Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) took the House floor last Tuesday and argued against the proposal from "our fine Governor" to create captive insurance companies—i.e., state-run, state-funded pools to insure a variety of state facilities. House Bills 1185, 1186, and 1187 appropriate a total of six million dollars for this purpose. All three passed the House last week with their funding intact, unlike a host of other bills that have limped out of the House with their appropriations dropped to a placeholder buck pending the resolution of economic forecasts and budget priorities.

Rep. Bolin doesn't need to wait; he already has his budget priorities in order. In a stemwinder against HB 1185, the incandescent Cantonian made a brilliant and specific case against funding a state insurance pool over other more pressing fiscal needs. He listed several of the Governor's requests for one-time money that he supports: funding Ross Shaft upgrades at the Lead science facilities, replenishing emergency funds spent in this fiscal year, helping low-income seniors make their tax payments, and recruiting medical students for rural areas. But he said the Governor's captive insurance company doesn't make his cut:

But on this program, I must draw the line. In a year when revenue increases appear to be minimal, and in age of fiscal uncertainty, we're planning to spend four million dollars on a very questionable and unneeded program that we have not deemed necesary for the last 125 years. Now I want to emphasize again, this state has survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, repeated forest fires in the Black Hills, grasshopper plagues, the farm crisis of the 1980s, and the recent Missouri River floods without captive insurance companies.

Furthermore, we're making this financial decision at the same time that we as a state, we're proposing to change our financial responsibilities by pushing the sparsity programs for rural schools, among other items, onto the local taxpayers [Rep. Jim Bolin, remarks on House Bill 1185, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 49:25].

Rep. Bolin refers here to a budget trick the Governor is using to inflate the state's increase in K-12 school funding from 1.5% to 2%. The state is "saving" $2.6 million by making a portion of funding for the sparsity adjustment, technology, and assessment programs to local school districts. Expect to hear more about this issue as the Legislature finally rushes toward discussion and passage of the state budget.

Showing he's not just a naysayer, Rep. Bolin lists a number of other programs that are more worth the six-millio-dollar investment:

People, this is not so much about captive insurance companies or even if I may say emancipated insurance companies so much as about our financial priorities as a state and as an elected Legislature.

There is no need to go down the captive insurance road. The four million dollars mentioned in this bill and the two million in the companion pieces of legislation can be better spent in a wide variety of areas or... in terms of our current financial situation, maybe we should just let it fall to the bottom line.

The choices we might make with this money might include fighting the pine beetle plague in the Black Hills with extra funds, buying down tuition for in-state students in our Regental universities, funding needed programs at tech schools, or helping community support providers who do much for those less fortunate in our state for a pittance. Community support providers face tremendous problems because of high turnover in their workforce because of low wages.

The bottom line is this: that this expenditure of one-time money for this purpose should not be a priority for this Legislature [Bolin, 2015.02.24, 50:23].

Pine beetle, tuition relief, tech schools, social services—those are all areas where various advocates have identified real, current harms that increased funding would immediately ameliorate. Self-insuring state buildings responds to potential, future harms that have not happened; HBs 1185, 1186, and 1187 spend money that does no immediate, tangible good for the state.

Rep. Bolin didn't win the day—the House voted 50–20 for HB 1185 and by bigger margins for the other two bills—probably because he again reminded his fellow Republicans that low wages lead to high turnover and difficulty filling jobs, something legislators don't want to think about as they take no serious steps to address South Dakota's rock-bottom teacher pay and the resultant teacher shortage.

Or maybe Rep. Bolin lost because he cited the Steve Miller Band and his colleagues are all Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. Rep. Bolin crescendoed to this impassioned plea: "In the name of Billy Joe and Bobby Sue, don't let 'em take the money and run, vote red!"

Some Republican legislators challenge the party line by saying outlandish things. Rep. Jim Bolin challenges the Governor with passion, fun, and grown-up budget priorities. I've got to respect that.


The House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously yesterday to pass three bills that could put more money in legislators' pockets. Are raises for teachers next?

House Bill 1145 would give legislators the per diem reimbursement (currently $123) for attending the Governor's budget address in December and the inauguration in January. (I have a separate post on that bill coming up!) House Bill 1149 doesn't raise legislator pay, but it adds the words "at least" before the "six thousand dollars" that SDCL 2-4-2 sets as the legislative salary, opening the door for raises. House Bill 1150 would add legislators to the list of elected officials who automatically get the same pay raise as other state employees.

Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton), primary sponsor of HB 1149 and HB 1150, said in his testimony on HB 1149 that legislators haven't had a raise since 1998 and have one of the lowest legislative salaries in the nation. Rep. Bolin said that low pay limits the pool of people who can work in the Legislature to five small categories:

  1. farmers,
  2. young people with few family obligations,
  3. the independently wealthy,
  4. retirees, and
  5. folks with "a particular belief system" (might he mean ideologues?) who would serve no matter what the pay.

