Author Archives: Bob Mercer

About Bob Mercer

Bob Mercer is a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News and four other separately owned newspapers: the Black Hills Pioneer, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Mitchell Daily Republic and the Watertown Public Opinion. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish and Pierre papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the five papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

Supreme Court: Lawyer shouldn’t have been witness

In a tangled case dealing with the finances of a Sully County livestock-feeding operation, the South Dakota Supreme Court last week said Pierre attorney William Van Camp shouldn’t have been forced to divulge attorney-client information. The justices said Circuit Judge John Brown shouldn’t have allowed Pierre attorney Thomas Maher to depose Van Camp. The case is here. The justices said there were other avenues available to pursue the information. “The circuit court erred in refusing to quash Maher’s subpoena, submitted on behalf of Voorhees, to depose Van Camp and require him to submit to discovery of his file and answer requests for admissions. The circuit court committed further error in allowing privileged material to be introduced on behalf of Voorhees during the trial,” the unanimous decision written by Justice Glen Severson said. However, those materials didn’t bear sufficiently on the piece of the case that was actually appealed to the Supreme Court, Severson noted, and therefore the “claim that the error tainted the trial is not sufficient.”

Lottery Commission re-elects leaders

Two former legislators will hold the leadership seats on the South Dakota Lottery Commission for another year. Commission members re-elected Chuck Turbiville of Deadwood and Jim Putnam of Armour as chairman and vice chairman respectively Thursday.

Turbiville, who turned 72 on July 13, is the current mayor of Deadwood. He served in the state House of Representatives as a Republican from 2005 through 2012. The four consecutive terms in the same chamber meant he needed to retire or run for the Senate; he chose the third option of running for mayor.

Putnam, who turned 75 on April 18, joined the Legislature in 1987 when then-Gov. George S. Mickelson appointed him to the remainder of the term for the late Gary Bender. Putnam, a Republican, served a total of 26 years as a legislator until he lost a re-election bid in 2012. He was in the House from 1987 through 2000, then the Senate from 2001 through 2002, then the House from 2003 through 2010, and then the Senate from 2011 through 2012.

Higher-ed council starts resetting goals

The state Council on Higher Education Policy Goals, Performance and Accountability held its first meeting of the year on Wednesday morning. Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s chief of staff and a former member of the state Board of Regents, said the council would meet again in October or November. The council members agreed by consensus to individually work further on identifying possible indicators and measurements before the next meeting. The members represent state universities, public technical institutes, state agencies, the state Board of Education, the state Board of Regents and local schools. The council was created by the 2013 Legislature. The council met annually during its first two years.

Leaders re-elected for State Historical Society board

The nine trustees who participated in the teleconference board meeting today for the South Dakota State Historical Society selected Brad Tennant of Aberdeen to serve another term as president. Tennant said he was willing to continue. “As long as nobody else is interested,” he said.  After the 9-0 vote, he added, “I thank you for your trust and support.” The trustees also selected David Wolff of Spearfish to serve again as vice president. “I’ll help you out as much as I can,” Wolff said. The trustees’ next meeting is Sept. 11, when discussion is planned on an absenteeism policy for board members.

Arts Council gets a new member

Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently reappointed four members of the State Arts Council to additional terms. and appointed a new member. Reappointed are Mary Bordeaux of Rapid City, Lynne Byrne of Sioux Falls,  Lynda Clark-Adelstein of Rapid City and Brian Bonde of Sioux Falls. Their new terms run until June 30, 2018. The new member is Laura Diddle of Brookings, who replaces James Johnson of Brookings, who had a distinguished career at South Dakota State University.

From the LRC website…

If you’re trying to search among South Dakota’s laws using the Legislative Research Council’s Internet site, this message is the current result:

Due to a recent Microsoft Update to our servers we are experiencing technical difficulties with our search functions. Results displayed are not all-inclusive. The Bureau of Information and Telecommunications is working with Microsoft to resolve the issue. We apologize for the inconvenience. 

Rotating the seats on higher ed council

Two years ago, before then-Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth / Madison left the Legislature, state lawmakers created at his suggestion the Council on Higher Education Policy Goals (SB 5). The concept was to establish a measuring and tracking device for the state universities and public technical institutes under the respective control of the Board of Regents and the Board of Education in South Dakota, and to create a framework for the funding of the two systems. Each board is to present an annual report to the council (the regents 2014 report is here). Recently, Gov. Dennis Daugaard rotated various people into the council’s seats. His appointments include:

Second terms for Rapid City public schools superintendent Tim Mitchell (who plans to leave as superintendent after the coming school year), Sioux Falls school board member Doug Morrison and state Board of Education member Terry Sabers of Mitchell;

Mike Rush, the new executive director for the state Board of Regents, who replaces Jack Warner, the recently retired executive director for the regents;

Regents Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls and John Bastian of Belle Fourche, who succeed regents Randy Schaefer of Madison and Kathryn Johnson of Hill City;

Tom Jackson, president of Black Hills State University, who succeeds David Chicoine, president of South Dakota State University; and

Jeff Holcomb, president of Southeast Technical Institute, who succeeds Greg Von Wald, who recently retired as president for Mitchell Technical Institute.

The boomerang of the Planned Parenthood issue

The New York Times editorial board weighed in today on the Planned Parenthood fetal-tissue video, calling it a campaign of deception. The Times editorial and its information about the tactics of the organization behind the video landed on the same day that South Dakota’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Mike Rounds and John Thune, announced they are among the 50 signers from the Senate who sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Thune in a news release states “…following the release of footage by the Center for Medical Progress depicting senior Planned Parenthood Federation of America executives discussing in gruesome detail the organization’s role in the harvesting of the organs of unborn babies. In the letter, the senators draw attention to the legal, ethical, and policy issues raised by the footage and call on HHS Secretary Burwell to cooperate with ongoing and future investigations into these questions.” Rounds in a news release states “…following the release of footage by the Center for Medical Progress depicting senior Planned Parenthood Federation of America executives discussing in gruesome detail the organization’s role in the harvesting of the organs of unborn babies. In the letter, the senators draw attention to the legal, ethical and policy issues raised by the footage and call on Burwell to cooperate with ongoing and future investigations into these questions.” Yes, the two releases follow the same text. The Times editorial is here. It is one thing to be strongly opposed to legalized abortion and to oppose Planned Parenthood. It is unfortunate when beliefs in the sanctity of life lead to an ambush of deliberate distortion.

The Milwaukee road: Interstate sex traffic

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler announced one sentencing and one indictment regarding prostitution in Sioux Falls involving two men from Milwaukee. Jaquon Duckworth, 23, pleaded guilty and recently received a sentence of 10 months in federal custody, followed by two years of supervised release, for traveling from Wisconsin to Sioux Falls with a woman for the purpose of her engaging in prostitution activity. Justin Keith, 30, was indicted by a federal grand jury recently for sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. He pleaded not-guilty. The crime carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, with a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years in prison.

The Schoenbeck report

State Rep. Lee Schoenbeck weighs in, at some length, on South Dakota’s related matters of public school funding and teacher salaries. Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, wrote his report because of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on K-12 funding. It takes a while to read (he said he doesn’t plan a one-page “dashboard” that is favored by some lawmakers) but it’s worth the while.

Schoenbeck report