The District 33 Senate race should not even be close. Sane, civil, and compassionate Robin Page should be beating the paranoid, xenophobic, and Klannish Republican Senator Phil Jensen by a Daugaard–Hubbel or Jackley-Haber margin. But factor in the power of "R" and the disturbing extent to which South Dakotans share Jensen's unhealthy views, and just the fact that a female Native American Democrat can run a competitive race in the Black Hills.

Contrary to a previous report, Jensen has been able to raise some money for his camapign. Jensen's pre-general campaign finance report shows $3,720 from individual donors (including $200 from District 5 Senator Ried Holien—Schoenbeck! get your caucus in line!), $950 from utilities and the state physical therapists group, $100 from the Pennington County Republican Women, and $3,950 from state and national PACs (including $200 Dan Lederman's Rushmore PAC, which apparently is fine with racism, homophobia, and anti-Muslim bigotry). On top of that $8,720, Jensen has put up $9,083.91 of his own money.

Meanwhile, Page has drawn $2,548 from individual donors, $200 from the local party, $2,700 from South Dakota PACs, and $900 in free labor from Bajun Mavalwalla's Nebula Group. That's still a good chunk less than Jensen has poured into his campaign, but it's enough that Page has been able to mail and knock and get out the word that she is a viable alternative to Jensen.

Page has also benefited from some third-party mailings. One card sent around town reminds voters of Senator Jensen's 2011 effort to legalize the murder of abortion doctors. Jensen's bill provoked nationwide disgust and sent South Dakota Republicans, including Governor Dennis Daugaard, running for cover. The mailer duly reminds voters that Jensen regularly humiliates South Dakota and distracts from bread-and-butter policymaking.

Jensen spins now as he did in 2011 to say his bill didn't say what is said:

“This bill pertained to illegal acts, such as assault or manslaughter,” wrote Jensen, who would only correspond with the Rapid City Journal in writing. “This bill had nothing to do with abortion or abortion doctors because abortion is a legal act. Upon assurance from Attorney General (Marty) Jackley that this protection was already provided for by South Dakota law, I voluntarily withdrew the bill” [Seth Tupper, "Phil Jensen Versus Robin Page for State Senate a Clash of Opposites," Rapid City Journal, 2014.10.31].

Page responds with one of the most grown-up things you'll hear from a candidate:

“I guess I don’t have a problem with it, because I’m sure I’ll be held accountable for the things I say or do, as well,” Page said. “That’s just part of the job” [Tupper, 2014.10.31].

Robin Page won't have to make excuses for her bills; because she won't propose stupid, hateful, dangerous bills. District 33, put Phil Jensen out of our misery. Vote for Robin Page today!

8 comments

Democratic candidate for District 16 Senate Ann Tornberg keeps eating incumbent Republican Senator Dan Lederman's lunch. Tornberg posts two more endorsements from local Republicans:

Karen Kirkebak, registered Republican, endorses Democrat Ann Tornberg for District 16 Senate. From Facebook, 2014.11.03.

Karen Kirkebak, registered Republican, endorses Democrat Ann Tornberg for District 16 Senate. From Facebook, 2014.11.03.

Bill and Fern Vermillion, registered Republicans, endorse Democrat Ann Tornberg for District 16 Senate. From Facebook, 2014.11.02.

Bill and Fern Vermillion, registered Republicans, endorse Democrat Ann Tornberg for District 16 Senate. From Facebook, 2014.11.02.

Ladies and gentlemen, old and young—Tornberg's hustling for the bipartisan vote in District 16! Meanwhile, Dan Lederman rips off SDPB's flyover special and puts his base to sleep with this geography lesson about District 16:

"When you first enter District 16 from the south, you know that you are leaving the states of Iowa and Nebraska..."—thank you, Professor Obvious. And the first thing he mentions: warehouses. Warehouses. Yes, warehouses are what make District 16 special.

It's time to put Lederman in storage (in Iowa) and elect Ann Tornberg to really represent District 16 and South Dakota.

