‘I didn’t run on Medicaid expansion’

It’s no surprise that Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard couldn’t find enough support for Medicaid expansion to cover the working poor that was necessary to call a special legislative session.

He received a message in the Republican primary elections for several Senate seats earlier this month, with the victories by former Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton, Rep. Lance Russell of Hot Springs and Sen. Phil Jensen of Rapid City.

But just as significantly, many Republican legislators elected in 2014 had emphasized in the past year they didn’t run for election promising Medicaid expansion.

Some were willing to consider Medicaid expansion on one condition: That state government wouldn’t have to pay anything for Indian Health Service patients’ care delivered outside the standard IHS system.

But when President Obama’s administration decided to stop requiring states to pay for part of IHS care when it occurs outside the IHS system, Daugaard lost that leverage.

Largely unacknowledged is the significance of Daugaard’s victory on the IHS funding question.

It promises to save millions of dollars annually for South Dakota’s state government. Now those dollars can be spent in other ways as the savings accumulate in the coming budget years.

Daugaard didn’t start as a supporter of the Medicaid expansion that is subsidized through the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare. He, like many Republican legislators, didn’t know whether the federal government could be trusted and disagreed with spending money the federal government clearly doesn’t have

But in pursuing the IHS subsidy/Medicaid expansion trade-off, Daugaard sparked a revolution among South Dakota’s all-Republican delegation in Congress.

Suddenly senators John Thune and Mike Rounds and our one U.S. House member, Kristi Noem, took urgent interest in the Indian Health Service’s operations in South Dakota and nationally. Their records weren’t strong on the matter until 2016.

The poor service at IHS facilities that has been documented by them has only fed further suspicion of the IHS.

Four years ago South Dakota voters rejected a sales-tax increase, from 4 percent to 5 percent, that was intended to fund Medicaid expansion and teacher salaries. This year, Daugaard led the Legislature to raise the sales tax to 4.5 percent for teacher pay and property tax relief.

There was discontent but there wasn’t a backlash in the Republican legislative primaries earlier this month over the sales-tax increase approved by state lawmakers.

The inference became this: Voters wanted to support their schools but didn’t want to pay more for Medicaid services.

Raising the white flag on Medicaid expansion seemed inevitable once Daugaard received the IHS letter and won the sales-tax increase fight this year.

Medicaid expansion likely is dead for the 30 months remaining on Daugaard’s second and final term as governor. And for what it’s worth, he didn’t run for re-election on Medicaid expansion, either.

4 plus 4 doesn’t make 9

I choked when I saw a tweet from the governor’s office praising the U.S. Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s immigration amnesty as a victory for the rule of law. The court split 4-4. The court is supposed to have nine members, regardless of who is president. If a nine-member court upheld or overturned Obama’s immigration policy, that would be acceptable, because that’s how the system is supposed to work. A 4-4 tie means the Supreme Court reverts to a lower court’s decision. There is nothing supreme in that equation. Rule of law indeed.

SDSU wants some names changed

The state Board of Regents will consider next week whether South Dakota State University can change the names of two academic departments. Plant Science would become Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science. Dairy Science would become Dairy and Food Science. The regents meet Tuesday through Thursday at Dakota State University in Madison.

Two veteran lawmakers shown the door in a complicated, rural district

Winning where more voters live: That’s the story behind the victories by John Lake and Spencer Gosch for two seats in the state House of Representatives.

They finished decisively ahead of former Rep. Charlie Hoffman, who was attempting a comeback, and current Rep. Dick Werner, who was trying to remain a legislator but for a district that didn’t originally elect him, in this month’s primary election.

The Republicans who voted in the District 23 primary split strongly in their preferences among the four depending upon where they lived. And that’s how John Lake of Gettysburg and Spencer Gosch of Glenham prevailed.

The Republican primary was the election in this instance. The district didn’t attract any independents or Democrats as candidates. So the 31.16 percent of the Republican-primary votes received by Lake and the 26.98 percent received by Gosch sends them to the state Capitol for the 2017-2018 term of the Legislature.

