In my post on Chad Haber's violation of campaign finance laws yesterday, I mentioned Bob Mercer's notice that former Secretary of State Jason Gant appears to have been slacking off toward the end of his administration. My commenters are sharing similar observations on Gant's underperformance, which fit with the history of his troubled single term in office.

For what it's worth, the gal who helped show Gant the door, our new Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, appears to determined to work better, stronger, and faster. For today's tiny hopeful anecdote about good public service, I note that Secretary Krebs responded to one of my inquiries with an e-mail last night at 23:24 CST. I rolled out of bed and replied this morning. Secretary Krebs pinged me back at 05:50 CST.

That timeframe means that, at best, Secretary Krebs got six hours and twenty-five minutes of sleep last night, and that public service was the last thing on her mind when she sacked out and the first thing on her mind when she jumped out of bed for another glorious day in the Capitol.

We'll see how things go when we get to our first petition cycle. But for the moment, the Secretary of State's office seems to be in better hands than it was for the last four years.

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Folks who ran for office here in South Dakota have eleven days to file their year-end campaign finance reports. As Bob Mercer noted Tuesday, that impending deadline has not stopped Secretary of State Shantel Krebs from unplugging the online campaign finance filing system for an upgrade. Secretary Krebs is busy—Mercer also reports that her office has processed 1,300 pistol permits since Krebs took charge on January 2. "Evidently," says Mercer, "a lot of public business had been left waiting for the new crew." (Yes, I do believe that is Mercer snarking on Gant again.)

Among other business Secretary Gant left for Secretary Krebs to handle is obtaining Chad Haber's delinquent campaign finance report. I check the campaign finance search portal and find that every statewide candidate from 2014 is up to date on filings except for the Libertarian candidate for Attorney General. Everyone else got their pre-general reports in by the October 24 deadline, with the exception of Constitution Party PUC candidate Wayne Schmidt, who waited until November 24. But Haber hasn't checked in with the state since September 2, when he declared on his financial interest statement that he had no sources of income greater than $2,000 and that his job was "full-time candidate."

You'd think a "full-time candidate" would have an easier time filing reports and following the law than those other poor slobs who ran for office while holding down regular jobs.

Secretary Krebs glances up from the big pile of papers on her desk and tells me that Haber faces a $3,000 penalty, the maximum allowed under SDCL 12-27-29.1. If he fails to file his year-end statement by February 2, Secretary Krebs will be able assess another $50 per day delinquent, up to another $3K.

Here's the campaign finance disclosure form—don't be late, candidates!

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We have our first official ayes on the petition reform package Secretary of State Shantel Krebs is carrying to the Legislature on behalf of the Board of Elections. The Senate Local Government Committee (remind me, what part of requiring the Secretary of State to review statewide nominating petitions is part of local government?) this morning voted 6–0 to send Senate Bill 68 to the full Senate. SB 68 would authorize the Secretary of State to apply the same random 5% sampling process to statewide nominating petitions that she currently must apply to ballot measure petitions.

Worth noting: I use the verb require while Secretary Krebs would say authorize. Require seems more in line with SB 68's auxiliary verb shall; saying authorize seems to assume a may in the bill.

Our verbal disagreement reflects a legal disagreement: like Secretary Jason Gant before her, Secretary Krebs contended before Senate Local Government this morning that we need SB 68 to allow the Secretary to check petitions. I deem that interpretation invalid: current statute includes no specific ban on the Secretary conducting a review to ensure the validity of a nominating petition. But Secretary Krebs and I interpret legal authority differently, and SB 68 will put us on similar pages.

Senator Craig Tieszen (R-34/Rapid City) expressed some frustration that we need SB 68 to get the Secretary of State's office to take this step to ensure the integrity of petitions and the ballot. In the only discussion offered following Secretary Krebs's statement and response to questions, the Rapid City Senator said he was frustrated last year to see that no one seemed to want to be responsible for checking the validity of petitions. Senator Tieszen said he saw too much back and forth between then-Secretary of State Gant and Attorney General Marty Jackley.

Senator Tieszen didn't say it outright, but we know full well he was referring to this blog's effort to challenge Annette Bosworth's perjurious petitions and the failure of Secretary Gant and AG Jackley to respond to many of the legal questions that challenge raised.

