid of farm subsidies three decades ago, and their crops still grow, just like Charlie's.

Maybe it's time for Kristi Noem to go with the flow, say she's had an epiphany, and apologize to fiscal conservatives and independent farmers alike for perpetuating corporate dependence on federal handouts.


Orland Township icon Charlie Johnson has been named Organic Farmer of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. MOSES recognized Johnson at its annual farming conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, last week. Here's the MOSES press release:

Johnson Farms is an organic crop and beef farm situated on 2800 acres. Johnson operates the farm with his brother, Allan and cousin, Aaron. The brothers first learned chemical-free farming from their late father, Bernard.

Frank James of Dakota Rural Action lauds Johnson for “[pioneering] organic practices in South Dakota and the Northern Great Plains,” as well as being “a quiet, long-term leader.”

Johnson’s organic process begins with his six-year crop rotation, which includes two years of hay, one each of soybeans, corn, again with soybeans, and finally oats planted along with alfalfa. This attention to detail has led to Johnson Farms being certified organic by the International Certification Service (FVO/ICS). Johnson’s crops are sold to National Farmer’s Organization (NFO) Organics.

Johnson’s care for the land does not stop at crops. He keeps his 200 head of Black Angus Gelbvieh hydrated with rural water, which keeps the cattle out of creeks and dugout ponds, thus preventing soil erosion and water contamination. Johnson also maintains the tree-belts, sloughs, meadows and grass waterways on his property. This land stewardship led to the farm being honored by the South Dakota Soil and Water Conservation Society in 1996.

Beyond the farm, Johnson and his family have served many different institutions and organizations. This work has included leading many farming studies at South Dakota State University. Johnson himself has been on several boards such as Dakota Rural Action and the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society [Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, press release, 2013.02.14].

Charlie's a friend, a friend of the earth, and a friend of good public policy. We should all be proud of his efforts to lead South Dakota toward better farming practices.


I managed to watch the final District 8 Legislative candidates' forum this weekend, courtesy of KJAM's diligent election videography.

Here's what I learned:

  1. Charlie Johnson could have become a lawyer. In his introduction, Johnson said he was accepted into USD's law school but turned that down to work as a small-farm advocate.
  2. The man Johnson wants to replace, Senator Russell Olson, doesn't understand the disconnect between what he says and what he does on education. He says he's deeply concerned about raising teacher pay. He says he opposes Initiated Measure 15 because it doesn't guarantee that the new revenue goes to teachers. He says he supports Referred Law 16 because it is the first time he and his fellow legislators have made an effort to pay great teachers more. But Russ, if paying teachers more is such a priority for you, why didn't you get around to it until the sixth year of your time in Pierre?
  3. Leslie Heinemann isn't a complete GOP tool. Instead of the vague, evidenceless claims that Senator Olson and fellow House candidate Gene Kroger make for Governor Daugaard's education agenda, Heinemann admits his reservations about the bonus program for teachers. He says he can "discriminate" in his small business and pay more to the employees he thinks are working hard. He recognizes, however, that it's difficult to impose the private business model on public schools.
  4. Charlie Johnson sums up Referred Law 16's merit pay plank best: "I don't cultivate, fertilize, and harvest only 20% of my acres. I take care of all my acres. That's the way we have to do education, take care of all of education." He says Russ and the Governor are using Referred Law 16 as a "diversion tactic" to keep us from focusing on the real problem if their neglect of K-12 education funding.
  5. Amendment M is not going to pass, and even Russ Olson doesn't care. He says the amendment on corporate voting and regulation would create a more business-friendly climate in South Dakota—and when Russ says "business-friendly," he means crony-capitalist. But Russ acknowledges that there hasn't been much effort to educate the public on the merits of M, so he appears to shrug at its prospects, as did most other candidates at the podium.
  6. As I expected, Gene Kroger is least equipped to deal with policy issues. On Initiated Measure 15, while the other candidates addressed the regressive nature of the sales tax, the size of the proposed increase (excellent rebuttal from Roy Lindsay, explaining that IM15 is not the largest tax increase in South Dakota history), and the merits of spending the money on K-12 education and Medicaid, Kroger reverted to his Grumpy Old Party talk about inflation and how he has to pay twice as much for his pork and beans. Note to Gene: under President Barack Obama, monthly inflation has averaged 1.6%. Under President George W. Bush, it was 2.8%. From 1914 to 2008, it was 3.4%.
  7. Asked about rising student debt, Kroger again shrugged his grumpy old shoulders and said students have to "decide if this is what I want to do and do I want to pay the price to do it." He asserted that South Dakota tuition is lower and students have less debt than in other states, which is GOP code for "Quit your bellyaching." It's also only one-third true. South Dakota graduates have the median student debt in the country, which happens to be less than the national average. But South Dakota has the second-highest percentage (76%) of students graduating with debt. And given that our wages are the second-lowest in the nation, those students have an even harder time paying off their debt.
  8. All six candidates expressed their eagerness to use government to create jobs by protecting and expanding Dakota State University. Senator Olson confirmed that he is hoping to arrange for the state to acquire the current Madison Community Hospital property when that organization builds its new facility on the south side of Madison.
  9. While Russ Olson thinks getting DSU more land and buildings will help the university, Charlie Johnson says that if we want students to fill those buildings, we need to find more state support to keep tuition affordable. 

