Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) has brought us Senate Bill 164, to require every student to pass a civics test before graduating high school. This bill continues our Legislature's dogged refusal to address the fundamental problem facing South Dakota's K-12 schools: the chronic underfunding of state aid to education that is driving the teacher shortage. SB 164 continues Republicans' habit of ignoring local control in education whenever a state mandate serves their craving for political posturing. Most importantly, Senate Bill 164 shows that Senator Jensen and his numerous co-sponsors flunk Bill-Writing 101.

Section 1 of Senate Bill 164 enacts the civics test mandate. Let me enumerate the sentences so we can better identify Senator Jensen's errors and omissions:

  1. Each student, before the completion of twelfth grade, shall demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of the United States government.
  2. The students, as a condition to receive a high school diploma, or a diploma's equivalent, must take a civics test about history and government.
  3. The test consists of one hundred questions used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to test an applicant to be a naturalized citizen of the United States.
  4. The student must correctly answer at least seventy percent of the questions on the civics test.
  5. A student may take the test at any time after enrolling in the seventh grade and may repeat the test as often as necessary to pass it.
  6. The requirement to pass this civics test applies to each student who is enrolled in a public school, enrolled in a nonpublic school, receiving alternative instruction pursuant to § 13-27-3, or pursuing a general educational development (GED) certificate.

Sentence 1 clutters the law books with redundant fluff. It is lawmakers making a speech before getting to the real specifics of the law.

Sentence 2 gets to work, conditioning receipt of a high school diploma on taking a civics test. Note that it fouls the language of Sentence 1, which says one must "demonstrate knowledge" of civics "before the completion of twelfth grade." A student could finish twelfth grade by passing every senior year class but still not have passed the civics test requirement and thus still not have received the diploma. Sentence 1 could be read to say that students don't get to take the test after the end of senior year; if they haven't passed the test by then, they don't get to try again and don't get the diploma.

Sentence 3 assigns students to take the 100-question test USCIS officials give to immigrants seeking to become citizens. But unlike the widely available online versions offered for fun and edification, the real test is an oral quiz in which a USCIS officer asks the applicant up to 10 of the 100 questions. It's not multiple choice. I suspect SB 164's sponsors will make speeches justifying the civics test requirement as simply requiring our students to demonstrate the same knowledge as immigrants aspiring to citizenship. However, Sentence 3 fails to specify whether we would indeed replicate that immigrant testing experience, whether we want to make it harder by asking all 100 questions, or whether we want to make it easier with multiple-choice hints on a written bubble test.

Sentence 4 clearly diverges from the naturalization test, which requires applicants to get at least six out of ten right. I prefer the 70% passing rate myself, but why diverge from the USCIS requirement? For that matter, if civics is important enough to merit a state-mandated test, why not go higher? Why not require 100%?

Sentence 5 offers some fun, allowing kids to take the test any time in junior high (anyone still call it that?) or high school. Notice it says "any time." Technically, that means every teacher must have a civics checklist on her tablet at every moment. If a lecture is getting dull or if the teacher is about to give an onerous homework assignment, the clever student can shout, "I'm ready for my civics test!" and boom!—SB 164 requires the teacher to stop the lesson cold and administer the civics test to that student. The student can fail the test with no consequences and pull the same civics-test alarm the next day, and the next, whenever it seems the class needs a break. Such disruption is not the intent of the bill, but the absolute language of Sentence 5 does not provide schools with the statutory authority to impose limits on when students can take the test. (As a teacher, I understand how a classroom and a school day works. I think of these things. As a legislator, Senator Jensen does not think through these things.)

Sentence 6 is fine, applying the requirement to every student, including homeschoolers, how will now enjoy another Republican-sponsored state mandate in their homes.

I actually like the concept of universal administration of the civics test. I bet our senior government teachers are already drilling students on the content of the naturalization test and much harder questions. If I were teaching social studies, I'd have all sorts of fun administering this civics test (and yes, even though it would take more time, I would do it as an oral exam, because that is one of the surest, most cheat-resistant to see what a kid knows).

But there is the deepest flaw of this bill. Senator Jensen and his fellow legislators come wading into my classroom, acting as if they are the experts on education, as if they've come up with a brilliant idea that we professional teachers haven't already tried and modified. They just don't trust us teachers to do the job we've been trained to do.

