Happy Canada Day! I'm headed across the border to celebrate with America's nicest neighbors right now. But I'll be watching for Canadian friends who would share the celebratory sentiments of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, which feasted on roast bison this weekend to celebrate the expiration of TransCanada's permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline across West River South Dakota.

Protestor proudly sports "No Permit, No Pipeline" logo at  Cowboy and Indian Alliance buffalo roast at the Oyate Wahacanka Woecun Rosebud Sioux Spirit Camp near Ideal, South Dakota on June 27, 2014. Photo by Matt Sloan for Bold Nebraska.

Protestor proudly sports "No Permit, No Pipeline" logo at Cowboy and Indian Alliance buffalo roast at the Oyate Wahacanka Woecun Rosebud Sioux Spirit Camp near Ideal, South Dakota on June 27, 2014. Photo by Matt Sloan for Bold Nebraska.

"No Permit, No Pipeline!" We can certainly hope so. To pump more of its tar sands through our fair state, TransCanada must now go through another application process with the Public Utilities Commission. That means the Cowboy and Indian Alliance can exert pressure on Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson, who is up for re-election. Democratic challenger David Allen can turn up that pressure, asking South Dakotans to ask Commissioner Hanson why South Dakota support a pipeline that damages South Dakota's and the nation's long-term interests. Constitution Party PUC candidate Wayne Schmidt can jump in and ask South Dakotans why the PUC should approve a project built by a private foreign corporation exerting eminent domain on South Dakota property owners. (And hey, be bold, guys! Rick Weiland will back you up!)

I love Canada, but TransCanada can jump in a lake... or better yet, jump back from our lakes and streams and pastures.


Bob Mercer has done excellent work investigating the political contributions of shady Native American Telecom to various South Dakota politicians. Avon attorney Scott Swier, who is defending Native American Telecom before the Public Utilities Commission against Sprint's charges of "traffic pumping" or "access stimulation," formed the South Dakota Telecommunications PAC to contribute to candidates of both parties in South Dakota. The three Democrats who received that shady money—Senator Jason Frerichs, Senator Billie Sutton, and Rep. Scott Parsley—returned their South Dakota Telecommunications PAC money last week. There's been no word yet on Republicans returning this questionable money.

SDT-PAC beneficiary Senator Dan Lederman makes the incredible claim that "he doesn’t know why he was given the $1,000 contribution" by Swier's outfit. Dan runs a PAC of his own; he understands full well why PACs give folks money: access, influence... and thanks for a job well done:

Lederman helped defeat legislation in 2010 and 2011 that attempted to curb access stimulation in South Dakota [Bob Mercer, "State Investigates Donations in Telecom Case," Aberdeen American News, 2013.04.13].

Senator Lederman also wrote a letter to argue Native American Telecom's case before the PUC. But gee whiz, I can't imagine there could be any connection whatsoever between that letter and the money Native American Telecom's PAC put in his campaign coffer. Heavens forfend!

As the prime exhibit of the inescapable inbreeding in South Dakota politics, Scott Swier worked as an assistant attorney general for the state. The office he used to work for will have to investigate any campaign finance violations. The PUC will rule on Sprint's allegations against Native American Telecom. Two of the three members of the PUC received $500 contributions from Lederman's PAC... which just happens to equal the $1000 Lederman received from Swier's PAC.*

Update 16:10 MDT: I have revised that last sentence to correct my original statement that Swier's PAC had contributed directly to the PUC, per the correction submitted below by Mr. Mercer. I regret the error!


I worked with a Dakota Rural Action committee to advocate a net-metering policy this year in Pierre. The Public Utilities Commission joined the industry in killing that proposal.

In a fit of reactionary wagon-fixing, Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson is now pointing to the net-metering effort as a reason to get rid of other energy-efficiency incentives:

MidAmerican Energy Company started its energy efficiency programs in 2009. The PUC approved the company’s updated plans Tuesday, but the occasion sparked a philosophical debate among commission members.

