Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Jeff Barth surge

In the 2010 election for three seats on the Minnehaha County Commission, the third-place finisher and top Democrat was Jeff Barth. He placed about 4,800 votes behind the top candidate, Republican Cindy Heiberger, and about 3,000 votes behind the No. 2 finisher, Republican Gerald Beninga, and less than 700 votes ahead of the fourth-place candidate, Republican Tim Nicolai. For the 2010 general election the voter registratio in Minnehaha County was 44,451 Republicans; 41,679 Democrats; 19,142 independents; and smatterings of about 500 others. In the U.S. House of Representatives election the incumbent Democrat, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, received 49.8 percent of the votes in Minnehaha County, while Republican challenger Kristi Noem received 44.5 percent and independent B. Thomas Marking took 5.7 percent. Statewide, Noem won with 48.1 percent while Herseth Sandlin drew 45.9 percent and Marking got a hair under 5 percent.

That was the lay of the land two years ago. Now Jeff Barth is using his seat on the county commission of South Dakota’s most populous county as a springboard for his candidacy to challenge Noem for the U.S. House seat this fall. He is competing against Matt Varilek, an aide to Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, for the Democratic nomination in the primary election next Tuesday. Barth’s video has given him a shot of energy. His shirt untucked, mountain music playing as the soundtrack, he rambles through a woods and tells the short version of a life story that contrasts with the visual and audio image. It’s an effective technique. I don’t recall the last time that a state chess champion was in position to be a political party’s nominee for the top race on the South Dakota ticket in a statewide election. That he’s now also running paid advertising further helps his cause.

On the other side, the Varilek candidacy might be the canary in the coal mine two years ahead of the U.S. Senate election in which the Johnson seat will be up.

Ronald Reagan, Jim Abdnor and Bill Janklow

All of this anger — and it is truly anger — about Gov. Dennis Daugaard making five endorsements in Republican legislative primaries set me thinking. People have waved away the examples provided in a previous PPP post regarding then Gov. Mike Rounds’ endorsement of Lt. Gov. Daugaard in the 2010 governor’s primary, and then-Gov. Bill Janklow’s endorsements of several legislative candidates in the 2002 Republican primaries. Okay, but let’s look deeper into history. Where was former U.S. Sen. Jim Abdnor lined up in 1994 in the gubernatorial primary between Janklow and Acting Gov. Walter Dale Miller? And how many then-current and past legislators were lined up behind Miller and Janklow in that battle? And then there’s the Big Daddy of recent times: The 1986 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Janklow challenged Sen. Abdnor for the nomination. Guess who held a Washington, D.C., fundraiser on behalf of the incumbent senator?

President Ronald Reagan, in a brown suit that night, posed for photos with the guests who chose to stand in line for their turns. The initial response to the fundraising invitations was lackluster, so the president’s political machine made special second requests to boost the turnout. At the time Janklow wasn’t officially yet in the race but was testing the water. The key point, of course, is that a sitting president was helping a sitting senator who had been a solid ally; while that’s true of four races in which Gov. Daugaard is openly involved this spring, there is a fifth where he’s supporting a challenger, Rep. Val Rausch of Big Stone City, who’s trying to take out sitting Sen. Tim Begalka of Clear Lake. Had he stayed clear of the Rausch run against Begalka, he could have argued he was simply helping defend loyal Republican incumbents ala President Reagan — and those TEA Party folks who consider Reagan a modern hero of Republicanism wouldn’t have a good argument that the governor is interfering. Instead the only defense Daugaard’s side has is that he is simply exercising his free will as he picks favorites.

The other interesting argument making the rounds is that as governor Daugaard is an ex officio — that is, automatic — member of the South Dakota Republican Central Committee and therefore shouldn’t be involved in primaries; I don’t have access to Republican Party by-laws so I don’t know whether that’s a valid point or not. As for the involvement by Secretary of State Jason Gant on Rausch’s behalf, I haven’t found an average person who thinks that is a justifiable move by South Dakota’s top election official.

Regarding Raven’s newly created v.p. — Updated

General counsel and vice president of corporate development is a long way to spell Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. That the Democratic former U.S. representative is taking a post in top management at Raven Industries in Sioux Falls explains why her Brookings home is on the market for sale and also suggests she won’t be a candidate for Congress — U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate — in 2014. She starts her new post on Sept. 1 of this year. Raven Industries had used her skills while she was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and created a new position to bring her in-house. Of course, there’s no guarantee she won’t run in 2014. We need look only so far as Republican John Thune, who warehoused in Sioux Falls in the private sector after he tried to make the move from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate in 2002 against Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson. Thune then took down Democratic U.S. Senate leader Tom Daschle in 2004. Herseth Sandlin could use the 18 months from September until the 2014 candidacy filing deadline to further establish her Sioux Falls base and then run if Sen. Johnson declines to be a candidate for re-election. Or… she could run for U.S. House… or for governor… or keep working for a strong company and enjoy running her own life and raising her child. She’s already been to the top, or near top, in South Dakota politics. You have to wonder why she would to try to climb back up there.

