Kevin Drum produces a remarkable chart that shows President Barack Obama's clear superiority to his predecessor in helping the economy recover from recession:

Chart: Obama vs. Bush Employment Recovery

Source: Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06

Count private employment as a percentage of the labor force, and you see that in five and a half years, President Bush never got private employment back to a larger percentage of the workforce than it was when he took office. Under President Obama, that percentage has climbed steadily higher. President Obama achieved this recovery from a far worse recession than President Bush faced. President Obama has also achieved this recovery without the housing boom that fueled much of President Bush's recovery but which, as Drum reminds us, ended in "an epic global crash."

Drum spots President Bush a few points with a second graph that includes government employment:

Obama vs. Bush, Total Jobs Recovery

Source: Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06

We raise President Bush's numbers and lower President Obama's if we include government payrolls.

Bush got a nice tailwind from increased hiring at the state and federal level. Obama, conversely, was sailing into heavy headwinds because he inherited a worse recession. States cut employment sharply—partly because they had to and partly because Republican governors saw the recession as an opportunity to slash the size of government—and Congress was unwilling to help them out in any kind of serious way [Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06].

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: President Barack Obama is beating his predecessor George W. Bush on economic performance. The difference would be even greater if President Obama had grown government the way President Bush did.

Related Reading: Discussing British politics, Simon Wren-Lewis says that ideologues who adopt a "small state" as a matter of principle miss lots of points:

...they are not prepared to look at these items on their merits. Instead they have a blanket ideological distaste for all things to do with government. The evidence that government is ‘always the problem’ is just not there. The idea that private sector activity is always welfare enhancing and is best left alone was blown out of the water by the financial crisis.

...reducing government spending during a liquidity trap recession does real harm. It wastes resources on a huge scale.

...a final problem I have with small state people... is their disregard for the evidence. It is true that most people are bad at acknowledging counter evidence, but those with an ideological conviction are worse than most [Simon Wren-Lewis, "The Imaginary World of Small State People," Mainly Macro, 2014.12.07].


Maybe Dennis Daugaard is right: getting a liberal arts degree dooms graduates to crappy jobs... in the Daugaard Administration.

A friend of the blog sifted through public records for information about the educational background of various officials in South Dakota state government. The analysis found a dangerously high number of suspicious characters who studied liberal artsy fields instead of good, solid, breadwinning technical subjects like welding. Among these nefarious scholars of the humanities:

First Name Last Name Title Initial Degree Major
Dennis Daugaard Governor Government
Tony Venhuizen Chief of Staff History
Political Science
Kim Malsam-Rysdon Senior Advisor Political Science
Nathan Sanderson Director of Policy & Operations Agriculture Education
Jim Seward General Counsel Political Science
Jim Soyer Legislative Director English Education
Laura Ringling Policy Analyst English
Kelsey Pritchard Assistant Director of Communications Politics
Grace Kessler Director of Constituent Services Politics
Jim Hagen Tourism Political Science
Melody Schopp Education Elementary Education
Doneen Hollingsworth Health Political Science

An English major analyzing policy! Education majors advising (who'd'a thunk that?)! Political scientists, veritable Aristotles, running Health and Tourism! Is that all the opportunity their liberal arts studies could get these poor souls?

Let that be a lesson to all your Girls Staters as you consider your careers in welding.


South Dakota is one of the least corrupt states in America, says new research. Two profs analyzed the perceptions of 280 local reporters nationwide of how frequently government officials trade favors for endorsements, campaign contributions, or outright bribes.

When scores for both corruption measures were combined seven states — Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania — rose to the top as most corrupt, as mapped above. Meanwhile, eight states were deemed least corrupt. (They were Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.) [Niraj Chokshi, "A State Guide to Political Corruption, According to the Reporters Who Cover It," Washington Post: GovBeat, 2014.12.08].

This research runs counter to other studies that have found South Dakota third in public corruption convictions (two separate analyses), second for risk of corruption, sixth worst in campaign finance integrity, and eighth most corrupt as measured by convictions and government spending patterns.

South Dakota officials will likely spend great time and effort promoting this new and anomalous low corruption ranking. I pre-emptively balance that effort by pointing out these weaknesses in the new study:

  1. South Dakota is one of ten states from which the researchers received "relatively few responses." Less data means greater margin of error.
  2. The responses came from a self-selecting pool of 280 reporters out of 1,000 contacted. Self-selecting pools give less accurate results than randomly selected pools. (Of course, this could go either way: pesky muckrakers may be more likely to respond and skew the results negative... but then South Dakota may be underrepresented by having a fewer pesky muckrakers.)
  3. The survey deals with perceptions, not objective data. We can find outside observers who think South Dakota is a black hole of corruption.

The authors do not tell us which reporters or reporter responded for South Dakota. They probably did not talk to Denise Ross, who wrote up South Dakota's weak safeguards against corruption in 2012 for the Center for Public Integrity. The authors gathered their data before GOAC published its ridiculous and insulting whitewash of the EB-5 affair. But that any reporter in South Dakota can look at the evidence of corruption in the Attorney General's office and say, "Nope, no corruption happening here!" should make us question the effectiveness of our journalistic watchdogs.