Nelson used one category as an example.

“We’re asking 830 to pay for one person’s improvements. Some of those 830 may be competitors who are paying for one’s improvements,” Nelson said.

He said the PUC during legislative session opposed net metering, where people generate electricity through solar panels and wind turbines and sell the power to utilities because all other ratepayers pay more to benefit those independent producers.

“And we said that was wrong,” Nelson said.

He said energy-efficiency programs are doing the same thing. He acknowledged the numbers show it was probably valuable but a line needs to be drawn [Bob Mercer, "PUC vote reflects possible change ahead in philosophy for energy-efficiency incentives," Aberdeen American News, 2013.03.26].

The program provides value, but Commissioner Nelson sees the need to draw a philosophical line. Never mind that studies have found net metering has little if any impact on the rates non-participants pay. Never mind that promoting energy efficiency benefits all consumers by lowering demand and delaying the need to build new generating plants that raise rates for everyone. Commissioner Nelson needs to send a philosophical message, and by gum he's going to send it to everybody... even those utilities making perfectly sensible investments in energy efficiency.


In conjunction with its annual conference in Deadwood last month, the South Dakota Telecommunications Association hosted a forum with four of the five candidates for Public Utilities Commission. I would have loved to have covered the meeting live, as I did the Lawrence County Commission's big meeting on the Deadwood Standard Project the same day, but alas, I'm not an SDTA member.

Fortunately, SDTA's director of industry relations Greg Dean provided me a summary of the candidates' statements at the August 21 forum. I post here a summary of Mr. Dean's summary (with no partisan editing, I promise!). The focus of the forum was telecommunications issues, but other topics arose as well.

And remember: Nick Nemec is challenging Chris Nelson for his seat. Matt McGovern is challenging Kristi Fiegen for hers (as is Russell Clarke, who was absent from this forum).

Opening Statements:

  • Nelson said he has taken on the telecommunications portfolio on the PUC since Commissioner Steve Kolbeck's resignation in June 2011. He promised to continue putting that expertise to work.
  • Nemec emphasized that rural areas need good telecom service. He promised to keep learning and be a fair regulator.
  • Fiegen said providing good rural telecom service costs a lot, but that she wants to ensure that South Dakota has access to modern technology.
  • McGovern noted that his experience as a law clerk suits him well for the judge-like function of the PUC. He promises an independent voice for consimers and farmers.

Question #1: If you are elected to the PUC this fall, what specific issue will be the first you want to address when you take office?

  • Nelson will continue pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to improve rural call completion and fix its reforms of the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation reform.
  • Nemec will address grain warehouse issues first. He said he and McGovern have a checkoff fee plan to protect farmers in the event of a grain warehouse bankruptcy (like the Anderson Seed debacle earlier this year).
  • Fiegen agreed with Nelson that we need to work on major revisions to the FCC's USF order. She promised to fight cost-hiking EPA regulations. She said we need to work on natural gas issues and pipeline safety. As for grain warehouse issues, Fiegen wants to protect farmers without overregulating them.
  • McGovern wants to increase campaign finance transparency and prohibit contributions from regulated entities to PUC candidates. He also will fix the grain buyer bonding program to put farmers first in line when grain warehouses go bankrupt.

Q#2: In general, it seems as though there is diminished support these days from legislators and regulators for federal policies and programs that are necessary to offset deployment costs in high cost rural areas and to ensure that, between rural and urban, there is continued universal and comparable access to essential services. Do you have any thoughts or ideas as to how those of us in South Dakota and in other rural states might be able to change this disturbing trend? (addressed to Nelson and Nemec)

  • Nelson said its tough to advocate for rural needs in D.C. To get the attention of the President and show him how the EPA and FCC are damaging rural America, we must get bipartisan cooperation.
  • Nemec said we must differentiate between no regulation and too much regulation. Regulation ensures rural people get services.

