It's almost Epiphany, almost time to leave the holidays behind and get on with regular business. But permit me one more brief retrospective on 2014.

I've listed the most-read and most commented stories of the year on this blog. I've also named the man of the year in terms of South Dakota political news, Richard Benda. But I'd like to take a moment to point out some of my best work on the Madville Times in 2014.

As you know, I spent much of 2014 on the road. My best blogging came from two trips around South Dakota.

In April, I crossed the state and interviewed Gordon Howie and Mike Myers and covered a speech by Joe Lowe. The Howie interview spawned a series of video conversations that I like to think exemplify the sort of spirited yet civil engagement (not to be confused with civil union) that South Dakota conservatives and liberals can and should enjoy.

Charlie in the distance, four-wheeling across the prairie, Hoffman farm, 2014.08.19

The prairie makes us all look small—photo from Charlie Hoffman's farm, northeast of Eureka, August 19, 2014 (click to enlarge).

Then in August came the tour de force... or the Tour de Blog! For eight days I toured South Dakota, talked to all sorts of people, and wrote 23 articles capturing a diverse album of South Dakota snapshots. I spoke with Lilias Jarding about the dangers of letting Powertech (now Azarga) dig for uranium in the southern Black Hills, then spent an entire afternoon with three Powertech honchos touring the proposed uranium mining area and talking about the company's plans. I visited Pine Ridge and Rosebud to learn about housing, voting rights, and Teach for America on the reservation. I attended two of the three Dakotafest debates and wrote five posts about them. I found an SDSU professor and a Republican legislator saying the same things about restoring prairie grass. And I got Republican Charlie Hoffman to say he'd like to expand Medicaid, raise teacher pay, and elect a Democratic governor.

I wrote plenty of articles that I'm proud of in 2014, but my articles from the road are my favorites. Feel free to note your favorites in the comment section below... and look forward to new favorites from around South Dakota in 2015!

25 comments

Bob Mercer follows up on his Wednesday list of legislator out-of-state travel reimbursements with a big Sunday feature on the Legislature's far-too-loose travel policy. Evidently the Legislature continues to slide away from rule of law and down into the arbitrary discretion of one man.

Mercer reports that the Legislature has a list of approved events for which legislators can foot the bill. But faced with requests from lawmakers who went to events off that list, the Legislature's Executive Board lost its nerve and handed decisions over to their chair:

But at least one trip fell outside those approved events.

Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, and Rep. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls, attended the meeting of the group called the Mount Vernon Assembly held in Indianapolis in June.

Maher said he gave that trip the go-ahead because last year he approved a trip by Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion, to a special economic conference.

Rather than fight over the Mount Vernon matter, or tighten the policy, the board instead loosened the approval policy by adding a sentence to the policy effective Oct. 1 to give the chairman more latitude. It says, “Any out of state travel to a non-mentioned organization shall be at the discretion of the Executive Board chair” [Bob Mercer, "Secrecy Surounds Increased Travel by South Dakota Lawmakers," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.14].

Combine this increased latitude with the Legislature's decision to end election of the Executive Board chair and hand that position to the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro-tem (in alternating years), and we see one less chance for accountability to policy and open vote and one more chance to concentrate power in the hands and the whim of one legislator.

Related Arithmetic: Eight Democratic legislators and seventeen Republican legislators have submitted vouchers for out-of-state travel since the end of the 2014 session. The average travel expense request among the Democrats is $741. The average travel expense expense request among the Republicans is $1,633. The thriftiest traveler is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Susan Wismer, who vouchered $252.51 for one trip. The most profligate globetrotter is Republican Speaker of the House Brian Gosch, who is claiming $4,339.09 for two trips.

13 comments

I can't tell you how excited I am to be on the road to South Dakota.

Wait—yes, I can! I'm extremely excited! I'm squinting into that morning sun with an enormous smile on my face. I am happier right now than I have been at any moment in the last twelve months.

And to celebrate my happiness at heading home, as well as twelve months of pretty good South Dakota blogging, I'm taking a tour of South Dakota. From August 14 to August 23, I'll be touring the state in the Madville Times mobile unit, taking pictures and video, interviewing fellow South Dakotans, and chatting with however many blog fans have time to drop by and say hi.

