Susan Wismer, Democratic candidate for governor, Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, South Dakota, 2014.08.20

Susan Wismer, Democratic candidate for governor, Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, South Dakota, 2014.08.20

This is the Sue Wismer we've been waiting for.

This is the Sue Wismer who would have beaten Joe Lowe by 30 points.

This is the Sue Wismer who can beat Dennis Daugaard.

South Dakota's three gubernatorial candidates debated in the steamy Dakotafest tent right by Mitchell yesterday. Nobody wilted, but Democrat Susan Wismer bloomed. In a display of rhetorical grit that nobody expected (seriously, I challenge you, find someone who did), the accountant from Britton snapped her pencils and took it to Governor Dennis Daugaard on Medicaid expansion, education, EB-5, and the failure of one-party rule in South Dakota.

The opening statements were mild and predictable. Independent Mike Myers, with his usual deliberate yet pointed delivery, said he's too old to be bought and needs a job. He spotlighted his health co-op plan, which he said would put us in control of health care instead of the Sanford/Avera corporate complex.

Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, at Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, SD, 2014.08.20

Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, at Dakotafest debate, Mitchell, SD, 2014.08.20

Republican Governor Daugaard rattled off his achievements in the "big job" to which we elected him four years ago. He said his administration eliminated a budget deficit (pre-emptively refuting his predecessor, Mike Rounds, would claim in the subsequent Senate candidates' debate that there never was a deficit). The Governor then said he's faced record flooding, widlfires, ice storms, a blizzard, a tornado... which might lead some to worry that God isn't raining favor on the current administration. Daugaard then touted his criminal justice reform bill and the addition of K-12, college, and vo-tech programs (which Mike Larson will tell you is specious poppycock, considering all the cuts Daugaard made to worsen the education crisis).

Wismer offered her own homey-farmy biography, but then she went on offense. She said she is running for the people not represented by the current administration. Opening the theme of one-party rule, she said she wants to bring to Pierre a healthy competition of ideas that has been missing for a long time.

And Wismer kept punching throughout the debate.

Top Priorities: Medicaid Expansion vs. Austerity

Asked about top priorities, Wismer went right to Medicaid expansion. She said that South Dakota could get $272 million a year and health coverage for 48,000 South Dakotans with the stroke of a pen. Instead, Daugaard refuses on ideological grounds to expand Medicaid under the ACA, leaving hospitals to write off $88 million in uncompensated care and leaving counties and the rest of us to should those costs.

Independent candidate Mike Myers, at Dakotafest, Mitchell, SD, 2014.0820

Independent candidate Mike Myers, at Dakotafest, Mitchell, SD, 2014.0820

Myers spoke more generally of the need to move away from political, economic, and financial bankruptcy and reduce insurance premiums that cost more than monthly mortgage payments. He said took another shot at the corporate health care complex, saying their high-price ads and executive salaries call into question their non-profit status. He also spoke of shifting money from end-of-life care to long-term care.

Daugaard avoided addressing Wismer's and Myers's concerns about health care and rattled off more of his fiscal conservatism, saying his budget cuts were great and courageous and that we can't afford to spend money we don't have. He also cited the #1 ranking for business that all of his fiscal conservatism won for South Dakota from CNBC, but didn't address why this year CNBC dropped us to #11.

K-12 Education Funding

Asked how to establish stable long-term funding for K-12 schools, Myers piled together comments about investing in children, looking at  pay and Common Core, and putting teachers and parents in charge of the process. Myers did not address the specific question of how to fund K-12 priorities.

Daugaard said that even with his 2011 cuts (which he said were the least amount taken from any budget area), the state still spends more general fund dollars on education than anything else. He said the current funding formula works and is providing schools this year with an increase twice that of inflation. He then repeated his implication that K-12 ed is bloated, with 50,000 fewer students than when he went to school but 10% more teachers and double the administration and other staff. Daugaard averred that he was "not saying that's right or wrong; it's a fact," but candidates don't say things in debates just to inform us; they make normative statements to persuade us that their policies are right and others are wrong.

Daugaard said the NEA says we're 51st in teacher pay but not 51st in per student funding... but keep in mind that our per-student funding reflects all sources, including the over-reliance on local and federal funds that makes up for the state's last-in-the-nation share of K-12 financial support.

