Monthly Archives: December 2015

Some interesting SD numbers on Trump

A survey of 11,000 people nationally might be a very solid poll on a national question, such as which of the four teams is most likely to win the NCAA football championship for this 2015-2016 season. But when the 11,000 are split across 435 congressional districts, the sample size per district gets down to about 25. So it is with both doubt and fascination, that I refer you to a piece by Nate Cohn in The New York Times today about the relative popularity of Donald Trump across our nation.

There are only a few places where Trump, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is stronger in the western half of the nation than he is in South Dakota, according to Cohn’s analysis of polling data supplied to him by a Democratic survey group. Cohn digs into some other trends that undergird the point. Think that many South Dakotans don’t hate Barack Obama because he’s half-black? Read Cohn’s piece to the end. Then read it again. And maybe a third time — then ask yourself whether Donald Trump knows what he’s doing. Exactly.

Keystone XL decision set for Jan. 5

The latest agenda for the Jan. 5, 2016, meeting of the state Public Utilities Commission shows a decision is planned on all pending motions and whether to certify that TransCanada can continue to meet the conditions set by the PUC for the company to build a segment of its proposed Keystone XL petroleum pipeline through South Dakota. TransCanada lost with President Obama’s administration, failing to get the necessary federal approval to pierce the U.S. border from Alberta. The company is gambling that the next president, who takes office 12 months from now, might allow the project to proceed. TransCanada first applied for the South Dakota permit in 2009 and received it in 2010. Because the Obama administration didn’t reach a decision until November 2015, the South Dakota permit ran through its four years of eligibility without construction starting. In that instance, state law allows the permit holder to certify that it will still meet the conditions set in the permit. There wasn’t much of a fight put up against the permit in 2009-2010, but Keystone XL became a cause celebre in the years since then. TransCanada faced a deeper and wider lineup of opponents on the certification application this year. After watching the proceedings six years ago and in the past year, and watching the Dakota Access pipeline proeedings as well this year, and watching TransCanada’s original pipeline proceeding for its James River Valley route a decade ago, it seems unlikely the PUC will reject certification. As PUC chairman Chris Nelson put it at the end of a Keystone XL motions hearing earlier this month, without the federal permit the pipeline won’t be built through South Dakota. As for TransCanada withdrawing in Nebraska, lawyers for the company explained that was a procedural step, so that the time for a permit application in Nebraska doesn’t expire while waiting for the 2016 presidential election. Today — Wednesday, Dec. 30 — is the deadline for any new motions to be filed in the docket.

SD justices adopt “trustworthiness” standard

The U.S. Supreme Court and various other states’ highest courts use a standard known as trustworthiness in deciding whether to allow a criminal conviction to stand on only a confession and without corroborating evidence. Last week the South Dakota Supreme Court adopted the same standard. The specific case involved a defendant’s admission that he sexually touched a three-year-old girl. For reasons that aren’t explained in the unanimous decision, none of the other people involved in the case, including the girl, was able to testify at trial. Circuit Judge Robin Houwman followed the existing South Dakota standard requiring other evidence and ruled the confession wasn’t admissible. Supreme Court Justice Steven Zinter wrote the decision for the high court, finding that Judge Houwman ruled correctly and also finding that, going forward, South Dakota’s state courts system would adopt the trustworthiness standard. The defendant, Alvin Plastow, could still be prosecuted for the girl’s rape if other evidence or testimony is brought forward. The Zinter decision is here.

An act of Christmas

We returned home Saturday night after a difficult trip over difficult winter roads from Denver to a great surprise. Someone with a snowblower had cleared our driveway and our sidewalk. We didn’t have to park on the street and didn’t have to carve a path through the wall of plowed snow across the driveway’s front. Instead we were able to just pull into the garage and unpack. It was a wonderful gift. I need to learn who did so much work.

State employees get leave Thursday afternoon

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is granting a half-day of additional leave on Thursday afternoon to state government employees in the departments, bureaus and offices under his control. The same pattern will follow throughout state government. (Hospital, prison, law enforcement and highway personnel who have to be on duty will get the extra leave to use at other times.) The Thursday afternoon combines with the day-off on Friday for Christmas and the weekend.

Generally governors have also granted extra leave for Good Friday afternoon for a similar reason of holiday courtesy. They also generally have given the Friday after Thanksgiving as extra leave. All of it underlines that family is a priority in our society.

Two Brand Board members get new terms

Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently reappointed Wanda Blair of Vale and Lyla Hutchison of Wounded Knee to new terms on the state Brand Board. They’ll continue until Jan. 5, 2019. Meanwhile the board’s executive director, Debbie Trapp, said the board won’t be seeking authority from the Legislature in the 2016 session to raise fees. The five board members considered fee increases earlier this year while analyzing their financial situation.

The board’s inspectors check ownership registration of livestock, usually cattle, when bought or sold in western South Dakota or when moving in or out of the inspection area of Harding, Butte, Lawrence, Pennington, Custer, Fall River, Perkins, Meade, Oglala Lakota, Corson, Dewey, Ziebach, Haakon, Stanley, Jackson, Jones, Mellette, Bennett, Todd, Lyman, Tripp, and Gregory counties. (And by the way the board is looking for additional inspectors for Dewey, Harding, Mellette, Perkins, Oglala Lakota and Todd counties; 605-773-3324.)

Tough test for Bears and Vikings w/weird update

As a fan of the Green Bay Packers, it’s necessary to follow the three other teams in the North Division. Two square off today in Minneapolis at noon when the Chicago Bears visit the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings  have been fun to watch this season but injuries on defense to some very good players have put them in a tough spot. The Bears have become increasingly interesting to watch in their first year under veteran coach John Fox. He’s been to the Super Bowl twice, with the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, and he’s parted ways with the teams each time. Both the Vikings and the Bears have top-tier running backs in Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte. This will be fun to watch.

WEIRD UPDATE: The Vikings won and climbed to 9-5. That makes them the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs. The Packers won and climbed to 10-4. That makes them the third seed in the NFC playoffs. If those spots hold true to the end of the season, the Vikings would visit the Packers in the first round of the playoffs. What’s weird is the Vikings already will visit the Packers on the final Sunday of the regular season. They could play each other in back-to-back games.

SDDOT gets a deputy secretary, again

Back during the administration of Gov. Mike Rounds there was an emphasis on line of succession throughout state government departments and bureaus. That meant Cabinet members needed to have deputies. During the economic woes of 2009 through 2011, cuts needed to be made, and new Gov. Dennis Daugaard in early 2011 convinced the Legislature to make them — generally 10 percent across the board, with some exceptions such as state aid to K-12 and Medicaid providers, where the rates of decrease varied.

At the state Department of Transportation, where operations were on a skeleton budget as the result of Rounds’ opposition to tax increases for highway funding, the thrift eventually led to the deputy secretary post going black — as in vacant.

Those years are now over at SDDOT. Secretary Darin Bergquist, after some internal searching, said Friday he has appointed Joel Jundt as deputy secretary. Great choice, most people who know something about SDDOT during the past decade might tell you.

This was not a “do-hire” as people around state government say dismissively when a person short on qualifications gets an appointment because of some political connection. Jundt is a true professional and an actual civil engineer, who has worked 30 years for SDDOT, starting right after his 1985 graduation from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

The downside? Now they have to find a successor to him as director for DOT’s division of planning and engineering, a post he’d held since 2008.