Senator Tieszen also commented on legislative nominating petitions. SB 68 does not require the Secretary to review legislative nominating petitions. Secretary Krebs excused that omission by saying that it's hard enough to recruit folks to run for Legislature without subjecting them to that level of scrutiny... which statement seems odd, given that requiring the Secretary to review legislative nominating petitions imposes no burden on the candidates themselves and would only remove candidates who have broken the law and thus should not be on the ballot anyway.

Senator Tieszen offered a more coherent reason for omitting legislative nominating petitions from SB 68. He reminded us that the typical nominating petition for a legislative candidate requires fifty signatures. He said that if he suspects someone running against him for District 34 Senate has submitted a bogus petition, it doesn't take much work for him to get the petition himself and review all the names. Citizens can easily check a legislative nominating petition; checking statewide petitions with thousands of signatures, said Senator Tieszen, should be the "responsibility" of the Secretary of State.

SB 68 heads for the Senate next; it may well be joined by the other elements of the petition reform package, Senate Bills 67 and 69, which face Senate State Affairs scrutiny this morning at 10 a.m.

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Ken Santema is blogging again! Whoo hoo! Sanity and originality return to the conservative lobe of the South Dakota blogosphere!

In his second post-hiatus post this week, Santema notes that the Senate State Affairs Committee is taking up three bills this morning:

  1. SB 23 clarifies that the state really does own the South Dakota Art Museum at SDSU, and that it really will cooperate with the South Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs. No big deal.
  2. SB 35 cleans up statutes regulating veterans' affairs. No big deal.
  3. SB 67 sets the second Tuesday in March as the deadline for filing court challenges against nominating petitions and fast-tracks any such challenges on the court schedule. That's a big deal.

The consideration of Senate Bill 67 this morning is a big deal because it's being considered separately from Senate Bills 68 and 69, the other two key components of the petition reforms proposed by the state Board of Elections. By itself, Senate Bill 67 is a bad idea. SB 67 assumes that we will move our petition-circulating period up one month, to begin on December 1 and end on the last Tuesday of February (SB 69). It ignores the possibility that legislators may (and will, if they are sensible) amend SB 69 to set the petition submission deadline as the first Tuesday of March to maintain the same practical length of time as candidates currently enjoy to circulate petitions. It also ignores the fact that, if we are really interested in giving citizens more time to challenge petitions, we would set their challenge-filing deadline at the end of March, which would still give the courts time to hear and rule on those fast-tracked challenges.

Considering SB 67 today, in isolation, also assumes that we will require the Secretary of State to conduct a 5% random-sample review of all statewide nominating petitions (SB 68). Secretary Krebs explained to me last week that the expanded review by her office called for in SB 68 is meant to take the burden off citizens to file challenges with the Secretary of State's office. The Board of Elections expects, says Secretary Krebs, that post-reform, citizens will take all petition challenges to court. But our ceding our participation in challenges prior to court action to the Secretary should come in exchange for expanded time to prepare for those court challenges.

Senate Bills 67, 68, and 69 are moving parts in the same machine. They all three need amendment. They all three definitely need to be considered together, in the same package, in the same committee hearing. But SB 68 is going to the State and Local Government committee, and SB 69 is going to State Affairs some other day. At the very least, State Affairs should table SB 67 until Sb 69 comes up alongside it. Meanwhile, State and Local Affairs should refer SB 68, which deals exclusively with activities in the Secretary of State's office and not in local government, up to Senate State Affairs.

Update 10:32 CST: Good government lucks out! Bob Mercer reports that Secretary Krebs was unable to attend today's Senate State Affairs hearing, so Chairman Tim Rave (R-25/Baltic) postponed consideration of SB 67 to Wednesday.

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When incoming Secretary of State Shantel Krebs announced she was hiring Brown County GOP chairman Jason Williams to serve as her public information officer, I wondered if she was expanding government to make room for what looked like a little partisan patronage.