The first official stop of the Madville Times South Dakota tour will be in Spearfish Thursday. After I've taken my morning run up Lookout Mountain, I'll be blogging and chatting from the Green Bean Coffeehouse in Spearfish from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Come sit on the porch with me, and let's talk South Dakota! I'll have my camera handy to shoot quick one-minute "Sound Off!" videos for any readers who care to share their thoughts with South Dakota.

The next big stop will be Rickstock, the super-duper musical extravanganza to raise money for Rick Weiland's Senate campaign. That party starts at 1 p.m. Saturday, August 16, at Kevin Weiland's place, 5045 Lofty Pines Road, Piedmont. Madville Times readers, wear a yellow flower to show your blog love... and to help us recognize each other!

If you've enjoyed the blog coverage I've been able to bring you over the past year (EB-5, the Bosworth petition challenge, Legislative and campaign coverage...), or if you'd like to support the blog tour and the quality alternative journalism that will come from it (when I'm not interviewing, driving, or jogging, I will be writing!), please ring the tip jar. Click on that jar in the right sidebar, shoot some green electrons at me via Paypal, and I'll put that contribution to good use bringing you even more news from our great home state, South Dakota.

Thank you readers, for sticking with me during my absence from the state. In a way, thanks yo all of your comments and e-mails and phone calls, it feels like I was never gone. But I'm still eager to get on the highway keep trucking east to the state where I belong. See you Thursday at the Green Bean, Saturday at Rickstock, and through the following week all over South Dakota!

16 comments

Livability.com screws up royally in ranking Spearfish the seventh best small town in America. They should, of course, rank Spearfish #1!

What makes Spearfish so great in Livability's eyes and mine?

Here are the six towns Livability mistakenly ranked as better than Spearfish, plus the remainder of the top ten:

  1. Los Alamos, New Mexico
  2. Northfield, Minnesota
  3. Lebanon, New Hampshire
  4. Hood River, Oregon
  5. Port Angeles, Washington
  6. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
  7. Spearfish, South Dakota
  8. Heber City, Utah
  9. Traverse City, Michigan
  10. Hailey, Idaho
12 comments

The Governor's Office of Economic Development announced yesterday that eleven captains of South Dakota industry will accompany Governor Dennis Daugaard on his third trade mission to China. The Governor, friends, and flunkies will spend May 9–16 wining and dining potential export partners in beautiful downtown Beijing and Shanghai.

An eager reader asks how much such junkets cost. To guesstimate, let's look at former GOED chief Richard Benda's travel expense voucher, submitted March 12, 2010, which included expenses for an EB-5 recruitment tour of China from November 8 to November 23, 2009:

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 8

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 8 [click to embiggen]

But wait, there's more:

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 9

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 9 [click to embiggen]

Benda's airfare, taxifare, meals, hotel rooms, and the ever-popular miscellaneous for this trip add up to $4,846.27. I've tried not to double-bill anything, but we know how these things happen.

So let's compare that to the cost for Governor Daugaard's upcoming trip. Airfare is airfare, so that cost should match Benda's, a total here of $1,221.20. Now Benda got a break on airfare on this November 2009 trip. For his December 2009 trip, one of the tickets he double-billed, you and I had to pay $3,740.60.

The other costs should be proportional to time in country. Benda's trip was sixteen days; Daugaard's junket will be eight. Divide Benda's meals, lodging, and miscellaneous by 2, and you get $1,812.54.

Assume 3% average inflation in China since 2009, add... Presto! $3,465. Per person.

The taxpayer's price will vary. We'll pay full price for Governor Daugaard and GOED boss Pat Costello (you are going, right, Pat? I mean, the Chinese expect our top officials). GOED said that business partners on the trip will be reimbursed up to 30% for one company rep, so we might spend $1,040 on each corporate honcho.

But for Pete's sake, if you want to make the sale, don't scrimp on entertainment for this one-week junket to China.

)

Multicultural Note: Dennis, Pat, Rudy, when you sit down for dinner with those Chinese execs, don't turn to the comely young women next to them and say, "And this must be your lovely wife":

Young women who are mistresses in China are professionals, and some get a very handsome salary for what they do. According to reporter James Palmer, if high-rolling businessmen and government officials don't have a mistress, they don't get respect.

Palmer lives in Beijing and has written about mistress culture in China. He says it's like the mafia culture portrayed in the movie Goodfellas: Saturday nights are for wives, but Friday nights are for mistresses.

"You have events for your wives, but you also have these events where you're expected to bring a woman," Palmer tells NPR's Arun Rath. "And if you don't bring a woman, you're seen as not being a real man" [staff, "Corruption Blurs the Lines of China's Mistress Culture," NPR, 2014.03.02].

