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.

23 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.

3 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.

13 comments

Mr. Ehrisman wonders why we haven't seen a big Governor Dennis Daugaard endorsement ad for Mike Rounds for Senate.

Well, Senator John Thune is on the air telling folks to send him Rounds to join him for No Theater:

Be patient: I suspect a Daugaard endorsement ad is in the chute, ready to go after the Thune ad tires the viewers out.

But if the absence of a Daugaard ad for Rounds catches our attention, so should the absence of an ad from Senator Tim Johnson for Rick Weiland. John Tsitrian senses what he calls tepidity from Senator Johnson and other South Dakota elder Democratic statesmen. Tsitrian also links to this milquetoastery from Senator Johnson:

Of course I'm in favor of Rick Weiland, but they're all good candidates and I'll stay away from the politics [Sen. Tim Johnson, in Tessa Thomas, "Senator Stops in Rapid City for His 'Tour of Thanks'," KEVN-TV, 2014.10.20].

Senator Johnson, I appreciate the Lutheran equanimity, but don't give Mike Rounds a grace he doesn't deserve. Now is not the time to call Mike Rounds a "good candidate" or to stay away from politics. You can use this crucial last moment of your political career to make this the last moment of Mike Rounds's political career. You can use you last hurrah  to give South Dakota the great hurrah of a candidate as honest and hard-working as you have been.

Senator Johnson, break out the camera. Leverage your gravitas and pathos. Shoot this ad:

I'm Tim Johnson. You've trusted me to work for you for 35 years. I've worked through challenges to live up to that trust and get things done for South Dakota.

Now I ask you to trust Rick Weiland. He'll pick up right where I'm leaving off, fighting for every one of us in South Dakota.

I will miss serving you. But Barb and I can rest easy with Rick Weiland as our next Senator. Thank you, South Dakota [fantasy ad, hopefully airing October 29, 2014].

Say those words to the camera. Play some "Morning in America" music. Push Weiland over 40%.

41 comments

At the Dakotafest debate in August, Independent candidate Larry Pressler advanced the thesis that electing Mike Rounds would leave South Dakota with a "wounded Senator." Lincoln County Democrat Ryan Casey takes that thesis a step further, asking if an indictment against Rounds for malfeasance in his EB-5 program would leave South Dakota with no junior Senator:

Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution and the 17th Amendment give states the ability to fill U.S. Senate vacancies due to death, expulsion or resignation. In South Dakota, the governor makes an appointment to fill a vacancy until the next general election.

If Rounds is elected, indicted, and resigns, the governor can appoint his replacement almost immediately, preserving South Dakota's crucial representation in the Senate. If Rounds insists on remaining in office throughout his criminal proceedings, however, constituents will be left to question his effectiveness as a senator and his ability to serve their interests.

Luckily, there is still time on the clock. South Dakota voters can determine the outcome of this election [Ryan Casey, "Would Rounds Indictment Leave South Dakota Without a Senator?" Huffington Post, 2014.10.21].

Rep. Bill Janklow put us in that situation in 2003, not resigning until he was found guilty of manslaughter and not making that resignation effective until his sentencing, a month and a half after conviction.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves: Mike Rounds hasn't caused anyone's death that we know of, and we're still nailing what if any crime Rounds may have committed. (Remember: sloppy management and dishonesty aren't crimes.)

But voters, consider the odds: you have three Senate candidates who are not under any known federal investigation. You have one candidate who is at the center of a scandal under ongoing federal investigation, and that candidate has been spinning flexible and doubtful tales about his involvement in that scandal all year. Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, and Gordon Howie are more likely to be ready to serve on day one and not require any litigious sabbatical, let alone replacement by the Governor.

Dump Rounds, and focus on your viable Senate candidates.

14 comments

CNN correspondent Dana Bash noted how cordial—heck, downright friendly—Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, and Gordon Howie are to each other as they compete for the U.S. Senate seat. During breaks in a KSOO radio forum last week, the candidates chatted about poetry, hunting, and the weather.

Another sign of comity in South Dakota politics is this profile of Democratic candidate for state treasurer Denny Pierson written by Libertarian blogger and opposing candidate Ken Santema.

