During my visit to the Capitol Wednesday, I found myself surrounded by the Religious Right. Concerned Women for America, Family Policy Council, Family Heritage Alliance... and those are just the three I encountered in my brief intersection with the right wing in our discussion of the demerits of Common Core before House Education Wednesday. Dale Bartscher came up and introduced himself, his assistant Family Heritage Alliance associate Norman Woods, and his communications director John Dennis. He told me their big Josh Duggar event at the Capitol on February 5 went wonderfully, bringing (if I recall correctly) 81 pastors and "ministry leaders" to Pierre to hear FHA's message of theocracy. He told me about FHA's plans to open a third office in Aberdeen.

As I made a mental note to add that ribbon-cutting to my blog coverage, I thought, "Good grief! This one group can send these guys to spend the whole session in Pierre and support three offices around the state? That's political muscle!"

Search the South Dakota lobbyist register, and you see why a good liberal like me or even a mild-mannered moderate might feel outnumbered at the Capitol:

This list is not exhaustive; I invite attentive readers to submit their favorite right-wing and non-right-wing organizations to append to this list.

But it's not just the head count that puts the right wing at an advantage; it's their activity. The right wing doesn't just lobby; they bring bills. They testify avidly, double- and triple-teaming on the legislation they like in committee. And they are far more committed to pushing their legislation, even when they know their bills, like the Common Core repeal, won't pass.

My center and left-leaning friends are less numerous and more cautious in Pierre. They don't put forward lots of bills. When they do, they are darned careful about spending their spare political capital on proposals that stand a fair chance of winning bipartisan support.

And while it's easy to identify the hard right-wing bills promoting God and guns and threatening to send women and homosexuals back to the Stone Age, where are the comparable crazy liberal ideas that turn into proposals for South Dakota legislation? No one in Pierre proposes legislation like my moonshot plan to raise teacher pay $10,000. Legalizing medical marijuana can't even find a sponsor in Pierre. The non-ultra-conservatives among us don't get to cheer many bills; we spend most of our time counting out blessings for the occasional grudging victory of common sense over bad bills.

So put all that together, and who drives the discourse in Pierre? The Chamber of Commerce corporate colonizers may be in the driver's seat, but the Religious Right, the culture warriors, are riding shotgun, talking their ear off and locking the radio on that mind-numbing praise music. And we progressives are in the back seat asking politely if the driver could crack the window so we could get some fresh air.

There's some fire here that we—Democrats, Independents, liberals, moderates, Libertarians (real ones, not fakers like Chad Haber)—need to fight with fire. We need to put more resources toward groups like Campaign for Healthy Families, the AFL-CIO, and Equality SD to lobby in Pierre, not just against the wild, destructive legislation that humiliates our state in the national press each legislative session, but for positive legislation that fights for the interests of South Dakota women, workers, and minorities. We need organizations like those, operating independently of any party, to lobby in Pierre, to speak in committees, to press for specific bills, and, most importantly, to light up legislators' phones and e-mails with lots and lots of messages of voters saying, "Vote our way, or you won't win your next election."

The Capitol is teeming with religious conservative lobbyists who can credibly make that threat. The rest of us (and there are more of us; we're just quieter) need to rally some force to counter that threat.


On October 15, Gary Coe of Lead filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to create Many True Conservatives. Coe sells magic pills of unknown composition. By waiting so late to create his PAC, he can now sell political messages with unknown donors.

Coe, who ran for District 31 House as a radical Tea Party Republican in 2012, is spending his mystery money attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds and boosting Independent Gordon Howie, whose Republican gubernatorial campaign Coe managed in 2010. A reader submits this robocall from Many True Conservatives:

Gary Coe Many True Conservatives robocall 20141029

Hi, this is Gary Coe with Many True Conservatives. We need a real conservative to represent us in the U.S. Senate. Mike Rounds gave us the EB-5 scandals, higher taxes, the largest budget deficit in South Dakota history, and now he refuses to take the no-increase-in-tax pledge. No wonder the Senate Conservative Fund refused to endorse Mike Rounds.

We have a real choice this election. Gordon Howie is pro-life, pro-gun, and the Tea Party leader taxpayers can trust. Please cast your vote for Gordon Howie the real conservative. Paid for by Many True Conservatives, 605-559-2345 [links mine; Gary Coe, Many True Conservatives Super PAC robocall, 2014.10.29].