11 comments

In the Odd Duck Department, if it waddles like a Democrat and quacks like a Democrat, it's a Democrat, right?

Nope—it's Sioux Falls Republican and Reverend Representative Steve Hickey!

Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) mailing to Democrats, October 2014.

Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) mailing to Democrats, October 2014.

Rep. Rev. Hickey says he sent this flyer to every Democrat in District 9. The card implies an endorsement from House Democratic Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton). Hickey pulls the Hunhoff quote from a December 29, 2013, news article on Hickey's need for a lung transplant:

His legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle are cheering him on.

“We’ll give Steve all the support we can,” said Bernie Hunhoff, the Democratic leader in the House. “Especially Steve — he’s just a caring fellow. You look at the list of the bills he’s carried and you can see, even though we’re of different political parties, just how deeply he cares about other people. I think he’ll see some of that caring bouncing back at him” [David Montgomery, "Rare Disease Sparks Defiance in Legislator," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.12.29].

I will not call into question how much our favorite pastor-pol cares about his flocks. But I will question whether kind words spoken by a member of the opposite political party about an ailing Legislative colleague constitutes a reason to vote for members of that party to jump ship and vote for that ailing colleague.

Rep. Rev. Hickey then pitches Dems a laundry list of political positions that could indeed induce Democrats to vote for him:

Any Democrat in South Dakota could run on exactly and exclusively the above platform in complete consistency with the Democratic platform.

But District 9 Democrats, if you're looking for a Democrat to vote for, you have two Dems on your House ballot, Rep. Paula Hawks and Becky Jaspers.

Alas, Jaspers's pre-general campaign finance report suggests she's not trying too hard ($150 in from Soy PAC, $150 out to the Hawks campaign). Check with Jaspers first, but if she really isn't too enthused about going to Pierre, then District 9 Dems do face an interesting question. Should they cast just one vote, for rock'em-sock'em incumbent Rep. Hawks and let the Republican chips fall where they may? Do they take Rep. Hickey's love letter to heart and give him their vote as well to foil arguably more Republican Bob Deelstra's return?

Or do they pose the supplicant Hickey this challenge: Sure, we'll vote for you... but if you're going to walk and squawk like a Democrat, then you need to go whole duck and re-register as a Democrat.

Are you game, Steve?

65 comments

Pat Powers and the South Dakota Republican Party continue to scream about Burt Elliott's questionable residency status. I continue to find the question of where we allow a citizen to register to vote practically and Constitutionally important: should the Schoenbeck argument that Elliott committed perjury by declaring District 3 his voting residence also convict the thousands of full-time RVers and college students who spend a majority of the year somewhere other than the address on their voter registration cards?

Enter former Powers patron Jason Gant, our Secretary of State. He says as far as he's concerned, Elliott has committed no foul:

The facts are simple. Elliott’s longtime residence is south of Aberdeen near the intersection of South Dakota Highway 10 and 137th Street, a house that sits within the boundaries of District 2, but not far from the boundaries for District 3. Legislative district boundaries were redrawn after the 2010 census and before the 2012 election. When Elliott filed his petition as a District 3 representative, however, an Aberdeen address in the 1700 block of South Fourth Street address was listed.

It’s an address that matches with Elliott’s voter registration, and Secretary of State Jason Gant said in order for a candidate’s petition to be valid, his or her address on the petition must match the address on his or her voter registration card. The candidate’s petition must also have the appropriate number of valid signatures.

Since Elliott’s petition met those requirements, Gant said, he was certified as a candidate.

“Everything is accurate based on that,” said Gant, a Republican.

If there’s a desire to pursue the legality of the issue, Gant said, that issue would have to be challenged in court [Elisa Sand, "Secretary of State: Elliott Residency Valid," Aberdeen American News, 2014.10.26].