P&R Miscellany echoes a position voiced by Fox News and Senator Rand Paul: Eric Garner, the New York man who died last July after a physically forceful arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes, was killed in part by the nanny state:

Government, if it is to be just and not tyrannically oppressive, must be limited.  This was the seminal fact that guided our founding fathers in drafting the Constitution (and the Articles of Confederation before that).  We must accept the fact that there are problems and difficulties which government cannot solve.  In fact, it can solve none of them.  At best, government can lessen the severity of these evils - it can restrain them - but it cannot eliminate them.  A government so persuaded of its own powers that it thinks it can eliminate them very quickly becomes one of those very evils governments were instituted to restrain ["A More Properly Limited Government Would Have Saved Mr. Garner," P&R Miscellany, 2014.12.05].

P&R seems to be arguing on the fringes of practical policy outcomes. Garner had been arrested over thirty times since 1980, and the nanny state didn't kill him in any of those instances. NYPD made 228,000 misdemeanor arrests in 2013, and none of those arrests resulted in death by nanny state. If the nanny state is a killer, it's not trying very hard.

The comment section doesn't need my encouragement to discuss Garner's arrest and the Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo. But I'd like to shine a little light at P&R's reference to the Articles of Confederation to show the weakness of P&R's argument.

P&R says government can't solve problems. But the swift abandonment of the failing Articles of Confederation in favor of the bigger-government Constitution shows our Founding Fathers learned otherwise from experience. They tried the weaker, decentralized confederate form of government and found it a miserable way to run a country. In less than a decade, they scrapped that plan and adopted the stronger, centralized, federalist government of the Constitution. That new federal model, a real grandmammy compared to the niggling nanny-state measures, fixed all sorts of problems, including...

  1. economic chaos from unregulated trade,
  2. non-uniform and unstable currency,
  3. unpredictable federal revenue stream due to lack of taxation power (oh, wait: I forget that some of P&R's conservative friends don't think that's a problem),
  4. lack of an independent judiciary,
  5. lack of clear direction of foreign affairs,
  6. military impotence, and
  7. legislative inefficiency (again, not a problem in some arch-conservative minds... and a problem that, 225 years out, Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell have happily brought back).

Stronger government lifted America from mediocrity and set the stage for thirteen rebellious, isolated colonies to become a global superpower and a beacon of democratic success.

Debate rages (the verb is used quite accurately here) over Garner's death and the legal and moral culpability therefor. But to say that Garner's death is an object lesson in the undesirability of government ignores practical results and our own history.


The summary of Governor Daugaard's recommended budget changes for Fiscal Year 2016 includes the following graphs comparing the growth in total state expenditures over the last ten years and the growth in certain spending subsets. These graphs show that Governor Daugaard has made education bear a greater portion of his budget cutting than other areas.

State Aid to Schools FY2006–FY2016 (proposed)

From FY 2006 to FY 2011, state aid to education grew a little more than overall state spending. Governor Mike Rounds and the Legislature made education more of a budgetary priority than other areas of the budget. In FY 2012, Governor Daugaard hacked education back almost to its FY 2006 level while increasing total state spending. Governor Daugaard and the Legislature have found enough money to raise total spend spending nearly 40% higher than the FY 2006 level, but they have throttled education to an increase of about 25%.

Now compare the curves for other areas of the budget where Governor Daugaard proposes major changes this year:  Health and Human Services FY2006–FY2016 (proposed)

Health and human services have grown faster than the rest of the budget and remain above the total curve by about 30 percentage points.Corrections FY2006–FY2016 (proposed)

We've found the political will to increase corrections spending right in line with overall spending.Ag, DENR, GF&P FY2006–FY2016 (proposed)

Agriculture, natural resources, and Game Fish & Parks get bounced all over the place. Daugaard has consistently cut those budgets and will drop them almost back to FY 2006 and FY 2011 level. But notice that amidst the FY 2012 chainsaw massacre he had to undertake to fix the structural deficit Mike Rounds left him, Governor Daugaard managed to raise Ag/DENR/GF&P spending 50%. UJS, Legis, Elected Officials FY2006–FY2016 (proposed)

The courts, the Legislature, and other elected state offices have managed to stay mostly above the growth curve. The FY 2012 cuts only sliced off Rounds-era fat and brought their increases back in line with overall increases.Remainder of State Government FY2006–FY2016 (proposed)

"Other" got the snot knocked out of it during the last half of the Rounds era. Budget growth is sporadic under Governor Daugaard, but notice that here as in Ag/DENR/GF&P, when everything else was getting cut, the Governor and the Legislature still swung a 50-point increase for this area and restored "Other" funding growth to the overall growth rate. In FY 2014, they mustered an 80-point increase.

A multitude of conditions may justify different growth rates for different budget areas. The point these charts make is that when we want to set priorities, South Dakota is able to find funds to support those priorities. In all five of his budgets, Governor Daugaard has said education is not a priority.


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!


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.


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?


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