On the whole, if you have to pick a Republican in District 8. He at least shows signs of critical thinking that go beyond what Fox News or Governor Daugaard tell him to think.

But the joy of living in District 8 is that you do not have to pick a Republican. You have a full slate of Democratic candidates. Charlie Johnson, Scott Parsley, and Roy Lindsay will legislate with more concern for the common good and sensible, evidence-based policy than their Republican counterparts.

Comments Off on District 8 Legislative Candidates’ Forum: What They Said

Friday, October 26 was the deadline for all South Dakota candidates to submit their pre-general election campaign finance reports to the Secretary of State's office. Here's the data for the District 8 Senate and House candidates:

District 8 Pre-general campaign finance 2012

(click to enlarge!)

The Senate race is a swamper: Heartland Consumer Power District's permanent lobbyist Russell Olson outpaces farmer Charlie Johnson 13 to 1 in campaign contributions, 6 to 1 in ad spending, 9 to 1 in total expenditures, and 104 to 1 in cash on hand. Charlie, you have a lot of knocking and handshaking to do this week!

The House race is tighter in dollar terms. I can't give a complete report yet, since Roy Lindsay's report is not yet available (there's a paper copy in the mail, right, Roy?). I'll update that as soon as Sec. Gant does. But from the reports in the hopper, we see that while Scott Parsley has raised $4,800 more than Leslie Heinemann, Heinemann has out-advertised Parsley by $12,800. Yet Parsley's cash-on-hand advantage is just $2,600.

Where has Parsley's money gone? In a sign of either Democrat selflessness or self-confidence, Parsley has given $14,100 to other candidates around South Dakota, $4,000 more than he has spent on himself:

Campaign/Committee receiving donations from Parsley for House campaign Date Amount Type
BILL ANTONIDES FOR HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 10/01/2012 $500.00 SD House of Representatives
HAUSMAN FOR HOUSE 10/01/2012 $500.00 SD House of Representatives
HAWKS FOR HOUSE 10/01/2012 $750.00 SD House of Representatives
KLOUCEK FOR SENATE COMMITTEE 10/01/2012 $100.00 SD Senate
MAYNARD J. KONECHNE 10/01/2012 $500.00 SD House of Representatives
SOUTH DAKOTA DEMOCRATIC PARTY 10/01/2012 $11,750.90 Political Party

Meanwhile, Heinemann has kicked a hundred bucks toward 8-mate Kroger's campaign.

