Todd Epp stirs the pot with an unsourced story claiming that the contest between Jeff Barth and Ann Tornberg to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party could hinge on their apparently conflicting stances on abortion:

Pro-Barth party activists point out that in Tornberg’s unsuccessful 2014 run for the District 16 state Senate race, she called herself “pro-life” as well as note her ties to other pro-life groups and legislators. The activists say the Democrats at the 2014 state convention adopted a pro-choice platform and that Barth is pro-choice [Todd Epp, "South Dakota Democratic Party Chairmanship May Turn on Abortion Stand," Northern Plains New, 2014.12.12].

Epp's anonymous sources don't specify that votes today at the SDDP Central Committee meeting in Oacoma will swing on that policy difference. We have heard this abortion rumble here in the comment section.

But hey, you Democrats waking up this morning on the Missouri River, listen up:

If you are thinking of casting your vote for party chair based solely on the abortion issue, stop.

Today you are electing a party chair. You are electing an administrator, not a policymaker. You are electing someone to raise money, organize volunteers, and win elections. Delegates in 2016, not the chair, will determine whether "reproductive rights" remain in the party platform (the Sioux Falls paper tells me that's what the platform says, but I can't check, because the SDDP never appears to have updated the website with this year's platform, an administrative thing the new chair should tell the exec to do!). Legislators, not the chair, will decide what issues to focus on in Pierre. Candidates, not the chair, will decide what issues get the spotlight in 2016.

SDDP Central Committee members, if you are voting today on abortion, you are voting in the wrong election. You want to fight about abortion? Petition an initiative to repeal South Dakota's mandatory counseling and 72-hour-plus waiting period for abortion. But today, pick someone who can do the job.

Related Thought Puzzle: What impact did SDGOP chairman Craig Lawrence's position on reproductive rights have on the 2014 election?


Ann Tornberg

The hardest political job in South Dakota now has two candidates. Ann Tornberg publicly joins Jeff Barth in seeking to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Tornberg issued her press release yesterday, one day after Barth sent out his official pitch. Both Tornberg and Barth promise to reinvigorate the county party machine. Both mention the need for more diversity in the party: Tornberg speaks of registering more voters among "diverse constituencies"; Barth promises to recruit more youth and minorities as party leaders and candidates. Both mention a focus on fundraising.

Tornberg's and Barth's opening pitches differ on a few details. Tornberg emphasizes her fundraising skill, noting that she has recruited 20 new members of the Founders Club, the SDDP's base of sustaining donors pledging $120 or more each year. Barth emphasizes his ability to win elections as a Democrat amidst steamrolling Republicans.

Barth is a chess champion; Tornberg is a debate coach. This contest should be fun!

South Dakota Democrats now have two chair candidates from the southern I-29 corridor. If Rick Weiland announces, that would make three. West River, do you have an up-and-comer who'd like to jump in the fray? If these southeast South Dakotans split up the vote, a Black Hills or Pine Ridge candidate could consolidate the West River vote, work on northeast South Dakota, and pull out a victory as the I-29ers split up the big votes.

Sift through the candidate statements and the proportional-voting math, see if you can divine a chair-apparent!

Ann Tornberg announces she is running for SDDP Chair

Beresford, SD - Ann Tornberg, Chair of the Union County Democrats, announced that she is running for South Dakota Democratic Party Chair today. The election will be held among state central committee members on Saturday, December 13th, in Oacoma.

Tornberg released the following statement:

"Our state party has made a lot of progress over the last four years, but we're still not seeing results at the ballot box. I want to help change that.

I'm running for South Dakota Democratic Party Chair because we need to rebuild our county parties, raise money to expand our outreach, recruit a full slate of candidates at the local, state and federal level, and register new voters among diverse constituencies.

Working together from the bottom up, Democrats across the state can build on the progress we've made and fulfill the promise George McGovern instilled in our party to win elections up and down the ballot.

I look forward to hearing new ideas on how we can reach our goals and sharing my ideas during the Chair election and after."

