Last weekend, usury boss Chuck Brennan warned that we'd be party-poopers if we dared to pass an initiative to cap lending rates at 36% and effectively put him and other payday lenders out of business.

It turns out that was just a political head fake. Brennan announced yesterday he's having to postpone "Chuck's Kegger," his proposed Ribfest-challenging chili-and-music festival, not because of political pressure, but because he couldn't get his groups in a hoop:

Brennan said the inaugural Chuck's Kegger would be delayed and attributed the delay to scheduling problems with performers.

"Everyone is on board with the project but artists' schedules are hard to predict and the stars have not quite aligned yet," Brennan wrote in a statement posted Thursday on the event's website. "We appreciate the avalanche of support that we have gotten on the kegger and I'm sure there will be more news to come."

Planning for the event had been underway for around six months and included a website, logo, ticket prices and informational packets.

It's unclear when Chuck's Kegger will now occur, if ever.

Brennan did not return a call for comment Thursday [David Montgomery, "Week After Announcement, Rock Festival Delayed," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.19].

Oh, yeah, announce your music festival before you ink the musicians—brilliant.

Poof goes one empty threat from the nervous usury industry. Keep your eyes open for more as the interest-rate initiative gets rolling in 2015.

Tangentially related update (12:57 CST): No kegger, but more Keg: Keg Chicken is returning to Sioux Falls.

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I yield the floor to Zach Crago, who yields the executive directorship of the South Dakota Democratic Party to the next willing and able madman.

Crago is leaving South Dakota for graduate school... but not without offering a valuable review of the work he thinks the SDDP has done during his watch. Here's Crago's exit report, plus a real trooper's exhortation to action.

Zach Crago, SDDP executive director until January 1

Zach Crago, SDDP executive director until January 1

Dear South Dakota Democrats,

As I’ve long planned, I’m resigning as Executive Director of the South Dakota Democratic Party at the end of this calendar year with good news to share about the state of the State Party that you all deserve to hear.

But let’s get right to the point on everyone’s mind - the 2014 elections were painful for Democrats. Nationally, Republicans padded their majority in the US House of Representatives, and the GOP swept nearly every single competitive Senate race to capture the US Senate majority. It wasn’t much better here in South Dakota either. We lost Senator Tim Johnson’s US Senate seat and all other statewide races. And while we gained one seat in the State Senate, we lost five seats in the State House.

Some are saying the South Dakota Democratic Party is broken, but fact of the matter is nothing could be further from the truth. While the Party exists to win elections, we must also be good stewards who protect our Party’s viability beyond any single election cycle. Despite a dismal election here and across the country, the South Dakota Democratic Party has made enormous progress this election cycle in fundraising, field organizing, and our future leadership to build a party that lasts.

The South Dakota Democratic Party has a mixed past when it comes to raising money. We’ve raked in cash with powerful federal office holders & strong state party leaders and held literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after elections gone bad. The boom and bust cycle made it impossible to retain top quality staff, attract new talent, or inspire confidence in prospective candidates and volunteers.

Chair Deb Knecht and I decided we were going to escape the broken boom and bust cycle when we took charge in July of 2013. At that time, the South Dakota Democratic Party was raising $1963 a month from the Founders Club, the monthly sustaining donor program George McGovern started in the 1950s - barely enough to cover rent, phones, and office supplies every month. Today with the support of over 160 Democrats, the South Dakota Democratic Party raises $6360 a monthfrom Founders Club members like you. With the DNC’s additional $5,000 a month State Partnership Program contribution, our ongoing revenue matches our ongoing expenses nearly dollar for dollar for three full time staff.

And guess what? When the ongoing expenses are covered by ongoing revenue, it’s a lot easier to raise one-time money for targeted programs too. In fact, the South Dakota Democratic Party raised $458,959 in one time contributions this year from revamped events like our “Tribute to Tim” McGovern Day Dinner with over 725 people and over a dozen house parties, a new monthly mail program, an aggressive email operation, and regular call time from our state party chair and staff among other successful fundraising initiatives.

When you’re raising that kind of money, you can spend it on field organizing that makes a difference. The South Dakota Democratic Party wasted no time in 2013 when we partnered with our friends in organized labor to sponsor an initiated measure to raise the minimum wage. In 60 short days, we hired 1 Field Director and 10 organizers, recruited over 500 petition circulators, and submitted 25,681 signatures from registered voters to put our initiated measure on the ballot. With $330,000 supporting the IM 18 campaign, 55% of South Dakota voters said Yes on 18, giving 62,000 South Dakotans a raise. In an otherwise rough election, YOU can be proud that the South Dakota Democratic Party championed this issue for working families across the state.

