Dakota Rural Action does not like concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Big feedlots pose a greater risk to land, water, and air quality than other forms of agriculture.

Dakota Rural Action has managed to knock down two bills promoting CAFOs in the 2015 Legislature. House Bill 1173 threatened to make folks who appeal zoning decisions for CAFOs pay for their failed appeals; DRA got that bill hoghoused down to a mere clarification of existing statute. Senate Bill 127 would have weakened South Dakota's Family Farming Act by allowing corporations to own hog farms. DRA members called Pierre enough to get prime sponsor Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion) to pull the plug on his bill.

Now Dakota Rural Action is fighting what it calls the worst of this Session's CAFO bills. House Bill 1201 moves decisions on conditional-use permits from elected county officials to appointed boards of adjustment. It changes the vote threshold for approving conditional use permits from two-thirds to simple majority. Essentially, this bill makes it easier for the state and corporations to push more CAFOs into counties. It ignores the basic parliamentary rule that "suspending the rules," which we do when we allow a CAFO or any other development to break the normal building and environmental rules with a "conditional use," requires something larger than a simple majority vote.

House Local Government passed HB 1201 last Thursday 10–3, with Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) briefly emerging from her GOP confusion and voting with Democratic Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) and Rep. Karen Soli (D-15/Sioux Falls) against the corporate CAFO agenda. DRA is now focused on educating members of the House, who have today and tomorrow to act on HB 1201 before the deadline to send bills to the opposite chamber.

Related Tweeting: Mike Henriksen makes a connection between HB 1201 and South Dakota's declining farm numbers:

Update 10:06 CST: Dakota Rural Action summarizes its opposition to HB 1201 in this open letter to legislators, which DRA invites you to sign:

What the bill really does is this: it takes decision-making power on conditional use permits out of the hands of elected officials and puts it in the hands of appointed boards of adjustment, where the only recourse for an appeal is to go straight to court. It then allows counties to lower the number of votes needed to approve conditional use permits from 4/5 to 3/5, even though all other decisions still require a 4/5 vote. And finally, the bill is the first step in codifying a conditional use site certification program, one which would completely cut out public participation in the siting, review, and approval of conditional uses even though these decisions can have huge impact on surrounding properties, farms, ranches, and businesses [Dakota Rural Action, open letter to South Dakota Legislature, February 2015].

20 comments

House Bill 1116 goes before Senate Judiciary tomorrow morning alongside House Bill 1096. Both bills revise our concealed weapons permit laws. HB 1096 is the mellower of the two, clarifying how the background check for a concealed weapons permit will be conducted and tightening rules to keep immigrants from getting guns. House Bill 1116 goes much further, essentially declaring the concealed weapons permit superfluous and repealing all laws against walking around with a gun hidden in your britches and bras. HB 1116 includes the further absurdity (Section 7) of removing the restriction on giving concealed weapons permits to people who have violated South Dakota weapons laws.

If a gun bill is nuts, you can bet South Dakota Gun Owners is backing it. I read on Facebook the radical gun advocacy group is cold-calling to rouse support for HB 1116. Another friend forwards this SDGO letter backing HB 1116:

SDGO-HB1106-Feb2015

SDGO letter, Feb 2015, p. 1 (click to embiggen)

SDGO-HB1106-Feb2015-p2

SDGO letter, Feb 2015, p. 2 (click to embiggen)

 

Boy, I hope SDGO's gun aim is better than their rhetorical aim. This February 2015 letter contains three absurdities.

First, SDGO exec Ray Lautenschlager asserts that there is an "anti-gun crowd in Pierre." If there is anyone to whom one might apply this appellation in Pierre, they most certainly do not constitute a "crowd."

Second, Lautenschlager says, "The right to bear arms in self defense is absolutely vital." (Beware absolutes... but then what do we expect from a group whose letterhead boasts, "26 Years Without Compromise"?) "Why should a law-abiding citizen first ask permission from the government in order to defend themselves or their family?"

Two points off for failure of number agreement (a citizen... themselves or their family). Ten points off for misstating a question of law: No law-abiding citizens have to ask permission from the government in order to defend themselves or their families. If someone attacks my family, I can throw a punch, throw rocks, or throw my car into gear and get away very quickly. I can call the cops and my lawyer for proper civil protection. I can keep a gun in my house and even walk around town with my gun on my hip if that's what I think it takes to defend my family, all without government's permission.

