Cole R. Delaune tries really hard to portray GOP Senate candidate M. Michael Rounds as both too soft on abortion and too closely tied to the Todd Akinesque Bill Napoli on abortion. Delaune paints this Janus to justify his claim that "demonstrated pragmatist" Rep. Kristi Noem would be a better Senate candidate.
If we want to jam the Rounds noise machine, let's keep it simple. Let's talk money.
The discussion of Lucas Lentsch's reascension to power in the state agriculture department has reminded us of the mess he and Secretary Walt Bones found when Governor Daugaard brought them to Pierre in 2011. Governor Daugaard canned a lot of Rounds' people, and perhaps for good reason. As director of ag development, Lentsch saw some sloppy-looking bookkeeping. He spent $8,000 on an audit that discovered $17,000 in services unbilled and checks not cashed in the Farm Loan mediation program:
Employees sometimes waited months to cash checks for payment - mediation costs $50 an hour for the first hour and $25 for each additional hour - and at least 157 checks had to be returned, undeposited, because they were more than six months old, the audit showed.
In at least 54 cases, the federal Farm Service Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was not billed for mediation services, costing the state $2,700. From fiscal year 2008 to 2011, 120 hours of mediation went unbilled at a cost of more than $3,000.
The haphazard payment documentation "progressively worsened through fiscal years 2010 and 2011," making it hard to determine in some cases whether mediation even occurred, or why some people who had requested mediation did not follow through with it, Bollinger wrote [Cody Winchester, "Ag Loan Board Lost $17,000," that Sioux Falls paper, May 2012].
Secretary Bones didn't catch anyone pocketing state money and didn't publicly call for anyone's head to roll, but Ag Department legal counsel Aubrey Blair Dunn left the office in spring 2012, followed by Lentsch in August 2012.
Similar inattention to fiscal detail appears to have cost South Dakota much more in the state cement plant retirement fund. Governor Bill Janklow sold the state cement plant to a Mexican company in 2001, but the state still held the plant's retirement fund. Coming into office in 2003, Governor M. Michael Rounds forgot about that responsibility:
After the 2001 sale, the cement plant retirement system spent years as a political orphan in state government.
A Gov. Mike Rounds administration official acknowledged that it essentially sat forgotten in a drawer.
While unattended, the cement plant’s system suffered significant losses to its investment portfolio.
With no additional revenue flowing in, and with benefits being paid out, the portfolio hasn’t been able to recover sufficient value to get back in balance [Bob Mercer, "Future for Cement Plant Retirees Uncertain," Aberdeen American News, 2013.04.03].
To make up for Rounds's forgetfulness, the Legislature has had to pump $5 million into the cement plant retirement fund, including $4 million appropriated this year. Mercer reports that the Rounds Administration's lack of attention and foresight now socks us with spend $1.5 million a year for the next 14 years to keep our promise to the cement plant retirees... either that, or coax at least some of those retirees into trading their ongoing pension payments for lump-sum payments now.
Now maybe M. Michael Rounds would do less damage as one of 100 Senators than he did as South Dakota's chief executive. But his people's management of the Farm Loan Mediation program and the cement plant pension send a pretty clear message: hand Rounds your purse strings, and his bumbling will cost you money.