You folks think I go too far in razzing folks in the public eye for their Christmas cards? Check out Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey's take on the Christmas card Dollar Loan Center boss Chuck Brennan is sending:

Rep. Rev. Hickey says the recipient of this card reported that Brennan included $100 with this card. The recipient donated that $100 to South Dakotans for Responsible Lending, the group Rep. Rev. Hickey has formed with Sioux Falls restaurateur Steve Hildebrand to place on the 2016 ballot an initiative to cap interest rates at 36% and put Brennan and other payday lenders out of business.

Brennan shows his true values by featuring on the cover of his Christmas card not his family but a glowing glamour shot of his new house in Newport Beach, California. Zillow lists the May 2014 sale price of this 6,600-square-foot mansion as $9,000,000, with an estimated monthly mortgage payment larger than the annual paychecks of two-thirds of Brennan's customers.

Further tackiness ensues as Brennan mentions that his dog "doesn't really do a whole hell of a lot," language even this secular materialist would never consider using in a Christmas card. Brennan then closes by spending as much time talking up his business ventures as his family... because that's what Christmas is all about: business and the accumulation of material wealth (and, Gaia help us, a TV show about his upcoming pawn shop).

Brennan probably just whipped this Christmas card up himself. For the fight against the interest-rate-cap initiative, the payday loan magnate will surely hire much more skilled message-meisters to persuade South Dakotans not to interfere with Brennan's exploitation of South Dakota's working poor. After all, South Dakotans need those triple-digit-interest loans... and his fourth-grade son needs those summer sailing lessons.

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Last weekend, usury boss Chuck Brennan warned that we'd be party-poopers if we dared to pass an initiative to cap lending rates at 36% and effectively put him and other payday lenders out of business.

It turns out that was just a political head fake. Brennan announced yesterday he's having to postpone "Chuck's Kegger," his proposed Ribfest-challenging chili-and-music festival, not because of political pressure, but because he couldn't get his groups in a hoop:

Brennan said the inaugural Chuck's Kegger would be delayed and attributed the delay to scheduling problems with performers.

"Everyone is on board with the project but artists' schedules are hard to predict and the stars have not quite aligned yet," Brennan wrote in a statement posted Thursday on the event's website. "We appreciate the avalanche of support that we have gotten on the kegger and I'm sure there will be more news to come."

Planning for the event had been underway for around six months and included a website, logo, ticket prices and informational packets.

It's unclear when Chuck's Kegger will now occur, if ever.

Brennan did not return a call for comment Thursday [David Montgomery, "Week After Announcement, Rock Festival Delayed," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.19].

Oh, yeah, announce your music festival before you ink the musicians—brilliant.

Poof goes one empty threat from the nervous usury industry. Keep your eyes open for more as the interest-rate initiative gets rolling in 2015.

Tangentially related update (12:57 CST): No kegger, but more Keg: Keg Chicken is returning to Sioux Falls.

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The payday lending industry is so worried about the Hickey-Hildebrand initiative to cap interest rates, they are threatening to take away our beer and ribs. In David Montgomery's last Sunday report, Dollar Loan Center founder and alpha shark Chuck Brennan warns of the profound cultural impact of shutting down his usury industry:

That includes "Chuck's Kegger," a new summer rock-and-roll festival starting next year in Sioux Falls. When he announced Chuck's Kegger this week, Brennan said he'd made a long-term commitment to the festival — but would change in a heartbeat if voters approve a rate cap in 2016.

"The event would end there," Brennan said. "If it isn't for the money coming in from Dollar Loan Center, there aren't these big concerts and donations. We donate every penny we get from the state of South Dakota" [David Montgomery, "Payday Loans Could Cease in South Dakota," that Sioux Falls online content experience, 2014.12.14].

(What? The state of South Dakota is giving payday lenders money? Let's knock that off right away!)

Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey knows the Bible is much clearer on the sinfulness of usury than the ills of missing out on one more kegger. Rep. Rev. Hickey responds to Brennan's empty threat appropriately:

"We will survive one less rib/keg-fest," Hickey said. "I care a lot more that that money is coming from people who can't afford chicken on their table at night. If he wants to say he's going to pull his big party away from here, I'm sorry" [Montgomery, 2014.12.14].

Heck, if South Dakota passes their initiative, I'll bet Pastor Hickey's Church at the Gate would be more than happy to have everyone over for potato soup supper and fellowship.

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"18, 19, 20-plus percent interest,  do I think that's a healthy thing  for human beings? The answer is no,  I don't think that's healthy at all." —Bill Janklow, 2004.08.24The conservatariat is bracing for battle with the unholy alliance of liberal barista Steve Hildebrand and vengeful Reverend Republican Rep. Steve Hickey, who plan to launch an initiated measure to cap interest rates at 36%. (People love coffee, and people love Jesus; payday lenders, you're toast.)

P&R Miscellany and Troy Jones both lay out the business justification for high rates and fees for short-term lending. Both say that the Hildebrand-Hickey initiative will put payday lenders out of business. P&R, to his credit, does not deny that payday lending "is a defective instrument or that it is sold to the ignorant and unsophisticated."

Rep. Hickey acknowledges his initiative would kill the exploitative payday lending industry. He says they asked for it:

A 36% cap puts payday, title and signature loans shops out of business in SD. Last year they had the opportunity to cooperate with our coalition and implement reasonable regulation that would have curtailed their biz by 20% but would have kept their doors open and profitable. The voters will have an opportunity to decide their fate [Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey, comment, P&R Miscellany, 2014.11.28].

Jones runs deeper numbers than P&R, then peers up through his green eyeshade and posits an argument he's shared with us before: payday lending serves a market need, and putting them out of business will make borrowers lose their jobs and their kids go hungry:

It is easy to assert that 36% APR is usurious. But, deep in my heart, I believe this industry serves a need that is important to those who utilize this source of credit. Rather than resorting to emotional bromides of who cares more about the poor, if we are going to appeal to this emotion in a ballot, let’s make sure we are also acknowledging the consequences [Troy Jones, "'We Must Not Resort to the Flame Where Only Light Is Required' (Les Miserables)," Dakota War College, 2014.11.28].

I could reëngage Jones in a discussion of the comparable consequences of outlawing usury and prostitution. Instead, let's talk literature.

The translated quote Jones misappropriates for his title comes from Volume 2, Book 7 of Les Misérables, a lengthy parenthesis (really, Hugo titled this section Parenthèse) in which Hugo dismisses monastic life as an anachronistic sore whose "superstitions, bigotries, hypocrisies, [and] prejudices" we ought to purge from modern life. (Careful, Troy: headlines like that could get you nuked by your blog host for anti-Catholic bigotry.)

To invoke Hugo in an excuse for payday usury is to miss a main theme of Hugo's masterwork: society's downtrodden are poor and hungry because society's institutions are stacked against them and force them to submit to exploitation. Hugo's hero is not a banker who profits from fleecing desperate borrowers; Hugo's hero, Jean Valjean, is a felon who becomes a philanthropist dedicated to overturning a system that exploits the poor.

In other words, Victor Hugo would probably shine a light on the payday lenders and vote for the Hildebrand-Hickey initiative to put Dollar Loan Center out of business. (Jean Valjean would likely help the revolutionary Enjolras burn Dollar Loan Center down, but let's leave the fictional flaming to the Republicans, shall we?)

O.K., so we have the coffee crowd, the Jesus crowd, and the French lit crowd on the side of an interest-cap initiative that would give every citizen a legal protection that federal law already gives to soldiers and their families. You'd better polish up that business case, Troy; you're running out of constituencies!