While raising just 38% of Senator Olson's obscene haul, Parsley has spread 58% more green love to his party and fellow candidates. Here's how Olson has thrown his love around so far this fall:

Campaign/Committee receiving contributions from Olson for Senate campaign Date Amount Type
CHICOINE FOR SENATE 10/04/2012 $500.00 SD Senate
CHRISTINE ERICKSON FOR HOUSE 06/14/2012 $250.00 SD House of Representatives
FRIENDS OF DAN LEDERMAN 10/04/2012 $1,000.00 SD Senate
FRIENDS OF KENT JUHNKE 10/04/2012 $1,000.00 SD Senate
GENE KROGER FOR HOUSE 09/18/2012 $500.00 SD House of Representatives
JOHN S MEYER FOR SENATE DIST 21 10/04/2012 $500.00 SD Senate
OMDAHL FOR STATE SENATE 09/17/2012 $500.00 SD Senate
OTTEN FOR SENATE 09/17/2012 $500.00 SD Senate
ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT, INC. 09/25/2012 $1,000.00 Other Committees
RUSHMORE PAC 10/04/2012 $500.00 Political Action Committee
RUSHMORE PAC 10/13/2011 $50.00 Other Committees
SHANTEL KREBS FOR SENATE 10/04/2012 $500.00 SD Senate
SOHOLT FOR DISTRICT 14 SENATE 09/17/2012 $500.00 SD Senate
SOUTH DAKOTA RETAILERS ASSOCIATION PAC 09/28/2012 $125.00 Political Action Committee
VAN GERPEN FOR STATE SENATE 10/04/2012 $1,000.00 SD Senate
VOTERS FOR MILES 10/04/2012 $500.00 SD Senate

Both Parsley and Olson are working to build their party as well as their own political fortunes. But the amount Olson is spending on himself suggests that he perceives a much greater threat to his continued grip on power than Charlie Johnson's bankroll would suggest.

But wait! Russell Olson makes up that love-spreading gap with his Leading South Dakota PAC. Check out these contributions:

Campaign/Committee receiving contributions from Russell Olson's PAC Date Amount Type
CHRIS NELSON FOR PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION 09/01/2012 $250.00 Public Utilities Commission
DEB PETERS FOR SENATE 05/21/2012 $1,000.00 SD Senate
FRIENDS OF BRUCE RAMPELBERG FOR SENATE 05/21/2012 $1,000.00 Political Action Committee
GENE KROGER FOR HOUSE 09/01/2012 $500.00 SD House of Representatives
HEINEMANN FOR SD HOUSE 10/01/2012 $500.00 SD House of Representatives
KRISTI FOR CONGRESS 09/01/2012 $500.00 Other Committees
KRISTIE FIEGEN FOR SOUTH DAKOTA 09/01/2012 $250.00 Public Utilities Commission
MARK JOHNSTON FOR DISTRICT 12 SENATE 05/21/2012 $1,000.00 SD Senate
MICKELSON FOR DISTRICT 13 HOUSE 06/01/2012 $250.00 SD House of Representatives
PETER NORBECK PAC 09/01/2012 $5,000.00 Political Action Committee
SOHOLT FOR DISTRICT 14 SENATE 09/01/2012 $500.00 SD Senate
TOM NELSON CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE 05/21/2012 $1,000.00 SD Senate
WESTRA FOR DISTRICT 13 HOUSE 10/12/2012 $250.00 SD House of Representatives

The $5000 contribution to Mike Rounds's Peter Norbeck PAC gets me scratching my head. Mike Rounds gave Olson's PAC $1,000 last December; his PAC gave RussPAC another $3,000 in August. I'm sure this money-go-round makes sense to someone in Russ's office... but maybe such bookkeeping machinations are why Russ has burned up $2200 in mere administrative expenses.

Charlie Johnson

Charlie Johnson

District 8 Senate candidate Charlie Johnson forwards his responses to a questionnaire from the Moody County Enterprise. As I review his text, an interesting comparison jumps to mind between Johnson and his opponent, Senator Russell Olson.

Charlie Johnson has a degree in business administration and has actually been in business for three decades as an organic farmer.

Senator Russell Olson, R-8/Wentworth

Russell Olson

Russell Olson has degrees in English (?!?), political science, and public administration. His biography mentions no experience running his own business. He has worked primarily as a bureaucrat, a beneficiary of the political patronage of Bill Janklow and Jerry Prostrollo. He currently makes his living handing out other people's money.

