Monthly Archives: July 2011

Recommended reading: Tabloid City

First, a disclaimer. I’ve always liked most of New York City newspaperman Pete Hamill’s reporting, essays and novels. Second, another disclaimer. His latest novel, Tabloid City, is set at a semi-fictitious NYC newspaper, with an editor (which Hamill has been) as a central character, and I’ve always liked newspapering books. (I have shelves of them, fiction and non-fiction.) I didn’t buy Tabloid City at my well-stocked local bookstore in Pierre, Prairie Pages (I wouldn’t have resisted had I seen it for sale), but the book instead found its way into our house from our well-run local Rawlins public library in Pierre. The book might be too newspaper-oriented for some readers. But it’s as much a detective story and a post-9/11 story set a decade later as it is a newspaper book. It’s also an interesting commentary on Islam in New York City during the current and immediate past two generations and on the recent financial crisis. As our nation proceeds toward the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 airliner attacks, this book is both a well-written diversion and a well-written analysis of where we stand today in our country. And I have a feeling that a purchased copy of Tabloid City will find a place in my stuffed bookshelves. Now if I could just get my hands on the new Ward Just novel I’ve heard rumored is out…

Will health care and K-12 schools put images on the (ballot) line?

This should be fascinating. At the same time Congress is deadlocked on federal overspending, the two largest recipients of public tax dollars in South Dakota are preparing to ask the state’s voters for more state spending, solely on them. The additional 1 percent of state sales and use tax sought by a coalition of the South Dakota Education Association and the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations would raise in the neighborhood of $175 million annually, based on the state’s current revenues. The two groups want to split the money down the middle. They’ll need to gather signatures to get the initiative on the 2012 ballot. This begs the question once again: If local school boards frequently  can’t convince their local voters to support local property-tax increases, what makes SDEA and others think voters statewide will want to raise their taxes? If SDEA’s Bryce Healy and SDAHO’s Dave Hewett do get their plan on the ballot, it will be a telling test of the voting public’s perception of health care and public schools in South Dakota. The health-care half of the money would be dedicated to Medicaid, and that raises a second set of questions: How much should be spent on care for the poor and needy — and how should it be spent? Right now the Daugaard administration is looking for ways to corral Medicaid costs and considering ways to steer money in different ratios. A third factor is the public’s trust of the Legislature. If the initiative does pass, the Legislature isn’t bound to follow any of the directives within the new law. The Legislature can change any of it. So there is absolutely no guarantee that the $175 million will go solely to Medicaid and K-12 schools.

A legislator’s important question went unanswered

Rep. Mitch Fargen of Flandreau, one of the Democrats’ young leaders in the Legislature, asked Secretary of State Jason Gant how the timetable will be affected for legislative candidates after the special session for drawing new legislative district boundaries. Specifically, Fargen pointed out the dilemma caused by the late date for the special session. It is set for Oct. 24, and Fargen said new laws typically don’t take effect for 90 days. That would mean the new districts don’t take effect until late January. Under existing state election laws, Jan. 1 is the earliest date candidates can begin circulating nomination petitions, and they have until March 30 to file their petitions for the June primary ballot. Gant, a Republican former legislator who is now in his seventh month as secretary of state, didn’t seem to answer the question during the exchange Thursday. A search of his official state website doesn’t provide any help. All of the election calendars, dates, et cetera, are still listed for the 2010 elections (with the exception of the 2012 presidential election and 2012 ballot measures). The Legislature could add an emergency clause to the new districts so the law takes effect upon the governor’s signature. That would require a two-thirds majority in each of the Senate and House of Representatives. Republicans have the numbers to do that. The House has 50 Republicans, 19 Democrats and one independent who sits with the Republicans. The Senate has 30 Republicans and five Democrats. The math suggests the Fargen question might be moot.

The Peters plan for legislative districts — Updated

Hanson County and the whole city of Beresford, which is 80 percent in Union County, would be grouped with the Sioux Falls metropolitan statistical area of Minnehaha, Lincoln, McCook and Turner counties under a plan proposed this morning for legislative redistricting by state Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford. It’s meeting opposition from Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, who doesn’t want Union County split. Hanson County currently is part of a district with McCook and Minnehaha counties.