What I can't do without a permit is sneak my gun into public spaces. When we turned to concealed weapons, we are no longer talking about an absolute right to self-defense. We are talking about surreptitious behavior with a deadly weapon amidst unsuspecting neighbors. If you crave that hazardous privilege, the state can make a case that it has a public interest in imposing the minimal intrusion, less than what we impose on folks driving cars on public roads, of asking you to pay a fee and get a permit so we have a chance to check your background.

Rephrasing Luke 22:36 for the well-armed generation. Click to debunk!

Rephrasing Luke 22:36 for the well-armed generation. Click to debunk!

Third, SDGO claims that HB 1116 will "restore the God-given rights of law-abiding South Dakotans to bear arms...."

I don't need to consult my Reverend wife to know that Jesus handed out bread and wine, not guns and ammo, at the Last Supper.

Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen), a co-sponsor of HB 1116, committed the same constitutional and theological errors in comments at Saturday's Aberdeen crackerbarrel:

Right now, you can legally open carry anywhere in South Dakota, so all of a sudden it’s illegal if your sport coat is over your pistol. The Second Amendment is clear — you have a right to bear and carry arms. I don’t understand how you can outline rights given to you by God and then you have to ask permission from the state to exercise those rights [Rep. Dan Kaiser, statement at crackerbarrel, reported by Bryan Howarth, "Lawmakers Debate Guns, Common Core," Aberdeen American News, 2015.02.22].

The right to bear arms exists in the national constitutions of three countries. Ours comes from a Bill of Rights written 226 years ago. It is far form a divine commandment.

The Second Amendment, like every other amendment, is not absolute. Nor is it Scripture. South Dakota Gun Owners should knock off their misrepresentations, and the South Dakota Legislature should leave our concealed weapons permitting process in place.

71 comments

I got no support from my fellow Democrats last week when I urged them to vote for House Bill 1223 and end the state's involvement in Common Core. My fellow Democrats now have a chance to rectify that error by supporting Rep. Dan Kaiser's effort to resurrect that bill and bring it to the House floor for debate. House Democrats—all 12 of you!—here are my top ten ten reasons for you to back HB 1223:

  1. HB 1223 fights the teacher shortage: get teachers out from under the paperwork involved with state standards, and you make teaching more appealing.
  2. HB 1223 isn't a pay raise, but it will take one item out of the list of burdens that make teachers say, "They don't pay me enough to do this stuff."
  3. Republicans aren't going to offer any other legislation for substantive improvements in K-12 education. Bring HB 1223 to the floor, and turn it into a filibuster on the administration's general failure to live up to its obligations to our kids and our teachers.
  4. The Daugaard Administration opposes HB 1223. Oppose the Governor. Make him spend more political capital to oppose the conservatives who support this bill.
  5. Bringing this bill to the House floor and keeping your seats forces Republican leaders to speak in favor of Common Core. The more often our Howie/Nelson-flavored conservative neighbors hear GOP leaders saying, "Common Core is good," the more those real conservatives will organize and recruit primary candidates, which will be nothing but fun for us.
  6. The arch-conservatives who back HB 1223 generally hold the greatest fear and loathing of Democrats. HB 1223 is a low-impact way to show them that Democrats aren't pointy-horned devils.
  7. Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-4/Watertown) is peddling the line that you can't reject a bad policy without offering a workable replacement. That's the same argument Republicans used to push Governor Daugaard's merit pay plan three years ago. We should reject bad logic like that whenever we get the chance.
  8. But if Rep. Deutsch and Secretary Schopp insist that we have to have a replacement plan, give 'em what they want: propose an amendment to repeal all state-mandated curriculum standards and standardized tests. Essentially you'd be calling Republicans' bluffs on local control and suggestions of getting rid of the Department of Education.
  9. Take away curriculum standards, and Republicans won't be able to write creationism or other nonsense into those standards.
  10. Take away curriculum standards, and you reduce the Department of Education's leverage over local schools. And as long as Republicans control the Department of Education, isn't that reduction of leverage a good thing?

Go ahead, Dems! Back the smokeout, and use HB 1223 to rattle some cages.

33 comments

South Dakota ranks 39th for expenditures per K-12 student but 51st for teacher pay.

I have heard Republican legislators respond to questions about teacher pay with that statistical comparison at both crackerbarrels that I have attended this month. Governor Daugaard cited this fact in response to questions about teacher pay during 2014 campaign debates at Dakotafest and the State Fair.

