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.

Polling firm looks at two election contests in South Dakota

Remington Research Group isn’t a big name among public-opinion survey firms but it decided to look at the presidential and U.S. Senate elections in South Dakota. The Kansas City-based company uses automated voice-response surveys.

The company said that during the period of Oct. 19-21 it contacted 1,115 people it considered to be likely South Dakota voters. The company did this without a paying client, according to Titus Bond, the company’s director of polling. “We periodically conduct public surveys in states where no public data is available. It was done at our cost,” Bond said by email in response to a reporter’s question.
In the presidential race, the results indicated 48 percent support for Republican nominee Donald Trump, followed by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton 37 percent; Libertarian Gary Johnson had 6 percent, Constitution Party nominee had two percent and undecideds totaled eight percent.

In the Senate race, the results indicated Republican John Thune had 57 percent support and Democrat Jay Williams had 36 percent support, with seven percent undecided.

Elections are the start of a two-year fight

In three weeks we’ll better know our direction, at least for the next two years, in South Dakota. The campaign for governor in 2018 is already well underway while Gov. Dennis Daugaard has more than two years remaining on his second and final term. The 2017 legislative session promises to be exciting and highly experienced. Twenty-four of the 105 legislative seats already have winners because the candidates don’t have opponents in the Nov. 8 general election. There are 64 current legislators running for additional terms in their current chambers. There are seven House members seeking seats in the Senate and two senators seeking seats in the House. There are at least eleven former legislators (Tyler, Pierson, Nelson, Burg, Maher, Wismer, Carson, Ahlers, Rhoden, Turbiville and Lust) looking to get back into the House or the Senate. The governor appears to be on a course to seek Medicaid expansion if he thinks he has the votes and if Congress appears unable to repeal Obamacare. And South Dakota’s economy is soft right now, with questions rising about whether the state treasury will receive enough tax revenue to pay for everything already budgeted including the increased aid to school districts for teacher salary improvements. Plus, we won’t know until late on Nov. 8 or early on Nov. 9 the results of the 10 ballot measures, many of which would require some degree of legislative action if voters approve them. January through March will be a vigorous struggle in Fun City. And the governor campaign (and possibly the U.S. House campaign, if Republican Rep. Kristi Noem runs for another office such as governor) will hit third and fourth gears through 2017 and the first five months of 2018 leading to the next June primary.

The importance of campaign debates

Okay, they’re not debates in the true sense, but the side-by-side appearances of the candidates for South Dakota’s two seats in Congress up for election this year and the major-party candidates for president proved worth every minute of the time.

Television deserves credit for hosting the events so that we can watch or listen from the comfort of our homes or vehicles. I watched one of the U.S. Senate events and one of the U.S. House events, and I listened to all three presidential events.

I received a deeper understanding of Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune, Democratic Senate challenger Jay Williams, Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, Democratic House challenger Paula Hawks, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

As a news reporter, I purposely abstain from voting. That means I don’t make a choice. When my career in news is over, I will vote. In the meantime I will keep watching the debates. The events help me better know the candidates. The statements by the candidates help me better know our state.


Voting center change requested at Pine Ridge

The South Dakota Democratic Party’s leadership requested Thursday that Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and Fall River County Auditor Sue Ganje, who is auditor for Oglala Lakota County as well, change the satellite early voting location for Oglala Lakota County. The SuAnne Big Crow Center near Pine Ridge is the satellite site, but a killing took place there last weekend. Randy Seiler, the U.S. attorney for South Dakota, asked Wednesday for the public’s help regarding two recent shootings in the area of Pine Ridge village. Here is the main part of the U.S. attorney’s news release:

The United States Attorney’s Office, the Rapid City Resident Agency of
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of
Justice Services, Pine Ridge Agency, are investigating the September 29, 2016,
fatal shooting of Chunta Suta Wi Colhoff, aka Annie Colhoff, a 34-year-old
citizen of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Ms. Colhoff was shot and killed in Pine
Ridge village. The agencies are also investigating the October 16, 2016,
shooting death of Vincent Brewer, III, age 29, outside Pine Ridge village.

Authorities do not believe these shootings were random acts, but stem
from disputes law enforcement authorities are investigating. Leads are being
followed, persons are being interviewed, and search warrants are being

Seiler affirmed the investigation of these two shootings is a top
priority for federal law enforcement authorities in South Dakota.
Authorities appreciate any and all assistance members of the community
might be able to provide.

Members of the public wishing to provide information should call the BIAOffice of Justice Services at (605) 867-2931, tribal dispatch at 911, or the FBI in Rapid City at (605) 343-9632.

