Last night's KELO Senate debate was an example of substandard political journalism by South Dakota's broadcast media. Moderators Ben Dunsmoor and Don Jorgensen failed to live up to their own promised format, to manage the debate fairly, or to ask any probing follow-up questions of the candidates.

Jorgensen and Dunsmoor opened the show by promising something different from the usual debate format. They promised a free-flowing conversation, with time limits only on the opening and closing statements. They said they would intervene if candidates got off track. They said they would jump in to move the conversation along and ask follow-up questions.

No such forum happened. We got the usual debate format: question, responses and rebuttals in pre-determined order. The conversation never flowed freely. On one occasion when Howie tried to challenge Rounds out after the usual rebuttal cycle, Dunsmoor cut him off and moved mechanically to the next question on his list. There were no follow-up questions.

Jorgensen engaged in no watchdoggery of "off-track" answers. Amidst a sea of evasion from Rounds, Dunsmoor remained silent and reserved his interruptions for Howie. Consider the EB-5 question. Rounds mentioned EB-5 specifically for maybe the first ten seconds of his response, then went off on a complete tangent about needing to review every federal program. He reverted to his standard rants about ObamaCare and Keystone XL, programs that have nothing to do with the merits of EB-5. Dunsmoor, who has been KELO's EB-5 hawk, made not one peep and let the Governor ramble unleashed away from the question.

But on the next question about Keystone XL, Dunsmoor jumped all over Howie. Our friend Gordon gave a concise answer: he believes the pipeline will be a net gain for the state. He then tried to invoke the "free-flowing" spirit of the conversation with a smart segue: he said we're having trouble passing Keystone XL because we have trouble believing our leaders on the pipeline details. Howie then tried to turn back to Rounds's dismissal of his EB-5 attacks as mere falsehoods. I believe Howie tried to invoke the stunning revelation that Rounds's campaign manager, Rob Skjonsberg, used his government position to send government to a corporation in his investment portfolio. Dunsmoor interrupted Howie and said the question was about Keystone XL.

That moment demonstrated a clear bias on the part of the moderators. Dunsmoor didn't dare interrupt the frontrunner Republican on a clear evasion, but he stopped the Independent Howie from trying to follow the stated format of the program.

In a violation of common debate protocol, KELO gave the candidates a heads-up on the hardest question of the night. As they headed into the first commercial break, Dunsmoor said they'd be asking about EB-5 next. Dunsmoor at least was fair in giving all four candidates a minute or so of prep time for the question, but the point of a debate is to see the candidates thinking on their feet, not giving them time to rehearse their talking points off-camera. Dunsmoor ignored that debate protocol and instead played standard "stay tuned!" showmanship.

Dunsmoor and Jorgensen also chose and framed their questions poorly. The EB-5 question—whether candidates would support the federal-level review called for by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley—avoided prbing for answers to questions about South Dakota's EB-5 program. KELO biased the Keystone XL question by phrasing it in terms of a poll showing 60% of South Dakotans say they support the pipeline. In the biggest journalistic error, Dunsmoor floated a question on restrictions on assault weapons and large magazine. Guns have not floated to the surface as a pressing issue in this Senate campaign. Compared to EB-5, Keystone XL, the Affordable Care Act, or the Farm Bill, gun issues have little impact on South Dakota's daily well-being or our ability to distinguish the candidates' trustworthiness. Yet Dunsmoor wasted precious minutes on this question, crowding out time for more relevant discussion. When Dunsmoor squeezed in that last question about the ACA, he cut candidates off at 30 seconds and allowed no rebuttals.

This forum was better than nothing. We should appreciate KELO for giving up this smidgeon of prime-time ad revenue (although programming against Game 7 of the World Series, how much did KELO really lose?). And Don Jorgensen is cute to look at. But KELO failed to deliver the unique format, journalistic inquiry, and fairness that they promised with this forum.

25 comments

Democrat Rick Weiland and Independents Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie spent the final debate of South Dakota's U.S. Senate campaign doing what they should have been doing from Day One of their campaigns: calling Republican Mike Rounds out on his lies and corruption. Rounds offered three main responses:

  1. Blame Obama.
  2. Be a crybaby.
  3. Keep lying.


The first words out of Rounds's mouth were "Barack Obama," followed quickly by "South Dakota Common Sense," "D.C.... dysfunctional," and "ISIS and Ebola." His opening statement also included two blatant lies:

  1. "A vote for any one of my opponents is a vote for President Obama's failed policies."
  2. "My opponents—they think big government is the answer."