Un couvent en France, en plein midi du dix-neuvième siècle, c'est un collège de hiboux faisant face au jour. Un cloître, en flagrant délit d'ascétisme au beau milieu de la cité de 89, de 1830 et de 1848, Rome s'épanouissant dans Paris, c'est un anachronisme. En temps ordinaire, pour dissoudre un anachronisme et le faire évanouir, on n'a qu'à lui faire épeler le millésime. Mais nous ne sommes point en temps ordinaire. A monastery in France, in the full noon of the nineteenth century, is a school of owls confronting the day. A cloister, in caught in the blatant act of asceticism in the very heart of the city of '89, 1830, and 1848, Rome blossoming in Paris, is an anachronism. In ordinary times, to dissolve an anachronism and make it vanish, one would only have to make it spell out the date. But we are in no ordinary time.
Combattons. Let us fight.
Combattons, mais distinguons. Le propre de la vérité, c'est de n'être jamais excessive. Quel besoin a-t-elle d'exagérer? Il y a ce qu'il faut détruire, et il y a ce qu'il faut simplement éclairer et regarder. L'examen bienveillant et grave, quelle force! N'apportons point la flamme là où la lumière suffit. Let us fight, but let us distinguish. The particular property of the truth is to never be excessive. What need has the truth of exaggerating? There is that which must be destroyed, and there is that which needs simply to be lit up and looked at. A kindly and serious investigation—what power! Let's bring no flame where light will suffice.
—Victor Hugo, Les misérables, tome 2 (Cosette), livre 7 (Parenthèse), chapitre 3 ("À quelle condition on peut respecter le passé"), 1862 translation, Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, volume 2 (Cosette), book 7 (Parenthesis), chapter 3 ("Under What Condition Can One Respect the Past"), 1862)
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While my comment section lights up with debate about whether Jeff Barth agrees with us on enough policies to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party, Republican Rep. Steve Hickey announces he's teaming with Democratic consultant and über-barista Steve Hildebrand to put a payday loan interest cap on the ballot:

Though they disagree on issues like same-sex marriage, they do agree on one thing: payday loans exploit South Dakota’s poor and elderly.

“We are planning, and have been planning, to bring this thing to the ballot in 2016,” Hickey said. “The polls are on our side, the people in South Dakota understand that 36 percent is enough interest rate for a person to make some money” [Todd Epp, "Hickey, Hildebrand Form Group to Put Payday Loan Interest Cap on Ballot," Northern Plains News, 2014.11.26].

Rep. Hickey got burned by the payday lenders last session, when the usury industry betrayed him on viable compromise legislation that the industry recommended to check abuse of consumers. Rep. Hickey is now following up on the initiative vow he made last winter to subject the payday lenders to the rate-capping wrath of the voters, and he's getting Steve Hildebrand to help bring the fight.

Hickey and Hildebrand are one of the oddest South Dakota couples we could cobble together. They disagree vehemently over social issues. But if they birth this rate-cap initiative, they could model for us all how South Dakotans can work around their radically different views to identify common goals and produce practical solutions.

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Gordon Howie believes David Brat's primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia's Seventh District bodes well for Howie's hard Indy climb against Mike Rounds for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat:

While this is being tagged as a “tea party” win, Brat affirms that the real victory came from his uncompromising support of the Republican Party platform, which deals with less government control, free market solutions and faith in God.

When given a clear choice between an establishment candidate with lots of money and a conservative with a commitment to principle, voters will continue to choose principle over politics [Gordon Howie, "Howie Says Cantor Loss Indicates Big Trouble for Mike Rounds," campaign press release, 2014.06.11].

As was the case in his April interview with me, Howie appears to assert that he can win Independent votes with "uncompromising" Republican principles. I feel a disconnect there.

Gordon Howie graphic, celebrating Dave Brat's primary victory over Eric Cantor, June 13, 2014

Gordon Howie graphic, celebrating Dave Brat's primary victory over Eric Cantor, June 13, 2014

So does my friend Leo Kallis, who sees Howie alienating everyone to his left (which is 98% of us) with his standard hard theo-right pitches unmodulated for an Independent run. Contrary to the heavenly graphic Howie glues to his underdog devotional, Brat's primary win is not an Easter parable or a fulfillment of Christian poster prophecy. This Christian God I keep hearing about is not registered to vote in Virginia or anywhere else and probably does not need any economics professor or former thrift shop owner to win an election to save His Creation.

