Sibby, save us! Mitchell school superintendent Joe Graves wants to run for Legislature:

Monday during the Mitchell Board of Education meeting at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, Graves, the school district superintendent, announced his plan to run for the South Dakota Legislature in 2014.

...Whether he runs for the House or Senate, Graves said, will partly "depend on what other people are doing," but either way, he will run as a Republican.

..."I want to be someone who can help continue to make South Dakota a free and prosperous state, as great a state as it can be," he said. "Lots of education decisions are made in Pierre. I think I can add to that process, as well" [Candy DenOuden, "Graves Wants Legislative Seat," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.09.09].

Yeah, add more horsehockey to the process. Superintendent Graves is a persistent Pierre sycophant, flacking for Governor Dennis Daugaard's really bad education plan in 2012 (when 97% of his fellow administrators did not support the plan), using anti-teacher arguments to fight that plan's referendum, and then saying teachers deserved a legislative screwing for having the gall to fight bad public policy that he said was good. Graves has signaled that he doesn't like the Common Core standards, but I'm thinking that's just a ploy to win some local Tea Party cred and maybe split the Steve Sibson vote (hey, they are a third of the District 20 GOP primary electorate!), not a statement of direction for real policy that a Senator or Representative Graves would vote to wreak on our schools.

The Mitchell School Board reacted cautiously to Graves's pre-announcement announcement:

Board members offered little commentary on the announcement, and board President Theresa Kriese said in a follow-up interview she doesn't know if the board will approve the plan when Graves presents it.

"We will see what Joe brings forth as a plan," she said. "We still have to review what his plan is for coverage of the district while he's at session" [DenOuden, 2013.09.09].

While he's at session—easy, Theresa: he hasn't won the election yet!

State law and Mitchell school board policy say that the board can't (and shouldn't!) stop Graves from running, just as the board couldn't stop excellent educator Mel Olson from running and serving in the Legislature from 1993 to 2004. Their approval of a plan to cover Graves's duties during the campaign and maybe during the session is not a legal prerequisite to the Graves candidacy. But Mitchell's policy does say an employee can't announce candidacy until the board as acted on that employee's written request. Graves thus must portray his signal of intent as something less than a formal announcement.

But Davison, Aurora, and Jerauld County voters, if you want education to head in the right direction, you should see if you can find some local Democrats or Republicans who might help change Graves's intent before he formally announces his desire to take his bad ideas to Pierre.


It takes a special kind of parent and a special kind of Christian to want to send a child to a school where the teachers carry firearms.

Christian parents may get the chance to show how (.38) special they are by sending their kids to Mitchell Christian School, which is considering taking advantage of South Dakota's hysterical new school gunslinger law:

Mitchell Christian Superintendent Joseph Fox says he and some members of the school board support the idea of having guns in the school to protect students from intruders.

Mitchell Christian is the only one considering placing so-called sentinels inside its school ["Mitchell Christian School Considers Armed Staff," AP via KELO-TV, 2013.08.25].

I could annoy Reverend Joseph Fox with the empirical evidence that shows South Dakota has had two school shootings in its entire history (Delmont 1961, Britton 2013), neither of which would have been stopped by having teachers carrying guns. But I suspect that darned

So let's put the reverend superintendent's foolhardy willingness to needlessly increase his school's insurance premiums and the chances that his students and staff will be injured or killed by firearms, into Biblical perspective. Let's review Reverend Fox's favorite Bible verses:

Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

  • Trust in the Lord, not guns.
  • He will make your paths straight, not your aim.


Philippians 4:13: I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

  • The Lord gives you strength. A gun on your hip does not.


1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

  • Fear and machismo are powerful temptations. Faith in a loving god and commitment to rational, peaceful responses are more appropriate Christian responses to such temptation than dressing up like a gladiator.

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition—if I were a Christian, that's not the slogan I'd want a private Christian school teaching my kids. I don't think it's the message Jesus would recommend, either.


Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves usually flacks for whatever the state wants. But at last night's Mitchell school board meeting, he threw arch-conservative opponents of the dreaded Common Core standards a bone:

During the meeting’s public commentary segment, Mitchell resident Steve Sibson expressed concern about the pending statewide adoption of common core curriculum standards.

“It’s my belief that common core is not about the quality of education, but the control of our kids,” Sibson said.

“Common core is not the way to go,” agreed Graves, who said the district is being forced into preparing curricula to meet the new standards. Graves said after the meeting the move to common core standards in math, English and other subjects in the future is a move toward a federal curriculum [Ross Dolan, "Mitchell School Board OKs Nearly $25 Million 2013-14 Budget," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.07.08].