Rick Weiland would certainly be more supportive of President Obama's policies than Mike Rounds, though he stated the obvious that "I'm not Obama." Whether Weiland favors "big government" or "smart government" is a diverting rhetorical exercise. To claim that Gordon Howie and even Larry Pressler are big-government Obama liberals is laughable. Howie lit into Rounds's "misleading" claim as characteristic of the entire Rounds campaign and its willinginess to perpetuate statements that Rounds knows aren't true. Howie reminded voters that he proposed legislation to block the Affordable Care Act but that Governor Rounds killed that bill. Pressler said he has a 22-year record of voting against big government. Yet Rounds, without citing examples, kept lodging the same bogus claim against all three of his opponents.

Asked about supporting Senator Grassley's call to review the EB-5 visa investment program, Rounds completely avoided the question. He said we should review all federal programs and repeated his comments on ObamaCare and Keystone XL. Weiland said Rounds's evasion on EB-5 showed Rounds refuses to accept responsibility for what happened with EB-5 under his watch in South Dakota. He said Rounds makes up EB-5 job-creation numbers just as he makes up Keystone XL job-creation numbers and lies about Weiland wanting to kill Ellsworth Air Force Base. Gordon Howie jumped in to defend Weiland, saying Rounds knows Weiland doesn't want to kill Ellsworth. Howie then branded Rounds's EB-5 response as n example of "professional deceit." Pressler responded to Rounds's evasion by stunningly asking Rounds why he thinks Richard Benda killed himself and why the autopsy report as been sealed.

In response to that pummeling, Rounds kept evading. He gave no direct rebuttal; he only whined that his opponents were throwing "trash talk" and "innuendo" and (don't even try to restrain your laughter) "avoiding real issues." Weiland and Pressler both leapt on the question of issues. Weiland noted that Rounds spent most of the campaign avoiding debates and forums where the other candidates did talk about issues. Pressler agreed with Weiland that Rounds has skipped opportunities to talk policy and said he resents Rounds's suggestion that Pressler avoids real issues. (Pressler's resentment is justified, given that Pressler wonked out on specific legislation all night, as he has done in every debate).

Rounds's most laughable lie came in the discussion of Keystone XL. KELO loaded the question, framing it around the 60% approval rate Keystone gets from South Dakota voters and thus daring candidates to challenge the majority. Weiland boldly took the challenge, offering his bold and accurate three-point critique:

  1. Rounds's job numbers (inflated last night to 42,000) are bogus: Keystone XL will create 1,350 temp jobs and 35 permanent jobs.
  2. Keystone XL will send oil to the Gulf and overseas rather than boosting our energy independence.
  3. Rounds and Big Oil have lost those first two arguments, so now they're making up a new argument about pipelining Bakken oil to free rail cars for grain shipments, when that won't happen either, since the Bakken producers want to send their oil east for domestic refining and consumption, not south to the Gulf for export.

Pressler added that Rounds's KXL-Bakken-rail claim is false because the shippers can't mix Canadian tar sands oil and North Dakota crude.

Rounds responded that 10% of Keystone XL is reserved for carrying Bakken oil. How does he know this? The folks at TransCanada told him so, he said, and they wouldn't say that if it weren't true.

As Rick Weiland said during the EB-5 discussion, we just saw the real Mike Rounds. If a big corporation tells you something, it must be true.

Mike Rounds hid behind the bogeyman he makes of Barack Obama. He cried that his opponents are talking trash instead of addressing the specific questions and rebuttals they offered to his claims. And when pressed on his lies, he repeated them and told bigger lies.

Rick, Larry, Gordon, I can't tell which of you won last night. But you all three, working together, definitely beat Mike Rounds in the debate. If voters hear the messages you sent last night, you will beat Mike Rounds and his whining dodging and deceit at the polls. Which of you will win the election? Don't sweat that question. Beat Mike, and let the chips fall where they may.

48 comments

On October 15, Gary Coe of Lead filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to create Many True Conservatives. Coe sells magic pills of unknown composition. By waiting so late to create his PAC, he can now sell political messages with unknown donors.

Coe, who ran for District 31 House as a radical Tea Party Republican in 2012, is spending his mystery money attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds and boosting Independent Gordon Howie, whose Republican gubernatorial campaign Coe managed in 2010. A reader submits this robocall from Many True Conservatives:

Gary Coe Many True Conservatives robocall 20141029

Hi, this is Gary Coe with Many True Conservatives. We need a real conservative to represent us in the U.S. Senate. Mike Rounds gave us the EB-5 scandals, higher taxes, the largest budget deficit in South Dakota history, and now he refuses to take the no-increase-in-tax pledge. No wonder the Senate Conservative Fund refused to endorse Mike Rounds.

