You think I've been hard on Republicans today? Pat Powers is so disgusted with his fellow Republicans that he interrupted his usual lazy Sunday press releases to write his own blog post to blast Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge) and Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) for exposing the vile, selfish thoughtlessness that having an R in front of one's name excuses in South Dakota:

How does saying test anxiety is contributing to a disturbing suicide rate encourage a young professional businessperson to run as a Republican candidate for office when asked? When going door to door, how does saying “Planned Parenthood is beheading children people like ISIS terrorists” convince people that helping Republicans get elected is a worthwhile cause?

The answer is that they don’t. They’re just incendiary bombs being lobbed for the sole purpose of getting personal attention. And of course they’re going to get attention. They’re over the top, offensive and just plain stupid. And all that attention comes at the expense of all the other Republicans who are trying to do the difficult job of governing, and are now at risk of being painted with the same broad crazy brush by Democrats and the media who look for these opportunities.

Everytime I read that kind of things, I find myself asking “For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand.” If you feel the need to say something offensive and incendiary, sleep on it first. Bounce it off of a colleague for a read on how it sounds [Pat Powers, "For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand. (And maybe sleep on it before you say it.)" Dakota War College, 2015.03.01].

Oh, Pat, you and your "brand." May and Latterell aren't "damaging" the South Dakota Republican brand; they are the logical product of the very Republicanism you peddle. They ooze Republican anti-intellectualism. They throw whatever they've got at their opponents. They say vile falsehoods to arouse their base, then assume they can wave the flag or hit Delete and make us all forget. May and (more so) Latterell are Republicans straight out of a Dakota War College lesson plan.

Because May and Latterell are products of the politics he practices, Powers can't issue a simple, uncategorical rejection of their errors. Powers still couches his critique in language about Democrats and the media that make it sound like we are to blame for talking about what Republican legislators say and do in Pierre. "Broad crazy brush"? Hey, if crazy Republicans were just the trim, I could use my narrow brush. But with Reps. Craig and Stalzer disrespecting students who beat their gun bill with smart lobbying, with Rep. Stalzer dissing cops, and with former Noem intern Tomi Lahren calling Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren men (why? why?!?), the "crazy" folks aren't the trim; they are the siding. I can paint all day with the biggest brush I've got and still not cover all the rank idiocy that South Dakota Republicans put out.

(Note: Powers has yet to critique Craig, Stalzer, or Lahren for saying things that hurt the GOP "brand".)

South Dakota Democratic Party chair Ann Tornberg, at whom Powers has regularly thrown mud, agrees with his assessment of Latterell's irresponsible headline-scoring. She sends out this comment appended to Huffington Post's coverage of Latterell's equation of Planned Parenthood and ISIS:

Our politics are cheapened when extreme GOP legislators resort to demagoguery to score headlines. No matter your position on issues like life and choice, South Dakotans deserve better than this kind of hateful rhetoric [Ann Tornberg, SDDP e-mail, 2015.03.01].

Tornberg is party chair; she has as much interest in promoting her party's brand as Powers does his. But for Tornberg, panning Latterell's comments is about respecting all South Dakotans and resisting demagoguery and hateful rhetoric. For Powers, it's just damage control, throwing a couple fellow Republicans overboard for fouling the party's effort to conceal its inherent extremism behind a marketing curtain.

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

South Dakota Senate Republicans yesterday declared that neither young people's labor nor the popular will matter when they want to cut business a break. On a party-line 26–7 vote, the Senate yesterday passed Senate Bill 177 which would set the minimum wage for workers under 18 at $7.50, a buck less than the $8.50 South Dakota voters established as the minimum wage last November.

Prime sponsor Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen, who speaks as if he is afraid of the microphone, or of his own bill) says he's just trying to give kids the opportunity to work. He asserts that business owners have told him the increased minimum wage is causing them not to hire young people, allowing them to pay kids less ensures they can still get jobs. When asked by Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) how many workers would be affected by this pay decrease, Senator Novstrup admitted he doesn't have numbers. "There's a lot of games you can play with statistics," said Novstrup... which statement is the hallmark of a debater who is losing an evidence-based debate.

