Category Archives: SD Government

State Board of Education gets new member

If the governor’s office or the state Department of Education issued a news release, I confess to missing it. I noticed it in a Senate journal that reported the governor had sent a letter informing legislators about the appointment.

Lori Wagner of Webster has been appointed to the state Board of Education by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. She is a long-time and top-notch mathematics teacher in first Waubay and for the past decade Webster.

The former South Dakota teacher of the year finalist succeeds Kelly Duncan, the dean of education at Northern State University. Duncan served since November 1996. Her most recent term expired Dec. 31, 2016. She was the second-longest serving member of the current board.

The two other long-time members are Marilyn Hoyt of Huron and Glenna Fouberg of Aberdeen. They have served, respectively, since April 1995 and January 1998. Their current terms expire Dec. 31, 2017.

Lori Wagner becomes the fifth new member appointed to the nine-person board since November 2015.

The turnover came amid conflict of interest requirements in the wake of the GEAR UP scandal involving Mid Central Educational Cooperative and the deaths of the six members of the Westerhuis family at Platte.

Duncan, formerly of Vermillion, received contract payments through Mid Central before receiving the Northern State post and helped oversee a paid review of the Gear Up program for the state Department of Education. The contracts came while she was on the state board.

State officials ultimately transferred Gear Up’s management from Mid Central to Black Hills State University during the past year. Mid Central will be disbanded this year by its member school districts and replaced by a new regional cooperative.

Three former Mid-Central officials face felony criminal charges, including Stacy Phelps of Rapid City, who ran the Gear Up program. He resigned from the state Board of Education in 2015 as the allegations came to light.

Gear Up is a federally funded program, channeled through the state Department of Education, intended to help make aware students and their parents from lower-income households about the possibility of post-high school education.

Some of the marijuana legislation advances

This turned out to be the week for marijuana-related bills to be heard for the first time in the 2017 legislative session. Two out of three remain active.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a cannabidiol exception (SB 95) sought by Senate Republican leader Blake Curd of Sioux Falls for medical purposes and killed a medical marijuana exemption (SB 157) brought by Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, that would have recognized valid medical exceptions granted by other states.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee endorsed legalization of industrial hemp HB 1204; the committee sponsored the measure.

The hemp bill is now on the House calendar and could be debated any day but it is at the bottom. The cannabidiol bill is at the top of the Senate calendar for debate Tuesday.

Who might be the next justice? (w/update)

The decision by Justice Lori Wilbur to step down from the South Dakota Supreme Court , effective in June, provides Gov. Dennis Daugaard with another opportunity to shape the court system. He appointed Wilbur in 2011. She had been a circuit judge based in Pierre since 1999 and she succeeded Justice Judith Meierhenry on the high court.

The Supreme Court’s legal position of late has been that a justice should come from the area she or he would represent. The five-justice court has five districts. The Supreme Court districts don’t geographically align with the seven circuit court districts. So there can be some unusual matching. The Judicial Qualifications Commission will accept applications for the vacancy and submit at least two names to the governor. He can choose from those names or ask for a set of new names to consider. Wilbur at one point in her judicial career served on the commission.

Justice Wilbur represents the Supreme Court’s fourth district. It includes the counties of Aurora, Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Gregory, Hanson, Hutchinson, Lincoln, McCook, Turner, Union, and Yankton. Those counties are in three judicial circuits. Presuming the next justice will have circuit judge experience — that is the case for all five current justices — and presuming the high court’s policy is followed, the next justice presumably would come from one of the circuit judges in those 14 counties.

In 2009, Circuit Judge Mark Barnett of Pierre withdrew his application for a Supreme Court appointment to represent the second district, which is Minnehaha County and part of Lincoln County. Barnett didn’t want to move to the Sioux Falls area while his application was pending.

