Friday, January 31, 2014

Hey, Pro-Biz Types in Pierre--Get A Load Of Who Supports Same-Sex Marriage In This Country

     Here's who some of them are:  Cummins Engine, Eli Lilly, Nike, General Mills, Apple, General Electric and Google; and here's what they have in common:  They've put up serious sums of money to fight state bans on same-sex marriage and/or joined up with about 100 companies in a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court opposing California's ban last year.  There's a thoughtful piece about this development in The American Conservative, which you can read here.  TAC, by the way is a great collection of true conservative thought, "true conservative" meaning a belief that the essence of freedom is personal liberty and the inherent right of people to live their lives the way they see fit--including the right to consider themselves married whether some folks like it or not.  Why this is even a fight in a country that since day one has been dedicated to the principle that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is a continuing mystery to me as I watch the political process regarding same-sex marriage unfolding in Pierre.  That those rights are endowed by their "Creator" seems to be an overlooked point by those whose abhorrence to same-sex marriage  has a religious basis. 
     South Dakota legislators troubled by the existence of same-sex marriage seem to be glibly overlooking the effect of their homophobic attitudes on South Dakota's public persona.  This should  concern  our more practicality-oriented elected officials, particularly Governor Daugaard, whose State of the State speech last week was dripping with plans for increased economic developmentThere's a reason that, say, Cummins Inc. (one the world's largest manufacturers of diesel engines) and the drug giant Eli Lilly put up $100k each in a fight against a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Indiana.  Marya Rose, the chief  administrator at Cummins, puts it this way:  “If we have a climate in our state that makes people feel unwelcome in any way, we think that’s bad for Cummins, and we think that’s bad for business."  You can read more about this at the Bloomberg site here.  
     As a businessman myself, I know that public relations are the essence of good marketing.  I'm also pretty confident that many of the businesses I cite or that can be found in the links above don't particularly have a position on same-sex marriage, per se.  They're more interested in functioning in states and communities that provide them with the widest and deepest customer base and labor pool.  Selectively excluding (or at least making feel unwelcome) considerable segments of the population only limits a business's capacity to operate and make money.  Given that estimates of the size of the homosexual population in this country generally range between 10% and 20% (a Smithsonian magazine report from the National Bureau of Economic Research last October suggests 20%--a study you can find here), cutting that many people out of a sphere of economic activity like the state of South Dakota is a serious detriment to the state's ability to compete and grow economically.  Fact is, it's just plain bad business.  South Dakota's elected officials should consider whether this is a bad time in the development of the U.S. for our state to be on the wrong side of history.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

SD Dems Are Hoping Voters Will Be Desperately Seeking Susan. But Meantime, What About A Guy Named Joe?

    SD's Democratic Party launched state rep Susan Wismer's gubernatorial campaign this week--and it's pretty splashy stuff. You can see it here.  It is indeed a nice piece of work--no doubt Wismer has all the creds necessary to serve as governor and would make a fine candidate.  As readers of this blog know by now, I have plenty of misgivings about my Republican Party's incumbent Governor Dennis Daugaard.  In the spirit of due diligence, all of us Pubs should be keeping our options open, including, this year, checking out the thoughts of Independent candidate and former USD law professor Mike Meyers, who some east-river friends tell me is worthy of  attention despite his long-shot status.  Over the years I've seen how fringe ideas from non-conventional candidates often become mainstream elements of political and social dialogue. It's best not to blow 'em off.
     So anyway, to get off that soap box and back to SD Dems and Susan Wismer, I guess I'm a bit dismayed by the party hoopla accompanying Wismer's announcement.  Nothing remotely approaching that level of fanfare coincided with Joe Lowe's announcement of his candidacy for the Dem nod last November.  Yes, if you read the press release, you'll see a pro forma notation about Lowe's existence at the bottom of the page, but the piece is so puffy about Wismer that I can only conclude she's got the support of the party behind her.  I suppose there's some tactical value to lining up  supporters and apparatus behind a candidate at this stage of the game, but in the strategic scheme of things, Dems are making a big mistake.
     For one thing, they're not giving enough weight to the fact that Joe Lowe is a west river Dem--a rare breed, indeed, but one whose status has built-in advantages.  Lowe has a boatload of experience and knowledge that comes from living and working among Republicans, something that can't possibly be part of Wismer's resume.  Given the way party registrations stack up in South Dakota (something like 45%-38%, R vs. D), the Dem candidate will have to captivate a sizable number of us Pubs to win this race, and, frankly, nobody out here in cowboy country has ever heard of Wismer, whose mastery of Democratic talking points (as displayed in the press release) won't be enough to sell herself to many Republicans out here, or at least not enough Pubs to make much of a difference in November.
     Lowe's hands-on dealings with natural resource issues out west will be invaluable to him when it comes to gathering support from west river Republicans .  That he's had close ties to Republican administrations in Pierre when he worked for them for many years won't hurt either.  You can find his creds here, where you'll also note that his experience with those natural resource issues also extends far and wide into east river country.  He's a known quantity.
     I don't want anybody to misconstrue this as an endorsement.   This is all about the South Dakota Democratic Party being too hasty in its obvious, if informal, declaration that Wismer is the party's favorite.  Given that situation, it's now up to Mr. Lowe to make rank-and-file Dems see it otherwise.  After a long career in suppressing fires and managing floods, Lowe won't find challenging his party's establishment particularly daunting.  I wish him well. 
    

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From The Culture Of Complacency To The Culture Of Denial: Governor Daugaard Still Supports Slaughterhouse EB-Five.

