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.

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Stace Bare is a big man; he fits in my Bug the way Captain Kirk fit that K'normian trading ship through the passage between the approaching Klingon structures. He served in the Army in Bosnia and Iraq. He came back to America in 2007 with big problems: post-traumatic stress, adjustment disorder, depression and brain injury. After self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, Bare found salvation (yes, he uses the word saved, and later the word grace) in rock-climbing and the great big wilderness.

That's why he now directs Sierra Club Outdoors. That's why he takes fellow veterans on wilderness adventures. That's why he thinks the 1964 Wilderness Act is one of the best health care laws we have ever passed.

About a half hour after my TEDx Brookings talk, Stace Bare stood up in his hometown and delivered this oratorical masterpiece. (Again, what do you expect? He graduated from Brookings High School, and he debated for Judy Kroll.) He weaves personal pain and growth, American history, and love of nature into a compelling call to go outside:

Next time you hear someone call the Sierra Club and environmentalists in general a bunch of liberal un-American tree huggers, send them this video. Let big Stace Bare explain to them why the wilderness is essential to America's health and identity and why protecting that wilderness is a patriotic and humanitarian duty.

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Hyperbole! Hand-waving! Hopping around! Even South Dacola can't keep me in the frame when I get fired up and talk about the big blog tour, the Wismer Dakotafest victory, EB-5 and Northern Beef Packers, the Keystone pipeline system, and all things South Dakota. Here's Mr. Ehrisman's video of my speech and our lengthy Q&A at Sioux Falls Democratic Forum on Friday, August 22, 2014. [Parental advisory: someone does say a coarser form of bovine excrement... but it's not me! I wasn't there!]

Thanks again, Forum, for inviting me to share your noon hour!

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Rep. Jenna Haggar (R-10/Sioux Falls) gives CPAC and speech students everywhere an example of how not to conclude a speech:

So discover your personal passion, seize opportunity right in front of you, and watch your calling unfold [Rep. Jenna Haggar, speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Washington, D.C., 2014.03.07].

This closing line has little to do with the bulk of Haggar's speech. I'd say thesis rather than bulk, but that would imply there was some unifying theme. Haggar didn't go to Washington to issue some bold vision or call to arms or even a coherent discourse. Haggar spent six "spectacularly awkward" minutes reciting from a script of prescribed conservative memes.

She calls health care a luxury.

She says South Dakota's pioneers had no government to provide for them (never mind that they pretty much all got free land courtesy of the Homestead Act).

She says we are "blessed to live in the freest country in history." But she lamented that we live under the tyranny of "his imperial highness Barack Hussein Obama, mm, mm, mm." (Those three mm's are there, inexplicable.)

She wanders into literary allusion, saying. "Even though we are still writing the story of America, it is not a fairy tale with a guaranteed happy ending." I cannot make sense of why that sentence begins with "even though," since the fact that we are still writing the story would explain why there is no guaranteed ending.

She talks about reclaiming feminism, aligning ourselves with "eternal significance," and fighting abortion and human trafficking.

She mixes in biography, bragging about having no college degree and not being a model politician, even as she models what every good politician does, speaking in platitudes and promoting her PAC (RushmoreWomen.com, complete with repurposed chunks of her CPAC speech) to a national audience of prospective donors.

Haggar's CPAC speech develops no theme. It builds toward no understanding or conclusion. One does not go to CPAC to make a point. One goes to score points, to see and be seen, and ask for money.

p.s.: Haggar can't even ask for money right: she pitches her PAC at CPAC, but directs them to a website where the Donate button doesn't work. Jenna, call Annette and Chad: the Donate button was the first thing they got working on their website.

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I saw a t-shirt like this at a Libertarian prepper Army surplus store just across the street from a Starbucks:

Starbucks Guns Coffee tshirt

(I don't really like either.)

I'm betting that gun-loving shop owner is getting his frappuccino fix elsewhere this morning. Sick of seeing his corporate logo co-opted by political poseurs, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz served up this civic-minded tweet last night:

Schultz's request isn't an official corporate ban, but it departs from the previous company policy of defaulting to local and state regulations for in-store gun policy. But Schultz says that the provocative display of weapons in his stores, as well as some of the vocal anti-gun activism drawn in response, doesn't fit the inviting "third place" atmosphere Starbucks sells:

I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request—and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose “open carry,” we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion “open carry,” please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.