In response to concerns that employers would lay off adult workers to exploit cheaper youth labor, Senator Novstrup pointed to the line in Section 2 of his bill that says, "No employer may take any action to displace an employee, including a partial displacement through a reduction in hours, wages, or employment benefits, in order to hire an employee at the wage authorized in this Act."

While Senator Novstrup digs through his briefcase looking for the enforcement mechanism for that clause, I ask this question: suppose you're starting a business. You need an entry-level worker. You gets apps from a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old, both about equally qualified. Whom will you hire: the 19-year-old at $8.50 an hour, or the 17-year-old at $7.50 an hour? Nothing in SB 177 stops you from making the economic choice and getting the same labor less money, thanks to GOP age discrimination.

Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) said such age discrimination does not reflect South Dakota values. He said we should respect the dignity of work, regardless of the worker's age.

Senator Sutton added that we should also respect the will of the voters. South Dakotans voted to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour last November, without qualification or exception. Senator Gary Cammack (R-29/Union Center) said SB 177 doesn't violate the people's will; it just adds a provision that should have been in the initiative in the first place. Senator Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison) challenged that wordplay: he said that if the minimum-wage initiative had been lacking something, the voters would have rejected it.

Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave (R-25/Baltic) then dismissed all talk of the voters' will. He said senators can't sit around respecting the sanctity of the initiative for a year, or two years, or five years, or whatever. Telling legislators they are elected to show "courage," he exhorted them to vote on SB 177 on its own merits, independent of the results of the November election. That's clever verbiage, but it's rhetorical cover for, "You darn Democrats, and you darn voters! We'll show you who's boss! Pass all the initiatives you want; we will by gum change them however we see fit!"

Senate Bill 177 now heads to the House, where high school pages, who work for free, can silently watch their Republican bosses further devalue their peers' labor.

42 comments

The Pennington County Republicans send me their list of committee chairs for the 2015–2016 term:

  • Membership: Burton Sly
  • Events: David Fisk
  • Media: David Johnson
  • Bylaws and Ethics: David Johnson
  • Technical Director: Doug Dlugosz
  • Fundraising: Perry and Gretchen Strombeck
  • Hill City Coordinator: SD Rep. Mike Verchio
  • E. Pennington County Coordinator: Ted Hustead
  • Office Coordinator: Shannon Royer
  • Outreach: Ken Davis, JP Duniphan, Craig Ericks, Jessica Holt, MaryVee Knauer, and Tom Udager

Curious: are any of those committee chairs leading lights in the hard-core Napoli-Howie arch-conservative wing of the party? Or does the make-up of the Pennington County GOP reflect the failure of Howie-ites to form any viable political movement?

103 comments

Friend and blogger Don Carr has pointed out the scientific disconnect Senator John Thune and other tools of the plutocracy exhibit in their embrace of scientific evidence to defend genetically modified crops and their rejection of scientific evidence to fight climate-change legislation.

The statements of South Dakota's Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch on GMO labeling also display the Republican incoherence on federalism:

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture have passed a resolution supporting a national uniform labeling policy for genetically modified foods. South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch says a national standard is needed to overcome all the problems caused by different and diverse state regulations that hamper bio technology.

[Sec. Lentsch]: "The reason why that's so important to get a national footprint on it is to stop the piecemeal approach. You know, in Oregon, there was one county that decided to take on GMO lableing. If you could imagine the patchwork that would happen at a local level across our country, it... would be impossible to try to even manage that. I think that provides clarity and consistency for our consumers" ["NASDA Wants National GMO Labeling," WNAX Radio, 2015.02.09].

Remember, Lentsch directed the SDGOP, which avidly supports states rights and local control on issues like immigration and teacher pay when it suits their agenda. But let states jump ahead on health and environmental concerns that cut into corporate profits, and letting the small laboratories of democracy try different things becomes a piecemeal, patchwork mess that must be ironed out by big government.

Secretary Lentsch underscores a running theme in SDGOP politics: their only principle is power. Their only goal is serving the corporate colonizers who want what they want and will use any available tools and rhetoric to get it.

38 comments

While South Dakota Republicans chip away at the initiative and referendum, South Dakota Democrats are trying to protect the will of the people. Every Democrat in the South Dakota Legislature is backing House Bill 1175, a measure to insulate ballot measures from legislative tinkering. The bill text is brief:

If a measure is submitted to the voters of the state, legislation may not be proposed to affect the will of the voters for a period of one year after the vote on the measure, or the date of enactment, whichever is later.

