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GOP to South Dakota Youth: Don’t Get Educated, Don’t Travel, Don’t Strive

Last updated on 2012.12.17

The South Dakota Republican Party is run by a guy from Minnesota. Rep. Kristi Noem's campaign is run by a guy from Minnesota. These non-South Dakotans put together an extended video arguing that Matt Varilek isn't South Dakotan enough:

Mr. Ehrisman was first to notice the ad, and he recognizes immediately how showing Matt Varilek traveling the world and working on policy issues could cast him in a more positive light than it does Kristi Noem, who stays home and "plays restaurant, cashes checks for farm subsidies, and pretends to fix fence."

Mr. Montgomery, a smart reporter here by way of Illinois and Iowa, offers a perceptive critique of the unhealthy, anti-intellectual, anti-talent attitude projected by the pro-Noem video:'s not like Varilek is a pure carpetbagger who lived his whole life in some other state and moved here just to run for office. He grew up here, left to go to college and to start work, then eventually married, came back home and had a few kids. I think that's a pretty common experience for South Dakotans -- an experience this video implies is suspect.

...More to the point, compared to issues like tax policy, the future of social programs like Medicare, the fate of the farm bill, and the shape of the country's laws on issues like abortion and marriage, this seems like a silly and distracting issue. And you can decide whether Noem or Varilek is the better person to tackle these issues without looking at whether they studied abroad [David Montgomery, "SDGOP Hits Varilek as Globetrotting Radical," Political Smokeout, October 18, 2012].

This Republican ad plays to the South Dakota mentality that David Newquist has explained in his critiques of small-town small-mindedness that drives away youth and talent. We tell our kids we want them to seek opportunities and do big things. The best and brightest do seek those opportunities at big universities and in big jobs around the world. But when they come back to South Dakota to contribute their time and talent and raise their families in small-town bliss, we hold them suspect. We make them feel like their studies at Carleton and Oxford, their travels overseas, and their remarkable work elsewhere somehow betrayed their South Dakota roots.

A South Dakota ex-pat friend and I were talking about exactly this issue last week. When he travels, he always manages to run into other South Dakota ex-pats. No matter how long they've been gone from the state, they speak of South Dakota with a fondness, fascination, and familiarity that seems unique to South Dakota natives. South Dakota takes hold of the souls that are born here. We create an unusual spiritual tension when we tell those successful, talented people, "We don't need your kind around here."

I can understand that, with a unintellectual Congresswoman who hasn't achieved anything, the Republicans' only resort is to portray intellect and achievement as bad things. But this GOP video comparing Noem and Varilek fosters an attitude that will only drive young and talented people away from South Dakota. That is unfair to those whiz kids, and it's unfair to South Dakota.

Update 2012.12.17: In 2010, a state legislator observed that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has "too much talent to stay here." The GOP distaste for real talent mingles with a statewide inferiority complex.


  1. Rorschach 2012.10.19

    What year was it that Noem got pregnant, dropped out of college, inherited a million bucks? That wasn't on the video. What years was it she was getting all the tickets, skipping court and picking up warrants for her arrrest?

    Man, that video makes me want a corn dog for lunch!

  2. Michael Black 2012.10.19

    You don't have to leave South Dakota to pursue your dreams or take advantage of great opportunities. We have some of the best schools in the nation. The notion that parents must encourage their kids to accumulate tens of thousands of dollars in additional student loan debt just so they can attend school out of state is just wrong. Elitists will tell you that you must leave South Dakota far behind to pursue your dreams. I am telling you that they have never been more wrong.

  3. Steve Sibson 2012.10.19

    This thread provides more understanding why so many are sick ad tired of politics. Reality is that both political parties only care about us for our votes.

  4. Bill Fleming 2012.10.19

    Grudznick told me he would rather watch Kristi eat a corn dog than Matt. I asked him what he meant by that, but then he got kind of quiet, went back to his gravy taters and said to never mind.

  5. Tony Simons 2012.10.19

    In response to Mr. Black's post. Young people can run up big student loan debt right in South Dakota. SD college students are struggling with paying off their college loans. I was raised in Madison and did leave South Dakota to pursue my dreams and career in education. When I wanted to come back home I found there was little opportunity for me in South Dakota and none in Madison. Now I have migrated east to Minnesota because of career opportunities but still hold Madison close to my heart. Mr. Black my dreams didn't have an opportunity in South Dakota and for many they would say that you are wrong.

  6. L:K 2012.10.19

    Michael seems to be missing the distinction between "necessary" and "common." It is not "necessary" to hire a professional photographer to document a wedding, but it is "common" to do so. It may not be "necessary" for students to leave the state, but it is "common" for them to do so. It is also common for them to return.

    The video implies that that Varelick's action were both unnecessary and uncommon, and he is, therefore, rendered unfit for office. That lie plays well with cultural xenophobes and perpetuates the myth that South Dakota is cultural backwater.

  7. mike 2012.10.19

    Post is the worst Executive Director the SD GOP has ever had. The team is bad.