You realize, don't you, Rep. Bolin, that you basically wrote the speech for Senator Bernie Hunhoff to support his SJR 2 to raise South Dakota teacher pay?

No one in committee noted the analogy between low legislator pay and low teacher pay. Nor did anyone speak against the three legislative pay bills, but, following the swift and undisputed votes, a friend of a Facebook friend (who can have credit if that FFF wants it!) published this list of rebuttal points based on the excuses legislators give for not raising teacher pay:

  • They only work a few months out of the year and get summers off.
  • South Dakota has a low cost of living, so they don't need to be paid more.
  • South Dakota also has a high quality of life, so that should more than make up for the pay.
  • We don't have an income tax, so they need to take that into account.
  • If they don't like the salary, they should go legislate somewhere else.
  • We should only pay new legislators more money; the more tenured ones are already here.
  • Perhaps we need to link their pay to performance; have the citizens in the legislator's district take standardized tests, and if they do well, the legislator will be paid more [Facebook comment, 2015.02.04].

I support raising legislator pay. I would argue that Rep. Bolin doesn't go far enough. HB 1149 should double legislator pay to make up for the lost ground of the last seventeen raiseless years, just as Governor Daugaard says we should increase our gasoline tax, which has stayed flat and lost purchasing power since 1999.

Besides, I want HB 1149 and HB 1150 to pass so we can put Republicans on the record rejecting all of the arguments my FFF makes above and embracing the basic, common-sense economic arguments that support raising teacher pay. Having the lowest pay in the nation significantly limits our labor pool. Higher wages will draw more talent. House State Affairs knows that economic logic applies to their field; it shouldn't be hard now to convince them that economic logic applies to teaching as well.


South Dakotans Against Common Core are crediting Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) with being "the first in South Dakota to expose this leviathan called Common Core." Rep. Bolin was certainly an early opponent, challenging the November 2010 adoption of Common Core with his 2011 House Bill 1153 to block history standards that didn't exist then and don't exist now. I don't know if challenging something that didn't exist counts as "exposing a leviathan" (though it certainly prefigures much of the paranoia we hear from current Common Core opponents). But I invite eager readers to submit evidence supporting or refuting the notion that Rep. Bolin was the first South Dakotan to attack Common Core.

Rep. Bolin will have some anti-Common Core company in Pierre this week. He's inviting his comrades (hee hee!) to a Stop Common Core Day at the Capitol on Wednesday, January 29! They'll be buttonholing legislators all day long from 7:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., lobbying with a wide variety of inconsistent arguments to save education from... well... from something.

Snark aside, I love Stop Common Core Day, because they are trying to teach their participants how to lobby effectively. Here's some of the advice they post from Mark Chase at the Family Policy Council (there: don't say that I never say anything nice about my theocrat yahoo neighbors):

4. The ones you want to engage in conversation are the ones who say that they don’t know much about it, or that they have not formed an opinion either way, and there are many of these. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT attempt to dialogue with a senator or representative who tells you that they are for Common Core. YOU WILL NOT CHANGE THEIR MINDS!! What you risk, because you are so passionately opposed to Common Core, is getting into a futile argument, and we must avoid this at all costs. Arguments will only damage our efforts [Mark Chase, Family Policy Council, "Lobbying 101," Facebook post for South Dakotans Against Common Core, 2014.01.26].

Translation: Legislators, if you're busy, decide before Wednesday whether you support Common Core or not. Indecision only invites long conversations!

6. would be very helpful if you predetermine what you would like a senator or representative to know about Common Core and prepare your talking points accordingly. What would be EXTREMELY helpful would be physical examples of what the implementation of Common Core through the curriculum looks like. This is time is for “Show and Tell!” Let them hear your story and give them solid reasons to oppose it [Chase, 2014.01.26].

Prepare, be specific, provide real examples—that's great debate-coach advice!

7. If you find the emotions of frustration/anger rising inside you, TAKE A BREAK! Leave the building, go downstairs to the cafeteria, or find a quiet place in the capital where you can regroup or reflect with another person. Emotions run high at the capital and it is incumbent upon us to keep them in check [Chase, 2014.01.26].

Good advice for the Legislature, the dinner table, the blog comment section, pretty much everywhere else.

9. Finally, keep a smile on your face and enjoy your time. You will most certainly make an impact!!! [Chase, 2014.01.26].

It's politics. It's policy. It's serious and important. But it's also democracy, and you're doing it, in the greatest temple to the popular will in South Dakota. How can you not have a smile on your face?