     I posted yesterday about our Governor Daugaard's indifference to the question of whether South Dakota's troubles in hiring and retaining teachers is having an effect on the state's economic development ambitions.  I called him complacent.  This morning I'm wondering if "complacent" was the right word to characterize Daugaard's mindset.  I'm thinking "denial" might be a more apt description.  Why the change?  I just looked at a two-day old story in Prairie Business and see that our governor "does not believe the state's financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, SD, was a mistake."  Daugaard is further quoted as saying "I think that was the right decision."  Before slapping your forehead in incredulity, you might want to check out the entire story here.  You can also find a deeper discussion of it at Cory Heidelberger's top-notch political blog The Madville Times here
     It's plain old-fashioned human nature to stubbornly cling to decisions that have gone awry, a flaw that just about any business-type will tell you is fatal.  And if Daugaard had said something along the lines of the decision seeming like the right one at the time I could at least give him a pass.  But no, the Governor is standing by the decision from the get-go, blaming the plant's troubles on a bevy of inexperienced investors who didn't have the knowledge and resources to keep the plant running.  That doesn't wash. As I noted here a month ago in my post titled "Slaughterhouse EB-Five", the plant's prospects were dismal from the start.  In that post I called attention to a column I wrote for the Rapid City Journal in 2006 (which you can find here ) where I examined former Governor Mike Rounds' South Dakota Certified Beef program--the driving force behind the Aberdeen plant that was supposed to slaughter SDCB cattle--and found it to be a loser.  This wasn't about inexperienced investors, this was about South Dakota's infatuation with a program that led to millions of dollars of good taxpayer money chasing after the bad money created by a flawed program that wasn't working years before the Aberdeen plant was built.  Given the economic signals that were in plain sight, how Daugaard can characterize the state's financial support as "the right decision" calls his judgement into question.
     In the Prairie Business piece, Governor Daugaard leaves the door open for further state involvement, noting that "state assistance isn't out of the question."  As a business-type myself I'm always in favor of keeping all options open, but on the basis of Daugaard's denial that poor business judgement  went into the plant's development in the first place, along with his lack of understanding of the livestock fundamentals that caused its subsequent failure, I can only hope that Daugaard consults with some actual cattle people before moving more taxpayer's money into this ill-fated venture.  Given the historically low numbers of cattle in the United States these days, I'd be amazed if people in the industry would be confident that 1500 slaughter-ready cattle a day could be found for a facility that needs to kill that many animals to stay solvent.  Fact is, it just can't happen.  Daugaard needs some private sector advisors to clarify the relationship between risks and rewards before committing another dime to this fiasco. 
     
    
    
does not believe the state’s financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., was a mistake. - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/17584/group/Agriculture/#sthash.zaB4aW3V.dpuf
does not believe the state’s financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., was a mistake. - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/17584/group/Agriculture/#sthash.zaB4aW3V.dpuf
does not believe the state’s financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., was a mistake. - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/17584/group/Agriculture/#sthash.zaB4aW3V.dpuf
does not believe the state’s financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., was a mistake. - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/17584/group/Agriculture/#sthash.zaB4aW3V.dpuf
does not believe the state’s financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., was a mistake. - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/17584/group/Agriculture/#sthash.zaB4aW3V.dpuf
does not believe the state’s financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., was a mistake. - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/17584/group/Agriculture/#sthash.zaB4aW3V.dpuf
does not believe the state’s financial support for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., was a mistake. - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/17584/group/Agriculture/#sthash.zaB4aW3V.dpuf

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Culture Of Complacency: Governor Daugaard And Education In South Dakota

        Our Governor Dennis Daugaard Met With The Rapid City Journal's editorial board last Friday.   (The front page story in the Sunday January 26 edition might be online hereI couldn't find it.  You might have better luck locating it in a print edition.)   He was asked if he was concerned by reports from school districts having difficulty retaining and recruiting teachers. The Q? Are those difficulties a hindrance to "efforts to attract quality employers and workers to the state?"  His answer was at first evasive--he said he's not surprised by the difficulty in finding teachers because "we are seeing it in the construction trades . . . and the manufacturing trades."  Then it lapsed into incoherence, during which he rambled about our "rural environment" and "multiple school districts" and "fewer resources" and "smaller class sizes" and "more teachers" and how "dollars are spread further among many other teachers, than, say, in more metropolitan areas." Say what?
     Forget about the double-talk.  That the governor is not surprised is one thing, but to express no concern about the economic consequences of finding it hard to attract and retain teachers is another.  As if this isn't disconcerting enough, the governor's avoidance of answering a direct question regarding  the effect of  teacher recruiting and retention is dismaying.  This level of indifference seems indicative to me of a culture of complacency that has taken hold of Daugaard's administration. Rambling as it was, the Governor's response to a simple and direct question reads to me like an elaborate excuse that boils down to a lame explanation that there isn't much that can be done about the situation as it is now in place. I'm sorry, Governor Daugaard, but I think we can expect more from you in the way of leadership.            
     Consider how a prospective employer, investor or skilled worker would react when researching South Dakota as a possible locale for moving investment capital, employees and their own families if they saw this:  A governor who professes indifference to his own state's inability to hire and keep new teachers.  Not a pretty picture.  Add to that the state legislature's refusal in a vote last week to recognize a teacher shortage in this state, then combine that with the non-partisan Education Week 2014 grades for South Dakota schools, which you can find here.  Of 6 components that Education Week grades, South Dakota gets one B, one C, and 4 Ds.  As a prospect for moving money, equipment and people to South Dakota, I know how I'd react,   I'd pass.
      What to do?  I think a myriad of options are out there, not necessarily based on creating new sources of revenue to improve the quality of our schools and the lot of our teachers.  It's all about priorities.  For now, though, priority number one is getting a sense from our top elected officials that a problem exists in the first place.  I invite Governor Daugaard to re-answer the question posed to him by the Rapid City Journal editorial board and let us know up-front if he acknowledges that there are economic effects created by the teacher hiring and retention situation in South Dakota, and if so, whether he's concerned about it.  If we get an affirmative, the next step is to devise a scheme for dealing with the problem.  If we get a negative, Governor Daugaard can consider  the possibility that a lot of his support will wither away in November. 
    
