Fellow South Dakota blogger Scott Ehrisman is seeking appointment to the Minnehaha County Commission. Commissioner John Pekas won election as Second Circuit judge this month, so the county needs someone to fill his term through 2016.

Ehrisman offers the commission a diverse blue-collar and creative work experience (and he grew up on a sheep and hog farm!) that would bring a healthy new perspective to county government. I whole-heartedly endorse his candidacy.

Whoops—make that 95%-heartedly. Ehrisman makes one promise that I can't back:

I know you have concerns. I maintain a controversial website about local government. It is my child. It’s premise is simple, to inform and to entertain through political satire and activism. I often tell people, “If you can’t laugh at politicians, you will only end up hating them.” I am not a hater. I have often tried to use the blog as a catalyst for change and activism. Sometimes it achieves those goals, sometimes it falls on it’s face. It has given me a very thick skin, but it has also made me aware of the public’s sensitivities. If appointed to this commission, I would stop the blog or pass on the reigns to another author. I HATE conflicts of interest with public officials, and I would find it necessary to eliminate them by ending my authorship. I believe it is difficult to stop ALL conflicts as a public official, but also believe we have clear choices, and unlike other candidates applying for this position, I would CHOOSE to eliminate as many conflicts as possible [Scott Ehrisman, "I Announced Today My Intent to Be Considered for Appointment to the Minnehaha County Commission," South Dacola, 2014.11.18].

I agree that Ehrisman's engagement with the public through his blog has enhanced his skills as a politician (I'm using the word in its best sense, Scott, meaning a practitioner of civic discourse and policy-making, an engineer of the polis). Blogging done right (i.e., reading, interviewing, thinking, and writing your own material, not regurgitating the press releases of one's patrons) improves one's understanding of the community. It improves one's ability to speak and to listen. Blogging has made Ehrisman a better public servant.

For those reasons, I disagree with Ehrisman's feeling that he must stop blogging if appointed as a potential conflict of interest. His interest as a commissioner would be to stay connected with his constituents, to hear their concerns, and to lead useful public conversations. Ehrisman's blog could play a vital rile in serving the public interest.

I recognize that Ehrisman would find himself unable to blog about confidential county business. Decorum would require caution in criticizing fellow commission members, commission decisions, and county employees. Some subjects might well be better handled by guest blog authors.

However, Ehrisman's blog would be a perfect forum for informing his constituents about issues before the commission, for soliciting public input outside the strictures of official meetings, and for developing and explaining his own thinking on county policy.

State Rep. (now State Senator-Elect) Bernie Hunhoff wrote and edited South Dakota Magazine during his tenure in the State House. He avoided any conflict of interest while still using his forum to connect with his constituents. Rep.-Elect Fred Deutsch has blogged as a Watertown school board member; we can only hope he will carry on the practice of Rep. Kathy Tyler, whom he unseated this month and who regularly and informatively blogged during her tenure in the State House.

Bloggers can serve in political office. Politicians can serve the public by blogging. Minnehaha County, put Ehrisman to work for the people. Scott, keep working for the people by blogging!

8 comments

Senator-Elect Mike Rounds lies on Meet the Press:

And so part of the message has got to be that the bureaucracy, which has taken over, or the vacuum, because Congress has been dysfunctional, has not been doing their job. You've got a bureaucracy which is growing. We've got to get that bureaucracy back under control again [Mike Rounds, interview with Chuck ToddMeet the Press, NBC-TV, 2014.11.09].

The federal bureaucracy, the black beast Mike Rounds is charging to Washington to kill, is not growing. It is shrinking:

Federal State Local Total
October 2013 2,732,000 5,057,000 14,065,000 21,854,000
October 2014 2,711,000 5,066,000 14,137,000 21,914,000
change -21,000 9,000 72,000 60,000

Over the last year, the federal government has cut 21,000 jobs. Over the last six years, after briefly adding 629,000 federal jobs as part of the stimulus effort to tow the economy out of the ditch, the Obama Administration has given all those jobs back and cut another 75,000 from the 2.786-million strong workforce it inherited from the Bush 2 Administration.

Fewer civilians work for Uncle Sam now than at any point under President Reagan or President Nixon.

The federal bureaucracy is not growing. Mike Rounds's list of lies is.

29 comments

Having trouble getting through to state offices lately? It could be because the South Dakota Republican Party is sending out robocalls to remind our civil servants of who butters their bread.

...calling on behalf of the South Dakota Republican Party, South Dakota cannot afford to send a friend of Barack Obama to Washington. The only way to avoid sending a friend of Obama to Washington is by voting Republican. By not electing a Republican, South Dakota will be supporting Obamacare, a friend of Barack Obama, a Washington insider, and a bigger government. The Republicans have a chance to take back the Senate, and South Dakotans play a vital role. Please remember to vote Republican on November 4. This call is paid for by the South Dakota Republican Party, not authorized by the candidate or candidate's committee, 605-610-8879 [South Dakota Republican Party, robocall, recorded 2014.10.24].

My source found this message on the voicemail of my source's work phone in a state office. My source says my source's boss has received the same message at work. My source has also received two surveys from the national GOP.

I appreciate the SDGOP's effort to lighten our state employees' day with messages from breathless ladies, though I hope they have a hunky baritone version for the ladies who answer the state phones. But we could read this robocall as one more effort by the Republicans to keep government from getting its work done.

Either way, Republicans, how about we save the robocalls for folks not on the clock?

11 comments

Not quite 5,000 people have died in this year's Ebola outbreak. One of those deaths has taken place in the United States.

In response, Senator John Thune is advocating bigger government, specifically in the form of banning travel to the U.S. from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Senator Thune says he would consider expanding those restrictions.