I first thought I heard MiniTrue, but Coe isn't peddling Newspeak. Coe, like Howie, would bring us an economic and cultural train wreck if we gave them the keys to the Democracy Maserati, but when it comes to Mike Rounds, their conservative critique is pretty accurate.

But it would be nice to know who's footing the bill for Coe's attacks and just what percent of Rounds's voters those attacks will pull away.


The Tea Party Express shed credibility this week by throwing a life preserver to failing and only faintly Tea-flavored Republican candidate Mike Rounds. Reasonable Republican John Tsitrian finds that endorsement laughable and incompatible with good government for South Dakota. Arch-conservative Bob Ellis finds it horrible... or should I say whore-able?

...the Tea Party Express, a national Tea Party group, has decided to whore itself out, selling its values and virtue in a quest for a seat at the table of power [Bob Ellis, "Tea Party Express Whores Itself to RINO Establishment," American Clarion, 2014.10.15].

Ellis is incensed (Ellis is always incensed, but this time he's right) that anyone could mistake Mike Rounds for Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or Sarah Palin or whoever represents this amorphous group of do-nothing, tax-nobody anarcho-conservatives:

The guy who kicked the can of a $127 million structural deficit down the road for his successor Dennis Daugaard and the legislature to deal with…is “not something Mike Rounds is going to do”? Give me a break!

The guy who lacked the guts to sign South Dakota’s first attempt to ban abortion in 2004–and instead vetoed it–is “going to confront the problems”? Spare me!

The guy who grew the size of state government, who supports government health care schemes, amnesty, Marxist minimum wage increases and a host of other liberal ideas can be relied on for “getting America back on track”? Please!

According to Mike Rounds record–not his lying rhetoric, but his record–he isn’t even a good Republican, much less a good Tea Party candidate [Ellis, 2014.10.15].

Gordon Howie is the only true Tea Partier in the Senate race and the only one besides Lora Hubbel on South Dakota's statewide ballot. Government by Howie, Hubbel, and Ellis evokes terrifying visions of theocratic tyranny. But if you drink that Tea, that's what you dig, and you cannot in good conscience dig Mike Rounds.

Endorsing Mike Rounds is capitulation. If you really believe the Republican Party is filled with pragmatists, opportunists, and fakers who trade principles for raw power, you don't vote for Mike Rounds just to preserve a Republican majority in the Senate. You vote en masse for Howie. You either win the Senate seat or, if you can't quite beat Weiland or Pressler, you knock the legs out from under the RINO establishment, prove that fakers like Rounds are no longer viable, and set the stage for full-tilt Tea-volution in 2016, when you run Howie for Thune's Senate seat, Bill Napoli for House, and Stacey Victor Nelson for President.


Just like the February version, the August Dakota Poll finds more young South Dakotan adults identifying themselves as conservative (42%) than liberal (23%). But theirs is a queer conservatism. Consider:

  • South Dakotans age 18 to 35 aren't interested in conserving the current two-party system: asked to rate how well "the two-party system is serving the needs of the American people" on a 1–10 scale, 53% give it a 4 or less; only 20% give it a 6 or better.
  • Young South Dakotans wouldn't conserve South Dakota's election system: 56% would like to adopt the Nebraska system—all legislative candidates from all parties go on the same ballot in June, and the top two vote-getters face off in November. Only 29% would oppose.
  • They don't read the Second Amendment as conservatively as the NRA and orange-clad candidates demand: 87% support "reasonable background checks on gun purchases" (that includes 82% of Republican respondents) and 53% say "Local governments should have the authority to ban guns from bars, parks, stores, and restaurants."
  • They aren't strict economic conservatives: as I reported Tuesday, they wouldn't just pass the $8.50 minimum wage on South Dakota's ballot; 56% of them would vote to raise the minimum wage to President Obama's favored $10.10.
  • They aren't strict Grover Norquist conservatives: 70% would raise our minimal teacher pay at least 20%, "even if it means slightly higher sales or property taxes. (A 20% increase would raise South Dakota's teacher pay from 51st in the nation to 41st. We'd still be 16% below the national average and $8,800 behind Minnesota.)
  • They aren't conservative with citizenship: 52% say they'd allow illegal immigrants to stay here and eventually apply for citizenship. Another 11% would let illegal immigrants stay but block citizenship. Only 29% would kick 'em out.
  • They aren't conservative about "family values": 55% say gay marriage should be legal, versus 29% who would keep South Dakota's ban. (But maybe that majority is family-value conservative, taking the position that government should not interfere in two willing adults' decision to make a commitment and raise a family.)
  • They are mixedly conservative on health insurance: almost three times as many respondents think they are worse off under the Affordable Care Act than think they are better off, though a strong 40% say the ACA makes no difference. But asked whether they prefer a mandate to buy private insurance or extending government-based health insurance like Medicare to everyone with income-based premiums, government wins 44% to 26%.

