Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Is The SD State Legislature Considering Making Individual Involvement In Local Zoning Decisions Harder?

Get It?  The People Rule Here
Not The Local Officials
(photo from
     For a state that's chock full of Republicans  and their "get the government out of my way" bias, it doesn't make much sense for the legislature to be considering a bill that will make it much tougher for individuals to involve themselves in local zoning considerations. The South Dakota House of Representatives recently passed HB 1140, a complex revision of how decision-making will be revised to make it more difficult for individuals to challenge local zoning decisions. A Meade County taxpayer contacted me with some complaints about this and after sorting through the legislative language of the bill--which is being heard by a Senate committee today--I have to agree that the process it creates goes against the grain of our state's cultural and political history.  It's a slap at individuals.  
     South Dakota's very motto, "Under God The People Rule," is rebuked by this bill, which effectively alters the motto to "Under God The County Commissioners Rule."  If you take the time to read the bill, you'll find that it restricts, if not altogether removes, the right of taxpayers to appeal decisions made by their elected county officials, and in cases where taxpayers can actually file
I've Fed Plenty Of Cattle Myself
But Locals Had A Say About Our CAFO
(photo from
some sort of appeal, they will now have to cough up $250 in order to get the appeal process started. And this is happening in a state in which "The People" are supposed to rule? 

     Even more abhorrent is the way the legislation renders fictional the built-in bias by our centralized government-hating Republicans.  The state legislature is telling counties and municipalities that it is the ultimate authority on how local decisions will be resolved, which is actually a lot bunk.  Locals know their territories better than outsiders and they should be able to work together to protect themselves from bad actors who, by virtue of holding sway over a limited handful of officials, can ramrod self-serving zoning decisions with little concern about the residents of the area themselves being able to step in and have a say.  
     If this is supposed to be a way to grease the wheels for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to get more easily established in South Dakota, I'd say the legislation is plenty transparent in its motivations.  South Dakotans who care about retaining the power to call their own shots about what sorts of development take place in their own neighborhoods should make it clear that HB 1140 is for the birds.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Congressional GOP, Political Paralysis, And The Rise Of Trump

     Reading about the united intransigence of our GOP Senate leadership (which includes SD's John Thune) with regard to a potential nominee for the Supreme Court, you have to
Thune And The GOP "Leaders"
To Heck With Governing.  We've Got A Nominee To Block
(photo from pbs,org)
wonder why anybody is surprised by the Donald Trump phenomenon.  
At about the same time that Trump was mopping the floor with his opposition in the Nevada caucuses, CNN produced a poll that I think is reflective of 

Republican rank-and-file attitudes all over the country. An amazing 96% of NV caucus-going Republicans are either angry (60%) or dissatisfied (36%) over the way the federal government is operating.  Though the "angry" number is about 40% in the 3 preceding primary/caucus states, this level of hostility toward their government by Republicans, whose party controls Congress, is deservedly awful news for the "establishment wing" of the party, which seems to be doing all it can, so far hopelessly, to stem the Trump tide.
     Why we Pubs seem to have been taken off-guard by Trump should come as no surprise.   Consider a revealing current situation that should explain much. Last week the Billings (MT) Gazette editorialized about the snail's pace movement in Congress on funding and reform for the Veterans Administration. The editorial opined that "veterans deserve better choices" and noted that two bills designed to improve VA services to veterans were passed by Senate committees in December, yet there has been no action on them on the floor of the Senate itself.  I don't know who among that phalanx of scowling Republican senators pictured above is responsible for this foot-dragging, but I'd sure be encouraged if they could muster up the same amount of collective enthusiasm for disabled vets as they do for politically blocking a presidential appointment. 
     Meantime, closer to home in South Dakota, I still wonder at how quickly and without objection from our Republican congressional delegation the requirement for Country-of-Origin
I Can't Stand Him
But I Get His Appeal
(photo from
labeling was tossed aside.  
Ask the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association about the value of that labeling law to their businesses.  I understand that COOL was a sticking point in our trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, which is why I doubt that many ranchers are ignoring Donald Trump's broadsides against trade deals that hurt American economic interests. Meantime, I saw no evidence of any effort by Thune, Rounds or Noem to protect and preserve that law.  