Rock on, Jim Bolin! The Canton Cannonballer introduces House Bill 1098, a measure to make Secretary of Education an elected position.

More lines on the ballot, more people to vote for, more public officials required to lead public conversations and win the mandate of the people—yes, yes, yes!

Just 13 states elect their top education official, including our neighbors in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. The Governor appoints South Dakota's education secretary, and the fewer people the Governor appoints, the better.

Rep. Bolin's bill puts the education secretary's office up for electoral grabs in 2018 (come on, Jim! We could declare an emergency and switch on a campaign this year!). Candidates would have to be 25, reside in South Dakota for at least two years, and hold a valid teacher's or school administrator's certificate.

Candidates would run in the primary and general election on a non-partisan ballot. That non-partisan status would require candidates for education secretary to work harder to get on the ballot than candidates for partisan state offices: under current vote totals, HB 1098 would require aspiring education secretaries to obtain almost 3,200 signatures on their nominating petitions, compared with just under 2,000 for Republicans and just over 1,200 for Democrats seeking other offices.

I think Bolin may just be setting himself up for a future candidacy. He abandoned his own candidacy for commission of school and public lands last fall, after realizing, I suspect, that the most boring job on the South Dakota ballot did not suit his desire to crusade for good education. If HB 1098 passes, expect a Bolin campaign for education secretary... and if that happens, expect me to run against him! (Now that would be fun.)


Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) is playing catch-up with Senator Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea) in fighting the Common Core school standards. Rep. Bolin vowed to lead the fight against Common Core this year, but Senator Otten launched three bills on the topic into the Legislative hopper before Rep. Bolin could file one.

But here it is, Bolin's House Bill 1075, which revises an existing statute on Common Core. In a sly bit of sweeping evidence under the rug, HB 1075 first deletes a phrase in SDCL 13-3-89 that states that Common Core is "a state-led effort launched by state leaders through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers." That statement runs counter to the misconception popular amongst the anti-Common Core political footballers, that they are fighting some evil federal government program. Removing that clause from statute removes an embarrassing reminder of the misleading rhetoric coming from the loudest Common Core opponents.

The substance of HB 1075 expands statute to subject any binding multi-state educational standards to at least four public hearings, in Aberdeen, Pierre, Rapid City, and Sioux Falls. HB 1075 makes government move even more slowly, requiring that each hearing be at least sixty days apart. (On that time frame, we might as well require Department of Education Officials to walk from hearing to hearing.)

Interestingly, HB 1075 does not speak subject unique standards created wholly within South Dakota to such scrutinizing delay. If a new set of curriculum standards were to spring forth fully formed from Education Secretary Melody Schopp's fervent imagination, HB 1075 would not require any hearings. I find that omission interesting: South Dakota bureaucrats are just as capable of creating bad school policy on their own as they are in collusion with out-of-staters, but Bolin and the anti-Common Core crowd apparently see no threat in our homegrown errors.

There's nothing wrong with public oversight of the Department of Education. But House Bill 1075 represents just one more distraction from making practical improvements to our education system.

Comments Off on HB 1075 Subjects Multi-State School Standards to More Delay

Speaking of Jim Bolin, the District 16 representative from Canton faces a primary challenger. Following through on a promise made last spring, Kevin D. Jensen is running again for District 16 House. Jensen says he's running because Jim Bolin isn't conservative enough. In Jensen's mind, real conservatives let folks with mental problems have guns:

I believe Mr. Bolin has not been as conservative as I would like to see. I know that he has not fully supported all second Amendment protection bills and he voted to approve you losing all your rights if you are found to have a "serious emotional distrubance [sic]". Previously you had too [sic] have diagnosis of having a "severe mentall [sic] illness" to be judged incapable of maintaing [sic] your rights. That law changed last session [Kevin D. Jensen, campaign website, downloaded 2014.01.07].

I'm going to need some Constitutional authority to show me the Founding Fathers' intent to take no action against disturbed people walking around with guns. I'm also going to need a ruling from my attentive readers on whether four sics in one paragraph constitute evidence of unfitness for public office.

And perhaps most relevantly, I'm going to need a citation of the nefarious new statute to which Jensen refers. I'm looking at the eleven bills listed under the "Firearms" subject from the 2013 session, and I'm not seeing any bill, passed or failed, that mentions taking away all Second Amendment rights from folks diagnosed with "severe mental disturbance."

Jensen finished third in the 2012 primary. If Bolin's appointed Housemate Dave Anderson runs for election along with Bolin, expect Jensen to repeat that performance this June.


Took ya long enough, Jim!

