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Pragmatic Hoffman Prefers Democratic Gov to GOP Surrender of Legislative Power

Last updated on 2014.09.10

When Charlie Hoffman and I got done riding four-wheeler around the prairie (and have I mentioned how big I smile when I say that phrase?), we went inside to talk politics. And oh, did we talk.

Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) discusses Pierre politics at his dining room table. (Photo by CAH, 2014.08.19)
Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) discusses Pierre politics at his dining room table. (Photo by CAH, 2014.08.19)

Charlie Hoffman has served three terms as a Republican Representative from District 23. He sat out this year's election, leaving incumbent Rep. Justin Cronin and new-Pierre-comer Michele (one L, just like Bachmann) Harrison to win the GOP primary and ascend without challenge to the State House.

Hoffman is yielding the House floor this year for a handful of personal reasons. He'd like to travel more with his wife, Survivor survivor and motivational speaker Holly Hoffman. Some business matters require his attention back at the ranch. And he has a new hunting dog that he wants to train and bond with properly.

But Hoffman makes his stepback sound like a break, not retirement. He's already looked ahead and seen 2016 as a good opportunity to get back into the House. Rep. Cronin will be termed out, leaving an open seat Charlie can seek without challenging a fellow Republican incumbent.

Hoffman's break appears to have some political motivation right alongside the personal. Hoffman expresses a notable disgust for several aspects of how things are running in Pierre right now. And he said these things to me, a liberal blogger, without the influence of scotch. "I'm a haystacker at heart," said Hoffman, "not a statesman, not a diplomat."

I should check that: did he say haystacker or haymaker? Here they come:

Self-Servers and Legislative Autonomy

Hoffman sees coming a tussle for majority leader in which he does not want to partake. He cites a Janklovian aphorism: "In every class of twenty-some new legislators, fifteen know they'll be governor someday." Hoffman says lots of legislators are serving their political ambitions and trying to put their names (Hoffman offers none) on the marquee. Hoffman would prefer to serve with and be one of the legislators who come to Pierre to serve their districts.

Hoffman says those marquee-seeking legislators create a major problem for the legislative branch. As majority whip, Hoffman says he has seen the Governor happily exploit those self-servers to encroach on the Legislature's proper autonomy. The night before each Legislative workweek begins, Hoffman says the Governor hosts a meeting for all of the GOP House and Senate leaders at the Governor's mansion (read: homefield advantage). The Governor's entire staff attends. The "conversation," says Hoffman, flows mostly one way, as the Governor informs the "leaders" of his plans and priorities for the week. The Governor does not inquire, says Hoffman, about the legislators' plans and priorities. And the GOP leaders, mostly concerned about their place in line, generally accept their weekly marching orders.

Hoffman says this one-way relationship is not how the balance of powers is supposed to work. The Legislature should act independently to bring forth different ideas and allow the best policies to rise via competition. One branch dictating the policy agenda means poorer policy. (What was that Charlie said about pastures with only one kind of grass?) Hoffman wants the climbers to quit climbing and recapture their autonomy and vision. Short of that, Hoffman wishes he could have the opportunity to serve under a Democratic Governor who would rekindle his comrades' commitment to the separation of powers.

(The weird subtext here: we could encourage Republican Charlie Hoffman to run for Legislature in 2016 by electing his Democratic House-mate Susan Wismer Governor this year. Charlie, want to help?)

Harmful Partisanship

Hoffman also expresses annoyance with partisan politics. He says the South Dakota GOP has damaged itself and its candidates by allowing Tea Party agitators to pull the party further right. Local radicals may have gotten a kick out of the SDGOP's impeach-Obama resolution, but recall that such absurd radicalism has boosted Democratic fundraising. Hoffman looks beyond our borders to add that such honyockerism may damage the chances of the national party choosing John Thune for Vice-President in 2016.

Partisanship can damage policy along with party. Hoffman says that, without Medicaid expansion, county governments face higher indigent-care costs, and hospitals either eat losses or pass them on to the rest of us. Expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would erase those costs, says Hoffman. Permit me to remind you that, as Rep. Wismer said Wednesday, the only reason Governor Daugaard seems to have for not expanding Medicaid is partisan ideology.

Future Plans: Raise Teacher Pay!

If circumstances draw Hoffman back to the House, he says he may spend his entire term working on one project: raising teacher pay. He suggests starting by diverting 10% of all gambling revenue (that cut would be over $10 million) to a teacher-pay trust fund. When the fund accrues enough interest, start writing checks, once a year, to every public K-12 teacher in South Dakota.