There may be conservatism afoot among the youngest generation of South Dakota voters, but it's not their parents' conservatism.


Nielson Brothers Polling unearths another anomaly in the thinking of South Dakota voters. Their July 23–28 survey of voters found that Governor Dennis Daugaard enjoys more support than Congresswoman Kristi Noem among almost every political group:

Daugaard Noem
Overall Job Approval % 64.1 58.0
...among GOP 82.0 80.4
...among Dems 41.0 29.2
...among Indies 62.4 50.5
...among liberals 24.1 5.8
...among conservatives 77.4 78.0
...among “Tea Party” 87.8 96.5

Among the political affiliations and self-identifications checked by Nielson, the only folks who are more likely (outside the margin of error) to get a bigger charge out of Kristi Noem's performance than Dennis Daugaard's are Tea Party people.

Help me understand this difference. If I were a Tea Partier, in what way could I say that Rep. Noem is doing her job in Washington in better alignment with my desires than Governor Daugaard is doing his job in Pierre? Does Noem's support for the Farm Bill, 16 months late as it was, epitomize the Tea Party vision for government better than, say, Daugaard's support for criminal justice reform? Does Noem's government shutdown demonstrate greater fealty to Tea Party principles than Daugaard's "new norm" of permanently hamstringing public education funding?

Is the difference something they don't do? Does Noem's failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act make her a bigger Tea Party hero than Daugaard's failed effort to repeal tenure and impose merit pay on public school teachers?

Noem and Daugaard have both caught heck for not brewing strong enough Tea. In 2012, the Club for Growth gave Noem a nearly failing score for Tea Party economic policy. Daugaard is widely and correctly viewed as one of the more moderate members of the South Dakota Republican Party (which in South Dakota is like saying John Sullivan is one of the lighter members of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line). At no point in the last ffour years has either Noem or Daugaard really foamed at the mouth over the prospect of watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and RINOs. Tea isn't their cup of tea.

I'm left wondering if that anomalous Tea Party bent for Kristi simply boils down to image. Noem on a horse is a lady Reagan. Daugaard looks kinda studly in his checked shirts, but we all know he's not a cowboy; he's a lawyer-banker type. Policy equivalence doesn't matter, because Tea Partiers don't vote with their cerebra. They vote with their limbic systems. On an emotional level, Noem better affirms who we want to be and who we want our ladies to be.

And maybe, just maybe, supporting Noem provides the most regressively conservative among us another form of emotional comfort that Daugaard cannot: What do those dirty liberals mean, calling me a missoggy— miso soup— Mississauga— sexist, just because I want to ban abortion, block equal pay laws, and restore 1950s-style gender oppression? I like Kristi Noem! See? I can't be sexist!

If I'm missing something more substantive that would explain Noem's higher approval than Daugaard's among Tea Party voters, let me know. But I just can't see the job performance markers that would earn Noem any different score from Daugaard from the most radical conservative voters.

p.s., from the Thinking Out Loud Department: The difference between Daugaard's approval rating and Noem's is 6.1 percentage points. The difference between Daugaard's lead over Susan Wismer and Noem's lead over Corinna Robinson is 6.3 percentage points.


The Tea Party in South Dakota hasn't had much success at the ballot box. In this year's Republican primary, neither Lora Hubbel nor Stace Nelson, the candidates around whom South Dakota's revolution-reënactors most visibly rallied, broke 20% against frontrunners whom they would have us believe are "Republicans in Name Only." The hard right insurgents fielded only a handful of candidates to challenge sitting legislators in the primary, and none of them upset any incumbents. Like the Libertarians with whom they ideologically overlap, South Dakota's Tea Partiers are better described as a carriers of a vague label than organizers of a serious fundraising and vote-getting movement.