UPDATE: In response to the comment from Casual Observer, I offer this from the South Dakota Constitution’s article on the courts:

§ 6. Qualifications of judicial personnel. Justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the circuit courts and persons presiding over courts of limited jurisdiction must be citizens of the United States, residents of the state of South Dakota and voting residents within the district, circuit or jurisdiction from which they are elected or appointed. No Supreme Court justice shall be deemed to have lost his voting residence in a district by reason of his removal to the seat of government in the discharge of his official duties. Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of circuit courts must be licensed to practice law in the state of South Dakota.


Senate, in a surprise, OKs midwives legislation

Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, thanked Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, after the state Senate voted 29-6 Wednesday for legislation that would establish a certification system for midwives and create a professional midwives board within the state Department of Health. The legislation now heads to the House. Last year the Senate rejected a somewhat similar bill after the House had passed it by a solid margin. Soholt, a registered nurse, changed from an opponent to a supporter this year. Greenfield was the prime sponsor of the bill.


Maybe we should encourage out-of-state ballot money

Just a thought as legislators and the governor look to trim state government’s spending because tax revenues are down. Why discourage spending on ballot measure campaigns by groups and people who are from outside South Dakota? Neither voters nor state officials seem to mind when other people across the nation help pay for our highways, farm subsidies and Medicaid.  If the Legislature can assemble enough other reforms on proposing constitutional amendments and initiated measures, South Dakota’s ballot-measure process could take a spot among the national leaders.

There’s HB 1130 from Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, and Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, that would provide for citizens to submit written comments to the secretary of state and for the Legislature’s Executive Board to hold a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment or initiated measure. The first debate on the bill likely comes in the House of Representatives this week.

There’s also SB 77 from Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, and Haggar that calls for requiring fiscal notes so voters can better know the estimated cost to implement a constitutional amendment or an initiated measure. It’s already passed in the Senate and now heads to the House. (In an odd twist, Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke amended it to clarify the process for the fiscal notes; then the five Democrats who were present for the final vote cast nays against the amended version.)

Those two pieces of legislation would bring a framework to future discussions of ballot measures. The complaint last fall wasn’t so much about the amounts of money spent by the warring sides in the IM 22 battle. The rub came from the content of the ads accusing South Dakota officials of corruption.

We had corruption in some notable instances including the Gear Up program, the EB-5 program and various education contracts involving people in important positions such as members of the state Board of Education and a school superintendent. The ads didn’t get into those specifics. Instead the most pointed ad took aim at the lack of a gift ban. The state House voted 66-0 Tuesday for gift restrictions in HB 1073, sponsored by Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls. It now heads to the Senate where Sen. Otten is the lead sponsor.

What happened in 2016 regarding ballot measures wasn’t all that unusual. During the past decade or so, South Dakota’s ballot became a place for outside issues to be tried. Ballot access is relatively easy and South Dakota is considered an inexpensive place to conduct a political campaign. Trying to bar outside money won’t change those conditions.


Legislators receive ‘gold watches’

Linda Schauer of Leola, a lobbyist for the Concerned Women for America organization, distributed a treat to legislators Monday on the eve of Valentine’s Day: Make-believe “gold” watches that contained candy. Four of the Republican senators posed for picture: Jeff Partridge of Rapid City, Deb Peters of Hartford, Jordan Youngberg of Madison and Terri Haverly of Rapid City. Not everybody saw the humor. Moments after the photo Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said they were making fun of 180,000 people who voted for IM 22. The Legislature’s Republican majorities repealed IM 22 as unworkable while it was already suspended by a circuit judge. Now they’re working on legislation to replace many of the key features such as lobbyist limits, conflict of interest reforms, changes for more transparency in campaign finance and possibly one (or possible more) regulatory panels to look at complaints.