We have a real choice this election. Gordon Howie is pro-life, pro-gun, and the Tea Party leader taxpayers can trust. Please cast your vote for Gordon Howie the real conservative. Paid for by Many True Conservatives, 605-559-2345 [links mine; Gary Coe, Many True Conservatives Super PAC robocall, 2014.10.29].

I first thought I heard MiniTrue, but Coe isn't peddling Newspeak. Coe, like Howie, would bring us an economic and cultural train wreck if we gave them the keys to the Democracy Maserati, but when it comes to Mike Rounds, their conservative critique is pretty accurate.

But it would be nice to know who's footing the bill for Coe's attacks and just what percent of Rounds's voters those attacks will pull away.

29 comments

Elm Springs rancher Pat Trask boils the case against Mike Rounds into one simple message: Mike Rounds puts big money over the interests of South Dakota.

"I voted for Reagan, Bush, Thune -- but I can't vote for Mike Rounds," says Trask, with all the calm force of a Badlands heat wave.

Even objective reporter David Montgomery has to admit this ad from Mayday PAC is not just "effective" but "quietly devastating." Sure, outside money paid to put the ad on TV, but the words come straight from a South Dakota Republican, a man with a pick-up truck with South Dakota plates and horses grazing along the Cheyenne River, saying the words South Dakota needs to hear: Mike Rounds doesn't deserve your vote.

p.s.: The Displaced Plainsman is throwing in the towel for all Democrats, including Weiland. But Mayday PAC and I ain't heard no fat lady! Share this video, and Get Out The Vote!

46 comments

Curmudgeon does not begin to plumb the depths of commentator David Newquist's disgust toward the corruption of South Dakota politics. In his latest blog post, Newquist examines the difficulty South Dakotans have in facing the corruption in their midst:

People in the state speak of being “South Dakota nice,” which is the façade of bonhomie which covers a resentful insularity toward people who don’t conform to and endorse the South Dakota attitude. The so-called EB-5 scandal, which should properly [be] called the South Dakota tradition of corruption, produces the response of many people that they are tired of hearing about it. Some simply do not want to face the fact that there is a huge blemish of corruption on that face of niceness. Others, a plurality, support, endorse, and enable those who practice the creed of greed, power, and corrupt relationships with their corporate gods. They cannot or will not face the looming fact that dominant culture in the state supports and enables corruption, nor can the plurality accept the fact their attitude bears final responsibility for promulgating and protecting the corruption. The corporate gods beam down on them through Mike Rounds’ smile [David Newquist, "The Seeds of Corruption Produce Bumper Crops in South Dakota," Northern Valley Beacon, 2014.10.27].

South Dakotans, do yourselves a favor and prove David Newquist wrong. Show that you can recognize and reject corruption when you see it. Vote accordingly.

19 comments

Photographer and freethinker Jered Dawnne of Sioux Falls started the Thinking Unenslaved podcast in 2010. He took a break in 2011 after 22 episodes. Tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 29, he's back, relaunching what he hopes will be a fascinating series of conversations:

Thinking Unenslaved is a weekly podcast from the perspective of a secular humanist living and working among the people of the Northern Midwestern United States. The intent of the show is to foster dialogue to bring an understanding of the need and purpose of humanistic and secular concepts into the mainstream for a better world. Naturally, political and sociological concerns are the primary focus of the show, but subject matter also delves into religion, agnosticism, atheism and related topics from time to time. Frequent participants on the show come from all walks of life, so every episode is a unique experience [Jered Dawnne, personal communication, 2014.10.27].

Dialogue, understanding, secular concepts, political and sociological concerns... hey! Sounds like my kind of program! So much so that Dawnne is inviting me to join him for a segment of tomorrow night's two-hour show. Thinking Unenslaved runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Jered plans to have me on right after the big KELO Senate debate, which is supposed to wrap up at 8 p.m.

Dawnne will also chat program sponsor and Siouxland Freethinkers member Josh Tordsen, as well as high-powered Democratic consultant turned Sioux Falls kaffeemeister Steve Hildebrand.

If technology cooperates, you can listen live on http://unenslaved.com/live-show/. If you want a wilder more interactive experience, you can tune in via http://mixlr.com/thinking-unenslaved. that site will have a chat room! But if you find yourself too drowsy after playing the Mike Rounds "South Dakota Common Sense!" drinking game during the KELO debate, you'll be able to download the podcast to cure your hangover in the morning. Live or recorded, you should find Dawnne's conversations great fun!