Driving the arguments over the variety of plans for the Sioux Falls are which rural communities and rural areas should be linked to the urban center. Two urban redistricting subcommittees for Sioux Falls and Rapid City are meeting this morning before the main meeting of the full redistricting committee that starts at 10 a.m. CT. The Sioux Falls subpanel is also looking at some nine-, 10- and 11-district six-county plans, including Bolin’s proposals. The Sioux Falls subpanel of six legislators ranked the plans rather than make a formal recommendation to the full committee. Topping the ranking list of four plans was the B version of a nine-district plan. It received five first-place votes and one second-place vote. We’ll provide more details later.

UPDATE: The nine-district B plan is the consensus choice of the full committee. To see a copy, go to http://legis.state.sd.us/interim/2011/documents/LRE-SF%20Nine-B.pdf on the Legislative Research Council web site.

Breaking News: Justices don’t need to be residents when appointed

The South Dakota Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion this morning for Gov. Dennis Daugaard that will help guide his decision in choosing a successor to retiring Justice Judith Meierhenry. The state constitution requires that justices serve from a specific district, and those five districts are drawn by the Legislature. The justices, in answering Daugaard’s question, said the appointee doesn’t need to be a resident of the Supreme Court district where there is a vacancy. Instead, before taking the oath to become a justice, the appointee must establish residency in that district. The high court was asked to answer a similar question from then-Gov. Mike Rounds during the previous administration, but the justices declined because no vacancy existed at the time.

Three of the justices agreed with today’s advisory opinion: The author, Chief Justice David Gilbertson, and associate justices Glen Severson and Meierhenry. Disagreeing were associate justices Steven Zinter and John Konenkamp. The Zinter dissent argues that a person should be a resident of the district at the time of the appointment. Further, Zinter pointed out that the majority opinion would allow judges and lawyers to run for circuit judgeships in other circuits than where they reside.

No changes on state water board

Three current members of the state Board of Water and Natural Resources will continue their service after reappointments by the governor. The new terms run until June 30, 2015, for chairman Brad Johnson of Watertown, Paul Goldhammer of Wall and Jacqueline Lanning of Brookings. The board’s main function is to serve as a financing authority making grants and low-interest loans for drinking water, wastewater and storm water projects by communities and rural networks.

Fuller resignation complicates Delaney vacancy

We’re told the state Judicial Qualifications Commission will allow applicants  to submit their names for both judge vacancies in South Dakota’s Seventh Circuit that covers Pennington, Custer, Fall River and Shannon counties. The commission’s process for nominating possible successors for retiring Judge John Delaney was already under way when Judge A.P. Pete Fuller resigned. Fuller’s decision to step down took immediate effect, while Delaney’s departure was planned for this fall. The commission technically needs to forward two sets of at least two names for each judgeship to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, with the Fuller replacement needing attention first even though it occurred second. The South Dakota Supreme Court ordered Fuller’s retirement unless he “consents to numerous conditions including his suspension without pay for six months.” He chose to leave.

Redistricting plays into choice of Garnos successor

This is the year when the Legislature draws its new election districts for the next decade, and that work is a factor in the selection of a replacement for resigning state Sen. Cooper Garnos, R-Presho. He plans to step down this fall because of a promotion, and the timing coincides with the special session the Legislature has scheduled for Oct. 24. Cooper serves District 21, which covers Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Jones and Lyman counties. His district is bordered by seven other districts (19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26 and 27), which puts it in the middle of the jigsaw when the new lines are drawn. The incumbent senators in those seven surrounding districts are Jim Putnam, R-Armour; Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell; Tom Hansen, R-Huron;  Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg; Bob Gray, R-Pierre; Billie Sutton, D-Burke; and Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge. If Republicans wanted to put a squeeze on a Democratic incumbent, the target likely would be Sutton, because Bradford likely is untouchable in popularity, Democratic registration and federal voting-rights scrutiny.