If a member of the public wishes to remain anonymous, you may also
contact the BIA OJS Tip line at 1-888-668-066.

Here is the statement from South Dakota Democratic Party executive director Suzanne Jones Pranger:

“The current early voting location is unsuitable and inaccessible to voters because it is several miles outside the town of Pine Ridge, there is construction on the road to the location causing up to 45 minute travel delays, the road construction makes walking to the location unsafe, and a shooting occurred at the location this past weekend. We have been in talks with the Secretary of State and County Auditor about relocating the absentee voting location in Oglala Lakota County and are hopeful they will move the location as soon as possible to another suggested location that does not unreasonably burden voters.” 

Here is a photo supplied by Democratic officials showing traffic at the satellite site:


A last round (for now) of free books

Come Monday, most of the books that in recent weeks have been listed to give away will be shipped to the University of South Dakota for use in the politics and government sections. So here’s one last round of books that hadn’t been listed yet. The topics are primarily presidents and figures from the American Revolution period.

Revolutionary Summer, by Joseph Ellis; Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis; Alexis de Tocqueville, biography by Hugh Brogan; Grand Avenues, regarding design of Washington, D.C., by Scott Berg; Alexander Hamilton, by John Miller; The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, by Gordon Wood; America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, by Richard Brookhiser; To The Best of My Ability, a presidential survey of sorts by James McPherson; The Age of Jackson, by Arthur Schlesinger; What Kind of Nation, a look at Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, by James E. Simon; James Madison, by Garry Wills; James Polk, by John Siegenthaler; Theodore Roosevelt, by Louis Auchincloss; Myths After Lincoln, by Lloyd Lewis with an introduction by Carl Sandberg; Lincoln at Gettysburg, by Garry Wils; Team of Rivals, the story of Lincoln’s cabinet, by Doris Kearns Goodwin; The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, covering 1920-1933, about his cabinet and presidency; Roosevelt in Retrospect, a look at FDR, by John Gunther; and Man of the People, a biography of Harry Truman, by Alonzo Hamby.

Email me at if you would like any of them. Same deal: I’ll ship at my cost if you make a small donation to a good organization in your community or buy a book at the next AAUW local book-sale.

I still have numerous journalism books and South Dakota books. I’m still deciding how to get those into other people’s hands.

Daugaard campaigning for Lust

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has paid for a mailing to all Rapid City-area voters in legislative District 34. He is asking for their support for Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City. Lust’s name doesn’t appear on the general election ballot, however. Instead, the name of the late Rep. Dan Dryden, R-Rapid City, is there. Dryden died Aug. 30, after the deadline for replacing candidates on ballots. The Republican governor appointed Lust to serve the remainder of Dryden’s term this year and said he would appoint Lust to Dryden’s new term if voters elect Dryden. The other two candidates for the two House seats representing District 34 are Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, and one Democratic candidate, Steve Stenson of Rapid City. Tieszen is term-limited in the Senate and is attempting a swap with Rep. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City, who’s seeking the Senate seat held by Tieszen. Lust served eight years in the House until he was term-limited in 2014 and didn’t run for the Senate. He was House Republican leader for the final four years of his time in the chamber. Here’s a copy of the Daugaard letter on Lust’s behalf.

Draft letter to D34 voters

Water board member declares a conflict

The state Board of Water and Natural Resources holds a special teleconference meeting this morning (Wednesday) to consider a conflict of interest declared by one of its members. Jerry Soholt of Sioux Falls serves on the state board and is one of the directors for the East Dakota Water Development District.

Rachel McDaniel, a researcher from South Dakota State University, receives federal 319-program funding to pay for a study of bacteria in sediment transport. This is important scientific work on the Big Sioux River. The conflict arises because 319 funding that comes to South Dakota from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is dependent on recommendations from the state Board of Water and Natural Resources and because the researcher also wants support from East Dakota.

Soholt noted on his waiver request that he won’t earn or receive any income, compensation or commission directly from the 319 grant or the research contract with East Dakota.

Twins fans can see possible future in Cleveland

The new baseball operations chief for the Minnesota Twins is Derek Falvey, 33. He comes from the Cleveland organization, where he worked nine years. Cleveland is in the American League playoffs and could eliminate Toronto this afternoon for a ticket to the World Series. All four remaining teams including Chicago and Los Angeles went through major rebuilding efforts in the past decade. So, Twins fans, there is hope. And thanks to the miserable 2016 season, the Twins get the first draft pick in 2017. That will be the biggest test of the new era.