Daugaard said the "first place I look to spend extra money is education," which contradicted a statement he made in his answer to the opening priority question, in which he said he used $100 million in unexpected revenue last year to reduce South Dakota's debt load.

Wismer began by saying that Lyman County still hasn't filled all of its teacher slots. She said the teacher shortage has been slow to come to public attention because schools don't like to admit that they are they are tight on staff and filling spots with what few warm bodies come forward.

Then she attacked again, asking why we love the free market but don't apply that thinking to teacher pay. She said South Dakota disrespects teachers in rhetoric and in financial priorities, making it easy for students to leave the state for the $10K or $15K more they can make teaching in neighboring states.

In a marquee line of the campaign, Wismer said, "It takes more than low taxes and great hunting" to attract young people. She said her uncle and grandpa who served in the Legislature didn't pay lip service to education and then cut the budget. "We are chasing our future right out of this state," said Wismer, and to get that future back, the tone coming from Pierre desperately needs to change.

Roads/Infrastructure

Asked how we can export our ag products when our roads are falling apart, Daugaard drew a distinction that may start to wear on local leaders: he asserted that state infrastructure is hunky-dory while local roads and bridges are suffering. (This is akin to his answer on teacher pay, which he says is a local decision, not the state's—translation: don't blame Dennis!) Daugaard said the state highway system is in the best condition it's been in many years because (oh, drumroll, please!) we got over $200 million in stimulus that accelerated our road projects.

Say it with me: self-reliance.

Daugaard said county and local officials report lots of roads in fair to poor condition and many bridges functionally obsolete, unable to accommodate the width and weight of new farm equipment. He said his staff and the Legislature are studying the issue and considering solutions, including an increase in the gasoline tax.

Wismer looked Washington-ward and urged Congress to get its act together on highway funding. She agreed with restrained irony that the federal stimulus helped a lot. She said past leaders showed foresight in buying and preserving the core rail lines and said we should expand railroads to ease the strain on our highways.

Then came more Wismer buckshot. The state, she said, is passing the buck (not the bucks) to the locals, leaving struggling to pass wheel taxes. Responding to Daugaard's promise of diligent study, she said the state studies this issue all the time but doesn't dare talk about solutions, let alone act. "This administration continues to stand in way of allowing locals to take care of their own issues," said Wismer. "That will change with me as governor."

Myers said the counties are contributing to road problems by draining water away to their downstream neighbors, washing away their roads. He noted that his clique of old and cranky breakfast companions told him that in his days as a legislator, Daugaard supported regional water district but now as governor opposes them. "Where a person stands depends on where they sit," said Myers.

Medicaid Expansion Redux

Moderator Jerry Oster asked all three candidates to address Medicaid expansion and the millions non-expanding states are losing.

Wismer again cited the 48,000 people, the population of Mitchell and Brookings combined, who right now go to bed not knowing if they can afford whatever might happen tomorrow. Wismer said expanding Medicaid would provide preventive care that would decrease costs, emergency conditions, and ER visits.

Wismer claimed the Governor's refusal to expand Medicaid is an ideological problem. Wismer said Daugaard is perhaps handcuffed by extreme right-wing voices, costing South Dakota $272 million a year.

Myers didn't talk about Medicaid expansion. He talked about deaths from iatrogenesis and said, "access saves and access kills." There's a point there, but explaining it requires more text than Myers fit into his two minutes. Myers proposed a "Health Care Financial Informed Consent Act" to require up-front sticker prices on every medical service. That's a totally sensible idea, but it also fails to answer the Medicaid question.

Daugaard opened with another lecture about the mechanics of the topic. Eventually getting to the question, Daugaard said that because Ben Bernanke is worried that Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable, South Dakota should not buy into expanding Medicaid as a third entitlement. He fretted about the state cost: expanding Medicaid would cost South Dakota only a couple million the first couple years, but state costs would grow to $36 million a year over time. What trade-offs, cuts, deprivations to education or other needs will we be making, Daugaard asked.

Daugaard said, "We value self-reliance (see above, on stimulus and roads). We should "help those who can't help themselves." He said half of the 48,000 Wismer cites can already get insurance on the federal exchange (though I suspect he supports a lawsuit that would make that insurance unaffordable for those South Dakotans).

But in his final word on the topic, Daugaard said he's "open to considering expansion." We didn't have time to wonder at that whiplash, because then rolled forth the thunder of...