We made big investments in the field to help candidates win up and down the ballot too. The South Dakota Democratic Party hosted 7 webinars and 41 one on ones to train our candidates. We rewarded candidates who knocked doors and raised money with 32 rounds of free mail. We created the first ever YELL Fellows program with 21 young Democrats who were paid staff paired with 21 legislative candidates with half the expense covered by the Majority Project and half by the candidates. We hammered away at the Mike Rounds EB5 citizenship-for-sale scheme through 12 press conferences that among other things generated over 12,500 articles on Mike Rounds and the EB5 scandal. With the additional scrutiny, Mike Rounds dropped to a 4 point lead in the polls in early October.

We also made big five figure investments in our Get Out The Vote program. With Democratic County Party GOTV offices across the state, volunteers like you made approximately 31,000 calls. Our GOTV headquarters in Sioux Falls incorporated predictive dialers and canvasses to make 313,764 calls. Add to that a special targeted effort to reach Democrats with a low to mid likelihood of voting, and the South Dakota Democratic Party made over 573,000 phone calls across the state! Strong candidates with proper trainings and a focus on turnout allowed us to gain a seat in the State Senate - one of only 14 legislative chambers in the entire country in which Democrats gained seats.

At the same time we were ramping up our fundraising for big investments in field organizing, we were thinking about the future too. The question I heard most often as Legislative Director and then Executive Director is how do we get more young people involved in the Party? We tried answering that question. In 2013, the South Dakota Democratic Party started the first ever Young Elected Legislative Leaders retreat in Pierre for high school Democrats who draft bills, debate legislators, and decide issues on the state senate floor. 28 students participated in 2013, and the program was so successful among students 48 high schoolers participated in 2014. Know what they told us in a survey afterwards? They didn’t want to stop after the weekend. They wanted to find more ways to make a difference right now. So we answered their call too, and we formed the aforementioned YELL Fellows program where our 21 YELL Fellows knocked thousands of doorsand made thousands of phone calls for legislative candidates. And after the election was all said and done, we left $60,000 in the bank to continue building a better future right away.

To be sure, our efforts didn’t translate to the ballot box this year. But just because we didn’t see electoral gains from our efforts in a tough year doesn’t mean we stop raising money, recruiting volunteers, or bringing more young people into the Party for the next election cycle. It means we need to continue this work - and do more! We have to evaluate our efforts, adapt, and iterate - and once the statewide voterfile is released by the Secretary of State, the Party plans to model results against our targeted programs to see if our investments made an impact. Most importantly, we need to continue to add more value for the Party. We need to raise more money, rebuild county parties, recruit more candidates, and register more voters to win elections going forward.

Here’s the tough part: We can’t do this without you. Do you want a staff person dedicated to Democratic turnout? Be a Founders Club member with a monthly contribution of any amount that fits your budget. There’s no reason why the South Dakota Democratic Party can’t double our Founders Club program and with it double our number of full time staff for Democratic turnout, candidate recruitment, voter outreach, or rapid response communications.

Do you want to help build our county parties? Be a county party officer in your county. You can be appointed in vacant counties, or you can run for a filled county party office in April. The South Dakota Democratic Party is about to embark on an aggressive training program for county officers across the state so you have the tools to raise money, recruit local candidates and register voters in your county.

Do you want to bring more young people into the Party? Invest in the rapidly growing Young Elected Legislative Leaders program, where we are already training the next generation of South Dakota’s Democratic leaders.

Do you want to help in other ways? Let us know how you want to keep building the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Yes, I’m resigning my role as Executive Director, but the truth is I didn’t do this work alone. Not even close. State party leaders before me paid off all our remaining debt. Chair Deb Knecht called Democrats across the state to triple our Founders Club program. Volunteers like you gave your time to put minimum wage on the ballot. Donors like you funded a host of projects including the Young Elected Legislative Leaders program. County party officers like you guided us through thick and thin. And our unparalleled Field Director Ryan Rolfs & Finance Director Zach Nistler worked way too many hours for way too little pay to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

With the continued support of Democrats like you, truthseekers like Cory Heidelberger here at MadvilleTimes.com, and great new leaders like State Party Chair-elect Ann Tornberg and Vice Chair-elect Joe Lowe, the South Dakota Democratic Party’s best days are ahead. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you over the last four years. I look forward to volunteering my time, talent, and treasure right beside you going forward.
Zach Crago, Executive Director, South Dakota Democratic Party
[letter, 2014.12.19]

We didn't win elections, but we did a lot of things that will help us win future elections. All applicants for Crago's job (submit résumés to SDDP!) should read this letter and come to the interview with a critique of this assessment and an action plan for capitalizing on Crago's work.