David Montgomery reports that Rep. Jim Bolin is abandoning his campaign to become School and Public Lands Commissioner to focus on fighting the Common Core education standards. Bolin emphasizes that taking up the Common Core fight full time is the "sole reason" he's quitting the School and Public Lands race. He was not driven out by the Ryan Brunner campaign juggernaut, but by popular demand:

Since March 2013 when I announced my candidacy, public attention, concern, and outright opposition to the national educational standards movement known as Common Core, has increased exponentially. Due to the fact that I was an early and vocal skeptic of the Common Core, I have been deluged with requests to comment on this subject from all over the state. I have concluded that I cannot run an effective statewide race and at the same time be heavily involved in efforts to oppose Common Core [Rep. Jim Bolin, quoted in David Montgomery, "Bolin Abandons Public Lands Campaign," Political Smokeout, 2013.10.03].

I wondered how long it would take Rep. Bolin to come to his senses. School and Public Lands may be the most boring job on the statewide ballot. Candidates for that job don't get to talk about education, which is what really fires Bolin's passions. I can't imagine Bolin mustering nearly as much give-a-darn about managing mineral leases as he can about education and liberty and the fate of the Republic.

Rep. Bolin may also realize what a jam his fellow Common Core opponents are. They got flummoxed at a public meeting on Common Core two weeks ago, where all the press (and even one advertised opponent) went pro and Bolin sounded like the only con voice willing to wage a real fight. The Common Core opponents are outfunded and outgunned by organized education industry professionals. If opponents are going to get anywhere in jamming this latest retread of the perennially time-wasting education reform churn, they will need a strong voice in the Legislature raising heck during session with bills and during the 2014 campaign with rousing stump speeches. Rep. Bolin will have much more fun in that role.

Related: The Office of School and Public Lands is so boring—

how boring is it?

—it's so boring that state web techies fall asleep working on its website. Seven weeks after Vern Larson's appointment as the new commissioner, most pages of the office's website still features ex-commissioner Jarrod Johnson's face.

School and Public Lands news webpage, screen cap, 2013.10.03

School and Public Lands news webpage, screen cap, 2013.10.03

Even Larson's bio page is still titled "Commissioner Johnson."

Tangentially related: Much less boring: land agent Mike Cornelison.


Checked on plaid! That mischievous smile! That vital map! That picture screams that he would liven up any discussion of grazing leases and WPA dam inspections. Stand him next to aspiring Deputy Brunner, and Cornelison would win a vote any day! And his name has corn in it! Cornelison for Commish!

Jim Bolin, Republican candidate for Commissioner of School and Public Lands

Jim Bolin, Republican candidate for Commissioner of School and Public Lands

Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) announced yesterday that he wants to replace Jarrod Johnson as our Commissioner of School and Public Lands. Read that job title carefully: he wouldn't get to commission schools; rather, he'd be in charge of school lands and other public lands.

I don't mind Bolin's leaving the Legislature to run for a different office. His departure may improve Ann Tornberg's chances of winning a District 16 seat, if she's willing to run for a third-time charm. The Displaced Plainsman and Joel Rosenthal both vouch for Bolin's thoughtfulness and commitment to doing right by education. Bolin has won my respect with constitutional good sense and rhetorical passion ("Nullification? No! Never! We will not have nullification!").

But burying that sense and passion in the School and Public Lands office a terrible waste. I'd love to see Bolin use a statewide campaign to lead a public conversation about educational issues, like the Common Core standards he so staunchly opposes. I'd enjoy watching Bolin get fired up in a debate about weighty Constitutional issues. Bolin backs some bad policies (guns in schools, gold and silver currency, Keystone XL), but it would at least be fun to listen to him hash them out in a debate.

Alas, as a candidate for the School and Public Lands office, Bolin wouldn't get to discuss any of those issues. He'd be talking about whether the state should sell some old dams. If elected, he'd oversee some land deals and distribute funds as dictated by the Legislature. I welcome correction from the comment section, but Commissioner of School and Public Lands strikes me as one of the dullest jobs on the ballot.

It's too bad we don't have an elected Commissioner of Schools as Montana, Wyoming, and eleven other states have and as Louisiana is considering. Bolin could make a race for that position exciting and, if elected, stop the state Board of Education from doing really bad things (like dropping the speech graduation requirement that helps make South Dakota students exceptionally good speakers, a change that is quietly in the works in Pierre, thanks to Common Core). Absent that opportunity, Bolin's commitment to constitutional propriety and listening to all sides could make him a good pick to oust Jason Gant from the Secretary of State's office or even to run for the House seat that Rep. Kristi Noem may vacate to climb her next celebrity rung to the U.S. Senate.

But School and Public Lands? Come on, Jim! I know we need good people for every job, but you can have a lot more fun running a different campaign.


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