Remembering the 1986 primaries for governor

There are some moments from the winter and spring of 1986 that stick in this reporter’s memory about the Republican and Democratic primary campaigns for governor. One was Dick Kneip, the former Democratic governor, acknowledging things weren’t going so well. He said contributions weren’t coming like they should. He read the political weather right as Lars Herseth won the three-way contest for the nomination. On the Republican side, I remember the delight that Dwight Adams felt each time he saw a news release from the campaign manager for Clint Roberts proclaiming that Clint was still in the lead. Dwight, who was campaign manager for George S. Mickelson, said the lead would get smaller and smaller. Dwight proved right. Clint wound up second with 37,250 votes behind George’s 40,979 in their four-way primary. With the death today of Clint Roberts, at least five of the major figures from the 1986 races now are gone: George Mickelson, Dwight Adams, Dick Kneip, Alice Kundert. The popular analysis at the time was that Alice played a decisive role in electing George because many of her 15,985 votes would have seemed likely to have flowed otherwise to Clint. (George appointed Clint and Alice to posts in his administration.) We don’t always get to work with good people as we cover the news, but they were five of the best that my path crossed.

In 2016, SD GOP leaders looked to 2018

During his remarks at the meeting Saturday of the South Dakota Republican Party central committee (with 31 of 66 counties represented), Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the goals in the 2016 election cycle for the party’s core operations were to reduce expenses and build reserves to help Republican candidates running in 2018. During the past two election cycles, first under Craig Lawrence and then under Pam Roberts, the party’s debt was eliminated and there reportedly is more than $200,000 that will carry over to the new chairmanship of Dan Lederman. Daugaard said there needs to be a third emphasis: grassroots organization. Lederman likely will bring an increased social-media involvement to the party’s image as well. He was on Twitter shortly after the results of the voting Saturday that saw him win 73-53 over Roberts.

The interesting times of South Dakota Republicans

The battle on Saturday afternoon for chairmanship of the South Dakota Republican Party built from more than a decade of frustration with many things that weren’t the party’s responsibility.

People had grown tired of South Dakota National Guard deployments to the Middle East wars. The national economic crash in 2008 forced sharp rollbacks in the South Dakota Retirement System, culminating in a retired judge suing and losing. The SDRS changes have gradually become more restrictive with the system splitting into two starting later this year and another round of limitations passed into law this month to wring out every million dollars of unfair excess possible.

The 2010 campaign for governor saw a five-way Republican primary that Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard won with just over 50 percent. That meant one of every two Republicans who voted had marked their ballots instead for one of the four others. The 2010 elections also saw state Rep. Kristi Noem win a three-way Republican primary for U.S. House and get the nomination with a plurality. She then defeated the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who had looked seemingly unbeatable after two victories in 2004 and again in 2006 and 2008.

This is now the seventh year of Gov. Daugaard’s administration and there naturally comes fatigue. He began his time as South Dakota’s chief executive with 10 percent budget cuts throughout much of state government in 2011 because of the troubles in the economy and to deal with overspending. The high salaries granted to cabinet secretaries and division directors during the Rounds administration had to be pared, for example, and Daugaard cut his salary to be the example.

In 2014 Daugaard faced a primary in his re-election run. Former legislator Lora Hubbel of Sioux Falls drew 14,196 votes to Daugaard’s 60,017. Meanwhile there was a five-way Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Former Gov. Mike Rounds won with 41,377 votes, ahead of state Sen. Larry Rhoden of Union Center at 13,593; state Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton with 13,179; Jason Ravnsborg of Yankton 4,283; and Annette Bosworth 2,066. Bosworth, a medical doctor from Sioux Falls, was later found guilty of committing perjury on her nomination petition. Rounds received 55 percent of the vote, but that meant more than two out of five Republicans preferred someone other than the recent governor.

Throughout all of this South Dakota’s economy puttered along. State sales tax is the No. 1 source of revenue for state government’s general fund and it didn’t keep pace any longer. A desire to get teacher pay out of last place nationally and to finally compensate school districts for the cuts they took in state funding from 2011 led to Daugaard’s proposal to raise the sales tax rate to 4.5 percent from 4 percent. He won that battle in the 2016 legislative session over hard opposition from many of the most conservative Republican lawmakers. He needed a reconsideration vote to get the tax increase through the House of Representatives.

