The GOP spin machine uses false fears about animal rights activists to reheat his patron Senator Dan Lederman's proposal to ban paid petition circulators. What's the real game here? Weakening Democrats and democracy.

Read Powers's brilliant Newspeak:

Our State pioneered the initiative and referendum process. South Dakota was the first state to adopt initiative and referendum on a statewide level, and did so in 1898, setting an example for the rest of the country. But when we did so, it was about a personal, street level democracy. The system didn’t envision people collecting signatures for a profit. Ballot measures (and for running for office) should be about the ideals of Democracy. Not about which special interest group has deep pockets to pay circulators.

It’s time for paid signature collectors to go. And it would be a great step by the incoming legislature to make it happen [Pat Powers, "Animal Rights Groups Looking at State Ballot Measures. It’s Time to End Paid Petition Circulators," Dakota War College, 2014.12.22].

(Bonus points if you snicker at anti-nanny-state Powers reverently capitalizing State.)

Powers pretends to be a friend of democracy. He really fears it, because he knows the South Dakota Democratic Party's most effective tool against his party's agenda in the last two election cycles has been direct democracy, initiative and referendum. Democrats used the referendum to kill bad Republican legislation on education and economic development in 2012. Democrats used the initiative to raise the minimum wage in 2014. Powers and his Republican friends need to weaken that potent Democratic tool any way they can; banning paid circulators is one way to hamstring ballot measure organizers.

Powers conceals his real target by not mentioning any of those successful ballot measures. He focuses on unpopular measures that have made the ballot but gone down in flames under the pencils of the voters. Ballot measures that get killed do not somehow corrupt "the ideals of Democracy" (more ironic capitalization!); they affirm democracy. They affirm that voters can make up their own minds. If Powers sees something wrong there, he only reveals his own lack of faith in the demos.

If Powers were really worried about the corruption of democracy by big money, he'd be railing against the money that comes after the petitions, the unlimited money that corporations can use to promote their candidates and ballot measures through advertising. But when Rick Weiland called for campaign finance reform, Powers responded with nothing but specious topic-changing and ridicule.

In 2007, the South Dakota Legislature banned payment per signature and non-resident circulators with House Bill 1156. Our Democratic friend Nick Nemec supported this bill, as did most Dems in the 2007 Legislature. But notice that legislators did not prohibit themselves from paying per signature, only those dastardly ballot measure folks who would challenge legislators by helping the demos exercise their own direct legislative authority.

Powers also fails to notice that legislators probably went as far as they could with 2007 HB 1156 in limiting paid petition circulation. In its 1988 Meyer v. Grant ruling, the United States Supreme Court unanimously declared that paying petition circulators is First Amendment speech (again, the analogy to Citizens United beckons). The Ninth Circuit 2006 ruling in Prete v. Bradbury allowed limited limits like our no-pay-per-signature law, but Meyer still blocks a full ban on paying petition circulators.

Powers and Lederman are worried about Democrats, not democracy. I don't like paid circulators, either, but banning them is about giving us fewer chances to exercise our right to initiative and refer legislation. Thanks to the First Amendment, the Supreme Court, and the GOP's own embrace of the idea that money equals speech, the proposal will go nowhere.

p.s.: Recall that last July, SDGOP éminence grise Joel Rosenthal poo-pooed Lederman's proposal, saying that paid petitioneering creates jobs. Rosenthal, the classical conservative, said we don't need regulation, just transparency, like big buttons on every paid circulator declaring, "I'm being paid to get your signature!"

pp.s. [11:11 CST]: An eager reader reminds me of this 2009 South Dakota Magazine profile of Father Robert Haire, an Aberdeen priest who advocated for the initiative and referendum in 1891 as a bulwark against plutocracy:

These men make the laws to suit themselves — are a law to themselves. The people seldom get any law passed they want....

