The Democratic Forum of Sioux Falls (which sponsors this blog—thank you, friends!) hosts what could be a newsworthy program this Friday. Zach Crago, executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, will deliver what I believe will be his first extended public remarks since the midterm election. Crago will discuss the recent election and, according to the Democratic Forum, "what the party needs to do to plan for the future."

Democratic Forum is open to the public, and speakers generally do big Q&A, so let's warm up some questions for Crago! Here are the top five that jump to my mind:

  1. What current SDDP projects are working and should continue?
  2. Closely related to #1: What metrics indicate those projects are working?
  3. How much money does the SDDP need to raise to be competitive with the SDGOP?
  4. What does the SDDP do to overcome disillusionment among donors and reach that competitive level?
  5. How long can we keep you as party exec?

Meanwhile, here are the top five things you won't hear Crago say on Friday:

  1. I'm quitting the SDDP and joining the Libertarians to help them capitalize on their role as South Dakota's true opposition party.
  2. Ssshhhh... we're luring the Republicans into overconfidence.
  3. I'll be bringing a proposal to the State Central Committee at its December 13 meeting to amend the SDDP constitution to choose all nominees for statewide office via online polls on the Madville Times.
  4. Now that South Dakota voters have declared that EB-5 is not a political liability, the South Dakota Democratic Party will raise $140 million by forming its own Regional Center to compete with the state in recruiting and managing EB-5 investments. (Hey, wait a minute—that's not a bad idea!)
  5. And now presenting our next Democratic Party chairman, Larry Pressler!

You can hear what Zach Crago really has to say and pitch your own questions about the future of the South Dakota Democratic Party Friday noon, November 21, at the Sioux Falls VFW, 3601 South Minnesota Ave.


TransCanada's application to renew its permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline is before the Public Utilities Commission, and one important deadline is already upon us. Citizens and organizations seeking party status—i.e., the right to participate in the hearing and raise some real heck—must file their application (no, you can't just show up at the hearing) with the PUC by this week Wednesday, October 15.

If you want to intervene officially in the Keystone XL hearing, grab this application for party status, fill it out, get a notary stamp on it, and get it to the PUC's office in Pierre by Wednesday. The mailing address is on the application; you can call the PUC at 605-773-3201 to find out about online filing options.

The form asks applicants to explain why they seek party status in no more than 1000 characters. John Harter does it in 39: "KXL is crossing my property if approved." Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska takes 330:

I work with Bold Nebraska and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance on issues regarding Keystone XL pipeline and the concerns around water, private property and soil. We would like to bring up issues, risks and evidence around soil type and the Sandhills that reach into the southern part of South Dakota as well as the Ogallala Aquifer [Jane Kleeb, on behalf of Bold Nebraska, application for party status, South Dakota Public Utilities Commission docket #HP14-001, 2014.10.09].

Eight intervenors have filed so far. The more the merrier!


On Monday, the South Dakota Democratic Party launched a local ad campaign encouraging citizens to call Senator Larry Tidemann and urge him to subpoena Governor Dennis Daugaard, former Governor Mike Rounds, and other state officials who could explain just what happened in the GOED/Northern Beef Packers/EB-5 scandal. Remarkably, the discussion on this blog turned to the propriety of publishing Senator Tidemann's phone number (a number which is published on Senator Tidemann's official Legislative webpage, as are phone numbers for every other South Dakota legislator).

One eager reader took up the ad's challenge and called Senator Tidemann. The reader got voicemail and left a message. Senator Tidemann called the reader back. Here's the reader's account of their very civil conversation:

When he called me back he was very nice and tried to be helpful explaining what he was doing and what they hoped to accomplish.... We talked about [Richard] Benda, Joop [Bollen], records missing and he basically held to the party stance on this whole thing. He said it was a federal program and I agreed but I pointed out my concern was how it was administered here in SD. It was almost as if there were things with standard responses he made that are used to throw me off and diminish this but I held on and was pointed yet very tactful and respectful.

