Kevin Woster's debunking of the Larry Pressler-closet story provokes Joel Rosenthal to recount a locker-room meeting with the veteran Senator and newly minted Independent candidate.

Rosenthal says he was "barely clothed in a towel after showering" when Pressler "literally bumped into me." (Good grief, what kind of dime novel is Joel writing?) If you can get past that introduction, Rosenthal describes Pressler's health care reform proposal:

He then in about 60 seconds told me that health care affordability was a big problem and that as he campaigned people were telling him that. He said that Obamacare was not going to be repealed and needed fixing (a very pragmatic view in my opinion). He then offered what seemed to be the developing Pressler solution. Why couldn’t we (he suggested), have health care delivered through cooperatives, like the Farmer’s Coops? Profits would not be retained by for profit health providers or non-profit health providers but instead by the cooperative’s members?

Hey, Pressler's health coops sound familiar. Cue Indy gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers on health care:

Myers also supports establishing a statewide health insurance cooperative, which he says will lower medical care prices. The term CO-OP here is actually an acronym for Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan, a program created by the Affordable Care Act and supported with federal loans. 400,000 Americans have enrolled in health CO-OPs so far, and states with CO-OPs appear to have lower health insurance premiums. South Dakota has not created a health CO-OP.

Are Pressler and Myers in bed together on policy? If so, Rosenthal doesn't mind. He doesn't think Pressler stands a chance (he says Pressler is "past prime time," and Rosenthal refuses to forgive Pressler's endorsements of Barack Obama). But Rosenthal says Pressler beats the five Republican candidates on policy talk:

The 2014 campaign in the GOP primary so far has been five candidates not talking about making anything better. No new ideas, no policy proposals, no nothing. They are to varying degrees angry birds. Just Shouting! Angry, more angry, and pissed off! ? “I love guns more than you.” “I hate Obamacare more than you.” “I am more conservative (says me) than you.”

Senator Pressler is out of the closet (if he was ever in one) talking about effecting change. It is time for the other candidates to come out of their closets and tell us how they are going to make America better [Joel Rosenthal, "The Closet," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2014.05.11].

I know we won't get former GOP chairman Rosenthal to vote for someone other than his party's nominee. But I'm pleased to see he's open to acknowledging that the apostate Pressler is promising a more intelligent policy conversation than the members of Rosenthal's own party.

Now, back to Rosenthal's sultry novel:

...And then, through the steam of the shower, in walked Larry Rhoden, wearing his chaps and a smile. "Health cooperatives?" he bellowed, throwing down his saddle. "I don't know if it's healthy, but let's do some cooperatin'...." [Joel Rosenthal, Pumping the Primary, Gayville, SD: Blue Ranch Publishing, 2014].


...with Extra False-Quote Fabric-ation Softener!

I think we all got a little distracted in the discussion of Rep. Stace Nelson's speech at the Lincoln County Republicans' dinner Saturday. I think Team Wadhams-Rounds wanted us to get distracted. Let's put that just-about-nine-minute speech up right now:

Rep. Nelson didn't say anything new on Saturday, but the big news is that, for the first time, I think, he said it in front of his primary target, Marion Michael Rounds. In front of a couple hundred of Rounds's South Sioux Falls fans and potential donors, Nelson had the gall to gall to go negative—i.e., to remind them of the big negative sign that Governor Rounds left on the South Dakota state budget. Nelson made sure Rounds and everyone else had flyers on their dinner tables comparing the voting records of Rounds, Nelson, and fellow GOP challenger Sen. Larry Rhoden. Nelson concluded with this shot aimed straight at the front-running insurance salesman:

Look at the records. Don't pick the great smile, because that's not what's going to fix the problems in D.C. What's going to fix the problems in D.C. is someone who will go there and not compromise your future and not compromise my grandson's future, but someone who will toe the line and who will be a conservative Republican, just as my record indicates [Rep. Stace Nelson, speech to Lincoln County Republican dinner, 2013.09.21].

That should have been the lead of every blog story on Nelson's speech: Nelson Attacks Rounds on Deficit and Voting Record.

