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Kevin Schieffer Reminds Me: South Dakota Should Vote for Board of Regents

I'm not sure Bob Mercer is fully recovered from his recent stay in the hospital. He declares that Kevin Schieffer, the latest GOP crony appointed to the South Dakota Board of Regents, "brings perhaps the widest experience of the nine board members."

Experience? If by "experience" we mean he's "done stuff," then yeah, sure, Schieffer has experience, just like pretty much everyone else in South Dakota. But this relic of a dead railroad's only experience with the higher education system for which he's been appointed to help set policy was getting his B.A. from USD.

Not that one needs experience to serve usefully on an educational board. Consider our local school boards: we don't require that school board members be teachers or principals. We let any registered voter run for school board, and we elect the candidates we think have our kids' best interests at heart.

We elect... ah! There's the difference. Elections aren't perfect, but they're an expression of the popular will. The selection of the Board of Regents is 99% cronyism. One powerful man, the Governor, picks whomever he likes to set policies for over 36,000 students, oversee the equivalent of over 5,000 full-time employee, and profoundly affect the cultural and economic well-being of communities across the state and South Dakota as a whole.

We elect our public utilities commissioners, whose job three out of four voters can't explain or don't know exists. The PUC spends about four and a half million dollars out of the annual state budget and manages 33.2 FTEs. The Board of Regents gets $180 million from the state budget and oodle-million more from students for a total budget this year of $792 million. The Regents have 176 times more spending authority and 153 times more FTEs than the PUC, yet we entrust that massive Regental power and responsibility to publicly unaccountable political appointees.

Electing university policymakers isn't such an unusual idea. Minnesota and New York empower their legislatures to elect their university regents. Nebraska, Nevada, and Michigan elect their university bosses by popular vote.

Could a couple hundred thousand people in the street pick wiser, more knowledgeable policymakers than the Governor? Maybe. Maybe not. But a couple hundred thousand people voting in an election can't all pick their own best friend or leading campaign contributor for an important public office.

The Board of Regents is a big deal, a bigger deal than some other offices for which we hold public elections. Let's change our system and give the students and citizens the Regents serve the right to choose who runs our university system.


  1. Roger Elgersma 2013.08.14

    South Dakota voters have voted down a big education plan by the governor in the last election. They had the initiative to try to make a difference and vote on it.
    If we want education to produce people of character and class then those who lead it necessarily need to have character and class also. The kids learn more from our examples than from our enforcement of the rules. So the excuss that some would not want their lives analyzed by the public do not have a lot of reason to run if they are not good enough people anyways. Their reasons and opinions in their election races would necessarily add to the discussion of where and why we need to have more commitment to education as a state. Seeing them go to the legislature after being elected on a particular agenda would be a good factor in the legislature making education policy. It would be an open way to improve the system by increasing the public discussion on the subject by people who know education well.

  2. interested party 2013.08.14

    Voting for regents would fill the slots with multiple Don Kopps and Lora Hubbels, Cory: how could that be good?

  3. Winston 2013.08.14

    This is not the time to lengthen the slate for the SDDP. Let's first find candidates for Governor, US House, PUC, etc., then we will talk about the Regents positions.

  4. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.14

    Let the governor appoint 3 of 7 or whatever and elect the others in staggered terms.

    Too many years ago when I was at SDSM&T, a South Dakota doctor was on the board. Dr. Huebner counter-acted a bit of the idiocy and ignorance of other board members. Is anybody on the board now that is a research scientist or former professor with an interest in science and engineering pedagogy? Such a person is very much needed to bring realism and not ideology to the board.

  5. Roger Elgersma 2013.08.14

    Douglas has a good idea.

  6. Rorschach 2013.08.14

    Cronyism?! tssk, tssk! Surely it was pure merit when Governor Rounds appointed Tonnis Venhuisen student regent multiple years. Just as it was pure merit when Governor Daugaard hired his young son-in-law Mr. Venhuisen at a handsome salary to be his consigliere. Aint no cronyism in SD politics. None!

