Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Mike Rounds, and Gordon Howie "debated" on South Dakota Public Broadcasting last night to prove who ought to be South Dakota's next Senator. Here are the most important observations to come from the debate:

  1. Gordon Howie wins on points. He challenged Mike Rounds directly on EB-5, saying the former governor had brought the scandal upon himself by skipping debates and giving false information. He challenged Rounds to testify under oath on EB-5. Howie blasted Rounds for doubling the state budget and leaving a $127-million structural deficit. And Rounds ignored those points. Ignoring points usually means you lose a debate.
  2. Gordon Howie railed against "corruption" and "crony capitalism," yet he used the public airwaves to plug a private company. He joked that all the campaign ads were crowding out Taco John's commercials. Hmm... is Gordon making a deal for his own Schiefferesque cavalry cash from a conservative businessman and USD grad?
  3. Mike Rounds implied EB-5 is good, because it's a program just like Canada has (well, had: Canada decided the visa investment program doesn't pay off and canceled it this year). By that logic, Rounds should embrace single-payer health insurance.
  4. Weiland felt too restrained, especially at the beginnings of his responses, as if he was overplaying the humble country-boy image. I understand the psychology at play, but gentle aw-shucksery will not defeat the Rounds machine. Weiland did build fire in each of his answers, but beating Rounds requires pushing Rounds off his script and forcing him to answer questions. (Remember: Rounds has proven really bad at answering questions!) Blend Weiland's policy and Howie's relentless attack last night, and you keep Mike Rounds out of the Senate.
  5. Weiland does get points for blowing raspberries at Senator Harry Reid. Weiland said he will not vote for Harry Reid or Republican Senator Mitch McConnell for majority leader, saying both men have led the Senate into dysfunction. He cleverly challenged Rounds to make the same pledge. Rounds muttered about Reid but didn't mention McConnell.
  6. Weiland also gets points for common sense solutions. Weiland advocated Senator Tom Harkin's bill to eliminate the income cap on Social Security tax and get Bill Gates to pay for protecting Social Security. Rounds called that a $100 billion tax hike on "job creators," which is code for reducing the middle class to serfdom under the wealthy elites backing Rounds.
  7. Speaking of Social Security, Pressler rejected Democratic arguments that he wants to raise the retirement age. Pressler said last night he would leave the retirement age where it is.
  8. Weiland pinned the Ryan budget on Rounds, saying Rounds backs the GOP House's intentions to gut Head Start, Pell Grants, and other programs that benefit the middle class. Weiland said Rounds would voucherize Medicare so old folks could take the Ryan coupons to buy insurance at Fischer Rounds. Rounds repeated his feeble dodge that he "admires" Paul Ryan's fiscal efforts but has never said he supports the Ryan budget... which is code for, "You have no idea what I'll do to you in office, and I don't have to tell you."
  9. Weiland also nicely flipped the Rounds argument that an obstructionist Senate is to blame for our woes. Weiland said we could have immigration reform now, with more secure borders, if Speaker Boehner would just take up the bipartisan bill the Senate passed last year 68-32.
  10. Rounds is now fully on board with Republican fear-mongering. Invoking ISIS and Ebola (thank goodness for one-word threats), Rounds repeated "safety and security" as much as he repeated "South Dakota common sense." He also said we should impose a travel ban to stop Ebola "right now."
  11. Pressler continues to look every bit the capable statesman alongside his younger, less experienced counterparts. He recites the same points in every debate—Independent caucus, obsolete bases in Italy, three-point immigration plan—but that's a focused candidate staying on message. And he keeps coming up with new images for his campaign. He's gone from naked rabbit to last night's David up against twelve goliaths (Rounds, Weiland, and PACs), with a slingshot of idealism and friendship (translation: paint your own signs, because Harriet and I can't afford them!). Pressler still talks policy and turns phrases as effectively as anyone else in the campaign.
43 comments

If Senator Tim Johnson was planning to engage in the climax of the campaign to replace him, I thought he would simply match Senator John Thune's pro-Rounds pitch with a warm, fuzzy pro-Weiland ad. This evening, an hour before the televised Senate candidates' debate on SDPB, Senator Johnson surprises us with a broadside fired at Rounds and the South Dakota Republican Party for politicizing Ellsworth Air Force Base and getting their facts wrong:

I know from my own personal experience that the paid political advertisement being run by candidate Mike Rounds claiming that Rick Weiland wants to close Ellsworth Air Force Base is false. I worked directly with Rick Weiland and Senator Tom Daschle for over a decade to defend Ellsworth Air Force Base from closure. Rick handled briefing materials for us and worked tirelessly as state director to defend, not to close, Ellsworth Air Force Base. I wish former Governor Bill Janklow were still with us because he too knew of and benefited from Rick Weiland's work to protect Ellsworth.

