District 8 was only at two-thirds strength at Tuesday's brief gathering of the Legislature for the Governor's budget address. Rep. Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison) and Rep. Leslie Heinemann (R-8/Flandreau) made it to Pierre, but District 8's Senate seat remains vacant.

Former Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson announced his resignation from public office on August 13. His resignation took effect September 30, when he ascended to the throne at Heartland Consumers Power District and made way for Richard Benda to take his sinecure. Yet according to KJAM, Governor Dennis Daugaard has yet to conduct interviews for the vacant Senate seat:

Tony Venhuizen, the Governor’s Director of Policy and Communications, tells KJAM News that the governor plans to have a replacement named prior to the legislative session, and will be interviewing for the position later this month.

The 2014 legislative session starts on January 14th [Sue Bergheim, "No Appointment Yet for District 8 Senate Seat," KJAM Radio, 2013.12.04].

I am tempted to say the Governor's lack of urgency shows just how little work Russ did in the Senate. But let's keep the focus on the Governor. We're coming up on crunch time. Voters in Moody, Lake, Miner, and Sanborn counties should be able to call their Senator in the month before session, voice their concerns, and propose legislative action. A new Senator should have at least the two months an election provides before session to get up to speed on the issues and prepare bills for submission.

Governor Daugaard has had ample time to pick a replacement (Charlie Johnson! Gerry Lange! Jerry Lammers!). Governor Daugaard appointed David Anderson to replace resigning District 16 Rep. Patty Miller in about six weeks. The Governor tightened up his appointment process and turned around Senator Mark Johnston's resignation with his appointment of R. Blake Curd in just over one month. Taking four months to get around to interviewing a replacement for Olson is slacking off. Get 'er done for District 8, Governor Daugaard!


The Republican revolving door spins happily around Heartland Consumers Power District in Madison. As lifelong patronage beneficiary and former state senator Russell Olson advances to CEO of Heartland, he brings in Richard Benda to take his spot as Heartland's economic development director.

Like Olson, Benda has spent his career promoting government handouts for big business. Benda came to Madison last month to help his most recent employer, Lloyd Companies of Sioux Falls, win a county taxpayer handout to build apartment buildings that free market theory says should be springing up on their own. Benda was Secretary of Tourism and State Development under Governor M. Michael Rounds. That gig led to his administration of the South Dakota Investment Fund, where he apparently got his hands dirty with the ill-fated foreign investments in Northern Beef Packers:

"This is the first major processing plant to be built in close to 30 years" in the nation, said Richard Benda, loan monitor for the plant and former South Dakota Secretary of Tourism and State Development. "Every governor has talked about value-added agriculture, and that is what we are doing. It doesn't make sense for our ranchers to drive 300, 400 or 500 miles to get their cattle to a beef plant. We are going to have a state-of-the-art plant right here."

Benda said he expects area ranchers will increase the number of cattle they raise once the plant is built [Jeff Natalie-Lees, "Northern Beef Packers Plant Construction Progreses," Aberdeen American News, 2011.06.04].

At Governor Rounds's behest, Benda promoted $30 million in loans converted from EB-5 visa investor dollars to keep the NBP project moving even as it faced delays, contractor liens, and a clear lack of local investor confidence. Benda traveled to China to recruit more investors to save NBP. Those investments and millions more dollars have disappeared in bankruptcy.

Olson and Benda are two peas in the pod of South Dakota crony capitalism. I'm sure they'll make a good team at Heartland.


A group of randomly selected Lake County citizens will troop to the courthouse tomorrow to see if they win a seat on the jury for Daniel Willard's robocall trial, which will treat them to lengthy discourses on South Dakota campaign finance law, the First Amendment, and the conflicts therebetween.

Oh, wait, did I say randomly?

As I understand the process, the state and Willard both get to strike three jurors. That means the first 18 names on the jury list are probably all the further down we need to go to see who's likely to hear the case.

This case is happening in Lake County because resigning Senator Russell Olson is claiming the harm (remember, Olson, calls it terrorism) from Willard's robocalls. Olson lives in the Wentworth ZIP, 57075, as do 892 other Lake County residents. Wentworth/57075 makes up 7.97% of Lake County's 11,200-person population (I'm using 2010 Census data). Those percentages would shift a bit if we were talking just legal adults eligible for jury duty, but let's roll with what we have.