But former GOP chairman Joel Rosenthal didn't go there. He started the spin cycle with a discussion of what the candidates wore:

In terms of wardrobe though I give Rounds and Rhoden (along with the well groomed Krebs and Jamison) the Oscar for wardrobe. Elected officials should remember their physical appearance is important. They must project an image reflective that they represent others. Citizens will not support someone as their representative who doesn’t present well. I scribe this because of the disheveled appearance of Rep. Stace Nelson who looked like he just got out of bed with his wrinkled shirt and sleeves rolled up above the elbow [Joel Rosenthal, "Political Speeches," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.09.22].

Let's look at what Nelson wore, alongside GOP candidate Annette Bosworth's ensemble:

Rep. Stace Nelson and Annette Bosworth in jeans at Lincoln County GOP dinner, 2013.09.21. (Nelson pic from YouTube; Bosworth pic from Dusty Johnson's Twitter.

Rep. Stace Nelson and Annette Bosworth in jeans at Lincoln County GOP dinner, 2013.09.21. (Nelson pic from YouTube; Bosworth pic from Dusty Johnson's Twitter.

Disheveled? Nelson's (wrinkled?) shirt is tucked in, his hair is combed, he's more cleanly shaven than I ever am. He looks about as presentable in his blue jeans and rolled-up sleeves as Bosworth does in hers. Yet at Bosworth Rosenthal shouts "Cowgirls rule!" and deems her speech (without any policy details) one of the two best of the night.

Pat Powers joins in that chorus. Donning his smug "I'm a campaign expert; listen to me" voice, Powers too chastises Nelson, declaring the state representative to be in "sloppy" sartorial decline while finding a way to praise Annette Bosworth for taking his lordly campaign advice.

Rosenthal and Powers team up gin up an even greater and more malicious distraction: a completely false accusation that Rep. Nelson wants no one but Christians in the Republican Party. Rosenthal, who is no doddering old fool with bad hearing aids, put words Nelson did not say in quotation marks and said Nelson "unequivocally" said them. I fell for it, blogged it, then had to take it back when David Montgomery's audio and Stace Nelson's video proved Rosenthal was wrong.

Rosenthal did not take it back. He did not apologize. He chose to keep the meme alive with this "correction" (which word I put in Rosenthalesque quotation marks, meaning it's not really what he says it is):

David Montgomery at Political Smokeout at the Argus Leader calls me out on my listening skills.

Rather than what I “thought” I heard candidate Nelson say. Following is what Montgomery says his recording of the event shows what Nelson actually said,

“I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order, and I’ll be the latter as long as it supports the first two.”

It is an important distinction if Nelson is exclusively referring to himself.

My reaction, as Montgomery suggests is different when I read the words, but that does not alter my reaction to what my mind heard [Rosenthal addendum, 2013.09.23].

Instead of apologizing, Rosenthal treats his misquotation as something still worthy of our attention in discussing the Nelson campaign. Rosenthal leaves his vitriolic dismissal of the "unenlightened" and "xenophobic" words he put in Nelson's mouth unedited.

Rep. Nelson responded with predictable and justifiable umbrage, calling Rosenthal's post a "dishonest & contrived political gutter attack."

Powers then responds with this incredible exercise in distractive moral relativism:

Representative Nelson is entitled to his own opinion, believing he was unfairly attacked, as is Rosenthal believing he heard Nelson’s words gave the impression one needed to be Christian to be a Republican. As a practitioner of the Hebrew faith, and a former State GOP Chair, if that’s what Rosenthal thought he heard, I can understand why he didn’t appreciate it [Pat Powers, "US Sen Candidate Nelson calls complaint about Christian reference 'corrupt political gutter atttack [sic]'," Dakota War College, 2013.09.23].

We have here a classic example of entitlement to one's own opinion but not to one's own facts. The record establishes clearly that Rep. Stace Nelson did not say what Joel Rosenthal said he said. Being accused of saying something that one did not say is an unequivocal example of an unfair attack, not just a matter of opinion. Neither Rosenthal, Powers, nor anyone else is entitled to say that Rosenthal issued a fair attack. Rosenthal's not entitled to have us discuss his lack of appreciation for a figment of his political imagination. Nelson is entitled to an apology.

But because Stace Nelson crapped on Mike Rounds's royal table in front of a bunch of Republicans, the GOP spin machine makes Nelson a shabbily dressed Shrek...

...and we don't discuss the substance of Nelson's challenge to the GOP frontrunner's record, because the frontrunner's machine knows the discussion of that substance is its greatest threat.

