Jonathan Ellis catches another example of South Dakota Republicans' use and abuse of state statute to serve their partisan purposes instead of the public welfare. In 2002, Republicans passed a law that forbade individuals running for President or Vice-President to simultaneously run for any other elected office. The target was Tom Daschle: Republicans didn't want him to be able to run for President and Senate in 2004. (Worth noting: Dennis Daugaard voted against the measure in the Senate.)

What's good for the Democratic goose is terrible for the Republican gander. With a Senate seat to hold and long-shot Presidential aspirations to entertain, South Dakota Republicans want to keep the door open for their man John Thune. House Bill 1176 would repeal the 2002 act and let Thune two-time the voters in 2016.

I should be against this cynical political ploy. Running for two offices at once is an abhorrent practice, so abhorrent in the eyes of HB 1176's sponsors that they leave the restriction on double-running in place for any candidates not running for President. Candidates should be held to a standard of, "If elected, I will serve, period," not "I will serve unless...." Allowing candidates to run for multiple offices undermines democracy by guaranteeing that an office will by filled by gubernatorial appointment rather than by the direct will of the people. Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) finds appointment instead of popular choice sufficiently abhorrent to amend legislation to outlaw placeholder candidates, yet here Senator Brown is co-sponsoring HB 1176 to allow Senator Thune to serve essentially as a placeholder on next year's U.S. Senate ballot if he chooses to run for President.

HB 1176 would give John Thune an opportunity that Republicans denied the Democrat he replaced in 2004. I'd call it hypocrisy, but it's not: House Bill 1176 is another expression to the South Dakota Republican Party's consistent commitment to power and partisan interest over principle and the general welfare.

Update 2015.02.02 06:33 CST: Veteran reporter and columnist Tom Lawrence saw this SDGOP ploy coming a couple weeks ago.

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Need help figuring out your 2014 federal tax return? Don't count on the Internal Revenue Service. The National Taxpayer Advocate's latest report to Congress says the IRS lacks the staff and funding to serve taxpayers:

  1. The IRS will be able to answer only 50% of the 100 million calls it will receive from taxpayers this fiscal year.
  2. Callers will often wait 30 minutes to speak to an IRS rep.
  3. In 2004, the IRS answered 87% of its calls, with an average hold time of 2.5 minutes.
  4. Last year, the IRS dropped tax prep service "for hundreds of thousands of low income, elderly, and disabled taxpayers who sought assistance."
  5. Voluntary and timely tax payment provides 98% of the federal government's revenue. Providing good customer service collects revenue far more efficiently than enforcement actions against taxpayers who don't file correctly or at all.
  6. Since FY2010, Congress has reduced the IRS budget 9.9% in straight dollars and 17.7% in inflation-adjusted dollars.
  7. Since FY2010, budget cuts have caused the IRS to cut workforce by 12.3%.
  8. Since FY2010, the IRS has cut its training budget by 87%. In a complicated field where rules and procedures change every year, the amount available to spend on training for each employee (FTE) has dropped in five years from $1,774 to $339.
  9. The IRS managed to answer a bit more its mail on time last year than the year before, but it still failed to process 51% of adjustments (i.e., "You owe us" or "We owe you") correspondence in its standard 45-day timeframe.

That lack of customer service is just one of multiple serious problems the National Taxpayer Advocate's office identifies at the IRS. We could ask for no better example of how smart government sometimes means bigger government: if we want more taxpayers to get answers to tax questions in less time, we need more staff with more training on more phones.

But Senator John Thune appears to prefer self-destructive failure:

Republicans who now control Congress and who led the effort to reduce the IRS budget don't seem too concerned about the agencies woes. It goes back to GOP charges that the agency targeted conservative groups seeking tax exempt status for extra scrutiny.

Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: "I don't think that based on the IRS' record over the last couple of years that there's a whole lot of sympathy for the complaints that they're now making about not having enough funding. Obviously they have a job to do, it's an important job we want to make sure they have the resources to do that job to collect the taxes but wasting resources targeting conservative groups and other things like that is obviously something that we would take great issue with" [Brian Naylor, "IRS Budget Cuts May Make for an Unpleasant Tax Filing Season," NPR: Morning Edition, 2015.01.20].