Well, that's awkward.

77 comments

Look at this view, coming into Deadwood from the north on US 85:

Deadwood, Terry Peak in distance at right

Deadwood, Terry Peak in distance at right, June 26, 2013.

If you look at this photo and say, "Let's go inside!" you have no soul.

But that's exactly the response on which Deadwood has built its economic development model, encouraging people to come over that hill and rush inside to gamble.

Tourism marketing expert Roger Brooks sees that model as part of Deadwood's problem. In a town meeting Friday, the downtown consultant told Deadwood's leaders that they are not defining who they are and not differentiating themselves in an intensely competitive tourism marketplace:

Nearly 150 business owners and managers, residents and local government officials attended Brooks' presentation Thursday night at the Deadwood Gulch Convention Center. They variously greeted Brook’s observations with applause, nods and complete silence.

“You have one of the best downtowns in the United States, and I’ve been in thousands of them,” Brooks told his audience. “But I could not figure out who you are. Are you 1940s, 1950s, retro? I wasn’t transported back in time to the 1870s. I was expecting Tombstone … and quite frankly it wasn’t here.”

...“Who the heck are you Deadwood?” he asked. “Where is the experience? You’re not delivering on the promise” [Tom Griffith, "Deadwood Needs to Fine Tune Its Identity, Downtown Consultant Says," Rapid City Journal, 2014.02.17].

But Deadwood's all about gambling, right? Big deal, says Brooks:

“The days of casino gaming as a brand are over,” he said, noting that Utah and Hawaii are the only states that don't have gaming. “It doesn’t make you different and that’s the problem. Even Las Vegas no longer promotes gambling. They’re the entertainment capital" [Griffith, 2014.02.17].

Brooks is writing up a comprehensive plan for Deadwood that will recommend clearer signage, better parking, and more public bathrooms, retail, and restaurants. Even that plan may not fully differentiate Deadwood. After all, just as lots of other places offer gambling, lots of other places offer a variety of retail and restaurants. Lots of other places offer the great outdoors.

But as my photo above suggests, I believe outdoor adventures should be a big part of whatever new marketing campaign Deadwood adopts from Brooks's suggestions. Think of Deadwood less as destination and more as base camp.

Start with the Mickelson Trail. It's great for crazy guys like me who dig long-distance pedaling adventures. But I'd also contend the Mickelson Trail is the most family-friendly mountain-bicycling experience in South Dakota. The gentle grade up from Deadwood to the Kirk trailhead, 3.5 miles south and west, is beautiful. Beyond Kirk, riders and walkers get a weird and wonderful combination of the industrial scars of mining, the soaring views and deep forest past Sugarloaf, and the oasis meadow at Englewood.

Perhaps the only disappointment of a Mickelson Trail ride from Deadwood and back is that you come back to an empty lot where nothing is happening, where there's not even a comfortable spot to lean your bike and sit on the grass (at least not the last time I looked). To make the Mickelson Trail more appealing, Deadwood could center its retail development around the trailhead at that crook in US 85 where Sherman Street becomes Charles. Get that grocery store back so riders can stock up on chow for the trail. Reopen a visitor center and a bike shop in that great old railroad depot. Plunk a couple restaurants in clear sight of the trailhead. Extend a clearly marked spur from the trailhead to the Mountain Grand and the downtown casino area, but make the Mickelson Trail gateway its own center of commerce and recreation.

Deadwood boosters could further expand the city's outdoor appeal with a network of bike and foot trails around the city. Hikers could find no end of amusement and adventure a half mile in either direction from downtown, heading north and west to Mt. Roosevelt or east past Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane on Mt. Moriah. Encourage people to spend the whole day outside, then come back to town for a sizzling steak, a pleasant stroll the shopping district, and a good concert (which the Mountain Grand is doing, thanks in part to EB-5 investors).

Casino gambling may have its place in boosting Deadwood's fortunes, but as Brooks notes, the tourism market has changed to make gambling a non-unique advantage. Instead of focusing on recreation that revolves around sitting indoors, Deadwood needs to look around and remember that its thrilling geography makes it the perfect place for folks who want to get outdoors.

