We have a possible Democrat sighting in District 12! A fortuitous tweet brings to my attention Ellee Spawn, candidate for District 12 House of Representatives. Spawn's issues:

Education: "...South Dakota's teachers pay being 50th out of 50 states is simply unacceptable.  In order to retain the best and brightest teachers, it's imperative that improving teacher salaries becomes a priority in South Dakota."

Veterans: "...support legislation to help ease the transition of soldiers returning to civilian life, expanding job and educational opportunities for returning service men and women... committed to ensuring our returning veterans have access to good jobs and vital job training."

Women's Rights: "...equal pay for work... fight to keep programs that deliver assistance to woman and children such as WIC and Planned Parenthood and other critical family planning services... a woman's medical decisions should always be made between her, her family, and her doctor... ease the process of adoptions in South Dakota...."

Marriage Equality: "...fight for the rights of all persons to legally marry in South Dakota."

Spawn is not on the official candidate list yet, so we can't verify party affiliation (and her website keeps mum on that relevant detail). Spawn runs in a district currently represented by Republican He-Man Woman Haters Rep. Manny Steele and Rep. Hal Wick and gubernatorial appointee Senator Blake Curd.

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Habemus budget! The South Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill 187, the general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014, and got the heck out of town at 8 p.m. last night.

David Montgomery does fine work spreadsheeting the numerous budget amendments that were proposed yesterday. At peril of positing a false dilemma, I offer two amendments for comparison.

Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) took one more swing at expanding Medicaid. He moved to amend $1.9 million into the budget to put South Dakota on board with the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. The Joint Appropriations Committee said no.

Joint Appropriations could not bring itself to spend $5.3 million to bring South Dakota's per-student spending back to 2011 levels. They settled for Senator Bill Van Gerpen's (R-19/Tyndall) amendment to put $2.2 million above what Governor Daugaard asked what Governor Daugaard asked into K-12 education.

That education amendment puts another $16.72 toward teaching each of our 130,000-plus K-12 students. The Legislature wants to direct that money to teacher salaries, which will boost each of our K-12 teachers' pay about $220, which moves us 9% of the way to not being last in the nation and 1.3% of the way to catching up with Minnesota.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not going to say no any dollars the Legislature is willing to put toward paying South Dakota teachers what they are worth. But let's put on our green eye shades.

$2.2 million for K-12 is good, but it constitutes 0.65% of the general fund allocation for state aid to K-12 education, $341 million.

$1.9 million would have been a similarly small increase in South Dakota's general fund expenditures for Medicaid, 0.63% of $301 million. But it also would have brought into the state $273 million in federal spending, a 59% increase over the $464 million we already get.

We could have done both. We could have added more money for K-12 and expanded Medicaid. But if we had really been down to our last $2.2 million in mad money, and if someone had said take your pick, boost teacher pay $220 a head or expand Medicaid, I might have had a hard time leaving $273 million dollars in medical assistance and economic stimulus on the table in favor of marginal pay increases that will not noticeably alleviate our teacher pay crisis.

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The South Dakota Legislature listens to constituents, respects local control, and sends a message that texting while driving is irresponsible, dangerous behavior. What's not to like?

David Montgomery reports that, after declaring failure just a couple days ago, legislators have crafted a compromise statewide texting ban that, actually, feels less like compromise and more like a whole lot of what good sense would call for.

We should see the details in HB 1177 shortly. But it looks like we get $100 fine for texting as a secondary offense. The Highway Patrol can't pull you over just for staring at your screen instead of the road, but when they bust you for not seeing that stop sign or drifting over the center line, they can write up your texting as well.

As a bonus (consolation?) for Republicans, the new bill would not prohibit local governments from implementing more serious penalties.

As a bonus for small-d democrats, Rep. Charlie Hoffman tells Mr. Montgomery that this bill is happening because the people want it:

"There was an enormous amount of pressure from home, and from people who talked in the last crackerbarrels, (saying) ‘Why aren’t you doing something about texting?’" said Hoffman. "People in this House and Senate didn’t want to go back on their campaign and have to be badgered with, ‘Why aren’t you doing your job?’ [David Montgomery, Lawmakers Reach Texting Ban Compromise," Political Smokeout, 2014.03.13]

Dang: voters speak, legislators respond. That's how government is supposed to work.

