Senator Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot) got the Senate to advance his watershed management plan yesterday. Senate Bill 2, while significantly watered down, is a positive step toward dealing with drainage and other water quality issues in South Dakota. In its baby-steps form, SB 2 will map nine new "river basin natural resource districts," for South Dakota's major watersheds, then dispatch a task force to work with local governments to create a pilot water management plan for the Vermillion River watershed. Senator Frerichs tells me he likes that step, since the Vermillion River is the only watershed that lies entirely in South Dakota. Starting there will give local lawmakers, water consumers, and conservationists a good framework for applying plans to other districts which will inevitably have cross-border conversations about water quality.

The Senate vote wasn't a slam dunk: SB 2 drew 12 nays from Republicans who either don't like government, cooperation on water issues, or bills by Democrats (although the latter shouldn't play too large in opponents' sentiments, since the prime sponsor in the House is Republican Majority Leader Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City).

Technically, Senator Frerichs offered some debate on his bill the day before it came up in the Senate. On Wednesday, during debate on throwing another pot of money at pine beetles in the Black Hills, Senator Frerichs drew the following comparison:

I applaud the efforts of the folks that are dealing with this Mother Nature problem out there, truly management at its finest. In our Ag committee we've had a little discussion about this and I've talked with my friends who represent those areas.

You know, this pine beetle issue is very similar to what we deal with on the eastern side as far as some water issues, especially surface water, and so I just ask the body's support. Even though I'm probably about as far away from this issue as could be anyone else, we're duly elected as 35 senators to represent this state. I think it's a good issue, and I appreciate the efforts for management on a Mother Nature problem [Senator Jason Frerichs, floor debate on SB 152, South Dakota Senate, Pierre, South Dakota, 2015.02.18, timestamp 32:45].

Translation: I'll vote to spend money on you guys' problem, even though pine beetles aren't eating trees in my back yard; how about you guys vote to help solve some water issues that are more prevalent in my bailiwick?

Four Black Hills senators (Haverly, Rampelberg, Solano, and Tieszen) took Frerichs up on that pitch (because you know, water does run through the Black Hills, too!). Three Black Hills senators (Cammack, Ewing, and Jensen) said no while happily taking tax dollars for their beetles.

Also voting no was the senator towards who sees darn near all of that water flow through his back yard, Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes). Of course, when all that run-off comes burbling over the dikes at his golf course, Senator Lederman will climb on his McMansion roof and shout for more big government management of his water problems.

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Four bills aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of the death penalty in South Dakota await our Legislature's attention:

  1. Senate Bill 121 would repeal the death penalty in all future cases.
  2. SB 122 would continge issuance of a death sentence on "a finding that the defendant is too dangerous to be incarcerated and is an ongoing danger to the public and the prison community."
  3. House Bill 1158 would require that evidence that the victim or victim's family opposed the death penalty be presented at the presentence hearing in any capital case.
  4. HB 1159 would create a database of citizens who would declare, "Should I die as a result of a violent crime, it is my wish that no person found guilty of homicide for my killing be subject to a death sentence." Citizens would register themselves in this database on their driver's license applications.

If you're looking for support for those bills, don't look to the six legislators who appeared at Aberdeen's crackerbarrel on Saturday. None committed to support any of those bills. The lone Democrat on the panel, District 1 Senator Jason Frerichs of Wilmot, hinted that he might support SB 122, the added sentencing guideline, since one of the sponsors, rookie Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion), sentenced Donald Moeller to death in 1997, but Sen. Frerichs only said he hopes SB 122 comes to the floor for debate. His comments make clear that even he believes we should kill some criminals.

Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) said he can't find any Biblical reason not to kill criminals. His mom, Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) vaguely referenced Barabbas but said it's o.k. to kill criminals who brag about enjoying prison (no, really, that's the story she told!). Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) said he voted against last year's death penalty repeal but doesn't know how he'll vote this year. His dad, Rep. Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen), misrepresented SB 122 as a ban on the death penalty, then invoked the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Chester Poage murder (for the record, Al, even I, who was outraged at the jihadis who killed the French cartoonists, would rather those killers had been put in prison, not killed) to justify his position "not that I support the death penalty, but I support the opportunity for the death penalty." Preferring clarity and brevity, Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen) said he'll vote against these bills.

Here are the full remarks. The speakers, in order, are Sen. Greenfield, Sen. Frerichs, Sen. Novstrup, Rep. Novstrup, Rep. Greenfield, and Rep. Kaiser.

Notice that three of the speakers—the Greenfields and the younger Novstrup—wrung their hands over the difficult, emotional nature of votes on the death penalty. Get a grip, Brock, Lana, and David. This is government, not Dr. Phil. We understand you face all sorts of hard decisions. That's what we pay you the big bucks to do.

Rep. Dan Kaiser is wrong, but I at least respect him for sparing us the emotional showing-off and simply stating his policy position. Similarly, Senator Frerichs is hedging, but he at least focused on a direct discussion of the policy, not his personal emotions.

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Who says South Dakota's primary is an afterthought? The Washington insiders at National Journal:

If Democrats fall a seat short of holding the Senate, there will be a lot of second-guessing on the one race that never materialized but should have held a lot more promise: South Dakota.

The state is holding its primaries Tuesday, and they're an afterthought. Former Gov. Mike Rounds is the Republican now on a glide path to the Senate, facing weak opposition in the GOP primary. In the general election, he'll face Rick Weiland, a former state director for Tom Daschle who (even the most optimistic Democrats will acknowledge) faces near-impossible odds in the solidly red state [Josh Kraushaar, "For Democrats, the Race That Got Away," National Journal, 2014.06.02].

Ouch.

Kraushaar goes on to attribute to "several Democratic operatives" the story that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was going to run but didn't want to deal with a primary that would have forced her to say Lefty things to appease us malcontents in the Wellstone (Abourezk?) wing of the party. The only named source he gets to support that angle is State Senator Jason Frerichs:

"Stephanie's still trying to lick some wounds with the party faithful that were disappointed in her health care vote, and can't get over that. There was a motive there to shut her out, from even entertaining the option from running," said state Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs, an ally of Herseth Sandlin. "Her decision not to run surprised so many of us, we're kicking ourselves for not pushing harder on her to run" [Kraushaar, 2014.06.02].

Kicking ourselves? Who's the we in your our, Senator Frerichs? I don't see any of my shoe leather on my backside, and the only place I feel like applying that shoe leather right now is on Republicans... and maybe on fellow Dems who think three weeks before convention is a good time to be publicly declaring the Rick Weiland campaign a disappointment. Wouldn't the time for that comment have been January 1, when a disappointed Frerichs or any other Dem could have taken out a petition to bring us a better nominee?

Kraushaar Googles around just enough to agree with my prediction that Mike Rounds gets 55% tomorrow, with Stace Nelson second. But thinking any harder about South Dakota hurts his little brain, so he dismisses Larry Pressler as an afterthought, contrary to the judgment of our man Kevin Woster, who says folks should take Pressler seriously. Kraushaar doesn't even mention Gordon Howie and the quixotic 12% of the GOP electorate he can peel away. Add Pressler-Howie crossfire to a Democratic candidate running a smart, door-to-door campaign, a candidate whose only mistake so far (absolutely unnoticed by the mainstream media) is briefly riling some of the Indian base by using a scalping metaphor, and we are far from Kraushaar's impossible.

But you know, South Dakota Dems, if we want to move closer to impossible, telling Washington insiders that we're disappointed and still licking our wounds from 2010 is one good way to do that..

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Can I get a break from my own party? To stop Republicans from destroying public schools and privatizing education, we need to make the case that public education is a common obligation, not a fee for service.