Holy cow! The lines on Common Core we hear from school superintendents usually range between safe parroting of the state Department of Education's bunnies-farting-rainbows talking points to perhaps a fatalistic shrug at carrying out state mandates. But here's Dr. Graves saying Common Core is bad and moves exactly in the oppressive, power-usurping direction the Common Core opponents say it will. Kudos, Joe!

Our man Sibby then offered to bring his gun to school:

On another subject, Sibson also noted a new state law allows school districts to appoint armed security sentinels. Sibson offered his services as a school sentinel. Sibson offered to become trained for the volunteer duty at his own expense.

The board made no comment on the offer [Dolan, 2013.07.08].

Sibby with a gun in school—yeah, that'll raise your insurance rates.


Friend and frequent commenter Owen Reitzel submitted the following complaint about local corporate welfare to the Mitchell Daily Republic last month:

Recently at a John Thune town hall meeting Trail King CEO Bruce Yakley said that if Mitt Romney had won the presidential race his company would have hired 150 people. But since Romney didn’t win, Yakley’s not going to. Yakley also said the government should making spending cuts.

In 2009 Trail King laid off 150 people here in Mitchell because the economy was bad and his business was slow. Those layoffs came very early in President Obama’s first term. You could say the economy went south because of President George W. Bush.

Now Trail King's business is booming. In fact it’s so good that they can’t find enough help and the Governor used part of 5 million taxpayer dollars to help Trail King find out-of-state workers.

My question to you Mr. Yakley is what is the problem? Under Obama your business is growing, under Bush you were laying off workers.


If spending cuts are important sir then since your company is not hiring anymore maybe we could save $5 million by cutting the program to bring out-of-state workers here.

Finally somebody brought up that people receiving welfare should be drug tested. O.K. Since the state of South Dakota was giving your company, Mr. Yakley, corporate welfare, would you submit to a drug test?

Owen Reitzel
Alexandria SD

Worth noting: Trail King has further benefited from South Dakota's corporate welfare program via a half-million WINS dollars used to start a welding program at Mitchell Technical to do Trail King's job training.

Trail King CEO Bruce Yakley responds in Monday's paper. He lists six "facts" to rebut Reitzel. He concludes with some vague and unnecessary personal intimindation, saying he "did some research on Mr. Reitzel" and found why he "seemed offended."

* Fact No. 1: 2009 was the worst year in the trailer industry since 1954, the year records started to be kept. The entire trailer market dropped on average 70 percent versus 2008. In the background, the past owner of Trail King was preparing the company to sell, thus cutting very deeply into Trail King’s employment. Was this the result of President Bush or years of fiscal mismanagement by “all” of our elected officials? What part did Barney Frank’s efforts on developing legislation in 1992 forcing mortgage companies to lend to unqualified people play into the housing collapse? [Bruce Yakley, "Facts are clear: Romney was better choice for trailer industry, Trail King," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.02.04].

That's not a fact, Mr. Yakley. Those are rhetorical questions stemming from your preferred worldview. And it doesn't refute Reitzel's basic correlative assertion: when someone very much like Romney got done with the country, Trail King was on the ropes. After four years of Obama, Trail King is in good shape.

* Fact No. 2: In 2012, Trail King’s business flourished. The average age of a trailer in the U.S. was approaching nine years old, the oldest in history. The cost to refurbish outweighed the cost of replacement. The economic policies of Obama had nothing to do with the age of trailers in the U.S [Yakley, 2013.02.04].

True: trailers age regardless of who wins elections. But people replace those trailers based on the money in their pockets. And if President Obama hadn't saved us from Depression with the stimulus, you'd still be waiting on the recovery that made many of those purchases possible.

* Fact No. 3: The lack of available skilled workers regionally was a very difficult situation for Trail King. The WIN legislative program helped Trail King hire 32 skilled workers, at a cost to the state of $122,400 and a cost to Trail King of $144,000. Mr. Reitzel, what is the Mitchell regional economic impact of 32 new families earning a compensation total of $2 million annually? [Yakley, 2013.02.04]

CEO Yakley doesn't rebut Reitzel here; he confirms Reitzel's contention that Trail King has profited from the "socialist, entitlement policies" he's about to impugn. Those corporate welfare policies weakly attempt to counteract the problems caused by South Dakota Republicans, not President Obama, that hold back Trail King's hiring: low wages and low union membership.