Hmmm... when Secretary of State Jason Gant validated a nominating petition of a Republican Powers liked, Powers was more than happy to trumpet that candidate's propaganda. Powers also poo-pooed further court challenges, telling those he called axe-grinders to settle for changing statute next session. But now faced with his pal Gant's validation of a less-favored Democrat's petition and with the argument from the Aberdeen American News editorial board that Elliott's opponents should settle for changing voter registration laws in the 2015 Legislature, Powers goes purple with rage. He misportrays the editorial, elides Secretary Gant's reasoning, and just goes on shouting, impervious to the fact that law and his patron are not on his side.

District 3 voters are now well aware of Elliott's residency situation. Elliott has a right to be on their ballot, and they have a right to elect him and send him home, wherever home may be. Legislators upset by Elliott's opportunity should start crafting their voting-rights reform bills for 2015... and prepare to be watched closely by students, RVers, and all of us interested in ensuring the right to vote of every person who calls South Dakota home.

23 comments

To make your raisin bran soggier, here is the East River Concerned Citizens postcard attacking Rep. Kathy Tyler:

East River Concerned Citizens attack postcard (front), October 2014

(click to embiggen!)

East River Concerned Citizens attack postcard (back), October 2014

(click to embiggen!)

ERCC PAC boss Spencer Cody continues the lie he began last March of calling Rep. Tyler a liar for daring to disagree with him on policy. Cody's own card is filled with lies:

  • Rep. Tyler actually voted for 2014's HB 1162 both times it came before the full House during the 2014 session. HB 1162 became law. The amendment for which Tyler voted on the House floor still said sex-selective abortions are wrong and against state policy.
  • 2014's HB 1180 did not require neutrality of "Pregnancy Health Centers." HB 1180 excluded organizations that provide adoption and/or abortion services from offering the state-mandated counseling. Pregnancy health centers are not neutral: state law empowers them to actively discourage abortion.
  • 2013's HB 1237 did not fix a loophole. Pre-1237, South Dakota's oppressive 72-hour waiting period was consistent for every woman seeking an abortion. HB 1237 created an exception forcing women to wait even longer if the waiting period included a weekend. The bill was a blatant ploy to punish women even further for seeking an abortion by maximizing the economic impact of having to take off work from regular shifts to seek this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Given all these votes on the record, Rep. Kathy Tyler would appear to be perfectly "candid" and "up front" about her positions. Cody is implying that Rep. Tyler is a liar when she clearly is not... and when his own propaganda falls far from candor.

52 comments

Here's one sign that Democrat Robin Page may beat Phil Jensen out of his District 33 Senate seat:

Campaign signs, one block west of Pennington County GOP HQ, West Main St., Rapid City, SD, 2014.10.22.

Campaign signs, one block west of Pennington County GOP HQ, West Main St., Rapid City, SD, 2014.10.22.

This photo comes from one block west of Pennington County Republican headquarters on West Main Street in Rapid City. We see the expected Republican signs for Daugaard, Rounds, Krebs, and Gosch. But we see no sign from the GOP incumbent Senator Jensen. Representing District 33 is Democratic challenger Page.

Remember that Senator Jensen drew disdain from his own party last spring for his hangup on social issues and his awkward commenters on racism. Senator Jensen only narrowly survived a primary challenge. Page is now working hard with direct mail and door-knocking to put Jensen out of a part-time job.

This vacant green hosts a couple other non-Republicans amidst the usual conservative suspects. District 34's GOP Rep. Dan Dryden has his sign up, but instead of fellow Republican Jeff Partridge, we find Democratic candidate Steve Stenson advertised. And from District 35, we get the strange mix of Tea-flavored spokesmodel Lynne Hix-DiSanto and Democrat Dave Freytag, with no visible sign from incumbent GOP Rep. Blaine "Chip" Campbell.

One would think every Republican in the neighborhood would want to get his or her name up next to the party leaders on that street and crowd out those pesky Democratic interlopers. But it could be that the Republican sign-minders down the street are sending a message to Jensen in tolerating Page's challenge.