I am proud of our country and our heritage of civil discourse and debate. It is in this spirit that we make today’s request. Whatever your view, I encourage you to be responsible and respectful of each other as citizens and neighbors [Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks Coffee Company, open letter, 2013.09.17].

Schultz's statement and policy change reinforce a point frequent reader Rick and I were making in the comment section a couple months ago while discussing the July 27 open-carry march to Starbucks in Sioux Falls. Rick said that he was offended and intimidated when a man openly carried a gun onto his property during a garage sale. Pro-gun commenters told Rick not to be such a sissy: if he didn't want the gun on his property, he should have just asked the guy to leave.

Libertarians want to believe that they can do whatever they want, like carrying a gun in the open, wherever and whenever, without accepting the impact those actions have on others. They tell us not to be afraid of trained, law-abiding citizens carefully and manfully displaying constitutional firepower.

But CEO Schultz is saying the same thing as Rick and I: there is a difference between a conversation with a dude and a conversation with a dude with a gun. The presence of a gun fundamentally and unavoidably changes the power dynamic of an interaction. Words an employee might sensibly say to enforce company policy become a potential mortal risk when directed at an armed individual. Guns send a message that is inimical to civic discourse, education, and faith in democratic society, and that message has consequences.

Schultz has every right to create the store atmosphere he wants by asking customers to leave their intimidating weapons outside. Devotees of firearm intimidation have every right to take their business elsewhere.

But Schultz's policy change makes one thing clear: carrying a gun is not merely an exercise of an individual liberty. It is a social act, aimed at impacting others. And when an action impacts others, we have the right to regulate it through business policy and law.

Update 14:50 CDT: Libertarian blogger and gun activist Ken Santema earns his rationality points for the week by commending Schultz's "sensible" request.

Update 2014.03.31: I've got to turn off the comments on this post, since it's drawing heavy spam (from France!). I apologize for the inconvenience. If you'd like to post a comment here, please use my Contact form, and I'll post your thoughts.

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The South Dakota Department of Agriculture last month named the winners of the Resource Conservation Speech Contest that it co-sponsors with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the state's conservation districts:

  1. Shanae Doerr of Aberdeen won first with a speech celebrating government spending. She praises President Obama's $51.5-million effort to combat carp and Governor Daugaard's $8-million fight against the pine beetle.
  2. Emily Meier of Aberdeen won second by emphasizing the role of government, specifically our state conservation districts and weed and pest boards, in protecting productive agricultural land.
  3. Logan Hattervig of Carthage won third by touting the social, environmental, and economic benefits of planting trees.

So at least two out of three kids understand that government plays an important role in sustaining a healthy planet and a healthy capitalist economy. Well done, South Dakota education system!

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In response to my post yesterday on the state's plan to water down K-12 education by striking the speech requirement from South Dakota's high school graduation rules, an eager reader points me toward a survey distributed by the Department of Education last month for the purpose of, according to a Department of Education e-mail, "gathering opinions from administrators and teachers of English Language Arts to determine if a proposal should be taken before the South Dakota Board of Education."

The survey language makes clear that the Department wants to do more than eliminate the speech requirement; they want to collapse all of our specific English requirements into one general requirement:

[South Dakota Department of Education, online survey, announced 2013.03.19, accessed 2013.04.27]

I shouldn't tease the Glenn Beck bears, but do you notice the line about American literature? On paper, the Department of Education's proposal removes the explicit requirement that students spend at least one semester reading American literature.

But there is less cause to worry here, fellow patriots, than there is in the speech question. The Common Core English Language Arts Standards make clear that teachers must expose students to at least one American play, along with one play by Shakespeare (what, just one? You've got to do Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet!). Grade 6-12 students must also "demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics" [p. 38]. The Test Exemplars and Performance Tasks also include plenty of American lit, including that fine Bolshevisky tract The Grapes of Wrath.

Common Core standards define a specific minimum for American literature but not speech communication for one sad reason, pointed out by educator Steve O'Brien:

Speech, even if incorporated into other English classes, will be largely set aside as the pressure to get to the "tested" material will dominate the teacher's focus. As speech (and don't get me wrong, I highly value speech and debate) is not tested, it is not as important in the accountability (test) model of education [Steve O'Brien, comment, Madville Times, 2013.04.26].