The Cincinnati IRS office oversteps its bounds, and Senator Thune decides to strangle the entire IRS and leave taxpayers at sea. That makes about as much sense as a teacher reacting to one student scribbling on a desk by taking away everyone's writing utensils and then flunking the kids for not finishing their penmanship assignments. It's almost as if Senator Thune doesn't want us to submit our homework—er, taxes (ah ha! so that's his game!).

The Internal Revenue Service is not some partisan enemy. It is an essential arm of government, without which the ship of state sinks. Senator Thune and Congress can impose the necessary oversight on the IRS and still provide the resources to help tens of millions of taxpayers file their taxes correctly and on time.

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Texas blogger Juanita Jean notes with dismay Senator John Thune's choices for subcommittee chairs on the Senate Commerce Committee that he chairs:

  1. Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), from a small state with no primary international airport.
  2. Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), from a state that ranks last in K-12 education quality and last in number of residents with Internet access.
  3. Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security: Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who voted against regulating the subprime lending industry in November 2007 and has voted against helping us keep our own data secure against warrantless searches.
  4. Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who demurs on questions about climate change and the age of the Earth by saying, "I'm not a scientist, man."
  5. Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whose 2013 government shutdown did permanent damage to scientific research and U.S. competitiveness.
  6. Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security: Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), from a state with no interaction with the merchant marine fleet.

Senator Thune obviously chooses his subcommittee chairs on something other than expertise.

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Senator John Thune is promising sanity in Washington. Not only does he say "We're not going to shut the government down" in the GOP's ongoing attacks on President Obama, but he offers the home folks (i.e., Dennis Daugaard) some cover by expressing Republican openness to raising taxes to fix roads:

In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Thune said that while he is opposed to increasing the gas tax, lawmakers will need to "keep all options" available when they return to Washington this week.

"I don't favor increasing any tax," Thune said. "But I think we have to look at all options."

..."I don't think we take anything off the table at this point," said Thune, who will chair the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Energy Committee. "Those discussions continue... It is important that we fund infrastructure" [Kevin Cirilli, "GOP Senator Leaves Wiggle Room on Gas Tax," The Hill, 2015.01.04].

Senator Thune can't quite break the chains of GOP-Grover Norquist absolutism. But for sloganeering Republicans, the acknowledgment that one might have to actually raise revenues to pay for vital public goods is a step in the right direction. Now if we can get Senator Thune to talk like that during the 2016 campaign, voters might actually get some healthy policy discussion.

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Senator John Thune is laying the rhetorical groundwork necessary to rationalize the shift he and Mike Rounds will have to make to lift the embargo against Cuba and boost donor Jeff Sveen's chances to sell Hutterite turkey in Havana. Senator Thune told the Sioux Falls Rotary Monday that opening trade with Cuba will boost South Dakota agriculture...

"Soybean production here in South Dakota could meet a lot of needs they have in Cuba for that product and that commodity, so there's upside potential and I think we have to recognize that," Thune said [Ben Dunsmoor, "Thune Open to Cuba Plan If Reforms Made," KELOLand.com, 2014.12.23].

...but Thune's not ready to give up his party's political club:

Before Thune would support anything, he says, he would like to see the communist country make political reform and take other progressive steps such as opening up Internet access.

"There are some things in this that could be beneficial for South Dakota but overall lifting the embargo I think there are conditions that have to be met before I could support that. There's so much more that regime needs to do to prove to the rest of the world that they really are serious about modernizing and reforming," Thune said [Dunsmoor, 2014.12.23].

Republican blogger John Tsitrian calls Senator John Thune's position on Cuba ridiculous. Tsitrian wonders how Senator Thune can subordinate clear economic gains to an ideologically (translate: oppose Obama!) misreading of history:

[R]ejection of a pragmatic consideration in favor of a principle may have some honorable intent, but when the principle itself isn't supported by the reality of History, the intent rings with the hollowness of political dogma. When you consider the advances in living conditions and economic opportunities for billions of people since the evolution of free trade that has been in force since the end of World War II, it seems that Thune lacks an understanding of cause-and-effect. Trade itself has been the medium for the elevation of political and economic freedoms, mainly because ideas and ideals flow just as freely as goods and services when markets open up [John Tsitrian, "Re: The Cuban Trade Embargo. Sounds Like Senator Thune Is More a Student of Polemics Than a Student of History," The Constant Commoner, 2014.12.23].