38 comments

District 28 Senate candidate Rep. Betty Olson (R-Prairie City) earned herself some media attention this week. It seems only fair that we give her opponent in the Senate race, Parade Democrat Oren Lesmeister, a little air time.

Hat, cattle, and mustache—Oren Lesmeister, Democratic candidate for District 28 Senate

Hat, cattle, and mustache—Oren Lesmeister, Democratic candidate for District 28 Senate

Lesmeister runs Fox Ridge Ag Supply in Parade, Dewey County, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation east of Eagle Butte. He also raises wheat, sunflowers, corn and cattle on his patch of the high plains. He spoke to me Thursday from a motel room in Belle Fourche, about 150 miles from home. District 28 covers more territory than any other legislative district in the state: all of Dewey, Ziebach, Corson, Perkins, and Harding counties, most of Butte, and the northeast corner of Meade—14,700 square miles, almost a fifth of South Dakota, with about 3% of the state's population. He drove 235 miles just the preceding evening

That's sparse country to be out rustling up votes, but Lesmeister says campaigning is an "absolute blast," even for a Democrat campaigning in what Betty Olson's representation makes clear is hard right Republican country. Lesmeister reminds us that he comes from the eastern, reservation side of District 28, which leans Democrat. But even on the western side, where he says he gets skunk eye over that D in front of his name "every day," Lesmeister says he has great conversations with very "receptive" voters.

What do they talk about? Education funding comes up. Lesmeister says his school district, Eagle Butte, comes out better than others, since it receives a fair amount of impact aid from the federal government to make up for tribal land that doesn't pay property tax. But he looks around at the sprawling, far-flung school districts of District 28 and sees the state's "broken" funding formula failing to meet their needs. Lesmeister says we need more money for schools, but he's not proposing new taxes. He first wants to look at the hundreds of millions in sales tax exemptions as well as economic development handouts to corporations as sources of revenue to bolster our schools.

Lesmeister does talk taxes with his neighbors, particularly the agriculture productivity tax. In 2008, South Dakota revised its property tax to assess ag land not on the basis of land sale and rental values but an Olympic average (eight years, drop high and low) of crop prices and yields for comparable land. Lesmeister says that taxing ag land based on the corn or hay it could have produced according to past averages of neighbors' activity is like taxing a 40-story building for 200-stories: you could have built a taller skyscraper, so we're going to tax you as if you had!

Replacing that tax methodology is tricky, and Lesmeister wants to have more conversations with experts, but he'd rather return to assessing land on sale and rental value than keep the current system. At least with land sale prices, says Lesmeister, we're dealing with real numbers.

In general, Lesmeister says, the best tax reform would allow everybody to pay less. But he recognizes that we've got to pay for what we need. Nowhere is that tension more apparent than in road funding. He admires the efforts of Senator Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) to find money to improve our roads. He praises Senator Vehle for pushing people to get beyond griping and propose real solutions. Lesmeister says the ugly reality is that federal funding will dwindle and that state and county governments will have to pick up more of the tab for getting from Buffalo to Timber Lake.

Lesmeister says we could take some of the pressure off our highways by expanding railroads. He doesn't favor state ownership, but he would support incentives for private industry to build more rail shipping capacity.

Lesmeister does not support the Keystone XL pipeline. He says laying pipe across South Dakota to ship North American oil out to the global export market doesn't do South Dakota a bit of good. He challenges the assertion that running against Keystone XL will do in Democrats; in his district, the tribes are strongly opposed to the pipeline, and folks in Bison and elsewhere along the Keystone XL route don't say much nice about the pipeline to Lesmeister. (Remember: Betty Olson thinks Keystone XL is just peachy, as do far too many other South Dakota legislators.) At the very least, Lesmeister says we should learn from examples in Wyoming and North Dakota and not let Big Oil walk all over us.