Of course, the entire plutocracy, given over to fleecing the values that labor produces, are afraid of the people.... Such fellows will jump on any proposition with both feet when it is proposed to give the law-making power into the hands of the electors.... [T]he people are capable of feeling for, giving form to, and finally decreeing their own laws [Father Robert Haire, Dakota Ruralist, 1891, quoted in Patrick Gallagher, "Faith in the Voters," South Dakota Magazine, originally published Sep/Oct 2009, revised and republished online 2014].

I wonder: would Father Haire see plutocracy afoot in paid circulators or in efforts to ban them?

26 comments

A couple thousand protesters kinked the hose of commerce Saturday by flashmobbing a "Black Lives Matter" protest in the Mall of America. During the protest, St. Paul writer Ira Booker Tweeted this photo:

Framing this giant warning next to the big Christmas tree brilliantly juxtaposes authoritarianism, religion, and commerce. Taking this photo may place Booker in the Mall's suspicious-activity database.

I understand and defend the basic right to private property. Pretty much every store in America is private property. When we're on their turf, our corporate overlords have the right to say, "Ho Ho Ho! Merry Shut Your Mouth and Shop!" If our actions on their property interfere with their normal business operations, they have the right to ask us to leave.

But here's our con-law civil rights brainteaser for the morning: What's the difference between the Mall of America ejecting you for exercising your First Amendment right to speak and assemble and a baker refusing to sell you a cake for exercising your Fourteenth Amendment right to be a citizen while gay or Indian?

In related news, one day after American Indian activists protested police brutality in Rapid City, Rapid City police officer Anthony Meirose shot and killed Lakota man Allen Locke:

Locke, according to [RCPD Captain Dan] Rud, attacked Officer Anthony Meirose when the officer was responding to an “unwanted subject” at 541 Pahasapa Road, Lakota Homes.

Rud said that Locke, armed with a knife, attacked Meirose at the doorway to the home. Meirose then shot Locke several times.

The officer, Rud added, did not have time to use any non-lethal weapon [Jack Siebold, "Police Release Name of Rapid City Man Killed Saturday," Rapid City Journal, 2014.12.21].

Native Lives Matter... but don't plan to march around saying that at the Rushmore Mall.

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Oh, fuss and feathers! We got all hot and bothered here on the blog about the Rapid City Police Department's denial of a permit to American Indian activists who want to stage a protest against police brutality during the Lakota Nation Invitational. But Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris was serious when he said he was working with organizers to accommodate their First Amendment rights. The protest is on for this afternoon!

Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris has authorized a special event permit for this march and rally from 1 to 3 p.m., Friday, Dec. 19, in Memorial Park, Legacy Commons and the Promenade.

“I am thankful that we came to an agreement to address the public safety concerns,” Jegeris said.

The Rapid City Police Department will be present during the event to ensure the public safety of all residents and visitors ["Rapid City Police Chief Approves Protest Rally for Friday," KOTA-TV, 2014.12.18].

Kevin Woster explains that a big part of Chief Jegeris's initial rejection of the permit was timing:

Protesters had wanted to have the protest rally and March from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. They would have marched from the east parking lot of the civic center south a few blocks to Main Street, then west on Main for three blocks to Mount Rushmore. From there they were to march back to the west parking lot of the civic center.

Those are some of the busiest streets in Rapid City, especially when there’s an event at the civic center and Rapid City Central – just across the street – is releasing students for the day.

Add in approaching darkness and the protest plan was an unacceptable danger to LNI attendee, Central students, the general public and protesters and the police, Jegeris said.

“The time frame would be just about dark and getting dark,” he said. “And there’s just so many safety considerations that I just have to put safety first” [Kevin Woster, "RC Chief Approves Permit After Initial Rejection," KELOLand.com, 2014.12.18].

See? Chief Jegeris is no brute; he's actually helping the protesters shine more daylight on their message.

So Larry, still want to move LNI out of Rapid City?

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Uh oh, Chief—looks like we got a case of speaking while Indian.

Cody Hall, Anthony Bordeaux, and other American Indian activists want to hold a march against police brutality in Rapid City Friday in conjunction with the Lakota Nation Invitational, a big basketball (and knowledge bowl, business plan, archery, language...) tournament that will bring lots of Natives and maybe some wasicu to town. Organizers want to march from the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center (site of LNI) to Main Street and back. Seems like a good opportunity to reach a larger audience and do some organizing, right?

Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris has denied a permit for this march, saying these organizers couldn't keep their crowd under control the last time they raised a ruckus in Rapid:

The event was proposed to take place on Friday December 19th, beginning at 3pm. Since that time, the event has been advertised as a March/Rally on social media and indicators show that well over 100 people plan to attend. This was proposed to occur during the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI), an event that is expected to draw approximately 2500 youth and their families to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

The same event organizers were involved in the May 2012 March/Rally involving Rapid City Regional Hospital. That event drew hundreds of demonstrators. Although the event was promoted as peaceful, numerous public safety issues arose including; disruption of traffic, obstruction of police, threat to occupy the hospital, threat of arson to the hospital, and other issues that placed the demonstrators, law enforcement, and the general public at risk. This demonstrates the organizers' lack of ability to provide adequate supervision to the event, and demonstrates the great risk that would be posed to the LNI.

"The LNI is a positive youth event, and the public safety of our youth and families is the number one priority. The City of Rapid City and the Rapid City Police Department have worked hard over the past 38 years to support and ensure the highest degree of Public Safety possible for the LNI," said Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris. It is for this reason that the March/Rally/Walk be kept separate from the LNI [Rapid City Police Department, press release, 2014.12.16].

Safety first—yup, that's the recipe for authoritarianism that our country has embraced too willingly since September 11, 2001.

Chief Jegeris hasn't completely shut the door on the protesters' exercise of the First Amendment:

The Rapid City Police Department is committed to protecting all Constitutional Rights of residents and visitors, including the Right to Assemble and Freedom of Speech," said Chief Jegeris. It is for that reason that Chief Jegeris has offered to meet with the event organizers to make arrangements to accommodate an alternative date and/or location [RCPD, 2014.12.16].

I'm pleased the chief is still offering an alternative, but will he end up offering organizers some out-of-the-way "free speech zone" like we've seen at national political conventions?

Refresh me on this question: why do we need a permit system for public assembly and protest? Why do the police get any check over the exercise of First Amendment rights? Assembling to speak is not a prosecutable crime; should you or I or an Indian in Rapid City have to ask the government's permission to do so?

If the police see a crowd of people making noise, they should certainly mosey over to see what's the hubbub, but should they have the authority to exercise any restraint before the crowd even assemble, let alone before anyone in the crowd commits a crime?

Organizers, in Rapid City, it's time to rebrand from "We Can't Breathe" to "We Can't Speak."

110 comments

Mike Huether has waded into the snowplows-for-Jesus debate; I guess I have to, too.

The City of Sioux Falls let some school kids paint their snowplows. Naturally, some Lutheran kids painted happy Jesus messages (along with one improperly cited Bible verse). The Siouxland Freethinkers suggested religious messages on public equipment is inappropriate. The city lawyers said, "Ah, you may have a point" and asked the kids to repaint the plows.

Then Mayor Mike Huether comes barreling in for some wrongheaded grandstanding:

"I don't want to repaint over those snowplows," Huether said. "To me, we should repaint over all of them at the same time and that's at the end of the snow season."

Huether told me that he hoped to bring together the schools, the Siouxland Freethinkers and city officials to find a compromise.

But Huether seemed adamant that the plow blades wouldn't be removed.

"We are not going to be painting over those plow blades. We will not be painting over them unless I get some Supreme Court case that says that I have to," Huether said.

Heuther is also reluctant to suggest changes to the "Paint the Plows" program for fear of trampling on the First Amendment rights of participating schools.