Notice that HB 1175 would work both ways. If an initiated measure like our minimum-wage increase passed, legislators could not amend or repeal that popularly enacted law for one year. If a referendum succeeded and we repealed a law, legislators could not try to put that law back into effect for a year. Had HB 1175 been in effect in 2013, after we referred and repealed Governor Daugaard's really nasty and counterproductive education reform law in 2012, the Legislature would not have been able to propose bills to restore that law in full or in part; they would not have been able to resurrect the Critical Needs Teaching Scholarship, the sole productive component of that messy education reform package, until 2014.

On the other hand, if an initiative or referendum were to fail, HB 1175 would prevent legislators from revisiting those measures. If voters rejected an initiative to raise sales tax to increase funding for education and health care (as we did in 2012 on Initiated Measure 15), the next year's Legislature could not take up a bill to enact such an increase for such a purpose. I assume that legislators could take up a bill to increase the sales tax for other purposes, and they could take up a bill to increase funding for education and health care by different means.

A failed referendum vote—i.e., a vote in which voters chose to leave the challenged law in place—would lock that law in place in a way that simple legislative passage does not. Had Governor Daugaard's education reform withstood referendum in 2012, it would have become the voters' will, and HB 1175 would have protected it from any amendment in the 2013 session. Lawmakers could not have acted on a change of heart or fixed any gaps in that law until 2014.

I have argued that South Dakota Republicans are trying to weaken the initiative and referendum not for principle or public welfare but for pure political self-interest: they tend to lose initiatives and referenda, and they don't want the pesky electorate messing with GOP power and plans. My Republican readers could retort that Democrats are backing HB 1175 for the same selfish political reasons: South Dakota Democrats see initiatives and referenda as policymaking, organizing, and recruiting activities that serve their partisan interests.

But even if both sides are selfish bastards, the Democrats' defense of initiative and referendum versus the Republicans' attack thereupon demonstrates a fundamental difference in what the two parties think about Us the People. Republicans don't trust us. They cautiously let us vote for elected officials (even there, they throw up roadblocks), but they don't trust us to exercise legislative power directly. They want us, the unwashed and passion-addled mob, to trust those decisions to the elites, the elected officials in whose ears the corporate lobbyists drip their honey. They want a Republic.

Democrats do trust us. They want as many people as possible to vote not just for leaders, but for policies. They believe we the masses really can read, write, and pass good legislation. They recognize the fundamental unfairness in allowing legislators an almost immediate veto over our will while requiring us to undertake the lengthy and arduous process of gathering signatures and campaigning in a general election to challenge legislative action or inaction. Democrats say, "Let the people vote, and let their will stand." Democrats want a democracy.

House Bill 1175 poses some interesting legal questions about how the Legislature would go about fixing problems in initiated laws or laws that withstand referendum. But House Bill 1175 is the only good idea pertaining to initiative referendum to emerge yet from the 2015 Legislature. Turn up the heat on your phones and e-mails, and tell your legislators this is the one I&R bill they should support.

25 comments

Voters, the Republican campaign to overturn your will on the minimum wage has begin. Today, Representative Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) filed House Bill 1094, which would repeal one small provision of the minimum-wage increase that you wrote into law by passing Initiated Measure 18 less than three months ago. HB 1094 removes the sentence, "In no case shall the minimum wage be decreased," from SDCL 60-11.3.2, the annual inflation adjustment included in Initiated Measure 18.

Republicans are trying to gain a foothold on a pretty big hill. They know they can't come storming out and advocate repealing the whole thing. They know they'd get strung up at the next crackerbarrel by attentive voters. Rep. Bolin and his conservative pals Reps. Brunner, May, Novstrup, and Stalzer and Senator Lederman are tackling what may be the most easily opposable portion of the plan. "Well, if we're going to adjust for inflation," they'll say, "isn't it only fair that the adjustment follow that rate regardless of whether it's positive or negative?"

Prepare for that argument, and prepare to reject it. The ratchet clause (allowing adjustment up but not down) is far from unfair. It helps us catch up with how much purchasing power the minimum wage has lost over decades of neglect and exploitation. We still have a long way to go before our minimum wage catches up with the family poverty level. I don't think it's unreasonable to leave in place a mechanism that ensures our lowest-paid workers don't lose ground.

