Monthly Archives: August 2010

Recommended reading: Disarming Iraq

Six years ago, Pantheon Books published this account by Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations arms inspection team in Iraq. Here we are, seven years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with approximately 50,000 troops still stationed in the country despite President Obama shifting combat units to other purposes. The 2003 invasion was made by President George W. Bush and with the support of England’s prime minister Tony Blair  under the goal of finding weapons of mass destruction which Saddam Hussein claimed to have. No such weapons were found by the Blix team of U.N. inspectors or by the U.S. military. It is interesting to read why Blix thought this was so. It is also interesting to read the conclusions by Blix about what needs to be written in black, as positive results. He lists the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s bloody regime and the potential emergence of democracy in Iraq. He is less certain about the positive effects as a blow to terrorism and the signal to other nations about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In the end, Blix argues that a more effective step would have been to allow the U.N. inspectors to have more time for more work in Iraq.

Is Lars running this year? Hmmm…

Does it matter whether a candidate’s parent has a lot of speeding tickets? While you ponder that, here’s the latest information from the Noem campaign on the driving record of … Lars Herseth. Yes, our old friend Lars, former legislator and the 1986 Democratic nominee for governor (who came the closest to winning of any Democrat since his dad, Ralph, actually won in 1958 and Dick Kneip’s string of three straight wins in the 1970s).

I didn’t know Lars was running for public office this year. Looks like the congresswoman’s father had 17 speeding tickets in the past 20 years or so, the most recent in May 2005. Unfortunately, the records don’t indicate whether Stephanie might have been in the vehicle at any of the times and thereby a potential co-conspirator. That’s supposed to be a joke. Here’s the real question: Why would the Noem campaign think this is relevant?

Evidently the real problem for all of these folks — Kristi Noem, Scott Heidepriem, Lars Herseth and Dennis Daugaard — was that they bought lemons and didn’t know the speedometers were faulty.

Speaking of failing to appear…

Democrats are lapping up the failure-to-appear warrants that had been issued for Kristi Noem’ for her traffic violations. But is it a non-starter after all?

People who’ve approached me (including some I absolutely know are die-hard supporters of Stephanie)  in the past 48 to 72 hours don’t seem all that worked up about the 20 speeding tickets. They don’t seem to think this matter will be a race-tipper between Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Noem, the Republican challenger. Helping temper the reaction are the 17 speeding tickets which Democratic governor candidate Scott Heidepriem has received and the 12 speeding tickets which Republican governor candidate Dennis Daugaard has received. (These are totals for the past 20 years.)

Oddly, the phrase “failure to appear” being bandied by the delighted Democrats has stirred up a two-year-old episode involving Herseth Sandlin. Questions are surfacing again about where she was in the summer of 2008 when she refused to attend the South Dakota Democratic Party state convention. Where she was for those days remains a mystery.

Who’s making the arguments on the ballot issues

One of the improvements we’ve seen in South Dakota in recent decades is the development of the ballot-questions pamphlet. Secretary of State Chris Nelson and his staff have compiled and made available the 2010 version (you can find it at www.sdsos.gov on the Internet). The attorney general provides a legal analysis written at a layman’s level. One person, or sometimes two, submits a short essay explaining why a specific issue deserves a yes vote, and there is a similar essay written from the other side why it deserves a note vote. Here’s the lineup for this year’s version:

Constitutional Amendment K would guarantee that a right to a secret vote in all elections, including for labor organizing votes such as unionization of a business. This proposed addition to the South Dakota Constitution is known informally as the secret-ballot amendment. Arguing in favor is Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls. Arguing against is former state legislator Mark Anderson from the South Dakota Federation of Labor in Sioux Falls.

Constitutional Amendment L would change the distribution system for proceeds from the South Dakota cement-plant trust fund. Arguing in favor are Rep. Paul Dennert, D-Columbia, and Jason Dilges, finance commissioner for the Rounds administration. Arguing against is Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City.
Referred Law 12 is the expanded ban on smoking cigarettes in public places. The Legislature passed the law in 2009 and opponents referred it to a statewide vote. The expanded ban would prohibit smoking in bars, casinos and restaurants with alcohol licenses. A yes vote is for the ban, while a no vote is to block the ban and allow smoking to continue in those establishments. Jennifer Stalley of the American Cancer Society makes the argument for the ban. Don Rose, who’s long been involved in bar, restaurant and gambling businesses, argues against the ban.