* Fact No. 4: Obama issued an executive order in April 2012 effectively shutting down new oil and gas exploration utilizing hydraulic fracking. There were 80 jobs tied to pneumatic trailer production that Trail King builds for this industry. This executive order by Obama effectively shut down pneumatic trailer production. Mr. Romney had made statements to the effect that the Obama executive orders and regulations tied to the EPA would be reviewed and, most likely, reversed if Romney was elected [Yakley, 2013.02.04].

Shut down new oil and gas exploration? What? My neighbors still head up to the Bakken every other week, and when they come home, all that dark gunk on their coveralls ain't molasses. The President's April 2012 order regarding fracking was actually a measure to coordinate adminstration activities on fracking. The oil and gas industry welcomed this order. And since the April order, domestic oil and gas production are nothing but up.

* Fact No. 5: Trail King solicited its top 95 customers, representing 85 percent of its 2012 revenue, in October to get their 2013 requirements. Ninety percent of these customers stated they had two business plans: one if Obama got elected, one if Romney got elected. Their plans if Romney got elected were, on average, 20 percent higher (plus 70 jobs). Why? Very simple: Romney would have “pro-growth policies” and Obama has “socialist, entitlement policies” [Yakley, 2013.02.04]

Yakley resorts here to unprovable hypotheticals. A lot of the "Four more years will tank our business" moaning was pre-election Romney-boosterism and immediate post-election sour grapes. Recent stock market performance has shown that, once they get over their grief, businesspeople get right back to looking for ways to make their money, as they would have regardless of who won the election. And those ways of money include pressing the case that they are entitled to socialist programs that help them make money.

* Fact No. 6: Mr. Yakley had been part of a drug testing program at his former employer for five years. Mr. Yakley had to take a drug test before he was hired at Trail King [Yakley, 2013.02.04].

Yakley does not respond to the fundamental contradiction that Reitzel highlights: Many Republicans think the state should force poor people to take drug tests as a condition of receiving social assistance. Trail King receives, what, a hundred times more in handouts from government than any individual poor person? The state fills Trail King's bucket; should not CEO Yakley fill the state's pee cup?

I would say that I've done some research on Bruce Yakley and can understand why he seems offended by Owen Reitzel's questions... but I don't need to work that hard to understand the corporate welfare mentality.


"What makes you think you're so smart?" 15,000-some South Dakotans can now straight-facedly answer that question by saying, "Well, we're from Mitchell."

On Sunday, the Intelligent Community Forum named Mitchell one of the "Smart21" nominees for the honor of 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year. No, ICF didn't come take a random IQ sample. And they obviously haven't been reading Steve Sibson or Joe Graves. The Intelligent Community Forum is looking for communities that are taking steps to succeed in the broadband economy. ICF looks at five main indicators of broadband intelligence:

  1. broadband connectivity: infrastructure in place and policies encouraging deployment and adoption;
  2. knowledge workforce: "a labor force that creates economic value through the acquisition, processing and use of information";
  3. innovation: private and public sector putting information technology to work in new ways;
  4. digital inclusion: making sure new technology doesn't expand the gap between haves and have-nots;
  5. marketing and advocacy: selling the community at home and abroad.

ICF looks for three additional cultural success factors: collaboration, leadership, and (sure to draw a Bircher boycott of the Corn Palace) sustainability. Readers, I welcome you to bat about your impressions of how well Mitchell meets those eight criteria... and how Mitchell manages to meet those criteria better than our public university towns, including the "Technically Better" Madison.

Mitchell joins Columbus, Ohio, and Philadelphia as the U.S. nominees. It faces heavy techno-hitters like Tallinn, Estonia for the title of broadband-smartest city in the world. ICF whittles the nominees down to seven in January, then names the Intelligent Community of the Year in June. Mitchell is not the smallest city on the list; it outweighs Castelo de Vide, Portgual (population 3,780) and Whittlesea, Australia (pop. 4,826). Here's the full list of Smart21 nominees:

  • Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
  • Castelo de Vide, Portalegre District, Portugal
  • Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • Heraklion, Crete, Greece
  • Hsinchu City, Taiwan
  • Jiading New City, China
  • Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  • Mitchell, South Dakota, USA
  • Oulu, North Ostrobothnia, Finland
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Prospect, South Australia, Australia
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Stratford, Ontario, Canada
  • Taichung City, Taiwan
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Taoyuan County, Taiwan
  • Tirana, Albania
  • Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Wanganui, New Zealand
  • Whittlesea, Victoria, Australia
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Mitchell City Website errors, screen cap, 2012.10.23

Mitchell City Website errors, screen cap, 2012.10.23

p.s.: The Mitchell city website won't boost their chances of making the cut for the final 7; I check tonight and (1) find their right sidebar all jumbled up. On their staff directory, someone typed the (2) anti-spam version of the e-mail addresses into the active mailto links, meaning the e-mails won't send. And the (3) stretching, spinning images in that gray header just don't float my design boat. Click the image to the right to see my screen cap of things Mitchell will want to get fixed right away before the ICF committee comes to visit!