EB-5

Myers, who was shaking his head during the question, sadi EB-5 is the most visible sign of South Dakota's oft-highly ranked corruption. He applauded Wismer's efforts to dig deeper.

Then Myers got weird, saying a Republican legislator told him that an FBI report says the muzzle of the shotgun was more than 18 inches from the tummy. That's how Myers said it, not filling in the name of Richard Benda, the disgraced Rounds/EB-5 official (and fall guy?) who died of a shotgun blast last October. He offered to show a copy of Benda's death certificate and have a helper demonstrate how Benda would have had to hold the shotgun to kill himself after the debate. I did not attend this promised sideshow, and I am unclear on how such a macabre demonstration advances the debate on EB-5.

Myers did say his first action as governor would be to appoint a special prosecutor to find where our money went in the EB-5 scandal and make sure we don't lose such money again.

Daugaard again signaled that if EB-5 goes south, he will cut Rounds loose. EB-5 "started before my administration," said Daugaard, and he emphasized that his Office of Economic Development hasn't used it. He suggested that the investigations of a Republican state attorney general and a Demcoratic U.S. Attorney are sufficient assurance of fair and thorough investigation. He lauded the three audits he ordered and says he has implemented every recommendation of those audits to ensure the problems that have arisen from EB-5 don't happen again.

"I wasn't there!" said Daugaard. He said he is trying to be as transparent as he can and is not hiding anything.

Wismer spoke of EB-5's "long, tortured history" and "several bankrupt projects" (easy, Sue: here in South Dakota, it's two: Northern Beef Packers and the Veblen dairies... though South Dakota legal usage equates several and two). Wismer said the EB-5 promoters "used state's good name to make promises the state couldn't keep." Bad actors abused our state's credibility.

On a policy level, Wismer said we shouldn't invest foreign money in projects that South Dakota money was smart enough not to invest in. We shouldn't support a program that lets foreigners buy way to the front of the green-card line.

Wismer challenged the Governor's audits, saying they were very carefully designed to avoid the questions we are asking today about how the state ran EB-5. The lack of a second for her motion to subpoena EB-5 mastermind Joop Bollen shows the ills of one-party rule. EB-5 is "emblematic of the larger issue of one-party dominance of both branches" that is "just not healthy," said Wismer. "There are people whose jobs depend on telling the governor what he wants to hear and not the truth."

Economic and Workforce Development

Asked what role the state should play in developing the economy, workforce, and wages, Daugaard offered three goals. We should encourage existing South Dakota businesses to grow with a stable, low-tax, low-cost, reasonable-regulatory environment. We should attract outside businesses, as we did with 3M and AKG. And we should encourage entrepreneurial spirit, as we did by letting Joop Bollen and Richard Benda run EB-5 without proper oversight (oh, sorry—that's my example, not Dennis's).

Daugaard said the state can provide low-cost loans, tax incentives to compete with other states, trade missions to help manufacturers find new markets, and provide good infrastructure. Daugaard did not mention education as a component of economic development, but he did fret over imaginary federal rules that would keep children from driving tractors.

Wismer said she was proud to be a part of a solution during the 2013 session, "what we thought was going to be a good economic development plan." (Hear Susan winding up again?). The voters' rejection in 2012 of the governor's plan to hand money from the general fund to corporate interests allowed a real bipartisan discussion and compromise. Wismer said 2013 Senate Bill 235 put legislators on the state economic development board, funded housing development (especially in small communities), directed money to infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, etc. to support business), and directed money toward community development. But this winter, says Wismer, Governor Daugaard ripped out the funding mechanism for that compromise and left funding to the Governor's discretion.

Myers said that economic development in South Dakota has suffered from bad actors (and into my head pops the Reagan presidency), and as governor he will pose economic development questions to Daugaard and Rounds, either voluntarily or under oath, but he didn't say what questions.

Myers then bent the question to one of his favorite issues, hemp. He said politics gets in the way of good solutions. Hemp could be a billion-dollar industry in South Dakota and could thrive especially on the reservations, but Myers said the Big Oil, lumber, and cotton lobbyists oppose hemp for business reasons. Besides, as he wittily put it, hemp makes rope, rope rhymes with dope, and that means marijuana! In his his best laugh line of the afternoon, Myers said that by the same thinking, we should ban corn because it can make whiskey.

