The strength of Jim Abbott

Their lives together began with a blind date. Colette and Jim Abbott married in 1987. One week ago, on May 4, Colette died suddenly from a complication related to her recently diagnosed cancer. Jim, the president of the University of South Dakota, held his emotions together, going through the university’s graduation ceremony last weekend and a memorial service for Colette Monday.

A lawyer, he served in the state House of Representatives for one term in 1991-92. He ran for the state Senate seat in 1992 against Bernie Hunhoff in a Democratic primary; Hunhoff won by seven votes in a recount. Abbott challenged in court because 19 votes cast by 18 Republicans and one independent weren’t counted. Eventually the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled against Abbott.

In 1994 the Democratic nominee for governor, Jim Beddow, the president of Dakota Wesleyan University at Mitchell, selected Jim Abbott as his running mate. They didn’t win, but their proposal to reduce property taxes by 30 percent prompted Republican nominee Bill Janklow to promise to do the same. Janklow carried through.

In 1996 Jim Abbott ran for the Democratic nomination for South Dakota’s one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He placed second in a big field. Rick Weiland, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, won through the use of a photograph. The photo showed Weiland and Daschle together. It helped swing votes Weiland’s way. Weiland later lost to Republican newcomer John Thune.

The retirement of Betty Turner Asher as USD’s president led Janklow to suggest Jim Abbott be USD’s new president. The state Board of Regents hired Jim in 1997. In 2002, he ran for the Democratic nomination for governor, winning a three-way primary. That same June day, former state Sen. Mike Rounds won the Republican nomination in a three-way primary. Abbott said afterward he knew that night he couldn’t win the general election against Rounds, who received the nomination by staying clear of the feud between Attorney General Mark Barnett and former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby.

Today, Thune and Rounds hold South Dakota’s two seats in the U.S. Senate. Thune defeated Daschle in 2004. (Hunhoff lost to Janklow in 1998.)

Jim returned from his leave of absence after the 2002 campaign and has remained USD’s president since then. Now 67, he is the longest-serving president in South Dakota’s system of public universities. The campus and its programs are stronger than ever. He’s given his all to a place he loves, the place where he earned his degrees and where Colette earned hers. They were USD.

South Dakota among worst states for teen drivers

A network of automobile insurance companies run a joint website known as and South Dakota doesn’t fare well in its latest rankings for safety of teen drivers.

South Dakota sits at fourth-worst. Montana is last, with North Dakota and Louisiana between. The next seven states, from No. 46 through No. 41, are Mississippi, Missouri, Wyoming, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Iowa. Some intriguing regional patterns in that mix!

The insurance companies involved in the rankings make the case for stronger graduated driver licensing laws. They cite national statistics supporting that argument. South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Montana and Arkansas are judged in the rankings to have the potential to benefit the most from a stronger GDL system.

Drunk-driving by teens doesn’t pop up as a problem in South Dakota as much as other states. The five worst are Montana, Arkansas, District of Columbia, North Dakota and Texas at 11 percent or more. The percentage is for teens 16 and older who reported drinking and driving. South Dakota was far down the list at 7 percent.

Then there’s texting and driving. South Dakota leads the ranking as the worst state for this practice among teen drivers. Again, relying on reported activities by drivers 16 and older, South Dakota led all states with 61 percent. North Dakota was second-worst at 59 percent, followed by Montana at 56, Wyoming at 51 and Oklahoma at 51.

You can read the report here. And you have to wonder where South Dakota would be if age 14 and 15 drivers participated in the surveys.

Republicans extend lead in voters

The May voter-registration totals for South Dakota showed a strong gain for Republicans during the month of April. Republicans climbed 1,099 to 241,622. Overall, they have gained approximately 4,000 registered voters since early January 2016.

Democrats increased somewhat during April, gaining 75 and reaching 167,336. This is the second consecutive month they’ve gained. The last time was in fall 2014, when Democrats went up four months in a row leading into the general election.

But the numbers speak for themselves — 1,099 more Republicans and 75 more Democrats — during April. And the surge by independents and no-party voters leveled somewhat. Their column increased by 519, reaching 109,025 as of the May 2 statewide totaling. Two other groups of registered voters slipped slightly. Constitutionalists dipped by nine to 506, while the “other” column lost four to 2,147.

The long trend remains troubling for Democrats. The 2008 general election registrations were 241,528 Republicans; 204,413 Democrats; and 83,147 all others. The 37,000-voter lead that Republicans enjoyed over Democrats as recently as eight years ago today is twice as large at approximately 74,000. That’s a gain of approximately 37,000. The increases in the “other” column come to about 28,500 since November 2008. They don’t offset the Democrats’ loss. Republicans clearly are the political party on the move in 2016 and for much of the past eight years.

Buchanan explains Trump popularity

Pat Buchanan twice ran for the Republican nomination for president and ran another time for the U.S. presidency as a third-column candidate. This morning, on the Morning Edition program of National Public Radio, Buchanan adeptly walked through why Donald Trump is the only active candidate for the Republican nomination who is left. The interview provides a concise, fact-based explanation. Buchanan covers the loss of 55,000 factories and 6 million manufacturing jobs. He speaks to the loss of “Americanization” and gives an example: English isn’t the language spoken in half of California’s households. The NPR host wanted to dispute Buchanan’s theory. Buchanan in a nutshell said the fact that Trump is the candidate who is left is proof those themes are resonating with many voters. It’s worth a read or a listen. Buchanan explains it better than I’ve seen anywhere else. Many people want to argue with Buchanan and with Trump. But winning has a way of settling arguments and starting new ones.