Senate Bill 164 has good intentions, but it's poorly written and unnecessary. Let's hoghouse it and require legislators to take the civics test before they can take their oath of office. And let's require any legislator to spend a week substitute-teaching before they file any bills trying to tell teachers how to do their jobs.

8 comments

Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) has found a nice safe conservative bunker from which to fire his first post-election paranoia grenades. Senator Jensen says the state Board of Education is breaking a new state law that he co-sponsored in the 2014 Legislative session to deliver us from the evil of K-12 curriculum standards created in other states.

The law in question is SDCL 13-3-48.1, created by this year's Senate Bill 64, which reads in relevant part,

Prior to July 1, 2016, the Board of Education may not, pursuant to § 13-3-48, adopt any uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium which are intended for adoption in two or more states. However, this section does not apply to content standards whose adoption by the Board of Education was completed and finalized prior to July 1, 2014. However, nothing in this section prohibits the board from adopting standards drafted by South Dakota educators and professionals which reference uniform content standards, provided that the board has conducted at least four public hearings in regard to those standards [SDCL 13-3-48.1, enacted 2014.07.01].

The action in question is the creation of new science and social studies standards. Senator Jensen, similarly archly conservative Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle), and some Common Core opponents went to the Board of Education meeting Monday to say those new standards are linked to Common Core. According to the intrepid Bob Mercer, the standard opponents used words like “communist,” “evolution,” “leftist,” “climate change” and “environmentalism” in their expressions of opposition.

Never mind that the South Dakota teachers who worked on the social studies standards read SDCL 13-3-48.1, read a lot of documents, and drafted their own darn standards:

Much of the proposal is based on the state’s existing standards, but the revision committee injected old priorities with their own experience and new research, [DOE specialist Sam] Shaw said. The group also consulted the C3 Framework, a collaborative effort between states and the National Council for Social Studies to improve the rigor of social studies classes and align with the Common Core State Standards.

Lawmakers passed a two-year ban last year on the adoption of “any uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium which are intended for adoption in two or more states.”

Aware of the stipulation, the 2014 Social Studies Content Standards Revision Committee did not adopt the C3 Framework, instead using its philosophies to inform the standards-writing process, Shaw said.

“Anything we used was primarily for reference,” Shaw said. “Each and every individual standard was approved by the teachers” [Patrick Anderson, "Social Studies Standards Urge More Analysis," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.17].

And ditto the science standards:

The proposed science standards are unique to South Dakota and give flexibility to teachers at the local level, Shaw said.

Shaw and his fellow committee members used the Next Generation Science Standards as a framework for creating standards, but the components were made to fit South Dakota's education needs, Shaw said [Patrick Anderson, "State Science Standard Proposals Draw Concern," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.15].

Evidently when the Legislature forces teachers to engage in the charade of codifying all of their art into lengthy bullet-point standards documents, Senator Jensen and other conservative allies also expect teachers to ignore the vast body of knowledge, research, and paperwork already generated by their colleagues in other states and reinvent the standards wheel. (Senator Jensen is creating another moment in which South Dakota teachers will say to the Legislature, "You don't pay us enough to put up with this B.S.")

Senator Jensen said he's going to sic the Attorney General on the Board of Education for this violation, because oh my, an economic-development official scamming the state out of over $100 million on an illegal contract doesn't warrant lifting a finger, but teachers reading plans from other states need to be investigated right now!

Such is the nuttiness Senator Jensen and his fellow Republicans have in store for the 2015 Legislative session.

103 comments

The District 33 Senate race should not even be close. Sane, civil, and compassionate Robin Page should be beating the paranoid, xenophobic, and Klannish Republican Senator Phil Jensen by a Daugaard–Hubbel or Jackley-Haber margin. But factor in the power of "R" and the disturbing extent to which South Dakotans share Jensen's unhealthy views, and just the fact that a female Native American Democrat can run a competitive race in the Black Hills.

Contrary to a previous report, Jensen has been able to raise some money for his camapign. Jensen's pre-general campaign finance report shows $3,720 from individual donors (including $200 from District 5 Senator Ried Holien—Schoenbeck! get your caucus in line!), $950 from utilities and the state physical therapists group, $100 from the Pennington County Republican Women, and $3,950 from state and national PACs (including $200 Dan Lederman's Rushmore PAC, which apparently is fine with racism, homophobia, and anti-Muslim bigotry). On top of that $8,720, Jensen has put up $9,083.91 of his own money.