Update 2013.01.24 17:48 MST: Oh! They should have fixed that website faster. Mitchell has not made the cut for the final seven. The only American entry in the top seven is Columbus, Ohio.


Dennis, what did you say to those guys?

It is likely unfair to blame Governor Dennis Daugaard for the decision of Verifications Inc. to pull out of Mitchell and Aberdeen and kill 140 jobs created with public subsidy. But the Governor acknowledged Thursday that he and economic development czar Pat Costello couldn't find the magic words to keep Verifications here:

I agree with Seth that the decision by Verifications Inc. to leave Mitchell is a disappointment. Pat Costello, commissioner of the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED), and I traveled to Minneapolis to visit with Verifications leadership last year, to encourage growth in South Dakota, and I regret that we are losing rather than gaining Verifications' jobs. That is truly an unhappy result [Gov. Dennis Daugaard, "State Focuses on Homegrown Businesses," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.05.24].

Governor Daugaard comes away from that bitter defeat affirming the economic development policy that I pointed out to him back when he was running for his current job in March 2010: locals first!

...economic development efforts cannot be primarily aimed at out-of-state companies, whose leadership has no ties to South Dakota. We must focus most of our efforts on companies already in South Dakota, and especially on those homegrown companies whose leadership has personal ties here. Our state efforts are aligned with this belief. Of course, we cannot ignore opportunities to attract outside companies into our state. Citibank was an outsider whose move to Sioux Falls spawned a credit card industry that has grown manyfold. There are countless other examples. Still, our best bet is with those already in South Dakota [Daugaard, 2012.05.24].

Daugaard is responding to a column by MDR's Seth Tupper, who compares the departure of Verifications to the departure seven years ago of Dakota Pork. Both out-of-state companies moved to South Dakota to great gubernatorial fanfare. Both companies took over a million dollars in publicly assisted loans. Both companies bailed. Tupper nudges Governor Daugaard toward his conclusion that slow and steady local investment beats the Toyota lottery:

I won't name any names, because I'll undoubtedly leave some out, but we all know the businesses that really built this city. They're the ones backed by familiar names, and most of their top executives have roots and relatives here. They don't leave when times get tough, because this is their home. Yet they're more often taken for granted than celebrated, let alone assisted.

Hopefully, something will be learned from the Dakota Pork and Verifications experiences. After each one, development officials swore their efforts to woo the companies were justified.

That may be so, and I'm not saying we should stop recruiting. But maybe we should put a little more effort into our homegrown entrepreneurs. I know it's not as sexy. There's often no pitch to make, no deal to broker, no package of incentives to negotiate, no public announcement, and no chance to stand before a microphone and make a grand speech. Compared to recruitment, growing from within doesn't sound like much fun.

You know what else isn't much fun? Being saddled with an empty building and dozens of unemployed people when faraway executives pull the plug on their Mitchell experiment [Seth Tupper, "Shift Development Focus More Toward Local Firms," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.05.11].

Tupper is duly frustrated at futility of chasing out-of-state corporations for economic development. If those footloose companies will move here for the promise of a low-interest loan or a marginal decrease in taxes, they'll move elsewhere just as quickly at the slightest bump to their budgets.

Let's hope the Governor sticks to his words and plows more of our scarce public dollars into local businesses who have more accountability to South Dakota.


Verifications Inc. surprised 140 of its South Dakota employees yesterday by telling them they will lose their jobs by November:

According to Verifications employee Becky Jacobson, employees in Mitchell were asked to attend a mandatory meeting Thursday, at which they were informed of the closures.

"It was horrible," said another employee who asked to remain anonymous. "We walked into the room and there were Kleenex boxes on the table, so we knew."

Mitchell employees were shown a video of Verifications President and CEO Curt Marks announcing the closures, Jacobson said.

"There was a lot of crying," she said of the reactions. "It seems like we had been kept in the dark" [Chris Mueller, "Verifications Closing Mitchell and Aberdeen Locations," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.04.26].

Note that the bosses could have driven over from corporate headquarters in Wayzata, Minnesota, to break the news and maybe offer their thanks and their apologies in person. But no: to declare 140 South Dakotans a hindrance to the company's profits, corporate sends videos and boxes of Kleenex. Not exactly an expression of the company's Values of Solidarity, Commitment, and Courage.