Q#3: If you could sit on the FCC for one day, what would be the issue that you would bring to the table for that Commission to address? (addressed to Fiegen and McGovern)

  • Fiegen said we need to have a plan for baseline service for rural America.
  • McGovern said we need to stop the change in the FCC's USF reform order that mean less dollars for rural America. We need to expand the contribution side of the USF formula to include such things as texts and VOIP. We also need to work on making changes (strengthening statutes) for the Do Not Call List.

Q#4: Recently, the CEO of Verizon was quoted in news article that said his vision for the future is to stop investing in the company's copper network in rural areas and focus on its wireless network and offering bundled services. Does this vision mesh with what you think is best for people living in South Dakota? (addresses to Nemec and Nelson)

  • Nemec said Verizon should concentrate on making better service in rural South Dakota. Wireless is important, but service here needs to be better.
  • Nelson said Verizon is responding the dramatic increase in data traffic via smartphones. Still, companies like Verizon cannot abandon their wireline network across rural America.

Q#5: Broadband adoption rates in South Dakota tend to be close to the national average. Do you have any suggestions about how to increase broadband adoption rates in the state? (addressed to McGovern and Fiegen)

  • McGovern said we should include broadband in our universal service policies. As part of that universal service, we should consider programs to help consumers get broadband hardware. He recommended that the PUC set up kiosks at fairs with broadband access so people can see the value of broadband first hand.
  • Fiegen said we need to make broadband available and affordable. She said companies are pulling back on broadband projects in rural South Dakota due to uncertainty over FCC regulations. She said that for jobs, education, and health care, rural America needs and deserves broadband service comparable to what urban America has.

Closing remarks:

  • McGovern said elected officials must foster cooperation between government and the private sector, as they did with the Rural Electrification Act and the 1934 Communications Act
  • Fiegen says rural and urban, Republicans and Democrats, should work together to make South Dakota a leader in broadband and communications.
  • Nemec said good telecommunications access boosts rural America's access to consumer goods and education. He cited his wife's recent graduation from SDSU's nursing program: she took all of her courses online and set foot on campus only two or three times.
  • Nelson addressed the question about sitting on the FCC for a day. He said he would work to identify third-party call routers that are not completing calls into rural areas and make sure we fix the problem. He would change the regression analysis portion of the USF order. He would change the culture of the FCC to respond to rural America.



Hey, look at that! Public Utilities Commission candidate Nick Nemec posted the complete video of last Saturday's State Fair PUC candidates' debate in Huron, South Dakota:

Now the South Dakota Farmers Union hosted this debate, so according to Rep. Kristi Noem, who inexcusably rejected their invitation to debate the issues with Democratic House candidate Matt Varilek earlier in the day, the event should have been rife with unfair, partisan questions.

Sure enough—check out the first question of the debate at 16:35:

What will you do as PUC Commissioner to throttle back EPA regulations on coal which has [sic] stifled energy production at South Dakota plants?

Holy cow! Who let the Otter Tail execs in to write that question?

Democrat Nemec doesn't take the "Burn everything!" bait. He says coal is on the way out, not because of EPA regulations, but because of market realities. Nemec refers to the "glut of natural gas" from North Dakota and elsewhere that is driving construction of cleaner, more efficient, more responsive gas-fired plants. He says that instead of propping up a declining coal industry, we should promote cleaner, safer forms of energy for South Dakota consumers and landowners.

Nemec's opponent, Republican sitting commissioner Chris Nelson, turns right back to the GOP saws about that darned Barack Obama promising to use bankrupt the coal industry with EPA regulations. Nelson admits that the primary threat, greenhouse gas regulations, don't exist (yet... and now Chris has me wondering if he'd have spent his time in Congress chasing imaginary regulations just like the woman who beat him for the job in the June 2010 primary). But he notes that consumers are paying for expensive pollution control measures at the coal plants that power South Dakota... and then time runs out before he can tell us what specifically he'll do to stop EPA regs. Watch that clock, Chris!

