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Republicans Not Keen on Serving Constituents in Aberdeen

As we discuss the merits of different districting schemes for better democratic representation, David Newquist notes that our Congressional delegation is leaving northeastern South Dakota out in the cold on constituent service:

When Democrats were in office, Aberdeen had three offices carrying on the business of government. Now it is down to the one office that John Thune grudgingly established when his party supporters insisted that he have a presence in our part of the state.

Noem has never offered much in the way of response or service to this part of the state. Rounds has indicated he will follow her lead.

The voters ultimately get what they ask for. In the cases of Noem and Rounds, nothing [David Newquist, "No Access to Congress for Aberdeen," Northern Balley Beacon, 2014.12.28].

Newquist provides a description worth reading of the value good staffers add for constituents on the ground.

If you're thinking that Rounds and Noem are shunning Aberdeen as a partisan swipe at all those Herseth/Wismer/Knecht Democrats up in northeastern South Dakota consider these election numbers: Nearby Day, Marshall, and Roberts counties picked Rick Weiland over Mike Rounds by slim margins (5%, 0.5%, and 1.5%, respectively). Brown County itself, which Aberdeen seats, gave Rounds an eleven-point edge. To the west, Rounds doubled up and more on Weiland, 54–24, while Charlie Hoffman and his neighbors delivered McPherson County to Rounds 66–17. Noem beat Corinna Robinson in all six of those counties this year, from a 9.5-point margin in Day to 63.8 points in McPherson.


  1. Lynn 2014.12.29

    The absence of an office up in Aberdeen seems odd since the SDGOP has some pretty big donors from that area a few that gave the maximum amount.

  2. jerry 2014.12.29

    So, that should say that the left has golden opportunities to redevelop a stronghold. You know, if you get enough strongholds you pretty much have won the game or at least one would think.

  3. Troy 2014.12.29

    Four comments:

    1) Constituent service is the absolutely least partisan activity of a member of Congress. Whether it was when our delegation was Daschle/Johnson/Thune, Johnson/Daschle/Janklow, Johnson/Thune/Herseth, Johnson/Thune/Noem, or now Thune/Rounds/Noem, we have been well-served in this regard.

    2) You'd be shocked at the cooperation between offices on these matters. If a constituent comes into an office where another has better expertise/experience, it would be common for the work to get referred to the other office (even though the constituent didn't know the work was done by another and possibly across parties).

    3) I don't know where in the state offices currently are but I don't think the people are served by having duplication. Rounds with an office in Pierre makes sense as that is his home. Noem in Watertown as it is close to her home. Everyone with office in SFalls (Thune lives here) and RC makes sense as population centers. Thus, Aberdeen, Huron, Yankton/Mitchell should be divided among the three with staffed offices and maybe some joint un-staffed office in other areas (NW SD, Wagner, etc.) where each can use either on an ad hoc or rotating staffing basis.

    4) I think this can and should be done whether the delegation is of one party or split parties.

  4. Nick Nemec 2014.12.29

    A political savvy Congresscritter would put an office in his weakest place in the state and staff it with his best people. All the better to shore up his support in an area where he needs help.

  5. Nick Nemec 2014.12.29

    In other words Mike Rounds doesn't need an office in his home town of Pierre, where he's the golden local boy who made good. He needs to put one in Pine Ridge where they don't like him, put his absolute best problem solving, red tape cutting staff people there and tell them to listen and work hard in Indian Country

  6. Scott 2014.12.29

    With all 3 congress members being of the same party, why not spread the offices around the state. If one has an office say in Aberdeen, then the others could have an office in Watertown (Noem) or Huron. I can see all 3 having an office in Sioux Falls because of the large population center and of course access to the major media outlets.

  7. leslie 2014.12.30

    SHOCKING troy,...but look what govs. christie (R. NJ) & cuomo (D. NY) VETOED: a bi-state bi-partisan bill reforming EB5-type Bridgegate scandal.

    SDGOP will follow christie's lead. cuomo's opponent, anti-corruption zealot zephyr teachout symbolizes is the direction this state and the nation need to take in 2016.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.30

    Nick, that's an excellent tactic, but it assumes that Rounds would worry about his weakness. The SDGOP mindset assumes invincibility, and thus no need to go out of their way to reach out to the other side. If you're not on the SDGOP Christmas list now, you never will be... at least not until Tornberg, Lowe, and SDP come up with the winning formula to oust one-party rule.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.30

    Scott, your idea for geographical distribution would be a great example of practical cooperation, regardless of which parties make up our delegation. If I were Senator, I'd still insist on having an office in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, alongside both other members, to maintain access to the two largest voting bases. But if we could spread out other offices around the rest of the major metropolises—Rounds take Pierre and Yankton, Noem take Watertown and Mitchell, Thune take Brookings and Aberdeen, or some such scheme—we could maximize personal access.

