You'd think I'd spend an episode of Inside KELOLand cheering the Democrats and throwing shoes at the Republicans. But on last night's Inside KELOLand discussion with four South Dakota legislators, my Democratic friends left me as barefoot as the Republicans, as the Dems failed to attack the noodle-headed policies of the GOP regime in Pierre.
My Democratic friends seem to be stuck in South Dakota Nice. Senator Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison) talked about a Democratic amendment to the road-repair plan that would have directed the excise tax toward local governments. Local roads and bridges are in worse shape than state infrastructure. Republicans killed that amendment. But Senator Parsley didn't explain to voters how Republicans had killed a sensible Democratic plan to direct dollars where dollars are needed most. Senator Parsley mildly said, "it was a good debate, good discussion."
Senator Parsley was similarly gentle on in an argument about property tax and roads. Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes) said he thought that spending property tax for road repairs went too far (because, you know, that property you own has nothing at all to do with the roads that you use to get to that property). He said the original bill created a new property tax, and such new taxes ought to be subject to a vote of the people. Senator Parsley responded that the proposal was not a new tax, that property taxes already fund roads. But he prefaced his argument with the mild, "Not to argue with Senator Lederman...."
Senator Parsley, you are arguing with Senator Lederman. You should argue with Senator Lederman. He has it coming, because he is wrong. Let the voters know that he is wrong. Let the voters know that Republicans are costing counties money by forcing them to hold an expensive election every time they want to raise money for local infrastructure instead of leaving it to citizens to decide under the referendum power they already have whether they want to put a bridge-repair levy to a vote.
Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) was similarly far too gentle in the face of the Republican baloney served by Rep. Don Haggar (R-9/Sioux Falls). Rep. Haggar said he did not expect the Legislature to offer any more than the 2% increase the Governor has proposed for K-12 funding. Rep. Hawks replied, "I generally agree we're not going to see anything over that 2% as ongoing money."
Back up, Rep. Hawks. You should never open a comment on the ongoing Republican strangulation of K-12 budgets with the words, "I agree." Or at the very least, you say, "I agree the Republicans in the Legislature aren't going to give us more than 2%, because Republicans don't think our kids are worth the investment. But we should do more than 2%. We have to do more than 2% if we're going to stand any chance of recruiting teachers and maintaining educational opportunities."
Rep. Hawks misses another point-making opportunity on a question about the Governor's proposed "Blue Ribbon Task Force" on education. Rep. Haggar says the task force is "absolutely" a "great idea." He then happily babbles away from the fundamental question of the teacher shortage, saying we need to look at whether the education funding formula "promote[s] the right behaviors." Rep. Hawks, who should be rolling her eyes, who should be giving Rep. Haggar a Seth-and-Amy Really?!?, instead mildly replies that she is "pleased" that we're going to spend time looking at education. Rep. Hawks notes that she gets "a little concerned" that the task force may just be "pushing... down the road another year" a problem that we already understand. Rep. Hawks outlines that problem—years of short funding leading to teachers leaving the profession and college students not entering the field—but instead of speaking with the pain and passion of a veteran teacher who has seen the damage done by the state's neglect, former teacher Hawks states these issues somewhat nonchalantly, as if we've heard the words before and there's no need to get excited about them. She then punctuates her comments by saying she's optimistic that the task force can produce results. By opening and closing with an endorsement of the task force, Rep. Hawks sends the primary message that Rep. Haggar and Governor Daugaard are on the right track and that her concerns are secondary.
My mild-mannered Democratic friends could argue ("Not to argue with blogger Cory, but...") that they are simply drawing flies with honey. But on the big issues, these Republicans need swatting. They are neglecting critical problems, and voters need to know it. If we Democrats are going to be an effective opposition party, we need to oppose, and we need to take advantage of every opportunity (like 23 minutes on the top-rated TV station in the state) to pitch that opposition to the public.
The South Dakota Democratic Party is in the process of hiring a new executive director (that position was supposed to be filled by the end of January; we're working on that, right, Central Committee?). One can hope that the new executive director will model the sort of captivating and mobilizing fire that our Democratic legislators should be using to challenge the Republican neglect of the public welfare.