I'd love to see the state and the education establishment abandon Common Core and similar exercises in faux-accountability and paperwork. But that won't happen with opponents claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids:

We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week. We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it, because the kids can't do it [Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), remarks on House Bill 1223, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 21:12].

At this point, Speaker Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) interrupted Rep. May to pull her back to the motion at hand, which was not the Common Core-repealing House Bill 1223 itself but the question of whether to place HB 1223 on the calendar for debate. Even if the House had allowed that debate to happen, the suggestion that Common Core leads to Indian youth suicide sounds more like a high school debate nuke-war disad (the classic argument that demonstrates that any federal policy change leads to mushroom clouds) than a useful legislative contention.

Suicide is a serious problem for our Native neighbors. The Pine Ridge Reservation has had waves of youth suicides since well before the adoption of Common Core. Dr. Delphine Red Shirt says the despair driving these suicides comes from the culture of fear imposed imposed by colonialism. Maybe we could make the argument that imposing Western rationalist curriculum standards on Indian reservations is one aspect of colonialism. But with the Department of Education warning that repealing Common Core would only require implementing new (Western rationalist) standards, and with Common Core opponents suggesting new standards, the colonialism critique doesn't get us anywhere on HB 1223.

But Rep. May wasn't making that deep critique. She seems to have been colonializing her Indian neighbors again, exploiting their pain to advance her political goal of the moment. This one ill-considered rhetorical tactic only weakened her position, opening education policy critics to ridicule from the national press, which lump her suicide claim in with other wild accusations made by Common Core opponents.

The Huffington Post lets Rep. May try to explain herself:

May clarified her comments for The Huffington Post, noting that, “Our suicide rate keeps increasing on the [Pine Ridge] reservation, our kids are under a lot of distress socially and economically.”

Indeed, the suicide rates of Native youth are disproportionately high around the country.

May further said she thinks the Common Core State Standards put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Very simple, testing, testing testing. They have to teach to the test. You know and I know and every teacher in the trenches on the reservation know it,” wrote May in an email. “It never is about children and teachers it's about a bureaucracy.”

“There’s kids who just won't go to school," she added over the phone. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children. We see it more in the depressed areas of our country. Not all children learn the same. We can't put everybody inside a box, it doesn’t work."

The Common Core State Standards do not necessarily increase amounts of standardized testing, but tests aligned with the standards have been noted for their rigor [Rebecca Klein, "South Dakota Legislator Suggests Common Core Contributed To Kids' Deaths," Huffington Post, 2015.02.27].

We can dismantle Rep. May's elaboration on straight logic:

  1. "Our suicide rate keeps increasing" indicates the problem has arisen from and will continue as a result of other factors. HB 1223 would not have solved.
  2. "too much emphasis on standardized testing" has been a critique of every standards movement (remember No Child Left Behind?). HB 1223 would have left the testing regime in place.
  3. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children"—then why did Rep. May's remarks on the House floor Tuesday talk about suicide among Indian children? Is there a spate of white youth suicides induced by Common Core that Rep. May left unmentioned? This comment sounds like Rep. May realizing she'd made a weak claim and trying to move the debate to a different topic.

We could beat back Common Core and other centralized intrusions on the art of good teaching with better, more practical arguments. Claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids only invites ridicule that prevents good arguments from being heard.


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.


Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) takes his anti-abortion crusade over the top by saying that Planned Parenthood is worse than ISIS:

There are certain revolting methods of execution, such as beheading, that no state would ever permit, even against murderers who use this method on their victims. It is this revulsion that leads us to rightly condemn the beheadings committed by unconscionably violent soldiers in the Middle East....

Planned Parenthood abortionists in Sioux Falls are similarly beheading unborn children during dismemberment abortions...

No state, no religion, and no organization should ever be allowed to use this unspeakably horrifying method. While we rightly take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye by holding ISIS accountable, let us be sure to take the plank out of our own eye by holding Planned Parenthood accountable [Rep. Isaac Latterell, "Planned Parenthood Worse Than ISIS and Lying about It," blog, 2015.02.17].

Rep. Latterell gets his specks and planks mixed up. Planned Parenthood is not kidnapping and killing innocent citizens. Planned Parenthood and other providers of counseling and health services do not make gory, sensationalist videos to radicalize and recruit disaffected youth (actually, that's what the anti-abortion crusaders have done to Isaac, and that's what he does now).

Planned Parenthood isn't even performing the kind of abortions Latterell discusses in South Dakota:

Planned Parenthood said it does not perform this abortion procedure and only performs first trimester abortions in South Dakota. Planned Parenthood spokesperson Jennifer Aulwes told TPM that the type of abortion described by Latterell is only performed after the first trimester, and any such abortions would have been performed by a doctor outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic [Caitlin MacNeal, "South Dakota Lawmaker: 'Planned Parenthood Worse Than ISIS'," TPM Livewire, 2015.02.18].