  7. Doreen Allison Creed 2013.08.14

    You are right about cronyism...but I'm not sure a popularity, name-recognition contest is the solution. The Regents are an extremely powerful, untouchable group of politicians that have to answer to no one. Kevin Schieffer is a horrible choice. Our entire higher education system needs to be revamped.

  8. Robert Klein 2013.08.14

    Mr. Venhuizen is probably more capable than his boss, according to someone whose opinion I trust. Yes, he's married to the boss's daughter.

    On the other hand, Mr. Schieffer will probably get the regents to buy a railroad so he can get his coal train.

  9. jana 2013.08.14

    The GOP is defined by cronyism. If someone would like to prove me wrong...go ahead.

    There's an issue for Stace to run on.

  10. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.08.14

    I remember Scheiffer and the railroad fiasco. His campaign for state money was inept and dishonest. (Who was gov then? Jank?) Yup, he's just the kind of guy SD Republicans like.*

    *Cynicism intended.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.14

    Maybe Schieffer will promote a light rail system to connect the six university campuses.

    Doreen, you offer valid concerns about what can go wrong in popular elections. Douglas's compromise solution—4 elected, 3 appointed—might be a viable check and balance. Even electing 4 would bring more public attention to issues before the Regents.

    Given the choice, I put more faith in the general public in a fair election than in one person to decide who should serve as a Regent. Heck, we don't let one person pick our university presidents. Why let one person pick the people who pick the presidents?

  12. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.14

    Back when Janklow was first pushing state takeover of the railroads, I suggested to a number of farm leaders that we should fund the takeover with increased grain checkoff and cattle checkoff with records kept of how much each farmer paid in. Those payments would end up as stock in the railroad. It was the first of my ideas related to tax-assisted capital accumulation and actual public ownership of assets rather than assets in the commonweal to be squandered by political hacks. Janklow killed that because he already had his crony picked for the railroad commission.

    I doubt SD farmers and ranchers and other South Dakotans owning the railroad would have sold it to either Canadians or Scotchmen.

  13. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.14

    We can also thank K.S. for Tyrannosaurus Sue ending up in Chicago instead of the Black Hills.

  14. interested party 2013.08.14

    This thing stinks to high heaven and nobody with any power cares.

  15. interested party 2013.08.14

    There is no bridge across the river at Chamberlain for the former Milwaukee Road: 3D printer?

  16. Rorschach 2013.08.14

    The point I'm making is that SD state government is a family business. It's still run by the Republican family, which started the enterprise 124 years ago. Just as you wouldn't expect the Genovese family to pick a Gambino family member to serve as Capo, you shouldn't expect the Republican family to pick someone from a different family to serve as Regent.

  17. Jerry 2013.08.15

    There is just this bridge interested party, that crosses the river at Chamberlain. I think before too long, this will be in commercial use to Murdo.

  18. interested party 2013.08.15

    Great video, Jerry. I thought that bridge was gone: will check.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.15

    (Jerry, I want to ride that putt-putt! Thanks for the video! :-) )

    R, would electing Regents help us bust up that family monopoly?

  20. Rorschach 2013.08.15

    I hesitate to suggest converting more appointed positions to elected positions. I continue to believe that building a strong two-party system, or at least injecting some two-party checks and balances into the current system would best serve the state and its citizens. Incidentally, former Senator Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts) recently made similar comments about his one-party state. His suggestion is that a GOP governor would provide a good balance to a heavily Democratic legislature. I agree that a functioning two-party system is good for the people. I think he would agree with me that a non-functioning two-party system like that in DC is bad for the people.

  21. Rorschach 2013.08.15

    By the way, if I had lived in Massachusetts I would have voted for Scott Brown. Despite how impressive a speaker Elizabeth Warren is and how I may agree with her on many issues, it just rubs me the wrong way that she would falsely claim to be Native American to get onto the faculty at Ivy League schools (U. of Pennsylvania & Harvard), and then repeatedly make up more demonstrably false stories after she got caught. Her pants are no less on fire than those of Michele Bachmann. They are cut from the same cloth.