Our quick calculations suggest this plan might initially place just $500 extra in each teacher's pocket, only a small step toward beating lowly Mississippi, but one must start somewhere. And Hoffman agrees that raising pay will boost the labor pool and ease the teacher shortage.

But wait: gambling revenues currently support property tax relief. Would Hoffman really support taking away that relief? Yes. Instead of handing out pennies per acre, the state could hand that 10% of gambling revenues to the state Investment Council to generate a far larger return.

Agricultural Productivity Tax

If landowners feel harmed by the reduction of gambling-revenue tax relief, Hoffman will make it up to them by getting rid of the agriculture productivity tax. Hoffman says this bastardization of the property tax is even worse than a straight income tax. This tax, which based on the predicted agricultural production value of land instead of its actual productivity or sale price, deters farmers from raising prairie grass and drives hyper-production of only a few high-priced crops. Farmers who switch from corn and beans to grass this year will still pay tax based on what they could have made raising corn for the next eight years. Even farmers who stick with corn will suffer as corn prices drop: they'll makes three to four dollars per bushel this year, but the county will tax them for the next couple years as if their land were seven- or eight-dollar-a-bushel corn. Hoffman says the Legislature needs to change the productivity tax to something fairer.

* * *

I asked Hoffman if he worried that my reporting the above comments might harm his chances of returning to the House. He paused to think, but pretty quickly said nope. If I'm reading him right (and stop me if you think I'm letting my hopes and the joy of riding four-wheeler all afternoon confound my judgment), Hoffman is professing a commitment to a less partisan, more pragmatic, and more independent Legislature. Let's see if Charlie and District 23 share that commitment in 2016.

Bonus "Did You Know?": One of the photos in Hoffman's home office shows a man riding down Main Street (I forgot to ask where) atop the backseat of a red convertible with a placard on the door reading "Hoffman for Governor."Charlie said that's his dad Leroy Hoffman, who ran against Bill Janklow in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 1978.

Leroy Hoffman also sang opera. He built the house in which Charlie and Holly have raised their family with a beautiful vaulted ceiling for his singing. In the 1960's Hoffman sang well enough to tour Europe professionally. Charlie lived in Europe with his dad for two years during that portion of Leroy's career.

But if you're looking for records, you have to search George Hoffman, not Leroy.

"What," I asked. "Leroy not operatic enough?"

"Yup," said Charlie.


  1. Charlie Johnson 2014.08.24

    This is one of the best posts that I have read in a long time. If we had more legislators such as Charlie, we as a state would be much further ahead. I'm thankful Charlie took the time to visit with you, Cory!! I'm even more thankful, he spoke out in a very candid manner!

  2. Roger Cornelius 2014.08.25

    What a shock it must be for a newly elected idealistic legislature to go to Pierre only to find out that he has to follow the governor and party's dictates. It is as if Republican elections don't really matter.
    It would be great to have Charlie Hoffman in Pierre making serious contributions and challenging a controlled system, now if we could find more legislators like Charlie, we really would have a separation of powers in Pierre.

  3. mike fro iowa 2014.08.25

    Was your spurs jingle-jangling?

  4. Tim 2014.08.25

    As much as I hate to say it, as long as the republican party allows the radicals to keep pulling them to the right, I don't hold out much hope for the party as a whole. Rep Hoffman is a refreshing change from what normally comes from republicans these days, we do need more like him. Good to hear first hand the legislature is just an extension of the governors office, but I don't think that surprises anybody, it also helps to explain the complete lack of vision coming from that group, they don't do their own thinking anymore, they just repeat what Daugaard says. Yes Mr. Governor, whatever you say sir.

  5. mike fro iowa 2014.08.25

    Back in the day it was an honor and a privilege to serve your state or nation as a congressman/woman. Be interesting to see a Gov Hoffman preside over a Democratic South Dakota and get back to working for the people,not the koch bros.

    Cory,you have done it again. Found another Republican with the milk of human kindness inside. Hurry and find some more. :)

  6. Rorschach 2014.08.25

    Charlie is one of the good guys! I like his get-it-done pragmatism. And I like most of his ideas. But another trust fund to stockpile money before it can go to teachers? No thanks. We already have the Education Enhancement trust fund from which only a minuscule amount is ever used to enhance education.

    You see, the way they run trust funds is that when the trust fund earns interest it's used first to pay ... the trust fund. The fund first has to keep the interest needed to grow at the rate of inflation, then if there is anything extra those pennies can flow to education. Hence, we have billions $$ stockpiled in various trust funds and only pennies (relatively speaking) ever dribble out into the South Dakota economy. We pull all of that money out of the SD economy, invest it in Wall Street, and hope that we're not the suckers on the wrong end of the game the Wall Street insiders play of stacking the deck in their favor.

