Bernie Hunhoff allows me to sully the online pages of South Dakota Magazine this week with a proposal for a dirty trick: how about we Democrats help Gordon Howie get on the ballot? Howie says he's running as a Plan B in case Stace Nelson doesn't win the primary; could we turn that Plan B in Rick Weiland's favor?

The only reason I like Howie's Plan B is that it helps Rick Weiland. It boxes Rounds in: he can't attack Nelson too hard in the primary, because that would alienate Nelson's hard-right supporters, who could (as Kevin Woster notes) happily hand their votes to Howie in November. That increases the chances that Nelson can stage an upset in the primary, and Weiland can beat the cash-poor Nelson more easily than he can beat the Nine Million Dollar Man [Cory Allen Heidelberger, "Openly Dirty Tricks," South Dakota Magazine, 2014.04.16].

Check out my full argument, Democrats, then tell us: would we sell our souls signing Howie's Independent nominating petition? Or would we just be maximizing our advantage by further dividing the GOP electorate?

p.s.: One more reason to put Gordon Howie on the ballot: since they are both musicians, they could wrap up the State Fair debate by performing Dueling Banjos.


Alas, South Dakota's youngest voting generation knows who can butter its political bread. Amid reports that the national youth vote is leaning strongly liberal/progressive/Democrat, Sam Hurst publishes a new Dakota Poll that finds our young voters offering Jensenesque regressivism safe harbor in South Dakota for at least another generation.

The February phone survey of 400 South Dakotans ages 18 to 35 finds the following political self-identifications:

43% describe themselves as “very conservative (13%), somewhat conservative (20%), or leaning conservative (10%)”; nearly twice as many as the 24% who describe themselves as “very liberal (6%), somewhat liberal (11%), or leaning liberal (7%).” 23% of South Dakotans describe themselves as moderates.

In terms of political partisanship, 33% describe themselves as Republicans. 21% describe themselves as “supporters of the Tea Party”. 22% describe themselves as Democrats. 20% describe themselves as Independents [Sam Hurst, "March 2014 South Dakota Youth Poll," Dakota Poll, 2014.03.19].

These young conservatives aren't going anywhere, either. 48% say they've lived here all there lives; 83% said they went to high school here. 54% say it is extremely likely they will be living in South Dakota five years from now; only 6% say it is extremely unlikely that they will stay... which one would expect of conservatives who don't like change. This result does not mean that young people are not leaving the state; it just means that the more mobile young South Dakotans had already emigrated before Dakota Poll called.

The young survey respondents offer a reasonably conventional perception of what makes their generation choose to leave or stay:

Top reasons young people leave Top reasons young people stay
Work/Job Opportunties 48% Raise a Family/Values 26%
Warmer/Better Weather 22% Work/Job Opportunities 21%
Better Pay 20% Low Population/Small Communities 20%
Better Schools 15% Family/Friends 19%
Entertainment/Culture Leisure/Shopping 15% Low Crime/Safety 17%

Note that over twice as many respondents say job opportunities motivate people to leave South Dakota than motivate people to stay. In an interesting contrast, the leave reasons seem much more rationally capitalist than the stay reasons. Does that mean this young conservative generation will be much more family-values conservatives than free-market conservatives?

On social issues, these conservative-leaning millennials aren't all predictably conservative. The 20% who want a complete ban on abortion only slightly outnumber the 18% who want abortion legal in all circumstances. 26% want abortion legal with some restrictions. That's 44% who could show up at the polls and mostly defend women's reproductive rights. We can then fight off the anti-abortion majority by splitting them on exceptions: 25% want to allow abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother; 9% would remove exceptions for rape and incest.

Get away from the political labels, and other issues may offer Democrats more chances to find common ground with this seemingly conservative generation. 72% say they are willing to make significant sacrifice to raise teacher pay in South Dakota. 56% say raising teacher pay would improve the quality of our schools... which suggests that the other 16% either enjoy throwing money away or believe that we have a moral obligation to pay teachers what they deserve for the good work they are already doing.

58% of respondents are making less than $35,000 a year. The poll didn't ask about the minimum wage, but combine those lower incomes with the recognition above that job opportunities may be better outside South Dakota, and these young voters may be more willing to support increasing wages and/or decreasing the tax burden that lower income folks face under our regressive sales tax.

Then again, this group isn't terribly tuned in to workers rights. 51% say they would make little or no sacrifice to support workers rights like organizing unions. The only social issue polled getting a stronger negative reaction was reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change (52% not feeling sacrificial).