South Dakota Republicans cite these figures because they know they are running out of excuses for valuing South Dakota teachers less than every other state does. Legislators and the Governor offer these numbers to distract us from the state's inaction in the face of the growing teacher shortage, divert blame from the Legislature to local school districts for keeping money from teachers, and excuse the Governor's Blue Ribbon Stalling Tactic.

While the SDGOP's motives for peddling the 39th/51st comparison are nefarious, the question merits some discussion. But the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute (looking at data that ranks us 41st, not 39th, in per-student spending) spares us another summer study and explains that we outspend a few other states for smaller class sizes:

South Dakota averages 13.7 pupils per teacher. Although South Dakota’s class size is slightly higher than its neighbors, its cost per student for instruction is lower because we have much lower teacher salaries. With a constant class size only OK has lower instructional cost per student than SD

The nine states that have lower instructional costs than South Dakota all have larger classroom sizes, ranging from 14.7 in Texas to 22.8 in Utah.

If the classroom sizes in these nine states were comparable to South Dakota’s classroom size (13.7), the per-student-instructional cost would be higher in every state except Oklahoma [Joy Smolnisky, "Instructional Cost Per Student in South Dakota," South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06].

Smaller class sizes are worth spending some money. Smaller class sizes are also unavoidable in smaller districts where fluctuations from grade to grade may have the lone fourth-grade teacher working with sixteen kids one year and just eight the next. Check the expenditure-per-student data for South Dakota schools, and you'll see most of the big spenders are smaller districts, while most of the big districts (which can more easily smooth out fluctuating student populations across classrooms) are on the lower end of the expenditure rankings.

Mitchell superintendent Joe Graves was hinting at the class size issue last week when he proposed solving the teacher shortage by getting rid of more public school teachers. If they have to pay teachers more, South Dakota Republicans would love to do it by paying fewer teachers.

K-12 class sizes and per-student expenditures, South Dakota vs. region, South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06.

K-12 class sizes and per-student expenditures, South Dakota vs. region, South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06.

South Dakota class sizes are in the middle of the regional range, yet all of our neighbors spend more per student and per teacher. In similar conditions, our neighbors raise more public money for their students and place a higher value on the service their teachers provide.

Over the last decade, states have provided 43% to 49% of funding for K-12 education, with local governments shouldering just a few percentage points less of that burden. In South Dakota, the state picks up closer to 30% of the tab for K-12 education. Maybe local districts have a little more control over capital outlay levies and can at least spend to maintain their facilities, but Pierre is choking off the general fund dollars they need to pay their teachers competitive wages.

SDBPI notes that since 2004, South Dakota has dedicated less of its general fund expenditures to K-12 education. In 2004, the state spent 37% of its general fund on K-12 education. In 2014, the state spent 27% of its general fund on K-12 education.

We do not need a summer study to understand the problem. Our per-student expenditures are inflated by slightly better student-teacher ratios. Smooth that factor out, and our teacher pay is still rock-bottom, due to the state abdicating its commitment to K-12 education. With those facts in our hands, the only reasons for a summer study are delay, distraction, and a desire to drive more teachers out of South Dakota.

31 comments

O.K., Democrats. We want to retake the Legislature, right? Or we at least want to elect enough sensible legislators to have a fighting shot not just at knocking down the wingnut bills that dominate the conversation in Pierre but also at passing real laws, not summer studies, with real funding to solve real problems.

If we can't find enough Democrats in enough districts for that task, are we willing to back progressive Republicans?

South Dakota Progress is, says SDP chair Katrina Wilke:

The goal is to fill ballots with the names of Democrats or even progressive Republicans.

“We would find them,” she said. “We wouldn’t just wait for them to come to us. We would look for people who are really active in their community.”

Candidates would receive training and seed money to begin their campaigns. The belief is candidates will do better if they are financially supported immediately [Roger Larsen, "S.D. Progress Seeks Dem Candidates for Local Offices: New Group in Early Stages of Formation," Huron Plainsman, 2015.02.21].

That wicket is tricky from all angles. South Dakota Progress will need to convince its donor base that any Republicans it backs are really good sheep in wolves' clothing. SDP will have to be confident and make others confident that "progressive Republicans" receiving SDP support can be counted on to put progressive principles over the diktats of the Republican leadership that stands in the way of progressive legislation. And those progressive Republicans will have to brace for a brutal primary in which the SDGOP will likely declare fatwa on GOP apostates playing ball with a group they will surely brand, no matter what SDP says, as a tool of the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Then again, Wilke may be mapping exactly the strategy that allows South Dakota Progress to distinguish itself from the Democratic Party. It may well be that the best hope for Legislative sanity in some districts may be to find a smart, young, pragmatic candidate who keeps the "R" in front of her name but isn't waving a Bible and packing heat. Maybe South Dakota Progress can become the go-to team for young Independents who want to engage in politics but don't want to get tangled in partisan tomfoolery. There's a mission South Dakota Progress can do that the South Dakota Democratic Party cannot. Working with candidates of any label would give South Dakota Progress more opportunities to prove its practical ability to help candidates win elections and more donors on whose doors they could knock.