Secretary Krebs tells this blog there's no government expansion going on under her watch. Secretary Krebs says that, while she is still bound by law to operate under her predecessor Jason Gant's budget until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, she's already making the office run leaner. Gant's budget included 15.6 full-time equivalents (FTEs). Right now, Secretary Krebs is holding down the fort with 13.5 FTEs. That's not just a temporary lag in bringing new people on board; Secretary Krebs says that's plenty. The Secretary's office has not prepared a budget proposal yet (they have petition reform legislation to write up for tomorrow's pre-filing deadline—stay tuned for a post on that topic over the weekend!), but Secretary Krebs says that instead of continuing the 15.6 FTE allocation found in Governor Daugaard's FY 2016 proposal, she may knock another half FTE off her current staff and budget 13.0 FTE.

Multiple Krebs staff members are thus picking up duties that were spread among others in the Gant office. Secretary Krebs says PIO Williams is no exception. In addition to getting the word out about SOS activities to the public, Williams will handle special projects, like Secretary Krebs's initiative to increase voter turnout. Secretary Krebs says Williams is already studying turnout data, breaking it down by age group, and thinking about which voters to target and how. Expect PIO Williams to be getting out to schools, talking with voters, and looking for answers to our dwindling turnout.

In addition, Williams will track legislation for the Secretary of State's office. He'll be following the progress of the reforms proposed by the Board of Elections. He'll also keep an eye out for new bills from legislators and researching their impact on the office. He'll report on those bills to the boss, the Secretary herself, who will then speak to legislators in committee and in the lobby, as necessary, to protect the interests of fair elections and other functions of the Secretary of State.

Secretary Krebs says Williams and the rest of her staff are putting in overtime and delivering "exceptional" customer service. The Secretary herself seems to be setting the pace. Consider that, in response to a media inquiry from this blog, the Secretary herself texted me at 6:25 a.m. today. She had meetings all day, but she arranged to visit with me on the phone at 6:30 p.m. She said she had 10 minutes; she gave me 19.

I did not keep track of the multiple times I left messages for Secretary Gant and never heard back from him. But so far, Secretary Krebs is batting 1.000 on fielding media requests from the Madville Times. Perhaps the state's chief election officer has bigger fish to fry than speaking to some blogger, but I find my first interaction with the new election chief... satisfactory.

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Jason Gant is sleeping in today... which may not be different from most of the last four years when he had to drive to Pierre to be Secretary of State. Working the impression out of his office chair is Shantel Krebs, South Dakota's new chief of elections, keeper of seals, and only female besides Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen* in a statewide elected office in the Capitol.

Job 1: fix the branding! Team Krebs is already hard at work scrubbing her predecessor's name and replacing it with hers:

Top of SDSOS.gov, 2015.01.02, 08:30 CST

Top of SDSOS.gov, 2015.01.02, 08:30 CST

Hmm, better work on that style sheet a bit. That thin white font floating inconspicuously in the corner seems entirely unlike the dynamic Secretary Krebs we all expect to make a deep impression on the office.

Team Krebs has launched the new @SOSKrebs Twitter account:

Screen cap from midpage, SDSOS.gov, 08:44 CST

Screen cap from midpage, SDSOS.gov, 08:44 CST

New PIO Jason Williams must not be in the office yet. Hop to it, Jason!

Secretary Krebs does have her smiling face up on the SOS homepage, with an image so big I have to switch to full-screen view to take it all in:

Screen cap from bottom of homepage, SDSOS.gov, 08:46 CST

Screen cap from bottom of homepage, SDSOS.gov, 08:46 CST

That image file is 361 KB, and it's on the template for every page. Holy cow, Team Krebs! Free up some bandwidth! Move that image to the top and shrink:

Modified SDSOS.gov banner

Modified SDSOS.gov banner

And if you can get Secretary Krebs to jump 3-D over my browser tab, that would be really cool. Carry on, SOS Web team! (And remember: don't call Pat for Web advice!)

Update 09:03 CST: We can spend the day watching the SOS website evolve before our eyes. Team Krebs has already changed some of the subsections to reflect my suggested change, shrinking that splendiferous image file and copying it to the banner:

SDSOS.gov banner, screen cap, 2014.01.02.09:03 CST

SDSOS.gov banner, screen cap, 2014.01.02.09:03 CST

I think that's now three distinct fonts in the banner—Bill Fleming may have issues. And as expected, Krebs's name didn't stay that small ghostly floater in the corner; it's now all caps, in gold, and a couple pixels larger than the name of the office. That's the SHANTEL KREBS we expect to own the room!