Now I don't think business experience is a unique qualifier for government service. But for those of you who say we need more people with business experience in government, doesn't Charlie Johnson's experience place him head and shoulders above Russell Olson?

Candidate Q&A

Name: Charlie Johnson

Hometown: Madison,SD

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Notable biographical points: (Relatives in politics, served over seas, etc...)I'm a farmer, lifelong resident of Lake County, and served as county commissioner(87-95). I graduated from Madison High School(75) and attended Dakota State University where I graduated(80) with a BS degree in Business Administration.

What made you want to run for office? To allow the voters in District 8 the opportunity to have a choice in the type of legislator they wish to have represent their views in Pierre.

Experience in position you are running for? I have served in student government on both the high school and college level. My involvement with FFA in high school taught me how in part along with other things how to conduct a meeting. I have served on the Lake County Commissioner for 8 years. Through the years I have served on the board of directors of many worthwhile organizations.

What "qualifies" you for this position? First and foremost, I'm an organic farmer who has successfully develop along with other family members a farm that is recognized locally and nationwide as a leader in organic farming. Through work with organizations that I belong to including SD Resources Coalition, Dakota Rural Action, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, I know the importance of working together with others on a common goal or issue.

What are the issues that you believe YOU need to address the most? And why are you the person for the job? Issues of importance include education for all ages, improvement with infrastructure(mostly locally), and better opportunities for our youth. I believe strongly in better funding for education where I promote the concept of BEEF(better education expects to be funded). Referred law #16 is bad legislation and I will vote against it.

What makes you a better option than the other candidates? I offer the voters of District 8 a clear choice in how issues are viewed and the measures by which we can improve things for all residents in the state South Dakota. Whether I'm a better option is up to the voters of District 8.

Why should the people of Moody County vote for you? The people of Moody County along with all of District 8 will recognize that I will work hard for them. I believe in the common person who carries on the daily struggle of making a living, investing in the future, caring for his community and family. People in Moody County, all residents of District 8, and the citizens of South Dakota share my belief that the number one asset we have is the land itself and the bright young minds that live upon it [Charlie Johnson, responses to Moody County Enterprise questionnaire, submitted by e-mail to the Madville Times, October 23, 2012].


I remember once upon a time getting excited when Ross Perot talked about taking a shovel to Washington. But watch out for Charlie Johnson: he's taking a pitchfork to Pierre:

Charlie Johnson marches with a pitchfork in the DSU homecoming parade, Madison, South Dakota, September 29, 2012. Photo credit: Paula Herron Jensen

Charlie Johnson marches with a pitchfork in the DSU homecoming parade, Madison, South Dakota, September 29, 2012. Photo credit: Paula Herron Jensen

Charlie's got the bibber-cred to tote that pitchfork. He knows something about pitching out horse manure and pitching in to solve problems.

Also visiting Madison for DSU's homecoming parade were our Democratic PUC candidates:

Matt McGovern refuels at Lake County Dems HQ after marching in the DSU homecoming parade, Madison, SD, September 29, 2012. Photo credit; Lorri May

Matt McGovern refuels at Lake County Dems HQ after marching in the DSU homecoming parade, Madison, SD, September 29, 2012. Photo credit; Lorri May

Matt needed a big meal; he headed straight to Sioux Falls for more campaigning!

Nick Nemec and granddaughter at Lake County Dems HQ following DSU homecoming parade, Madison, South Dakota, September 29, 2012. Photo credit: Lorri May

Nick Nemec and granddaughter at Lake County Dems HQ following DSU homecoming parade, Madison, South Dakota, September 29, 2012. Photo credit: Lorri May

Once Matt got through the line, Nick also got some chow and some time to relax with his granddaughter. Thanks for coming to town, fellas!

Update 12:14 MDT: And here's a photo bonus: our next Congressman, Matt Varilek working the Madison crowd:

Matt Varilek greets voters, DSU homecoming parade, Madison, SD, September 29, 2012. Photo by Varilek campaign.

Matt Varilek greets voters, DSU homecoming parade, Madison, SD, September 29, 2012. Photo by Varilek campaign.


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