    The bottom line is that it's not as if we don't have resources to pay teachers or to otherwise invest in SD. It is that state government is stockpiling all of the money and investing in Wall Street instead of in SD. No, we don't need another trust fund to generate interest to pay teachers. We just need to pay teachers.

  7. Testor15 2014.08.25

    For those fortunate to have been part of the 1978 election cycle, you likely would have run into LeRoy and Charlie. LeRoy was a gentleman of the first degree. Had I not been so actively involved in another campaign in 1978, I would have been trying to be involved in their effort.

    Charlie and I bumped into each other several times during the campaign. Charlie was very candid and correct in his appraisal of the future governor South Dakotans chose to go with.

    It has been good to hear Charlie is doing well and still true to his beliefs in the land.

  8. larry kurtz 2014.08.25

    Uh: anyone who follows Charlie on twitter or over at the War Toilet knows he speaks with a forked tongue.

    Get grips, people.

  9. Bill Dithmer 2014.08.25

    Good post Cory.

    The Blindman

  10. Nick Nemec 2014.08.25

    Charlie was one of my state representatives until redistricting put me in a different district. He's hard not to like, and he was willing to listen to me, a known Democrat. I don't know if I ever influenced his decision on any issue but there was some common ground between us. I suppose you could say we are different breeds of prairie populist.

    Some Republican legislators will stand and listen to a differing opinion but you can tell they aren't hearing, some will tell you why they think you are wrong, and some will not even give you the courtesy of listening. Charlie listened and from his questions I felt he heard.

  11. Todd Epp 2014.08.25

    Cory, sorry to harsh your Hoffman mellow but all this sounds like a candidate for governor in 2016--also an open seat.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.08.25

    Hoffman for Governor?! What on earth would make anyone consider that narrative? (Little things like reaching out to alternative media, exposing excesses in his own party... and then that literary element of avenging his father?)

  13. Nick Nemec 2014.08.25

    The State could do worse than Charlie Hoffman as governor. If he runs the proof in the pudding will be whether or not he feels compelled to run hard right in what will likely be a crowded primary.

  14. Roger Cornelius 2014.08.25

    Every time Cory does a political profile, which are great whether you agree with them or not, I'm going to start asking the same question.
    The failed EB-5 program is one of the reasons that South Dakota continually ranks in the top ten most corrupt states in the country.
    What legislation and laws can be enacted to end this cycle of crony capitalism corruption? What can be done to provide some oversight of our state politicians and bureaucrats? Should elected representatives be held criminally liable for their self serving discretions?

  15. Charlie Hoffman 2014.08.25

    99% right CAH. Haystacker it is too.

    (though Stace liked calling me "Flipper"- even though I only voted wrong once)

  16. hmr59 2014.08.25

    Great article, Cory! Hope you get a chance to do more profiles like this.

    And, correct me if I'm wrong, but the next gubernatorial election after this is 2018, right?? Two-year terms went away in the Kneip years.

  17. Nick Nemec 2014.08.25

    hmr59, you are correct, the next gubernatorial election, after this one, will be in 2018.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.08.26

    Charlie, which 1% did I miss?

  19. Charlie Hoffman 2014.08.26

    CAH the only part I would clarify was the weekly dinner meeting at the Gov's Mansion. It was not heavy handed persuasion to run the Gov's program but it certainly was not ever our agenda being put up on the white board and the simple appearance of coziness weakens the legislatures stature. Better separation and having our own budget would change the landscape positively. Other than that you nailed it.

  20. Stace Nelson 2014.08.26

    As the article properly points out, Charlie is one of the most affable people you could meet and a lot of fun to be around outside of politics or the legislature.

    There is a huge disconnect though in what Charlie says and what he commits to. Like the above protest of the legislature being co-opted by the executive branch, and his spotless record of executive branch accommodating positions in the legislature. Charlie's outspoken goal is to be on the GF&P commission. It appeared that every position he took on an issue, in caucus or in public testimony, was as an advocate for the positions of the executive branch even to the point of countermanding his own previous outspoken position on an issue:

    My first experience with your committed wind vane positionS on an issue was right away in 2011 on my HB 1178. Administration was AGAINST the bill. You voted AGAINST the bill 1st vote in committee. Constituents came out FOR the bill and your 2nd vote in committee was FOR passage AND you promised Stock Growers' lobbyist that you would SUPPORT the bill on the House floor. On the House floor you flipped again, and spoke and voted AGAINST the bill in-line with what the administration wanted:

    For the sake of brevity and to keep a legion of links from kicking in the filters, I will flash forward to one of the last incidents of Charlie's many committed positionS on an issue:

    2014 HB 1215 You voted FOR to pass out of committee; FOR to be placed on the Consent calendar; then voluntarily recalled the bill to your committee for the administration where you voted two times AGAINST the bill and helped table the bill for the administration; You spoke and voted AGAINST smoking out the bill; voted FOR untabling the bill; then voted with the administration's wishes AGAINST the bill, killing it.