Teacher Shortage

Asked if there is a teacher shortage and what the state ought to do about it, Wismer said we need to "change the tenor of the conversation from Pierre" that currently disrespects teachers. She said our budget cuts have driven the teacher shortage. Our budget cuts forced schools to cut the vo-tech programs that produced the welders and machinists of whom the Governor now complains we don't have enough.

Wismer said we are reaping the consequences of 40 years of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation. "The free market works, folks. Why are we surprised?" She cited a university president who told her Appropriations Committee that South Dakota is short of math and science teachers. Asked how to recruit new teachers, Wismer said the university president gave a simple answer: "Respect them and pay them better; end of story."

Myers said we have to spend money to make money but must spend it in the right places. He said he can't think of a better place to invest than education, but it has to be relevant education. He talked about kids using the Internet, but failed to tie that to addressing the teacher shortage.

Daugaard said, "The teacher shortage is no different from the shortage in other fields." He said he has tried to address that general shortage through his bull sessions—er, I mean, workforce summits.

He admitted the shortage is a supply and demand issue (so more pay should work to prove our demand and increase supply, right?), but he said the problem exists in other states (in other words, again, don't blame Dennis!) He said we have trouble finding teachers because of our low unemployment rate.

He said the free market does work, but he then shifted blame to the evil teachers union. He said the union demands pay based on tenure and college degrees, not quality of performance. He touted his 2012 plan to pay math and science teachers more (you know, the plan we voters soundly rejected).

Daugaard gave away his ground by affirming Wismer's position: "I'm open to paying more based on market conditions; more money will attract more people to these professions." But in his final dodge, Daugaard said school boards set salaries, not the state.

Closing Statements

Myers repeated that we should subpoena Rounds and Daugaard on EB-5. He made a new promise to abolish the Governor's Hunt and establish the People's Hunt. Saying he's not a career politician and not for sale, he exhorted us to think for ourselves.

Daugaard clsoed by saying, "I appreciate that several people are still awake out there." (Translation: I really hope you found everything Susan said boring, because if you were paying attention, you saw here give me a beating!) "I am honest... I'm not motivated by money or power; I left a good job in banking... to take less money to work in a children's charity." Daugaard promised to "never stop listening, never stop learning, never stop working for you."

Wismer pressed her attack right to the end. She harkened to her days on the swather and having a broken sickle section. That broken part would leave a row uncut, and that flaw wouldn't go away by ignoring it. She had to stop and fix it.

Wismer said our ancestors left us a well-run swather, but the current administration is letting sickles break and not replacing them. We're letting roads and bridges decay and letting schools decline. The Governor won't acknowledge the damage, said Wismer, but the damage is there, and the consequences are mounting.

Wismer closed saying we need to "change the priority from taking care of Pierre to taking care of people."

Susan Wismer brought exactly the fire that an underdog needs to beat an incumbent, to pierce the shield of unearned popularity that leads many observers to think Daugaard is a shoe-in. Wismer brought this fire for the first time, surprising everyone who expected the Wismer of the primary who didn't project the same charisma, leadership, and righteous anger as primary challenger Joe Lowe.

For the uninitiated, the Dakotafest debate showed a passionate and aggressive Democratic candidate who is ready to go toe to toe with a Republican Governor, challenge his one-party complacency and blame-shifting, and lead this state back to the right path.

Susan Wismer sounds like the new woman (the new Amazon?) that we Democrats want and need and that Republicans should fear. Go get 'em, Susan!

27 comments

Nielson Brothers Polling unearths another anomaly in the thinking of South Dakota voters. Their July 23–28 survey of voters found that Governor Dennis Daugaard enjoys more support than Congresswoman Kristi Noem among almost every political group:

Daugaard Noem
Overall Job Approval % 64.1 58.0
...among GOP 82.0 80.4
...among Dems 41.0 29.2
...among Indies 62.4 50.5
...among liberals 24.1 5.8
...among conservatives 77.4 78.0
...among “Tea Party” 87.8 96.5

Among the political affiliations and self-identifications checked by Nielson, the only folks who are more likely (outside the margin of error) to get a bigger charge out of Kristi Noem's performance than Dennis Daugaard's are Tea Party people.

Help me understand this difference. If I were a Tea Partier, in what way could I say that Rep.  Noem is doing her job in Washington in better alignment with my desires than Governor Daugaard is doing his job in Pierre? Does Noem's support for the Farm Bill, 16 months late as it was, epitomize the Tea Party vision for government better than, say, Daugaard's support for criminal justice reform? Does Noem's government shutdown demonstrate greater fealty to Tea Party principles than Daugaard's "new norm" of permanently hamstringing public education funding?