Crago will continue to advise the party part-time after January 1 to help pass his knowledge on to the next exec. Good luck with the transition, Zach, and with the next big adventure!

22 comments
Kurt Evans speaking at the South Dakota Libertarian Convention, Sioux Falls, SD, August 9, 2014. Photo by Ken Santema.

Kurt Evans speaking at the South Dakota Libertarian Convention, Sioux Falls, SD, August 9, 2014. Photo by Ken Santema.

Kurt Evans plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Evans will seek office as an Independent. He is the first candidate to declare for any of South Dakota's three statewide offices in 2016 (U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Chris Nelson's seat on the Public Utilities Commission). Evans will run for the seat currently occupied by Senator John Thune, the GOP's number-three man in the upper chamber.

Evans is running because of his concerns about privacy and civil liberties. Evans says the intelligence community has been unconstitutionally seizing our telephone and Internet data. Evans predicts he would be "less inclined than Senator Thune to accept the intelligence community's self-justifying propaganda at face value."

On the economy, Evans is less worried about fiscal policy and more worried about monetary policy and the dastardly Fed: according to Evans, the Federal Reserve is inflating the money supply, which will lead to hyperinflation and the destruction of the dollar... unless Senator Evans can stop them.

On foreign policy, Evans opposes "meddling in the affairs of other nations, especially in the Middle East."

These positions support Evans's self-description as a "reasonably consistent pro-life libertarian," but notice he's not capitalizing that l. Evans says he will run as an Independent. He ran unsuccessfully for state auditor under the Liberatarian banner this year ("unsuccessful Libertarian"—that's redundant, right?). South Dakota Libertarians lost their official party status this year after failing to field a gubernatorial candidate. Evans is hanging onto his libertarian philosophy, but he says he has left the Libertarian organization "mainly due to a lack of honest communication by the members of the state party's executive committee." (Communication may be complicated by the fact that, prior to the November election, one of the five SDLP board members appears to have returned to his permanent home in Texas. Following the election, the party chair also left the state, for Colorado.)

Evans ran for Senate as a Libertarian in 2002 against Thune and incumbent Tim Johnson. He ended his campaign in late October, but his name remained on the ballot, and he drew 3,070 votes, six times the slim 532-vote margin of victory by which Thune failed to beat Johnson.

Evans thinks he can poll much better in 2016, based on the lessons of the 2014 Senate race. By Evans's read, this year's run by Larry Pressler showed that Independent candidates can at least poll in the double digits (Pressler broke 17%, far from a win, but better than any recent non-major-party Senate candidate in South Dakota). Evans reads a different lesson in the more typically low-polling (3%) Independent bid by Gordon Howie: "announcing after another non-major-party candidate has already entered the race creates a significant disadvantage."

Like Pressler, Evans will need to craft pitches that will appeal across party lines. Evans says he can win Republican votes with most of his domestic policy. He will pitch his foreign policy and positions on civil liberties to Democrats. He hopes his overall approach to politics will appeal to Independents. "Under most circumstances, though," says Evans, "I try to avoid thinking of people in groups."

Evans sees ill in grouping and labeling people. But even he can slip. As he gets ready to run, Evans acknowledges his own fallibility and asks our forgiveness:

I believe it's wrong to use pejorative labels that devalue and dehumanize other people, but last month I referred to Pat Powers as a 'Mary-worshipping douchebag' in an anonymous comment at South Dakota War College. I apologize to my fellow participants in South Dakota's political blogosphere for that very bad decision [Kurt Evans, e-mail to Madville Times, 2014.12.17].

Evans recognizes the value of respectful, intelligent, issue-oriented conversation, and he's willing to apologize when he slips from that standard. Let's hope he holds to that standard as he works to build a Senate campaign that he can sustain through November 8, 2016.

29 comments

Expect Rep. Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune to join the mostly Republican and entirely hypocritical bluster against President Barack Obama's historic declaration that it's time to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. Senator-Elect Mike Rounds might go there, too, but then his friend and donor Jeff Sveen will remind him that he's been waiting over a decade to sell Hutterite turkeys in Havana. At that point, Rounds votes aye on lifting the embargo.

Our next junior Senator will see the same light our President made clear today: we've dealth with worse regimes with more openness than the failed embargo we've kept on Cuba:

...[T]hough this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.  Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.  Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party.  Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation [President Barack Obama, statement on Cuba policy changes, 2014.12.17].

Relations with China... Rounds saw the benefits of those relations right here in South Dakota, where millions of dollars from Chinese investors made his friends rich and apparently created so many jobs that neither he nor any of his rich friends can agree on a number. Rounds will apply the same thinking to voting to end the Cuba embargo... if we can get the GOP leadership to bring a bill to that effect.