Yes, Santema's name appears on the ballot against Pierson. Santema uses his blog to broadcast his opponent's ideas on engaging county officials in helping citizens reclaim unclaimed property, restoring the state's unclaimed property holding period from three to five years, and making more public service announcements to let people know about unclaimed property.

Santema waits for the end to editorialize:

Pierson is an interesting entry into this race. His idea of expanding the Unclaimed Property area of the State Treasurers office to County Treasurers is interesting. I haven’t looked deep enough into to see whether it is a workable idea yet, but I will admit it is something worth discussing. I think the Democrats may have chosen well when putting Pierson on the ballot for State Treasurer [Ken Santema, "Democrat State Treasurer Candidate Denny Pierson Talking about His Top Priority," SoDakLiberty, 2014.10.19].

Find me one other candidate anywhere on the South Dakota's ballot who blogs so generously, civilly, and honestly about his opponent and his opponent's platform. Ken Santema, you are a credit to blogging, to Libertarians, and to South Dakota politics.

12 comments

I hope more newspaper editorial boards will show the courage that the Mobridge Tribune's Katie Zerr shows in this repudiation of Mike Rounds's fitness for public office. Zerr doesn't say whom we should vote for, but she says quite clearly that the spoiled, deceitful Rounds does not deserve South Dakotans' vote:

Despite what the commercials are telling us, Mike Rounds does not have the same values as most South Dakotans. Listen to what those sound bites are conveying. Think about the dishonesty of the Rounds campaign.

This is the candidate that used information about the ACA robbing $750 million from Medicare in order to frighten seniors despite the fact that the information was false and he knew it. He admitted to that.

This is the candidate that keeps changing his story when pressed about the EB5 Program and his role in it.

It is this candidate who vilified federal stimulus then accepted money earmarked for education and used it to balance the state budget so he could claim he worked with a balanced budget all his years in office.

There are other options besides Mike Rounds [Katie Zerr, "Vote for the Candidate, Not the Political Party," Mobridge Tribune, 2014.10.15].

Democrats, you have a true Democrat on the ballot, Rick Weiland. Republicans, you have two honest men on the ballot who might as well be Republicans—Larry Pressler, the throwback to moderate Reagan Republicanism; and Gordon Howie, the modern Tea Party Republican. Indies, those three men represent a remarkable variety of ideological and policy positions. You can dismiss Mike Rounds from your thinking and still find plenty of options to scratch your Senatorial itch.

44 comments

Oh, no—don't tell me I've got to start agreeing with doctor and State Senator R. Blake Curd:

The orthopedic surgeon steps out from the operating table to encourage our Yes vote on Initiated Measure 17, the "Any Willing Provider" insurance proposal. IM 17 revives a bill defeated in the 2013 Legislature that would allow any health care provider who meets an insurance company's terms (quality of care, billing rates) to participate in that insurer's network.

Short form: all those state employees in Brookings who have to drive down to Sioux Falls to lower their out-of-pocket costs could go to their local hospital, pay lower in-network copays, and miss less work.

The South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations opposes IM 17, contending primarily that Any Willing Provider laws increase health care costs. Klick and Wright (2012) support that contention; however, only the increase in drug expenditures is statistically significant; the minor increases in physician and hospital expenditures is not statistically significant.

South Dakota already has an Any Willing Provider law for pharmacy services (SDCL 58-18-37, on the books since 1990). USD economist Michael Allgrunn and co-author Brandon Haiar (2012) analyze the cost impact of AWP laws specifically affecting physicians and find that a law like IM 17 would actually lower costs.

The cost issue is open for debate and dueling studies. The other major claim opponents make, that IM17 is "another mandate with more government control over health care" sounds entirely bogus:

The only people who would chafe under the perception of government control would be the big hospitals who are selling insurance and limiting their customers to their network. Health care consumers wouldn't feel that government is restricting their decisions; policyholders would experience control over their health care decisions shifting from their insurer to themselves. They would be able to choose from a broader network of providers.

I'm open to the cost debate, but let's put the anxiety over government-run health care to bed. IM 17 really would increase patient choice.

p.s.: No on 17 has scored more YouTube hits on their month-old ad, but Yes on 17 has lots more videos.

27 comments

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