Initiated Measure 13 proposes to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in South Dakota. As the attorney general notes, the activities would remain illegal under federal law. Christine Johnson, an oncology nurse in Sioux Falls, presents the argument for legalization. Pierre doctor Tom Huber, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, and Vermillion police chief Art Mabry, president of the South Dakota Police Chiefs Association, jointly present the case against it.

Sundays have become emptier in Pierre

I can’t remember the novel or the author, but the thought has always stuck with me: How some folks on overseas duty so treasured the Sunday editions of the New York Times that, even though the paper arrived by air later in the week, they saved it until the following Sunday morning to read.

That’s sort of how our ritual had gone in Pierre for many years. The Sunday Times arrived in late afternoon, around supper time.  There was often a small flurry of folks who made the trip to Dakotamart as evening fell to get their copies, just in case there might be a sell-out. Of course, everything in it could be found on the Times’ fine Internet site. But digital isn’t the same. One difference was the teen-agers working the check-out counters who would ring up the price, look at the amount with a bit of wonder, feel the paper’s heft, and invariably say something like, “That’s a lot to read.” My secret hope was that maybe one of them would decide to sneak a peek during break and get hooked, too.

The deluxe Sunday crossword puzzle was started nearly as soon as the paper got in the door of house. The book reviews section and the sports pages usually were paged through that first night too. The joy of reading the rest of the paper was spread through the rest of the week ahead.

This summer the joy suddenly ended. The paper no longer is hauled into Pierre. We’re looking at subscribing to the mail edition. Oddly, I couldn’t find a way to sign up via the Internet. A telephone call is required, which makes me wonder: Is that small hurdle of inconvenience intentional? There’s no questionthat the modern economics of newspapering discourage mailing a wonderfully thick, heavy paper to people far, far away who love it for the excellent journalism and for the glimpse at the largest city of our nation.

Some years ago we lost the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sundays in Pierre too. You no longer find the Aberdeen American News in Pierre (nor the Huron Daily Plainsman). The Rapid City Journal and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader still find their way to town. Both are solid newspapers, although neither has a bureau in Pierre any more.

The Times. for us in Pierre, was a weekly connection to the nation and the world. Life is a little emptier here now.

Too fast to live, too young to die (Updated)

What do you do when a lawmaker is a habitual lawbreaker?

So what if someone in the campaign of Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin might have planted the story about the driving record of her Republican challenger, state Rep. Kristi Noem. And so what if the violations date back to 1989. And so what if the news organization that broke the story, KELO television, has seen its reporters and videographers break the speed limit on more than one occasion. There’s a  pattern in Noem’s behavior that covers more than 20 years, right up through February of 2010, and it isn’t one I personally would want to have — 0r have to try to defend:

72 in a 55 zone. 89 in a 55 zone. 70 in a 55 zone. 70 in a 55 zone. 79 in a 55 zone. 46 in a 35 zone. 74 in a 65 zone. 44 in a 35 zone. 78 in a 65 zone. 45 in a 30 zone. 74 in a 65 zone. 65 in a 50 zone. 60 in a 50 zone. 75 in a 65 zone. 75 in a 65 zone. 75 in a 65 zone. 75 in a 65 zone. 80 in a 65 zone. 79 in a 65 zone. And, the most recent, 94 in a 65 zone.

That’s 20 speeding violations, by my count. Then there are several violations for failure to stop (those took place more than 10 years ago) and the seat-belt violations and the plates violations.

One of the lessons we’ve learned in the past decade is that it hurts a politician to refuse to admit wrongdoing or to say he or she is sorry. We saw it with then-U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow when he went through a stop sign and motorcyclist Randy Scott was killed in the collision that was Janklow’s fault. We saw it when then-U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle double-dipped on property-tax breaks for houses in South Dakota and Washington, D.C., as he claimed to be a resident of both jurisdictions.