Mr. Tsitrian makes the case for normalizing trade relations with Cuba almost as well as Senator Thune as made the case for normalizing trade relations with much worse offenders. Let's look at what Senator Thune said about granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Cuba's old friend Russia in 2012:

“American businesses and entrepreneurs will no longer face a competitive disadvantage in the Russian market.... The Senate’s adoption of Russia PNTR today opens up new possibilities for American manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, and service providers. Not only does this legislation support American jobs by promoting our products and services abroad, but it will also help to strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption with the inclusion of the Magnitsky human rights provisions. Russia is the fifth largest importer of agricultural products and imported nearly $32 billion in agricultural commodities last year, making it a tremendous opportunity for commodity exporters. I look forward to President Obama signing this bill into law, and ensuring we do not delay job creation and export opportunities both in South Dakota and across the country.” [Senator John Thune, press release, 2012.12.06].

Putin's Russia is repressing political freedom at home and abroad and threatening international peace and stability more than either Castro's Cuba has for the last 25 years. Yet Senator Thune encouraged President Obama to extend the same trade relations to tantruming nuclear tyrant Russia that he's unprepared to extend to far more amenable and unthreatening neighbor Cuba.

Or rewind to May 24, 2000, when Representative John Thune voted to grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Communist China. Rep. Thune saw trade with China as an essential part of addressing ag difficulties in South Dakota. In 14 years, Thune has not reversed his China-trade position, despite China's ongoing censorship, human rights abuses, and ongoing war against religion.

U.S. military and intelligence experts determined in 1997 that Cuba posed a "negligible conventional military threat" to the United States and other neighboring countries. Since then, Cuba's military has only declined further. Cuba poses no threat, while Russia and China do. Cuba has 3% of the GDP of Russia and less than 1% of the GDP of China. I suspect those differences explain Senator Thune's free-trade disconnect. He's willing to thump his chest and demand progressive reforms from little guys, but when the big boys with bulging billfolds and bombers come knocking, principle yields to pragmatism, and Senator Thune opens the trade door wide.

Come on, Senator Thune! Havana hotels and Cuban beaches beckon! Get consistent, and lift the embargo now!

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In February,Senator John Thune told Mark Twain Elementary second-graders he wasn't running for President.

In April, Senator Thune said nope, not running for President.

This week, Senator Thune tells The Hill pretty much the same thing—never say never, but right now, no:

The things I need to be doing right now I’m not doing and a lot of other people are.... But you never close the door on anything, you never know what’s going to happen. But as of right now, no.

...I am not actively pursuing [the presidency] at the moment; I’ve got my work cut out for me in the Senate.... I think being in the majority, and if all things work out here, the committee chairmanship, is going to keep me extremely busy [John Thune, quoted in Jonathan Easley, "Sen. Thune: Not Closing Door on 2016 Run," The Hill, 2014.12.15].

In November he weaved faintly left on climate change. Saturday he weaved right in backing Senator Ted Cruz's futile parliamentary gambit to derail the spending bill on Tea Partyism. We could read these moves as Presidentially exploratory pokes and prods. But I maintain as I did last summer that Thune won't do it.

So do the British oddsmakers. Thune doesn't even make their lists, which include Michele Bachman, David Brat, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thune has just crossed PredictWise threshold: they compile a bunch of online prediction markets and give our senior Senator a 0.1% chance of winning the Republican nomination, behind 25 other possibilities.

South Dakota Dems, assume Thune is running for re-election to the Senate. Find your best candidate and plan to run against him here in South Dakota.

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Texas Senator Ted Cruz, like South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, continues to build his radical conservative brand for the next election by wasting the people's time by futilely bashing the President. During the Senate debate on the stopgap spending bill this weekend, Senator Cruz raised a point of order to declare President Obama's perfectly constitutional actions on immigration unconstitutional. “If you believe President Obama’s executive order was unconstitutional vote yes,” Senator Cruz challenged his colleagues Saturday. “If you think the president’s executive order is constitutional vote no.”