48 comments

Finally, Rick Weiland and I have something we can disagree on.

Our Democratic candidate for Senate is telling Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to pull their ads against Mike Rounds. In a Monday press release, Weiland accuses the national Dems of using negative ads against Rounds to harm Weiland's campaign and boost Independent Larry Pressler:

Everybody knows the ugly attack ads you have been running against Mike Rounds help Larry Pressler, not the candidate of the party you are supposed to be campaigning for. They make me, as the Democratic candidate, look like a dirty campaigner. They damage Governor Rounds. And they let former Senator Pressler stand on the sidelines looking clean and gathering votes from disgusted South Dakotans, just as you intended them to do [Rick Weiland, press release, 2014.10.27].

Weiland's assertion that the DSCC is working for Larry Pressler holds about as much water with me as did assertions back during the GOP primary that Mike Rounds planted Annette Bosworth in the campaign to divide his opposition. If I were the DSCC and had a million dollars to spend, I can't imagine intentionally undermining a progressive Democrat who sounds a lot more like the ascendant progressives in the national party than our preceding Blue Dogs in favor of a quixotic Republican-cum-Independent who will only be around for one term and won't do any fundraising for the DSCC.

But Weiland maintains that's the DSCC plan, as evidenced by their long-standing dismissal of his candidacy:

For every one of the 18 months since I became a candidate for the United States Senate, and the 6 months since I was formally selected to be the candidate of the party you are supposed to represent, I have been asking you for positive assistance with my campaign. Instead of that assistance you have said I am not your choice, tried to dry up my funds by saying I cannot win, refused to have your DSCC even endorse me, and now you have come into my state with ugly, negative attacks against Mike Rounds, ads that you and every knowledgeable political strategist in America knows hurt me and help Larry Pressler, the longtime Republican who has apparently won your support for his so called independent campaign by whispering that if elected he might vote to help you keep your job as Majority Leader [Weiland, 2014.10.27]

I guess I'm not a knowledgeable political strategist. I'm not buying the DSCC-Pressler gambit.

Nor am I buying the suggestion that negative ads are bad. If we don't run negative ads against Mike Rounds, his record of incompetence and corruption goes unchallenged. If we do run negative ads, some people engage in moral grandstanding, but the message gets across, and we have a better shot of winning, as evidenced by the underlying assumption of Weiland's arguments that the negative ads damage Mike Rounds.

Evidently political scientist Larry Sabato isn't knowledgeable, either:

"This is done in all 50 states," he said. "People are so used to these sorts of negative ads sponsored by the party that there usually isn't that much political effect. People will absorb the political information, even as they say they hate negatives" [David Montgomery, "Weiland Accuses Own Party of Sabotaging His Campaign," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.27].

Weiland asks that the South Dakota Democratic Party repudiate these tactics. I ask the South Dakota Democratic not to be timid or stupid. Mike Rounds gave Richard Benda and Joop Bollen carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, without regard to state law or Regental rules, because they waved dollars in his face. That fundamental breach of public trust is the biggest reason Mike Rounds should never be trusted with public office again.

It may be ugly and negative to hear that we can't trust our former governor, but it's the truth, and South Dakotans need to hear it, lest they elect the wrong man for this important job.

That said, I'm more than happy to see MoveOn.org complementing the negative ads with this wonderful new 30-second summary of all the positive reasons to make Rick Weiland our next Senator:

Democrats, we can walk and chew gum. We can show Rick's a stud and prove Mike's a dud. And when we're running blue in red South Dakota, we need to use every tool available.

81 comments

Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City) isn't taking the deceptive big-money PAC attacks lying down. She shows Democrats that when the negative ads come, you hit right back:

Rep. Kathy Tyler "Poked the Bear" advertisment, 2014.10.28

Rep. Tyler is referring to the big money a new PAC called "East River Concerned Citizens" is pouring into deceptive ads against her. The radio spots and postcards are less interested in accurately portraying her voting record on abortion (she's actually a bit conservative for my taste) and, from what I hear from sources and glean from who's contributing to ERCC, more interested in retaliating against Tyler for challenging the state's corrupt EB-5 economic development practices.

Certain big-money players have a great stake in South Dakota's endemic corruption (that's the second time this morning I've used that phrase and that link, and for good reason). Democrats like Rep. Kathy Tyler who speak the truth to that power can expect hard negative attacks to take them out. Fortunately, Rep. Tyler is not easily cowed by such attacks. Democrats, follow Kathy's lead. Poke that bear, and don't back down!

46 comments

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