Rep. Latterell simply dismisses Planned Parenthood as liars, saying they must be performing the procedure and not telling the Department of Health. Latterell decorates his irresponsible diatribe with a lie of his own, a photo of a healthy, born baby, who unlike a fetus has constitutional rights and cannot be aborted.

Planned Parenthood promotes women's rights, public health, and science-based education. ISIS uses gore and lies to promote a brutal political regime that would endanger women's health and deny women their rights. If Rep. Latterell really wants to open the door to debating South Dakota legislation by comparing opponents to global terrorists, then he invites the critique that Isaac is a lot like ISIS.

p.s.: The Legislature appears not to recognize the irresponsibility of Rep. Latterell's rhetoric. They have so far failed to behead House Bill 1230, the legislation that commits the same ISIS confabulation about abortion that Rep. Latterell is peddling online. Say it again, people: abortion is a constitutional medical procedure, not terrorism.


You'd think I'd spend an episode of Inside KELOLand cheering the Democrats and throwing shoes at the Republicans. But on last night's Inside KELOLand discussion with four South Dakota legislators, my Democratic friends left me as barefoot as the Republicans, as the Dems failed to attack the noodle-headed policies of the GOP regime in Pierre.

My Democratic friends seem to be stuck in South Dakota Nice. Senator Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison) talked about a Democratic amendment to the road-repair plan that would have directed the excise tax toward local governments. Local roads and bridges are in worse shape than state infrastructure. Republicans killed that amendment. But Senator Parsley didn't explain to voters how Republicans had killed a sensible Democratic plan to direct dollars where dollars are needed most. Senator Parsley mildly said, "it was a good debate, good discussion."

Senator Parsley was similarly gentle on in an argument about property tax and roads. Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes) said he thought that spending property tax for road repairs went too far (because, you know, that property you own has nothing at all to do with the roads that you use to get to that property). He said the original bill created a new property tax, and such new taxes ought to be subject to a vote of the people. Senator Parsley responded that the proposal was not a new tax, that property taxes already fund roads. But he prefaced his argument with the mild, "Not to argue with Senator Lederman...."

Senator Parsley, you are arguing with Senator Lederman. You should argue with Senator Lederman. He has it coming, because he is wrong. Let the voters know that he is wrong. Let the voters know that Republicans are costing counties money by forcing them to hold an expensive election every time they want to raise money for local infrastructure instead of leaving it to citizens to decide under the referendum power they already have whether they want to put a bridge-repair levy to a vote.

Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) was similarly far too gentle in the face of the Republican baloney served by Rep. Don Haggar (R-9/Sioux Falls). Rep. Haggar said he did not expect the Legislature to offer any more than the 2% increase the Governor has proposed for K-12 funding. Rep. Hawks replied, "I generally agree we're not going to see anything over that 2% as ongoing money."

Back up, Rep. Hawks. You should never open a comment on the ongoing Republican strangulation of K-12 budgets with the words, "I agree." Or at the very least, you say, "I agree the Republicans in the Legislature aren't going to give us more than 2%, because Republicans don't think our kids are worth the investment. But we should do more than 2%. We have to do more than 2% if we're going to stand any chance of recruiting teachers and maintaining educational opportunities."

Rep. Hawks misses another point-making opportunity on a question about the Governor's proposed "Blue Ribbon Task Force" on education. Rep. Haggar says the task force is "absolutely" a "great idea." He then happily babbles away from the fundamental question of the teacher shortage, saying we need to look at whether the education funding formula "promote[s] the right behaviors." Rep. Hawks, who should be rolling her eyes, who should be giving Rep. Haggar a Seth-and-Amy Really?!?, instead mildly replies that she is "pleased" that we're going to spend time looking at education. Rep. Hawks notes that she gets "a little concerned" that the task force may just be "pushing... down the road another year" a problem that we already understand. Rep. Hawks outlines that problem—years of short funding leading to teachers leaving the profession and college students not entering the field—but instead of speaking with the pain and passion of a veteran teacher who has seen the damage done by the state's neglect, former teacher Hawks states these issues somewhat nonchalantly, as if we've heard the words before and there's no need to get excited about them. She then punctuates her comments by saying she's optimistic that the task force can produce results. By opening and closing with an endorsement of the task force, Rep. Hawks sends the primary message that Rep. Haggar and Governor Daugaard are on the right track and that her concerns are secondary.