That's the Wadhams-Rounds-Rosenthal game. That's why we praise the fluff-bunnies and demonize the one Republican in the GOP Senate primary talking even a shred of sense.

Update 2013.09.25 22:50 CDT: By the way, Rounds wore jeans to the Lincoln County GOP dinner, too. Yet his buttoned-down sleeves are apparently all the difference between Rosenthal shouting "disheveled" and "Oscar!" for wardrobe.


Really important update! Could it be that an august mainstream Republican misquoted a firebrand party pariah?

Earlier I noted former SDGOP exec Joel Rosenthal's lambasting of Rep. Stace Nelson's apparent exclusion of non-Christians from Republican Party membership. Here's what Rosenthal said Nelson said:

“I am a Christian, Conservative, and a Republican. You can’t be the third unless you are the first two” [Joel Rosenthal, "Political Speeches," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.09.22].

Hold the phone closer to the mic, says journalist David Montgomery, who was at the Lincoln County Republican dinner Saturday and didn't hear any such ill-advised exclusion. Spidey-sense tingling, Montgomery rewinds his tape recorder:

Here’s what I hear Nelson saying on my recording, which is a little hard to make out at points because of crowd noise, but is pretty clear during the bold part, the crux of the matter. The quote in question comes after Nelson talks about how he didn’t just knock on Republican voters’ doors while campaigning, and is telling the story of his interaction with one voter in his district:

I knocked on that door and said, “Sir… I’m Stace Nelson, I’m looking to serve in the state Legislature.”

He looked at me and said, “Which party?”

I looked at him in the eye and I said, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order, and I’ll be the latter as long as it supports the first two.”

You can imagine the shock when so many people hear that. They say, well, that’s not very politically correct. I say, well… I’m not very politically correct either.

[David Montgomery, "What Stace Actually Said About Christianity and the GOP," Political Smokeout, 2013.09.23]

What Montgomery quotes here fits with what I've heard Nelson say on more than one occasion. When he lists his three worldview touchstones, he's not laying down norms for others; he's explaining his own moral and political priorities.

I knew this quote would require someone to do some explaining. But the main explaining may lie on Rosenthal's shoulders, not Nelson's.


Important Update 11:28 CDT! Nelson said no such thing. Rosenthal was hearing things!

Update 2013.09.24 12:05 CDT: Read my read of the smokescreen of fabric and fabrication Rosenthal and company are trying to blow for Mike Rounds.

*******Original Post*******

Joel Rosenthal's opinion means something. And the ex-exec of the South Dakota Republican Party doesn't have a very high opinion of Rep. Stace Nelson. Among other things, Rosenthal blasts Nelson for an error on which Republicans don't get called enough: exclusivity:

Stace Nelson whom I have never met and only know through his reputation at the highlight of his speech unequivocally said,

“I am a Christian, Conservative, and a Republican. You can’t be the third unless you are the first two” [Joel Rosenthal, "Political Speeches," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.09.22]

Rosenthal, who is Jewish, takes proper umbrage:

Such xenophobic logic has no place in our political debate. Taken on its face, since Christ was a Jew, would he not meet the Nelson Republican Litmus Test? – And be denied to be a Republican? [Rosenthal, 2013.09.22]

—not that Jesus would have been signing up with any political party, but you can see where Joel is heading—

Further I do believe there are elements of Judeo Christian thought that are shared by Republican philosophy. I.e., the Republican Party was founded in part on wanting to eliminate Slavery. Clearly the GOP and true Christians share values. Christians (if I understand correctly) like Jews believe in clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted. Many Democrats share these values as well. The difference lie between the parties and yes factions within our political parties as to whether churches, charities, or the government should be responsible [Rosenthal, 2013.09.22].

Is Nelson's Christian requirement for Republicanism just a rookie mistake? You don't get rookie mistakes while running for U.S. Senate. But I don't think this is a rookie mistake. Nelson's statement belies the litmus test that I fear many South Dakota Republicans apply. They assume Christianity is a norm. They assume everyone in their room is Christian, and they assume that everyone who is not Christian is an enemy who should be excluded from the party if not from the United States of Blessed America. They assume that they can mingle their politics, patriotism, and piety without offending anyone on their side.