"That's one of the things we're struggling with," said Huether. "How do we move forward and still allow people to have freedom of expression?" [Greg Belfrage, "Huether: 'We Are Not Painting Over Plow Blades'," KELO-AM Radio, 2014.10.28]

Mayor Huether, we are not talking about First Amendment rights of participating schools. No one has a right to paint messages on public equipment... although if that's what you're positing, don't let Ryan Gaddy and Annette Bosworth near City Hall. The city invites schools to decorate snowplows. The city has complete control of the forum and the content participants post, just as it asserts control over what people can say and when they can say it at City Council meetings. The city has an obligation (which it failed to fulfill in this case) to establish and explain clear criteria for the use of the privilege of decorating snowplows.

Imagine if some smart kids had painted "Vote for Rick Weiland" or "Hillary 2016" on the plows. The city would have shut that noise down right away. We have laws restricting the use of public resources for such politicking.

Better yet, imagine if some Muslim kids painted "Allahu Akbar!" on a plow. Let Greg Belfrage see that holy cry bearing down on him in his rearview mirror, and he'll get why some of us would prefer the city not be toting giant Jesus messages around on its equipment.

Mayor Huether, the city messed up. Instead of acting like Mike Rounds, how about 'fessing up to your error, owning the problem, and saying you'll do better at teaching kids about the First Amendment in full next time around?

201 comments

South Dakota Republicans continue to respond to charges of crony capitalism in Mike Rounds's EB-5 program by attacking the press with cries of Defamation!

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this week pointed out that as governor, Mike Rounds "gave special tax breaks to a shady, offshore corporation" to keep his failing Northern Beef Packers project afloat. The DSCC made that statement in this broadcast ad:

The SDGOP sics Woods Fuller Shultz & Smith PC on KEVN and other TV stations that have broadcast the ad:

The "shady off-shore corporation", Epoch Star Limited, represented by a prominent Sioux Falls lawyer, petitioned the State Banking Commission to determine if it was subject to South Dakota laws regulating loan companies and mortgage lenders. The State Banking Commission, acting independently as required by South Dakota law, reviewed evidence presented to it and ruled Epoch's proposed loan to Northern Beef Packers did not subject it to the money lender or mortgage lender/broker statutes. The decision in effect meant that Epoch was not subject to the income tax South Dakota imposes on financial institution profits [William Taylor, attorney for South Dakota Republican Party, letter to KEVN, 2014.10.15].

First, the Woods Fuller lawyers and the SDGOP should get their candidate back on the script. He was bleating counterfactually to Denise Ross Wednesday that Epoch Star, "just like any other institution," had to "get licensed." (Someone on Team Rounds is trying to work up the guts to say, "Mike, do your homework, or shut up!")

Second, the fact that a "prominent Sioux Falls lawyer," Steven Sanford, represented Epoch Star does not render false the DSCC's statement. Epoch Star is shady—we have no idea who they are. Epoch Star is an offshore corporation, a shell inside a shell inside a foreign company.

Third, Mike Rounds did give Epoch Star a special tax break in 2010. Rounds appointed Roger Novotny banking director in 2004. Banking commissioners serve three-year terms, so Mike Rounds would appear to have appointed every member of the Banking Commission, which approved the Epoch Star tax break at the end of June 2010. And Rounds's own economic development chief, cabinet member Richard Benda, represented the Rounds administration before the Banking Commission to urge approval of the tax break to revive the Governor's stalled legacy project. The Rounds Administration made Epoch Star's tax break possible.

And in the common vernacular synecdoche in which we refer to an organization by its head, "Mike Rounds gave special tax breaks to a shady offshore corporation."

The South Dakota Republican Party launched a similar specious attack on the free press last week with its bogus assertion that auction is a fighting word. It's remarkable how whiny South Dakota Republicans get when faced with the ugly facts about their crony capitalism and corruption.

KEVN, other broadcasters, don't let Rounds and the SDGOP bully you. You are much better suited to recognizing and publishing the truth than they are.

I think we need to be grateful we live in a state where we can get this kind of thing done with dispatch.
—Steven Sanford, lawyer for Epoch Star, South Dakota Banking Commission hearing, 2010.06.29.
64 comments

I must now turn my fire on my alma mater, South Dakota State University, for political favoritism and restriction of free speech. Apparently they (and there's dispute as to whether "they" is the Hobo Day Committee or President David Chicoine himself) will not let Independent candidate Larry Pressler putt-putt through the Hobo Day parade on his old John Deere D.