Is the difference something they don't do? Does Noem's failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act make her a bigger Tea Party hero than Daugaard's failed effort to repeal tenure and impose merit pay on public school teachers?

Noem and Daugaard have both caught heck for not brewing strong enough Tea. In 2012, the Club for Growth gave Noem a nearly failing score for Tea Party economic policy. Daugaard is widely and correctly viewed as one of the more moderate members of the South Dakota Republican Party (which in South Dakota is like saying John Sullivan is one of the lighter members of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line). At no point in the last ffour years has either Noem or Daugaard really foamed at the mouth over the prospect of watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and RINOs. Tea isn't their cup of tea.

I'm left wondering if that anomalous Tea Party bent for Kristi simply boils down to image. Noem on a horse is a lady Reagan. Daugaard looks kinda studly in his checked shirts, but we all know he's not a cowboy; he's a lawyer-banker type. Policy equivalence doesn't matter, because Tea Partiers don't vote with their cerebra. They vote with their limbic systems. On an emotional level, Noem better affirms who we want to be and who we want our ladies to be.

And maybe, just maybe, supporting Noem provides the most regressively conservative among us another form of emotional comfort that Daugaard cannot: What do those dirty liberals mean, calling me a missoggy— miso soup— Mississauga— sexist, just because I want to ban abortion, block equal pay laws, and restore 1950s-style gender oppression? I like Kristi Noem! See? I can't be sexist!

If I'm missing something more substantive that would explain Noem's higher approval than Daugaard's among Tea Party voters, let me know. But I just can't see the job performance markers that would earn Noem any different score from Daugaard from the most radical conservative voters.

p.s., from the Thinking Out Loud Department: The difference between Daugaard's approval rating and Noem's is 6.1 percentage points. The difference between Daugaard's lead over Susan Wismer and Noem's lead over Corinna Robinson is 6.3 percentage points.

41 comments

Governor Dennis Daugaard wants you to believe that he came up with a really great idea with his 2013 criminal justice reform omnibus bill. But a report last week from John Hult suggests that counties were already getting on top of the incarceration problem:

Minnehaha County actually was doing nearly most of the things prescribed by 2013's criminal justice reform package long before it passed. Plenty of counties, were, frankly. Repeat DUI offenders and methamphetamine users regularly got suspended prison time and six months in jail.
Charles Mix County commonly used a "30-30-30" sentencing scheme prior to the reform, former State's Attorney Pam Hein told me. That meant thirty days in jail and a year on the 24/7 sobriety program, which requires twice daily breath tests.

...The truth is... that plenty of places in South Dakota were busy with felons and looking for ways to deal with them long before criminal justice reform passed [John Hult, "Sioux Falls Area Crime Rate Leaps 78 Percent," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.08.04].

But whatever good the county and state initiatives are doing to reduce prison populations may be swamped by a surge in felony filings in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties:

Felony charges have grown 78 percent over the past five fiscal years in the Second Judicial Circuit.

A number like that is bound to put pressure on the county jail.

There were 1,763 felony cases filed in fiscal year 2009. For FY 2014, that figure was 3,114 [Hult, 2014.08.04].

There were 2,267 felony filings in the Second Circuit in FY2013. After Daugaard's criminal justice reform passed, FY2014 Second Circuit felony filings jumped 37% to 3,114.

(Funny: I don't recall Governor Daugaard mentioning that felony spike while he was telling the Manhattan well-to-do what a wonderful place Sioux Falls is to do business.)

Daugaard's criminal justice reform may borrow some good ideas from the counties on what to do with criminals once they end up in the system. But maybe we need a little more emphasis on policies that keep people from committing felonies and landing in court and jail in the first place.

48 comments

Governor Dennis Daugaard has declined the Rapid City Journal's invitation to debate in Rapid City in October, saying he's too busy with all of his gubernatorial duties...

...like hobnobbing with rich people in New York City to promote Sioux Falls:

South Dakota's governor and economic development leaders are leading a campaign to encourage national companies to relocate to Sioux Falls.

The delegation is in New York City this week to promote the state's largest city to financial writers in the hopes of attracting development, said Sioux Falls Development Foundation president Slater Barr.