Given those numbers, one would expect a list of 18 people randomly drawn from Lake County to include maybe one or two of Russ's Wentworth neighbors. Do some math, and you discover that there's a 95% chance that an 18-person random sample of Lake County residents should include no more than three Wentworthers.

The first 18 names on the Willard trial jury list include nine people from Wentworth.

Run this experiment one million times, and you should get that many 57075 residents in your jury pool three times.

In an infinite universe, anything can happen. In Lake County, anything includes a jury pool with a highly unlikely geographical bias toward the influential aggrieved party.

Tangentially Related Judicial Trivia: Did you know that it is a Class 2 misdemeanor to ask the sheriff or deputy sheriff to place yourself or anyone else on a jury? See SDCL 16-13-44. Lawyer friends, can you explain to me where that statute came from? And has anyone ever been prosecuted under it?


The bad news: academically underachieving Russell Olson has ridden his lifelong trajectory of Prostrollo-Janklow patronage to a new height of wealth and power, ascending to the CEO-ship of Heartland Consumers Power District.

The good news: Russ is leaving the South Dakota Senate to do so!

It is with a flood of emotion I write to you today. Earlier this morning, the Heartland Consumers Power District (HCPD) board of directors notified me of my selection as their next CEO. As such, due to the job requirements, I will be notifying Gov. Daugaard of my resignation from the SD Legislature effective September 30. You’re family…and I want you to hear it from me [Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth), letter to fellow senators, quoted by Pat Powers, Dakota War College, 2013.08.13].

Strangely dedicated to the notion that Russ is the golden boy of South Dakota politics, Pat Powers pretends that leaving the Legislature to run HCPD somehow makes Olson more likely to become Governor someday. It is more likely that Olson will fade from statewide view and play the tiddlywinks of Madison-level crony capitalism.

The Governor's logical choice to fill Olson's vacancy is the District 8 resident with more legislative experience than anyone else in Moody, Lake, Miner, or Sanborn County: Gerald Lange, who served ten years in the Senate and eight in the House. Former House Speaker and majority leader Jerry Lammers would be a close second, if he wanted to set aside lawyering for a couple months. But it's more likely that Governor Daugaard will pick a younger political crony suggested by Olson, a Madison or Flandreau version of Brian Gosch or Kristin Conzet who can say "Yes sir!" and run eagerly for re-election as an anointed incumbent Republican next year.

Readers, I invite (and, if he follows recent practice, so will the Governor) your suggestions for Daugaard's replacement of Olson. But District 8 Dems, start recruiting now: Russell Olson just handed you a pretty good break for the 2014 election.

Update 08:01 CDT: Gotta check my local news: Governor Daugaard is indeed inviting nominations for District 8 Senate:

The Governor is asking the public to nominate candidates to fill the position.

Those wishing to offer nominations should contact Patrick Weber in the Office of the Governor at 605-773-5999. Nominations should include the candidate’s name, current address, telephone number and relevant background information [Sue Bergheim, "Senate Majority Leader Olson to Resign; Governor Invites Public Input," KJAM Radio, 2013.08.13].

Friends of Gerry (or Jerry!), ring Patrick Weber's phone!


Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth) has regularly shown his failure to understand the usefulness of the Internet. But he's showing signs of coming around. He recently unblocked me from his Twitter account. And now he acknowledges that the South Dakota blogosphere is pretty darned smart:

I think what the lay-person understands is primary system because that’s where the media attention has fixed lately on who the best person in the primary would be. This is a game changer, and I really do think, it may be ahead its time, but I do think that for the average person out there that doesn’t find themselves watching the political blogs, that doesn’t find themselves following political process in South Dakota as a science would appreciate this type of a gesture and the primary, I think, is something that they can easily identify [Senator Russell Olson, Senate State Affairs Committee hearing, quoted by Cassie Bartlett, "Committee Approves Bill Proposing Primary Elections for Certain State Positions," SDPB.org, 2013.02.15].

In these comments explaining his support for Senate Bill 82, Olson says folks watching the blogs are smarter than typical voters. He says we blogorazzi are political scientists. That's a pretty big step for a politician whose online presence revolves around a 1960-style broadcast/billboard marketing model. Thanks, Russ!