  22. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.15

    Ah Rorschach, I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Elizabeth Warren did not need to be Native American to get a job. She mentioned it only because of her mother's statements about their ethnicity if my memory is correct. If everybody who inflated or deflated their resumes were kicked out of their job, there might only be a few street sweepers still employed.

  23. Rorschach 2013.08.15

    Warren's multiple and repeated lies can't be written off as easily as you would suggest, Douglas. Read into it a bit more, and then tell me whether, if she were a Republican, you would be calling for her head. I would be, and I'm striving for some consistency here.

  24. Rorschach 2013.08.16

    I don't get my news from Fox News or Limbog. That link you posted doesn't make Warren look good at all. None of us would be talking about her false claim of being a Native American if she hadn't made that false claim to begin with in that guidebook universities used to recruit faculty. I suppose when a university like Harvard is under fire for a lack of minority faculty, it comes in really handy to hire someone who claims to be a minority - then to count that person as a minority in your report to the government. Nuff said.

  25. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.17

    The article indicates there may never have been a false claim or any claim to begin with.

    In any case, Elizabeth Warren has demonstrated courage and intelligence and has been smeared and defamed by the GOP Great Wurlitzer propaganda machine because she supported consumers instead of big banks and big brokers and their combinations and permutations.

    The GOP got what they deserved. They kept her from getting on the consumer board she was instrumental in organizing, but she beat one of their nasty hacks in an election and is now in the US Senate. Tough Shit.

    Of all the lies and distortions of politicians of all stripes and sexes, the allegations against Elizabeth Warren are insignificant in comparison.

    How about Ronald Reagan's claim he was a veteran because he played a pilot in war movies?

  26. interested party 2013.09.14

    The Pierre Shale foiled rail improvements and will cause failures if the Keystone XL pipeline is built.

    The earthquake that occurred ten miles under the sinkholes that developed in the Pierre Shale in Stanley County last June was just one large enough to be felt by the humans that live there. An earthquake bot in ip's Twitter feed has been reporting recent ripples preceding the South Dakota event.

    A Pierre radio station and the Rapid City Journal are reporting that sinkholes are developing in Stanley County:

    "KCCR radio reports that state Transportation Department crews already have filled a large hole that developed on state Highway 1806. It was estimated at 6 feet across and 10-15 feet deep."

    Recall the reminder from TCMack that the Army Corps of Engineers touted the construction of the Oahe Dam on the geological formation known as Pierre Shale. That same shale accounts for the systematic breakup of roadways and railbeds in South Dakota likewise confounding KeystoneXL pipeline engineers. Note this publication archived at the USGS:

    "... The non-tectonic origin for this deformation is strongly supported by the observation that, since construction was completed in 1962, movement on a fault in the Pierre Shale near the spillway of Oahe Dam (about 10 km north of the city of Pierre) has created a 1.5-m-high scarp. This scarp formed without any notable seismic events."

    The topic was covered at the conference of the United States Society on Dams in 2009: Slope Stability Concerns on Pierre Shale, Oahe Dam - Pierre, South Dakota...655, Robert J. Worden and Michael T. Kelly, Corps of Engineers.

    Todd Epp mentions that the corps knew water was stacking up behind the dams and that record rainfall in the upper basin surprised them. But, what he doesn't seem to get is that they also know that early releases send ice floes crashing into bridge supports: events that worry resource managers every year. From Friday's Lincoln, Nebraska JournalStar:

    "Now, suddenly, total water in the six reservoirs is at 72.7 million acre-feet, 600,000 acre-feet above the previous record, reached in 1975. Total capacity is uncomfortably close at 73.1 million acre-feet. Winter ice, summer barge traffic, habitat for endangered species, recreational considerations and dam repairs are among the factors that regularly influence decisions about seasonal flows."

    Robert Schneiders took listeners' calls on Bill Janklow's idea of public radio.

    "The Fort Pierre-Wasta segment is still all 10 mph stick rail. Plans were that if the coal project got built, that whole stretch would be moved onto a new alignment parallel to the current one. They'd haul in clean fill from other places. The geology underlying that stretch, known as the Pierre Shale, turns to slurry when it gets wet."

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