    

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Not COOL--The Farm Bill Hits Another Snag. Sisyphus Had It Easy Compared To This.

     As long as I'm referencing an ancient Greek myth, I cue in an ancient Greek chorus comprised of South Dakota ranchers and farmers:  We're waaaiiiitttiiing.  I mean this is getting ridiculous.  The much delayed Farm Bill, which is supposed to replace the '08 Bill that expired a year-and-a-half ago was on track to be wrapped up, like, right now.  Then word yesterday comes out of D.C., via this story, that yet another obstacle has  to be cleared, and it's a big one:  Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) issues have to be resolved.  You can't blame our Congressional delegation for feeling somewhat like that poor old legendary Greek fella Sisyphus, who was condemned to spend eternity rolling a huge boulder to the top of a hill, only to slip and fall at the crest, causing the boulder to roll back down to the bottom, where Sisyphus had to restart the process, over and over and over again.
     I do fault our federal reps for not seeing this coming and giving their constituents a heads up.  Until now the main sticking point seemed to be the Food Stamp (technically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) section of the bill, but the optimistic chatter coming from our state's Congressional officeholders in recent weeks made it sound like an agreement was at hand, clearing the way for a final bill by this week.  Now we find out that COOL and its future are a big hang-up.  When Congresswoman Noem, who was appointed to the Farm Bill Conference Committee last year amid some self-generated hoopla about the importance of South Dakota having a place at that particular table, wrote an optimistic piece about "bringing the farm bill home"  a few weeks ago (You can read her press release here)  she mentioned three points of concern:  food stamps, crop insurance and livestock disaster programs.  There wasn't a word about COOL.
     Now all of a sudden we're finding out that COOL may be dropped from the new bill altogether.  Technically it would be set aside for further study--and we all know what that means:  good bye COOL.  The problem with it in its present form (requiring meat to be labeled as to country of origin, country of processing, and country of slaughter) is that it adds time- and money-consuming steps to the marketing of meat products.  The two countries from which we import livestock, Mexico and Canada, don't like this because it makes their products more expensive, causing their value at the outset to be lower than livestock born in the United States.  A complaint about this is in the hopper at the World Trade Organization, which could well prove to be a reason that anti-COOL forces can remove the labeling law for further "study", at least until the trade issues are resolved.  As you can imagine, American meatpackers are also aligned against COOL because of the extra expense involved in complying with its labeling regulations.
     If COOL stays in place and our neighbors to the north and south prevail in their appeal to the WTO, they could be granted some relief by being allowed to slap retaliatory tariffs on their imports of American products.  The party of Congresswoman Noem and Senator Thune--Republican--doesn't like trade wars like this breaking out, which puts national Pubs at odds with many South Dakota ag interests, who have fought hard to get labeling laws passed in the first place.  The president of South Dakota's Farmers Union has vowed to withdraw support of a Farm Bill without COOL in it.  What to do?  Stand by, I guess.
     This labeling controversy isn't going away.  We'll know soon how much of roadblock it turns out to be for the passage of a Farm Bill.  My beef with our elected reps on this is the fact that they seem to have been blind-sided by the sudden appearance of the issue.  We have row crop farmers who are depending on the Farm Bill to give them some guidance on their planting intentions for this Spring and ranchers with  business-killing losses from the horrendous blizzard last October that have been waiting for some disaster relief for four months.  Their bills are mounting up..  And their patience?  I wouldn't want to be testing it this year.  The polls in November can make for a ferocious backlash.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's A Mixed Up Muddled Up Shook Up World. Might As Well Get Used To It.

     What else can you conclude when all of a sudden it becomes an issue that a commercial baker, true to his religious beliefs, doesn't want sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple?  This nasty little brouhaha has erupted in several states in the past year (you can get up to speed on it here), with some spillover into this year's session of the South Dakota legislature, where Senate Bill 67, which you can read in full here, seeks to codify a merchant's right to refuse service to same-sex couples if the merchant's religious beliefs constrain him from doing so. Apparently, sexual orientation doesn't make the list of protected classes that must be served by merchants and service providers in this state, and the intent of SB 67 is to instituionalize a merchant's right of refusal to do business with same sex married couples.
     I'm sympathetic to an extent, having some retail business interests.  We merchants have our rights, the most basic of which is the right to refuse service to anyone, with the standard limitations for race, creed, color and national origin.  But I've understood that the right of refusal is generally accepted to be exercisable when it comes to deportment of the patron--drunkenness, abusiveness, slovenliness, excessively public displays of affection, among others--not the personal beliefs or private behavior of the patron.  As long as patrons are behaving in what most would consider civilized manners, who they are seems an unreasonable cause for denying service.  Fact is, I'm surprised that any enterprise, the essence of which is to take in money, would turn away a customer for reasons of sexual orientation or marital status inconsistent with its proprietor's beliefs.  But apparently, that's just me.
     A slug of South Dakota's elected officials--SB 67 was jointly introduced by 14 senators and 12 representatives--must think I have it wrong.  They want to make sure that a business can put up  a sign that says "Sorry, We Don't Serve Same Sex Married Couples Here."  More power to them, I guess, but you can substitute a lot of names and phrases for the italicized words that have occupied similar signs in the past.  And as with those others, you can bet that the signage proposed by SB 67 will wind up in History's dumpster. SB 67's supporters are just flailing away in a futile effort to hold back our country's  natural process of transformation, which, whether they like it or not, seems to be more accommodating to the presence of homosexuals in the mainstreams of our institutions, including marriage, than it ever was. Political agendas of supportive officials in Pierre notwithstanding,  I have no doubt that even if this bill passes, it will lie generally unnoticed and ignored, virtually from the get-go, and that it won't be long before it's seen as the quaint relic of a bygone era whose time has long since passed. 
     
     
    

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wonder If The Pro-Business Honks In Pierre Saw The Front Page Of The Rapid City Journal Today.