Ann is a proven leader in the South Dakota Democratic Party. Ann is the Union County Democrats Chair, and she's a sitting member of the party's Executive Board. A long time Founders Club member, Ann has personally recruited over 20 new sustaining donors into the Founders Club program. Ann was instrumental in the creation of the first ever Young Elected Legislative Leaders program for high school Democrats, which has already hosted over 80 students in just two years. Last year, she served as House Secretary for Democratic legislators in Pierre and will return to the 2015 Session as Senate Secretary. Ann has run for state legislature, raising over $40,000 in her 2014 bid for state senate.

A retired high school English teacher and former President of the Sioux Falls Education Association, Ann places education funding and the teacher shortage as one of her highest priority issues. She is also a family farm owner and works with groups such as Ag United, SD Dairy Producers, and SD Farmer’s Union to promote agriculture and educate consumers [Ann Tornberg, press release, 2014.11.26].

Jeff Barth, the man to rebuild the South Dakota Democratic Party?

Jeff Barth, the man to rebuild the South Dakota Democratic Party?

Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth is the only Democrat so far to say he wants the job of state party chair. Barth isn't waiting for Rick Weiland to decide whether the chair would suit him; Barth has issued a hefty press release listing his qualifications and plans for the job.

I yield the floor to Barth's pitch for the job:

Jeff Barth a Democrat for State Chair

The position of State Party Chair has never been done perfectly. It has been done successfully. In seeking the position I plan for and expect success.

I bring to the position a number of important qualities.

Working for 31 years at the “Bell” telephone company climbing poles and digging holes I served my fellow workers as a steward, an officer and then as President of the Sioux Falls Trades & Labor Assembly.

As a faithful Democrat I have stuffed envelopes, made phone calls, gone door to door, collected signatures, run for public office and served in multiple Party positions. Twice I attended our State Convention as Minnehaha Chair, both times with a full slate of Delegates and Alternates.

  • Elected three times I am one of few Democrats to win in the 2010 and 2014, Republican Wave years.
  • I was the leading Democratic vote getter in Minnehaha County in 2014. Obama won Minnehaha in 2008 and our statewide candidates need to do well in Minnehaha to be elected.
  • The first candidate to appear on YouTube (in my 2006 campaign).
  • The first South Dakota candidate to have a campaign video to go viral.
  • I was the first statewide Democratic candidate to support gender equality in marriage and am a longtime supporter of Choice.

As a County Commissioner for eight years I have shared responsibility for administrating a $70M+ budget with a staff of over 500. Working as the only Democrat on the Board I have fought hard and been a sensible voice for all the people of my county. Pipelines, criminal justice, drainage, CAFOs, Ag property taxes, an aggressive “Big City” Mayor along with rapid growth are among the issues regularly addressed.

Of me David Montgomery with the Argus leader says “Barth is notably outspoken. In just recent months, he filed a lawsuit against Mike Rounds and others about EB-5 and has excoriated the county auditor for vote-counting delays.”

As your State Party Chair I will work with Staff to:

  • Continue the fight for Party funding within the State and elsewhere. I have already reached out to the DNC and others.
  • Travel across the State building local parties and recruiting activists, young and old. From personal contact to Farmer Union meetings to Union Halls, from conferences to conventions from Pow Wows to Rodeos, I’ll go to where the people are. And, I will make it a priority for the Party staff to spend most of its time helping County parties do their job. We can't have a healthy State party without well organized and robust County parties.
  • Engage minorities into leadership and as candidates for election. Our Party is too White.
  • Engage young people into leadership and as candidates and continue the Yell program. Our party is too old.
  • Hold regular Party meetings and clean up wording in our Constitution.

In asking for your vote I would remind everyone that, “Individuals can’t win. Factions don’t win. Teams win”. I can do the job. Join the team.

Thank you,

Jeff Barth [e-mail, 2014.11.25]

South Dakota Democrats, is that the man and the plan for you?


