Monthly Archives: March 2013

Opening Day Blues, 2013 Version

The Minnesota Twins, because that’s the team I follow daily on the radio when I can, still have my interest but they look nearly as hopeless as the Chicago Cubs. And that’s bad.

Why no optimism regarding the Twins? Well, don’t get me started again on the why-a-roofless-stadium rant. As snow flittered through the afternoon here in Fun City on Easter Sunday, it made me wonder whether the Twins have any chance in 2013. Looking at 2012 numbers, the Twins can only get better in 2013. Or can they? Let’s run through a few statistics:

As a team the Twins hit in the middle of the American League last season at .260. Their 701 runs scored were fifth-lowest, however. Their top hitter for average was Joe Mauer at .319 with 81 runs and 85 RBI. The two next-best hitters for average have both been traded. They were Ben Revere at .294 and Denard Span at .283. Ryan Doumit, a free-agent signee a year ago, was fourth at. 275. He had 18 home runs. Next was another free-agent signee of last year, infielder Jamey Carroll, at .268. He probably won’t be in the lineup for Opening Day on Monday afternoon.

Think about that for a moment. The team’s fifth-best hitter for average was at .268. Number six on the team was Justin Morneau, a first baseman whom I admire and respect, at .267 with 19 home runs. Another free-agent signee of last year was next: Josh Willingham, the left fielder, at .260 with 35 home runs, 85 runs and 110 RBI.

Mauer, Morneau, Willingham and Doumit will form the team’s batting core for the 2013 season. I don’t see them receiving much help from semi-new starters such as shortstop Pedro Florimon, second baseman Brian Dozier, third baseman Trevor Plouffe, rookie centerfielder Aaron Hicks and outfielder Darin Mastroianni. But it would feel so much better to be wrong.

As for pitching, the best things Minnesota had going in 2012 were the Cleveland Indians (the only AL team that was worse in ERA, 4.78 to 4.77), the now-injured starting pitcher Scott Diamond, the potential of starting pitcher Cole De Vries and a couple of truly solid bullpen men in Glen Perkins and Jared Burton. The Twins allowed 845 runs to be scored by opponents last season. That was worst in the American League. The only team that gave up more was Colorado, and the Rockies play in one of the most wonderful stadiums for hitters that has been ever known in baseball. How bad was Twins pitching? Tampa Bay gave up just 577 to lead the AL. In the NL three teams — Washington, Los Angeles and Cincinnati (despite playing in its own bandbox of a stadium) each allowed less than 600.

There’s nothing I’d like better than new starting pitcher Vance Worley, who came from Philadelphia, to do better than he has. Same for Mike Pelfrey, whom the New York Mets finally gave up on after Tommy John surgery. The Twins received Worley and a minor-league pitching prospect, Trevor May, for Revere. The Twins received another minor-league pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, from Washington in the Span trade. The Twins also signed Kevin Correia, who pitched the past four seasons for San Diego and Pittsburgh, where he went 46-43 over that time. Pelfrey was 22-22 in the 2010-11 seasons with the Mets and was off to a good start in 2012 with an 2.32 ERA in his first three games before his arm blew up. Worley was 17-12 in the 2011-12 seasons.

Here’s the silver lining. General manager Terry Ryan acquired three solid players in free agents Willingham, Doumit and Carroll a year ago. Willingham exceeded all expectations at the plate, except perhaps his own. Doumit held his own in a combiantion role as catcher, designated hitter, outfielder and spot first baseman. Morneau solidified again. If the same kind of good fortune can spread by GM Ryan to Worley, Pelfrey and Correia on the mound, and if De Vries and Diamond can find their health and keep avoid walks, the Twins could be a .500 team. That would be 81-81. In 2012, they finished 66-96. A 15-win improvement would be the start of something good again.

I’ll leave you with this list of wins by the Twins from the past five seasons:

2008 — 88 (2nd in division).

2009 — 87 (1st in division).

2010 — 94 (1st in division).

2011 — 63 (5th/last in division).

2012 — 66 (5th/last in division).

NYT: State of New York lists climate change as bond risk

Here’s the link to a story in today’s New York Times about N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and climate change:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/nyregion/new-york-state-bonds-include-warning-on-climate-change.html?src=rechp

Ahead of the curve, playing politics or …? This is quite a story.

As is this one, also from the NYT, about a dairy that uses the manure to make methane to power its delivery trucks:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/us/dairy-finds-way-to-let-cows-power-trucks.html?src=recg

 

How transparent is U.S. PIRG Education Fund?