And then Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs says something this stupid:

Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, a farmer and rancher, said it’s appropriate to give agriculture a break on property taxes, especially for education. Homeowners deliver students to their local schools and businesses need a skilled workforce, he said, while farms demand little of a school district [Josh Verges, "Bargain on S.D. Farm Land," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.06.23].

Good grief. Apparently Democratic Senator Frerichs believes...

  1. Farmers never got an education in public schools.
  2. Farmers don't send their kids to public schools.
  3. Farmers don't drive on roads built by workers who went to public school.
  4. Farmers don't deliver their products to businesses run by graduates of public schools.
  5. Farmers have no obligation to the general welfare or future generations.

Farmers, ranchers, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, students, retirees—we all depend on a healthy economic and political culture. We all depend on free, fair, and universal public education to make that culture possible. To excuse any citizen or special class from paying taxes because they "demand little of a school district" misunderstands and undermines the vital principle of public education.

Read your state constitution, Senator Frerichs:

The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education [South Dakota Constitution, Article 8, Section 1].

...and hand a copy to your farm constituents in case they come asking you for tax breaks.

Related: According to data presented by the Department of Revenue to the Legislature's interim committee on education funding last week, agricultural land made up 35% of property value in South Dakota in 2012 but produced only 25% of the property tax collected. Other commercial property (agriculture is a business, too, right?) made up 23% of property value but paid 31% of property taxes. Owner-occupied property made up 40% of property value and paid 40% of property taxes.

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Ink blot time: the New York Times takes a look at South Dakota politics and we Democrats' tussle over just how liberal we dare be in a conservative state. Pat Powers sees confirmation of his tired propaganda that Rick Weiland is a placeholder candidate... even though, as usual, not one word of the article Pat cites says what Pat says it says.

I see the following points in John Eligon's report:

  1. Weiland flies some clear liberal flags: Weiland "has said he would fight corporate interests. Mr. Weiland also favors same-sex marriage and universal background checks for guns, and he is concerned about the weakening of Social Security and Medicare." Good.
  2. South Dakota Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot) says Weiland doesn't come across as a moderate. Apparently accurate from what we have on the record so far.
  3. Senator Frerichs says South Dakota Dems need to have a dialogue on "progressive versus moderate" and the direction of our party. Absolutely. And finding a more Blue Doggy Senate candidate to primary Weiland would provide an excellent opportunity for us to have that conversation and define our party's direction.
  4. State Dems' vice-chair Deb Knecht sounds willing to have that conversation and test the viability of a Democrat's Democrat in South Dakota: "Maybe times are changing and there’s enough young people that get out there and vote that like somebody a little more liberal."

Completely ignored by Powers is the argument some of us Dems want to hear a solid Wellstonian candidate make: that South Dakota is not as conservative as those afraid to wear the Dem label believe:

It is a state in which residents have twice voted by wide margins to repeal bans on abortion passed by the State Legislature. Voters also recently increased the cigarette tax, passed an indoor smoking ban, and killed the Republican governor’s education reform bill, which would have weakened tenure for teachers and tied their ratings to student performance. And Democrats note that although South Dakota’s voters approved a same-sex marriage ban, they did so by a narrower margin (3.7 percent) than California’s (4.6 percent) [John Eligon, "Finding Democrats to Run Where Republicans Win," New York Times, 2013.05.28].

Powers needs you to believe that the discussion is over, that Dems stand no chance in South Dakota unless they act like Republicans. He also needs to stir stories of Demcoratic schisms and chicanery to distract donors and voters from the cataclysmic prospect of a Rounds-Noem-DeMint primary in his own party.

The discussion has just begun. If Rick Weiland campaigns right (left?) and campaigns hard (and I'm still waiting for that to start), he can lead that very important discussion about the direction of the South Dakota Democratic Party and of South Dakota. If he emerges as our nominee (Jason, primary?), he'll give us a chance to test my thesis that the route to victory for South Democrats is not to imitate but to differentiate.