Perhaps in a state where being a mere moderate may count as being progressive, South Dakota Progress will follow the example of The Centrist Project, which backed former Republican Larry Pressler as an Independent in our 2014 U.S. Senate race but backed R's and D's in other races.

But will anyone—donors, candidates, or attentive voters—buy that approach? Will the Democratic Party continue to dance with South Dakota Progress if SDP asks for such an open relationship?

46 comments

Brendan Johnson, alas, is changing jobs. Kristi Noem, alas, is not.

Tony Mangan at KCCR runs two stories of nearly identical and minimal news value on the non-intentions of U.S. Attorney, soon-to-be-just-Citizen Johnson and Congresswoman Noem to run for the offices for which everyone else likes to speculate they are running. Johnson offers the firmer rejection of any political notions:

Brendan Johnson

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson

Outgoing U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says while others may be thinking about his political future, he is not.

Johnson announced Wednesday that he is resigning March 11 to go into private practice in Sioux Falls. Johnson, the son of retired Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, has long been rumored to be a possible candidate some day for a statewide office.

But Johnson, who has declined in the past to speculate about any such intentions, tells KCCR News that he is not now thinking about that possibility [Tony Mangan, "Johnson Not Thinking about Politics," KCCR Radio, 2015.02.19].

Rep. Noem actually announces her intention to re-up in 2016 and admits she's deciding whether to run for Governor in 2018:

Rep. Kristi Noem

Rep. Kristi Noem

U.S. Representative Kristi Noem says she has received encouragement to run for Governor in 2018, but says it will be some time before she makes a decision on whether to actually run.

...Noem, who was on KCCR Radio Thursday, says there may be opportunities available in the future. But Noem says her current plan is to keep serving in the House and run for re-election in 2016.

The Congresswoman says there is no timetable for a decision on the Governor’s race. Noem says she is not afraid to wait until the last minute to enter a race [Tony Mangan, "Noem Not Thinking about Governor's Race Yet," KCCR Radio, 2015.02.20].

Tony, reread your headline. Noem's words indicate she is thinking about the Governor's race.

An objective reading of the two articles suggests that Noem's statements are bigger political news than Johnson's. But the Republican spin machine, which remains miffed that it didn't get to run all the character assassination it had planned for Johnson in 2014, chooses to focus on the threat they fear from Johnson. Press-release peddler Pat Powers spotlights the Johnson non-article as a "hint" about Johnson's political future while ignoring the Noem news.

Brendan Johnson is going into private practice. Kristi Noem wants another term as a do-nothing Congresswoman and Twitter selfie queen while she teases the electorate and warns other candidates with a reminder that may jump into the 2018 Governor's race late. You tell me which is the bigger, more concrete political news.

49 comments

During my visit to the Capitol Wednesday, I found myself surrounded by the Religious Right. Concerned Women for America, Family Policy Council, Family Heritage Alliance... and those are just the three I encountered in my brief intersection with the right wing in our discussion of the demerits of Common Core before House Education Wednesday. Dale Bartscher came up and introduced himself, his assistant Family Heritage Alliance associate Norman Woods, and his communications director John Dennis. He told me their big Josh Duggar event at the Capitol on February 5 went wonderfully, bringing (if I recall correctly) 81 pastors and "ministry leaders" to Pierre to hear FHA's message of theocracy. He told me about FHA's plans to open a third office in Aberdeen.

As I made a mental note to add that ribbon-cutting to my blog coverage, I thought, "Good grief! This one group can send these guys to spend the whole session in Pierre and support three offices around the state? That's political muscle!"

Search the South Dakota lobbyist register, and you see why a good liberal like me or even a mild-mannered moderate might feel outnumbered at the Capitol:

This list is not exhaustive; I invite attentive readers to submit their favorite right-wing and non-right-wing organizations to append to this list.

But it's not just the head count that puts the right wing at an advantage; it's their activity. The right wing doesn't just lobby; they bring bills. They testify avidly, double- and triple-teaming on the legislation they like in committee. And they are far more committed to pushing their legislation, even when they know their bills, like the Common Core repeal, won't pass.