     So as disabled veterans await some action and ranchers wonder about competing against imported cattle, our senior Republican Senator John Thune gets media face time by vowing to block an appointee.  I'm sure I'll be hearing from Thune supporters with their explanations of how the political process works and how Thune's office is all over these matters, but compelling as their defense of the status quo may be, a lot of ordinary folks aren't buying it.  The GOP establishment, by its own politically-induced paralysis, created the Donald Trump phenomenon.  And I doubt that they'll "own it."  More likely it'll own them.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On Closer Examination, SD's Anti-Transgender Bill Is Even Stupider Than I Thought

     Are we about to bring down a giant legal hassle on ourselves?  I  last focused on the culture war issues involving South Dakota’s legislation (HB 1008)—still awaiting a signature from Governor
The SD Status Quo
Time For Change?
Daugaard—that would require transgender students in our public schools to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their anatomies.  Though the war’s antagonists seem pretty clearly defined in terms of traditional vs. evolving values, the more practical battlefield is likely to be in the courts.  South Dakotans should be wary of what might  transpire. 
     Legislators who crafted the bill that they passed during this session anticipated the potential hassle and expense of defending it by inserting into it two amendments that amount to a couple of giant red flags.  The first amendment clarifies that any anti-discrimination lawsuits against South Dakota schools by federal education authorities will be defended by the state attorney general at the expense of the state.  The second amendment will establish a fund intended to build up money in case such lawsuits materialize. 
    Obviously, the state legislature has been paying attention to the news that similar bills have brought on some litigation in other states, the results of which are still in the resolution phase.  The stakes for South Dakota are high, probably reaching into the millions of dollars.  The U.S. Department of Education, using a law (Title IX) that bans discrimination on the basis of sex, has sued school districts in Virginia and Illinois, saying those districts stand in violation of the law if they do not allow transgender students to use facilities of their identified gender.  "The law could not be any clearer," says Catherine Lhamon, of the Department of Education.  DOE is adamant about applying its mandate "that no student should be subject to discrimination in school on the basis of sex." In the Virginia case, a federal court has upheld the district’s position.  That decision is being appealed by the Departments of Education and Justice, so you can imagine how much time and expense will be allocated to defending the Virginia statute.  The Illinois matter will likely soon be coming to a legal
Well, Duh
We Already Have Stalls For Privacy
(photo from
head, as federal authorities last November informed a suburban Chicago school district that it’s in violation of Title IX and will be subjected to the loss of substantial amounts of federal dollars as a result of its transgender policy. 
     For South Dakotans who live in a chronically cash-strapped state that depends on federal money for about half of its state funding, the question is:  Is it really worth it to put this bill into law knowing that we’re effectively anticipating, indeed inviting, a legal challenge mounted by the U.S. Department of Justice? If so, I think we’re not so much governing and managing our state as we are making some sort of in-your-face point about our official attitudes toward gender identity issues.  This is just plain stupid, especially as nobody in this state has shown that transgender access to bath- and locker-rooms has even come up as an issue anywhere in South Dakota.  A much more reasonable approach would be to let the Illinois and Virginia issues play themselves out in court until a definitive resolution is reached. South Dakota then has some basis for making a decision on this. Meantime, this chip-on-the-shoulder legislation that’s intended to send a gratuitous message could cost all of us plenty when it comes to the legal hassles that are sure to come.  The bill needs to be vetoed.

NOTE TO READERS (added @1153 2/25/26):  Cory Heidelberger's correction regarding the changes to this bill that post-dated my writing are in my comments section, but I reproduce them here.  They're a substantive clarification but as Cory notes, they don't change the significance of the potential liability to South Dakotans if federal authorities choose to bring up legal challenges, as they have in Illinois and Virginia.  My thanks to Heidelberger, whose Dakota Free Press remains the best political blog in South Dakota, and among the best anywhere.  I struck through the outdated paragraph.  Here's Cory's notation:  

"Correction: The first amendment to HB 1008, passed in House State Affairs on Jan 25, removed the original language (Section 4) that would have required the Attorney General to represent any schools sued for implemented this new law. The AG said he didn't want that heat. The second amendment, passed in the full House on Jan 27, was a minor language change. Is the legal fund you're talking about in other legislation? Or is that just the current Extraordinary Litigation Fund?