LRC migrates to new website and address

The Legislative Research Council this week went live with its new website. It looks like the “old” website but there’s a different address. Where we once typed in, now we type in Jason Hancock, the LRC’s executive director, explained the address change when I contacted him earlier this week with a question regarding the LRC’s weekly Register. I had been able to pull up only the April 25 edition. He looked into the matter and suggested I use And there was the May 2 edition.

Someone asked me yesterday afternoon why LRC is now at a different address. One of the many changes recommended by the National Conference of State Legislatures review a few years ago called for the LRC / South Dakota Legislature to operate an independent web and email system. For several decades, LRC and the Legislature ran on state government’s main system that is maintained by the executive branch. “What — they were afraid somebody was spying on them?” the questioner remarked. As for wireless Internet access in the Capitol, many spots now will have two service systems, one from the executive branch via the Bureau of Telecommunications and Information, and the other through LRC.


In SD’s primaries, one less bell to answer

So much for Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. He left the Republican presidential battle last night after getting stomped, again, by New York City millionaire Donald Trump. In South Dakota, where primary voting opened April 22 and primary election day is June 7, the three choices for the presidential nomination on the Republican Party’s ballot are Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Cruz and Trump, in that order. It would be fascinating to know their respective totals as of 5 p.m. Tuesday and then compare those numbers to the final totals on the night of June 7.

On a related note, my personal suggestion to improve voter turnout would be to tally and publish the early-voting numbers daily during the weeks before elections. People could better understand the consequences of voting (or not voting). The downsides of early voting are two-fold: A candidate can drop out, as is the case with Cruz (but normally not an issue with South Dakota’s county, legislative and state elections); and something could emerge in the closing weeks or days of an election period after you’ve already cast your vote. The question now is whether Kasich will still be in the Republican presidential contest on June 7.

Meanwhile the Democrats’ duel between Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former New York U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keeps going. with Sanders beating Clinton again last night in Indiana. Why does The Beatles’ lyric “Can’t buy me love” come to mind about this one?

USDOJ exposes SD’s treatment of older people

Who knew South Dakota — all of us, in every community and every county — so mistreated so many of our older citizens? The 2016.05.02 – Letter of Findings from DOJ to Governor Daugaard received May 2 from the U.S. Department of Justice accuses the Daugaard administration of violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The accusations seemed far-fetched. But on page 7, we see the federal interpretations of disabilities reach as far as arthritis. The letter runs 35 pages. My thinking changed, a lot, by the time I reached the end. I returned and re-read key paragraphs. I understand now what DOJ is telling South Dakota. One of the messages is we should have known for more than a decade that we needed to be making changes. Fixing the problems requires much more than what a governor or a state Medicaid administrator can do. Moving to community-based services, so that people can live in their homes or in some other types of new settings, as a replacement for nursing homes requires action in every community and from every county commission. Is it impossible? That can’t be the question. The question must be how do we as citizens start?

Linda Daugaard offers mansion tours again

This will be the sixth summer that First Lady Linda Daugaard is hosting weekly tours of the Governor’s Mansion in Pierre. She and Gov. Dennis Daugaard consider their residence to be a special place to live and know it belongs to the citizens of South Dakota. The once-per-week tours start June 1 and continue Wednesday afternoons through August. The tours start at 1 p.m., last about 30 minutes and are hosted by volunteers and sometimes the First Lady. The weekly groups are limited to about 40 people each time. Advance tickets, for free, must be arranged through the Pierre Chamber of Commerce at 605-224-7361. While in town, don’t forget the truly life-like statues of past governors spread throughout the Capitol grounds and at spots throughout the city. And there is a lot of good food to be had, whether lunch, supper or ice cream. Pierre is a great place when you give it a chance.

Zika virus is on way to reportable-disease status

Last week the state Health Department held a public hearing on two proposed rule changes. No one testified, but the agency is accepting public comments through May 7 before going before the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee June 1. According to DHS public-information person Barb Buhler, the department received eight letters of support for the proposed rules before the hearing. One would add Zika virus to South Dakota’s long list of Category II reportable diseases. The other change would establish a multi-level system for student immunization requirements for school entry. The immunization requirements would remain the same for early childhood and kindergarten entrance. The new requirement would be for the meningitis immunization that was added by the Legislature this year at the request of the Health Department. The MCV4 vaccine would be required for entering grade six. The rules also now will clearly specify the medical and religious exemption requirements.

SDRS board has one election this spring

Three seats on the board of trustees for the South Dakota Retirement System are up for election, but only one needs an election.

Unopposed for re-election is Louise Loban of Volga, a 32-year employee of South Dakota State University. She is the assistant director for human resources at SDSU. She holds a Board of Regents employee seat on the SDRS board.

There’s also no contest for the school boards seat. Dave Merrill of Plankinton didn’t seek re-election to his local school board, making him ineligible to seek re-election on the SDRS board. Kathy Greeneway of Yankton is unopposed for the vacancy. In addition to two terms (and now starting a third) on the Yankton school board, she is a certified financial planner with Raymond James Financial Services at First Dakota National Bank in Yankton.

The contest is for a state employees seat on the SDRS board.

The incumbent is Eric Stroeder of Mobridge. He has worked for the state Department of Transportation since 1991 and is the engineering supervisor at Mobridge. He has served 12 years on the SDRS board. He won re-election two weeks ago to the Mobridge school board. He was leader for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota during the past year and was part of the push for the sales-tax increase by the Legislature.

Challenging for the seat is Rachel Hearn of Pierre. She is a certified public accountant and is the audit director for the state Revenue Department. She is president of the Pierre Players Community Theater.

Ballots are in the hands of SDRS members who can vote for the state employee seat. Last spring none of the three seats up for election was contested.