My mild-mannered Democratic friends could argue ("Not to argue with blogger Cory, but...") that they are simply drawing flies with honey. But on the big issues, these Republicans need swatting. They are neglecting critical problems, and voters need to know it. If we Democrats are going to be an effective opposition party, we need to oppose, and we need to take advantage of every opportunity (like 23 minutes on the top-rated TV station in the state) to pitch that opposition to the public.

The South Dakota Democratic Party is in the process of hiring a new executive director (that position was supposed to be filled by the end of January; we're working on that, right, Central Committee?). One can hope that the new executive director will model the sort of captivating and mobilizing fire that our Democratic legislators should be using to challenge the Republican neglect of the public welfare.


Four bills aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of the death penalty in South Dakota await our Legislature's attention:

  1. Senate Bill 121 would repeal the death penalty in all future cases.
  2. SB 122 would continge issuance of a death sentence on "a finding that the defendant is too dangerous to be incarcerated and is an ongoing danger to the public and the prison community."
  3. House Bill 1158 would require that evidence that the victim or victim's family opposed the death penalty be presented at the presentence hearing in any capital case.
  4. HB 1159 would create a database of citizens who would declare, "Should I die as a result of a violent crime, it is my wish that no person found guilty of homicide for my killing be subject to a death sentence." Citizens would register themselves in this database on their driver's license applications.

If you're looking for support for those bills, don't look to the six legislators who appeared at Aberdeen's crackerbarrel on Saturday. None committed to support any of those bills. The lone Democrat on the panel, District 1 Senator Jason Frerichs of Wilmot, hinted that he might support SB 122, the added sentencing guideline, since one of the sponsors, rookie Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion), sentenced Donald Moeller to death in 1997, but Sen. Frerichs only said he hopes SB 122 comes to the floor for debate. His comments make clear that even he believes we should kill some criminals.

Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) said he can't find any Biblical reason not to kill criminals. His mom, Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) vaguely referenced Barabbas but said it's o.k. to kill criminals who brag about enjoying prison (no, really, that's the story she told!). Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) said he voted against last year's death penalty repeal but doesn't know how he'll vote this year. His dad, Rep. Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen), misrepresented SB 122 as a ban on the death penalty, then invoked the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Chester Poage murder (for the record, Al, even I, who was outraged at the jihadis who killed the French cartoonists, would rather those killers had been put in prison, not killed) to justify his position "not that I support the death penalty, but I support the opportunity for the death penalty." Preferring clarity and brevity, Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen) said he'll vote against these bills.

Here are the full remarks. The speakers, in order, are Sen. Greenfield, Sen. Frerichs, Sen. Novstrup, Rep. Novstrup, Rep. Greenfield, and Rep. Kaiser.

Notice that three of the speakers—the Greenfields and the younger Novstrup—wrung their hands over the difficult, emotional nature of votes on the death penalty. Get a grip, Brock, Lana, and David. This is government, not Dr. Phil. We understand you face all sorts of hard decisions. That's what we pay you the big bucks to do.

Rep. Dan Kaiser is wrong, but I at least respect him for sparing us the emotional showing-off and simply stating his policy position. Similarly, Senator Frerichs is hedging, but he at least focused on a direct discussion of the policy, not his personal emotions.


Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) is a tricky rhetorician. He clearly enjoys grabbing his opponents by the arguments and using their logic against them... or at leas the logic he wishfully imputes to them.

Here are two examples from one of his weekend updates:

To me the most noteworthy thing in the State of the State, as it relates to controversy, was that there was no mention of paying teachers more. But, what is there to say? Voters in November said no to three different strategies to pay teachers more and the Governor obviously is respecting the will of the voters. And so education funding is basically at a standstill [Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey, "Trying to Create Early Controversy," Voices Carry, 2013.01.12].

Wait—three different strategies? There was Referred Law 16, a pile of pedagogically unsound, research-refuted proposals from the Governor that would have done all harm and no good for South Dakota's K-12 schools. There was Initiated Measure 15, the regressive extra-penny sales tax measure that would have sent $90 million to the schools, none of it earmarked for salaries. That's two strategies; what's the third— elect a Democratic majority to the Legislature?

Contrary to Rep. Hickey's absurd oversimplification, RL 16 and IM 15 failed at the polls for numerous reasons, not solely because some South Dakotans want to keep paying the lowest teacher salaries in the nation. We did not give the Governor a mandate not to talk about education in his State of the State address. We told him to keep talking about education, but to talk about fair ideas that may actually work.