It’s sadly amusing how news reporters and their employers take for granted the money and purposes of the organizations issuing “grades” on government transparency. The latest example is U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s grades of state governments regarding spending transparency. Regardless of whether South Dakota received an A or an F (a C, actually, with 70 of 100 points in its scale), U.S. PIRG wouldn’t pass the same test on its website. Darned if I can tell what PIRG stands for. Darned if I can find where the group gets its money. Oh, wait, down near the bottom of a page, in light print, is a reference to U.S. Public Interest Research Group, based in Boston. Now, if I want to take the extra steps, I can find out a little more by going through IRS filing for not-for-profits. If I dig a little in some other crannies, I can trace them back to a model once advocated by Ralph Nader and Donald Ross. As best as I can find, PIRG doesn’t have a South Dakota organization. Looking again through the U.S. PIRG site, I can’t find any references to its budget, its spending, its sources of money or any financial data other than a “Donate” page. I’m not defending South Dakota state government but there is a giant gap between what’s missing on the PIRG site and what can be found at open.sd.gov and on individual state-agency websites. The point is, if PIRG is going to grade state governments on transparency, PIRG should meet the standards it espouses. Heck, U.S. PIRG should at least become as transparent as the State of South Dakota.

The mountain lion season

A mountain lion estimated to be eight to nine years old was reported taken today in Custer County by a hunter. The big male was No. 59 of the Black Hills season. The season began Dec. 26 and will run through March 31 unless one of two highly unlikely events occurs very soon: Hunters take 100 lions total or 70 females. So far 34 females have been killed by hunters.

There was much gnashing of opinions when the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission expanded the 2013 season to allow up to 100/70. A year ago the limits were 70/50. Because a hunter didn’t report killing lion No. 70 until the next day, the 2012 season remained open for a 51st day. Three more lions were killed that day.

People smarter than me on lion matters will get their chances in the days and months ahead to express their opinions on whether the commission did the right thing in expanding the harvest for 2013. Some of the best lion hunters seem to succeed by tracking lions through snow, sometimes for days on end. It will be interesting to see GFP’s analysis (assuming one is performed) on snow cover, new snow and harvest day by day.

The bigger harvest limit and the failure to reach 100 or 70 this season might be telling us two things. The limit doesn’t matter if conditions aren’t right, and the harvest therefore doesn’t tell us enough about the population of lions in the Black Hills.

Through lion No. 59, the counts by county showed Pennington 23, Lawrence 18 and Custer 18. Interestingly, the last lion kill in Lawrence County this season came March 2. At the time she was lion No. 46. All of the lions reported taken since then have been in Pennington (six) and Custer (seven).

For hunters, there is an advantage to the higher harvest limits. They get to stay in the field longer. This might be the first mountain lion season that hasn’t closed before the final day set by the commission.

We’ll get a deeper report next week by state Widlife Division staff when the commission meets in Winner April 4-5 (Holiday Inn Express).

State will pay Eagle Creek tuition

The terms of agreement between the University of South Dakota and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development show that GOED will pay up to $212,500 to USD for students who enroll in a 12-credit, four-course curriculum to learn information technology skills as part of the expansion by Eagle Creek Software into Vermillion. The project is estimated by state officials to eventually generate 1,000 jobs across South Dakota, including 200 at a center at Vermillion. USD will create a training academy. Eagle Creek will select the students, who can receive a three-month internship with Eagle Creek and ultimately apply for a job as an IT consultant at Eagle Creek. USD also is looking at a master degree program as part of the project. GOED agrees to pay USD up to $4,000 per undergrad and up to $5,000 per student for the master program. The state Board of Regents, whose members govern the state universities, is scheduled to look at this deal next week. The agreement is already signed by USD president Jim Abbott and state Economic Development Commissioner Pat Costello. USD will offer three of the courses in data querying and preparation, data science and analytics, and deriving knowledge from data “at scale,” while Dakota State University will offer the fourth, in data systems.

Well, the Draft Brendan effort didn’t take long

Just 24 hours and 24 minutes after his dad, Tim Johnson, took the microphone and announced he won’t seek re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2014, there is an organized effort to draft Brendan Johnson to be a candidate for the open seat. Heading up that effort is Ryan Casey of Sioux Falls, the Lincoln County Democratic chairman. Brendan is the U.S. attorney for the district of South Dakota.

