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.

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RickstockCrowd Hey, what are all those people doing in Dr. Kevin Weiland's yard?

Take It Back Band Why, listening to Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Rick Weiland and the Take It Back Band...

Rickstock2014 ...on a beautiful evening in the Black Hills.

Clean Water AllianceFolks at this show don't want any uranium mining...

Seamans Clanton...and these ranch men will have no truck with pipelines...

KurtzPipe ...but pipes are fine, especially with Kurtz classing up the smoking section.

BlogReadersatRickstockRick voters and blog readers are also cool with flower power and adult beverages in moderation.

WeilandatRickstockCandidate Weiland had a moment between sets to chat about the campaign. Before playing the big show Saturday at his brother Kevin's Piedmont place, Rick walked the Central States Fair parade through downtown Rapid City. Parade in the morning, working the stage and working the crowd all afternoon and evening (and before the sun dropped below the ponderosas, it was hot on that stage!)... you tell me who the hardest working man in the Senate campaign is!

Rick noted that the last time he marched in the Central States Fair parade (another campaign, another decade), he recalls folks actually booing at him. Saturday morning, he said parade-goers were cheering and stepping out to shake his hand. That's long-term momentum!

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Corinna Robinson is working to reverse that downward Q2 fundraising trend. The Democratic candidate for House is speaking at a fundraiser tomorrow (Friday) evening at the Rapid City home of Dr. Nancy Babbitt and Steve Babbitt. Team Robinson staffer Valerie Parker tells me all interested parties are invited. The campaign tweets the where and when:

  • When: Friday, July 25, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
  • Where: 1121 Settlers Creek Place, Rapid City, SD 57701

Dr. Babbitt and Team Robinson would like a heads-up on how many people are coming, so please RSVP to campaign staffer Adam Schantz at aschantz@corinnaforsd.com.

offers this statement from Dr. Babbitt explaining her support for Robinson:

“I’ve become a big believer in who represents us in Washington has a major impact on how physicians get to deliver healthcare," Dr. Babbitt said. "And as someone who is frequently called upon to give input on healthcare reform issues, healthcare legislation, and questions of how we provide quality, affordable healthcare for South Dakota seniors, children, veterans etc., I've found Corinna Robinson to be an open- minded, common-sense voice on this issue. We're excited about the event and we're honored to host it" [Robinson campaign, press release, 2014.07.23].

Dr. Babbitt has publicly challenged Senate candidate Mike Rounds's false scare tactics and Governor Dennis Daugaard's detachment from reality on the Affordable Care Act. Now let's see if she can help Robinson set Kristi Noem's bad record on health care reform straight.

 

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Ah, the Fourth of July, when we all come together as Americans with a shared love of country and dedication to our common cause in building a free and democratic community...

...unless you're in Rapid City, in which case the mayor and city council members continue to throw rocks at each other. Last week, Mayor Sam Kooiker said that racism may have driven council members Charity Doyle and Bill Clayton to turn down his first choice for Rapid City police chief. Now council member Bonny Petersen takes to John Tsitrian's blog to say the mayor is unjustly and divisively playing the race card to distract from his own inability to lead:

The Mayor knows the real reasons the vote was no, he knows it has nothing to do with heritage, yet that is what he suggests. He attacks two council members to divert attention from the real facts—that the selection process was adequate until it got to Mayor Kooiker. Once there, Mayor Sam Kooiker failed to do his due diligence. Let me repeat, Mayor Sam Kooiker and only Sam Kooiker failed to do his due diligence. He chose to ignore information that eight of us could not. He can say whatever he wants and point his finger outward, but the fact remains he made a mistake. The eight no votes were a no to a bad decision; it was not a vote for a preferred candidate....

The negative methods that Mayor Kooiker clings too and has mastered so well are the reasons the majority of the council no longer trust or respect him. Is this the fault of the individual council members? I think history clearly shows there is something about the way Sam Kooiker conducts himself that alienates people that work closely with him. (It is not his causes—many of us support his causes—it is his techniques.) Not playing well with others is fine until it undermines the city—and Sam Kooiker pointing to racism on this vote though predictable is beyond disappointing—it is outrageously irresponsible [Bonny Petersen, quoted by John Tsitrian, "Rapid City (SD) Alderwoman Bonny Petersen Responds To RC Mayor Sam Kooiker's Post Dated 6/27," The Constant Commoner, 2014.07.03].