Nelson will never get Rosenthal back on his side. Rosenthal won't forget Nelson's declaration that Joel Rosenthal can't be a Republican. Rosenthal going to tell every Republican he knows not to support Nelson. And Rosenthal knows a lot of Republicans.


Former South Dakota Republican Party exec Joel Rosenthal joins other prominent Republicans and a whole bunch of angry South Dakotans in saying that the new Republican-backed policy of giving taxpayer dollars to the partisan, conservative American Legislative Exchange Council is a bad idea:

I like conservative groups and think they can impact the process. I just don’t think it is very conservative that the government augments their efforts with public money.

...Now the GOP majority has extended travel and paying memberships to Legislative Associations. In the case of ALEC, they may have handed the Democrats a political issue. More importantly while they find they may have pulled a fast one on the South Dakota taxpayer (over a $50 annual membership) I question why would those that believe and espouse smaller government want to have the State pay for their non government partisan activity?

ALEC may provide important conservative ideas, some of which I support but the State of South Dakota should not pay [Joel Rosenthal, "Get Real," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.05.29].

Dang: more folks who put principle over crass self-interest like Joel Rosenthal might have kept me in the SDGOP... unlike mealy-mouthed corporate welfarists like Mike Rounds, who drove me out.

Rosenthal proposes reasonable alternatives, like giving legislators a partial travel stipend to spend as they see fit, requiring such conference costs to come from documentable campaign funds, or using online technology instead of travel.

Getting their prefab pro-corporate legislation from national groups is bad enough; asking South Dakotans to pay their way to these cushy conferences is beyond the pale. Folks on both sides of the aisle recognize that our Republican legislators are misusing our money for their selfish purposes; we can only hope they will listen to the wise advice of Mr. Rosenthal and put that money back in the public cookie jar.


Republican spinster Pat Powers decries Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's work as a lobbyist, then in its next breath calls Governor Dennis Daugaard's choice of lobbyist and former GOP exec Lucas Lentsch a "great pick." Powers breathes not a word about Senator and blog sponsor John Thune's work as a lobbyist during his Congressional hiatus between 2002 and 2004.

David Newquist duly skewers the willfully sloppy journalism behind the Herseth Sandlin complaint. He finds Powers misattributed the original attack to the wrong TV station, quietly and without apology changed the citation after real journalists corrected him. The "story" turned out to come from conservative hack paper the Washington Times and known ultra-conservative windbag Shad Olson. So much for credibility.

On lobbying, reporter Bob Mercer runs interference for Lentsch and says he only lobbied for one megadairy organization. Former SDGOP chair Joel Rosenthal runs better interference, telling Powers and the party to quit whining and focus on real issues:

There are strong contrasts between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans believe in more self-reliance, Democrats in more government reliance. Under Democrat leadership budget deficits and the National Debt are exploding. Democrats want more spending and more taxes, the GOP wants spending reform. Obama care is imploding and as full enactment comes to fruition, Citizens are taking notice that the Affordable Health Care is actually the Un Affordable Health Care Act.
Yet, we hear GOP activists’ rants about Nepotism and Lobbying, i.e. Johnson, Inc. and Herseth Sandlin is a lobbyist. Is this the best the GOP can do? Whine and Complain?
Members of both parties lobby. Tom Daschle, John Thune, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and even today it’s reported the new SD Secretary of Agriculture, former Division Director at SD Ag and former Executive Director of the Republican Party recently was a lobbyist. The pols if they think it is wrong should be critical of all participants regardless of Party [Joel Rosenthal, "People Who Live in Glass Houses," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.04.03].

It's good to hear the GOP still has some grown-ups in the room. Now if they just had some regular blogs offering some original and philosophically consistent analysis instead of just the same old willfully deceptive spin.


Joel Rosenthal wakes us up with some vague griping and moaning about the need for education reform. Rosenthal acknowledges South Dakotans' rejection last November of Initiated Measure 15 and Referred Law 16 as signals that we think our K-12 system is fine the way it is. Rosenthal then contends we are wrong. He doesn't call us tired and stupid the way Governor Daugaard did. He just says that we're all too obsessed with sports (true!) and not focused enough on academic excellence:

However there is little effort by School Boards or the State Legislature to push for academic excellence. Parents and Local School boards are more interested in Extra Curriculars than Academics.