We can put literature on bubble tests. We can even fit some writing into the standardized tests. But we can't efficiently evaluate student speaking skills in a standardized test setting. We can only evaluate how well a student speaks with dedicated teachers in each classroom, coaching and listening to each child.

And since South Dakota doesn't trust teachers, and since Pearson and the other test companies couldn't make money if we did trust our teachers, those tests will dictate what we teach. Testable lit stays; speech goes.

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I am not John Birch. I do not oppose the Common Core State Standards out of fear of data-mining and liberal indoctrination.

I do, however, oppose the Common Core State Standards as a tremendous waste of educators' time and effort. Common Core codifies for bureaucratic and capitalistic (read: sell new textbooks) purposes objectives that every good teacher already knows and practices in the classroom.

Common Core may also kill the requirement that South Dakota kids take speech in high school.

A couple months ago, I heard rumblings that the state Board of Education (here they are: write to them, give them heck) may eliminate the speech requirement from South Dakota's high school graduation standards. I asked the Department of Education whether the state is "considering removing the 1/2-credit speech requirement from our high school graduation requirements." I received this reply:

I would like to thank you for your concern for South Dakota students. Secondly, I would like to reassure you that the discussions we have been having would not eliminate the requirement to teach the standards addressed in a speech class.

The informal discussions taking place have stemmed from districts questioning the English Language Arts graduation requirements, since South Dakota has adopted the Common Core State Standards and will be assessing them beginning in spring of 2015. The Common Core English Language Arts standards in high school outline standards in two-year grade bands, 9-10 and 11-12, allowing for flexibility in high school course design. The standards delineate specific expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language, but do not need to be a separate focus for instruction and assessment. Standards from each strand can be taught and assessed by a single rich task. Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year's grade specific standards.

The current graduation requirements state that students must have 4 units of Language Arts which include: 1. 5 units of literature in which .5 units must be American Literature; 1.5 units of writing; .5 units of speech or debate; and .5 units of Language Arts elective. Whereas the current graduation requirements specify set units for each area within English Language Arts, the proposal being discussed would allow districts the flexibility to determine if speech is embedded into each English Language Arts class or if the speaking and listening standards are pulled out into a separate course.

The Department of Education will be gathering information from districts to determine if a proposal should be taken before the South Dakota Board of Education. To date, this has simply been an informal discussion. I encourage you to watch the Department of Education's website at doe.sd.gov. The Board of Education meetings are posted here. Look for the Board of Education link which will give you more information [Becky Nelson, Team Leader, Office of Learning and Instruction, e-mail, 2013.02.27].

In other words, yes, we are eliminating the requirement that every South Dakota student pass a semester course dedicated to learning how to make a speech.

The Department is cloaking this bad decision in talk of local control (sound familiar?) and Common Core. They say that Common Core is so good that if your school follows the standards, kids will automatically learn speech in their regular English classes and multidisciplinary activities. We won't need to have speech communication experts focusing on public speaking skills in a separate class.

This argument is mostly rubbish. Common Core says a lot, but it does not say that every child has to stand up in front of an audience and make a speech. The Common Core standards for English and literacy say that students will "Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners." Those words could mean almost anything... which means, like most text related to education reform, it means almost nothing.

Under current practice, our high school speech requirement means students spend a solid semester practicing speech communication. In my Montrose classroom, that meant students did five big speech activities: an informative speech, a visual aid speech, a persuasive speech, parliamentary speaking (five small speeches plus motions!), and a job interview. Like other speech teachers, I evaluated what kids said, but I also evaluated how they said it. I trained them in the physical, intellectual, and emotional aspects of effective speaking. That solid semester of attention to those issues gives students potent practice in communication skills that they will not receive if we dissolve the speech requirement into Common Core's vague commitment to "a range of conversations and collaborations" in the soup of other content standards.

A national survey released this month finds 74% of employers recommend that students get a liberal arts education. Employers want students who can "think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems." Our speech requirement gives students a leg up on satisfying that job-world demand for good communication skills. Replacing that speech requirement with Common Core's fluff will take that advantage away from our kids.

The next meeting of the state Board of Education is May 20 from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City. If you want South Dakota to keep pushing kids to be better speakers, you should contact those board members and tell them not to let Common Core weaken South Dakota's commitment to solid speech education.

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