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.


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.


In our discussion of the various Obama outhouses, one of my commenters suggested that the next time Governor Dennis Daugaard and impeach-happy South Dakota Republicans came asking for disaster assistance, the President should respond, "'And how many outhouses would you like?' He might even send them pre-loaded for our convenience."

I don't think the President would poop on all of South Dakota for a cheap, half-hearted partisan insult. But he's not sending Governor Daugaard any disaster money this week:

...the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has rejected the state’s request for Individual Assistance programs to help residents impacted by tornadoes and flooding.

The denial of Individual Assistance came in a letter from FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who said damage to homes and businesses fell short of the severity and magnitude to warrant federal assistance.

...Governor Dennis Daugaard called the denial disappointing but said South Dakotans will continue to work together to help individuals and communities recover over the coming weeks and months. He said the state is examining all its options, including a possible appeal of the federal decision [South Dakota state government, press release, 2014.07.10].

Republican Senator John Thune is also disappointed and is encouraging South Dakotans suffering from the storms to seek other federal handouts.

Note that the three counties most affected by last months tempests—Jerauld, Lincoln, and Union—all voted against the SDGOP's presidential impeachment resolution. So denying these FEMA handouts can't be direct political retaliation.

Impeachment talk is supposed to be a way for Republicans to make money. The ironic possibility that such talk is losing South Dakota money is unlikely.

But hey, if the Governor feels that the storms were bad enough that local folks can't bear the cost of cleaning up the damage themselves, and if the federal government just won't come through, why doesn't the Governor Daugaard just bite the bullet, do the right thing, and help those storm victims with some state funds?


In good conservation news, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture is handing out money to six communities (including Watertown, via the Lake Area Zoological Society) to help plant more trees for us liberals to hug.

But wait: is this $11,076 of government largesse just another effort by S.D. Ag to introduce more invasive species onto the prairie? Heck, as a member of an invasive species, I'm fine with more trees. Let's acquire conservation easements along the rail right of ways from Canton to Belle Fourche and from Yankton to Aberdeen, lay two trans-Dakota bike paths, and plant mile-wide forest strips around them for shady, wind-free rides across the state!

Or just plant a couple shady groves around Watertown, Gary, Freeman, Wall, Lead, and Sturgis. Every tree helps.

Wherever these communities plant their trees, they should be sure to include a little placard reminding everyone that these wonderful trees were brought to them by socialism... or, more accurately, by the generosity of the United States Forest Service, for which federal largesse the Republicans running South Dakota's Department of Agriculture gladly take credit. The tree funds come from Urban and Community Forestry Assistance legislation in which Congress recognizes that "tree plantings and ground covers such as low growing dense perennial turfgrass sod in urban areas and communities can aid in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, mitigating the heat island effect, and reducing energy consumption, thus contributing to efforts to reduce global warming trends."

Yes, your Republican South Dakota Department of Agriculture is accepting and spending federal money to reduce CO2 emissions, reduce energy consumption, and fight global warming.


The Republican candidates for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat debated on South Dakota Public TV last night. Click on SDPB 's archived video, and you can watch Stace Nelson, Mike Rounds, Larry Rhoden, and Jason Ravnsborg all spending 90 minutes saying that government is bad! We need less government!... except when we want more government for military spending, veterans' health care, crop insurance, livestock disaster relief....

With their slogan-policy schizophrenia, perhaps our GOP candidates are simply struggling to realign themselves with the worldview of younger voters. A new survey (yes, by a Democratic polling firm; add the grains of salt you deem necessary) of 2,000 Americans age 18 to 33 finds 72% of these "Millennials" support greater government involvement.

Results of Harstad Strategic Research survey of 2,000 voters age 18 to 33, March-April 2014; graphic by Governing

Results of Harstad Strategic Research survey of 2,000 Americans age 18 to 33, March-April 2014; graphic by Governing

On every major issue—college costs, welfare, civil rights, health care—the youngest voting bloc says greater government involvement is fine. This result seems to challenge Cody Hausman's assessment that his generation is deeply suspicious of government. The survey may support Ryan Casey's thesis that Millennials are civic problem solvers who won't let political ideals or slogans stop them from using government to get things done.

The Millennials' values will jar Republicans as much as their policy preferences. HSR asked respondents to identify their two most important values. The most popular choices? Equality and opportunity (hey! Cody Hausman was right about equality!). The least important values: patriotism and competition (curse all that cooperative learning in school, right, Sibby?).

But the He-Man Government-Haters Club on parade at last night's debate need not sweat too much. Millennials can answer all the surveys they want, but they aren't showing up to vote yet:

The survey also reported a one cause for concern: They’ll be a sharp drop in Millennial turnout this November, with only 28 percent reporting they’ll definitely vote in the midterm elections. For the 2016 presidential election, 55 percent said they definitely planned to vote.

A separate poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics published a few weeks ago found conservative Millennials are more enthusiastic about voting in November [Mike Maciag, "How to Appeal to Millennial Voters," Governing, 2014.05.16].

Rick Weiland doesn't need to win the message war with the youth. He needs to put absentee ballots in their hands and get them to vote on their values.

Bonus Rick Booster: HSR finds that 71% of young respondents believe "The system is rigged in favor of the rich."


The bare conservative majority of the Supreme Court voted wrong on official government prayer yesterday. In a 5–4 decision on Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court ruled that city councils and other legislative bodies may engage in public prayer at their meetings.