  10. David Newquist 2014.12.30

    The effectiveness is established by the senator or representative and the kind of rapport the congress person creates with the various agencies that constituents deal with. As staff members do the actual problem-solving, the kind of people who staff the offices and the policies set for them by their boss are what determine the effectiveness of the office. Senators Daschle and Johnson Rep. Herseth Sandlin and their staffs had a very amiable and efficient rapport with the agencies. All correspondence with the agencies goes out over the signature of the congressperson. If the matter hit some snags, however, the congressperson, after a full review by the staff, would make a direct contact with the personnel in the agencies involved. Political power was applied with great discretion and with the goal of solving problems for both the constituent and the agency involved. As a Daschle staff member, Rick Weiland was known to be a highly effective problem solver and case manager, which is why he became a regional director for FEMA after Daschle lost his seat in the Senate.

    The idea that constituent offices be distributed throughout state to avoid duplication is kind of grotesque. The GOP office holders just are not interested in providing the level of service that the Democrats have made a tradition in South Dakota since the time of George McGovern. The political differences between the parties are the reason that case files are shredded when an official goes out of office and not transferred to their successors. And there is no duplication of effort. The Democratic offices were fully staffed, and they were fully employed doing case work as well as representing their employer to the public, not only through service but as a spokesperson in the various meetings and negotiations that a congress person is involved in. I cannot breach my spouse’s vow of confidentiality on case matters, but I can attest that GOP constituents came to the Democrats to solve problems that GOP elected officials could not or would not handle.

    The parties are guided by differing ideologies and the party that is officially against big government and what it calls “nannyism” has no interest in helping everyone who has issues with their government. The quality of constituent service is determined by the values and will of the office holder. That is why Aberdeen will have only one fully operative Congressional office.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.31

    Point taken on the downside of distributing services to avoid duplication. If we were in an ideal world, where all three staffs were equally skilled and committed to non-partisan service, then duplication could exist, and we could take reasonable steps to reduce it. But Dr. Newquist reminds us that the whole problem is we don't live in such an ideal setting, and we have GOP staff and elected officials who can't or won't handle problems that dedicated Democratic staff can and will handle... when we have Democrats in office to field such staffs.

    David, I'm going to reach again, but is there any sort of constituent service that the Democratic Party could provide as a back-up for constituents who may now find the exclusively GOP delegation not delivering for them? (I imagine the first response is, "If they can't even win an election, how the heck can they deliver any real results for constituents?") Could Daschle, Herseth Sandlin, and Johnson bankroll some sort of "Washington Help Line" by which constituents could go around our feckless delegation and tap some of the agencies and connections of our old leaders?

  12. Tim 2014.12.31

    "Could Daschle, Herseth Sandlin, and Johnson bankroll some sort of "Washington Help Line" by which constituents could go around our feckless delegation and tap some of the agencies and connections of our old leaders?"

    Cory, maybe voters should be forced to live with the trash they put in office, the best education of voters may be to see what they vote for in action.

  13. David Newquist 2014.12.31

    Cory, The effectiveness of constituent services is connected to the judicious wielding of political power. Tom Daschle’s staff was so effective because agencies wanted his approval and did not want him investigating why something did not go right. A cooperative constituent services office would be just another bureaucracy. The fair and honest scrutiny of agencies and the desire to make things work on the part of an elected official keeps the agencies in line. The GOP, on the other hand, is more interested in cutting back on agencies than it is the level of performance provided to constituents. Its allies in the bureaucracies are more interested in finding reasons to deny services than to provide them.

    My wife has not held a staff position for five years, but she and fellow former staff members get personal calls asking for advice. They make use of the contacts they made in helping people out, but that is not the same as sending a letter over the signature of a congress person.

    The application of political power is best illustrated during the Clinton administration when the IRS was wielding police state tactics over tax payers. A Congressional review of the agency called people into account and produced some sweeping changes. The South Dakota headquarters for the IRS was in Aberdeen, run by a raging power-mad maniac. He was recalled to D.C., the office was closed and merged with the North Dakota office in Fargo, and now is reduced to a small staff that gives out tax forms. The former state director was more interested in prosecuting tax fraud than in helping people straighten out their tax problems. Congress changed that when it finally investigated the policies and practices.

    When people chose the GOP over Democrats, they eliminated the watch dogs of integrity and helpfulness. It takes political clout to maintain honesty. And so we end up in South Dakota with a regime that helped fleece foreign investors in the EB-5 program, and an empty beef plant that is a monument to connivance, corruption, and incompetence.

  14. leslie 2014.12.31

    "when people choose the GOP...."

    well said sir!

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