This was a contest without any true incumbents. The district’s senator, Corey Brown of Gettysburg, is term-limited after four consecutive terms in the Senate and didn’t seek to continue in the House. Brown was a major force during his eight years, serving at various points as Senate appropriations chairman, Senate president pro tem (giving him the power of assigning committee members) and most recent as Senate Republican caucus leader. One of the district’s two representatives, Justin Cronin of Gettysburg, was term-limited in the House and ran, unopposed, for the Senate seat. Cronin was House appropriations chairman for the past term, after previously being House Republican assistant leader. The district’s other representative, Michele Harrison of Mobridge, decided against seeking re-election to a second term. All three are Republicans.

Hoffman had served three terms in the House and didn’t run for re-election in 2014. That opened a path for Harrison to serve. It also re-set the calendar for Hoffman regarding term limits and took him off the path where he and Cronin might have competed for the Senate nomination this year.

The move by Dick Werner from Huron, where he had been a banker, back home to rural Herreid created an unusual situation. Werner continued to represent the voters of District 22 in Beadle and Kingsbury counties who elected him in 2012 but was competing for election in 2016 from the District 23 counties of Campbell, Edmunds, Faulk, Hand, McPherson, Potter, Walworth and part of Spink.

The four Republicans indeed competed hard in the primary campaign. The eight counties of District 23 make it one of the more challenging geographically and therefore politically. Gettysburg, with Cronin and Brown, has been the power center for eight years. With Cronin moving to the Senate and Lake’s victory, the status of Gettysburg remains for another term in the Legislature.

The results by county reflect the local flavor of this primary and the complexities of a contest where voters could choose two candidates.

Campbell County favored Werner with 33.11 percent and Hoffman with 27.87 percent. Edmunds County liked Hoffman best with 27.89 percent and Werner second with 25.46 percent.

Faulk County voters liked a different combination. There Lake received 39.75 percent, with Werner second at 29.25 percent. Hand County preferred the same pair, giving Lake 34.52 percent and Werner 28.48 percent.

McPherson County voters saw it another way. Hoffman did best with 37.20 percent and Gosch broke through with 24.80 percent.

Potter County made its favorite clear. Lake received 63.57 percent. Gosch placed second there with 15.95 percent. Lake won 801 of his total 2,466 votes in his home county. Gosch had 201 votes there, Hoffman 187 and Werner just 71.

Walworth County did the same but in different order. Gosch won his home county with 45.41 percent, followed by Lake with 25.05 percent. Gosch received 890 of his total 2,135 votes there. Next were Lake with 491, Hoffman 341 and Werner 238.

The part of Spink County that’s in this district preferred Werner with 39.74 percent and Lake at 36.42 percent. But for Werner those 60 votes didn’t do much to offset results elsewhere.

The district’s voters sent a message in 2014 when Hoffman sat out and they chose Michele Harrison, a Mobridge community leader, for the second House seat in a five-way Republican primary, largely on support in Walworth County for Harrison and Cronin (and the cross-over Republican candidacy of former Rep. Dale Hargens from Miller, who had been a Democrat and who won Hand County in the 2014 Republican primary — proving local support matters).

This time, the district’s Republicans elected two new lawmakers, again from Walworth and Potter counties, in Gosch and Lake, over two veteran lawmakers in Hoffman and Werner. Where they will fit in the House Republican caucus, and how Justin Cronin fares in the new dynamics of the post-Brown Senate Republican caucus, won’t be publicly clear until January. But it’s a place to watch.

Now come the replacement candidates — maybe for the last time

This is a long post about a complex subject. What’s been happening in a few legislative election contests in recent days is noteworthy, because in the future the selection of replacement candidates could be more difficult.

There are restrictions proposed that would strongly discourage the use of placeholder candidates who are to be replaced later on the ballot. The restrictions would become state law if South Dakota voters approve Referred Law 19 in the November general election this year.

Opponents used South Dakota’s referral process to temporarily block the 13-page bill, which was SB 69 in the 2015 legislative session, until a statewide vote could be held on it. SB 69 contains many proposed changes to South Dakota election laws beyond the restrictions on placeholder and replacement candidates.