    And I wonder if they can make the connection between SD's support for public education and SD's economic growth rate.  You can find the story by going to the RCJ's home page and clicking on it here.  The picture shows how laughably low our teacher salaries are compared to those of the surrounding states.  If you want an even more graphic and perhaps more meaningful glance at the situation, take a gander at this ad for an on-line consortium of colleges that makes note of South Dakota's abysmal teaching salaries.  As if to underscore the situation, in the RCJ piece, Rapid City Area Schools Superintendent Tim Mitchell notes that "we are losing our best and brightest because of our inability to be competitive."
     Duh.
     Probably the most aggravating aspect of the RCJ piece is the Governor's (via his spokesman Tony Venhuizen) lame and cloyingly predictable response to the story.  Venhuizen says that, as with other fields, "the salary is lower if you don't adjust for the fact that we have very low taxes and the lowest cost of living."  Please, Mr. Venhuizen.  Given that teaching salary differentials between South Dakota and our neighboring states vary between  20% and 40%, you cannot possibly expect anyone to believe that living in South Dakota costs that much less than living in, say, Wyoming, where teachers earn a full 45% more than their counterparts in this ultra-generous (Not!) state of ours. If you want to compare home prices between the states, you'll find that they're quite similar across the board by navigating this site. As to taxes, Wyoming, like South Dakota, has neither an individual nor a corporate income tax.  Are we to believe that differences between sales and property taxes in Wyoming and South Dakota amount to a 45% differential in costs-of-living? Hardly. That our public officials can push the cost-of-living case with this kind of information staring into their faces is astonishingly incomprehensible.  I expect Governor Daugaard and his spokesman Venhuizen to apologize to their constituents for insulting our collective intelligence.
     Meantime, talking about collective, I'm wondering why the collective reps in the SD legislature are spending an inordinate amount of time on Common Core standards for our schools when the real debates about education in South Dakota should be about elevating the state's support for teachers and students.  On that last front, I noted here a few weeks ago that South Dakota is at or near the bottom quintile of American states in per-pupil spending, in contrast to 5 of our adjacent states, all of which are in the top quintile. You can find a graphic (good through 2010, the year before Governor Daugaard's draconian cuts in education funding) that lays this out here.   The differentials are 20%-40%, consistent with the differentials in teacher salary.  Nothing against debating curriculum standards, but shouldn't we be more pressingly concerned with the spending disparities in our support for schools during this era of ultra-competitive economic environments?  How competitive does South Dakota look with its 8th worst rankings by Education Week for schools in the United States (which you can find here)?  Can you just feel the stampede of businesses and skilled workers storming to move their assets and families here?  Honestly. 
     Our elected officials must simply snap out of this trance-like fixation on economic development at the expense of our public schools.  A great public education system, K-college, is the foundation of a great society.  And, really, isn't a commitment to schools one of the most important selling points for a state that seeks every avenue of outside capital, both human and monetary, for sustaining economic growth?  I certainly hope the frustration I'm feeling is common to many South Dakotans, enough so that some political energy gets directed at responding to it.  If this isn't a talking point for every campaign emerging ahead of next Fall's elections, it should be. 


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Should We Be Shaken To The Common Core? Not Really, But . . . Well . . .As A Friend Puts It: At Least It's Not No Child Left Behind

    The latest--some would say lamest--effort at objectifying and standardizing student outcomes in the nation's public schools makes its entry into South Dakota this year.  The state's legislature is about to debate the Common Core standards that are about to be imposed on South Dakota's schools by the program that was created by a national consensus of states (45 of them) and their respective educators, all under the approving nod of the U.S. Department of Education.  You can review the Common Core agenda here and decide for yourself how intrusive a national presence that CC will be on our state's classrooms.  How this thing got politicized I'll never know, as the whole point of these efforts is to create a population of high-school graduates in this country that has a widely accepted set of skills that are necessary to get out and work or advance their educations.  To me the debate should be focused on whether or not Common Core has a shot at achieving that goal.
     The political class doesn't see it that way, though, and it looks like the conservatives and liberals are going at it over CC's implementation.  Last Thursday, in full conservative dudgeon, George Will said, “What begins with mere national standards must breed ineluctable pressure to standardize educational content."  Don't know where he comes up with that "must" part, but you get the gist of the conservative reaction.  Meanwhile, one of its most ardent supporters from the liberal camp, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said last November, per Bloomberg Online:  "Resistance to it comes mainly from white suburban moms" who are worried about their kids not testing so well.  Never mind that Duncan came up with about as dumb a remark from a public official as I've ever heard--the point is that the political divide has found Common Core to be a useful clarion with which to call and consolidate money and support.
     I went through CC's standards at the site I posted above and don't have much of a problem with them.  Looks to me like the program is skill-, not content-oriented, and despite conservative paranoia about the prospects of some central force that's about to use the program as a way of insidiously indoctrinating our children with official propaganda, I can't see that coming to fruition.  In the first place, the math part doesn't lend itself to it, unless somebody has figured out a way to politicize arithmetic.  In the English part, the only content mandate is the percentages of reading that should be allocated to fiction and non-fiction.  It looks to me like individual schools and teachers can assign reading materials at their discretion.  So what else is new?
     Though I don't have children in Rapid City schools anymore, if I did, I'd feel okay about Common Core.  If I have a reservation about the program, it's more in the fact that a national set of standards is being imposed on our states and their schools, which will more or less uniformly adopt them and the methods needed to measure up to the program's expectations.  I don't like that.  Localities should be allowed to have some flexibility when it comes to creating and implementing educational strategies and techniques, as well as outcomes.  For that reason, unless federal purse strings are inextricably attached to the implementation of Common Core, I'd prefer it if South Dakota would take a "no thank you, we have our own ideas here" approach and have our legislature reject the program this year.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Memo to Governor Daugaard: You Want Skilled Workers, You Gotta Pay The Going Rate.