Nationally, the folks who adopt that vague label get more press but little more real electoral success. Some observers and hopeful candidates point to David Brat's upset of Eric Cantor as affirmation of Tea Party outrage and ballot-winning power, but the Tea Party as an organization had very little to do with Brat's primary win. Conservative writer Michael Lotfi says national Tea Party groups have given little practical help to candidates like Brat and are jumping on his bandwagon just to pad their pockets:

In fact, all of these groups have been collecting millions in donations, and they have not put a single dime into many winnable races.

According to a Washington Post report, the six largest national Tea Party groups have spent more than $37.5 million on the mid-terms so far. However, only $7 million of the spent donations have actually gone directly to candidates. Where did the other $30.5 million go? Well, it goes directly into their family members’ pockets for ‘consulting fees’, giving themselves lucrative benefit packages, paying themselves $272k/year salaries, and even spending $52k in interior decorating fees for one of their fancy Capitol Hill town-homes. How fiscally conservative of them [Michael Lotfi, "Dear Tea Party, On Cantor's Loss—You Didn't Build That," BenSwann.com, 2014.06.11].

Lotfi notes that while super-PACs give about 60% of their money directly to candidates, Tea-flavored Senate Conservatives Fund (you know, the guys who vowed to elect an alternative to Mike Rounds in the SDGOP primary, then ignored the four eager and willing alternatives) and FreedomWorks have spent 40% of their cash on candidates. Lotfi says the Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, and Madison Project have spent 5% or less on candidates.

Failing to invest real money in real campaigns makes it look as if these conservative organizations don't really want to win and effect real policy change. They just want the attention and dollars uniquely available to those who adopt a radical right-wing persona:

If you want money and attention, you could do worse than become a conservative provocateur. Right-wing resentment—stoked by impossible promises and harnessed through donations—built a fortune for Glenn Beck, a political career for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and a burgeoning media empire for the late Andrew Breitbart.

Even if you think these lawmakers and activists are sincere—and I do—it’s hard not to see the whole operation as a perpetual swindle. Take the Affordable Care Act. With the re-election of President Obama, odds of repeal were slim-to-none. But rather than abandon the call for Obamacare repeal, conservative groups—and their allies in Congress—pushed further. Not because they thought it could happen, but because it was lucrative. As Robert Costa described for National Review at the time, “Business has boomed since the push to defund Obamacare caught on. Conservative activists are lighting up social media, donations are pouring in, and e-mail lists are growing” [Jamelle Bouie, "The GOP's Grifter Problem," Slate, 2014.05].

We've seen this faux-right grifterism in South Dakota. Annette Bosworth adopted a fake conservative Christian persona to access campaign donations to subsidize her family. Washington D.C. direct-mail firm Base Connect adopted Bosworth as the latest in its series of electorally doomed but PR-sparkly toys to elicit donations from vulnerable retirees. Bosworth has reported over $1.6 million in campaign contributions so far. Base Connect, its partners, and other entities associated with her direct mail scheme have so far collected over 75% of that money, $1.25 million. Bosworth's amended first-quarter FEC report shows that she is still in dutch to her direct mailers for another $400K.

In other words, every penny so far documented that people sent Bosworth to fight for Tea Party principles really goes to clever marketers sending scary letters about ObamaCare. (The money she'll continue to raise will cover the $320 in Starbucks and $331 in Hy-Vee groceries Annette paid for with the campaign credit card while winning 5.75% of the GOP vote.)

Lotfi says donors should avoid Tea Party profiteers by giving their money to local groups. 95.8% of Bosworth's itemized donors came from out of state. In other words, they didn't know Annette Bosworth, and they weren't watching South Dakota press coverage of her train-wreck campaign. They just believed the scary letters that keep Base Connect in business. They wasted $1.6 million dollars and failed to make a political difference.

The Tea Party in South Dakota and elsewhere could be more successful. Dedicated conservatives could ally with liberals like me and populists like Rick Weiland to wage war against crony capitalism and other real threats to our liberty. They could turn off talk radio and focus on bringing neighbors together to cooperate in real local campaigns on real local issues.