I will give Mr. Rounds the benefit of the doubt and assume he was unaware of these facts. But if his campaign continues to air this completely false advertising about Rick Weiland, it will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it and Mr. Rounds are more concerned about political gain than about Ellsworth's future.

Anyone who has ever worked to defend Ellsworth knows that politicizing the discussion of that critical base is the surest way to jeopardize its future, and that is what this kind of irresponsible political advertising does [Senator Tim Johnson, quoted in South Dakota Democratic Party press release, 2014.10.23].

Senator Johnson doesn't just point out the factual and moral errors of Team Rounds's charge that a Senator Weiland would throw B-1B bombers in the trashbin. Senator Johnson establishes Weiland's past participation in preserving Ellsworth. Senator Johnson also quite boldly invokes the ghost of Bill Janklow to scare his descendant Republicans from telling any more lies about Weiland's commitment to national defense and local economic development.

Thank you, Senator Johnson, for speaking up!

31 comments

I have contended that in allowing Joop Bollen to privatize South Dakota's EB-5 program, Mike Rounds sacrificed a key competitive advantage that we had over other private EB-5 regional centers.

Robert Stratmore, head of EB-5 recruiter Darley International, agrees. In his testimony on Day 2 of the Darley v. SDIBI arbitration hearing last April, Stratmore said that the association of our EB-5 agency with the state made it easier to recruit Chinese investors for South Dakota projects:

I actually was quite attracted to the fact that not only was it Northern State University but that it was the state of South Dakota and that would give a leg up for credibility in China that it would be a mandate that was given from the federal government to a state government [Robert Stratmore, transcript, Darley v SDIBI arbitration hearing, 2014.04.29].

EB-5 chief Joop Bollen pressed this advantage even after completely privatizing the EB-5 operation, as indicated by Chinese press material from October 2010.

If we accept Mike Rounds's thesis that EB-5 is a good program, if we accept the idea that raising capital from foreign investors more interested in green cards than business results is healthy, then we should expect state government to run the EB-5 program as competitively as possible. Yet Mike Rounds gave up the official state control of EB-5 that an EB-5 recruiter said would draw more EB-5 money.

97 comments

The Republican spin machine eagerly rebroadcasts an attack ad aired on KMSD Radio against Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City). Here's the text:

Being a state legislator has gone to Kathy Tyler's head. A small business man in Rapid City won a lawsuit against a customer that owed him money, but Kathy Tyler called and tried to overrule the judge. Kathy Tyler said she disagreed with the judge. She said she was a legislature [sic] and knew better. I don't know who she thinks she is trying to bully a small businessman. Kathy Tyler is a bully who misused her office. Please do not send Kathy Tyler back to Pierre. Give the little guy a break. Paid for by East River Concerned Citizens [political communication, transcribed from audio posted by Pat Powers, "Kathy Tyler Must Have Made the Wrong Small Businessman in Rapid City Mad," Dakota War College, 2014.10.22].

According to Rep. Tyler, East River Concerned Citizens has spent over $1,000 to broadcast this attack. East River Concerned Citizens is a PAC formed by Spencer Cody, vice president and assistant treasurer of South Dakota Right to Life. Cody attacked Rep. Tyler during the 2014 Legislative session, calling her a liar for opposing an abortion restriction that conservative Reps. Scott Munsterman (R-7/Brookings) and Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) voted against.

East River Concerned Citizens is breaking state law. Governor Dennis Daugaard, Attorney General Marty Jackley, and the Republican spin machine eagerly roasted Dan Willard for violating this statute with robocalls against sitting Republican legislators in 2012. SDCL 12-27-16 requires the following of ads like Cody's:

(1)      Any person or organization that makes a payment or promise of payment totaling one hundred dollars or more, including an in-kind contribution, for a communication which expressly advocates for or against a candidate, public office holder, ballot question, or political party shall append to or include in each communication a disclaimer that clearly and forthrightly:

  1. Identifies the person or organization making the independent expenditure for that communication;
  2. States the address or website address of the person or organization;
  3. States that the communication is independently funded and not made in consultation with any candidate, political party, or political committee; and
  4. If the independent expenditure is undertaken by an organization not including a candidate, public office holder, political party, or political committee, then the following notation must also be included: "Top Five Contributors" followed by a listing of the names of the five persons making the largest contributions to an organization during the twelve months preceding that communication.