"The real reason behind these types of visits is we recognize a disparity between the reality of crunching the numbers and the perspective of executives as to the viability of Sioux Falls and South Dakota as an attractive business location," Barr said of efforts to attract new business.

...Joining Daugaard on the New York trip are two leaders from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, commissioner Pat Costello and Steve Watson, business development director [Carson Walker, "Governor Promotes Sioux Falls to Promote Investment," AP via Sacramento Bee, 2014.08.05].

Wait: Mayor Mike Huether isn't on this trip? Whose job is the Governor doing?

Of all cities in the state, one would think that Sioux Falls is best positioned to promote itself, without state assistance. But in true GOP fashion, Governor Daugaard keeps working to help the rich get richer.

*   *   *

Among his media stops, the Governor gets ten blurpy minutes on Bloomberg TV:

The panel of interviewers seem to have trouble sticking with one line of questioning or following up on Governor Daugaard's statements. The Governor credits our population growth to out business-friendly environment of low taxes and low costs of doing business but says nothing about Indians having more babies.

One interviewer notes that economic development is not just about taxes but also about amenities and infrastructure. Governor Daugaard responds that South Dakota has concerns about federal Highway Trust Fund that "all the states depend on" but offers no statement about what South Dakota is doing to promote better roads, schools, and parks.

The interviewer asks about high-speed Internet access, Governor Daugaard brags that he has fiber-optic cable at his place in Garretson. Daugaard's respons epitomizes Republican "I've got mine!" thinking, and the interviewer fails to follow up on whether anyone is doing anything to ensure better Internet and infrastructure for all of South Dakota. The interviewer does return to the topic toward the end of the chat to ask who laid that fiber: Governor Daugaard manages to say his local co-op without saying the word socialism. Daugaard's co-op, Alliance Communications, spent $66 million over eight years to build that fiber network; some of that money came from federal Universal Service Funding. Alliance is seeking more federal dollars to expand its rural broadband service. Ah, self-reliance.

Asked about partisan polarity, Governor Daugaard says South Dakota Republicans and Democrats "get along pretty well" and "treat each other with civility." His Beltway-focused hosts chortlingly encourage Daugaard visit Washington with his lessons in civility, not asking Daugaard why his party has hired Dick Wadhams to launch personal attacks on Democrats.

Opining on how Washington obstructs entrepreneurship, Governor Daugaard says the feds burden us with uncertainty: would the stimulus affect the economy in the way it was hoped, would the sequester take hold, would the government shut down. Governor Daugaard ignores the fact that the stimulus worked except for the drag his own party put on it by (among other things) hamstringing government hiring. He also ignores the fact that the potential for economic destruction from sequester and shut down came from his party's kamikaze politics.

When asked for his five-year plan for South Dakota, Governor Daugaard offers no new ideas, just the typical Republican faith in marketing: South Dakota just needs to "get the word out" about its business climate. But remember: in Republican circles, "getting the word out" means sharing unchallenged sound bites with New York journalists, not fielding questions from local journalists who know what questions to ask in front of challengers for your job.

10 comments

Want more answers on the GOED/EB-5/Benda scandal? So do South Dakota's newspapers. Four—four!—big dailies across the state say the Legislature is not faithfully executing its charge to investigate the strange shuffling of EB-5 visa investment money that resulted in a bankrupt beef beef plant and a dead man.

The Yankton Press & Dakotan says Attorney General Marty Jackley's revelation that he was preparing to arrest Richard Benda before the former GOED chief's death in October 2013 raises questions the AG and the Legislature should be asking:

...why didn’t this come out many months ago as investigations at the state and federal levels began digging into this matter? This makes very little sense, and adds a new, frustrating mystery to this complex tale of corruption and suicide.

...Last week’s admission by the attorney general brought a curious new light to this subject, but the state doesn’t seem overly curious to wonder why it came out now and what else — if anything — had yet to be revealed.

South Dakotans deserve the whole story. At least they need to know that the veins of evidence have been thoroughly mined. Jackley’s actions last week suggest they haven’t ["EB-5: Why Did This Take So Long?Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2014.08.04].

(I've outlined many of the questions the Legislature has refused to ask here.)