Update 10:02 MDT: Frerichs tells Mr. Montgomery he'll be old enough to run for Senate in 2014, but he says he'll be "very comfortable with Rick Weiland" if a moderate does not challenge him in the primary. If.

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That's my party! The South Dakota Democratic Party is learning to own its brand. They are embracing the Affordable Care Act. They are making acceptance of the ACA's Medicaid expansion a legislative priority. And they are putting Senator Angie Buhl (D-15/Sioux Falls), arguably the most liberal elected official in Pierre, front and center, bold and beautiful, on the poster promoting that policy.

South Dakota Dems are also pointing out that extending all of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act to South Dakotans is a moral and economic imperative:

We can’t afford to not participate in the Affordable Care Act. We have 48,000 uninsured South Dakotans. Our county governments, community hospitals and clinics are doing all they can to provide emergency care for these folks, which is much more expensive than providing preventative care through Medicaid. Most of them are working in low wage jobs that don’t provide insurance, or they’ve had the misfortune of becoming sick or hurt and they can’t get insurance. These are real people with real stories.

It’s a moral issue but it’s also an economic issue. The $200 million provided through the Affordable Care Act will be a bargain for our state, perhaps one of the biggest boons to our economy that we could hope for. The $200 million in new spending means hundreds of new jobs in communities across the state [Senator Jason Frerichs, "Democrats: Budget Could Hurt State Economy," South Dakota Democratic Party, 2012.12.04].

As Senator Frerichs contends, if we can fight to keep federal funding for Ellsworth Air Force Base for economic reasons, we should fight for the economic stimulus that the Medicaid expansion would bring. Plus, Ellsworth AFB exists to break things and kill people. The Affordable Care Act exists to make people better.

Senator Buhl, Senator Frerichs, and South Dakota Democrats are fighting for the right policy... a policy that just happens to show why we can take pride in being Democrats.

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For better or for worse, expect the South Dakota Legislature to get big-time busy this week. Some juicy morsels coming from the kitchen:

Senator Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot) should be dropping his pipeline bonding bill in the hopper any day now. Sen. Frerichs would like TransCanada and any other major oil pipeline to put up $500 million to ensure that we have money on hand to clean up after a big pipeline rupture. I will complain that $500 million is less than half the cost of cleaning up a Keystone-sized spill, but Frerichs's bonding proposal is a lot better than Governor Daugaard's policy of "Trust TransCanada!" The complaint from the other side might be that it wouldn't be fair for us to change the rules on TransCanada so far into their project, but given that the President just sent Keystone XL back to square one, that complaint is now moot. Sock it to 'em, Jason!

(Update 2012.01.24 19:45 MST: Sen. Frerichs files SB 126!)

Representative Brian Liss (R-13/Sioux Falls) says he's about to submit a bill to give homeschool parents a $275 handout for each child they homeschool. He estimates that with 3300 homeschool children, the bill would cost $907,500, if everyone eligible applies. Rep. Liss, a dyed in the wool conservative, feels no need to provide a new funding mechanism for this handout; he says our increased sales tax revenues will cover it. But really, Rep. Liss, do you think Governor Daugaard will let you throw more money at education without demanding better results? Maybe you should only allocate the money to the top 20% of homeschool teachers... oh, but then you're going to have to create a state-mandated program to evaluate them....

(Update 2012.01.14 19:43 MST: Rep. Liss files HB 1215, Handouts for Home School.)

Representative Frank Kloucek (D-19/Scotland) takes his HB 1004, a measure reducing the maximum length of non-compete clauses from two years to one, to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Monday (today!) at 10:00 a.m. The Republicans on the committee ought to eat this bill up: after all, aren't we a right-to-work state? And as a special treat, my grapevine tells me the Sibbinator may be coming to testify. (Please, Steve, please, don't mention New Age Theocracy. You will lose your audience, guaranteed.)