A violation of this subdivision is a Class 1 misdemeanor... [SDCL 12-27-16].

The ad gives the PAC name, but it gives no physical or web address for contacting the organization. The ad does not include the "independently funded and not made in consultation" disclaimer. If I get ambitious and look up their statement of organization filed with the Secretary of State on September 14, 2014, I still can't send the PAC a letter, because Cody omitted the city and state, which is sloppy if not illegal.

Cody asks his Facebook followers for more money to expand his attacks to "the district 8 Senate race, district 26 Senate race, district 33 Senate, district 2 house, district 3 house, district 9 house, and district 15 house." He might want to save his money for a lawyer: surely the Governor and Attorney General will find this violation of campaign finance law just two weeks before an election on a hotly contested district as egregious as they found Dan Willard's robocalls two months before an election in which many of the targeted legislators faced no challengers.

Update 06:20 CDT: Funny that the ad pretends to defend "the little guy." As I understand from sources, "the little guy" appears to be the customer who paid a Rapid City business $1,600 and never received the merchandise he ordered. I'm working on that angle of the story....

33 comments

A couple weeks ago, Kevin Woster wondered when Larry Pressler's friend Kevin Schieffer would throw some money toward his old boss's U.S. Senate candidacy.

Schieffer is now throwing, forming a Super PAC to spend "a couple hundred thousand" on this ad with former staffers sticking up for the old man:

Go get 'em, boss. I say this as a devoted Weiland supporter: you may have just heard the best battle cry of the South Dakota election. Add the gentle tones, the nostalgia—and oh my gosh, the 80's hair!—and you have a beautiful if absolutely substanceless response to every possible critique that anyone might launch against Pressler. Rick Weiland can say Pressler is weak against Big Oil and weak on Social Security; Mike Rounds can say Pressler will back President Obama's liberal policies; Gordon Howie can say Pressler ate too much Camembert in Paris. Pressler can just flash this ad like a snazzy fake ID at the club: Go ahead and make those negative ads! They just prove what a nice guy I am!

Arrggh! That's not debate! That's bunnies and babies and getting people to vote because their hearts flutter!

Dang... and that's a pretty smart use of $200,000 in a race where voters' heads may be spinning from acrimony and acronyms.

Told tonight of Schieffer's investment in his campaign, Pressler blurted, "Oh God, that's awfully nice." When he recovers from that shock, Pressler can turn to Stuart Rothenberg, who opined Wednesday that the mostly unanswered GOP and Dem attacks on Pressler "appear to have worked," and channel Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day and shout, "I ain't heard no fat lady!"

34 comments

Some of my readers think David Montgomery has sold out to the good-old-boys' network on whom he and his employer depend for access and advertising dollars.

If that were the case, I don't think that Sioux Falls paper would slap this headline on Montgomery's latest EB-5 report:

Rounds knew of Benda conflict in final days of term

This headline comes not from diligent investigative reporting but from Mike Rounds's own mouth. The Republican Senate candidate said in yesterday's live interview with 100 Eyes that he knew Richard Benda, his economic development chief, was going to work for an "investor" in Northern Beef Packers, the stalled economic development project toward which he directed $2.36 million in state grants during the last few weeks of his governorship.

Benda didn't identify which investor he would be working for, and Rounds said he didn't press. Benda went to work for SDRC Inc., a company managing EB-5 foreign investments for projects, including Northern Beef. On Tuesday, Rounds said he now feels Benda "misled" him by not disclosing where he was going.

At the time, though, Rounds didn't ask Benda for more details.

"I said 'Good, I'm glad to hear that he's going to be actively involved in the beef plant,'" Rounds said in a live interview on the Argus Leader's "100 Eyes" online show.

Rounds' focus at the time, he said, was on which of his Cabinet secretaries "should I meet with to find out if they need assistance in finding other opportunities" — not whether they were "leaving government with a conflict of interest," as Argus Leader managing editor Patrick Lalley asked Rounds. Benda already had lined up a job, so Rounds said he focused attention elsewhere [David Montgomery, "Rounds Knew of Benda Conflict in Final Days of Term," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.22].