My center and left-leaning friends are less numerous and more cautious in Pierre. They don't put forward lots of bills. When they do, they are darned careful about spending their spare political capital on proposals that stand a fair chance of winning bipartisan support.

And while it's easy to identify the hard right-wing bills promoting God and guns and threatening to send women and homosexuals back to the Stone Age, where are the comparable crazy liberal ideas that turn into proposals for South Dakota legislation? No one in Pierre proposes legislation like my moonshot plan to raise teacher pay $10,000. Legalizing medical marijuana can't even find a sponsor in Pierre. The non-ultra-conservatives among us don't get to cheer many bills; we spend most of our time counting out blessings for the occasional grudging victory of common sense over bad bills.

So put all that together, and who drives the discourse in Pierre? The Chamber of Commerce corporate colonizers may be in the driver's seat, but the Religious Right, the culture warriors, are riding shotgun, talking their ear off and locking the radio on that mind-numbing praise music. And we progressives are in the back seat asking politely if the driver could crack the window so we could get some fresh air.

There's some fire here that we—Democrats, Independents, liberals, moderates, Libertarians (real ones, not fakers like Chad Haber)—need to fight with fire. We need to put more resources toward groups like Campaign for Healthy Families, the AFL-CIO, and Equality SD to lobby in Pierre, not just against the wild, destructive legislation that humiliates our state in the national press each legislative session, but for positive legislation that fights for the interests of South Dakota women, workers, and minorities. We need organizations like those, operating independently of any party, to lobby in Pierre, to speak in committees, to press for specific bills, and, most importantly, to light up legislators' phones and e-mails with lots and lots of messages of voters saying, "Vote our way, or you won't win your next election."

The Capitol is teeming with religious conservative lobbyists who can credibly make that threat. The rest of us (and there are more of us; we're just quieter) need to rally some force to counter that threat.

48 comments

The South Dakota House showed a little common sense yesterday and killed House Bill 1206, which would have allowed individuals to carry concealed weapons on our public university campuses. But some Republicans couldn't let that happen without exposing their contempt for the university students from across the state who admirably mobilized, testified, and lobbied to kill this bill. Young voters, pay attention.

Rep. Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) rose to speak to the dying bill (around timestamp 1:09:30 in the SDPB audio). He said he could be inclined to vote against the bill, just because he thinks most college kids—not the righteous, upstanding youth whom he thinks would carry guns on campus, but all the rest of the kids—are drunk rapists:

I wish I saw an irate student body, the representatives of the student bodies in all of our universities and colleges, I wish they were irate about what is killing, not about what might or what could, which I think is a real stretch, but what is killing their peers right now. The date rape is just nuts. We have an out-of-control culture, period, and a big part of that is seen in a four-year party.

I am very concerned about that. Now I am not so concerned about students carrying guns on campus, given who I believe those students would be. At the same time, my concern about the current system, just the culture of college, it is a bar, in many respects it is like a bar, and it is against the law to bring a gun to a bar.

I voted yes for this in committee. I just might vote no on it simply because our young folks are out of control. There's a lot of drinking, and it's like bringing guns to a bar when you go to college [Rep. Scott Craig, floor debate on HB 1206, South Dakota House, Pierre, South Dakota, 2015.02.19].

Rep. Craig did vote to let students bring concealed weapons to their drunken four-year party.

HB 1206 sponsor Rep. Jim Stalzer (R-11/Sioux Falls) followed with his closing remarks. He said a fair amount of rot, but none more rotten than this blatant insult:

When I was in college, I actually had to go to class. I don't know how all these people are here today [Rep. Jim Stalzer, floor debate on HB 1206, South Dakota House, Pierre, South Dakota, 2015.02.19].

Rep. Stalzer chortled at his own comment, as did several of his colleagues. Stalzer and friends are laughing at you, students. They are ridiculing your effort to participate in the political process. They are ridiculing the sacrifice you made to miss class, drive three hours in the middle of winter, and try to persuade a bunch of people who apparently don't respect you to still vote in the interests of public safety on your campuses. They are ridiculing you, students, for daring to use your voice.

Young people, Republicans like Craig and Stalzer need to go. You need to remember these speeches made on the floor of the South Dakota House. You need to come out en masse to vote in 2016 and vote these men out of office.

p.s.: I remind you, students: every Democrat in the House voted against HB 1206. We Democrats don't talk about students that way. We Democrats respect your voice.

69 comments

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