Alas, Petersen doesn't tell us the real reasons for the council's rejection of Lt. Elias Diaz as police chief. Petersen says she cannot tell us, since council members are legally bound to keep personnel matters confidential. She says the mayor takes advantage of that confidentiality to throw mud at council members that they can't wash off with the confidential truth. But she does contend that playing the race card makes it hard to deal with real racism in Rapid City:

Our city has real race issues without making them up for political gain. We have police out on the streets twenty-four hours a day and the last thing they need is our Mayor claiming governmental racism, when he knows it had nothing to do with the vote. He betrays our community by using race as a political weapon. He undermines the huge efforts made throughout our city every day to alleviate the effects of racism [Petersen, 2014.07.03].

You won't find Mayor Kooiker and Councilor Petersen sitting together at the Independence Day concerts at Main Street Square this afternoon. But before and after the hot-dog-eating contest at 3 p.m. (not during—it's impolite and bad strategy to talk with your mouth full), feel free to discuss with your neighbors the causes and extent of the division between mayor and council and among different groups in Rapid City... as well as what can be done to bring those opposing parties together to sustain a functional community.

 

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Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker wanted to promote Lt. Elias Diaz to police chief. That choice didn't go over well with Rapid City pundits like John Tsitrian and Stan Adelstein. The City Council vetoed Diaz, forcing Kooiker to turn to his second-choice (and many Rapid Citians' first choice), Assistant Chief Karl Jegeris.

In a response to Tsitrain, Mayor Kooiker expresses his confidence in Chief Jegeris in his new duties and Lt. Diaz in his continuing duties. But the missile launch of the weekend, Mayor Kooiker says the City Council's opposition to Diaz was motivated by racism:

Two council members, Charity Doyle and Bill Clayton, may have been driven by their well-known biases. It would be easy to say “Well that doesn’t account for the other 6 no votes”. Even so, the ferocity of Charity and Bill’s opposition had an impact. Charity's biases against minorities are well documented in her book, called Political Prostitution. Don't accept my word for it – you can read it on Amazon.com. One of her multiple slams on Hispanic people is only a few pages after her bizarre defense of hanging nooses in public. She had also accused me of having a conflict of interest in the Disability Consideration policy in October 2011 (because I have a disability), and she even threw her ink pen across the room on camera when I voted for the policy. She also fiercely opposed a stronger Human Relations Commission ordinance in 2014.

In this case though, I thought she would abstain due to the fact her husband is a police officer and the head of Fraternal Order of Police. Instead, Charity worked hard to smear Elias Diaz [links mine; Mayor Sam Kooiker, quoted by John Tsitrian, "Rapid City (SD) Mayor Sam Kooiker Responds To My Post," The Constant Commoner, 2014.06.27].

That's not going to make the next City Council meeting any easier.

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The Rapid City Council will approve Mayor Sam Kooiker's new police chief tomorrow night... maybe. Mayor Kooiker announced last week that he wants to promote theologian-turned-cop Elias Diaz from the department accreditation desk to the chief's office. Diaz faces a council vote tomorrow night, and a number of councilors are signaling they don't like the Mayor's choice:

"I have concerns about his lack of command experience," wrote Alderwoman Bonny Petersen in an email. "The Police Department has been ran well and is improving. They are recovering from the loss of our fine policemen, at the same time violent crime is rising."

...Alderwoman Amanda Scott... said she's received more than 20 messages from constituents questioning the selection. Scott and others are upset that the public and council had no opportunity to weigh in on the recommendation prior to the final vote on Monday [Joe O'Sullivan, "Police Chief Vote Likely to Be Close: Some Council Members Unsure of Lt. Diaz," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.15].