UPDATE: By the way, it seems unlikely that Raven’s board of directors, led by Tom Everist, and whose other members include other solid Republican-candidate donors such as Mark Griffin, Kevin Kirby and Anthony Bour, would put the company in the position of serving as a holding spot for a Democratic candidate-to-be.

Huron legislator tangles with governor

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, has made an issue of the $5 million tucked away in an appropriations bill for state government to pay Manpower employment agency up to $5 million to help recruit 1,000 new workers to South Dakota in key occupations. In turn Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard bought a quarter-page newspaper to respond and to take on Gibson over other statements. The ad, paid from his campaign committee, concluded: “Rep. Gibson has shown in the past that she doesn’t have much regard for the truth.” She in turn fired back with a quarter-page ad of her own that closes with the statement: “Your column was so devoid of substance that it reminded me of the famous quote from the Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith who once wrote, “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” What the exchange has sparked is a small stream of letters to the editor in the Huron Plainsman praising Gibson. She’s one of three Democrats running for the party’s two nominations to District 22 House seats in next week’s primary elections; the other are former legislators Doug Kazmerzak of Erwin and Dale Hargens of Huron. The House contest is high profile on the other side, too, with three Republicans running for their party’s two nominations. Those candidates are Dick Werner of Huron, Dave McGirr of Huron and Jay B.K. Slater of De Smet.

Who’s giving in the Rausch challenge vs. Begalka?

The struggle for the Republican nomination for the District 4 Senate seat is one of several races where Republican incumbents are trying to oust Republican incumbents. The campaign finance reports recently filed show that Rep. Val Rausch of Big Stone City received contributions of $500 from the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations; and $250 apiece from Max Gonzenbach, the South Dakota Realtors political action committee, Altria’s PAC and the South Dakota Rural Electric Association’s PAC. He also transferred $9,470.92 from his House political committee. As for Sen. Tim Begalka of Clear Lake, we don’t find any contributions listed to his campaign on the secretary of state’s new finance-reporting website. However, a report for a PAC operated on behalf of Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, shows a $2,000 contribution to Begalka’s campaign. So we’re confused. Maybe we’re just premature. But time is short for the data to be entered into the new system. The primary elections are one week from today.

A governor’s involvement in primaries isn’t new — Updated

There’s some outrage boiling among some conservative Republicans who are angry that Gov. Dennis Daugaard has taken sides in some of the Republican primary contests for seats in the Legislature. Beside the obvious question of why a governor would sit silently in any contest where a proven supporter is facing a proven non-supporter, there’s also some significant recent history that suggests this is nothing new. Start with the 2010 Republican primary for governor. Then-Gov. Mike Rounds firmly worked in the corner for Lt. Gov. Daugaard in that five-way contest for the Republican nomination. Rounds sent $1,000 in 2008 and $5,000 in 2010. Back in 2002, then-Gov. Bill Janklow spread some campaign money around in Republican legislative primaries, including $250 apiece to Mike Jaspers of Sioux Falls, Ron Williamson of Sioux Falls and Alice McCoy of Rapid City. Both of the former governors made other contributions from their political accounts to Republican candidates who didn’t  have primaries. The current governor’s involvement has stirred up several conservative networks who have their own favorites in the primaries. Where the break might be the worst is with Right to Life activists who are especially bothered that he would support a pro-choice incumbent such as Sen. Tom Nelson, R-Lead, after Right to Life members worked extremely hard behind the scenes for Daugaard’s nomination in the 2010 primary and for his victory in the general election.

UPDATE: Here are a few more thoughts. Janklow always said that endorsements could hurt a candidate more than help, because every enemy of the endorser now had a reason to support the other candidate. Looking at the list of five Senate candidates whom Daugaard has endorsed, the truest read might be that all five are in trouble in their June 5 primaries. Consider:

House Speaker Val Rausch of Big Stone City, the governor’s choice, is challenging Sen. Tim Begalka of Clear Lake in District 4;

Sen. Deb Peters of Hartford, the governor’s choice, faces a challenge from Rep. Lora Hubbel of Sioux Falls in District 9;

Sen. Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City, the governor’s choice, is engaged in a rematch against George Ferebee of Hill City in District 30, where Rampelberg won the nomination by 19 votes over Ferebee in 2010;

Sen. Tom Nelson of Lead, the governor’s choice, faces a staunch challenge from Lawrence County Commission member Bob Ewing of Spearfish in District 31; and

Former Rep. Mike Buckingham of Rapid City, the governor’s choice, and Rep. Phil Jensen of Rapid City are battling to win the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Elizabeth Kraus in District 33.

Some of these races truly look to be very tight. The flip side is that the governor hasn’t chosen to get involved in some other key Senate races, such as Perry-Monroe, Vehle-Sibson, Abdallah-Otten, Tieszen-Wollman, Soholt-Rose, Fryslie-Barrie and Johnston-Bartlett.