In another bad sign, this 85% white generation has trouble seeing their kinship with the other. 67% say they would make significant personal sacrifice to help fight poverty in South Dakota. Only 49% say they would make similar sacrifice to fight poverty on Indian reservations.

The Dakota Poll results show what every Democratic door-knocker and campus organizer in South Dakota already knows: we can't count on the rising youth tide to float our liberal South Dakota boats. We lose a big chunk of future Democratic activists to the bright lights of big cities and other less conservative places where the fight for the Left isn't as hard a fight. Those who stay are naturally more conservative, meaning we liberals have to work extra hard to cut through their prejudices, find common ground on issues like fair teacher pay, and build on that common ground to expand their generosity to include more of their fellow South Dakotans.


John Tsitrian suggests that the South Dakota Democratic Party is crazy. That charge is dog-bites-man... but Tsitrian provokes a lively conversation by diagnosing craziness specifically in the party's apparent endorsement of Susan Wismer over Joe Lowe for governor. Tsitrian contends that Wismer lacks the Clintonesque/Warrenesque "muscular persona" necessary to persuade South Dakota voters to overturn decades of GOP dominance in Pierre. Tsitrian says Lowe has a better shot in this prize fight:

Re-locating to South Dakota back in the 1990s, Lowe honed his political skills in Southern California, taking over in the early '90s as Mayor of Mission Viejo in Orange County, where the politics are vicious and no prisoners are taken--I lived there myself until I was in my thirties and can still remember it as the land of dirty political tricks  ("Tricky Dick" Nixon was a product of that tradition--you get the idea).  If Lowe has retained the toughness that it took to be a winner a couple of decades ago, he'll match up just fine with Daugaard on any stage [John Tsitrian, "Memo to the SD Democratic Party: Are You Crazy?" The Constant Commoner, 2014.03.17].

Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, who introduced Rep. Wismer at her Capitol campaign kickoff, says Tsitrian is way off the mark in perceiving a "frosty reception" from the state Dems to Lowe:

...on the two occasions when he came to Pierre he was received very warmly by everyone, including Susan Wismer who speaks highly of him. I think all this is way off the mark. If Joe had chosen to announce in the capitol building during session by hunch is that a number of local Dems and legislators would have attended as they did for Susan [Bernie Hunhoff, comment, The Constant Commoner, 2014.03.18].

Note to candidates: do three announcements! Stop in Pierre for your Capitol photo op between your Sioux Falls and Rapid City launches!

The state Dems have apparently rectified their initial silence on Lowe, adding a laudatory post about Lowe to their website on February 18, three weeks after SDDP chair Deb Knecht made sweet press-release love to Wismer upon her well-coordinated announcement.

East River Dems will have a chance this weekend to see who's crazy and whom they're crazy for: Joe Lowe and Susan Wismer will both appear Saturday, March 22, at the Brookings County Democrats' big St. Patrick's fundraising dinner at the American Legion Hall (contact Lawrence Novotny, 605-692-6026, for tickets and time). That dinner and side-by-side comparison will be worth the price of admission.


The South Dakota Democratic Party continues to signal that 2014 may not be a year of Blue Dog campaigning. Party chair Deb Knecht bases her latest fundraising pitch on a declaration of support for Nancy Robrahn and Jennie Rozenkranz's pending challenge to South Dakota's same-sex marriage ban:

It's important that we raise our voices in support of these two brave women. Public opinion across the country is shifting on the issue of civil unions. More people support marriage equality than ever before. And as the Rapid City Journal reports, judges in several states—including Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas—have struck down state bans as unconstitutional.

Do you support same sex couples like Nancy and Jennie? We do! Help us secure and protect the rights of ALL South Dakotans. Give to the SDDP today.

Let's be loud in our support for marriage equality. Let's stand together. Let's make sure South Dakota is on the right side of history [Deb Knecht, fundraising e-mail, South Dakota Democratic Party, 2014.03.14].

The SDDP has voiced strong support for marriage equality since before the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act last summer. The party stood for marriage equality in 2012; House candidate Matt Varilek's inability to get on that message cost him support from some Democrats. Some liberal observers still hold a grudge against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for supporting Constitutional amendments prohibiting gay marriage (though she also stood against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation). The South Dakota Democratic Party appears to be realizing that its base is getting broader, and that issues usually dismissed as left-wing may be occupying a greater portion of the center.

It will be instructive to see if current Democratic House candidate Corinna Robinson shows the same courage as the state party in supporting marriage equality. Her campaign website is still thinner on issues than some State House candidates'.