Note to Cruz: President Obama's actions to prioritize enforcement of immigration rules include no executive order.

Whether his colleagues frown on Senator Cruz's terminological error, consider the President's action constitutional, or just think Cruz is a dork, the point was not well taken. The Senate rejected Cruz's parliamentary maneuver 22–74.

Our Senator Tim Johnson voted nay, with all Democrats but Senator Dianne Feinstein, who did not vote. Senator John Thune voted aye among a pretty evenly split and cranky GOP caucus.

Senator Thune did not use the word unconstitutional in his initial response to President Obama's November 20 announcement that he would act where Congress has failed on immigration. But Senator Thune's vote seems to embrace the charge that the President is acting unconstitutionally and signals that South Dakota's Senator wants the home folks to see him as closer to the Cruz wing of his party.

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America tortured detainees. We tortured human beings.

The world is rightly outraged. We have it coming. We call ourselves the exceptional nation, and I'm fine with that if we can live up to that claim. We should be a beacon of democracy, justice, and humanity, not criminal monstrosity. Instead, in our surrender to the terror wrought on us by evil men, we committed evil that undermined our moral authority and did more durable damage to our national interest than the loss of any buildings or lives.

In response to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on our use of torture under the George W. Bush Administration, South Dakota's Congressional delegation splits predictably. Our Republican members ignore the real moral crime and try to paint those who expose our crime as the bad guys:

Republican Sen. John Thune said while some of the findings of the report are disturbing, the "conclusions are misleading and do not represent all the facts."

"With growing national security threats from our enemies around the globe, the release of this report on a program that ended eight years ago puts our military and intelligence operatives in jeopardy today," said Thune, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. "This seems more like a politically motivated report, rather than an honest attempt to improve our intelligence-gathering practices" [Christopher Doering, "S.D. Delegation Divided on Torture Report," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.09].

Yes, yes, stay afraid. Wave the flag, support the troops, pay no attention to the torturers behind the curtain.

Rep. Kristi Noem expressed concern that the details of the report could allow U.S. enemies to "to twist our intentions" and use its findings to promote aggression against America. "Congress must continue to provide thorough oversight over our intelligence activities, but the manner in which this was done puts America in danger and does our country little to no good," she said [Doering, 2014.12.09].

Differing from these cowards, Senator Tim Johnson puts the focus back where it should be, saying we made mistakes and need to admit them:

Today’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation practices was the right thing to do. The American people deserve to know the truth – that the CIA tortured detainees during the Bush Administration using interrogation practices contrary to our American values. We are stronger as a nation when we admit our mistakes, learn from the past, and move forward. I strongly believe that the use of torture is intolerable and inexcusable. These practices failed to make our nation safer and must not happen again [Senator Tim Johnson, press release, 2014.12.09].

Senator John McCain, who bears the scars of torture, agrees with his Democratic colleague:

[The report] is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.

I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values [Senator John McCain, floor statement, United States Senate, 2014.12.09].

Senator McCain says America's torture failed to produce useful intelligence or forward our goals in fighting terrorism. But Senator McCain says efficacy is not the main point:

...[T]orture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

Our enemies act without conscience. We must not. This executive summary of the Committee’s report makes clear that acting without conscience isn’t necessary, it isn’t even helpful, in winning this strange and long war we’re fighting. We should be grateful to have that truth affirmed [McCain, 2014.12.09].

Senator Thune and Rep. Noem should listen to Senator McCain. The torture report is not political hackery. It is a truthful admission of America's sins, and a necessary step in re-establishing our claim that we are better than the terrorists we fight.

We tortured human beings. We committed crimes against humanity. We will likely never prosecute those crimes. But we must admit those crimes and vow never to commit them again. We must vow to be Americans — not terrorists, not tyrants, but Americans.

Related Reading: Douglas Wiken wisely notes that the CIA's use of torture could encourage overly aggressive law enforcement practices here at home.

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