The Watertown Public Opinion observes the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation by backing my opinion that GOED/EB-5/Benda is South Dakota's Watergate:

The question yet to be asked, at least publicly, was how Benda could have done what he did without raising eyebrows until former Gov. Mike Rounds left office — he was the one who appointed Benda to his positions — and Dennis Daugaard became governor. Daugaard didn’t re-appoint Benda and it wasn’t too much later that the EB-5 scandal started heating up.

One can’t help wonder how Benda could do what he did without the help, or at least knowledge, of others. Were officials at Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen, the recipients of EB-5 money, involved? How about SDRC President Joop Bollen, a private company in Aberdeen entrusted with handling EB-5 funds and making sure they got to where they were supposed to go? And how could a portion of the grant money intended for Northern Beef end up being diverted to SDRC in early 2011 to pay Benda’s salary in his new job at SDRC without raising red flags somewhere in state government?

Amazingly, no one on the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee, the group the attorney general addressed last week, asked him who else, if anyone, was involved, and Jackley said nothing about whether Benda acted alone or had help.

...So in the spirit of 40 years ago and taking liberty with paraphrasing, when it comes to EB-5, “Who knew what and when did they know it?” You’d think that question would be at the top of someone’s list. We can think of more then a few people who ought to be asking that question ["What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?" Watertown Public Opinion, 2014.08.04].

The Aberdeen American News, speaking from the scene of the crime (proverbially and perhaps literally), dishes outright ridicule and shame on South Dakota Republicans for stonewalling the investigation of a scandal in their own backyard:

While the GOP has been quite vocal about such “scandals” as “Benghazi,” “Obamacare” and Common Core, state Republicans are turning down the chance to investigate a real, live scandal in their own backyard.

One they actually have a chance to do something about.

But they don’t want to know anything more.

The EB-5 controversy has been a black mark on South Dakota and state leadership. It is a complex issue and investigation, made more cumbersome by the tangled personal and/or political relationships of former Gov. and Senate candidate Mike Rounds, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Jackley and Benda.

We can’t believe that state legislators know all there is to know about how the state used EB-5, and who could have stopped its misuse.

What’s more galling is that those lawmakers don’t think you need to know anything more.

For shame ["GOP Fails on EB-5 Scandal," Aberdeen American News, 2014.08.06].

And this morning the Rapid City Journal, the paper I feel most comfortable dismissing as a Republican rag, looks its diehard conservative readership in the eye and says Democrat Susan Wismer is right and that Republicans should answer our questions about GOED, EB-5 and Benda:

The legislative panel should subpoena members of both the Rounds and Daugaard administrations who were involved in the EB-5 visas-for-investment program so the public can hear for themselves what was going on rather than be told what happened by parties who may have an interest in controlling the flow of information.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s more to the story than Benda’s alleged misconduct. But when the Legislature’s committee -- which is tasked with finding out what went on in the EB-5 program and report its findings to the public -- goes into executive session and refuses to hear from anyone other than the attorney general, it invites speculation that we’re not being told all the facts ["Does EB-5 Probe Stop at Benda?" Rapid City Journal, 2014.08.07].

The GOED/EB-5/Benda scandal is real. It lost real money. It destroyed real jobs, It led to one very death. Mike Rounds, Dennis Daugaard, Marty Jackley, Joop Bollen, and everyone else involved in this scandal should answer our questions publicly so that we can understand what went wrong, hold accountable whoever is responsible, and forge better policy in the future.

35 comments

Northern Plains News rolls out the latest results of an extensive Nielson Brothers Polling survey of South Dakota. In South Dakota's gubernatorial race, Democratic Rep. Susan Wismer faces a daunting climb to have a shot at unseating Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard:

Wismer's 24-point chasm, nearly double the gap Democratic Senate candidate Rick Weiland must close on Republican frontrunner Mike Rounds, is predictable. Wismer announced her candidacy in January and didn't really start working publicly hard on her campaign until mid-April. Weiland announced his candidacy in May 2013 and has been campaigning at full steam since last summer.

Adding to the lack of mathematical surprise is the fact that Wismer has just one Independent candidate, Mike Myers, to help divide her opponent's votes, and so far, the Myers constituency remains small (6.8% in NBP's survey) and undefined. Weiland has two former Republicans helping mix up his challenge to Rounds: Gordon Howie, who pulls feebly but almost exclusively from Republican voters, and Larry Pressler, who is currently pulling a few more Dems than Republicans.