Mr. Kurtz quite aptly points to Montana Democrats' can-do attitude as a model for South Dakota Democrats:

Democrats fielded at least one candidate in every contested Montana House and Senate seat by the filing deadline Monday, and said they’re primed to challenge Republicans this election year for control of the 2015 Legislature.

“I think majorities are within our reach,” said Lauren Caldwell, director of the Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “We are not taking a single seat for granted and we are not leaving a single district without a Democratic candidate” [Mike Dennison, "Democrats Field Candidate in Every Legislative Race," Helena Independent Record, 2014.03.11].

A Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee—do we South Dakota Dems have that?*

Montana's deadline is two weeks earlier than ours. With two weeks to go, South Dakota Democrats have candidates for 7 of 35 Senate seats and 5 of 70 House seats. 89% to go, Dems! Let's see some petition power!

*Update 16:05 CDT: Looks like we do, kinda sorta. Shortly after posting, I received the following e-mail from Debra Elofson of the Minnehaha Dems Candidate Recruitment Committee:

  Dear Fellow Democrat,

Late winter can be a tough time here in South Dakota. While the weather tests the limits of our endurance, reports from the Legislature test our sense of reason.

Most of what happens in Pierre is important, but unremarkable. Legislators go about the day-to-day business of state government with little disagreement. But then something happens that is just so goofy ­­so wrong­headed, ­­or just so plain mean, ­­it even makes the national news.

The weather will improve, and our state and local government could improve, ­if we can identify and recruit capable Democrats to run for office. You probably know someone who could be a great legislator. They might not be the most strident Democrat in your circle of friends. It might be a neighbor who plays softball and coaches youth sports, or the teacher newly retired who delivers for Meals ­on­ Wheels, or the parent who organizes extra help for kids who are struggling in school.

Martin Luther King said “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service...You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” There are public spirited Democrats all over South Dakota who now serve their schools and churches and communities who would be honored to serve in public office, but haven't been encouraged to become a candidate. We need your help to find them.

If you know someone you think would be a great legislator or county official, please contact the South Dakota Democratic Party. The SDDP will contact your prospective candidates and talk with them about running for office and the procedure for getting on the election ballot. Time is short. So many good Democrats have already taken out petitions to run for state and local office, but we have less than two weeks to find more good public spirited Democrats to fill the slate of candidates.

Help us identify more good Democratic candidates!
Contact us today »

Please consider giving some of your time and attention to our search for candidates. Your help is greatly needed, and will be greatly appreciated!

Thank You,

Debra Elofson
Minnehaha County Democratic Party
Candidate Recruitment Committee

I actually think a few more strident Dems might be a good thing. But the casting call is up! All it takes in most districts is 50 signatures (less than that everywhere but District 1, but get a cushion! Aim high!). Go get 'em!


Corinna Robinson continues her work to build momentum as the Democratic challenger to U.S. Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD), announcing today that she's drafted a campaign team that includes tough campaigner and strategist Steve Jarding as General Campaign Consultant to Corinna for SD.

Announcing the additions of political activist and former West River legislator Tom Katus as Campaign Manager, Deanna Dowlin as Media Director, and Sam Khoroosi as Campaign Treasurer, today's press release also confirms campaign staff changes noted in the lead-up to last week's statewide kickoff. Robinson's highlight of her campaign team also mentions John Gossom as having been with the campaign since November, though it lists no formal campaign title for Gossom.

Robinson continues to make the case that she's going to put up a strong challenge to Noem:

"I often say, ‘One team, one fight,’” Robinson said. “With the team that I have gathered so far, it’s going to be one heck of a fight. My team’s combined talents -- Jarding’s extensive national and international campaign experience, Katus’ grassroots organizing skills, Dowlin’s high-tech knowledge, Khoroosi’s legal and financial expertise, and Gossom’s research savvy – come together perfectly and establish a force to be reckoned with. Together we will bring Noem home.” [Corinna for SD, press release, 2014.02.04]

This news puts questions about Jarding's allegiances for the fall to rest and comes after a busy campaign week for Robinson, who initially announced her office-seeking intentions last fall and started her formal campaign kickoff January 27. The new team's political acumen brings additional cachet to the political newcomer Robinson's campaign.

Jarding, currently a Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and one of two principals at political consulting firm SJB Strategies International, had generated some online buzz encouraging him to run for office in South Dakota himself this cycle (though which office to run for was an elusive question). The South Dakota native and veteran campaigner, who ran U.S. Senator Tim Johnson's (D-SD) last re-election race in 2008 and worked for former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), disappointed the non-directive but passionate "People for Steve Jarding" last week when he announced that he would not run for political office in 2014.