Retired police chief Steve Allender wrote a recommendation for another candidate, his second-in-command and interim Chief Karl Jegeris. Allender's predecessor, now State Senator Craig Tieszen, says Jegeris is more experienced and Diaz isn't ready to run the department.

Returning to the blogosphere from a health hiatus, Rapid City statesman Stanford Adelstein says Mayor Kooiker has deviated from a long-standing process for choosing city officials:

Over 30 years ago Mayor Art LaCroix and Chief Tom Hennies established a method of preparing for future leadership changes in city government.

The process involved careful evaluation of every member of the police force to identify future leaders. From the results, a careful plan of promotion, mentoring, and training prepared some for future professional police leadership positions.  Thus the next Chief was chosen with care and without personal prejudice or intervention.

The process has worked incredibly well, giving us effective leaders like Chief Tiezen and Chief Allender.

Sadly, Mayor Kooiker has chosen to violate the process, and it has had the predictable effect of reducing morale, embarrassing his appointee and, for that matter, embarrassing the whole police force [Stanford Adelstein, "The Mayor's Folly," A Way to Go, 2014.06.14].

Adelstein sees railroadery in tomorrow night's City Council agenda, with Mayor Kooiker placing the Chief vote near the top of the meeting, then scheduling a recess to allow what Adelstein calls a "party" for the new chief:

Evidently the plan is to intimidate the council to approve the nominee, lest there be awkward moments with his friends and family waiting in the room for the ice cream, cookies and punch, or whatever they are having.

It’s a tacky trick and I doubt the council will fall for it, no matter how awkward it may be [Adelstein, 2014.06.14].

The council and the public will have a chance to weigh in prior to the vote, as the agenda includes an executive session and the open public comment period. Having worked in the public sector, I can sympathize with Officer Diaz: having one's résumé questioned in the press is no fun. But Mayor Kooiker appears to have brought this trouble upon his friend by circumventing past practice in picking a police chief.

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One of the biggest reasons to be all grumbly and gloomy at the primary after-party is that Senator Phil Jensen (probably) won the District 33 Republican primary. Jensen, who proposes legislation to protect us from gays and Muslims but says the free market is all we need to protect us from the Ku Klux Klan, beat challenger David Johnson by 30 votes, 50.62% to 49.38%. That any district in South Dakota could give a majority vote to a man who says such absurd and hurtful things and advocates such absurd and hurtful legislation is an embarrassment to our whole state.

But I reject the gloomy grumbles by citing hope from Jensen's own district. District 33's Democrats and Independents had a primary choice for Senator as well. They could elect Democrat Haven Stuck, a Rapid City lawyer with decades of community involvement in the Chamber of Commerce, the Central States Fair, the South Dakota Investment Council, and other reputable activities. Or they could elect Democrat Robin Page, a single mom raising multi-ethnic foster kids in low-income North Rapid.

Robin Page, Democratic candidate for District 33 Senate

Robin Page, Democratic candidate for District 33 Senate

District 33 Dems elected Robin Page. As loyal reader Deb Geelsdottir would say, they elected the passionate poet over the lukewarm moderate. They elected an Indian woman, the best candidate on the ballot to look Phil Jensen in the eye and demand an apology for years of racism and sexism in his politics. They elected an underdog who built on what she learned in her unsuccessful 2012 bid for District 33 House, printed and mailed hundreds of letters from her kitchen table, and outcampaigned a wealthier, better-connected candidate.

District 33 elected exactly the kind of of candidate I want Democrats to elect.

Now my endorsement may be the kiss of death. But I am thrilled that Robin Page won and that she will now carry the important responsibility of holding Senator Phil Jensen accountable and convincing her neighbors to cleanse the Legislature of his bad politics.

And how is Page starting her general election campaign? By talking to her neighbors... all of her neighbors:

Good morning FB friends and family! It is official, in a very close race yesterday, I have won the Democratic Primary, in District 33, with 54% of the vote! I send my best wishes to my opponent, Haven Stuck. I am sure that this race will be talked about in Democratic circles for a long time.

It is my sincere hope that the residents of District 33, Democrat, Republican, Independents and all others, will come together and work for a strong community where hatred, racism and discrimination is not tolerated!