Correction 10:09 CST: In my original post, I forgot PUC Fiegen! Shameful! With Keystone XL bubbling, it is inexcusable that I forget one of the three state officials who can save us from the great black snake from the north. Commissioner Fiegen, I apologize for my oversight.

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Shantel Krebs opens 2015 with a splendid example of Republicans promoting big government and regulatory capture.

Our new Secretary of State, who takes her oath tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., a week and a day before any other new constitutional officer, announces that she is hiring young but veteran GOP campaigner Jason Williams as her Public Information Officer. Darn—and I was hoping Jason would step away from politics and make his fortune building straw bale houses.

But hold on: a public information officer for the Secretary of State? Does that position exist? I could be wrong, but I don't recall Secretary Gant having a designated spokesman or spinmeister. It's hard to check, because the currently grossly ego-centric Secretary of State website lists no one's name but the Secretary's. The contact page lists the various services but doesn't tell us with whom we'll be speaking. The contact page lists no PIO or media contact person. Secretary Gant's press releases seemed to come out under his own name, listing him and not a PIO as the contact person. Is this one more sign that Republican Krebs is really a big government liberal?

Whether Krebs is really expanding the SOS budget or will cover her press man's pay by cutting some other vital service, Krebs is letting a fox into the henhouse. Williams is a veteran campaigner, having worked for Mike Rounds, Kristi Noem, Steve Barnett, and the state GOP. The Secretary of State's office exists to regulate political campaign organizations. In hiring Williams, Krebs appears to be giving in to the partisan pressures that are pulling Secretaries of State across the country away from their duty to act as fair, non-partisan umpires of elections.

And hey, we were all looking forward to seeing Shantel's smiling face and hearing her dulcet tones on the airwaves! Now we're stuck listening to some PIO? Booo!

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Shantel Krebs may not be an awful Secretary of State, although Jason Gant has lowered the bar so far that we'd probably cheer a trained chinchilla. She's hiring experienced professionals, not political cronies, to help her run elections. She's signaled her intent to seek more authority for the Secretary of State to do her job and review petitions for illegal signatures.

But it remains to be seen whether Krebs will be able to overcome the partisan motives that drove her candidacy and enforce election law fairly. Former Secretaries of State Sam Reed of Washington and Phil Keisling of Oregon say there has been an explosion of partisan fundraising in secretary of state races:

In the 2014 election cycle, two dozen secretary of state offices were in play, and most of these positions included the duties of chief elections officer. As detailed by Politico, the 2014 election cycle also saw the rise of well financed national political action committees, on both the right and the left, focusing on offices once predominately viewed as sleepy administrative backwaters [Phil Keisling and Sam Reed, "The Troubling Partisanization of Elections for Secretary of State," Governing, 2014.12.10].

This increased partisan attention to secretary of state races makes it harder for our election officials to play umpire:

We're certainly not saying we made every call correctly. But we each felt a certain freedom to call it as we saw it without anywhere near the worry that today's chief elections officers will have about the millions of dollars they'll need for their own re-election campaigns. In the end, we'd argue that voters in every state should want exactly these kind of independent judgments from their chief elections officials.

Our nation's secretaries of state certainly can't escape the hurly-burly of politics altogether; with over 20 years of elected statewide office between us, we're not naïve about that. But election administration is a core function in our democracy, and voters rightfully require accountability for the integrity and smooth operation of our voting process [Keisling and Reed, 2014.12.10].

Krebs's campaign does not epitomize the big-money problem over which Keisling and Reed rightly worry. Out-state PACs constituted a single-digit percentage of Krebs's relatively modest campaign kitty. Krebs didn't need the help: she may have spent barely $100K on a statewide race against late-comer opponent Angelia Schultz, who spent little more than $5K.

I'm also not sure how we would de-partisanize the Secretary of State's race. We could amend statute to make that campaign non-partisan like judges' races, but Republicans and Democrats who recognize the value of that office would still find a way to place their preferred candidates on the ballot and fund their campaigns.

It seems the best way to ensure Krebs's fair and faithful exercise of her duties is to subject her office to public pressure and scrutiny. Let's make sure her professional staff live up to their reputations. Let's press Secretary Krebs to protect voting rights for all South Dakotans and review petitions avidly and equitably. We have high expectations, Secretary-Elect Krebs. Leave your partisan hat at the door, and let's run elections right.

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