     Governor Daugaard's State of the State speech in Pierre yesterday took another stab at dealing with the shortage of skilled workers in South Dakota.  Having given up on the state's New South Dakotan program that burned through $1 million while it coaxed a mere 100 workers into South Dakota, the Governor's new emphasis will turn to selling former South Dakotans on the benefits of moving back here via the Dakota Roots program.  Okay, it's worth a try.  After all, the Governor thinks the idea is sellable because, as he said yesterday 1)  "Our per capita income now exceeds the national average", and 2) "the average South Dakotan earns about 3.8 percent more than the average American."  Wow. You'd think we'd have a labor surplus, not a shortage, with those kinds of numbers.  I have no reason to believe that Daugaard was fudging, but when I see data extended over per capita numbers or further spread out as averages, I admit to being dubious.  Take "per capita" for example.  1 guy makes a million bucks while 9 others make a buck.  Per capita income is $100 thousand each.  Averages can give you the same unrealistic picture.  Take a hundred people.  Have one guy make a million bucks while all the others make $10 thousand.  Average income for that group is $20 thousand.
     My curiosity piqued, I just went to the Governor's Office of Economic Development website to see what I could dig up from Pierre's perspective.  You can read it  here.  Sure enough there's a glowing conclusion "based," as it says "on  data from the U.S. Department of Labor," that the GOED uses to tout that "we as state can and do compete in offering jobs that pay living wages.”  This is a misleading claim, based on data whose methodology seems questionable, particularly with respect to its conclusions about average wages here.   Consider that the GOED itself, in the same press release acknowledges that, "in addition to the GOED study, the U.S. Labor Department report included analyses of personal income, using varying methodologies. In that study, South Dakota ranked 50th in average wages and salaries for employees. When all personal income is included, such as that of self-employed farmers and small business owners, South Dakota’s ranking increases to 37th."  This is an amazing juxtaposition, actually, with the State of South Dakota claiming it can compete in the labor market, even as two studies conducted by a federal agency rank us 50th and 37th, respectively, when it comes to measuring personal income.
     Sorry, Governor Daugaard, I'm just not buying the claims that you made of SD being competitive in the labor market during yesterday's speech.  But back to the conundrum that I referenced at the top of the page.  Given that skilled workers have shunned the idea of relocating to South Dakota even after we spent a million bucks trying to entice them to come here, why do you expect South Dakota-trained workers to stay here after they've obtained their skills, which seem to be more valuable in many, many states than they are in South Dakota?  I understand you'll kick in $5 thousand toward their tuitions if they agree to stay and work in South Dakota for three years after graduation, but honestly, if these jobs are worth, say, $50k to $100k a year, seems to me that the $5k enticement, spread out over three years, is little more than chump change to them..
     I admire and support Governor Daugaard's efforts at building up South Dakota's labor force, but as with every business or economic consideration, we have to stare reality in the face.  In this case, we have to conclude that reality means we just don't pay enough money to attract a sizable force of skilled workers into South Dakota.  I hope that the Governor and his economic development schemes focus more on finding ways to raise wage levels in this state, less on kidding ourselves about where we stack up when it comes to paying people for their skills and labor. 
    
    

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mike Rounds sighted last week! Boldly Calls For Trimming The Size Of Government!

     There was a rare Mike Rounds sighting last Thursday in Aberdeen.    He told the Brown County Republicans at their monthly Reagan lunch that if elected to the U.S. Senate, he'd do all he could to trim the size of government, taking particular aim at the Department of Education.  From news reports, Rounds' promise was "well received" by the attendees, which comes as no surprise.  Is there a more Pavlovian reaction to a Republican candidate promising to trim government than enthusiastic huzzahs from a GOP audience?  It reminds me of that great old comedian Jack Benny, who would merely pause between lines, stare at the audience, and get a minute of uproarious laughter
     The response was conditioned, the expectations fulfilled, and the same old Republican boilerplate was dished out.  Though I'm supporting Rounds and probably will vote for him (barring a politically crippling connection to the "Slaughterhouse EB-Five"   fiasco that has scandalous potential), I'm looking forward to hearing something a bit more dynamic and South Dakota-specific than a promise to put an end to the U.S. Department of Education.  I mean, this is a real "c'mon, man" plea.  Putting an end to that Cabinet department has been on the Republican political agenda since Ronald Reagan pushed it in 1980.  George W. Bush even expanded its role in the country's educational establishment by foisting the utterly discredited "No Child Left Behind" program on virtually every public school student in this country.  NCLB's successor "Common Core" will probably turn out to be just as useless (more on that in another post), the shame of it being that it does have the unfortunate promise of further entrenching the Dept. of Ed.'s position in millions of classrooms throughout  this federal program-weary educational system of ours.
     A freshman Senator from our podunk state isn't going to have much impact on the decades-long failure of a GOP promise that has long since been sucked into the black hole of rhetorical emptiness.    I hope a  more dynamic Rounds emerges as the campaign gets into gear, revealing a candidate who has South Dakota uppermost in his mind as opposed to the GOP apparatchik who gave 'em, not hell, but national party talking points last week in Aberdeen.  Though yet a candidate, Rounds could nevertheless state some of his views on the much-debated and -delayed Farm Bill, particularly as it will have a lot to do with the corn acreage vs. pheasants population issue that is of much relevance to Aberdeen and everybody else in the James River valley.  And then there's the Keystone XL pipeline.  What's your deal on it, candidate Rounds?  Then, getting back to education, how would a Senator Rounds allocate federal dollars to South Dakota schools if the Dept. of Ed. actually were eliminated or seriously cut back?  And by the way, just how does the candidate feel about Common Core standards?
    I could go on.  Rounds has such a big lead in fund-raising and what little polling has emerged that he probably feels playing it safe and not taking many positions on South Dakota-relevant issues is the best political path to take right now.  If so, he's dead wrong.  Though I'm not particularly impressed by the GOP primary field, I know Rick Weiland the likely Democratic opponent has a dynamic style that might arouse potential Rounds voters from their somnolence.  Then there's the Pressler factor.  I've been pooh-poohing Pressler here, but I suspect that given Rounds' unenthusiastic--sure to be driven to catatonic if he doesn't start appealing to SD voters and what they need right here, right now--support, Larry Pressler will get some noticeable attention.  If Rounds thinks he's a done deal, he should think otherwise.  I'm behind the ex-governor now, but like many, many other supporters of his, my options are still open. 