  8. Joe 2012.10.19

    Where did John Thune go to college? (California) Who also worked as a staffer in D.C.? John Thune. Who was a lobbyist? John Thune.

    We do have great schools, and you can go a long ways achieving a degree from one of them, but to say that parents should only tell their kids to go to instate colleges/universities or that only have dreams that you can achieve within the state borders is upsetting and just flat out wrong.

  9. David Newquist 2012.10.19

    A decade ago, educational, political, and business leaders were dedicating themselves to addressing the "brain drain." They openly acknowledged that talented young people were leaving the state, both by necessity and choice. The reasons were economic, social, and cultural. Educators and everyone else involved in working with young people were enlisted in the effort to stop the outmigration. Jobs that were commensurate with educations and ambitions were the basic factor addressed, and efforts were made to attract new businesses and expand existing ones. In the Aberdeen region, a few small firms which required education and ability came in, but they were transitory. Jobs were added, but they were not jobs which required education and specialized talents. The state government's promotion of the state were directed at firms seeking to pay low wages and low taxes with minimal regulation. South Dakota is on study lists which regard those factors as making the best business climate. But factors such as infrastructure and support which attracts and maintains talented enterprise are glossed over.

    Another factor is that the consolidation of agriculture continues at a steady pace, continuing to shrink and empty out the smaller towns.

    A member of my family has been searching for a job for months now, and the fact is that possibilities of finding work at a commensurate level of education and experience have been few and are exhausted. The search has shifted to other communities in other states and a move appears inevitable.

    The current claims of opportunities offered within the state have no correspondence with the reality,

  10. Donald Pay 2012.10.19

    This is pretty easy, since I've lived it. If a person comes in from out of state with a nuclear waste dump, corporate hogs, or sewage ash Republicans have no problem. If they come in or returns to the state with concerns about the environment or supporting alternative energy sources that compete with the people who fund the Republican Party, they aren't welcome.

  11. Winston 2012.10.19

    This video is classic South Dakota Republican scare tactics. They are trying to do to Matt Varilek in this video what Republicans use to do to George McGovern back in the 1970s, claiming, "He is not one of us." These tactics are pathetic and acts of desperation, but to some degree they work because they reach out to the emotional intelligence versus the scholastic intelligence of the average voter.

    However, as long as this video remains at over 2 minutes I feel only the true partisans will ever see it. This video would need to be reduced to 30 seconds or a minute and placed on tv to have any real impact. I do not think that can be done if the Republicans want to also get the emotional message across as well.

  12. Charlie Johnson 2012.10.19

    A sad day for the Republican party, that they have resorted to this kind of ad. All it tells me is that Ms. Noem is sinking fast in the polls and will probably lose on election day.

  13. Jerry 2012.10.19

    So that is why no Farm Bill. I knew there was something going on with her lack of leadership for the ag country in South Dakota. She is ignorant to the fact that there is a drought here and it is affecting everyone in the state but those who do not make a living in the industry.

    Of course, her moolah comes from "other" sources and the rest of farm and ranch country, can wait as she is doing her work for the New National Republicans. She is a "no" vote for all things that will advance America, including farmers and ranchers. We all know that the new republicans do not give squat about the farmers and ranchers who are suffering this drought.

    Varilek understands what climate change really is, and has degrees and papers to show it. We here in South Dakota are going to have to change with the change, so we need someone who at least understands the fact that it not only exists but also a voice in how to adust our crops and adjust the resources we have. I actually want someone who can drink a beer and eat a corndog. That tells me that he is more in the spirit of this state than someone who looks down on that. I find it difficult to believe that when you run a tax payer funded hunting camp, you don't have a beer with the gang. I am quite sure that she has pounded back a few sometime in her travels, no matter what she tries to conceal now. While it is good that she got a degree, she sure hasn't learned much about South Dakota.

  14. larry kurtz 2012.10.19

    Ouch! Rasmussen: #Missouri Senate: #McCaskill 51%, #Akin 43%: source.

  15. Stan Gibilisco 2012.10.19

    "I can understand that, with a unintellectual Congresswoman..."

    The tyrannical editor foameth at the moutheth!

    "... who hasn't achieved anything, the Republicans' only resort is to portray intellect and achievement as bad things."

    Nooo, Cory. You have us Republicans pegged completely wrong. It's not that intellect and achievement are bad. It's that stupidity and failure are good.

    And snarkiness is best of all.

  16. Joe 2012.10.19

    I'm not going to knock jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree from a 4 year university because someone has to do it and many are good paying jobs. But I'd like to know how many jobs in South Dakota where a masters degree would not make you over-qualified. My guess is other then the University systems very few. Heck a bachelor's degree makes you over qualified for many of the jobs available in South Dakota.

  17. Justin 2012.10.19

    Mr Black, I hate to break it to you, but there are jobs you simply cannot get graduating from any of our SD schools. In fact, even if I strongly advocated for an undergraduate from any of our schools, none of the employers I have ever had would interview such a candidate, even if they had a 4.0 and were actually qualified. Life isn't fair.