I put forth my honest belief that if we come together in open discussions, we can find the balance and common ground that will best serve all of our citizens.

I look forward to sponsoring several "Meet the Candidate - Listening Sessions" over the next few months. I invite ALL citizens to attend so that we can have these important discussions and together, move our community, state and nation forward!

I do these things "So the People can live"! Thank You!!! [Robin Page, Facebook post, 2014.06.04]

Robin Page for District 33 Senate—go get 'em, tiger!

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Robin Page, Democratic candidate for District 33 Senate

Robin Page, Democratic candidate for District 33 Senate

One of the last things Robin Page said to me as I interviewed her Friday for the Madville Times was something she said her grandmother told her. Echoing Lakota wisdom, Robin's grandmother said we "have to learn to walk in balance."

Running as a Democrat for District 33 Senate, Page wants to bring some of that balance to the Legislature.

Page's family history explains some of the balance she could bring to politics. Page describes herself as a "mixed-blood Chicamuaga-Cherokee." She grew up in Utah, where her conservative Mormon parents founded that state's chapter of the John Birch Society. Page recalls asking questions at JBS meetings and Mormon Sunday School challenging her elders' tenets on equal rights for blacks and women. The most important thing she learned in Sunday School was the simple exhortation, "Love one another," which Page says guides her life.

Page got her degree in political science, with a minor in American Indian studies, at the University of Utah. She says she still considers herself conservative. She wants to use taxpayer dollars wisely and hold government accountable.

She's all about economic development, but she would like to see a greater focus on developing small, local businesses. The way out of poverty, says Page, is to help people start their own businesses. Instead of pouring big money into large industrial plants that hire a hundred laborers but only a handful of managers, Page would like to see the Governor's Office of Economic Development make lots of smaller grants and microloans to individual entrpreneurs. She sees more autonomy, more possibilities, and more local turnover of dollars from a hundred tiny businesses than from one big business. Each small businessperson has the potential to expand and hire another worker in a way that each factory worker cannot. Page says GOED can still seek the big fish, but it should divert more resources to the small fry (and more West River!).

Page is pleased that Democrats are pushing the ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage, but Page says $8.50 isn't enough. She says District 33 voters working in motels and restaurants are often already making that amount and still can't afford quality housing in Rapid City. Page says she wants the state to talk to business owners and look for ways that we could use economic development dollars to help businesses weather the transition to higher wages, but she says business owners recognize that higher wages will draw and keep better workers, which would pay off in lower costs in turnover and training.

But Page won't have us putting more money into economic development unitl we've put back what the Daugaard administration took from education. Page says her neighborhood school, Knollwood Elementary, used to offer an after-school tutoring program that reached over 300 kids. She says Governor Daugaard then strangled school budgets with his 2011 cuts. At the same time, says Page, the state applied for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, which meant the state could continue to receive federal aid without meeting NCLB's tutoring requirements. Poof! went Knollwood's tutoring program. Last fall, Page says she received a letter from the school saying their spring 2013 test scores placed Knollwood in the bottom 20% of the nation. And we wonder why students get into trouble and drop out of school later?

Page says South Dakota must restore school funding to the curve it was on before the Daugaard austerity of 2011. She says that with all the "good for business" statistics the state touts, we must have the wealth to back that business climate with a comparably top-of-the-line learning climate.

Education reform isn't just about money. Page sees the education of lots of low-income and American Indian youth suffering because of shortcomings in our juvenile corrections system. Juvenile offenders with mental health and addiction issues are often placed in out-of-state residential facilities. Such programs in places like Utah and Georgia cost $250 to $500 per juvenile per day. Stays in such facilities regularly last 12 to 18 months. When young people come back from such programs, they deal with enormous disruption in their schooling. Their friends have moved on. They feel out of place among younger, "normal" students. They often come from homes that lack the resources to pursue GEDs. But without a diploma, they can't get into vo-tech programs and land good jobs.

Page would like to break that cycle. Instead of sending kids and money out of state, Page would like to invest in treatment programs that would keep juveniles, especially Indian juveniles, closer to home and family and maintain some continuity in their education. Such in-state programs would make it easier for families to participate in family therapy and other more holistic approaches to help juvenile offenders get back on the right track.