Recommended reading: Watergate (A Novel)

As a kid I enjoyed the historical fiction, intended for younger readers, that could be found in the local library. Thomas Mallon has delivered a good read for adults with his novel Watergate. I happened to find it at the local library. I had doubt about what could be written about the Nixon scandal that could be more interesting than the actual characters. Well, I was wrong. By the time I finished the 429 pages (I didn’t realize it was that long until just now when I checked) I had much greater insight into characters whose names are the same as the actual men and women caught up in the crime and the cover-up. I still don’t know how much of Mallon’s depictions and dialogue is true. But it’s a heckuva story that, by its end, had me feeling kind of sorry for some of the men and women. He tells the story through some unusual, seemingly minor characters (if Pat Nixon as First Lady, for example, can be minor). You leave wondering how much do you know or not know any more about what went on 40 years ago, and how much is the author making up. Did Howard Hunt’s wife really die in a jetliner crash at Chicago? In this fictional history — or is it historical fiction? – that’s a giant question.

Claiming victory at DOT

There are different kinds of news reporters. Some go to meetings and events so that they can report on the proceedings. Some wait for handouts. Government officials in South Dakota increasingly show they know how to play the handout game to their advantage. The latest example came today.

The state Transportation Department officially opposed designating Interstate 90 as the Purple Heart memorial highway, in part because interstates already carry a federal designation in honor of President Dwight Eisenhower. The state Transportation Commission decided otherwise, however, and granted the designation this morning after a long, emotional give and take among members and DOT officials, as the determination of commissioner Bob Benson of Winner — a retired National Guard general – prevailed. DOT issued a news release this afternoon announcing designation of the Purple Heart Trail.

Octane hide and seek

While we await the proposal of state rules from the Daugaard administration that would clarify whether 85 octane gasoline can or can’t be legally sold in South Dakota, here’s a thought…

State inspectors track who’s selling what and where. Put that information on a state government website and keep it updated for the public. That would allow motorists to know, before they pull up to a pump, whether the station sells 85 octane.

We know it’s being sold on an increasingly widespread basis in South Dakota, despite automobile-industry concerns that the lower octane might pose problems for some vehicle engines. In fact, this scribe filled up the other day with regular, labeled 85, at a station just a few blocks from the state Capitol.

Regarding Right to Life and legislative primaries

South Dakota Right to Life has published its voters guide regarding the June legislative primaries. The guide doesn’t actually endorse any candidates but there are summaries that explain the positions (or non-positions) for each candidate. The House races are somewhat jumbled because of the numbers of candidates in some primaries. So for ease let’s start with the Senate.

It would appear the favored candidates in the Senate primaries are:

District 9 (Republican) — Rep. Lora Hubbel of Sioux Falls over Sen. Deb Peters of Hartford;

District 12 (Republican) — Scott Bartlett of Sioux Falls over Sen. Mark Johnston of Sioux Falls;

District 14 (Republican) — David Rose of Sioux Falls over Deb Soholt of Sioux Falls;

District 20 (Republican) — Steve Sibson of Mitchell over Sen. Mike Vehle of Mitchell;

District 24 (Republican) — Former Rep. Jeff Monroe of Pierre over current Rep. Tad Perry of Fort Pierre;

District 30 (Republican) — This appears from the summaries to be a toss-up, but Sen. Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City is in the right-hand column, where the other favored candidates have been, while George Ferebee of Hill City is in the left column;

District 31 (Republican) — Lawrence County Commission member Bob Ewing of Spearfish over Sen. Tom Nelson of Lead;

District 33 (Republican) — This one too appears from the summaries to be a toss-up between proven pro-life legislators based on their voting records, but Rep. Phil Jensen of Rapid City is in the right-hand column while former Rep. Mike Buckingham of Rapid City is in the left column; and

District 34 (Republican) — Stacey Wollman of Rapid City over Sen. Craig Tieszen of Rapid City.

The voters guide says there aren’t any differences from a pro-life perspective in the District 2 Senate Republican primary between Sen. Art Fryslie of Willow Lake and Norbert Barrie of Turton; the District 4 Senate Republican primary between Sen. Tim Begalka of Clear Lake and Rep. Val Rausch of Big Stone City; and the District 6 Senate Republican primary between Rep. Gene Abdallah of Sioux Falls and Ernie Otten of Tea.

The House primaries aren’t as clear. But it’s safe to say Right to Life probably isn’t supporting these Republicans: Chris Karr of Sioux Falls in District 11; Mary Duvall of Pierre in District 24; or Gary Cammack of Union Center in District 29. Right to Life clearly isn’t supporting these Democrats in their House primaries: Rep. Mitch Fargen, previously of Flandreau and now of Sioux Falls, in District 15; and Peggy Gibson of Huron in District 22.

There also are a variety of candidates, mostly Democrats, who wouldn’t comment or respond to Right to Life’s questions. But if anyone is wondering why the Legislature is so strong in its support of anti-abortion measures, the voters guide shows how broad and deep the pro-life position is among challengers and incumbents. One of the most interesting footnotes is that Right to Life points out that Sen. Joni Cutler, R-Sioux Falls, has endorsed Soholt in the Senate Republican primary in District 14; the voters guide describes that as “troubling.”