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Four Things I Got Wrong in 2012

When people ask why I blog, one of the reasons I give is the challenge of writing on the public highwire. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to do it every day in front of a crowd, knowing that if you screw up, everyone will see you screw up, and they will hoot about it. That constant scrutiny encourages every online writer to get his or her facts and analysis right before hitting "Publish."

But I still mess up. I'm sure you, dear readers, can cite more examples. But here are four political stories where I made the wrong call in 2012:

1. Carmen Toft, Menace to Society? No: Good Samaritan. Back in May, the press and the right-wing blogosphere erupted with reports that Carmen Toft, Planned Parenthood advocate and Democratic candidate for District 10 House, had been cited for drunk driving and careless driving after hitting a seven-year-old girl on a bicycle. The screaming morons of the right leapt to horrible conclusions... and I, lacking any other evidence than what the press was shouting, bid Toft's candidacy good riddance.

But did you notice there was never any follow-up in the press? Did you notice Toft never faced trial or conviction? There was no trial because there was no collision. Toft didn't hit the kid. Toft stopped to help a kid who'd fallen. The police screwed up, the press screwed up, and I screwed up. I apologize now. The pro-life fanatics who used this false story to bolster their worldview and insult an innocent woman likely will not.

2. Our Next Congressman, Jeff Barth! Democratic candidate for U.S. House Jeff Barth proved that I still suffer a pathological affinity for the underdog and an irrepressible passion for surprise and drama in politics. His popular, funny, and brilliant online campaign video grabbed national attention in a way that his opponent Matt Varilek never did during the primary or the general election. Yet as anyone looking at endorsements and campaign finance and ground game should have seen coming—heck, even as I could see coming as I endorsed Barth—Varilek coasted to victory in the primary, beating Barth 72% to 28%.

3. Our Next Congressman, Matt Varilek! I'm still chapped here. Kristi Noem had no record to run on. She'd shirked her job. She ran scared, in constant attack mode with negative ads ranging from false to laughable. Matt Varilek had more education and experience and clear ability to do the job of Congressman.

But I made one fundamental mistake: I was thinking like a Democrat. I keep thinking a campaign is a job interview, and that we are picking the person who can do the job best. Unfortunately, the candidates were interviewing for two different jobs. Varilek was interviewing for the job of Representative and policymaker. Noem was interviewing for the job of glamourous horseback icon of South Dakota values, political obstructionist, and party fundraiser. And she got the job. Noem gained voters in every county over her 2010 totals; Varilek lost voters compared to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's 2010 counts.

4. Dan Kaiser, No Chance of Winning? Aberdeen, I thought you were smarter than this. Police officer Dan Kaiser tells you he picks and chooses which laws to enforce. He tells you he supports Ron Paul and nullification. He tells you he'd close Northern State University. Yet you elect him to one of your District 3 House seats. Oh well, Wolves: start filing your transfer papers!


  1. MIchael Black 2013.01.06

    Things may have turned out differently for Mrs. Noem if Stephanie would've run.

    Having Kristi in Washington does help with the gender bias against women in government.

    Do you think that the fact that her opponent was male hindered his election efforts?

  2. Ken Santema 2013.01.06

    I was happy to see you wrong on Dan Kaiser. This is not only because I happen to support most of his stances. I think it's good to see more variety within the Republican Party in South Dakota. Most of his stances do not align with the actions actually taken by the Republican Party. I also have hope he will be against blatant corporatism; but we'll see how that goes...

  3. larry kurtz 2013.01.06

    south dakota is hopelessly rearranging deck chairs as it approaches its mississippification: you poor saps.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.06

    Ken: do I hear you arguing for diversity as an inherent value?

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.06

    Michael raises an interesting question: would a female with the same résumé as Varilek have gotten more votes against Noem?

  6. Ken Santema 2013.01.06

    Cory: Yes, I do advocate diversity in any large representative body.

    I am libertarian and obviously advocate libertarian thought. However I also understand that not everyone sees things the way I do. I also understand that most complex issues have more than one 'right' answer. I will continue to fight against ideas I disagree with; however it is important that I actually study and try to understand opposing viewpoints.

    I think politicians in the two big parties should be doing the same. Instead of creating one unifying message they should be a coalition of loosely related ideas and beliefs. The party platforms should be minimal, allowing for greater diversity in thought and policy directions. However the national leadership for both parties have fought such progression in their respective groups.

  7. Douglas Wiken 2013.01.06

    Only if she had big hair, a slim body with disproportionately large breasts, and was wearing cowboy boots. She might also need a pretty horse, a cute dog and enough kids to indicate she did not practice birth control.

    South Dakotans gotta keep our priorities safe.

  8. mike 2013.01.06

    The good thing about Kaiser is he actually stands for something (unlike Noem). If I make it to Pierre this session I'll look for him from the balcony.

    He looks like a breath of fresh air to me. He might also be the kind of guy who can bridge the gap between some of the factions if he plays his cards right.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.07

    Riding horses, making babies... Doug, I really hate having those as voting issues.

    Mike, I will agree that I might enjoy having Kaiser in Pierre the same way I enjoy having Stace Nelson in Pierre. However, I take passion for Ron Paul as a measure of inability to make practical policy. Stace doesn't get into the Ron Paul silliness the way Kaiser does. Stace can do practical stuff like fight HB 1234 and big dairies. Kaiser needs to prove he can focus on real issues and not go to Pierre to preach return to the gold standard.

  10. larry kurtz 2013.01.07

    Great piece on Johnson/Rounds match-up in SD Kos:


    That's what this is about: The state of South Dakota, under the auspices of the Rounds administration, does not want to spend any extra state money to get federal disaster assistance for the reservations."

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