Update 20:10 MDT: Eager reader and Verifications Inc. Mitchell employee Owen Reitzel provides a valuable correction in the comment section below. He says that CEO Curtis Marks did indeed make the jaunt from Wayzata to the Aberdeen facility to make the announcement in person. Reitzel says Marks wanted to break the news to both plants at the same time but simply could not be in both places at once. I recognize the respect Mr. Marks showed his South Dakota employees by coming to face them with this awful announcement. I regret and retract the inaccurate insinuation expressed in the immediately preceding paragraph... butI leave the text visible in order to own my error.

Spread some irony on your toast: on its Testimonials page, Verifications cites unnamed clients as lauding their employee background-check and drug-testing services thus:

"I hate surprises. VI is proactive, not reactive."

"It's simple why we're with VI: they never give us a reason to leave."

South Dakota didn't give Verifications any reason to leave. We actually worked pretty hard to bring them here, using state and local loan funds to build the Mitchell facility Verifications leases. We appear to have made similar efforts ten years ago for Verifications in Aberdeen. The company simply found cheaper labor in Arizona, India, and the Philippines.

These closings come on top of layoffs in Aberdeen last year of 15 employees who became obsolete because of technology.


The Mitchell Daily Republic's Tom Lawrence provides some sharp observations from last week's Davison-Hanson County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner that anti-Establishment candidates may find instructive.

The Davison-Hanson County GOP includes two of the biggest anti-Establishment candidates in the state: Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton and Steve Sibson of Mitchell. Both men made their party-bucking inclinations clear at last Thursday's event. Rep. Nelson conspicuously chatted with other attendees and stepped out of the room during gubernatorial chief of staff Dusty Johnson's speech. (Remember: Nelson is 6'7"; I'm not sure he can do anything inconspicuously.) Yet according to Lawrence, when Nelson later took the podium for a few minutes, "he received a louder ovation than Johnson did."

Then came Sibson, who still doesn't know how or when to send his message:

Another speaker drew modest applause, and was clearly agitated as he returned to his seat.

Steve Sibson's speech had been edited before he was allowed to speak, he told me, and he later gave me a copy of the speech with the words that he was not allowed to say.

Sibson is challenging state Sen. Mike Vehle in the District 20 GOP primary. In his prepared remarks, he said Vehle received "his marching orders from the globalists" and worked for "corporate socialists" who are allied with "the Democrats' Marxist socialists."

Sibson said he was told he could speak as long as he did not mention Vehle, and he was also told not to bash Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

"I wanted so badly to tell you the truth, but I'm not allowed to," he said as he wrapped up his speech [Tom Lawrence, "GOP Heads to Election in a House Divided," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.04.25].

I understand that Steve imagines he is on a divine crusade to enlighten us all to the secret truths of the oppression under which we labor. But it's ill-timed nuttiness and irrelevancy like the above performance that keeps him from winning elections (and occasionally gets him deleted from my comment section).

Stace Nelson has been able to parlay his big-boy eye-poking into popularity and electoral success. He made his party leaders mad by challenging an obfuscatory state Secretary of Agriculture, but he won a court victory for his neighbors against a mega-dairy many of them oppose. While avoiding explicit identification with the Tea Party, he manages to turn Tea Party principles into pratical legislation that I may not like but which makes many of his neighbors think he's working to address their specific concerns. Nelson's neighbors like him. They pat him on the back. He's building a positive reputation with voters around the state.

Meanwhile, Sibson goes to a GOP rah-rah session and whines about not being able to call everyone else in the room globalizing socialists. He shouts his shibboleths, and when people don't respond, he deludes himself into thinking that he just needs to educate them more about The Truth. The real truth is that voters in a state legislature primary don't care about globalism or socialism; they care about dairies, roads, and school funding.

Nelson gets this. He knows when and how to send his anti-leadership signals. But he also knows how to keep it real. He doesn't have to read out bogeymen from John Birch handouts. He goes after GOP leaders—Rausch, Lust—by name... but he also has the good gosh-darn sense not to waste time doing it at a Lincoln Day Dinner.

Stace Nelson faces a four-way primary for two House seats in District 19. His opponents are veteran legislator Jim Putnam, a young Democrat freshly turned Republican, and one of at least a hundred guys in the neighborhood named Roger Hofer. Nelson's political savvy gives him better than a 50% chance of surviving the primary.

Steve Sibson faces a two-way primary against sitting Senator Mike Vehle. He stands a 50% chance of getting the same number of votes that he got in the 2010 general election... and every time he mentions global Marxism or any of his other hobbyhorse magic words, he drops his vote tally another few points.

Steve, if you want anything like a chance to win, pay attention to Stace.


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