Meanwhile, Page has drawn $2,548 from individual donors, $200 from the local party, $2,700 from South Dakota PACs, and $900 in free labor from Bajun Mavalwalla's Nebula Group. That's still a good chunk less than Jensen has poured into his campaign, but it's enough that Page has been able to mail and knock and get out the word that she is a viable alternative to Jensen.

Page has also benefited from some third-party mailings. One card sent around town reminds voters of Senator Jensen's 2011 effort to legalize the murder of abortion doctors. Jensen's bill provoked nationwide disgust and sent South Dakota Republicans, including Governor Dennis Daugaard, running for cover. The mailer duly reminds voters that Jensen regularly humiliates South Dakota and distracts from bread-and-butter policymaking.

Jensen spins now as he did in 2011 to say his bill didn't say what is said:

“This bill pertained to illegal acts, such as assault or manslaughter,” wrote Jensen, who would only correspond with the Rapid City Journal in writing. “This bill had nothing to do with abortion or abortion doctors because abortion is a legal act. Upon assurance from Attorney General (Marty) Jackley that this protection was already provided for by South Dakota law, I voluntarily withdrew the bill” [Seth Tupper, "Phil Jensen Versus Robin Page for State Senate a Clash of Opposites," Rapid City Journal, 2014.10.31].

Page responds with one of the most grown-up things you'll hear from a candidate:

“I guess I don’t have a problem with it, because I’m sure I’ll be held accountable for the things I say or do, as well,” Page said. “That’s just part of the job” [Tupper, 2014.10.31].

Robin Page won't have to make excuses for her bills; because she won't propose stupid, hateful, dangerous bills. District 33, put Phil Jensen out of our misery. Vote for Robin Page today!

8 comments

Here's one sign that Democrat Robin Page may beat Phil Jensen out of his District 33 Senate seat:

Campaign signs, one block west of Pennington County GOP HQ, West Main St., Rapid City, SD, 2014.10.22.

Campaign signs, one block west of Pennington County GOP HQ, West Main St., Rapid City, SD, 2014.10.22.

This photo comes from one block west of Pennington County Republican headquarters on West Main Street in Rapid City. We see the expected Republican signs for Daugaard, Rounds, Krebs, and Gosch. But we see no sign from the GOP incumbent Senator Jensen. Representing District 33 is Democratic challenger Page.

Remember that Senator Jensen drew disdain from his own party last spring for his hangup on social issues and his awkward commenters on racism. Senator Jensen only narrowly survived a primary challenge. Page is now working hard with direct mail and door-knocking to put Jensen out of a part-time job.

This vacant green hosts a couple other non-Republicans amidst the usual conservative suspects. District 34's GOP Rep. Dan Dryden has his sign up, but instead of fellow Republican Jeff Partridge, we find Democratic candidate Steve Stenson advertised. And from District 35, we get the strange mix of Tea-flavored spokesmodel Lynne Hix-DiSanto and Democrat Dave Freytag, with no visible sign from incumbent GOP Rep. Blaine "Chip" Campbell.

One would think every Republican in the neighborhood would want to get his or her name up next to the party leaders on that street and crowd out those pesky Democratic interlopers. But it could be that the Republican sign-minders down the street are sending a message to Jensen in tolerating Page's challenge.

38 comments

If I were looking only at the Internet, I would assume that Senator Phil Jensen isn't really trying to stop Robin Page from taking his District 33 Senate seat.

But Phil does look good in that mustache... (photo from Jensen for Senate website)

But Phil does look good in that mustache... (photo from Jensen for Senate website)

Consider Jensen's campaign website: he doesn't to appear to have updated any content on the page since 2012. He certainly doesn't mention his marquee legislation from 2014, his absurd and embarrassing attack on LGBT civil rights. He certainly doesn't talk about his laughing acceptance of his hypocrisy on drug-testing and his GOP-rejected tolerance of the Ku Klux Klan. (Interestingly, Jensen's Tea-soaked "Interesting Links" page disses the SDGOP by offering a link labeled "South Dakota Republican Party" that actually takes clickers to the website of an anonymous splinter group that starkly criticizes the main party.)

Consider Jensen's campaign Facebook page: since his primary victory on June 3, Team Jensen has posted one announcement, an August 15 call for volunteers to bring "unicycles... goats, chickens..." to the Central States Fair parade.