Daugaard further stirred unrest among Republican legislators and Bible-based conservatives last year when he vetoed restrictions intended to prohibit transgender students from mixing with the opposite biological gender in school bathrooms and locker rooms. The June primaries saw a variety of Republican battles for legislative seats, with Daugaard-backed candidates achieving mixed results. That he was involved at all upset some Republicans.

Then the crude sexist remarks by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump led to another blow-up in October when Daugaard and U.S. Sen. John Thune, a Republican, used Twitter to call for Trump to end his candidacy.

Daugaard sent a clear signal this year he would veto anti-transgender legislation again, and the one bill was withdrawn. He leaped into another battle this past week, saying he would veto legislation that attempts to allow specially certified gun owners including law enforcement officers who don’t work for Capitol security to bring concealed pistols into the Capitol. He emphasized his opposition by using his weekly column and radio commentary to focus on gun legislation.

The question no one seemed to be asking in the run-up to Saturday’s Republican central committee meeting is why some in the party were coalescing behind a former legislator who had unexpectedly quit his post at the end of the 2015 session. The resignation of then-Sen. Dan Lederman of Dakota Dunes was one-half of a one-two punch to the Senate’s Republican leadership. While Lederman departed three months into his new two-year term for what he described as family reasons, Senate Republican leader Tim Rave of Baltic stepped down to accept a management promotion in one of South Dakota’s major healthcare systems. Both resignations came as a surprise.

Their departures threw the Senate into a deep split for 2016 that further shaped 2017’s climate. For the 2016 session Senate Republicans chose Sen. Corey Brown of Gettysburg to move from Senate president pro tem to majority leader in an uncontested move. There were elections within the Republican caucus for the president pro tem vacancy and assistant leader, which Sen. Gary Cammack of Union Center won over Sen. Ried Holien of Watertown and Sen. Jim White of Huron won over Sen. Brock Greenfield of Clark.

Holien ultimately chose against seeking re-election to the Senate; his seat was won in a June primary by Neal Tapio of Watertown over Rep. Roger Solum of Watertown, who hadn’t planned to run again and was term-limited in the House. Holien instead sought election to a purely political position and was chosen South Dakota Republican national committeeman. Holien and the Republican national committeewoman, Sandye Kading of Rapid City, backed Lederman for chairman in Saturday’s contest.

Daugaard throughout these seven years has faced a constant demand to replace legislators who have resigned or died. He has now made 14 such appointments. His choice of Bill Shorma from Dakota Dunes to replace Lederman in 2015 caused controversy. A Republican House member, Jim Bolin of Canton, was term-limited and wanted to continue serving in the Legislature. Daugaard picked Shorma instead of Bolin. That didn’t stop Bolin from running for the Senate in 2016 and winning.

Shorma, rather than face Bolin in a primary, ran for a House seat instead and lost in a primary. Last month Daugaard named Shorma to the South Dakota Lottery Commission to fill a seat that had been left open for all of 2016.

Daugaard also backed term-limited Rep. Jacqueline Sly of Rapid City in a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Phil Jensen of Rapid City last June. Jensen won again. Unsurprisingly his household worked in recent weeks for Lederman’s election as party chairman.

Insurrection isn’t new for many of the people who comprise the South Dakota Republican central committee. In 2014 the core leadership approved a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama. Their strong feelings against Obama have been manifested many times in the votes and statements by the congressional delegation against Obama’s administration including the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare – and in the backlash against Daugaard and Thune for their brief break from Trump via Twitter.

The party has gone through several phases regarding the chairmanship in the past decade. While a state senator Bob Gray of Pierre served as chairman for the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. Next came Rave for the 2012 cycle while also serving as a legislator. The chairman for the 2014 cycle was advertising and marketing expert Craig Lawrence of Sioux Falls. The 2016 cycle saw Pam Roberts of Pierre, a long-time Janklow, Mickelson, Rounds and Daugaard aide and Cabinet member, chosen to succeed Lawrence. She is the daughter-in-law of Clint Roberts, a former legislator, congressman and two-time candidate for governor.