Representative Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) is hoping for a smoke-out of HB 1015, Rep. Don Kopp's (R-35/Rapid City) really crazy idea to effectively get rid of concealead weapons permits. The bill died because certain right-wingnuts got a little too pushy in the lobby. The smoke-out may well happen, just to satisfy certain scorecarders gunning for more press-release fodder. I wonder if such scorecards may be stiffening the spines of various sane Republicans to vote against wingnut legislation. Oh, the irony! Let's hope so!

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The peanut gallery offers numerous nutty suggestions for the seat Commissioner Steve Kolbeck is abdicating on the Public Utilities Commission June 17. Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard gets to pick a replacement for the only Democrat in statewide elected office (besides Senator Tim Johnson, if you count Congress).

Whom might the Governor pick to join Commissioner Chris Nelson in a Daugaard-chosen quorum? Let's speculate:

Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson: Contrary to the fantasies of some "golden-boy" dreamers (who may include Olson himself), the District 8 Senator will never be Governor of South Dakota. He lacks the policy horsepower and raw chutzpah to win that seat or anything higher. Governor Daugaard may choose to make this clear to Olson (if Olson hasn't already quietly come to this conclusion himself) by taking him out of the Legislature and appointing him to the political dead-end of the PUC.

Olson ostensibly has utilities background, although his portfolio at Heartland Consumer Power District is handing out checks, not actual utility policy. Still, as Daugaard's pick of Chris Nelson shows, no experience is necessary.

The fun reason to appoint Olson: his ascent to the PUC would leave a big job opening for an economic development director at Heartland... and the obvious choice for that job is me.

Senator Shantel Krebs: An anonymous dreamer says it heard the District 10 Senator is on the short list. Really? None of her bills this year dealt directly with utilities. She's not on the Commerce and Energy Committee. Picking Krebs for PUC would only seem to enhance the GOP obsession with picking image over substance.

Democratic Legislators: Neither Olson nor Krebs is a good PUC pick politically. It's hard to squeeze political advantage from a board already controlled by Republicans and rather limited in power.

If Governor Daugaard wants to get some bang for his appointment buck, he should play legislative chess. Pick a strong Democratic legislator. Draft Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs, and dare District 1 to come up with another Democrat. Appoint District 8 Rep. Mitch Fargen, and leave us Madison/Flandreau Dems scrambling to find someone to fill his spot on next year's ballot. Pick any district with a strong Democrat winning elections with lots of votes from centrist Republicans and take that option away from them. The Governor can replace that Democratic legislator with a local Republican for the 2012 session and give that aspirant a nice incumbent boost for the general election.

The governor could have similar fun by appointing thorny Republican Senator Stanford Adelstein to the PUC. Then the GOP can replace him with a redder Republican (move the district lines and bring back Bill Napoli!).

Chris Daugaard: The governor caught heck for seeming nepotism when his son Chris landed an analyst's job at the PUC last year. But you know what? That job gives Chris Daugaard more PUC experience than anyone else I've heard mentioned as a possible replacement for Kolbeck. Go for it, Dennis! It's good to be king! Besides, I hear PUC appointments make really nice wedding presents....

Just don't put Tony there, Dennis. Your son-in-law wants to be governor, too... and unlike Russ, Tony has a shot. Don't trip him up with a dead-end PUC appointment.

* * *

Update 10:01 CDT: Another fun blog post shot to hell by the South Dakota Constitution:

No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any civil office in the state which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased during the term for which he was elected, nor shall any member receive any civil appointment from the Governor, the Governor and senate, or from the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, and all such appointments and all votes given for any such members for any such office or appointment shall be void; nor shall any member of the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within one year thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the state or any county thereof, authorized by any law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected [South Dakota Constitution, Article 3, Section 12].

The language of that section seems to suggest legislative chess in the PUC appointment is out. Even if Russ or Shantel resigned from the Senate pre-appointment, Article 3 Section 12 lays the appointment restriction on "the term for which he shall have been elected."

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