Of course, Russ should note that his rah-rah corner of the South Dakota blogosphere thinks he's a meathead for voting for Senate Bill 82.


One of the more useless bits of gun-nut flotsam gurgling around Pierre went down the drain last week. Senate Joint Resolution 3 would have put to voters the following change to Article VI, Section 24 of our state constitution:

§ 24. The fundamental right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be denied infringed. Any restriction of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.

Adding fundamental has about the same practical impact as putting right in bold print. A good lawyer should be able to argue that infringing your right to bear arms is the same as denying it. And I would assume that if we're all doing our jobs, the Attorney General, the courts, and the press are already subjecting restrictions of rights to strict scrutiny.

Senate State Affairs voted Wednesday to kill this time-wasting word game 7–1. Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth) cast the only vote for SJR 3. That's Senator Russell Olson, who has often intoned that he doesn't go to Pierre to write a whole bunch of new legislation that we don't need.


Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth) enjoyed his beer in his youth. he evidently doesn't want to make it any harder for today's kids to party with a few cold ones, either. A couple weeks ago, he voted with his fellow GOP leaders to kill Senate Bill 94, which would have made it a Class 1 misdemeanor to host a party where kids drink alcohol. Hosting a beer party for 18–20-year-olds would have been a less serious Class 2 misdemeanor.

This morning, Senator Olson gets another chance to fight for your right to paaaa-arty: SB 94 prime sponsor and State Affairs committee member Sen. Larry Lucas (D-26/Mission) brings Senate Bill 225, which does pretty much the same thing as SB 94. The language of SB 225 is shorter and more straightforward:

Section 1. ...Any person who keeps or maintains a place which is resorted to by persons under the ages of eighteen to illegally consume any alcoholic beverage is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Section 2. ...Any person who keeps or maintains a place which is resorted to by persons between the ages of eighteen to twenty to illegally consume any alcoholic beverage is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

That's tougher than SB 94, which aimed penalties at folks who act as "social hosts"—i.e., the folks who open the door and say "Party here!" SB 225 appears to impose liability on any property owner where a party happens, whether or not the owner played any role in making that party happen. If you're a farmer, and your land includes a slough out in the CRP acres, and those darn kids sneak out there for the senior kegger, SB 225 nails you.

That may sound harsh, but social host laws appear to work. States that penalize adults for facilitating youth drinking also have less drunk-driving and heavy drinking.

Science and restrictions on alcohol: Senator Olson hates that! Senator Olson wouldn't vote for SB 94; he won't vote this morning for SB 225. Party on, kids! Russ has your back!


I want to be more positive about government. I need to be, to counter the Libertarian extremism that seeps into too much of our common civil discourse. But knowing that this year's South Dakota Legislature has dispersed from Pierre for another three-day weekend brings me an immediate sense of relief. "All clear!" I want to shout. "No more bad decisions until Monday!"

As I noted yesterday, the 2013 Legislature has made some good decisions, mostly in voting down some bad bills. But can they do anything positive?

Well, I notice that Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth), who has a history of blocking and deleting citizens who dare engage him in civic debate online, has unblocked me on his Twitter account. That's a step in the right direction!

Another step—a small step—is Senate Bill 237, in which prime sponsor Olson proposes a need-based scholarship for South Dakota postsecondary students. I should call this a big step, since South Dakota is the only state in the Union that does not offer such scholarships. But the bill as posted is just a small step, since it is still just a placeholder, with no language laying out details, timeframe, or, most importantly, the money to make it happen. That lack of detail suggest Senator Olson's priorities: he had time to figure out and sponsor bills to impose business-skewed goals on our universities, create more data-collection paperwork for the Regents and the Department of Labor, protect gas stations from incautious customers, appropriate money to bring the home folks at DSU some pork, and appropriate emergency money to shoot more nasty critters. But how to make a need-based scholarship program work, even with 49 other states offering models of how to do it, still has Senator Olson scratching his head.

Senator Olson is not incapable of coming up with workable ideas. Let's hope he spends this three-day weekend writing up the specifics of Senate Bill 237 to help low-income students enjoy the opportunity of a quality South Dakota university education.

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