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Last month, the state Ag Department, the state dairy industry, and the Valley Queen Cheese factory ganged up to block Senate Bill 126, which would have undone some of the onerous restrictions the state put on raw milk sales last year. While a whole bunch of South Dakotans asked the Legislature to give them a little more freedom to sell and buy locally produced milk, Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch called raw milk "inherently dangerous."

Guns are inherently dangerous, yet the state recruits gun manufacturers to make and sell their product in South Dakota.

Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth said, "Current disease data shows people who drink raw milk have gotten sick.... We should do everything we can to prevent this.”

People who text and drive have gotten hurt, yet the Legislature refuses to impose a statewide ban on that activity.

Big-wheel Republican lobbyist Matthew McCaulley, speaking on behalf of Valley Queen Cheese (one of the big businesses selected by Dennis Daugaard to join his May trade mission to China), complained that if we allow more raw milk sales, "Consumers will have difficulty distinguishing between pasteurized and unpasteurized products." Therefore, "Valley Queen Cheese Factory would be in favor of, as some states have done, a total ban on the sale of raw milk."

You have local dairy producers selling milk they bottled themselves at farmers markets and small mom-and-pop shops. You have Valley Queen Cheese dumping massive quantities of industrial dairy products at the supermarket. Are you really struggling to tell the difference? But hey: when you're a crony capitalist trying to rationalize your request for the nanny state to ban your competitors from the marketplace, you end up saying some silly things.

Meanwhile, an eager reader notes that the nanny states of Europe are making it easier to buy raw milk:

In response to the first-rate benefits of raw milk, several European nations have installed self-service vending machines that provide access to the food 24 hours a day. Brainchild of dairy farmer Michel Cantaloube, the machines have been stationed around France, the UK and Spain – supplying local, sustainable and unpasteurized milk to surrounding communities. The dairy farms involved hope to expand the venture into a similar vending machine for raw yogurt.

Other countries like Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have begun to install their own raw milk vending machines as well [Carolanne Wright, "Europe Embraces Healthy Raw Dairy by Unveiling Fresh Milk Vending Machines," Wake Up World, 2014.03.11].

Bring your own bottle! Please tell me that vending machine moos when you hit the button.

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Ronald Fuchs should be the face of the Medicaid expansion debate in South Dakota. The Mitchell man is a regular guy, age 63, suffering from various maladies that make it hard for him to work. Still, he can't get disability payments. His Social Security income ($650 a month) is too low to qualify for help under the Affordable Care Act but too high to qualify for the Medicaid coverage that Governor Dennis Daugaard refuses to expand.

Republican legislators are spending more time working on a resolution to urge repeal of the Affordable Care Act than they are looking for a solution for Ronald Fuchs.

Ultimately, Ronald Fuchs's only hope remains a couple years of luck, followed by the most reliable health care coverage in America, government-run Medicare:

He says the only advantage he has now is his age. He’s 63.

"So, I can spend another year and a half to two years uninsured, hoping that I don’t get sick, that I don’t have to use the emergency room. Hoping against hope," Fuchs says.

When Ronald Fuchs turns 65 years old, he’ll qualify for Medicare. He says younger people struggling in poverty can’t simply wait it out for their health care [Kealey Bultena, "Medicaid Decisions Impact Mitchell Man," SDPB Radio, 2014.03.12].

This is now way for South Dakota to treat a neighbor. We have the money to expand Medicaid. Let's do it.

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Yesterday the House GOP leadership honked Governor Dennis Daugaard's nose and violated the state constitution. This can't end well.

The House passed Senate Bill 53 yesterday, but it wasn't really Senate Bill 53. The original SB 53 was a request from Governor Daugaard's Labor Department for $500,000 for the mostly failed New South Dakotan's program and the mall-tripping Dakota Roots program. Senate Appropriations amended that down to $1; the wiseguys in House Appropriations amended it up to $2. Such dollar-amendments happen as legislators say they're o.k. with a program but need to negotiate a final dollar figure in conference committee.