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Governor Dennis Daugaard is lining up millions of dollars to expand vo-tech scholarships and railroads. He still hasn't announced his willingness to spend a fraction of such money to expand Medicaid.

Alaska's new Independent Governor Bill Walker is not so blind:

...for Walker, it's a no-brainer: Around 40,000 low-income Alaskans would receive health benefits under Medicaid expansion; most of those affected would be childless adults. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs until the end of 2016, and after that the state's share would only slowly increase to 10 percent by 2020.

Plus, Walker points out, Alaskans already pay taxes that fund the expansion.

"I always will default back to what is best for Alaskans," he says, "and it's best for Alaskans to have the health care coverage we've already paid for" [Annie Feidt, "Alaska's Governor Eager to Expand Medicaid," NPR, 2014.12.16].

Tennessee's Republican Governor Bill Haslam is at least working with the feds to create a Medicaid expansion alternative:

The plan would provide two private-market choices that would make payments to providers based on outcomes and give participants incentives to take personal responsibility for their health. The goal: to have participants make a transition eventually to commercial health coverage.

The Healthy Incentives Plan would be a redesigned part of the state's Medicaid program. The Volunteer Plan would issue vouchers to be used to offset expenses in the health insurance plans of participants' employers [David Boucher, "Tennessee's GOP Gov to Expand Medicaid Program," USA Today, 2014.12.15].

Alaska's Walker and Tennessee's Haslam join the majority of governors who have figured out that accepting federal dollars to provide more citizens health insurance is a good idea. Governor Daugaard, get off your political high horse and do the right thing.

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Who says Senator-Elect M. Michael Rounds doesn't look out for the little guy? John Tsitrian notes that Rounds has taken several strongly pro-Israel positions. Tsitrian reminds us that Rounds made a point of visiting Israel early in his Senate campaign. Rounds declared to a pro-Israel event in New Jersey in August 2013 that the U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And now Rounds has hired a lobbyist from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to be his legislative director.

And for what political gain? Rounds has only 345 Jewish constituents. As of August, Rounds had received a "modest" $7,500 from pro-Israel groups, hardly enough to change the oil on his airplane. Yet Rounds shows with his statements and his staffing decisions that his underdog pro-Israel constituents are at the top of his agenda.

There. Who says Mike Rounds only serves the folks with big money and big votes?

P.S.: While I recognize that folks from D.C. can add value to a South Dakotan's Senatorial staff, Tsitrian's post gets me thinking: is the legislative director position to which Rounds has appointed D.C. lobbyist Gregg Rickman a spot better occupied by someone with some South Dakota connection? Should the person guiding our Senator's legislative agenda have some direct knowledge of the major legislative issues facing South Dakota?

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Unlike Pat Powers, who gave us nothing but press releases yesterday, I will indulge in one press release from newcomers South Dakota Progress, as it contains some real news. Specifically, SD Progress answers a key question we've had on this blog: will the South Dakota Democratic Party recognize SD Progress as a useful ally in the war on Republican ignorance and one-party rule?

So far, the answer is yes. SD Progress reports that new party chair Ann Tornberg and influential Democrats Nick Nemec and Mary Perpich are giving the new candidate support group thumbs up. Here's SD Progress's report on its first contact with the state Dems at last Saturday's Central Committee meeting in Oacoma:

OACOMA, SD - December 12-13, 2014 - During the SD Democratic Central Committee Meeting in Chamberlain, SD, the South Dakota Democratic Party (SDDP) and South Dakota Progress (SDP) began measures to coordinate efforts.

Newly elected Chair, Ann Tornberg, stated, "We welcome the endeavors of South Dakota Progress, the enthusiastic group working to recruit candidates at the grass roots level. National politics are based on division; local politics need to be based on inclusion."

After a presentation on the potential of SDP to become active in 2015 local elections by Acting Steering Committee Chair, Katrina Wilke, DNC Committeeman, Nick Nemec said, "I think that's a place where this organization can make real progress; finding progressive people to fill non partisan races, because that's the pool for legislators. Their candidates will have a step up in legislative races."

Brookings County Democrats Chairperson, Mary Perpich, "There is new blood with members of South Dakota Progress joining forces with the state party to recruit candidates and help them get elected. We are fired up and ready to go."

SDP will hold its next meeting in Sioux Falls on January 10, 2014. Persons interested in attending should contact SDprogressUS@gmail.com for more information [South Dakota Progress, press release, 2014.12.16].

South Dakota Progress members are also planning to attend Democratic Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW on Friday, January 9. East River folks interested in learning more about the group and signing up to help win local and legislative races are welcome to attend.

31 comments

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.

26 comments

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