Like Howie, Brat mixes too much Jesus juice with his politics, and mixes it badly. In this September 2011 paper on usury and capitalism, which Union Theological Seminary must have been asleep at its editorial switch to allow on the pages of its journal Interpretation, Brat mashes bits of his education (master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, Ph.D. in economics from American University) into something that reads more like an exuberant if uncomfortable stump speech-revival tent mashup than a scholarly essay on either theology or economics.

Brat blithely dismisses contemporary Christian critiques of usury as inconsistent leftist attempts to devilishly cite Scripture for their purpose. (I would love to hear Brat's response to the usury critique offered by our own brave pastor and Republican state legislator Steve Hickey.) Those darned leftists just want to dismantle capitalism, says Brat, and that's a non-starter, because, by God, capitalism is awesome and it's here to stay:

The answer to usury is likely a good proxy for the answer to where one stands on capitalism. And there, my friends, we have a good story, because that is the story of our day. Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful. We set alarm clocks to follow the schedule of the market. Children leave their families to follow the job market. We often weigh our social worth by looking to market wages, salaries, and consumption patterns. We spend much more time on market activity than God activity. Thus, Calvinism [David Brat, "God and Advanced Mammon—Can
Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?," Interpretation, September 2011].

Worth noting: Brat's opponent, Jack Trammell, teaches sociology.

More worth noting: dissolving families, defining self-worth by money and consumption, and spending more time shopping than praying and serving God all sound pretty unChristian. But instead of offering a proper pulpit-y critique of capitalism's undermining of the church, Brat tells his fellow believers that "capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality."

That's funny. I thought Christians, like Jesus, always put ought above is. I thought Christians were supposed to upset the apple cart and not give in to the awesome, inevitable, unbeatable Goliath... which is what David Brat says Christians did with Rome:

Rome was hard to budge. Jesus did not go after Rome, but a few hundred years later, Rome was a Christian empire [Brat, 2011].

Back in 33 A.D., lots of people said, "Rome is here to stay." Lots of Roman subjects would have said then what Brat says of the capitalist empire today: that it does all sorts of good (ecce aquæductum!), that we should fit our religion to it, Hail Caesar!

Jesus said pay your taxes, but he didn't embrace empire the way Brat does... and the way, dare I say, Howie does. Entangling Christianity and Empire didn't go well for the Church then (thus, Luther!), and it won't go well for believers now.

Gordon Howie will have trouble winning Independents. With his Hail-Mary triumphalism about Brat's win and Brat's principles, he may not even win conservative Christians trying to get their theology right.

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...and has to help kill an abortion ban.

Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey is having a tough week. He saw two measures he sponsored defeated in committee, and he had to help kill a third that he decided was too risky to support.

This morning, amidst hard, emotional testimony, the Sioux Falls Republican saw House Bill 1183, his effort to repeal South Dakota's death penalty, killed in committee on a 7–6 vote. Rep. Hickey has publicly documented his conversion on capital punishment, contending that the death penalty is bad policy on retribution, deterrence, safety, closure, and economics.

Democrat Bernie Hunhoff supported Hickey, saying, "I just don't think you can kill enough people to make [South Dakota] a better place." Three Republicans—Lust, Munsterman, and Conzet—voted with Hunhoff and Dems Parsley and Killer (yes, irony) to move HB 1183 to the House floor, but Democrat Peggy Gibson voted with the slim and uncomfortable majority of Republicans to bury Hickey's repeal.

This defeat comes on the heels of Wednesday's firmer rejection of Rep. Hickey's HB 1255, his proposal to rein in payday lenders. Rep. Hickey thought he'd tempered his anti-usury politics into a compromise palatable to the payday-lending industry. He thought he had a deal with an industry that was just glad to see him back away from a threat to bring a crushing payday-lending interest cap to a public vote. He was wrong; payday lenders lined up to cry out against these reasonable regulations. House State Affairs killed HB 1255 11–2.