Permit me to paint a managerial scenario, and you tell me whether I'm viewing the situation with hindsight or South Dakota common sense:

  1. I'm an outgoing governor, tying up loose ends in the Capitol.
  2. Among the loose ends are various fiscal and policy decisions to keep one of my marquee legacy projects alive. It's running over two years late and way over budget.
  3. I'm taking a risk writing some pretty big checks to keep the legacy project alive.
  4. I can't afford any bad press dragging this precarious project down.
  5. I find out one of my cabinet members who's been key in saving that project is now going to work for that project.
  6. I say, "Wait a minute, Richard. What exactly are you going to be doing for the project?" I listen closely. If I sense any hedging, I say "Cut the crap" and get the full story.
  7. Whatever answers I get, I think ahead to appearances, if not legal questions, and I say to my cabinet member, "I think it's best that, for these last couple weeks, we put a big brick wall between you and any policy decisions affecting the folks you're going to work for."
  8. I review all of the checks and other papers I've signed over the past few weeks for the project and make sure everything looks kosher.
  9. And above all, I make sure my guy going to work for the project is not the guy who carries the million-dollar state check to that project.

Rounds gets to my step 5, then veers off the road of good management, saying, Rich has a job? Great! Now I can focus on helping all my other pals get golden parachutes.

Rounds said at Dakotafest in August that if he'd known what Benda had been up to with respect to Northern Beef Packers and EB-5, he'd have fired Benda. In yesterday's interview, Rounds said, "Richard Benda did some things in the last couple of weeks (of Rounds' term) that I did not know about, and that I'd like to ask him questions about." But when Benda was right in front of him, and the issues all hot on his plate, Governor Rounds chose not to ask.

And the day Mike Rounds didn't ask Richard Benda those questions at the end of 2010 may have been the day that Mike Rounds lost the election of 2014.

27 comments

Susan Wismer and Mike Myers go to Sioux Falls tonight to debate Governor Dennis Daugaard on KELO-TV for his job. Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Gordon Howie, and Mike Rounds go to Vermillion tomorrow night for their first big broadcast Senate debate.

Partial solar eclipse, animation of lunar penumbra and terminator, October 23, 2014. From NASA!

Partial solar eclipse, animation of lunar penumbra and terminator, October 23, 2014. From NASA! (Time in UTC; subtract 5 hours for Central, 6 for Mou

The gods evidently see more portent in the Senate debate; they are throwing a pre-game eclipse party! The new moon's shadow hits Kamchatka at their Friday dawn, then slides across Alaska, Canada, the Lower 48, and Mexico throughout our Thursday.

According to the United States Naval Observatory, the partial eclipse begins in Vermillion at 4:23 p.m. Central, and maxes out just after 5:36 p.m., when the moon will obscure just about 49% of the sun. The moon will still be taking a bite out of the sun when the sun sets at 6:33 p.m. Predicted cloud cover for Vermillion tomorrow p.m.: 14%–17%.

Out in Spearfish, the eclipse begins just before 3:10 p.m. Mountain, just in time for the kids to get out of school and see all the freaky shadow effects. Spearfish eclipse max is at 4:28 p.m. Mountain with 53% solar obscuration. The moon scoots past the sun completely at 5:38, about 22 minutes before Spearfish sunset. Predicted cloud cover: 28%–33%.

Go see the eclipse (but how many times do we have to tell you: don't look directly at the sun!), then see who eclipses whom at the SDPB Senate debate!

Bonus Third-Grade Science/Halloween Humor:

—How does a deaf astronomer know what ghosts are saying?
—She reads the eek-lips.

8 comments

I love South Dakota. I love ladies. So why doesn't South Dakota love ladies?

Never mind the syllogistic stretch; check out why 24/7 Wall Street says South Dakota is the seventh-worst state in the Union for women:

Median earnings for women in South Dakota were roughly 75% the earnings of their male counterparts in 2013, one of the lower rates in the country. The lower earnings may be due to the relatively small percentage of women in management occupations. As of 2013, slightly more than 31% of workers in managerial roles were women, well below the national rate of 39.2%. Working women in South Dakota cannot take paid time off to care for sick family members or tend to their own health or pregnancy. Moreover, South Dakota has not begun to implement the expansion of Medicaid benefits allowed under the Affordable Care Act. With women accounting for nearly 55% of all state residents living below the poverty line in 2012, expanding Medicaid benefits would likely improve the living conditions for women [Thomas C. Frohlich, Alexander Kent, and Alexander E.M. Hess, "The 10 Worst States for Women," 24/Wall Street, 2014.10.16].

I love South Dakota. I want to say good things about South Dakota. But candidates like Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard are claiming they deserve your vote because they've done good things for South Dakota, when in fact they have only left in place a political and economic system that denies a huge majority of moms (and dads!) the opportunity to leave one parent at home to raise their kids, then hurls those women into an oppressive business regime that excludes them from lucrative positions of power.

Women, you appear to have your doubts about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Susan Wismer. You should harbor even greater doubts about the economic status quo in which the Republicans vest their interests. Check your pocketbooks, and vote accordingly.

14 comments

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