On the other side of the stage, Libertarian Russell Clarke, who's made the tussle between Democrat Matt McGovern and incumbent GOP appointee Kristie Fiegen, says Libertarians want less government. No duh. But this Libertarian is thinking: he says we have to do something to stop environmental destruction, and he recognizes the courts have to step in when the free market fails to make polluters pay for their damage. He says he'd work to push the regulations back, but he says he'd also ask the voters to tell him what they think of these regulations. In other words, Clarke confused both the people who know what Libertarians and those who don't.

Commissioner Fiegen said that protecting the pocketbooks of farmers and ranchers and families comes first. She says a dealer told her that the EPA is making combines more expensive. She said we have to include renewables in our portfolio, but that on a hot day last June, renewables were able to provide only 7% of the demand. Use lots of domestic energy, says Fiegen, and protect those pocketbooks!

McGovern says he doesn't agree with everything the EPA does, like its "heavy-handed" use of drone aircraft to identify environmental violations on feedlots (what? Come on, Matt, we gotta find that poop!). But then he cites Republican Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson as saying that the EPA's mercury regs were long overdue. He says he checked the coal industry website and found coal provides just 22% of South Dakota's power. He points to a new Basin Electric natural gas plant in Brookings County that will help us take advantage of those cheap gas prices and reliably supplement our wind energy generation.

And then McGovern crushes the question:

...The commissioners... are not members of Congress, they're not Senators, they're not the President. They really need to focus on what we can do in Pierre to help consumers and farmers, because when they get caught up too much in what's going on in Washington, D.C., it means that they're taking their eye off the ball and not looking out for consumers and farmers in South Dakota.

That's good advice for all South Dakota candidates: get off the EPA/ObamaCare bogeymen and focus on the practical local policymaking where you can make a real and immediate difference in South Dakota's well-being.


As usual, Dakota War College, the fake-named tool of the South Dakota Republican Party Central Committee, ignores the issues in talking about candidates. Pretending in vain to be a real blogger who does real research, Tim Rave's mouthpiece prints a few results of past statewide elections and concludes that Democrats Nick Nemec and Matt McGovern can't win their bids for Public Utilities Commission.

DWC resorts to numerology because, as is the case with their rare references to Rep. Kristi Noem, the SDGOP doesn't want to talk about the real policy matters that will shape the election. DWC quotes the boring stuff in journalist Bob Mercer's reaction to the Nemec announcement but ignores the big policy issue, the all-Republican PUC's failure to regulate the Anderson Seed Company and protect area farmers from losing millions in that outfit's collapse:

Nemec is a farmer and the South Dakota committee man on the Democratic national committee. Whether one issue is enough to defeat Nelson isn't clear, because it's hard to say how many people will care about the issue. The Democrats were able to take the state treasurer post in the 1990s by Dick Butler punishing Republican Homer Harding on the mystifying and confusing unclaimed-property fight over millions of dollars involving Citibank. Whether one grain buyer's bust-up reaches the same level doesn't seem likely, but Nemec has the political ability to make the most of it [Bob Mercer, "Democrats Turn Their Lonely Eyes to Nick Nemec," Pure Pierre Politics, 2012.06.17].

PUC can be a hard race. It deals with wonky issues that don't reduce easily to sound bites and motivate voters at the gut level. We Democrats never labor under the illusion that we can coast to victory in South Dakota. But sharp Dems like Nick Nemec and Matt McGovern know how to capitalize on Republican failures of governance like those committed by incumbent Daugaard appointees Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen.

And DWC/GOP Central has never said anything to stick up for the farmers Nelson and Fiegen failed to serve. Never.


The Dems have two heavyweight candidates for Public Utilities Commission. Joining Matt McGovern is the Holabird Humdinger, the Happiest Hunting Host in Hyde County, Nick Nemec! Dems just gave Nemec and McGovern their official nomination at their convention in Aberdeen.