    Charlie, I can honestly say "flipper" wasn't me! :-D If I was to nickname you? I'd have to go affectionately with the ones you earned like "Wind vane" or, more appropriately? Go with what Bob Mercer dubbed you! :-)

  21. Charlie Hoffman 2014.08.26

    Somehow I think I just got my a__ kicked.

  22. Troy 2014.08.26

    I chuckle at the positive reaction of many of the regular posters here at Madville the infers that Charlie is an exception among Republican legislators.

    I have great respect for Charlie (when I agree and disagree with him) because he is respectful, thoughtful, and always properly motivated to do better for the public. And, the reason he is/was effective is because he is what is good about most people who pursue elective service. Rather than ridiculing en masse Republicans (or Democrats) for being part of a sinister cabal, we should presume they have the better interests of the people at heart. The disagreement is on policy.

  23. jerry 2014.08.26

    You can rest assured Troy that the many regular posters here at Madville will not be so inclusive regarding you. I do not see eye to eye with Mr. Johnson regarding politics, but I do see eye to eye in the management of natural resources which tells me that Mr. Johnson is of the old school of republicanism regarding the care of the land. He is not affiliated with the earth haters and climate deniers I think, (Mr. Johnson, what is your position of climate change?), that have taken over the party and have effectively damaged it beyond recognition.

  24. Bill Fleming 2014.08.26

    Jerry, don't you mean Hoffman?

  25. jerry 2014.08.26

    Whoops, damn man, I missed that completely. Yep Charlie Hoffman. Please forgive me Mr. Johnson whoever you may be.

  26. Stace Nelson 2014.08.26

    Sorry Charlie! Hard for you to argue with your record. :-D

    I too chuckled at the positive reactions of many of the regular posters here at Madville, posting inferences that Charlie was an exception among Republican legislators. While Charlie was exceptional among legislators in his affability, an examination of his voting record, and comments of record, show that he was one of the most dedicated of the executive branch's legislative foot soldiers.

    With all those politicians all properly motivated to do better for the public, how do we have so many glaring examples of misuse of office and corruption in America (use of IRS on political opponents, EB5 scandal, etc.. etc., ad nauseam)?

    The problem we have in America, on both sides of the aisle, is that too many think the ends justify the means in overlooking the misconduct of high ranking elected members of their party.

  27. Lynn 2014.08.26

    Good to see you Stace!

  28. Tara Volesky 2014.08.26

    Stace, would you call Charlie a Rhino? lol. And do you know any DINO's. Charlie I voted for Jim Rothstein over your Dad because I am from Mobridge and we don't like yellow jackets. I think Jim got beat in the State Senate primary by your dad Leroy Hoffman. Great singing voice.

  29. jerry 2014.08.26

    I agree with you on everything except the IRS Mr. Nelson. Your last paragraph states that "too many think the ends justify the means" I could not agree more and that is why the IRS must investigate as they did, both parties for improprieties regarding campaigns and the finances of them. I think the only way to get corruption out of politics is to police the way business is done. We have already declared that corporations are people with the same rights. That said, they still want to infect the political system even further. I want the tax police to be on the watch for this just like I want the tax police of this state to bust those who abuse the system. Maybe if we had a better system in place here, we would not have had the EB-5 in the first place and we would not be discussing the real possibility of the murder of one of its employees involved in it.

  30. lesliengland 2014.08.26

    chuckle all you want repubs; what we need are the republican and independent women in south dakota coming out and jioning us to support susan, susie, and corrina against daugaard, noem and rounds. sounds like hoffman's celebrity wife might!! there is an advertisement!!

  31. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.08.27

    Leslie, I have no intel on Holly Hoffman's political inclinations, but I'll bet that she has no desire to snarl up her speaking career with politics. I invite readers to search the Web, but I don't think you'll find her anywhere on the record staking out political positions. Maybe CBS writes that into the Survivor™ contracts: no sullying the Survivor™ brand with politics.

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