Lesmeister also talks Medicaid expansion with his District 28 neighbors. He says South Dakota will eventually accept the money being offered under the Affordable Care Act to cover low-income South Dakotans. We have to, says Lesmeister, in part to make up for the $14 million he says we'll lose in the coming year as our increasing state income lowers the federal aid we qualify for under existing Medicaid rules.

Lesmeister recognizes the need for economic development in his big corner of the state, on reservation and off. He says the major challenge to creating jobs in District 28 is not lack of workers or skills; contrary to certain prejudgments, Lesmeister says his neighbors on the Cheyenne River Reservation want to work. Simple geography makes it hard to lure businesses: Eagle Butte and Lemmon are a long way to ship inputs and outputs. Economic development needs to focus on improving and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to connect West River businesses to their suppliers and customers. Lesmeister says Northern Beef Packers would have been a great project to build in his neighborhood, given that it could have relied on local supply. (Hmm... EB-5 to benefit the reservations... don't forget that idea!)

I mention women's issues to Lesmeister, and he focuses on legal protections against domestic abuse and sex trafficking, an issue of particular concern for reservations near the proposed Keystone XL construction camps and the man camps of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. He doesn't propose new laws; he says we can protect women sufficiently by stepping up our enforcement of laws already on the books.

As for abortion rights, Lesmeister says he as a legislator should never decide such issues. He says he would resist legislative efforts to further curtail women's reproductive rights. "It's too big of an issue" for the Legislature to decide, says Lesmeister; any abortion legislation should go straight to the ballot so all South Dakotans can vote.

Lesmeister wants to talk about these issues and everything else on voters' minds right through Election Day. He invites his neighbors to give him a shout via his Facebook campaign page and his campaign phone (605-365-6856—yup, he said I could publish that). Ping him, ring him... Oren wants your thoughts and your vote on November 4!

4 comments

Among other things I discovered on my visit to Brookings this weekend was this letter to the editor in the September 27, 2014, Brookings Register, in which Rep. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) and Sen. Larry Lucas (D-26/Pickstown) praise Senator Larry Tidemann (R-7/Brookings) for his "fair and non-partisan" chairmanship of the Government Operations and Audit Committee:

Letter to the editor, Brookings Register, 2014.09.27

Letter to the editor, Brookings Register, 2014.09.27

Contrary to recent Democrat [sic]* Party advertisements, Senator Tiedemann [sic]* has chaired the GOAC committee [sic]* in a fair and non-partisan manner and he should be commended for doing so [Rep. Mark Mickelson and Sen. Larry Lucas, letter to the editor, Brookings Register, 2014.09.27].

Rep. Mickelson and Sen. Lucas challenge an ad placed in the Brookings paper by the South Dakota Democratic Party criticizing Sen. Tidemann for refusing to subpoena EB-5 czar Joop Bollen and encouraging Brookings voters to ask their senator to work harder to get answers about the growing and costly EB-5 scandal.

Senator Lucas's participation in this letter provokes head-scratching. Senator Lucas submitted an important document and hefty folder of evidence to GOAC at its September 24 hearing laying out the known details of the EB-5 scheme and a number of questions that Chairman Lucas's refusal to subpoena Joop Bollen has left unanswered. Senator Tidemann's only defenses for his refusal have been the silly assertion that he's trying to avoid a media circus and the false assertion that Bollen's promised written answers will be as good as in-person testimony. (The Aberdeen American News says Mike Rounds's mulligan request shows that in-person testimony beats written answers.)

Yet Senator Lucas says the very stonewalling that his September 24 document tries ot overcome shows "fair and non-partisan" leadership.

I have no explanation for Senator Lucas's positioning here. Perhaps guys named Larry just have to stick together. But I am very curious to hear your explanations.

*Sic 'em, Fido!

  1. "Democrat Party" is an incorrect name for the Democratic Party, usually a pejorative shortening used by Republicans.
  2. The Senator spells his name Tidemann. The Democratic Party spelled it correctly in their ad.
  3. GOAC stands for Government Operations and Audit Committee. "GOAC committee" is redundant.
39 comments

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