Daugaard issued a letter recently bearing the names of Thune, Rounds, Noem and himself supporting Roberts’ re-election.

The 2016 elections created a more conservative Republican caucus in the state Senate. Brown was term-limited and didn’t return for 2017. Cammack lost to Greenfield for president pro tem. The new majority leader is Sen. Blake Curd of Sioux Falls, who had run for the U.S. House in the 2010 primary won by Noem.

Stirring more unrest in recent months was voters’ approval in November of Initiated Measure 22 that placed tight restrictions on lobbyists’ gifts to legislators and their immediate families and would have created a taxpayer-funded system of campaign financing for legislative and statewide candidates. After their leadership first won a temporary hold from Circuit Judge Mark Barnett – who lost to Rounds for governor in the 2002 Republican primary for governor, then immediately supported Rounds’ candidacy and later received a judicial appointment from Rounds — the Republican super-majorities in both chambers last month voted to repeal IM 22, a rarely used but legal step, and Daugaard signed the repeal into law.

Now legislators from both chambers and both parties are attempting to pass other measures that keep faith with voters’ intent for reforms expressed in IM 22. But what won’t be approved by legislators is anything close to IM 22’s greatest disruptive force: The restrictions meant to address conflicts of interest. Those would have affected the outside employment of not only legislators but of their families and the families of statewide officeholders. They were at the center of the lawsuit.

Another signal of the party’s split at its most active levels can be found in the list of delegates and alternates to the Republican national convention last summer. There were many names of men and women who backed Lederman this winter, perhaps as many who would still stand with Daugaard and Roberts on Saturday.

That Republican voters want change can be found in the opposite results of two 2016 ballot measures. Republicans focused on defeating proposed constitutional amendment V that would have created nonpartisan elections in South Dakota. V lost with 55.5 percent voting against it; V failed in 62 of 66 counties. IM 22 however, with out-of-state interests providing the campaign money both for it and against it, passed with 51.6 percent voting for it. IM 22 won in some heavily Republican and normally more conservative counties including Custer, Fall River, Lawrence and Pennington counties that made the difference in the victory for IM 22.

You’re also seeing discontent among Republican legislators with the criminal sentencing changes spearheaded by Daugaard in recent years as a budget-control strategy. Basically, to avoid building more prison space, first-time offenders found guilty of the lowest levels of felonies must be sentenced to probation rather than time behind bars. Limits also were placed on the time that juveniles could be placed on probation; those juvenile limits will be expanded this legislative session so judges can give juveniles more time on probation.

Yet through all of this, Republicans kept winning more elections. The Noem victory for U.S. House in 2010 marked a turning point by taking back a key post from the Democrats. The retirement of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson in 2014, and the subsequent victory by Rounds, completed the conversion of South Dakota’s congressional delegation from majority Democratic to entirely Republican.

The numbers of seats in the Legislature slowly turned more and more Republican, where they now hold 60 of 70 in the House and 29 of 35 in the Senate. And since 2008, Democratic voter registration plummeted while Republicans steadily kept up and independents greatly gained.

The Lederman-Roberts showdown is a precursor. Republicans face another round of big splits in 2018, with state Attorney General Marty Jackley and Congresswoman Noem already declared unofficially as candidates for the party’s nomination for governor. As he runs, Jackley has been negotiating the difficult straits of the EB-5 prosecution of Joop Bollen and the prosecutions of three people charged in the Gear Up scandal associated with Mid-Central education cooperative at Platte. One of the handicaps Jackley’s faced is the presumptive probation sentences for lower-level felonies. These same scandals undoubtedly helped fuel the IM 22 passage.

Noem’s “I’m all in” statement means there will be an opening for the U.S. House seat, and former Daugaard chief of staff Dusty Johnson – who won re-election to the state Public Utilities Commission in 2010 but didn’t serve a day of his second term because he became chief of staff (he left the post after Daugaard’s re-election in 2014) – has already declared his intention to run for Congress. It would be a surprise if there isn’t a primary for U.S. House, given all that’s transpiring. These are interesting times.