You are correct on the larger point: the Governor should veto this bill to prevent taxpayer liability, which will fall not so much on the state but on local school districts, which have much less capacity than the state to take the hit on lawyer fees and legal damages. Of course, if the feds jump in top of the lawsuits and yank $205 million in education funding over our violation of Title IX, then we're all in deep trouble."

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Trump Will Make South America Great Again

El Donaldo
He'll Make South America Great Again
     Trump and his aura of inevitability as the GOP presidential nominee should make American farm belt citizens think about his ag policies.  I think he's disdainful about American
agriculture to the point of hostility.  I've already disclosed my contempt for his "Mexican wall" here because I think it would poison our trade relations with Mexico, which buys $350 million a year worth of goods from South Dakota, products that Mexico can just as easily buy from producers in another country.  
     Now that Trump's primary campaign has made him such a strong contender for the nomination, his zeal to "Make America Great Again" needs some examination from our ag industry.  What has surfaced so far doesn't look all that great.  Actually, it looks downright nasty and brutish--and none too short if he makes it to the White House.  Last Summer when Trump was talking to Sean Hannity of Fox News about our trade relationship with Japan he said, "you look at Japan with the boats that come pouring in with cars--you know what we send Japan?  We send them beef.  We send them wheat.  We send them corn." Trump's dismissive tone toward American ag exports didn't go unnoticed by industry participants. The Daily Reporter out of Spencer, Iowa, immediately observed that "Japan is U.S. agriculture's biggest market . . . if Trump's trade policy is implemented, Japan would  look for a new source of beef, wheat and corn.  Brazil, Canada and Argentina will love that opportunity and the EU will be happy to sell Japan more pork."  As far as ag is concerned, Trump's slogan might as well be "Make South America great again."
     It's actually pretty frustrating to watch the Trumpistas lapping up this bellicose rhetoric about trade without realizing that our trade partners won't just sit there and take it.  They're perfectly capable of retaliating in kind and shopping elsewhere for goods that they're buying from Americans.  From our perspective here in the Plains and the Midwest, the retaliation would probably
Paraguayan Farmers
Trump Will Do Them Some Good
(photo from
come in the form of buying ag products from our ever-eager and aggressive competitors.  Similar events occurred way back in the '70s when President Carter embargoed ag sales to the Soviet Union, opening up a giant market that was quickly filled by American competitors.  When I began actively trading and producing grain and livestock a decade later, it was clear that the opening given to foreign competition had permanently altered the international ag trading matrix.  Trade wars are vicious. Rebuilding our ag trade (much of it with Asian customers that Trump's hostility is often directed at) with tariff negotiations has resulted in big gains for South Dakota ag producers.  In 2005, South Dakota exported about $900 million worth of products.  By 2014 that number leaped to$1.6 billion.  And we're just one state among many that ships billions of dollars worth of ag products to Asia.  

     Donald and those Trumpistas of his seem to think that our trading partners and adversaries will just roll over at a snap of his fingers, which is just plain delusional in a world where trade is a multi-dimensional affair.  If this guy is the great negotiator he claims to be, he should be able to talk us into the better trade deals he envisions without threats of open warfare that could set back decades of good results that South Dakota ag producers have gotten from administrations of both parties.
     My next post will be about how Trump's inflexible stand on immigration will crush American farmers if it comes to pass. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

SD Governor Daugaard Should Veto The Anti-Transgender Bill And Buy Some Curtains

     Governor Daugaard should veto HB 1008 on a categorical basis.  The bill would limit access to public school bathrooms and locker rooms to students whose anatomies conform to the gender
Omdahl Going Overboard
Get An Education, Senator
designation of the facilities.  I'm old-school enough to understand the squeamishness of those who are repelled by the idea of an anatomically endowed boy showering in the midst of a locker room crowded with anatomically defined girls--and that goes double when I think about grade school kids using their bathrooms.  But I'm also aware that those attitudes reflect a Victorian-era prudishness that doesn't comply with the real world in many places where unisex facilities are accepted without much of a shrug.  In this country, according to University of Utah law professor Terry Kogan in his book Toilet:  Public Restrooms And The Politics Of Sharing the first time sex-segregated bathrooms were mandated by law was in Massachusetts in 1887. While I wouldn't call this a recent development, the practice certainly hasn't been engraved in the stone of human history. Reacting against the evolution of unisex facilities is based on relatively short-standing cultural values that seem to be falling by the wayside.  I still head for the men's room in places where unisex facilities are available and I probably always will.  How my kids and grandkids respond to similar choices is their business