"We deserve better," says this Robin Page supporter. Photo from Page for 33 Facebook page.

"We deserve better," says this Robin Page supporter. Photo from Robin Page for District 33 Senate Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Robin Page's Facebook page is bubbling with updates and photos of the Democratic candidate working crowds, chatting up her party leaders and fellow candidates, having fun, and rallying her supporters to action. Page also points out that while she's out stumping, Jensen is hiding. She says Jensen declined an interview with the Rapid City Journal and skipped a forum with important civic groups like the local Chamber and Home Builders Association.

As noted by Seth Tupper, Page is running as the anti-Jensen, not just on issues, but on campaign style. Page is using Jensen's own lackluster campaign funding as proof of his declining support. In a campaign graphic, Page shows that Jensen's campaign fundraising has steadily declined over the last four elections as his radical positions have become better known. This graphic claims that, after raising over $18,000 to get into the State House in 2008, Jensen this year hasn't been able to raise more than $3,000:

Image from Robin Page for District 33 Facebook page

Image from Robin Page for District 33 Facebook page

We won't have campaign finance reports to verify Jensen's poverty or compare Page's campaign cash until later this month. But if Jensen continues to keep such a low profile, it wouldn't be surprising if Page surpasses him in cash and votes.

80 comments

One of the biggest reasons to be all grumbly and gloomy at the primary after-party is that Senator Phil Jensen (probably) won the District 33 Republican primary. Jensen, who proposes legislation to protect us from gays and Muslims but says the free market is all we need to protect us from the Ku Klux Klan, beat challenger David Johnson by 30 votes, 50.62% to 49.38%. That any district in South Dakota could give a majority vote to a man who says such absurd and hurtful things and advocates such absurd and hurtful legislation is an embarrassment to our whole state.

But I reject the gloomy grumbles by citing hope from Jensen's own district. District 33's Democrats and Independents had a primary choice for Senator as well. They could elect Democrat Haven Stuck, a Rapid City lawyer with decades of community involvement in the Chamber of Commerce, the Central States Fair, the South Dakota Investment Council, and other reputable activities. Or they could elect Democrat Robin Page, a single mom raising multi-ethnic foster kids in low-income North Rapid.

Robin Page, Democratic candidate for District 33 Senate

Robin Page, Democratic candidate for District 33 Senate

District 33 Dems elected Robin Page. As loyal reader Deb Geelsdottir would say, they elected the passionate poet over the lukewarm moderate. They elected an Indian woman, the best candidate on the ballot to look Phil Jensen in the eye and demand an apology for years of racism and sexism in his politics. They elected an underdog who built on what she learned in her unsuccessful 2012 bid for District 33 House, printed and mailed hundreds of letters from her kitchen table, and outcampaigned a wealthier, better-connected candidate.

District 33 elected exactly the kind of of candidate I want Democrats to elect.

Now my endorsement may be the kiss of death. But I am thrilled that Robin Page won and that she will now carry the important responsibility of holding Senator Phil Jensen accountable and convincing her neighbors to cleanse the Legislature of his bad politics.

And how is Page starting her general election campaign? By talking to her neighbors... all of her neighbors:

Good morning FB friends and family! It is official, in a very close race yesterday, I have won the Democratic Primary, in District 33, with 54% of the vote! I send my best wishes to my opponent, Haven Stuck. I am sure that this race will be talked about in Democratic circles for a long time.

It is my sincere hope that the residents of District 33, Democrat, Republican, Independents and all others, will come together and work for a strong community where hatred, racism and discrimination is not tolerated!

I put forth my honest belief that if we come together in open discussions, we can find the balance and common ground that will best serve all of our citizens.

I look forward to sponsoring several "Meet the Candidate - Listening Sessions" over the next few months. I invite ALL citizens to attend so that we can have these important discussions and together, move our community, state and nation forward!

I do these things "So the People can live"! Thank You!!! [Robin Page, Facebook post, 2014.06.04]

Robin Page for District 33 Senate—go get 'em, tiger!

59 comments

Black Hills blogger Bob Ellis bleats that Governor Dennis Daugaard has betrayed the Republican Party by criticizing Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City). To support this claim, Ellis points to a letter to the editor in which Glenn T. Freeman of Kadoka accused the Governor of issuing a "pro-gay rant" in the March 20 Rapid City Journal.