Wismer's late start leaves her with remarkably weak name recognition. A majority of voters, 51.1%, told NBP they hadn't heard of Wismer. Rick Weiland had similar "Rick who?" numbers a couple months into his campaign, but he has worked for a year to tear that number down to a manageable 22%. Wismer could have compensated for the time disadvantage by leveraging her primary battle with Joe Lowe for more press, but apparently, no such advantage materialized... or maybe it did and simply brought the "Susan who" number down to 51.1% from 80%.

Whatever Wismer does in the next month to boost her name recognition, it needs to be really good. Whatever she's done to get name recognition in the past has turned off more voters than it has turned on. 20.6% of voters say they have an unfavorable impression of Wismer; 17.1% view her favorably. Wismer thus faces the unenviable task of flipping her unfavorables and winning new recognition.

The scary thing is that even if Wismer rectifies her name recognition and favorables, and even if she can drink all of Myers's milkshake and cast a spell on all the undecideds, she's still down six points from Daugaard's absolute majority.

Forget an October surprise; Wismer needs an August surprise! Nothing fancy, nothing diabolical or scandalous (although if you have pictures of Dennis Daugaard drinking mai-tais with Richard Benda in Makati, do send them my way!), just a grinding, non-stop bombardment of every parade, door, mailbox, county fair, newspaper, and blog with policy statements, solid and snappy critiques of the Daugaard administration, and pitches for campaign cash.

33 comments

We all fled here from somewhere.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal government placed 30,340 immigrant children who entered the United States without adult companions with sponsors around the country between January 1 and July 7 of this year. 21 of those children were placed with parents, relatives, or other legitimate sponsors in South Dakota. Governor Dennis Daugaard expresses concern—not for the children, but for the natives' health and welfare:

“It is disappointing that, despite assurances from federal officials, these children have been placed in South Dakota without notification to the state,” said the Governor. “Although federal officials indicate that these 21 children have been screened and vaccinated, we will be asking for more information so that the state can be sure that these children pose no risk to South Dakotans” [South Dakota state government, press release, 2014.07.25].

Governor Daugaard has touted South Dakota's relatively high vaccination rate, but between 1% and 2% of our kindergartners are still running exempt from shots. Governor Daugaard has raised no alarm about the ability of a parent to skip vaccinating her kids by signing a piece of paper saying Jesus told her not to get those shots (see SDCL 13-28-7.1). Let's see... 13,280 kindergartners, multiply by 1%... that's 133 kids running around without shots. And that's just one grade. If we're running a 1% vaccine-skipping rate through all of our 144,000-strong K-12 population, we can estimate about 1,440 South Dakota kids posing a risk to South Dakota's herd immunity.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement gives children shots and medical screenings, and it does not release children with contagious conditions. These new children boost South Dakota's herd immunity. They're probably so relieved to be safe with family and friends in a quiet, safe state like ours that they aren't thinking of posing a risk to anyone. South Dakota should be proud to provide these children safe haven and invite more of them and their families to make our great state their home.

66 comments

The South Dakota Republican Party predicates its formal call for President Barack Obama's impeachment on allegations that the President is "by passing [sic] Congress" and "usurping his authority". (One does not usurp one's own authority, but as usual with South Dakota Republicans, we have to skip what they say and listen to what they mean.)

Fellow blogger Michael Larson goes to town on those words and Governor Dennis Daugaard's record and predicts that South Dakota Republicans will soon call for the impeachment of their own Legislature-bypassing, authority-usurping governor:

Three times in 2012, Daugaard waived the law to allow the transportation of over-width livestock feed on our roads.  In 2013 he lifted the rules over propane haulers.  In 2012 he also issued an executive order to expand his economic council.  In 2011 he created a task force to lure trust companies to South Dakota by helping them hide money. In 2011 he also created a task force to form a Department of Tourism.  In 2014 he signed an executive order to release of some state financial information.  Most recently he has done another executive order in the face of GOP animosity asking his Bureau of Finance and Management to speculate the economic forecast an additional two years in the future [Michael Larson, "The SD GOP Will Be Impeaching Daugaard Soon," Taking a Left Turn in South Dakota, 2014.07.13].

Larson says Daugaard's executive orders are of far less concern than his much greater blunders on Northern Beef PackersManpower Inc., and education. But when Republicans' own logic leads to the impeachment of their own governor, it's clear their message doesn't make sense for South Dakota.

3 comments

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