     However, if there's one thing I am repelled by during this brouhaha, it's the blithe dismissal and downright ridicule of those in our community who have real gender identity issues.  To be a reactionary blowhard is one thing, but to be ignorant and scornfully insensitive is another.  Republican State Senator (District 11) David Omdahl's anti-transgender tirade earlier this month at a Sioux Falls crackerbarrel revealed much about his lack of education  Omdahl calls transgender individuals "twisted" and gestures to his head when he says they need help.  Do Omdahl and his supporters even know anything about the history of transgenderism?  I doubt it. It goes a long
Is This Really Such A Big Deal?
(photo from
way back.
  For example, there were hundreds of anatomical females fighting as men during the Civil War. The Indian communities in this country have known of it for centuries, many of them adopting the sobriquet "two spirits" for the transgender individuals in their communities.  That the matter has now surfaced into the mainstream of our everyday lives probably says something about the stubborn power of enlightenment.                                                                                                                                
Meantime, Governor Daugaard has to decide if he'll go along with the reactionary tide of the legislature by signing this bill into law or sending it back to our reps for more consideration if he vetoes the thing.  He should do the latter, for the categorical reason I noted above:  It isolates and discriminates against a class of people. As a practical matter, the problem this bill seeks to solve is already nonexistent to a certain extent.  Bathrooms already have stalls for privacy, which have long been used because we make room for personal considerations when using toilets.  As to the locker room issue, the Feds last November in a suburban Chicago case  said that the installation of privacy curtains in locker rooms would satisfy any equal access laws applied by the Department of Education.  My take on this, Governor Daugaard?  Veto the bill and buy some curtains.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

John Wrede And I Discuss The Bundys, Their Mormonism, And Their Connection To The Mountain Meadows Massacre Of 1857

Note:  John Wrede is a retired South Dakota Conservation Officer, Regional Wildlife Manager, and former Chairman of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Sage and Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Technical Committee with more than 20 years of training and experience in grouse and other wildlife monitoring and management.  After retiring from SDGF&P in February of 2007 with 31 years of service to the State of South Dakota, he worked as a Biological Research Technician for the Northern Great Plains Inventory and Monitoring Network of the National Park Service in the Black Hills Region for four years designing and conducting wildlife, plant and water monitoring survey protocols.   An upland and big game hunter for more than 55 years, Wrede lives with his wife and family in Rapid City. This conversation between the two of us on FACEBOOK took place during the last couple of days:

A facebook friend and highly credible and educated pal of distant acquaintance suggested that the most recent "Militia Uprisings" in Oregon and the Clivin Bundy public land grazing fiasco in Nevada are directly related to these folks and their beliefs. After reading this account, it's fairly obvious where they have their head. 

Facts, information and articles about The Mountain Meadows Massacre, an event of Westward Expansion from the Wild West The Mountain Meadows Massacre Facts Dates September 7-11, 1857 Location Mountain Meadows, Utah Casualties 100-140 Mountain Meadows Massacre Articles Explore articles from the Histor…


John Wrede I see in the newspaper that these folks have returned to their geographic origins to mourn the passing of LaVoy Finicum whom the Oregon State Police killed after he attempted to get a gun out of his jacket pocket to try and shoot the officers. I'm beginning to wonder if there is ever anything good that comes out of either Utah, Nevada or Texas!
John Tsitrian Here's a take on Mountain Meadows from a Mormon--not sure if it's the "official" LDS view on the incident, but it seems authoritative:

mountain meadows massacre
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John Wrede I read this account in addition to a couple of other accounts and decided to post the version to try and avoid bias one way or another. This account was actually more brutally descriptive to the point of inflammation. Regardless if t...See More
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John Tsitrian John Wrede In this author's account "deep fear and paranoia" were the motivations for the Mountain Meadows massacre. I don't think there's a linkage between that and what the Bundys are up to. The Bundys' insistence that public land should belong to them has overtones of greed, power and contempt for the general public, not "fear and paranoia."
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John Wrede Well sir, I would guess you have a point, although in many cases of public land grazing permittee's and others of my familiarity, there remains great fear and paranoia of the federal government's intent and what they might lose or what it might cost them. Any time any of that management adjustments is mentioned, the first thing to happen is they run to the Congressionals and complain that "big bad government is being unreasonable and unrealistic and costing them huge hardship and money.) Congressional inquiries are impossible to deal with. Been there and done that.
In order to get a different perspective on the matter, attendance at a grazing district meeting or even a meeting of "The Black Hills Natural Resource User's Coalition" should reveal the presence of a thickly veiled fear that USDA/BLM is going to change conditions or their permit, charge them extra money, or cut back on their animal units to try and prevent damage. They have had those permits for so long, and have been publicly lauded as the quintessential guardians of the public's land that they believe they own it in every respect except what might be found in the register of deeds office. They become militant at the thought that grazing reform is necessary, if for no other reason than to try and protect what little productivity is left and to avoid having to deal with water quality issues created by the cumulative impacts of intensified grazing on the landscape. There is fear and paranoia there but it is not obvious. Greed and contempt for the general public is also there. Heck, I even see contempt for the general public in landowning relatives on ranches in Nebraska and acquaintances here in SD.

One of the best examples of these conditions can be found on the Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming where the Northern half of the forest undertook grazing reforms at least 15-20 years ago to improve range conditions, productivity, wildlife habitat, water quality, and mulitiple use. The effort has been largely successful in terms of improving many natural resource conditions. The southern half has had no changes and is quiet while the bickering and grumbling and fighting continue between local FS managers, permittees, congressionals and so on in the North. Fear of losing an entitlement is, for many of those people, a game changer that instigates a fight no differently than Bundy. Like most of these people, he doesn't own enough private land to make a living in agriculture and livestock husbandry and therein lies yet another problem. The insult to private producers that have worked hard and built an operation with enough land to sustain them.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

When It Comes To Trade Policy, South Dakota Is Better Off With Rubio Than Cruz

     Now that Rubio is a factor in the GOP primary thanks to his Iowa surge, it's time to give him the "what's he gonna do for us?" test by South Dakotans. And while I'm at it, Cruz could
Rubio In Farm Country
Will It Be Raining Votes?
(photo from
stand a going-over too.  Considering that much of our number one industry, ag, is so export dependent, accounting for $3.6 billion in overseas sales, with foreign trade accounting for 22% of our jobs, Rubio's approach to trade policy matters, big time.  I've already slammed that master of hot air, Donald Trump,  and his trade policy rhetoric few times here, so you should be familiar enough with my contempt for him and his campaign.

     Marco Rubio  and Ted Cruz made some waves on the trade issue recently, and their contrasting records are an eye-opener.  Rhetoric is one thing, actual on-the-record voting is another.  That's all I can go by and for that reason, Rubio I like, Cruz I scorn.  Rubio is a champion of freer trade, unequivocally so and to the apparent chagrin of some on the right.  They link him to something they call "Obamatrade," apparently considering "fast-track trade authority" to be an invention of President Obama.  In reality, fast-track has been around since 1974, when Republicans were in charge of the White House. Foreign sales of South Dakota products have grown immensely over the years and will probably
Cruz In Iowa
First You Flip, Then You Flop
(photo from
continue to do so as trade barriers keep coming down.  By supprting fast-track, Rubio supports their continuation.  That makes him a big friend of South Dakota's ag community.

     Cruz, meanwhile, seems to have chosen the political route when it comes to trade policy, resulting in a wishy-washiness that makes it hard to pin him down on just how he views fast-track.  Last April he was praising it in the Wall Street Journal, saying it was "vital for economic growth."  Two months later he voted against it in the Senate, making some dubious claims that smacked of political cover for his flip-flop--claims so transparently self-serving that Politifact rated his change of position a "Full Flop."  I just don't trust this guy when it comes to consistency.  The fact that he went on the record against fast-track puts him in the "no way" column when it comes to considering him as my party's nominee.
     Neither Trump and his idiotic Mexican wall (and that poorly thought out 25% tariff on Chinese imports) nor Cruz and his inconsistency when it comes to trade policy make the cut.  Rubio seems unequivocal and supportive when it comes to international commerce, a fact that South Dakotans and our immense ag industry need to consider when it comes time to decide on our next prez.