    This is just silly. DD went to Northwestern. Thune went out of state to school, albeit a marginal school. Our GOP Speaker David Lust went to the best school of all in far away New Hampshire (ok I'll fess up, we share the same alma mater and I just spent the past three days there).

    I would guess the vast majority of SD parents have children that were either educated or live out of state. I don't see this ad resonating with many South Dakotans. Noem and her campaign greatly underestimate us.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.19

    Winston: "not one of us"? That's the line they ran against McGovern? Ugh: Kristi's flyers all describe her as "one of us." Same line. Same thinking. Same xenophobia.

    What Kristi and the GOP don't understand is that having people with connections to other places and cultures and networks improves our own knowledge. Alienating those "network bridgers" makes those folks want to go away to other networks, where their ability to contribute their unique South Dakota perspective will be as desirable and beneficial as their ability to contribute outside perspectives ought to be here in South Dakota.

    But wait: as Dr. Newquist and LK have suggested elsewhere, that's exactly what the GOP appears to want. They don't want new ideas from elsewhere shaking up their groupthink and their hold on power.

  19. Donald Pay 2012.10.20

    Who it won't resonate with the most are the Republicans who value academic and career achievement and who themselves are sending their children to good schools in other states.

  20. Rorschach 2012.10.20

    You're right Justin. As the first in my family to graduate from college, I went to a SD school. Had I known the struggles I would face in SD, I would have gone out of state to college and probably never returned. I know there are jobs not open to me that would be open to me if I had a Dartmouth degree. If I'm competing, even in SD, with someone with an ivy league degree or even a nationally known university degree I don't get the job - even when the person hiring went to the same school as me.

    The political class sends its kids to school out of state. It's good to live elsewhere and see a different way of doing things even if you want to return to SD someday. My kids will go to the best schools they can get into. And doors will open for them. Either here or somewhere else.

  21. Justin 2012.10.20

    R, you should also be aware that the top private universities, while prohibitively expensive, are extremely generous to lower income families. I don't have the up to date levels, but there was a competition going on pre-recession to offer free tuition to students that come from lower income families, which is extremely relevant to SD. I learned on my trip this week that these programs are still in place. I don't have the numbers, but I believe 6 years ago Dartmouth provided free tuition to students of families with 60k or less in household income, and Harvard and Stanford provided free tuition to households with under 100k in household income. All of the top private schools are on that spectrum thanks to their massive endowments and the intense competition. For many South Dakotans that could mean one spouse quitting their job could result in free tuition of, say 40k after tax per year. Know the rules and encourage your kids to be ambitious in their goals and applications.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.21

    Justin, that's part of why I stay in teaching: at these wages, my daughter can get into Harvard for free!

    We already have some serious conversations about where we'd like our six-year-old to go to university. SDSU might make the list. But we already think our little one will profit immensely by going to college out of state for exactly the "elsewhere" perspective that R (not to mention much of our political class when they're making choices for their own kids, not composing cynical, culturally harmful political ads) recognizes as valuable.

  23. Les 2012.10.21

    I'd like to see the stats on the numbers of low income educated by those Ivy League institutions.

    That's a pipe dream most would never achieve regardless of scholastic ability.

    I do have a native friend whose above average below exceptional daughter got the full ride through Dartmouth.

    There are enough folks with money to buy their very average kids a ride through and slug these schools with poor performers leaving no chairs for the lower income who excel.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.21

    Les, you can find some relevant stats in this May 2012 Forbes article:

    —60% of incoming students at elite law schools come from the top 10% income bracket; 5% of those law students come from the bottom half income bracket.
    —Three quarters of undergrads at "competitive" universities come from the upper income quartile; 10% of undergrads come from the bottom half.
    —Nationwide, 55% of bachelor's degrees go to students from upper-quartile families; 9.4% go to kids from families making under $33K (I'm assuming that's the lower quartile).

  25. Les 2012.10.21

    Yes Corey, it affirms my thoughts. Our middle to lower income kids have a similar chance at wining the lottery as they do to gain entry into an Ivy League institution.

  26. Justin 2012.10.21

    I disagree with that, Les. The admission rates are far better than your chances of winning the lottery and the best schools have need blind admissions.

    There were three south dakotans in my Dartmouth class and one of them was the son of a minister. I didn't get any financial aid and I have no idea about the third classmate's situation.

    Every school wants to say they have students from all 50 states and that helps, too. My friends always joked that I was affirmative action coming from a graduating class of 12 in SD. When I graduated in the top 5% and they didn't, they backed off that claim.

    If you really want your kids to get accepted and you are capable, home schooling

  27. Justin 2012.10.21

    ... is a coveted demographic. But not the kind where you teach out of the Bible and ignore science.

  28. Eric 2012.10.29

    I had to look this ad up after my father was telling me about it. It certainly is laughable! I can see that they were hoping to play on the environmental wacko angle, appealing to an uneducated Christian farmer mentality which Noem seems to embody. If the best she and her party can do in this state is encourage the worst possible traits of its people, then maybe they shouldn't even run in this state. Maybe South Dakota can lead the way in booting the GOP out in favor of the Libertarian Party.

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