    

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Governor Daugaard Pretends To Be Magnanimous To Schools, Educators Pretend To Be Thrilled, The Public Pretends To Care

     South Dakota's rather embarrassing stature when it comes to support for public education won't change much if Governor Daugaard's 3% increase in the FY 2015 budget passes the legislature this winter.  In the first place, it would take nearly 4% just to bring spending back up to its pre-2011 draconian budget-cutting levels. That 2011 over-reaction by Daugaard to a flawed economic analysis of projected state  revenues was extra tough on schools that were already stretched to the max, financially.  Merely getting us back to that pre-'11 status quo won't change some pretty tough realities that our state has to deal with.  This made the oddly ingratiating reaction of some of the state's top public educators  seem quizzical to me.  When Daugaard made this proposal last month, Sandy Arsenault, the head of the South Dakota Education Association said SDEA was "really pleased."  Rapid City Schools Superintendent Mitchell said he was "excited."  Meantime, I'm scratching my head.  Where's the public outcry over this?
     And what's so pleasing and exciting about a budget that perpetuates such a flaccid  financial commitment to public education that it keeps South Dakota in the bottom eleven of per-pupil spending of American states?  I'd expect alarm bells to be ringing, especially in the Governor's Mansion in Pierre, where the most important priority continues to be economic development,  so much so that a gigantic $30 million of the state's windfall money from the banking system's operation-change  is headed toward a new economic development schemata called Building South Dakota.  This strikes me as an end-run around the real basis of sound economic development--a well-educated population that has both the skills and the incentive to become a force for continued prosperity. 
    How we get from there to here isn't really subject to much debate.  It's all about money.  No doubt those who look at our spending levels and try to compare them nationally will say regional differences make those comparisons meaningless.  I say baloney.  States immediately surrounding us, including Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota are all in the top ten of American states in terms of per-pupil spending.  Per the U.S Census Bureau, those states are in the top quintile, spending between $15-$20 thousand per student, per year.  As to South Dakota?  We're in the quintile that spends $8-$10 thousand.  You can find that 2012 report at http://www.census.gov/govs/school/.  This is ridiculous in terms of trying to get outsiders to move in to South Dakota with their investment capital and, more importantly, their families.
     Meantime, our younger teachers are expected work for less than $40k/year when those aforementioned states have salaries that range from $10k-$20k/yr more.  Not too surprisingly, I know of young teachers who live in the Black Hills and commute to jobs in Wyoming for the much better pay.  This is a problem that shouldn't be neglected if South Dakotans care about their greatest resource, young people.  I still hope Governor Daugaard rethinks the allocation of the state's windfall and directs it toward our schools and then sets in place a long-term plan to gradually increase South Dakota's financial commitment to our schools, getting our state to the point where we don't occupy such a squalid level on charts that show how much we spend on and care about public education
    
    

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Who's this Rick What's-His-Name That's Running for the U.S. Senate in South Dakota?

     You know.  It starts with a W.  Wellman, Wetlands, Wilson, something like that.  Oh, wait a sec, I've got it.  It's Rick Weiland, the Democrat.  You know, the same guy that ran for Congress a couple of times back in the '90s.  Didn't get very far, but that didn't stop him from trying again.  Gotta admire the gentleman's determination.  Too bad we haven't got a clue as to why he's running.
     I'm kidding, of course, but on the square.  If I remember correctly, back in the mid-90s I gave Rick a max contribution and had him over at the house to get acquainted with a few folks.  Always admired Rick on a personal level, very easy to talk to, strongly believes in his mission, loves his home state of South Dakota.  Basically a good man. Though I'm backing Republican Mike Rounds in the coming election for U.S. Senate, I'm pulling for Rick to make a competitive showing. I like a hard-fought campaign with a lot of vigorous debate as much as the next guy.  It's a great thing for the democratic process.  But having just glanced at a chart comparing campaign money gathered up so far (published by my friend Cory Heidelberger over at his excellent and informative blog, Madville Times) I'd say my hopes for a competitive race have dimmed considerably of late.  Rounds has about a 7-to-1 in-state (6-to-1 overall)  fundraising lead, way disproportionate to the 4-3 party registration edge that Pubs have in South Dakota.
     That's daunting, indeed, but despite the numerical registration challenge, Dems have been elected to Congress from this state quite often in recent decades.  Don't know that there's any common denominator among that list of victorious Dems in terms of philosophy or background, but one thing for certain, by January of election year, I knew for certain who they were.  Play wallflower, they did not.  I know the cash-strapped Weiland is trekking across the state, determined to visit every city and locale within South Dakota's borders, a worthy crusade that merits its share of kudos, but the reality of a getting-to-know you strategy means face time in the media, not handshaking with a few folks at the local drug store.  Nothing against handshaking and local drug stores, of course,  but on the face-time front, Weiland's efforts leave much to be desired.
     Rick really needs to go mano-a-mano with the Rounds persona hoping to ferret the man or one of his spokespeople out.  There is much in Rounds' record as governor that could be brought into the campaign, especially aspects of it that seem to energize South Dakota Democrats the most, which is what they see as the ongoing, cronyistic nature of the Republicans who run the state in Pierre.  Making what Dems see as the "insider-ish" nature of the Aberdeen beef plant fiasco into a campaign issue is a way to get the media's attention.  Rounds' response to the Christmas '09 blizzard  has also come under fire because of its delayed help for the state's reservations.  The poorly conceived and administered SD Certified Beef Program might be a way to demonstrate Rounds' lack of understanding of the state's ranching community.  No doubt there are others.
     As a Rounds supporter I'm reasonably confident that the former governor can man-up and respond to these challenges, but that's no reason not to raise the issues in the campaign.  Much as I like Mike Rounds, I like a full-bore, issues-oriented campaign more.  It's good for the voters . . . and of some consequence, it'll be good for Rick Weiland too. 
    