Let me see if I have this right: during the Minnehaha County Commission's canvass of Tuesday's vote yesterday, Commisssioner Jeff Barth asked County Auditor Bob Litz about errors and delays in the county's delayed ballot count. Auditor Litz proceeded to explain that errors arose because, after he set up several polling stations with two precincts at two tables in the same room, inattentive voters put their ballots in the wrong box. When Commissioner Barth asked how that Election Day set-up could have affected glitchy counting of absentee ballots, Litz responded with this remarkable disrespect for the commissioner:

I have no idea what you're trying to get at with this question. Madame Chair, you know, I would ask that we stay on task with this matter. I'm not here to make a political statement. I'm here to get the results and the accuracy of this canvass passed by this commission. I'd like to save Mr. Barth's proclivitous political partisan pandering for another day. I think the conversation today has to stay with this canvass [Bob Litz, Minnehaha County Commission meeting, Sioux Falls, SD, 2014.11.07].

I'm trying to parse Litz's neologism, proclivitous. If it means anything, we may be able to interpret it as, "manifesting a tendency to engage in some behavior, probably an objectionable behavior."

In the midst of the canvass of a vote, the purpose of which is to verify the legitimacy of the ballots and the completeness and accuracy of the vote count, Commissioner Jeff Barth asks a question about the completeness and accuracy of the vote count. County Auditor Bob Litz, in complete contravention of the purpose of the canvass and his sworn duty as chief election officer of the county, dismisses that question as objectionable political pandering.

Based on his doubts about the integrity of the results tabulated by Auditor Litz, Commissioner Barth voted not to accept the results of the canvass. The rest of the Commission, which voted to approve the canvass, seemed not to want to have that conversation:

Chief Civil Deputy State's Attorney Kersten Kappmeyer and Commissioner Gerald Beninga told Barth a canvassing meeting was not the place to question Litz's performance in the election.

"There are legal remedies elsewhere for the issues Commissioner Barth raised," Kappmeyer said.

"We know we've got an issue. We need to solve the issue," Beninga added. But he said dealing with a review of election procedures as regular commission business and not at a canvassing meeting is the appropriate course [Peter Harriman, "Election Canvas [sic] Gets Heated over Voting Problems," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.07].

Minnehaha County, you most certainly should pursue legal or other remedies against a County Auditor who appears to be unable and unwilling to conduct elections effectively and respond commissioners' questions respectfully and directly. You need to take Auditor Litz by the scruff of the neck, tell him to quit blaming Barth for asking good questions and voters eating macaroni and cheese, and fix the problem in Minnehaha County's voting system.


John Tsitrian puts two and two together and gets 127 million reasons that Jeff Barth's legal action against Mike Rounds and company has merit:

Worth noting is that the budget gap facing incoming Governor Dennis Daugaard in 2011 (I believe $127 million is the figure most commonly used--I'm eminently correctable by more knowledgeable readers via my comments section) was roughly the same amount as was given up by the shady transfer of business from SD to Joop Bollen. Daugaard had to apply some painful budget cuts to make up the difference. On that basis alone, all South Dakotans have a beef that should be addressed in the courts. We came up short of cash that should have been ours. That cash would have been enough to cover most of the budget shortfall that Daugaard had to contend with during his first year in office [John Tsitrian, "Probably Political As All Get Out, But Barth's Beef Is Legit, Just The Same," The Constant Commoner, 2014.09.24].

Notice that argument as to Bollen and Rounds's culpability for fiscal harm done to every South Dakotan doesn't mention the word EB-5. It mentions something every South Dakota voter can immediately grasp: The Rounds Administration allowed a fraud that cost the state millions of dollars that your counties and schools had to make up by cutting services, cutting teachers, and raising your local taxes.

Citizens wishing to join Commissioner Barth in his legal action may contact the commissioner here.


In an astute comment under John Tsitrian's vigorous critique of Mike Rounds's buck-passing, Wayne Gilbert says that the GOP Senate candidate appears to view the GOAC investigation of the EB-5 scandal as a campaign opportunity rather a serious legislative matter with legal implications.