But watch out: when the Republicans get tired of losing that argument, they'll angle for other amendments. A friendly observer of all things Legislative warns that Republicans may slide the current version of HB 1094 through the House, then amend it in the Senate. Then they'll send HB 1094 to conference committee, where they'll break out the big knives, safe from the opportunity from public testimony at regular committee hearings and crackerbarrel hell-raising.

Watch House Bill 1094, folks. Watch its House committee assignment (not posted yet), and be ready to vibrate those committee members' phones right out of their pockets. Tell your legislators, very simply, to leave the minimum wage alone this year and let the voters' will stand.

Related Reading: Pat Powers mewls that the Democratic minimum-wage increase (yes, do keep reminding people that we Dems brought that initiative forward; we will happily take the credit!) is hurting students by forcing the SDSU Student Union to cut its hours.

Yup. The SDSU Student Union is covering $30,000 in wage increases by closing the Union two hours earlier, at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. By closing "early," the Union will save $6,000 on utilities. The only "service" students are using is the ability to sit in that building with pretty much no one around: nothing was open from 10 to midnight but the building itself—no food service, nothing else. Union manager Jenn Novotny says there are usually only a "handful" of students hanging around the Union past ten. The "early" close is temporary, for just this semester; Union management will see how budgeting goes for FY2016 and decide whether demand justifies restoring those late hours.

So for the price of a couple dark hours in a mostly empty Union, we get $30,000 in wage increases. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

47 comments

Gordon Howie says the face of tyranny is right here in South Dakota, with one-party rule corrupting the South Dakota Republican Party and state government. Yet like Cardinal Raymond Burke blaming feminists for pedophile priests, Howie blames Democrats for Republican tyranny:

In South Dakota, the Republican Party has simply moved to the left, thanks to the efforts of political power brokers with lots of money and liberal perspectives. Infiltration of the Republican Party might have been the Democrats response to one party rule by the Republicans. They did, indeed gain some ground with regard to policy, but at what ultimate cost? Democrats are now so weak statewide that they have trouble finding credible candidates for most political races, thereby simply giving the offices to Republicans [Gordon Howie, "The Face of Tyranny," The Right Side, 2015.01.11].

Democrats infiltrated the SDGOP. Right.

Howie hopes for a revitalized Democratic Party (yes!) and says the key lies in re-recruiting Republicans:

If there is any hope for accountability to return to this state, it may be in a revitalized Democrat Party. That will only happen if they can entice their own to shed the costumes, leave the Republican Party and come home. That would leave conservatives to manage the Republican Party and once again, give South Dakota voters a real choice [Howie, 2015.01.11].

I agree with Howie that part of the recipe for Democratic rebuilding is finding candidates and issues who can win votes from some moderate Republicans. But I cannot adopt the Howie narrative that the SDGOP is filled with leftists. Howie and his Republican purists need to stop labeling folks like Mike Rounds as leftists and call them what they are: opportunists. Folks like Larry Rhoden don't switch their registration from Democrat to Republican as some plot to infiltrate the SDGOP and promote leftist ideology. They switch parties to get their names on ballots, win elections, and gain power. By Howie's own thinking, those opportunists have weakened the Republican Party; why would Democrats fare any better by drawing such self-serving opportunists "back"?

Instead of trying to get Democrats to lure other people our of the SDGOP, Howie challenge tyranny by a more direct route: forming his own True Conservative Party. His pal Gary Coe already has a PAC with that name; it shouldn't be hard to turn that mechanism into a party. Get the 8,474 people who voted for Howie for Senate in 2014 to petition a True Conservative Party into existence. (Forming a new party will require 6,936 signatures.) Line up True Conservative Party candidates for at least ten Legislative districts (including every Black Hills district, an easy task for a party centered around Howie's new world headquarters east of Rapid City). Abandon the SDGOP to its soulless, self-serving opportunists, cooperate with Democrats to fire on the depleted SDGOP from both sides, and upset the balance of power.

Even conservatives recognize that South Dakota needs a real liberal party to bring balance to Pierre and check the tyranny of Republican opportunists. But the solution is not for Democrats to catch the disease Howie says debilitates the Republicans.

30 comments

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