He said the reason he did not want Joop to be present was that it would have been a circus atmosphere and that the written responses were the same as a subpoena. He mentioned the U.S. Department of Justice ongoing investigation and covered the basis of they are legislators and some of this is better left to police, FBI and DCI agents [blog reader, e-mail, 2014.09.17].

Senator Tidemann's willingness to call a questioner back and discuss serious issues seems to deflate the critique of the propriety of encouraging citizens to call legislators. Senator Tidemann gets extra points for affirming that a federal investigation continues and acknowledging that there appears to be criminal activity in this scandal that warrants investigation.

But Senator Tidemann loses points for talking points. Bob Mercer has rejected the "EB-5 is federal " dodge; so should everyone else.

Senator Tidemann loses more points for his circus-phobia. Is Senator Tidemann saying he is incapable of maintaining order at any committee meeting where a prominent or controversial figure may testify? When is the last time any Legislative committee meeting turned into a circus? How circusy can things get in Pierre? Is Tidemann afraid Bob Mercer will bring peanuts and thundersticks?

The worst that happens if Joop Bollen appears in person in front of the Government Operations and Audit Committee on September 24 is that two bloggers, five reporters, and ten lawyers come to the meeting. Chairman Tidemann raps the desk, points his gavel, and says menacingly, "No circus, or you're out!" And then everyone sits in rapt silence, punctuated only by the raindrop tap of laptop keys, as Senator Larry Lucas and Rep. Susan Wismer grill Joop Bollen.

Senator Tidemann is serving the public trust by talking with voters directly on the phone. Now let's serve the public trust by having former public employee Joop Bollen talk directly with the public at GOAC, in person, under oath, on September 24.

p.s. [09:52 CDT]: The caller notes that Senator Tidemann deserves extra credit for taking a call from a South Dakotan outside his district. The caller made clear in the voicemail that the caller lived in another legislative district, yet Senator Tidemann still took the time to call back. Well done, Senator Tidemann!

Well, that's one way to get to Sioux Falls....  Photo by Charlie Hoffman, on the prairie northeast of Eureka, South Dakota, 2014.08.19

Well, that's one way to get to Sioux Falls.... Photo by Charlie Hoffman, on the prairie northeast of Eureka, South Dakota, 2014.08.19

Hey, Sioux Falls readers! After loads of fun in Spearfish, Piedmont, Manderson, Mission, Eureka, Mitchell, and the Colman backcountry, the rollicking statewide blog tour is now in the great Queen City of East River, Sioux Falls. Here are the big public events:

  1. At noon today, I'll be speaking at the Democratic Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW, on South Minnesota just north of I-229. Folks from all parties and from no party are welcome!
  2. At 4:30 p.m. today, KSOO Radio will allow me the privilege of speaking on the public airwaves as a guest on Viewpoint University. Rick Knobe and friends can't fit spectators in the studio, but you're all welcome to tune to AM 1140 for all the fun and excitement (and, as you listen, for the full effect, be sure to imagine me waving my arms).
  3. From 9 a.m. to noon tomorrow, I'll be hanging out Tweeting and blogging at Josiah's Coffeehouse. I'd love to see you there, just to have the chance to thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and making this blog the best political blog in South Dakota.

I'm also conducting more interviews, with more great road posts to come. Stay tuned, and come join the fun in Sioux Falls today and tomorrow!

Josie Weiland, at home in Piedmont, South Dakota, 2014.08.16

Josie Weiland, at home in Piedmont, South Dakota, 2014.08.16. (That snake on her arm isn't permanent; she was entertaining kids with face-painting at her uncle Rick's fundraising concert Saturday.)

Josie Weiland just graduated from high school. She's headed for Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Her uncle Rick is running for U.S. Senate.