The majority ruled that legislative prayer and other religious practices are acceptable if they follow a historical tradition and if the framers of the Constitution would have accepted it. Tradition and framers' approval would also appear to have justified slavery.

The majority said that the question of whether a city council's prayer endorses a particular religion does not matter; a legislative prayer violates the First Amendment only when it coerces people to support a particular religion. Those of us who do not share the majority religious conviction have a different view of what constitutes coercion, but the Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and the Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Scalia theocrats offered us little support yesterday.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog summarizes the eight criteria Justice Kennedy's opinion offers for Constitutional legislative prayer:

  1. Prayer can take place in Congress and state legislatures, where citizens are just observers, and in local council meetings where citizens are often active petitioners.
  2. Prayer must be ceremonial: councillors can't do it during the official business portion of the meeting.
  3. Governmental bodies may invite anyone they want to do the prayer, and even pay them (I need to get a gig as a traveling atheist chaplain).
  4. Governmental bodies can't dictate the content of official prayers. The prayers need not be generic.
  5. Governmental bodies may not proselytize, may not require participation, and may not razz those who do not participate (hmm... would that include Rapid City councilman Chad Lewis calling an atheist dissident a bully?).
  6. Government prayers can't attack a particular religion (or lack thereof, I'm assuming), but the city council doesn't have to make an extra effort to bring in prayer leaders of different faiths. If the only people who show up to fluff their faithful feathers are the local Jesus crowd, so be it.
  7. The audience must be mostly adults (there's a different standard of coercion when you're talking to children).
  8. The Court will determine violations of the Establishment Clause only by looking at "a pattern of prayers," not the content of any individual prayer. One overly Jesusy prayer doesn't throw out the practice; challengers to city prayer must demonstrate a pattern of coercion against the unorthodox.

Under these standards, the Rapid City Council and the Meade County Commission can probably continue opening their meetings with their demonstrations of piety. However, Justice Kennedy's opinion reminds us that invocations of deities in public meetings should not be religious chest-thumping:

In rejecting the idea that legislative prayers must be nonsectarian, the Court does recognize a constraint on such prayers, he adds.

“The purpose of legislative prayer is to lend gravity” to sessions where “the divisive business of governing” will take place.

The prayer tradition reflected in [Marsh v. Chambers] permits those delivering the prayers “to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths” [Mark Walsh, "A 'View' from the Court: A Divided Ruling on Prayer, But No Fireworks," SCOTUSblog, 2014.05.05]

While the Town of Greece v. Galloway ruling authorizes official behavior that I find offensive, Justice Kennedy lays out criteria that make that official behavior more tolerable. Prayer from the public podium is not meant to score points with one's gods or voters. Performed properly, it should reinforce the seriousness of the business at hand and seek common ground with all citizens. Those criteria tell me that, even if the Supreme Court isn't going to shut down city council prayers, city councilors should still select their public prayers carefully to subordinate their pious urges to their civic duties and the common good.


Thanks to the crudetasteless, yet instructive efforts of fake conservative Annette Bosworth, we all know that recipients of government assistance are weak, dependent animals.

At peril of further crudity and tasteless, I present this page from the Environmental Working Group's farm subsidy database:

Farm Subsidies for "Bosworth" in South Dakota, from Environmental Working Group, doanloaded 2014.05.04

Farm Subsidies for "Bosworth" in South Dakota, from Environmental Working Group, doanloaded 2014.05.04. Click to embiggen!

As I reported last summer, Annette Bosworth's father Richard is a regular recipient of government assistance. Annette's mother Rose also took a small dip from the federal honey pot. And somehow Annette herself, who revels in telling folks that the main reason she went to med school was that she's too good for farm chores, has taken $4,994.97 in farm subsidies (for what? carrying melons out of the barn?).

Bosworth has said publicly that she would end farm subsidies. But is it too late to save her and her family from the crushing grip of dependency? Even if we end farm subsidies, will Annette be able to break free from her constant appeals to the charity of others and make a living through honest work? Or have farm subsidies forever made her and her family poor, dumb animals?


The difference I hear Libertarians wheeze about, that the United States is a Republic Not a Democracy™, is practically irrelevant. My conservative friends and I should agree that the much greater problem is that we are not a democracy but an oligarchy. Research says so:

study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:

"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy" [Eric Zuesse, "US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

A PDF draft of the paper Zuesse cites, by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin I. Page, is available online. Gilens and Page anticipate the possible objection that perhaps wealthy elites are better at making policy than the masses, and they dismiss that objection in favor of faith in the demos:

A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect.50 Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one's own interests or a determination to work for the common good.

All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative [Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," draft, Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming Fall 2014; posted online at Princeton 2014.04.09].

For hope against research, I look across the border to Canada, where citizens of Kitimat just voted against a Big Oil alternative to Keystone XL:

In a vote cheered as a victory for democracy, one community in British Columbia has given a flat rejection to a proposed tar sands pipeline.

Over 58 percent of voters who headed to the polls in the North Coast municipality of Kitimat on Saturday said "no" to Enbridge's Northern Gateway project.

That project would include a pipeline to carry tar sands crude from near Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat.

..."The people have spoken. That’s what we wanted — it’s a democratic process," Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said in a statement following the vote. "We’ll be talking about this Monday night at Council, and then we’ll go from there with whatever Council decides" [Andrea Germanos, "In Small Canadian Town Democracy Wins, Tar Sands Loses," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

Voting can beat money. Democracy can beat oligarchy. But we have to work at it. Fellow citizens, keep hope alive.


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