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Russell Olson Says Opposition to Referred Law 16 Just Union Snark

Last updated on 2013.09.07

If everybody agrees on everything, you're still going to find things you disagree on.

—Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth), interview, KJAM, timestamp 9:51, published September 28, 2012.

I know from my daily classroom experience that when you're stringing together words off the top of your head, it's easy to end up with a sentence or two that you reread and say, "That didn't make any sense."

So let's not bust English major Senator Russell Olson's chops too hard for channeling Yogi Berra. Instead, let's focus on the arrogant, numbskull fantasy he concocts to justify his support for Referred Law 16 (née House Bill 1234).

Senator Olson says that of all the clunky ideological components of the Governor's education reform law, the elimination of continuing contract has drawn the most fire. Notice that Senator Olson does not explain how eliminating this due process protection for teachers will improve student outcomes. (It won't: continuing contract makes schools better.) Instead he leaps right to the strange alternative reality he inhabits, in which the real opposition to RL16 arose from a petulant teachers union that is just mad that Russ and the Governor are giving teachers a fifteen-million-dollar raise that the union could not. "Why would you want to pay union dues for something they can't deliver like that?" the Senator wonders rhetorically.

Never mind that the $15 million doesn't exist yet. Never mind that Referred Law 16 has no funding, just promises. Never mind that the $15 million Senator Olson "guaranteed" goes only to a few teachers who play the political game he prefers. Never mind that the promised but unappropriated $15 million is less than a third of what Senator Olson celebrated cutting from K-12 education last year.

In a real rhetorical wonder, Senator Olson postulates that his largesse agitated the South Dakota Education Association to rile people up to look at "the bad parts" of Referred Law 16.

Wow, Russ. Do you really believe the nonsense coming out of your mouth? I didn't walk around Spearfish, Chamberlain, and Madison collecting 500 signatures just because you think you made the teachers union look impotent. I circulated and 30,000-plus South Dakotans signed petitions to put your education bill on the ballot because it hurts students, schools, and teachers.

In the clearest sign that Senator Olson is in la-la land, when asked by KJAM's Sue Bergheim what he'll do next legislatively if we defeat Referred Law 16 at the polls (see 7:25 in the video), he says he wants his unelected committee of bureaucrats to come back with recommendations on the good parts of RL16 that will help the Legislature pass similar legislation to get that $15 million to "great-performing teachers." In other words, Senator Olson is doubling down on merit pay, one of the worst parts of the plan.

I'd send Senator Olson the copious evidence available showing that merit pay will not produce better teacher or student performance. But Senator Olson dismisses evidence. He claims (4:14) "there's gonna be researchers and studies on both sides of the fence." He does not cite and enver has cited a single reliable study on his side of the fence saying RL16 will work. But he brazenly fabricates his evidential stalemate and says that "if we don't try... we lose." That's just a reformulation of the "change for change's sake" fallacy to which RL16 boosters are so often reduced.

Wait, what's that you say, Russ?

It's too big of an issue to study and to settle in a 2-hour committee hearing... it is way too big of a topic to settle in several hours... [12:30]

I really do think that it is still premature as we educate ourselves to rush to some type of a law just to say that we're passing a law. The only thing that happens fast is an accident [Olson, 2012.09.28, 14:35].

Senator Olson is speaking in the same interview of drainage issues. Many of us made the same argument against HB 1234 last winter when we said the Legislature was moving too fast on the at-least-as-complicated issue of education policy and called for a summer study. Senator Olson didn't want to rush into legislation that might hamper corporate farms' efforts to plow every inch of land into corn and beans. Senator Olson's cautious logic disappears when he wants to conduct ideological experiments on our schools and kids.

But Senator Olson isn't really interested in rational deliberation or education policy. He just wants to lie and snark about the teacher's union and do the Governor's ideological bidding.

Senator Olson lacks the desire and the smarts to do better. But District 8, you can do better.


  1. owen 2012.10.25

    sounds to me the state needs Charlie Johnson!!!!

  2. Dougal 2012.10.25

    Wow. Russ sounds dumb in this clip, rattling on with a string of Daugaard-approved talking points glued together with dull legislator gibberish ("and, y'know, no bill's perfect") just to hear himself talk. Is he incapable of an original thought? Why does this hack win elections in a district with a state university and plenty of educated people?

  3. Daniel Willard 2012.10.25

    Oh man Russell Olson really has his head in the sand on this! I've been out canvassing for candidates beginning in March in South Dakota and everyone hates this bill no matter what political affiliation anyone has.

  4. grudznick 2012.10.25

    Russ looks good.

    His haircut is sharp and I bet he's got some new ideas in the works to shape that union up and cut fatcat administrator parking spaces and consolidate superintendents and presidents.

  5. Charlie Johnson 2012.10.25

    HB1234 never received an appropriation. No one can claim they have given teachers an extra dime under HB1234. Or for that matter, use a senseless political arm shot at SDEA.

  6. grudznick 2012.10.25

    SDEA should be disbanded and their funds given to hungry children.

  7. larry kurtz 2012.10.25

    Mr. Olson clearly has an anger management issue comorbid with anxiety bordering on panic disorder.

  8. Justin 2012.10.25

    That's how I feel about the AARP, Grudz.

  9. Wayne Pauli 2012.10.25

    Charlie's post regarding the appropriation is almost verbatim what the Senator told me in an email toward the end of last session. My feeling is that many people are just going to vote no on 14, 15, and 16. And if they do that, they should also not vote for any incumbents. Let's start over because what we are doing now is not working.

  10. grudznick 2012.10.25

    Prepare to avenge!

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.25

    I could live with South Dakotans voting no on every ballot measure and every incumbent on their ballots.

    Dan, I find your words encouraging! But now consider: are all those anti-16 folks you talk to in any way a biased group? Do you and I both just hang out with people inclined to back our politics and thus oppose HB 1234? Is there some vast "Dennis knows best" majority of the electorate who will foist this disaster on our schools just to make a snarky ideological point?

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