        

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Larry Pressler Can Learn From The Liz Cheney Debacle In Next Door Wyoming.

     Lesson number one:  There's no reason for the campaign to exist.  Cheney didn't offer Wyoming Republicans much of a change, considering that Senator Mike Enzi is a reasonably reliable conservative voice in Washington, maybe more focused on domestic policy than on foreign.   Cheney's orientation might be more global, thanks to her dad's role in crafting foreign policy when he was George Bush's Veep, but it's hard to imagine Cheney voting much differently on any issues, foreign or domestic, from the way Enzi has.  With former South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler's campaign, the twist is slightly different, but eventually it comes out the same way.  Pressler says he's running as an independent because he thinks the major parties are too beholden to special interests, which will have no sway with him.
     That really doesn't cut it in a field where a couple of the Republican primary candidates, Rhoden and Nelson, are gadflies by past performance as elected officials and and promise to be so by their campaign presentations.  If a majority of Republicans in South Dakota want a Senator who will most definitely buck party and special interest pressure, they can turn to those two candidates within their party.  I doubt that either has much of a chance at gaining the nomination, but that doesn't make long-shot Pressler's effort any less redundant.  Come the general election in November, I doubt that many Dems will abandon Rick Weiland to vote for an old Republican stalwart like Pressler.  Meantime, Pubs already have their "independents" to pick from.  They'll likely lose to the mainstreamer, Mike Rounds, but probably won't abandon their party in any meaningful numbers in November, or at least meaningful enough to give Pressler much of a chance. 
     As to lesson number two, Pressler's crusade, like Cheney's, is all about ego.  Both campaigns are based on name-recognition.  Wyoming voters were probably turned off by Cheney suddenly barreling in from outside their state and making a splash that eventually turned into a ripple, not a tide.  A tougher problem for Pressler is that his ego-based campaign will make him the focus of it, and a lot of old stories that dogged him in his last bid for the Senate in '96 will re-appear.  True or not, fair or not, they'll be a factor.  When it's all over, I think South Dakota voters will see Pressler as gratuitously emerging  from the past and that his pointless campaign will dissolve as quickly as Cheney's did next door. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Senator Thune, Regarding Your Piece On The Pheasant Population Decline: How About Flushing Out Some Substance?

     Senator John Thune's piece in this morning's Rapid City Journal (http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/opinion/thune-prairie-changes-over-time/article_5d4ee6f5-f715-5333-abe8-ad10d9f1fbf1.html) on the problem of the sharp decline in South Dakota's  pheasant population was, if you'll excuse the expression, for the birds.  After expending a few hundred words about how the prairie has changed over the past 150 years, Senator Thune reports that the attendees at Governor Daugaard's "pheasant habitat summit" last month were a cross-section of affected parties who were committed to "keeping South Dakota agriculture strong . . . while protecting the land and its inhabitants." Such consensus.  Who could have imagined?  Really, the usually supple-minded Senator Thune generally does much better than demonstrate his mastery of the obvious.
     As his commentary moves on, though, Thune shows that he is in no mood to call attention to the politically-driven economic elements that have devastated our state's premier game bird population and all the economic value attached to those prized pheasants.   For one thing, it must be tough explaining to his friends and neighbors in and around Murdo, where the Senator grew up, that the reason pheasant hunting revenues have collapsed in their neighborhood is his continued support of the ethanol mandate. The mandate's subsequent demand for corn has elevated prices to levels that have caused farmers throughout South Dakota and the rest of the nation's farm belt to wipe out natural habitats and plant corn, raising the country's production from around 9 to about 13 billion bushels a year.
     Meantime, what had once been a $100 million plus industry created by pheasant hunters from all over the globe converging on South Dakota for a few weeks each Autumn must now be a fraction of that number.   Thune tells us in his piece that he's committed to telling his colleagues in Congress that there needs to be a balance between "Commodity and Conservation Titles" in the long overdue farm bill being crafted this month. But he fails to tell us what he thinks that balance should look like.  I'm sorry but this is neither leadership nor reasonable disclosure of where Senator Thune thinks that balance should and can be struck.  
     Fact is, somebody is likely to howl at the final resolution, and the Senator's closing cop-out promises very little from his office in the way of pro-activity.  He professes that "while South Dakotans continue working hard" at a resolution, he "will continue to do his part" in Washington.  My question to the Senator is, just exactly what constitutes doing your part?  This all sounds to me like Senator Thune expects his constituents to do the tough political work of coming up with a compromise figure between planting and habitat acreage, which he will then present as South Dakota's proposal for national resolution.  I think the Senator owes us more effort than that, namely that he should be working closely with affected South Dakotans and giving them a sense of how other farm state reps, all of them politically affected by Big Corn and its lobbyists, are seeing the possible outcomes.  We're grown-ups out here.  We can deal with the political facts of life.
     South Dakota's international reputation as a mecca for pheasant hunters is one of our state's most valued assets.  It creates a level of good will that's probably impossible to purchase.  The 60% or so decline in pheasant numbers in recent years constitutes a crisis that borders on catastrophe and calls for more action than a mere promise from Senator Thune to "do his part." We need some clear indications from our entire Congressional delegation about where they think the proper ratio of planted to habitat acreage should be. Face it, we have to cut back on corn plantings to re-stock the pheasant population.   So how about it, Senator Thune?  Where should we start drawing the line between corn and pheasants? 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best Of Luck To You, Stan Adelstein--A Republican's Republican