Page also wants to help low-income South Dakotans by expanding Medicaid. Page speaks very personally about the benefits of Medicaid; she has experienced them firsthand. Three and a half years ago, a man assaulted her. She suffered serious injuries to her shoulders and spine. She burned up all of her small savings to get treatment and ultimately had to apply for disability to qualify for Medicaid. Since then, she has been able to get medications and some of the surgery she needs to reduce her pain and restore some of her physical function. However, her doctor says that if she had had Medicaid-quality coverage from the beginning and could have gotten surgery sooner, he could have gotten her back to 100%.

Page knows Medicaid could help the sick and injured get well sooner and get back to the workforce. "We are turning our backs on our people," says Page, but we are also turning out backs on money, jobs, and independence for 48,000 fellow South Dakotans just like her and her North Rapid neighbors.

Page navigates racial diversity daily in her house: she has two biological sons, one by an African-Cherokee father, the other by a Dutch father. She also has seven foster children, four Lakota, three Navajo. She says her family is part of the most racially diverse district in the Black Hills. Hearing current District 33 Senator Phil Jensen say this year that government should stay out of civil rights and let the free market protect minorities was deeply hurtful to her family and her community.

Page wants to replace that "leadership" with someone who can speak for all of her District 33 neighbors, rich and poor, Indian and otherwise. When she wins the primary (she said when), she plans to hold public listening sessions so she can be the "voice of the people." She wants to engage young people more in the political process, but she is also attentive to the needs of the aging population in her district, where older folks may struggle to get decent jobs to supplement their retirement income.

Page says she can win as a Democrat, but she's not trying to sell her District on Democrats. She's selling them on her beliefs and abilities. She rejects extremism in either direction, Right or Left. She wants to meet with as many Democrats, Independents, and Republicans as possible, listen to them, and help everyone find common ground. She said she received a positive response from Republicans in North Rapid during her 2012 run for House; she believes she can build on that response this year.

Robin Page wants to help all of her neighbors "walk in balance," the way her grandmother taught. She gets to test the strength of that message in the District 33 Senate primary against Haven Stuck on June 3.

Bonus Reading: That's my distillation of Page's politics. Now check out Robin Page in her own words. Below is a stump speech Page posted to Facebook Friday. She says she is receiving some good responses to it.

For 12 long years, the citizens of North Rapid have not had a voice at the South Dakota State Legislature.

During that time, our Legislators have bowed to the whims of Governor Daugaard and failed to provide their Constitutional role of oversight, checks and balances.

They robbed our children's educational funding to support the East River development of large business ventures doomed to fail. The current EB-5 scandal, of selling permanent residency to investors from China and Korea, has barely had the Legislature's attention.

And every night, as the citizens of Pennington County lay their heads to rest, between 350 and 400 of our youth are incarcerated in the Juvenile Service Center or in out of home and out of state residential treatment facilities. Many of these youth are from North Rapid. They are on the "Pipeline to Prison". This practice placed us as the number one county in America with the highest rate of youth in the Department of Corrections custody per capita population.

Although our Legislators have replaced some of our children's education money, the education budget is still not funded at the pre-2011 level. Last fall the Principal of Knollwood Elementary reported that the students had placed in the bottom 20% of the Nation on their Spring 2013 standardized testing. Gone is the federal money for the 300 students who use to receive free tutoring to help them get caught up. That federal money was taken to pad the general state budget.

I want to bring the "Voice of the People" of North Rapid to the State Senate. For over 30 years I have worked as an advocate of the People. I have the education and employment experience that has prepared me well to serve you in our State Senate.

I am proud to live in the multi-ethnic and multi-racial community of North Rapid! And I promise, I will NEVER sponsor or vote for legislation that promotes hatred, racism or discrimination!

Please vote ROBIN PAGE FOR SD SENATE, District 33 [Robin Page, Facebook post, 2014.05.23].

What response do you think Page will get for those words among District 33 Democrats and South Dakota voters in general?

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