One example is an overhaul of the filing period for partisan candidates seeking state and county offices. It would start Dec. 1 of the preceding year rather than Jan. 1 of the election year and would close at 5 p.m. on March 1 rather than late March. (This year the final day to file was March 29 for partisan candidates.)

Originally SB 69 came from the state Board of Elections and new Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, a Republican former legislator. But current Republican legislators took control of SB 69 and inserted additional provisions, such as the restrictions against placeholders.

Section 21 of SB 69 carries the new restrictions on placeholders:

If a party candidate for public office withdraws after filing petitions with the secretary of state, the appropriate party central committee may make a replacement nominee only if:

(1) The party candidate: (a) Withdraws because of personal illness or illness of an immediate family member and the illness prevents the candidate from performing the duties of the office sought; and (b) Submits with the withdrawal request a form signed by a licensed physician verifying that the provisions of subsection (a) apply to the candidate;

(2) There is no other nominee for the office sought by the withdrawing candidate as of the time of the withdrawal;

(3) The party candidate has been elected or appointed to fill a vacancy in another elective office which duties conflict by law with the duties of the office sought, has become the nominee for another elective office, it has been determined that the party candidate’s employment conflicts by law with the duties of the office sought, or is deceased; or

(4) The party candidate permanently moves from his or her physical address stated in the nominating petition filed with the secretary of state, and requests in writing, subscribed and sworn to by the candidate before any officer qualified to administer oaths and take acknowledgments that the candidate has not resided in the district for a period of thirty consecutive calendar days and has no intention of resuming residency in the district.

Those restrictions were in an amendment presented by Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, during the legislation’s first hearing by the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.

Brown and other Republicans expressed their disdain for the tactic often used by Democratic organizers of finding people willing to let their names temporarily be used as candidates during the filing period. Those temporary candidates withdraw later.

Sometimes actual candidates are selected later to replace them. Sometimes the slot is left empty.

The proposed restrictions would deter this practice in South Dakota legislative contests to some considerable extent.

The ballot-measure explanation by state Attorney General Marty Jackley attempts to summarize major effects of SB 69 in one page. The replacement restrictions aren’t mentioned in the explanation.

This year the withdrawal activity is somewhat limited, at least so far.

Senate candidates who withdrew before the primary elections were Sen. Ried Holien of Watertown and David Bergan of Sioux Falls, both Republicans. House candidates who withdrew before the primary elections were Republicans Stephen Eckrich of Rapid City and Rep. Fred Deutsch of Florence; and Democrat Tony Pier of Sioux Falls.

Holien’s decision led to a Republican primary won by Neal Tapio of Watertown over Rep. Roger Solum of Watertown. John Mills of rural Volga was selected to replace Deutsch as a Republican candidate in District 4. In District 14, J.R. LaPlante of Sioux Falls is replacing Pier.

More could be coming. The last day for candidates to withdraw from the general election is Aug. 2. The last day for party central committee to fill vacancies caused by withdrawals is Aug. 9.

You’ll see much more information in the coming four months about Referred Law 19 and what it would change if voters adopt it Nov. 8. There are many significant changes in its 13 pages.

Some significant changes at PUC and LRC

First the retirement news: Rolayne Wiest stepped down June 8 after nearly 20 years at the state Public Utilities Commission, where she most recently was commission attorney. Comments by commissioners at a recent meeting showed their deep appreciation for her abilities and her precision.

Her departure meant Adam de Hueck moves from a PUC staff attorney to commission attorney. His promotion opened a desk for Amanda Reiss to join the PUC as a staff attorney. She has worked the past five years as a lawyer on the Legislative Research Council staff. That creates a vacancy the LRC has yet to fill.

The LRC meanwhile recently filled a vacancy on its fiscal staff. Aaron Olson left as a senior fiscal analyst during the legislative session to take a top finance spot at the Unified Judicial System within state government. The LRC hired Jeff Mehlhaff, who started Thursday. He comes from the South Dakota Municipal League, where he was director for electrical service. He is assigned to be the LRC analyst for the state Board of Regents. (Ann Mehlhaff, the fiscal section’s head in LRC, said he is “a fifth or sixth cousin” to her husband, Jim, who works at the PUC.)