Whoa—if anyone in South Dakota is making a "pro-gay rant," I want to hear it!

Roll the tape, and let's review what Governor Daugaard said in response to Senator Jenson's controversial statement in defense of the Ku Klux Klan against government civil rights enforcement. First, here's the statement Senator Jensen made:

Jensen goes so far as to say that businesses should have the right to deny service based on a customer's race or religion – whether that's right or wrong, he says, can be fairly addressed by the free market, not the government.

"If someone was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and they were running a little bakery for instance, the majority of us would find it detestable that they refuse to serve blacks, and guess what? In a matter of weeks or so that business would shut down because no one is going to patronize them," he said [Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, "Phil Jensen: South Dakota's Most Conservative Lawmaker?"Rapid City Journal, 2014.03.16].

...and here's the Governor's response, four days later:

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Wednesday distanced himself from Jensen in a statement released to the media.

“I found his comments to be completely out of line with South Dakota values," he said. "I don’t agree with him and I haven’t talked to anyone who does” [Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, "Governor Distances Himself from State Senator's Ku Klux Klan Remark," Rapid City Journal, 2014.03.20].

And here's Glenn T. Freeman's interpretation of the Governor's text:

Daugaard's anti-business, liberal, pro-gay position clearly shows Republican insiders shift to the left. Our political party has deserted many of the faithful.

Daugaard is unique. I cannot recall any previous governor who has so brutally used the bully pulpit of South Dakota's highest office to seek political destruction of elected fellow Republicans [Glenn T. Freeman, letter to the editor, Rapid City Journal, 2014.03.28].

Hmm... the context and the headline make clear that the Governor was addressing Senator Jensen's KKK remark. Only the most extreme gay panic can lead Freeman and Ellis to interpret the Governor's response to Jensen's buffoonery as a "brutal" "pro-gay rant." I'd better not invite Freeman and Ellis over for hot dogs; they'll probably cry rape!

As I've noted with disdain before, Governor Daugaard's criticism of Senator Jensen feels more like a political safety dance than any flowering commitment to civil rights for homosexuals. The Governor offered no commentary on Senator Jensen's holy anti-gay crusade during the Legislative session; only after legislators went home did he hazard even muted criticism of the session's headline-grabbing but abortive homophobia.

Glenn T. Freeman and Bob Ellis are hearing things. Governor Dennis Daugaard has never issued a "pro-gay rant". His criticism of Senator Phil Jensen is far from "brutal"... and not being brutal in response to Jensen's retrograde politics betrays principles more important than the planks in the Republican platform.

26 comments

In the dog-bites-man column, Governor Dennis Daugaard says that Sen. Phil Jensen's defense of KKK-style discrimination is "completely out of line with South Dakota values."

It's not hard to gang up on a Republican Senator who says stupid things that are winning himself and South Dakota universal bad press. Jensen has it coming, and South Dakota has it coming for having a district that would elect him.

But Governor Daugaard hasn't spoken up very strongly about the discrimination Jensen tried to write into law last month. Asked by Mr. Montgomery about the bills Senator Jensen and others sponsored to absurdly disguise anti-GLBT bigotry as civil rights legislation, the Governor swung a softer stick:

"Most of them were solving problems we haven’t seen here," Daugaard said. "More legislation driven by things that are occurring in other places. I guess I don’t see those problems here in South Dakota that the legislation attempted to address."

I asked him about criticism by some that those laws were “mean-spirited” or “hateful.” Daugaard demurred.

"I don’t know that I could characterize the motivations of anybody who introduces legislation," Daugaard said [David Montgomery, "Daugaard on the Anti-Gay Rights Bills," Political Smokeout, 2014.03.19].

Montgomery notes that Lt. Gov. Matt Michels spoke much more strongly against those reprehensible bills while they were bubbling through the Legislature last month:

"There’s no place in our laws for these kind of words," Michels said, adding that he believes most South Dakotans agree. "There’s too much hate in the world and we don’t need it here" [Montgomery, 2014.03.19].

The Governor and other prominent Republicans stayed shamefully silent for too long about three-term legislator Jensen's bigotry. It has taken surging local pressure and the embarrassment of a national media firestorm to shame them into shaming Jensen.

Now let's see that shame turn into real change: Republicans backing any alternative candidate to Jensen in District 33.

18 comments

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