Others who have put their names on this effort are Ann Tornberg of Beresford; Sylvia Oothoudt of McCook Lake; Thea Geotas of Rapid City; Darlene Weis of Sioux Falls; Vincent Gormley of Sioux Falls; Ann Lamer of Brookings; Shirley Lautenschlager of Rapid City; Jerry Bartels of Vermillion; and Jackie Beilke of Sioux Falls.

Why doesn’t Bernie get a mention?

Gee, what’s a guy to do when he retires as editor of South Dakota Magazine? And he’s only 61? Well, if you’re House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton, you continue as publisher of the 46,000-circulation monthly that you and your wife, Myrna, brought into the world in 1985. But with three major statewide offices up for election in 2014 — U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and governor — it seems like Bernie would be a natural to run for one of them. He made the try once before, in 1998, when he ran for governor as the Democratic candidate and received about 32.9 percent of the vote, while Republican incumbent Bill Janklow won the fourth and last of his terms with about 64 percent in a four-way race. Facing Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard or Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (assuming they both run for their current posts) would probably be just as difficult. Would it be any easier to tangle with Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds for the U.S. Senate seat from which Democrat Tim Johnson will retire? Bernie would seem to be the Democrats’ strongest possible candidate these days. He’s a genuine success in business, and he’s serving his eleventh year in the Legislature. Yet all the focus has been on a few other Democrats so far. If he doesn’t run, it’s understandable — he’s made that battle once before, and he took some bruises. But if he does run, with 15 more years of experience and knowledge now under his belt, don’t be surprised.

The Harding button collection

For those of you too young to remember, Homer Harding of Pierre was a state senator for 18 years and the Republican majority’s leader from 1977 through 1988. He later served as state treasurer for a term. Aside from being a genuinely friendly guy, he put together a neat collection of inaugural buttons for governors of South Dakota, dating back to Tom Berry in 1935. He’s donated the collection to the Hughes County / Stanley County Republicans, and Stanley County GOP chairman Tad Perry of Fort Pierre is heading up a raffle ($10 a ticket, 200-ticket limit) as a fundraiser for the organization. He said Jane Page came up with the one button (Janklow ’95) that was missing from Homer’s set. The drawing is set for the April 11 meeting, assuming the tickets are all sold by then.

The Miller resignation

The announcement this morning from Gov. Dennis Daugaard that he will appoint a replacement for state Rep. Patty Miller isn’t a total surprise. The Republican was serving her second term in the state House of Representatives. Miller, 59, listed McCook Lake in Union County as her official address, but Democrats were looking into whether she had recently moved with her husband, Buck, for family-health reasons across the river into Sioux City, Iowa. Her district covers all of Union and part of Lincoln County. The governor is asking for nominations from citizens. Miller had previously owned Ruth’s Mexican Fiesta and Grill in Sioux City. She had her husband spend the 2013 legislative session with her in Pierre and she brought him each day to the Capitol.

Are SD consumers paying for the jet?

One of the allegations raised last fall by Democratic candidate Matt McGovern against Republican incumbent Kristie Fiegen was that the state Public Utilities Commission allowed ratepayers to foot the bill for a corporate jet for Xcel Energy. McGovern tied the jet to an 11.5 percent revenue increase Xcel requested from the PUC. Five months later, we get some answers. Today, as part of the PUC’s decision-making process on the Xcel rate increase, commissioner Gary Hanson asked Xcel officials for the costs of jet travel. PUC analyst Patrick Steffensen said the cost for the test year was $5.6 million and, under the proposed settlement, South Dakota ratepayers would be responsible for $58,300. Said Hanson: “Not quite $10 million.” Fiegen had been appointed to a vacant seat on the commission that was abdicated by Democrat Steve Kolbeck and she was running for election to a new six-year term. Fiegen received 53.9 percent and McGovern 40.4 percent in the three-way race. As for the Xcel rate increase, Fiegen asked that the decision be deferred until the commission’s April 9 meeting. Under the settlement that is being considered, the original request of about $19.4 million has been trimmed to about $11.6 million. But the settlement is complex because it would include a new feature that goes beyond state law. It would be a rider, to be adjusted annually, to reflect Xcel’s capital investments for updating and expanding existing plants including those in Minnesota at Prairie Island and Monticello. The rider will be updated each year with an Oct. 1 filing by the company for the commission’s review. The settlement also calls for the company to agree to no further increase in its rates before Jan. 1, 2015. In other words, the 6.86 percent increase in retail rates that is part of the settlement is just the beginning of escalating prices for electricity for Xcel’s approximately 85,000 in its South Dakota service territory. The company expects near-flat sales and any growth in sales won’t cover the cost increases that are forecast.