Now, Robinson seems to believe she can capture the excitement of Jarding's supporters by making their guy a key part of her campaign. To achieve that, Robinson's next step should be to apply the transitive property of political support to say loudly and clearly that if "People" are "for Steve Jarding" (A = B) and being "for Steve Jarding" is being "for Corinna Robinson" (B = C), then those same "People" are "for Corinna Robinson."**

Jarding's affiliation with the Robinson campaign might answer this blog's questions about why the facebook announcement of his intent to sit out as a candidate didn't include any information about his thoughts on other Democratic candidates in the 2014 cycle. If you're working on a formal relationship with a specific campaign, you say as little as you need to for yourself in order to make sure your later public statements on behalf of your candidate bolster her cause as much as possible without wading into other campaign waters.

And, should Cory's worries about Jarding's individual reluctance to throw his support behind the whole Democratic slate still cast any shadow on Corinna for SD's new General Campaign Consultant, Corinna's visit to Brookings on Thursday indicated the candidate herself is a team player working to help Democratic office-seekers in every major race.

It's good news for Robinson that she has recruited a campaign team with experience helping Democrats win statewide office in South Dakota (Jarding literally wrote the book on how Democrats can win in conservative rural areas), but it might be even better news for her that Jarding was a senior adviser to Jim Webb's successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2006. Running against an incumbent Republican (then-U.S. Senator George Allen [R-VA]), Webb was a first-time candidate coming off a career in the military that stretched from his teenage days through high-level work in the Department of Defense. Sound familiar?

Political campaigns are not wholly adherent to the transitive property (Candidate A is never completely equal to Candidate B, so the campaigns can't be equal, either). However, Jarding's experience should translate well for the Robinson campaign. More important than her new team's campaign know-how, though, are the political savvy Robinson shows in seeking Jarding as an ally and the legitimacy she gains by successfully convincing a consultant of Jarding's prestige that she has what it takes to be a viable candidate. Robinson sends the message that she means business:

“I have stated from the beginning of this campaign that I intend to win, so that I can give all the people of South Dakota a new independent voice in Congress,” Robinson said. ... “Hiring a core staff that has great political leadership and tremendous, extensive knowledge of our state is a sign of my commitment and of my ability to attract the best talent to my team.” [Corinna for SD, press release, 2014.02.04]

One campaign staffing press release may not be a game-changer, but in this case it seems to signal a move toward a Corinna for SD campaign that's ready to play the game on a higher level.

**More fun with the transitive property: If one accepts that being "for Corinna Robinson" is being "for SD" (C = D) and that the aforementioned "People" who are "for Steve Jarding" (A = B) are also "for Corinna Robinson," (A = C), then those same people are also "for SD" (A = D). Woo-hoo!

Susan Wismer

Susan Wismer, preferred gubernatorial candidate of the South Dakota Democratic Party

Democrats, it appears we are receiving our marching orders from Party Central: Vote for Susan Wismer.

Rep. Susan Wismer (D-1/Britton) announced yesterday that she is challenging Joe Lowe for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) introduced her at her Capitol press conference. Most of the Democrats in the Legislature stood beside her to show their support.

And South Dakota Democratic Party chairwoman Deb Knecht immediately shouted "BREAKING" and issued this endorsement (should I bother with ironic quote marks?):

South Dakota is home to the smartest kids, hardest workers, and close-knit families in the entire country. It’s time South Dakota had a Governor who invested in these things that make South Dakota great.

Governor Dennis Daugaard has hurt our workforce development with huge cuts to education. He’s jeopardized the health of 48,000 South Dakotans by refusing to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. And he won’t even take a stand on raising the minimum wage for 62,000 South Dakotans.

A small town businesswoman and senior appropriations member, Rep. Susan Wismer understands that the governor’s budget is a moral document with real impacts across the state. She’ll see to it that our state’s policies reflect our values of opportunity, equality, and community.

We look forward to a spirited primary between Joe Lowe and Rep. Susan Wismer with all attention on the future of our state [Deb Knecht, chairwoman, South Dakota Democratic Party, press release, 2014.01.28].

Knecht trumpets Wismer's credentials, which I whole-heartedly recognize would make Wismer a great governor (certainly better than the current governor, who can read minds but not financial reports). Last year Rep. Wismer issued a brilliant and blistering critique of Dennis Daugaard's fiscal irresponsibility that by itself explains exactly why all South Dakotans need to vote Democratic this year. As an accountant and a member of the Appropriations committeee, she understands the heck out of state fiscal policy. I like Wismer a lot (and I like Britton a lot!), and I'm glad to have her running.