     I couldn't have been sorrier to hear the news a couple of days ago that Stan Adelstein resigned from the South Dakota State Senate due to health problems.   The 82-year-old Adelstein has been fighting complications from hip surgery for months and the battle just proved to be too much for him to consider participating in the legislative session about to begin.  I've known Stan for quite a number of years now and occasionally contributed posts to his blog (way2gosd.com.), which got off to a promising start a year or so ago but has  gone moribund since his health issues emerged in recent months. In this day and age, I suppose a man is only as good as his blog, lol, and I look forward to Stan's high-spirited posts returning to the blogosphere once his physical and mental acuities re-align.
     Meanwhile, South Dakotans of all political affiliations have good reason to miss his presence in Pierre.  For one thing, Stan, the brilliantly successful businessman, has a quick grasp of the many complicated issues that elected officials have to deal with.  By nature he understands the interplay between money and policy.  For example, bucking his party's leaders on their rejection of  Medicaid expansion--a position I share with Stan--is a product of his conclusions regarding the money spent for the money returned.  It comes with a rock solid analysis of the "hidden taxes" we all pay in the form of higher insurance costs and provider fees to make up for the thousands of uninsured South Dakotans who go to emergency care centers with no funds to pay for their treatments.  Stan's view, like mine, looks at a much bigger picture than most Republican leaders, including Governor Dennis Daugaard, seem to be taking into consideration.
     Adelstein is also a Republican's Republican in the sense that he's true to the essential element of Republican philosophy, which is that individual rights and choices must be preserved at all costs.  On that score he--and I'm proud to say, I--have been publicly excoriated by members of the South Dakota GOP who believe that personal choices involving sexual orientation and a woman's decisions about her reproductive apparatus should be  the government's business.  How a party that is built on a foundation of championing and preserving individual rights can come to believe that rights and benefits should be determined according to the way people run their private lives is an abomination.  I've always stood with Stan against the forces in our party who are determined to use the government as a cudgel for imposing their personal, moral views on society as a whole.
     I salute Stan Adelstein for his courage and single-mindedness in pursuit of keeping our Republican Party in line with its foundation beliefs.  I wish him a speedy recovery and I eagerly look forward to his renewed and more-invigorated-than-ever return to the public sphere in South Dakota.  Mazel tov, Stan.

    
     

    

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hey Rapid City Mayor Kooiker. What's Your Deal With Hani Shafai?

     First off, I totally support Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker's  assertion that he has the responsibility to look after the public's interest in pursuit of information about federal tax credits that Rapid City developer Hani Shafai says are needed in order to get the multi-million dollar Presidents Plaza off the ground.  I understand that Rapid City is tossing almost $3 million into the project.  This is public money and my Mayor is rightfully charged with the task of looking after our civic resources.  Though I consider Hani a good friend (I'll never forget the great time we had when traveling through pre-civil war Syria together on a trip arranged by our mutual good friend former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk in '07.), I think his reaction to Mayor Kooiker's decision to look into the status of those tax credits by going directly to the facilitator instead of going through Hani first is probably off base.  Sending the Mayor a "cease and desist" letter is over the top and certainly opens any disagreements he's had with the Mayor and the City of Rapid City to a public airing.  This kind of spat doesn't merit that much attention and only adds to the hold-up on this long-delayed project, which I support wholeheartedly.
     However, I don't like the tone and the inferences of the letter sent a few days ago by Rapid City's  Attorney Joel Landeen to Hani's lawyer Ed Carpenter, responding to Hani's "cease and desist" request.  (Here's the letter on PDF from the RC Journal website:  http://rapidcityjournal.com/city-response-to-demand-by-president-s-plaza-llc/pdf_d2a74ad7-14c6-54d2-9c78-b5ab7cd7b7b9.html).  Asserting that the Mayor is fully within his rights and responsibilities to seek information about the tax credits independently is one thing.  Calling Hani's character and integrity into question is another.  On those two fronts, I will support my friend Hani unequivocally.
     Two utterly gratuitous sentences in Landeen's letter stand out and have an accusatory implication in them.  The first?  "The Mayor is concerned that the information he has been receiving (my note:  from Hani, presumably) is less than accurate."  In purely rhetorical terms, this isn't the same as calling Hani a liar, but it does raise the question as to why Hani would be passing along inaccurate information about the progress of those critical tax credits.  In my book, the sentence suggests that Hani has a reason for supplying "less than accurate" information regarding a matter that Hani is probably more conversant and knowledgeable about than any other participant in this deal.  If the Mayor has some reason to believe that the information is inaccurate, he should just come right out and give us the reason why he "is concerned." 
     The second assertion in Landeen's letter that raises eyebrows--and gets my dander up--contains a code word that is quite disturbing as it is applied.  That word is "honest," and its application to the situation is less than favorable to Hani.  Here's the sentence:  "If the Mayor has questions regarding the funding he will continue to ask them and if he believes he will get a more honest appraisal of the situation from someone other than your client he reserves the right to ask them"   The compelling question raised here is, what has led Mayor Kooiker to believe that under some circumstances "he will get a more honest appraisal of the situation from someone other than" Hani?    As with the statement referenced above, I think the Mayor owes it to us Rapid Citians to tell why he has reasons to question Hani's honesty. 
     To me, the letter reads like a none-too-subtly-worded smear.  As one of Kooiker's and Landeen's employers I would like to know why they are "concerned" that  Hani's information might sometimes be "less than accurate" and why they think there are circumstances when they might "get a more honest appraisal of the situation" from sources other than Hani.  Until then, I wish the Mayor and our lawyer would stick to their legitimate contention that city officials have a right and responsibility to seek this information directly from the source and spare us the unsupported innuendoes on the character of a very good man, Hani Shafai.