If Kristi Noem surrenders her driver license, admits to the extreme errors of her ways, and promises to never drive again so long as she is running for Congress or has been elected to Congress, she might have a chance to survive this. Otherwise, this election battle might have just tilted back in favor of Herseth Sandlin’s re-election — and perhaps deservedly so.

Janklow’s 2003 crash, conviction and resignation re-opened the door for Herseth (she wasn’t married yet) to get into Congress after he had beaten her in 2002. Now it might be the same misfortune that gives Herseth Sandlin yet another chance for political survival. Back when he was South Dakota’s governor, the state tourism office featured Janklow and his Corvette in a poster, with the slogan, “Out here our governor lives in the fast lane.”

Not any more.

Meanwhile, Herseth Sandlin reportedly has one speeding ticket, while the two candidates for governor have a combined 29. Democratic Senate leader Scott Heidepriem is right up there at 17, while Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard has 12. All three — Noem, Heidepriem and Daugaard — might want to take the pledge and give up driving for a while.

Here’s the worst part: These are the times they were caught. Everybody makes mistakes. These seem too frequent to all be mistakes. At least for Heidepriem and Daugaard, neither one has been ticketed since 2006.

Knudson heading back to daily employment

State Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson was a top lawyer at the Davenport Evans firm in Sioux Falls before he retired to focus solely on running for the Republican nomination for governor this year. He placed third in the June primary behind Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Come Monday, Dave is returning to work. But he’ll have a new employer. Sort of. He will work directly for Sanford Hospitals and Health System, and he said he will do some private work for T. Denny Sanford. Sanford Hospitals and Health System remains a major client at Davenport Evans, where Dave’s specialties included health law and business law. His focus now at the Sanford corporation will be primarily on company business matters and opportunities. He seemed to be in his usual good spirits Wednesday as a member of the Legislature’s task force on agriculture property assessments. He is term-limited in the Senate and won’t be returning to the Capitol as a lawmaker for the 2011 session. Sanford was a big backer of Knudson’s candidacy for governor. Sanford’s personal fundraising apparatus, a political action committee known as GPS, gave Knudson at least $70,000 in the 30 months leading up to the June primary.

A success story for Madison and DSU

The state Board of Regents and state university presidents have stressed the need to strengthen the relationship between South Dakota’s economy and the campuses. Caterpillar’s interest in Rapid City is one example. Another great example came Tuesday when Secure Banking Solutions announced an expansion of its operations in Madison. The company hires Dakota State University students to build security systems for community-sized banks and has been in Madison for five years, growing from a staff of five to its current workforce of 25. It is moving to a new building, adding five to 10 positions in the near future and plans for 30 additional employees within five years. Information security is a key piece of DSU’s curriculum.

Sen. Vehle highlights UI tax problem faced by employers

State Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, sat down via vide0-conference today with the South Dakota Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council. The thrust of the discussion was the double-work that businesses currently are forced to go through in calculating their UI tax payments. The solution is to change the timeline used by the state Labor Department for delivering the tax-rate notices to employers.

The present practice uses three years of taxable payroll, measured from Jan. 1 of year one through Dec. 31 of the most recent year. Also part of the formula is the employer’s UI account balance as of Dec. 31 of that most recent year. That means employers don’t get their tax-rate notice until months into the current year. From an accounting perspective, this is at best complicated and at worst unnecessarily messy. The employer starts the year with an assumption of a rate and then has to adjust the accounting to reflect the actual rate.

One suggestion is changing the three-year measurement period, so that it ends June 30 of the most recent year, and using that same June 30 date for the account balance. The only problem is that, if the suggested change had taken effect for 2010, the UI trust fund would have received $39 million rather than $45 million from employers in normal tax payments. Not only would the highly-stressed fund have less money, but another emergency surcharge might have been triggered, costing employers millions of dollars more than normal.

As Sen. Vehle quickly pointed out, he doesn’t want to be the guy who triggers another surcharge. The council members however were clearly sympathetic to the situation. As the council’s chair, Labor Secretary Pam Roberts, pointed out, there’s no question that a change would be helpful to businesses. The issue is timing, she said. Watch for this issue to percolate in the coming months, and perhaps come up for consideration by the Legislature in the 2011 session. Until the trust fund is on solid ground financially, however, any change likely would come with a delayed implementation.