But Tea Party Incorporated can't follow that business model. Conservative grifters like the Tea Party Express, Base Connect, and Annette Bosworth need donors to remain scared and isolated, to cling to their pre-fabricated mottoes, and to write their checks to profit centers with no real plan for positive political change.


Republican Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg has lost a key member of his campaign team. Tea Party organizer Ken Crow announced Sunday that he has left the Ravnsborg campaign and is endorsing GOP challenger Rep. Stace Nelson.

This defection and endorsement appear to revoke the support that Crow's Tea Party Tribune declared for Ravnsborg in March. While Crow was initially impressed with Ravnsborg's answers to an e-mail questionnaire, Crow's six weeks of traveling around South Dakota with Ravnsborg left Crow with an impression of a weak candidate running to run and not to win. Crow cannot figure out why a Ravnsborg interested in winning would not take the very logical step of running a hard-hitting ad on EB-5 against GOP frontrunner Mike Rounds. Crow was also unsettled by Ravnsborg's regular mentions of Dan Lederman and other supporters of GOP frontrunner Mike Rounds. Crow thus gets the impression that Ravnsborg is more interested in hitching his star to those already ascendant in the GOP than ascending by his own merits and promotion of Tea Party conservatism.

Crow says the "minor" issues that originally kept him from endorsing Nelson are far outweighed by Ravnsborg's failure as a candidate:

...Mr. Ravnsborg either isn’t hungry enough for victory or there are hidden agendas that I am unaware of. But his refusal to try and win this campaign is enough reason for me personally to withdraw my support of Jason Ravnsborg for U. S. Senate. Being a national Tea Party figure as I am, I am compelled to only support people that I know are conservative by nature, have a moral compass and are willing to fight for the Constitution.

In light of the afflictions currently facing America, we as a nation are in desperate need of strong and bold leadership to guide our nation at this time in our history. While Stace Nelson might still be a little tougher than we are used to viewing our Senators as, he is exactly what we need in Washington, D. C. We need an outspoken advocate for the citizens of this great nation and the great state of South Dakota. We need someone that is unafraid to stand firm just as he did in Pierre.

I have subsequently learned that Nelson was given several bad raps simply because he dared to stand in the face of “career politicians and the status quo” and of course they did not like that very much. To me, that is true leadership and representation [Ken Crow, press release, 2014.05.25].

When Crow's Tea Party folks lined up behind Ravnsborg, pro-Rounds blog Dakota War College eagerly printed both press releases, without commentary or criticism. Now that experience and face-to-face contact with the candidates have made Crow realize Stace Nelson is the truest Tea Party conservative in South Dakota's Senate race, it will be interesting to see if DWC treats this news with similar gentleness or if DWC will now brand Crow an out-of-state interloper who has no business endorsing candidates in a South Dakota race.


In an RCJ article on Bill Napoli's West River Wingnut insurgency, the esteemed Professor Jon Schaff gets us wondering just what RINOs the hard right is hunting:

Schaff added that it was difficult to make the case that South Dakota's Republican Party had shifted to the left.

Analysis of party voting records by political scientists, particularly Kieth Poole of the University of Georgia and Howard Rosenthal of New York University, show that nationally the party is the most conservative it's been in a century.

South Dakota's legislature and congressional delegation — which is dominated by Republicans — is generally considered to be in line with that trend [Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, "Wingnuts Pledge to Push Republican Party Further Right," Rapid City Journal, 2014.05.11].

Schaff reminds us that we shouldn't be fooled by rhetoric from folks like Napoli, Gordon Howie, and Stace Nelson who call Mike Rounds, Dennis Daugaard, and other leading Republicans "moderates" and "Democrats." Such statements create the false impression that South Dakota is controlled by liberal politicians, which we liberals know to be hogwash.

Schaff says the GOP's rightward shift was brought to us by Reagan-Jesus people:

Schaff compared it to the transformation of the Republican Party nationwide during the 1980s. In that period, fundamentalist Christians organized to overthrow the so-called "country club" Republicans that dominated the party [Simmons-Ritchie, 2014.05.11].

That's funny: if the country club Republicans were overthrown, it seems like the overthrowers must have all signed up for their own memberships in the country club. I'd like to believe conservatives like Napoli could be allies in the fight against the crony capitalism that brought us the EB-5 scandal, but maybe a Wingnut win just brings us a new crop of Bendas, Bollens, and Roundses.


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