Gilbert is right: Rounds's formal response to the Legislature's inquiry reads as if it were written by his campaign manager, not by his lawyer. Rounds makes campaign promises. He recites his own campaign propaganda as fact. He bullies lawmakers, threatening them with defamation charges for having the temerity to ask him questions (and it's debatable whether such charges can even be brought). He accuses Democrats of concocting conspiracy theories. And in snark that exceeds sloppiness, Rounds consistently writes "democrats" with a small d.

Enter Jeff Barth to focus Rounds's legal attention. Yesterday the Minnehaha County Commissioner filed a petition asking the United States District Court of South Dakota to order Mike Rounds, Aberdeen lawyer Jeff Sveen, and former Board of Regents exec Tad Perry to "preserve evidence" related to South Dakota's EB-5 program.

For the first time in the EB-5 scandal, Rounds is being called to account in court. Rounds may think he can politicize the GOAC hearings, but he doesn't dare try politicizing a federal courtroom. Facing a federal judge, Rounds needs to get serious about the facts and law surrounding the abuses of power that occurred under his administration. (He can start by reading legal eagle Todd Epp, who brilliantly explains the legal details of Barth's petition.)


...Mayor Huether disappoints with legalisms.

The South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance insures nearly 400 county, city, and other local governments. SDPAA is using its publicly funded clout to squeeze impoverished Lakota neighbors and intimidate uppity Indian voters who would dare fight for their voting rights.

Voting rights advocate O.J. Semans thinks the local officials using your money to pay for SDPAA's voter intimidation should speak up. The Four Directions exec has been contacting SDPAA members, explaining the dismissed Brooks v. Gant lawsuit that has provoked the SDPAA's venom, and asking officials to help get their insurer off the Indian plaintiffs' backs.

Semans spoke to the Minnehaha County Commission Tuesday. The commission isn't sure if it has the legal authority to tell the SDPAA what to do (it probably doesn't, though they could sure as heck pull their money and seek an insurer who respects Indian voting rights). But two commissioners said they're sure that Semans is right and SDPAA is wrong:

“I absolutely agree with you in every sense of the word,” Commissioner John Pekas told Semans. “I don’t think they should go for costs, personally.”

Commissioner Jeff Barth added that “there is a mentality to try to discourage participation in the political process. I’m not sure the insurance company is doing this on their own behalf. There may be other forces suggesting they do this.”

...Pekas, a lawyer, told Semans that based on his professional experience he thinks there is virtually no chance U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier would award costs to the assurance alliance.

“You guys won your case,” Pekas said [Peter Harriman, "West River Dispute Touches Minnehaha," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.08.28].

Kudos to Commissioners Pekas and Barth for clear legal and moral thinking!

Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether's moral compass, alas, does not point nearly so surely toward truth. Semans asked the mayor for the opportunity to meet and discuss the SDPAA's voter intimidation. Mayor Huether had city attorney Dan Pfiefle decline for him, saying city officials can't make public statements about pending litigation.

Hmm... that didn't stop Commissioners Pekas and Barth from saying black is black. And the Mayor's legalistic concerns don't seem to affect what Semans actually requested, which was not a definite public statement from anyone but a chance to meet with Mayor Huether to discuss the issue. Mayor Huether evaded that discussion.