Josie Weiland made her own political news last February, when she stood up at a crackerbarrel and challenged Senator Phil Jensen's absurd assertion that his proposal to let businesses discriminate against homosexuals was really an "anti-bullying free speech bill." She took a break from entertaining the kids at the fundraising concert her dad Kevin hosted for her uncle Rick yesterday to talk about what led her to political activism.

You might think that her politically minded family led her to her political consciousness, but Josie says that's not the case. Her own political curiosity (Weiland genetics?) led her to start reading up on homosexuality and equality issues on the Internet. She read about the combination of mounting empirical evidence and political action that led the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. She raised the subject of homosexuality and social responses to it at home, and while her family openly discussed the topic, she formed her own views.

Weiland sees most of her generation understanding and accepting homosexuality (a view shared by her young East River political counterpart Cody Hausman and supported by this 2013 Washington Post/ABC poll). But a vocal minority of her peers motivated her own interest in LGBT equality. She attended a conservatively oriented school where she regularly heard students tossing about ignorant anti-gay insults like, "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Despite more positive messages about LGBT tolerance from at least one teacher, Weiland left that school her freshman year. Yet even in a somewhat more diverse and tolerant environment, she still heard ignorant attitudes causing others harm. That injustice provoked her to action.

Initially she didn't plan to speak up at the February 1 crackerbarrel in Rapid City. But the night before the event, she thought more about the injustice inherent in the discriminatory legislation proposed by Jensen and other legislators across the state and nation and decided to prepare some remarks and a question to defend gay and lesbian fellow citizens from discrimination.

After she confronted Senator Jensen, Weiland was distressed by the legislator's unwillinginess to engage in open dialogue. She dealt with sloppy journalism and personal attacks online with pretty good aplomb for a high-school senior unaccustomed to the invective political activists can draw.

But Weiland has not let those negative reactions from others drag her into similar tactics. Her interaction with equality opponents and supporters alike has shown her the advantage of positive messaging. She recalls that at the crackerbarrel, she and other supporters started a rallying chant in which they listed states that ban gay marriage and shouted "Shame!" after each name. One member of her group interrupted the chant and asked that they replace the shaming with something more positive. So instead of "Shame!" the group started responding to the list of states blocking equality with, "Yes we can!" Weiland says that simple change in language changed the emotion and energy of the group to something that felt more hopeful and proactive.

Weiland sees her generation ready and able to engage in politics. However (again reflecting views reflected by Hausman last spring), Weiland sees traditional political activities like crackerbarrels as "old school" and says young people see more ease and usefulness in social media. When a friend invited her to attend the February 1 crackerbarrel, she first thought of the restaurant, not the public forum.

Yet Weiland says that even with such powerful learning and organizing tools in their hands, young people seem largely apathetic to political issues. She thinks part of the problem may be too little discussion of politics in school. In her government class, Weiland says her teacher avoided discussions of "taboo" subjects like gay rights and abortion. Weiland thinks avoiding such topics deters students from discussing controversial issues. They get frustrated and tune out.

Weiland counters with her experience on the high school debate team (ably coached by Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo). Debate is all about sharing and testing ideas and letting opposing views contest each other. Weiland says that letting more students experience that vigorous and healthy contest would incline more students toward engaging in politics.Weiland would like to continue engaging in politics, although she does have a few other important things to do, like figuring out a major. When she finishes university, Weiland doesn't envision running for high office like her uncle, but she likes the idea of involving herself in local politics. But above all, she wants to do her civic duty by reading, learning, and speaking up about LGBT equality and all the other issues affecting her community and encouraging others to do the same.


Here's a pile of awesome to start the day: GROW South Dakota and Dakotafire Media  have received a Bush Foundation grant to promote constructive conversations among rural economic development experts and community members around northeastern South Dakota.

GROW South Dakota will use the $200,000 Community Innovation Grant to create the Prairie Idea Exchange. The money will help Dakotafire expand its weekly circulation from 12,000 to 30,000. GROW SD and Dakotafire will organize community forums to "discuss the ideas presented in the magazine, add their own ideas, and determine which of those ideas could be applied to their own communities." They offer an online branch of those conversations as well, for those of us who don't get out as much as we ought.