But then the full House got its hands on Senate Bill 53 and hoghoused it. Poof go New South Dakotans and Dakota Roots; in come four new appropriations, out of the blue:

  1. $1,000,000 to jump start the delayed Lewis and Clark Rural Water System;
  2. $500,000 to fund the Readiness and Environmental Protection and Integration (REPI) buffer program at Ellsworth Air Force Base under the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
  3. $464,000 to fund a shale research facility at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
  4. $500,000 to improve airports.

Whatever the merits of these four surprise projects, all unvetted by the committee process, Senate Bill 53 now violates the South Dakota Constitution. Article 12, Section 2 says the only bill that can fund more than one project at a time is the general appropriations bill. "All other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing but one object, and shall require a two-thirds vote of all the members of each branch of the Legislature." Senate Bill 53 embraces four objects, different places, different functions.

The unconstitutional hoghouse failed to win two-thirds approval on its first go-round. Then after a motion to reconsider, seven legislators (Reps. Campbell, Craig, Ecklund, Kopp, Qualm, Verchio, and Werner) all suddenly decided violating the Constitution to spread out more election-year earmarks was a good thing, and SB 53 passed 49 to 20.

I know you legislators are getting tired and cranky and stressed over having left so much work until the last minute. But your procrastination does not permit placing the hoghouse above the state constitution. You want to fund four emergency projects? You're going to have to hoghouse four separate bills, the way you've had to all session to build a highway patrol facility in Rapid City, work on the Hot Springs veterans home, and remodel the House Chambers. You have to do four different bills the same way you've required the Board of Regents to come to you with four different bills to fund four different projects on one campus (SDUS: See SB 15, SB 16SB 17, and SB 20).

The constitution matters. The Legislature must follow it. If the conference committee can't embrace the constitution, let's hope the Governor will with his veto pen. Even if he vetoes Senate Bill 53 purely out of personal pique over the House's rejection of his pet economic development programs, that veto would defend the constitution from greedy, sloppy legislating.

p.s.: You guys would have more time to get these things done if your weren't spending conference committee time haggling over a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Aren't 50 futile votes in Congress enough?

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South Dakota is on its way to joining the rest of civilized America and punishing animal cruelty as a felony. Senate Bill 46 passed House Judiciary Monday and the full House Tuesday, though a bit more bumpily than it did in its unanimous cruise through the Senate.

Senate Bill 46 is tougher than the legislation brought last year by South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together. But since SDFACT had a good talk with South Dakota's ag lobby and got everyone to realize we're all on the same page, the ag lobby and most of the Legislature got behind this bill.

Passing the bill required excluding the Humane Society of the United States from the summer negotiations over South Dakota's bill, said South Dakota pork and soybean lobbyist Lorin Pankratz in his testimony to House Judiciary Monday. The HSUS, as we all know, is plotting to take over the country, and even talking to seuch nefarious characters would make South Dakotans break out in hives and elect a poodle governor. Stockgrowers' lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy emphasized that "the people in this room"—the state veterinarian, the stockgrowers, the pork producers, all the big ag groups—wrote this bill, not just to color in the map and end South Dakota's status as the only state treating animal cruelty as a misdemeanor, but to make things better in South Dakota for animals and for agriculture.

Shari Kosel, the gal who spearheaded bringing animal cruelty to the Legislature's attention last year, testified concisely that SB 46 is collaboration and compromise in the best interest of South Dakota.

But some people just won't give up on HSUS hysteria. Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle), who called herself the "Lone Ranger" in House Judiciary against the bill, said all of the preceding testimony on SB 46's South Dakota roots was "not factual." She said SB 46 was a problem caused by an organization that has vowed to eliminate animal agriculture. She said SB 46 arose from fear that HSUS would wage war on animal cruelty by ballot initiative. She said SB 46 is bad because HSUS shut down horse slaughter plants. I won't even try to explain the logic, because there is none.

Rep. May also asserted that all of the ag folks she talks to are against SB 46, even though all of the ag folks in the room had just gotten done testifying in favor of SB 46. She essentially dismissed the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, the Stockgrowers Association, and other major ag groups as elitist special interests who don't represent common folks. Boy, I'd like to hear Rep. May repeat that line on the campaign trail!

Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) rebutted Rep. May directly in committee discussion, saying SB 46 came entirely from South Dakotans, unlike a previous animal cruelty bill that was copied almost verbatim from an HSUS bill from Oregon. Rep. Anne Hajek (R-14/Sioux Falls) told people to look past the hype and read the bill. She slyly noted that SB 46 includes language that protects Rep. Olson's right to "shoot a mountain lion any time she wants to protect herself." Rep. Peggy Gibson (D-22/Huron) also corrected Rep. May's false fear that individuals convicted under SB 46 would lose their right to vote; she noted that once a convict has finished prison time and/or probation, that felon can regain the right to vote.

Committee Chairman Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) complained that SB 46 costs too much. Evidently, $10,751 a year is too much to spend to more vigorously prosecute and punish the sociopaths who torture animals. Rep. Gosch also complained that "gross physical abuse," "prolonged pain," and "serious physical injury" are not clearly defined and cast one of only two votes against SB 46 in committee (the other came from his faithful lieutenant Rep. Justin Cronin, R-23/Gettysburg).

In the full House, you bet your boots that Rep. Betty Olson (R-29/Prairie City) voted against SB 46. Fourteen other legislators trembling before figments of their imagination joined her in the nay column Tuesday. SB 46 passed 54–15 and goes to Governor Dennis Daugaard for his signature.

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Mr. Kurtz quite aptly points to Montana Democrats' can-do attitude as a model for South Dakota Democrats:

Democrats fielded at least one candidate in every contested Montana House and Senate seat by the filing deadline Monday, and said they’re primed to challenge Republicans this election year for control of the 2015 Legislature.

“I think majorities are within our reach,” said Lauren Caldwell, director of the Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “We are not taking a single seat for granted and we are not leaving a single district without a Democratic candidate” [Mike Dennison, "Democrats Field Candidate in Every Legislative Race," Helena Independent Record, 2014.03.11].

A Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee—do we South Dakota Dems have that?*

Montana's deadline is two weeks earlier than ours. With two weeks to go, South Dakota Democrats have candidates for 7 of 35 Senate seats and 5 of 70 House seats. 89% to go, Dems! Let's see some petition power!

*Update 16:05 CDT: Looks like we do, kinda sorta. Shortly after posting, I received the following e-mail from Debra Elofson of the Minnehaha Dems Candidate Recruitment Committee:

  Dear Fellow Democrat,

Late winter can be a tough time here in South Dakota. While the weather tests the limits of our endurance, reports from the Legislature test our sense of reason.

Most of what happens in Pierre is important, but unremarkable. Legislators go about the day-to-day business of state government with little disagreement. But then something happens that is just so goofy ­­so wrong­headed, ­­or just so plain mean, ­­it even makes the national news.

The weather will improve, and our state and local government could improve, ­if we can identify and recruit capable Democrats to run for office. You probably know someone who could be a great legislator. They might not be the most strident Democrat in your circle of friends. It might be a neighbor who plays softball and coaches youth sports, or the teacher newly retired who delivers for Meals ­on­ Wheels, or the parent who organizes extra help for kids who are struggling in school.

Martin Luther King said “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service...You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” There are public spirited Democrats all over South Dakota who now serve their schools and churches and communities who would be honored to serve in public office, but haven't been encouraged to become a candidate. We need your help to find them.

If you know someone you think would be a great legislator or county official, please contact the South Dakota Democratic Party. The SDDP will contact your prospective candidates and talk with them about running for office and the procedure for getting on the election ballot. Time is short. So many good Democrats have already taken out petitions to run for state and local office, but we have less than two weeks to find more good public spirited Democrats to fill the slate of candidates.

Help us identify more good Democratic candidates!
Contact us today »

Please consider giving some of your time and attention to our search for candidates. Your help is greatly needed, and will be greatly appreciated!

Thank You,

Debra Elofson
Minnehaha County Democratic Party
Candidate Recruitment Committee

I actually think a few more strident Dems might be a good thing. But the casting call is up! All it takes in most districts is 50 signatures (less than that everywhere but District 1, but get a cushion! Aim high!). Go get 'em!

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