The unrest placeholders stir

Wednesday went smoothly in the state Senate chamber after the roar that Tuesday had become. The issue stirring is the use of placeholder legislation, also known as vehicle bills or carcasses.

In decades past these wren’t so common. They are essentially empty shells of legislation dealing with a broad generic topic such as health care or, in the case of one the Senate State Affairs Committee handled Wednesday morning, public safety

The Legislature uses them to make last-days legislation, gutting them and inserting whole cloth a new actual bill. What happens, and what frustrates procedural purists, is the process gets cheated of its normal two public hearings. Instead, the hoghouse gets added in the second chamber, sometimes without any hearing at all, and then the bill returns to the first chamber for a concurrence vote without a public hearing there.

The Senate sent an empty placeholder over to the House on Tuesday. First came some mild ribbing from Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke to its prime sponsor, Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, the Senate Republicans’ assistant leader. Then came a loud and long protest from Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, who referred to Maher’s bill as ‘crap” at one point. (That was a first for this reporter to hear in a debate.)

“This is not a joking matter to me,” Nelson said. He called SB 106 unconstitutional and vowed to formally protest each placeholder bill.

Maher kept his cool when he eventually replied. Maher said placeholders allow the Legislature to better manage its limited time. And the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, let the exchange run its course.

Nelson wasn’t alone in his protest. The Senate vote to pass the bill along to the House was 22-13. Comprising the 13 was a coalition of many of the Senate’s hard conservatives and five of the six Democrats. Sutton, who is a buddy of Maher, voted aye to send it along.

SB 106 contains one sentence: “The Legislature shall pursue opportunities to enhance the state.” Sutton’s friendly quizzing of Maher included a question about what those specifically might be.

Maher and Rep. Kent Peterson, R-Salem, have three placeholders bills together. Peterson is the House Republicans’ assistant leader. They don’t have any co-sponsors.

On Monday, Sen. Troy Heinert had pulled — withdrawn is the legislative term — a placeholder of his own, Heinert, D-Mission, wanted a bill to help state government and tribal governments negotiate. He decided it wasn’t nececssary to keep alive that bill, SB 165. It was one-section long:

“In case a title affecting consultation protocols between the Department of Education and tribal government officials is needed to accommodate the legislative process, this bill is being introduced to accomplish that purpose.”

In the Senate State Affairs Committee Wednesday morning, the panel sent a placeholder bill on public safety to the Senate. The bill had come at the request of the governor’s office. Heinert asked the committee to at least fill out the bill’s contents in the Senate, if necessary, rather than send it over to the House as a shell.

On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Republican leader Blake Curd of Sioux Falls asked that the governor’s bill, SB 176, be returned to the Senate State Affairs Committee. It’s now scheduled for another hearing on Feb. 13. It is one sentence:

“In case a title regarding the protection of the safety of the citizens of South Dakota is needed to accommodate the legislative process, this bill is being introduced to accomplish that purpose.”

The Legislature has a traditional requirement that the content of a bill be germane to the title. Back before placeholders, bills sometimes were kept alive only because of their titles, so that a hoghouse could be attempted if necessary.

Another technique was to table a bill rather than outright kill it. A bill can be taken off the table in committee somewhat more easily than resurrecting a bill through the smoke-out process that involves a motion on the chamber floor involving the whole body. But regardless of the method, sometimes bills were kept around just in case.

What gradually developed instead is the current practice of self-evident placeholders. Their use is widespread this session.

By the way, Nelson and Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, immediately filed a formal dissent and protest letter on the Maher bill, saying it will violate the deadline for introduction of legislation when it is amended and they noted the rules can be suspended for late introduction of a bill.

Their letter stated that using placeholders “denies South Dakotans the open government they are entitled to as a right in South Dakota.”