Ebola spreads only through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. In other words, to catch it on the bus or plane, an Ebola carrier would have to bleed, pee, or poop on your broken skin or mucous membranes.

An estimated 43,000 Americans have died of influenza and pneumonia this year. (The CDC will say that number is hard to pin down and probably less than that, but from 1976 to 2007, influenza killed between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans each year.) Influenza can spread through the air, via coughing, sneezing, or talking.

Guns have probably killed a good 9,000 Americans this year. Drunk driving has put another 27,000 Americans on a permanent travel ban. Yet Senator Thune is not advocating any big government solutions to those deaths.

Senator Thune has a very selective freak-out-o-meter, and an equally selective aversion to big government.

193 comments

Big Ag groups in South Dakota are raising a stink about the EPA's latest proposed regulations to keep our water clean. As we know, this industry-manufactured fuss is mostly myth. The EPA is using science to make clear, consistent rules to protect South Dakota tourism and agriculture.

Mike Rounds won't let truth stop him from advocating that we "shut down" the EPA. But wait—an eager notes that shutting down the EPA would pull the rug out from under farmers who count on the EPA to maintain the ethanol mandate. Rounds liked the federal subsidy that boosted ethanol. Rounds's fellow farm-state Republicans really want the EPA to stick around and force folks to buy more ethanol.

Perhaps Rounds should ask to change his answer: he doesn't really want to shut the EPA down. He just though the E stood for "Ethanol," not "Environment."

2 comments

Rep. Kristi Noem retools Mike Rounds's "South Dakota common sense" mantra to say the the economy would be fine if the feds just did things the way South Dakota does. Her weekly column cites the new French cheese plant as affirmation of South Dakota's tax policies and work ethic:

...Our state tax policy makes it cheaper to run a business. The workforce is one of the most dedicated and talented in the country. We put our hearts into everything we produce. And we are surrounded by communities that generously support each other during the good times and pull together like a family would during the hard times.

It’s probably no wonder, then, that I joined Gov. Dennis Daugaard to welcome a new manufacturer to Brookings. In addition to 3M and Daktronics, Brookings is now home to a new Babybel cheese manufacturing facility. It was an honor to welcome them to our state [Rep. Kristi Noem, "SD's Economic Policies Worth Copying," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.10.07].

First, let's be clear: most people everywhere work hard and help their neighbors. South Dakota workers are not uniquely virtuous. Working folks in New York or Texas or California are not uniquely lazy or anti-social.

As for the Bel Brands cheese plant, let's review the main reasons the French decided to build in Brookings:

  1. South Dakota saved its dwindling dairy herd by luring foreign investment through a government program to sell green cards.
  2. South Dakota handed Bel Brands $5 million in corporate welfare.
  3. Brookings offers Bel Brands access to skilled graduates of one of only two university programs in the country offering degrees in dairy production and manufacturing. That program is at South Dakota State University. State University, as in, made possible by good big government.

So really, Republican Kristi Noem is telling the country to be more like South Dakota: use big government to benefit big business.

35 comments

Northern Plains News puts more lie to South Dakota Republican assertions that South Dakota is a model of the GOP smaller-government philosophy. From 2007 to 2012, South Dakota added workers to government payrolls at a faster rate than our neighbors and the national average:

The Mount Rushmore State, along with fellow Northern Plains states Wyoming and Nebraska, had government employment grow by more than 4 percent during that period.

North Dakota and Minnesota had a 2 to 4 percent decrease in state and local government employees during the period while Montana’s government workforce grew by less than 2 percent and Iowa’s by 2 to 4 percent ["SD State, Local Government Employee Growth Among Fastest in Nation," Northern Plains News via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.07.18].

Bigger government payrolls, faster state budget growth... that doesn't sound like what South Dakota Republicans tell us they're about, does it?

Republican-dominated state government pays its workers a lot more than do local governments:

Average annual state government wages in South Dakota were $50,000 to $55,000 and $35,000 to $40,000 for local government employees [NPN, 2014.07.18].

And in a remarkable and unexpected assertion of priorities, check out which field draws the biggest government paychecks in South Dakota:

State employees working in education were the best paid, at an annual salary of $60,000 to $65,000 and the lowest paid were local natural resources employees at $30,000 to $35,000 [NPN, 2014.07.18].

State workers in education get great salaries! It's too bad the state can't shake some of that $60K down to the K-12 teachers pounding the whiteboards for $40K to help with recruitment and retention.

4 comments

Hat tip to Larry Kurtz, who notes another ugly irony in South Dakota politics. First Governor Dennis Daugaard asked the President his party wants to impeach to send disaster aid for South Dakota's June tornado and flood victims. The President, via FEMA, turned him down.

Still not ready to return to his self-reliant roots, Governor Daugaard is barking up another federal-handout tree. Encouraged by fellow Republican Senator John Thune, Governor Daugaard is asking the Small Business Administration to provide low-interst loans to help home- and business owners clean up their storm messes.

Matt Varilek, Region VII Administrator, Small Business Administration

Matt Varilek, Region VII Administrator, Small Business Administration

And who oversees SBA operations in South Dakota? Matt Varilek, that nice fellow from Yankton who ran for Congress a couple years ago but was portrayed by South Dakota Republicans as too smart and well-traveled to be a real South Dakotan. The SDGOP ran Varilek through exactly the wringer of character assassination that David Newquist says drives good public servants out of the state.

But those Republicans sure want Region VII Administrator Varilek and the Obama Small Business Administration to be forgiving and generous and spare Pierre the burden of providing for its own citizens in times of need.

32 comments

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