Democratic candidate for South Dakota Governor Joe Lowe

Democratic candidate for South Dakota Governor Joe Lowe

But I also like Joe Lowe a lot. I'm glad to have him running, but the Party's tone suggests they'll only be glad to have him running away. When Lowe announced his candidacy on November 30, the SDDP issued no press release. Chairwoman Knecht issued no statement on Lowe's behalf.

It wouldn't be hard for Knecht to compose a comparably clapping commentary on Lowe's go for gov. Wismer has great experience, but Lowe can at least match Wismer's six years of legislative experience with his ten years in the South Dakota executive branch, which happens to be the branch for which they are now competing. Lowe is as aware as Wismer of the moral and political failings of the Republican administration in which he worked. Lowe is a businessman just like Wismer. He brings at least as much experience and fight to the table as Wismer. Lowe and Wismer together can lead a rollicking conversation about the direction of our fair state.

But the leading lights of the South Dakota Democratic Party have a tendency to pick their favorite. In 2012, the party machine sent clear signals that Matt Varilek was their chosen candidate for U.S. House over Jeff Barth. Varilek proceeded to roll up the campaign contributions and crush Barth in the primary.

Wismer sounds like she's ready to do some crushing. On day one of her campaign, she lays out the attacks she'll use to make sure Dems don't pick the other guy:

She said Lowe is a credible candidate but she is a life-long resident of South Dakota and a business owner with six years of experience in the Legislature.

Wismer comes from a strong Democratic tradition in Marshall County. Her grandfather was state Sen. Art Jones and her uncle was state Sen. Curt Jones.

She said extremists have come to dominate politics and “common-sense Democrats” are “forfeiting the game” when they don’t participate. Unless moderates get involved in her campaign, she expects to have a difficult time.

“I’m a centrist,” Wismer said. “I don’t have to be very far to the left of the group in power because the pendulum has swung so far to the right” [Bob Mercer, "Wismer to Run for Governor," Rapid City Journal, 2014.01.29].

Lifelong South Dakotan versus not one of us (that sounds familiar). Common-sense centrist vs. extremist party-wrecker. There's the primary fundraising pitch in a nutshell, one that bears the faint xenophobic whiff of the attacks Kristi Noem used to beat Matt Varilek. But hey, whatever works, right?

Wismer will have her hands full for another six weeks with the Legislative session. She tells Bob Mercer she won't kick into high gear until April 15, after she gets done doing folks' taxes back at the Britton office. Candidate Lowe thus has a brief advantage that he can use to work the crowds and the donors in person while candidate Wismer is tied up. He can use this time to make the case to the rank and file and party leaders that he can take the fight to Daugaard better than Wismer can and bring more voters to the polls in November.

But Lowe's passing advantage is thin. Wismer appears to have the backing of the Party, whose insiders will likely mobilize on her behalf to lock up signatures and contributions. Climb that hill, Joe! Bring us the spirited primary that Chairwoman Knecht says she wants.


In the Broken Record Department, the Republican spin machine recycles the claim that U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland isn't popular with D.C. Democrats. The only basis for this claim remains Senator Harry Reid's one-off reaction to Weiland's announcement back in May and the recent assertion of an unnamed source.

Remember, this line comes from the same propaganda mill that wishfully asserted for weeks that Weiland was simply a placeholder candidate... an utterly illogical claim soundly refuted by Weiland's five months on the road touring well over 200 South Dakota towns (while Mike Rounds has done what, 20? Who's the placeholder now?). Shouting that D.C. Dems don't like Weiland has its own illogic: getting the Senate Majority Leader to say Weiland is not his guy brilliantly defuses the predictable SDGOP attacks that would ensue if Weiland ran photos of Reid giving him a big hug.

Further refuting both claims is the Weiland fundraiser over which the National Republican Senate Committee is making a fuss. This evening from 5 to 7 at the Credit Union House, Weiland will enjoy a big-ticket fundraiser hosted by a whole bunch of high-power Democrats who clearly think he's their guy. Joining Senator Tim Johnson on the official invitation's host committee are Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Chris Coons, Joe Donnelly, Richard Durbin, Al Franken, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tom Harkin, Tim Kaine, Amy Klobuchar, Mary Landrieu, Patrick Leahy, Edward Markey, Claire McCaskill, Robert Menendez, Jeff Merkley, Christopher Murphy, Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor, Jack Reed, Brian Schatz, Charles Schumer, Jeanne Shaheen, Debbie Stabenow, Elizabeth Warren, Sheldon Whitehouse, Ron Wyden.

That's 31 Democratic Senators, a majority of the Senate majority. Weiland looks like the Senate Dems' guy to me.


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