Disappointed at that evasion, Semans wrote back directly to Mayor Huether the day after what he considered a useful conversation with the Minnehaha County Commission. Framing the issue in the context of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Semans made a more direct appeal for action (I quote lengthily, because Semans writes here with forceful eloquence):

Although it appears the City of Sioux Falls decided to take a legal approach versus a moral approach to the issue, I am not giving up on my attempt to create a dialogue with you:

The South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance is asking to recover fees from the Plaintiffs in Brooks v. Gant, a voting rights case. The city of Sioux Falls is a member of the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance (SDPAA). Sioux Falls has two city employees serving as members of the SDPAA Board of Directors. The City of Sioux Falls, as a member of SDPAA, is a voting member and has a right to question SDPAA actions if the City believes the actions of the SDPAA are not in the best interests of the citizens of Sioux Falls and the State of South Dakota. As the holder of the highest office - in the largest city - of the most populated and economically vital county in South Dakota - and the most significant government entity member of the SDPAA, surely your opinion, should you choose to express an opinion on this issue, carries weight. As Mayor, you have the authority, and I would argue the obligation, to question and disavow the actions of SDPAA towards the Plaintiffs in Brooks v. Gant.

Remaining silent and hiding behind a corporate barricade or suggesting that legal concerns necessitates an arms length dismissal is not an option for people of good will on issues of voting rights and racial equality.

I hope you will reconsider your decision and agree to speak with me on this issue. I believe democracy requires the participation of all citizens, and even if the right to equal opportunities to vote for Indians in Shannon County seems far removed from the business of Sioux Falls City Hall, as South Dakotans we are bound together, and we fail or succeed together [O.J. Semans, e-mail to Mayor Mike Huether, 2013.08.28].

Dang! Semans for Secretary of State! Or Governor! Or some dang thing!

Mayor Huether agrees that Semans is eloquent. The Mayor said so in an e-mail he himself wrote back to Semans at the end of that workday. But he still insisted that he can't make public statements about pending litigation. He still avoided addressing why he wouldn't meet with Semans to discuss the issue and what non-public pressure might be brought to bear on SDPAA.

And evidently taking Semans' request as personal criticism, Mayor Huether fired off all sorts of words asserting his diversity cred:

I am incredibly passionate about embracing diversity and tackling the issues and opportunities within it. If you only knew my background, you would understand why. You can challenge the City’s handling of this matter, but please be cautious in attacking my personal beliefs and support in helping folks regardless of race, creed or color [Mayor Mike Huether, e-mail to O.J. Semans, 2013.08.28].

I could quote more Huether text in this vein, but I won't because it's mostly irrelevant. Semans didn't ask Huether to play his harp; he asked him for a chance to talk about the legal and moral travesty the city's insurer is carrying out and that the city might have some clout to stop. Huether said a lot, but he didn't say the right words: "Let's talk, and if we can, let's fix this."

(And just a rhetorical note, Mike: don't waste anyone's time with a claim that starts with "If you only knew...." If your argument hinges on background that you leave to our imaginations, you don't have an argument.)

Huether's neighbors John Pekas and Jeff Barth had no problem saying Minnehaha County's insurer is up to no good. More public officials and customers of the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance should do the same. Mayor Huether, join them and make clear that you don't want your taxpayers to be party to SDPAA's effort to punish fellow South Dakotans who have to go to court to fight for their rights.


Does Jeff Barth have a point? In response to news that various South Dakota Democratic Party county chairs are endorsing Brendan Johnson for Senate, Barth tweets that said party officials ought to resign for endorsing a candidate before the primary.

Having run in a primary against an opponent openly favored by the leading lights of the party, Barth is understandably sensitive to party interference in the primary process.

The SDDP constitution, Article 11, Section 1 reads thus:

Neither the State Central Committee, the State Executive Board nor any County Central Committee shall finance or endorse the candidacy of any person seeking the nomination of the Party in a contested Primary Election.

Hmm... does that language tell local party honchos to keep their endorsements to themselves until the June voters have spoken?

Experienced county party chair Robert Klein of Brookings offers some cover from Article 11 for eager official endorsers:

This has never been construed to prohibit individuals from endorsing candidates.

Their endorsement, however, should not be construed as an endorsement by the County Central Committee [Robert Klein, comment, Political Smokeout, 2013.04.03].

The committees themselves cannot endorse, but members thereof retain their First Amendment right to say whom they like.

And let's keep in mind: the only place a contested primary election currently exists is in the fervid hopes of bloggers and plotters on both sides of the aisle.


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