Nemec farms in Hyde County. He's a former Marine and two-term state legislator. He also comments regularly, sensibly, and forcefully in the South Dakota blogosphere (bonus points for any candidate who does that!). Says Nemec of his PUC bid:

The PUC exists to protect consumers and farmers. Last year, farmers across South Dakota lost millions of dollars because the PUC ignored problems at a seed company that went bankrupt last year. It's clear the current commissioners have taken their eyes off the ball. I'm running for PUC to put South Dakota first again [press release, SDDP, 2012.06.16].

Remember the endorsement Matt McGovern received from Republican Ray Martinmaas, who says Republican bumbling on the PUC caused him and numerous neighbors to lose millions on a seedy seed company that went belly up fast? It sounds like Nick is ready to press that issue with Matt.

To make the ballot clear, McGovern is challenging incumbent Kristie Fiegen for the six-year term that's available. Nemec will battle Chris Nelson for the four-year opening. Recall that Governor Daugaard appointed both Fiegen and Nelson: Nelson got the seat that Dusty Johnson abandoned right after winning our vote in 2010 so he could be Daugaard's chief of staff, while Fiegen got the vacancy left when Steve Kolbeck, the last Dem holding statewide office in Pierre, bailed to work for CenturyLink.


Public Utilities Commission candidate Matt McGovern has more expertise on energy policy issues than his opponent Commissioner Kristie Fiegen did when Governor Dennis Daugaard handed her the job in 2011. Now McGovern may have discovered a non-energy wedge issue that may give him a leg up on Fiegen.

UntitledDemocratic PUC candidate Matt McGovern (left) receives the endorsement of farmer Ray Martinmaas at a press conference in Sioux Falls, 2012.04.26. Photo from SD Democratic Party.

Yesterday Ray Martinmaas publicly endorsed McGovern for PUC. Martinmaas farms near Orient in Faulk County. He's a Republican. And he's mad at the Republicans on the PUC and in Pierre who let the Anderson Seed Company set up shop in Redfield and post a meager $100,000 bond before going belly up and costing him and dozens of his fellow farmers.

Anderson Seed got going in part thanks to funding assistance from Pierre. One of Governor Dennis Daugaard's first official acts was to cut the ribbon at Anderson Seed's official opening in January 2011. The sunflower seed processor may already have been in financial distress at that time. Anderson Seed went out of business two months ago, leaving Martinmaas out $47,000. His losses are part of $2.6 million Anderson owes to numerous area farmers. The PUC considered trying to seize the company's remaining assets but backed off, declaring that the company has no grain left to seize and that seizing any other property would be complicated by Anderson's sale to another company and by potential environmental problems at the Redfield facility. Now the PUC is limiting its efforts to recovering Anderson's $100,000 bond, which clearly wasn't enough to cover the risk it posed to South Dakota farmers.

Martinmaas thinks the PUC didn't do enough to protect farmers from Anderson Seed's failure:

"If Kristie Fiegen and the other commissioners had been doing their job, this would not have happened. We need new commissioners who will protect farmers and consumers, and I'm happy to endorse Matt McGovern," Martinmaas said. "We've got to clean house."

..."I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat, an Independent or a member of the Tea Party, we need new commissioners on the PUC," Martinmaas said. Matt McGovern will be an independent voice on the commission, Martinmaas said, because he doesn't accept campaign contributions from lobbyists or the utilities the PUC regulates ["Republican Farmer Ray Martinmaas Endorses Matt McGovern for South Dakota Public Utilities Commission," South Dakota Democratic Party, press release, 2012.04.26].

McGovern has an interesting and perhaps unexpected issue here. Martinmaas himself has questioned why the Public Utilities Commission is involved in regulating grain elevators in the first place. But operations like Anderson Seed are indeed part of the PUC portfolio. The failure of Anderson Seed opens the door for McGovern and his supporters to expand the PUC campaign from the usual arcanities of electricity and telecom regulation to the broader issue of crony capitalism of the Daugaard administration.

Incumbent Fiegen will now have to rise to the challenge of defending her failure to protect South Dakota farmers like Martinmaas from the bad business practices of a company given privileges from her boss and benefactor in Pierre.


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