Rep. Hickey's second specious attempt at verbal judo comes as he turns to discussion of his impending "School Sentinel" bill, a sop to gun nuts who want to affirm their John Wayne fantasies by letting local school boards arm their teachers and janitors:

...the legislature won't be designing a one-size fits all school safety program but will merely be letting each district design their own plan with the requirement that whatever they seek to design and implement that it be "interfaced with local law enforcement." The type of plan to arm school employees, or hire security personal, or volunteers is something to be discussed and decided by school boards. No teacher or employee will be asked to be a part of any additional security plan without their free, willing and voluntary consent. Section five basically provides that a school board can decide not to design a school sentinel program and they are not liable to a cause of action charging they did not do more to protect kids.

I'm not sure I like the last part of that but here's the thing… all those who were screaming last year for local control of schools have it right here in this bill. The debate about additional guns in schools will now shift to the local school boards if this passes [Hickey, 2013.01.12].

Sigh. Local control is great when we have a panoply of viable policy alternatives that will produce differing results in different local conditions. Local control is bad when the Legislature wants to wash its hands of an issue and let school boards do something really stupid, dangerous, and counterproductive.

In both cases, Rep. Hickey is misreading last year's policy arguments to justify the continuation or creation of bad policy. Instead of playing word games and trying to win debates in his head with last year's electorate, Rep. Hickey should focus on crafting workable policies to produce real improvements in education.


Mitt Romney's schizophrenic deceptions have cost him the endorsement of the Salt Lake Tribune, the newspaper that more than any other cannot afford to alienate Mormon subscribers.

Now watch President Barack Obama make the sale as he brilliantly and powerfully ridicules Romney's sketchy Etch-a-Sketchery with a single word: Romnesia.

Listen all the way to the President's conclusion. Watch that smile. Watch that body language. Listen to him build to the zinger, "Here's the good news: ObamaCare covers pre-existing conditions! We can fix you up! We've got a cure!" You see a man enjoying his job. You see a man smartly summing up his opponent's say-anything-to-get-elected malarkey in a quick, memorable negative-branding line.

And as gravy, you see the President embrace ObamaCare, the policy his opponents think they can paint as his greatest liability, and use it as a proud rallying cry.

That's how you fight, Barack! And that's how you win.


So how about that speech by Bill Clinton last night?

You can read the transcript, but the prepared text was 3,136 words. The speech Clinton delivered was 5,895 words. You need to watch the video.

You could listen to the audio on your drive to work... if you commute from Madison to Sioux Falls or Spearfish to Rapid City. But you won't see the fire in his eyes, the force in his face and hands. Clinton gave a full-body speech. You need to watch the video.

Twelve years ago I hated Bill Clinton. I cheered his exit from the White House. Had Twitter existed then, I'd have been responding to all his policy talk with the same whining South Dakota Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson was whining during the former President's speech last night:

Clinton lied to his wife and our congress and everyone in this country! Is this the best Obama can find as a credit reference [Sen. Russell Olson, Tweet, September 5, 2012].

Twelve years ago, I'd have gone there with Russ because, like Russ now, I couldn't grapple with a real policy debate. I'd cling to the personal and sloganly because it was much easier than confronting the success of Clinton's policies... and it is much easier for Russ and other Republicans now than confronting the power of Clinton's rebuttal of everything the GOP said at its convention last week.

Much is being made of the length of Clinton's speech, even by his biggest backers. But Clinton had a lot to say. It was important that he say it. It takes time to untangle the many tricky lines Romney and Ryan and Rush have spun. And you know, Clinton was President. If a former President wants to speak to his own party's convention, not to mention the nation, 50 minutes doesn't seem like all that much time to yield to the former leader of the free world... especially when he's that darn good at speaking.

Should I have the pleasure of teaching speech again, I will cite Bill Clinton's 2012 nominating speech for President Barack Obama as an exemplar of good speechmaking. Even when the political issues of this moment are forgotten (which, for high school kids, was five minutes ago), I will point to his hands, his eyes, his mix of quips and policy details, his constant sense of the urgency of reaching his audience, and his tremendous crescendo at the conclusion as examples of good speechcraft.

And I will tell my speech students that above all, like Bill Clinton, you have to own your speech:

If Clinton sounded sincere in his delivery, consider this as a novel possibility for why: He really believed the arguments he was making. And he was stating them in language that felt natural to him. With just a couple exceptions, you could pick just about any speech at random at either Tampa or Charlotte to find examples of the way many politicians do not own their own speeches. The consultant-driven lines — suburban women between 35 and 40 want you to say this — stand out like neon. So do the swollen, rhythmic passages that looked good on a speechwriter's laptop but obviously do not sound anything like the politician delivering the lines. Clinton gets plenty of speechwriter help and staff input on his speeches. But he never ends up being herded by the help into saying something that he doesn't actually think or that doesn't sound like the way he would put it [John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin, "How Bill Clinton Does It," Politico, September 6, 2012].

Say what you mean; mean what you say. Don't cheat on your wife ...but when you're making a speech, be like Bill.


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