Fine, says Rep. Hickey. That's the way the usury industry wants to play? It's back to the ballot:

...Hickey said he’s done negotiating.

“This is a bunch of games. These people expressly told me to put this stuff in the bill, and now they’re here opposing it,” Hickey said. “They should have been in here supporting the bill. But instead they’re going to face a rate cap” [David Montgomery, "S.D. Ballot Fight Vowed on High-Interest Payday Loans," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.02.19].

I won't tease you too hard, Steve, for trusting payday lenders. Just hand me that petition when it comes.

To top it off, Rep. Hickey now has to come home and explain to District 9 voters why he voted against an abortion restriction.

Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) pitched House Bill 1240 to House Health and Human Services on Thursday. HB 1240 would have outlawed aborting fetuses with Down Syndrome. In the ongoing dishonesty of anti-abortion crusaders, Rep. Latterell asked that we punish the doctors who perform such abortions but not the women who approve and pay for what Latterell and his fellow campaigners blithely call murder and genocide.

Opposition had little to do with Down Syndrome and everything to do with women's rights and abortion in general. NARAL and others testified against HB 1240, saying that it was really an effort to drive another wedge between women and their legal right to bodily autonomy. An emotional Rep. Kathy Tyler, who described herself as a Catholic pro-life Democrat, said she'd never urge anyone to have an abortion, said HB 1240 was unenforceable and would only promote lying (women just wouldn't tell doctors their reason for having an abortion).

Rep. Hickey said he agrees with everything in HB 1240. He said there is nothing more despicable to him than abortion. He said the "callous buzzards" in the legal department at Planned Parenthood were secretly rooting for this bill so they could challenge it in court. He called NARAL and the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families "wicked." He said he worried there was a case that could undermine the whole complex legal battle he and fellow anti-abortion crusaders are waging in South Dakota to overturn Roe v. Wade.

House Health and Human Services split on a motion to pass the bill, 6–6. The committee then banished the bill to the 41st day on an 8–4 vote. Rep. Steve Hickey voted both times against HB 1240.

Hickey has his reasons, but now he must march the campaign trail with a vote against an abortion ban on his scorecard.

South Dakota will continue to kill prisoners. South Dakota will continue to countenance exploitative lending practices. South Dakota will see religious crusaders continue to wage a complex, multi-pronged, and uncompromising campaign against women's rights. It's been a tough week in Pierre for Steve Hickey and for South Dakota.

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Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) continues to fight the payday-loan industry's exploitation of South Dakota's working class. He has threatened to shut the usurers down with legislation and a ballot initiative to cap their interest rates at levels that would wreck their abusive business models.

Now Rep. Hickey is offering House Bill 1255, a compromise that he says he crafted in conjunction with the leaders of the usury industry whom he has made so nervous.

HB 1255 does not fix interest rates. Instead, it changes the maximum principal of a payday loan from $500 to $700 or 25% of the borrower's gross monthly income. That's an intriguing free-market compromise: Rep. Hickey would allow usurers to lure folks making more than two grand a month with somewhat larger loans; in return, he would lower the amount for which the payday lenders can get lower-income workers on the hook.

HB 1255 also grants consumers a brief "borrower's remorse" period. If borrowers take a payday loan, sleep off the pitch man's sweet talk, and realize the next morning that borrowing at 391% is a really bad idea, they can hand back the money and cancel the loan that day.

HB 1255 creates a statewide online database, managed by the state Division of Banking, to monitor whether the payday lenders comply with Rep. Hickey's proposals. HB 1255 assesses a transaction fee to pay for the database, which payday lenders will likely pass on to their borrowers. In addition, HB 1255 charges payday lenders five cents for each loan they make to support the consumer credit counseling fund, plus a $750 license fee surcharge to support a new financial literacy education fund... rather like charging the tobacco industry to pay for public education campaigns to get people to stop smoking.

House Commerce and Energy has left this bill on the shelf for over a week. Let's hit the books, Chairman Solum, and start talking about whether HB 1255 does enough to protect South Dakota workers from predatory lenders.

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