Last updated on 2013.12.16
When I first read about Daugaard Chief of Staff Dusty Johnson's comments contrasting the economic growth of the two Dakotas last week, I was puzzled as to why Johnson would think it necessary to tear down our northern neighbors' Bakken oil success as less desirable (even if more financially impactful) than South Dakota's own growth.
This puzzlement found me trying to decide whether the more apt analogy for Johnson's apparent sour grapes was SNL's Penelope, the one-upper ("You may have a booming economy, but ours definitely depends less on human vice ... and we have Mount Rushmore!") or the Biblical Pharisees ("God, I thank you that [our economic development is] not like other [states']—robbers, evildoers, adulturers—or even [the result of] tax collect[ion]").
Then, I got distracted by other more meaningful news and pretty much forgot about the border battle.
But thanks to a bit of fluffy follow-up by SDPB's Dakota Digest on the "friendly war" Johnson's comments created, I find myself thinking again about this kerfuffle between the Dakotas (which both Johnson and Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce President Andy Peterson say is most properly analogized to sibling rivalry).
To be fair, even critics within North Dakota bring up the societal challenges that come with the big-time growth in the western part of that state. However, if Dusty's going to malign North Dakota's Bakken oil patch-related growth as leaving "liquor stores that are bursting at the seams" [David Montgomery, "It's on: Dakotas spar over which state is better off," That Sioux Falls Paper, 2013.12.10], he's got to hope nobody makes the case that there's economic spillover to the south that might mean we're also gaining some of our own economic growth from those supposed drunks filling North Dakota liquor stores.
Beyond that, though, I'm concerned about why it's even necessary to belittle North Dakota's growth in some warped effort to make our own sound better. Our own stats are pretty darn good (3.7% unemployment, 1.5% GDP growth, 17% increase in general fund budget, 10.4% population growth). Can't we just tout that and knock it off with the suggestions that North Dakotans should "come to South Dakota and get a life" [Montgomery, 2013.12.10]?
The holier-than-thou attitude represented by Johnson's economic critiques makes me uneasy in the same way as the flap over Joan Jett (a *gasp* vegetarian) performing on a South Dakota-sponsored Thanksgiving parade float and as some of the reactions to recent calls to include a Lakota honor song at Chamberlain High School's graduation ceremonies. I see in all three cases an underlying assertion South Dakota is uniformly exceptional, and anyone who challenges that truism—by posting better economic numbers, by choosing not to partake of the products of one of our largest industries, by saying we can and should go further to be inclusive of the state's racial and cultural diversity—should just go sit off in a corner and be wrong.
This is an undercurrent Dusty Johnson should be very worried about having attached to our state's messaging as we try to recruit new workers to South Dakota and try to draw back expatriates who have found new communities to welcome and include them outside of their home state. As we're failing to attract and retain new employees at the rates we'd like, we should ask ourselves if we're doing enough both to be and to appear sociopolitically and culturally—not just economically—welcoming and inclusive.
To be clear, I believe that South Dakota truly is great; I made the choice to return here after nearly a decade away precisely because of its many virtues as a place to call home. But if we insist on getting defensive about its greatness instead of working to make it even greater, we're not living up to our responsibility as citizens and not helping our state live up to the potential it promises everyone choosing to dwell within its borders.
More to the initial prompt for this post, I'm also not insisting that we harmonize with North Dakota to the point that we reunite into a single state of peaceful, non-competitive bliss; I'm just as eager as anyone to cheer on my home state to victory in football's annual Dakota Marker Game, and I'm more than willing to jump on Dave Barry's bandwagon satirizing the once-proposed name change from "North Dakota" to simply "Dakota." It just seems to me that we have better things to do with our time—and better ways to send a welcoming image as a state instead of a snarky one—than getting in a backseat spat with our territorial sibling to the north.