The Prairie Idea Exchange isn't politics as usual, but it is inherently and healthily political. The project represents what we should think of as politics: citizens coming together to discuss, formulate, and act on ideas for living together in community (the polis, as the Greeks who gave us the word politics would have called it).

Don't just wish this healthy political project well; be a politician (one who seeks to build and maintain the polis) and participate in it!

Spearfish Mountain and me, August 14, 2014

Spearfish Mountain and me, August 14, 2014

Don't forget: the Madville Times Blog Tour starts today! After lunch, I'll mosey over to the Green Bean Coffeehouse here in Spearfish for an afternoon of blogging, tweeting, and (I hope!) rhubarb pie. Blog readers, stop in, say hi, and if you're feeling sufficiently caffeinated, shoot a "South Dakota Sound Off" video to tell our great state what's on your mind.

I'll be at the Green Bean today from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. I'll be the guy with the computer, the camera, and the really big "Home Sweet Home" smile on his face. See you there!

*   *   *

Remember, next big stop on the blog tour will be Rickstock in Piedmont on Saturday from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. I'll be chipping in my $9 to benefit Rick Weiland's campaign and enjoying the music. I'll also be interviewing friends of Rick, friends of the earth (I hear some folks working to to stop Keystone XL and the Powertech uranium mine will be there), and friends of the blog.

A bigger name touring the state and making time to stop at Rickstock is songwriter Michael Johnson. He's performing Friday night at the Homestake Opera House, then hitting the Rickstock stage Saturday. Here's a promo he's recorded to boost Weiland:

Keep that Senate seat blue... and keep your browser tuned to for more great South Dakota blogging!


New data from Governing and the National Research Center suggest that democracy is hard to do. Only 19% of respondents to the nationwide survey say they have contact local officials in the past year. Only 24% say they've attended a public meeting. Participation in local politics increases with age: 11% of folks aged 18 to 24 attend public meetings, while 32% of the 65–74 set do. (Local political participation drops again for the over-74 set.)

Participation predictably increases with income and with length of time lived in a community, but it does not vary much with race. Blacks and Indians go to local public meetings just a touch more frequently (27%) than their white neighbors (25%). Asian citizens show the only marked difference along racial participation lines, with only 17% going to public meetings.

What's a small-d democrat to do to keep public discourse from being dominated by rich retirees and extremists? How do we get more people to participate in the process? Mohammed, mountain. Go where they are:

Connecting with these groups of residents requires stepping outside of city hall and meeting residents on their own turf. Park City officials say they’ve held meetings in school lunch rooms, performing arts centers and with local homeowners’ associations.

“To truly engage the community,” [International City/County Management Association's Cheryl] Hilvert said, “managers have to think broader about it than in the past” [Mike Maciag, "The Citizens Most Vocal in Local Government," Governing, July 2014].

And remember: a lot of citizens, especially the younger ones, are online:

Some localities employ unconventional approaches to raise the level of citizen engagement. When the city of Rancho Cordova, Calif., debated permitting more residents to raise chickens on their properties last year, it launched an online Open Town Hall. More than 500 residents visited the interactive forum to make or review public statements. “It is noisy and smelly enough with pigeons, turkeys, feral cats, and untended dogs without adding chickens to the mix,” wrote one resident. The city drafted an ordinance reflecting citizen input, then emailed it to forum subscribers.

Outreach efforts through local media or civic organizations help further community involvement. Some residents also form Facebook groups or online petitions to promote their causes.

The city of Chanhassen, Minn., relied heavily on social media to connect with citizens when it confronted an issue that’s about as contentious as any local government can face: a proposal to build a new Walmart. The city posted regular updates on its Facebook page and uploaded all documents online [Maciag, July 2014].

Social what? says Mike Rounds, who is better at going where donors are than where voters are.

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