Jim Hanson who served as Secretary of Education for Governor Janklow in the 1980s often said, “the most important question in South Dakota education is the relative importance of (and then he motioned the forward pass or the dribble). Recently Representative Jim Bolin expressed to me what Citizens most want from their Schools is to hang the banner in the Gym. Representative Bolin is not just a thoughtful conservative Legislator but a Great Teacher. Both my children had him for multiple classes and he understands excellent education [Joel Rosenthal, "School Daze," South Dakota Straight Talk, 2013.01.06].

This anecdotal observation is perhaps a better place to start the conversation about what we should change in K-12 education than his only shred of empirical evidence, an observation that too many kids have to take remedial classes at university:

Consistently there are reports of the high numbers of students in our Universities that require remedial education. This means they are not ready for College level work. Those requiring remedial courses exceed 25 percent. That is 1 in 4. While parents believe their children are receiving a good education our Schools are practicing Educational Malpractice! [Rosenthal, 2013.01.06]

LK is one of the educators Rosenthal accuses of malpractice. LK responds that the real malpractice may lie at the feet of the Board of Regents:

One reason that South Dakota's colleges and universities have so many students taking remedial classes is that they take more students than they did a couple of decades ago. The need for tuition dollars seems to have trumped entrance standards [LK, comment to Rosenthal, 2013.01.06].

One in four students taking remedial classes at university may signal that one in four students should have considered options other than costly university educations that may not add much value to their skill sets or career inclinations.

Rosenthal doesn't make clear what practical form his "reform" would take. He just harrumphs "Accountability!" as did the backers of the Governor's failed education reform package last year. If Rosenthal wants to take us down the road of more test-based assessment for students and teachers, which was the core of the Governor's bad policy last year, Rosenthal needs to re-read everything I wrote on HB 1234 last year. Folks didn't reject the Governor's education package because they are obsessed with sports. They rejected HB 1234 because it wouldn't work.

As Rosenthal and legislators fumble toward education reform, they should also read these two articles that question the value of high-stakes testing in measuring how well students and teachers are performing:

  1. A new study from Northwestern University finds that teachers' effects on test scores and non-cognitive skills are "largely orthogonal"—in other words, teachers' abilities to boost test scores have hardly any correlation with their ability to boost things like kids' self-control and perseverance. And there's widespread evidence, says teacher Larry Ferlazzo, that those non-cognitive skills have at least as much impact on students' long-term success as the cognitive skills measured by the bubble tests.
  2. Folks fretting over international test-score comparisons should read what the winners on the international tests say. East Asian countries outscore us on math and science tests, but they find their students lack enthusiasm and self-confidence in those subjects.

I don't know what reforms Rosenthal and his Republican friends in Pierre may advocate this year. But if you want cheerless drones on both sides of the desk, go ahead, float more test-based reform packages. But if you want go-getters with perseverance and enthusiasm, maybe just keep your hands off K-12 education and let us teachers do our thing... a thing that can't be measured by Common Core standardized tests.


Pat Powers can't bring himself to say anything about Rep. Kristi Noem's vote with a minority of House Republicans for the fiscal cliff deal other than to call her justification of it "interesting."

Joel Rosenthal offers a little more insight... and a warning for Noem that her bolt from Tea Party fundamentalism may draw a primary challenge:

Lawmakers who could be vulnerable to a challenge include Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek and South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, who bucked her tea party base and backed the bill, calling it "damage control."

"This makes her vulnerable and there will be discussion that she should have a primary challenge," said Joel Rosenthal, a former South Dakota Republican chairman. "Whether it materializes depends on votes down the road" [Thomas Beaumont, "Fiscal Cliff Vote May Lead to Tough Primaries, Worry Republicans," Huffington Post, 2013.01.05].

Rosenthal's warning assumes Noem will stick with her House seat. If she runs for Senate, her fiscal cliff vote will be a moot point in the primary, as declared GOP Senate candidate Mike Rounds has said he'd have voted the same way Noem did.

Rosenthal's caution also assumes that the tea party base will even exist, let alone have the wherewithal to launch a serious primary challenge, in 2014. Tea partiers may be loading up on county party positions, but for the most part they are running from their 2012 failures to fringe issues that guarantee they will attract no serious campaigners capable of winning general elections. If Noem runs for House again in 2014, I would love to see her face a primary challenge from a skilled and committed conservative. But I don't see such a candidate coming from the Howie-Otten right wing of the SDGOP.


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