A neat service for W’town fireworks show

On July 3 Watertown hosts South Dakota’s largest fireworks show. In the motels are table cards promoting the show — and free trolley rides from the motels to the show area at the Redlin art center and then return trips after the show back to the motels. What a great way to reduce parking congestion and traffic while making visitors’ stays much easier. Well done!

Governor 5, Challengers 4… or was the tally really 5-6?

That was the outcome after all the votes were counted in all of the Senate Republican primary elections. Of nine candidates backed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, five won nominations in their primaries. They were incumbents Larry Tidemann of Brookings, Deb Peters of Hartford, Alan Solano of Rapid City and Terri Haverly of Rapid City. The fifth was Rep. Jeff Partridge of Rapid City, who’s running for a Senate seat.

The four losses saw Neal Tapio beat Rep. Roger Solum for the nomination to the Watertown-area seat; former Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton beat Caleb Finck of Tripp for the Senate seat now held by Republican Bill Van Gerpen of Tyndall; Rep. Lance Russell of Hot Springs oust Sen. Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City; and Sen. Phil Jensen of Rapid City roll past Rep. Jacqueline Sly of Rapid City.

Earlier in the evening, the tallies didn’t look so encouraging for Daugaard. Peters was in a close race with former Rep. Lora Hubbel, Partridge led by one vote over Janette McIntyre and Haverly couldn’t shake Tina Mulally. In the end all three broke the governor’s way.

The trouble with writing election-night analysis stories for newspapers is they have firm deadlines that don’t exist in the same way for the internet. So the first story I sent for newspaper use at 10:05 p.m. had to be based on what was known and what wasn’t known at that time. And at that time, all we had for absolute certain seemed to Tapio, Nelson and Tidemann winning, while others were too close to call. Within an hour, nearly all of the remaining contests came into final focus. That’s when I sent a second version of the story, known as a first rewrite, at 11:06 p.m., but by then it was too late for several of the papers to use in their print editions.

There is a thin line reporters walk on election night about what can be written. I wish I was better at it.

MORNING AFTER UPDATE: Upon further review, at least two more Senate seats swung away from Daugaard. They were his two 2015 appointees, Sen. Scott Fiegen of Dell Rapids and Sen. Bill Shorma of Dakota Dunes. They filled vacancies left after the 2015 session by the resignations of Senate Republican leader Tim Rave of Baltic and Senate Republican assistant leader Dan Lederman of Dakota Dunes. Feigen didn’t run this year, opening the way for one of Daugaard’s House Republican opponents, Rep. Kris Langer of Dell Rapids, to be the Senate Republican candidate. Shorma decided against running for the Senate Republican nomination, because term-limited Rep. Jim Bolin of Canton wanted it. Shorma instead ran for a House Republican nomination and appears to have finished third in a race for two nominations, 45 votes behind Kevin Jensen of Canton, who had placed third in 2014 in the House Republican primary, The changes in those two seats mean that of 11 Senate seats where he had a direct interest, either through his $1,000 contributions or appointees, he won five.

Twenty years later, some want early primaries again

For three cycles of presidential elections, from 1988 through 1996, South Dakota held a separate round of primary elections in February for choosing presidential candidates. They weren’t a big success. At the time U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle was a rising power in the Democratic ranks and he could swing voters to support one of his favorites, Missouri U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt. Former Gov. Bill Janklow still had plenty of pull on behalf of Republican Vice President (and later President) George H.W. Bush. But the bonanza people had sought never came. By the end, some county auditors questioned the cost, and legislators decided the public’s money could be better spent. The February primary was repealed and South Dakota went back to making its presidential picks on the same June Tuesday as a handful of other states such as California. People are showing interest again this year, asking why South Dakota must be last. The real answer is efficiency. We’re not significant nationally and we’re frugal at times. Getting rid of the presidential primaries was one of those times.