24 comments

Did M. Michael Rounds know Richard Benda was up to mischief in the Governor's Office of Economic Development? His proclamation of Richard Benda Day on December 22, 2010, suggests he did:

M. Michael Rounds proclaims December 22, 2010, "Richard Benda Day" in South Dakota.

M. Michael Rounds proclaims December 22, 2010, "Richard Benda Day" in South Dakota.

Sorry about the low resolution; here's the full text:

Whereas, Many years ago in the town of Kimball, a young boy named Richard Benda learned three valuable life lessons: a good story can get you out of trouble; being a fast talker can get you out of more trouble; and being a team player and hard worker can keep you out of trouble; and,

Whereas, Richard put his story telling skills to work during his nearly 20-year tenure with the state of South Dakota by sharing stories about his time in upstate New York; his travels; his adventures with his daughter, Claire; his hilarious stories about his childhood in Kimball; and "the Janklow years"; and,

Whereas, Richard put his fast talking skills to work during his time at Tourism and State Development by convincing companies to move to South Dakota, investors to give money to South Dakota, banks to loan money to businesses, boards to approve those loans, and the Governor's Office to continue to approve his intense travel schedule; and,

Whereas, Richard put his team player and hard work skills to use by schlepping more boxes than he can count, logging more miles on his care than any other boss in the history of the department, stopping at small town business establishments just to check in, and by never quitting until the job was done; and,

Whereas, Richard now departs the Department of Tourism and State Development. We know his passion for this state, for his family, and for economic development will always be a part of who he is; and,

Whereas, it is fitting and proper as Governor to recognize Richard's contributions to the state of South Dakota during his many years of employment with state government;

Now, Therefore, I, M. Michael Rounds, Governor of the state of South Dakota, do hereby proclaim December 22, 2010, as

RICHARD BENDA DAY

in South Dakota.

[Governor M. Michael Rounds, proclamation, 2010.12.22]

Story telling, fast talking, more travel than any past GOED chief... M. Michael Rounds was writing either roast-quality satire or his own political obituary.

Either way, I'd love to know what was in all those boxes Benda was schlepping. Maybe the missing GOED records?

32 comments

Chad Haber and Annette Bosworth continue to drop inscrutable hints about their upcoming overseas travel. A pathetic online fundraiser earlier this month went nowhere, earning only $50 of the $2,000 goal. Yet Dr. Bosworth has tweeted that she has medications, volunteers, and divine intervention, as well as three solar panels, for the Philippines trip. And last Friday, Haber tweeted this photo of his wife booking tickets for the trip:

Bosworth booking tix for Philippines 20131221

What do you mean you don't accept raffle tickets for payment?

"We leave flying through Newark and return from Hawaii," tweets Haber. "Around the world in 10 days."

PHS has finally gotten around to scrubbing its bogus raffle rules from its website, but the non-profit has issued no formal press release on its Philippines medical mission. That the publicity- and donation-hungry Haber and Bosworth have not mounted any organized marketing campaign to publicize their trip and reach more potential donors seems illogical unless (1) they are too broke to perform basic marketing activities (and Bosworth's financial disclosure statement seems to say just that) or (2) this sneaky-tweet campaign is a striptease strategy.

Whatever the case, let's look at Haber's tweet and the actual costs of flying to the Philippines:

  1. Travelocity tells me that the cheapest fare for a ten-day, Sioux Falls-to-Manila itinerary a month from now is $1,382.89 per person, on United and All Nippon, with hops either to Chicago or Denver before the big ocean jump to Tokyo and then Manila.
  2. Trying to fly sooner, like next week, bumps the price for the same flight up over $3,700 per person.
  3. Flying a month later, like late February, knocks maybe $100-$130 off the late-January price.
  4. Trying to piece together the itinerary Haber describes, flying to the Philippines via Newark but returning via Hawaii, makes the Travelocity ticket price explode to $7,878 per person. I am able to punch that itinerary into Kayak.com and get tickets for $1,456... though that combo has United fliers bouncing from Sioux Falls to Denver, Newark, Los Angeles, then Honolulu and Guam before arriving in the Philippines.

The Bosworth-Habers' travel agent probably has more ticket-searching resources than I do, but it appears that our medical missionaries are choosing an itinerary slightly more expensive and significantly more complicated than necessary. If we're dropping off some medical supplies for underprivileged folks in Waikiki, that's great! But if we're simply underwriting a vacation stopover in Hawaii for a couple who claims only $17,500 in income in the last two years, that's not so great. If I were a PHS donor, I'd want a little assurance from Chad and Annette that they were using my dollars as efficiently as possible.

18 comments

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