Kevin Woster captures the supreme irony that USD and NSU are letting Pressler grace their homecoming parades with his tractor while the state's great land grant institution nixes Pressler's ag homage. Woster also explains that State hasn't banned Pressler from the October 25 parade; they've just said he can only participate if a student organization sponsors him.

That rule sets the Independent at another disadvantage to main-party candidates with campus party machines. But incumbents get an even better deal: the Hobo Day Committee up and invites Governor Dennis Daugaard, Congresswoman Kristi Noem, and other sitting elected officials to ride in the parade.

Hobo LarryBut even those favored invitees dare not say anything political. Hobo Day Committee advisor Nick Wendell says candidates are not permitted to distribute any political campaign material during the parade. Why SDSU thinks its homecoming activities are somehow too good for politics while every other campus in the state makes no fuss over pols using their parades to practice organizing and propagandizing escapes me. The Hobo Day parade organizers should let candidates march and say whatever they want... as long as they wear Hobo duds!

Forget the tractor, Larry! If you can't get the campus thespians or the women's rugby club to sponsor you, forget the tractor and just walk the parade route. Instead of keeping your tractor running, shake hands on the street, then get up to the Back Yard for tailgating!

83 comments

I told the Miller School District in May that their decision to allow the Gideons to distribute Bibles to fifth graders was unconstitutional. And the Miller School District listened!

Actually, they listened to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent the Miller School District a complaint outlining the obvious church-state-separation problem of a public school letting religious groups proselytize on campus. Last month, the school board reversed its Bible-distribution policy and told the Gideons and other converters to hand out their tracts elsewhere.

This reversal is a small but instructive victory for us liberals trying to bring secular sanity to South Dakota. The Miller board president's comments on the reversal explain why:

"It's been through the court system and everything. We've got to follow the letter of the law," said board president Tim Zacher.

The reversal came after the ACLU sent a letter to the Miller School District in May saying the school was on "shaky constitutional ground" by allowing religious literature to be distributed in a public school.

...Zacher said he was disappointed the board was forced to change its policy and disallow the Bible distribution.

"Our founding fathers felt God very strong in this country," he said.

The Bibles had been distributed in previous years at Miller, though Zacher didn't know for how long.

"We had never had a bit of problem with it before," he said. "I guess that's the way it is" [David Montgomery, "Miller School Board Reverses Policy Allowing Handout of Bibles," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.07.30].

Never had problem before... there's a key phrase. We may think that conservative Republican fundagelicanism is just entrenched in South Dakota culture and institutions. But Miller shows that bad policy may be less entrenched and simply unchallenged. As long as there's not a problem, nothing happens. But create a problem, or even warn there could be a problem, and local leaders may surrender. The ACLU didn't have to lawyer up; they just wrote a letter, showed the Miller school board that the Constitution was not on their side, and got the proper result.

That's why, instead of retreating to Minnesota and other saner political spheres, I keep encouraging my fellow South Dakota liberals, atheists, and other lovers of freedom to stand up and fight. Not every school board or city council will surrender before superior logic and law. But many will, preferring to avoid conflict and headlines. If we challenge every instance of local theocracy and other oppression, and if only 25% of the boards we challenge give in without a fight, those few easy victories give us that much more precedent for fighting hard against the remaining 75% to get liberty and justice for all... including liberty for our fifth-graders from Gideons, jihadis, Satanists, and atheists who may try to co-opt school grounds to advance or denigrate specific religions.

* * *

Under the Constitution schools cannot intentionally, or unintentionally, advance religion or become too entangled with religious groups. The courts have repeatedly said that schools must also avoid favoring or appearing to favor a religious view, and they may not create any situation in which students feel coerced to participate in religion. These constitutional protections ensure that students can find and follow their own faith with the guidance of their family and religious leaders, free from government intrusion [ACLU, press release, 2014.05.12].

249 comments

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