Two good candidates for U.S. House sit down for a KELO conversation

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican, and her Democratic challenger, state Rep. Paula Hawks, sat together for an hour-long conversation with KELO television reporters Don Jorgensen and Kelli Volk tonight (Monday). In baseball scouting players are graded on a scale of 20 to 80. Noem and Hawks were in the 60 to 70 range most of the time. There was political drama as Hawks opened by revealing she was the victim of a sexual assault while in college, raped by a man who had power over her. She said the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his 2005 remarks that were revealed 11 days ago are wrong for the nation because “he has no respect for women.” Noem called Trump’s remarks “horrific” and said she couldn’t defend what he said, but Noem said she would still vote for Trump because she cannot vote for Hillary Clinton based on the past 30 years of Clinton’s life.

The conversation took an odd turn in the final 20 minutes when Jorgensen returned to the Noem-Trump question. He said the newsroom was getting many telephone calls about it and he asked Noem to answer it a second time. She was more forceful and more anti-Clinton. She said Trump has looked at some of the House Republicans’ legislation such as a tax-reduction package and has said he would sign it. Noem vowed she would be a check against Clinton and stressed Trump is ready to sign Republicans’ legislation. Trump and Clinton came to dominate the closing minutes for both Noem and Hawks.

in the middle the two women agreed substantially on changes needed for women and families in the workplace. Noem explained well her reason for leaving the agriculture committee in the House, pointing out the things that can get done on the ways and means committee on taxes and trade for agriculture and detailing how the most-recent farm bill took longer in the House because so many House members don’t have farming in their districts (while all senators have agriculture in their states). Noem also mentioned, perhaps not sufficiently, that she passed permanent livestock disaster aid, a considerable accomplishment.

The two clearly disagreed on guns. Noem said no additional laws are necessary for gun control but emphasized mental illness assistance. Hawks favors a no-fly no-buy restriction. On Social Security, Noem said there’s no need for additional taxes and listed other ways that the system might be brought back into financial balance. Hawks didn’t hesitate to call for lifting the income cap; it’s $118,500 this year, meaning people who earn more don’t pay Social Security tax on the overage. They generally agreed on helping the Indian Health Service improve, although Noem said iHS has received $500 million more in the past six years while Hawks said IHS has suffered from budget sequestration that cut $220 million in 2013 when the House stalemated.

Noem, who’s served in the U.S. House since 2011, spoke with greater certainty. Hawks is completing her fourth year in the state House and is at the same point as Noem was back when Noem ran for Congress in 2010. South Dakota had two good candidates on the TV station’s set tonight, one who has played at the top level for six years and one working to break into that level. And we might have seen a test run of Republicans’ final play against Hillary Clinton, as Noem emphasized several times that Clinton didn’t apologize to the families of the four U.S. victims killed in the attack on the American embassy at Benghazi, Libya.

Yes, two major cable news channels are biased

For the past month or two, I start nearly every morning with a re-heated cup of yesterday’s coffee (cut with some warm milk) and watch the news channels of CNN and Fox News. I mute the television’s sound and concentrate on the images and faces on the screen and I read the news scrolling across the bottom.

So I’m not surprised that the latest polling Oct. 13-15 for Politico and Morning Consult found the following:

“44% of voters believe media is biased in trying to help elect Hillary Clinton, including 72% of Republicans, 43% of independents, and 22% of Democrats.

“Only 11% of Democrats, 7% of Republicans, and 6% of independents believe the media is biased in trying to elect Trump.”

Based on my repeated morning viewings this fall, I feel confident in saying that Fox News is blatantly backing Donald Trump and blatantly attacking Hillary Clinton. And I do mean blatantly.

Likewise, I feel confident in saying CNN is backing Clinton, but not quite so blatantly. CNN seems more willing to present both sides.

And, there are stories about the presidential contest that you see on CNN that you don’t see on Fox News, and vice versa.

It’s also my sense, again based on the morning viewings, that CNN has been more open than Fox News to hosting and covering the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates for president.

Here’s my guess about the polling results mentioned above. The relatively larger group of people who believe news media are biased toward Clinton have visited CNN and/or have listened to Trump on this point. The much smaller group of people who believe news media are biased toward Trump have been those willing to compare Fox News and CNN.

During these final three weeks of the campaign, I recommend taking an extra hour in the morning to watch the two channels. Between them, you can get a solid idea of what’s the latest and where the likely middle is. You also can see just how cemented the anti-Clinton and anti-Trump feelings are.