Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Market Goes Up? Trump Takes Credit. Market Goes Down? The Finger-Pointer-In-Chief Blames Everybody In Sight.

     Back in the '80s I had a respectable 11-year run as a market-maker on the trading floor of
Up, Up And Away
What's That Popping Sound?
the Chicago Board Options Exchange. 
Early on during that span of alternating episodes of exhilaration, deflation, madness, insanity and, ultimately, profitability, the main lesson I learned is that the stock market follows no predictable rules.  I also learned as a corollary that many market  participants and observers often stick to predictable behavior, and that their inflexibility usually comes at a cost.
     Our Market-Maker-In-Chief, aka President Donald Trump, is a perfect example of predictability when it comes to assessing the movements of the stock market.  When the market goes up, he takes credit.  When it goes down, he blames everybody in sight.  What he doesn't seem to get is that over the long haul, markets are apolitical.  Kiplinger took a look all the way back to 1900 and concluded that "when it comes to your portfolio, it doesn't matter which party wins the White House."  Trump's vacillation between taking credit and assessing blame for market moves is politically fruitless, because the market doesn't really give a damn about him and his political fortunes.  Focused instead on Trump's policies, the market had a pretty decent run during his first year in office but is now closing out his second year with little fanfare, having given up all of its 2018 gains during the past month or so.  Policy hasn't changed much, if at all, but prices are breaking down sharply.  Next month they might go right back up.
     It may be totally irrational, but as a very bright guy (I think it was John Maynard Keynes) once observed, "markets can remain irrational for far longer than you can remain solvent." Considering the vagaries of Trump's checkered business career, spanning as it has several politically divergent administrations, it's surprising to me that he keeps trying to tie the market's behavior to the ebbs and flows of the political tides.  Yesterday he tried to blame the current selloff on Democrats who recently captured the majority in the House of Representatives and their apparent intent to investigate him.  I say "nice try" while remembering that the stock market was running up like crazy during the late '90s when President Clinton was not only being investigated, but actually got impeached.
     The stock market didn't care then and it doesn't care now.  Actually, if Trump were really that concerned about the market's behavior he'd be looking at how his trade and fiscal policies are affecting it, not on the political make-up of the U.S. Congress.  Policy, not politics, is where the rubber hits the road on Wall Street.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

     Our President Trump today wouldn't take a 55-minute car ride from Paris to a cemetery
Trump Couldn't Make It
Too Rainy Or Something
that contains Americans killed in World War I. 
The President was put off by some rain.  French, German and British heads of state made the journey to a place near Belleau Wood, where a relatively small force of U.S. Marines clocked a German army unit that was headed for a takeover of Paris.  But not Trump, whose repeated bravado supporting veterans has been lately exposed as politically useful rhetoric, and not just by his snub of the American doughboys who bled their lives into French soil a hundred years ago in a war that officially ended November 11, 1918.  As a vet myself (U.S. Marines, Vietnam, '66-'68) the ground where Americans bled to death seems hallowed, or, as President Lincoln noted when he spoke of the ground at Gettysburg, "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it."
      His indifference to the legacy of our troops a century ago has plenty of symbolic content.  But the actual reality of his administration's approach to material issues involving both veterans and active duty personnel exposes his cynical exploitation of them as political tools useful during his campaign.  For one thing, Trump this year made it easier for predatory lenders to run financial roughshod over our men and women in uniform by easing government oversight of those lenders.
      There are other other shortfalls in the conversion of rhetoric to reality. Last Summer the Washington Monthly noted that "Trump is sabotaging a veterans' health care law that he just signed" by backtracking on its requirements once the law went into the executive branch's guardianship.  At the same time, Forbes headlined that "Veterans Sustain Two Serious Defeats From Trump And The House To VA Health Care."  To me the most critical one involves the creation of a commission doing an "asset review" of current VA facilities and programs.  It was signed into law last summer and seems to be the VA equivalent of military base reduction endeavors in recent years.  Forbes notes concerns that Trump will stack the commission with allies focused on closing VA facilities and moving veterans healthcare to the private sector.  This is a move opposed by every vets group I know of, including The American Legion and  the Veterans of Foreign Wars (of which I am a life member).
     Yet, in spite of the opposition of those who are most affected by administration healthcare decisions, Trump keeps holding out the potential for privatizing their healthcare. Trump is shrugging off their concerns, which seems consistent with the brush-off he gave to the ceremony memorializing Americans who fulfilled their tragic destinies of bleeding to death for their country while fighting on foreign soil.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Billie Sutton Drew A Lot Of South Dakota Voters From Out Of The Woodwork.

     The takeaway from last night's near-sweep of South Dakota's election is that there's a
Is She Good For The Economy
And Will It Be Good For Her?
lurking progessive presence in this state that will generate a lot of votes for the right Democrat running in a statewide race. 
The contrasts between the gubernatorial races in '14 and '18 are stark, according to the Secretary of State's website.  In 2014, Republican Daugaard got 195,000 votes while his opponent Susan Wismer collected 70,000.  Last night provided an eye-popping difference.  Republican Kristi Noem got 172,000 votes, underperforming her predecessor by more than 10%, while Democrat Billie Sutton captured  161,000, more than doubling Wismer's 2014 numbers. 
     Sutton's gains only came partially from the Republican crossovers.  The increase in total votes made most of the difference.  In 2014, 277,000  votes were cast.  Just 4 years later that number popped to 339,000.  I know the conventional wisdom is saying that this year's election turn out was pumped by huge national issues, mainly centering on President Trump, which is reasonable and probably right.  But with respect to the huge swing toward Sutton, it looks like a lot of those 62,000 newly engaged folks who didn't bother voting in '14 moved toward Sutton in a big, big way yesterday.  My take?  After years of complacency brought on by the relentlessly predictable Republican pounding of Democrats in statewide races, a lot of South Dakota's voters have been dulled into acceptance of the inevitable and didn't bother showing up in 2014.
     Sutton changed all that, and I hope for good.  In victory, the state's GOP, led by Governor-elect Noem, has seen first-hand that voters will either cross their party line or just plain get off their duffs to vote if the right Democrat is at the top of the ticket. The huge Republican registration edge  (47-28) notwithstanding, if Noem's administration doesn't markedly improve on the stasis that has been the story of South Dakota's economy for a decade, lagging way behind economic growth levels experienced by the overall national economy, those lurkers who showed up yesterday could easily pile on next time around.  I hope Dems will keep hammering away at the economic themes as they apply political pressure to their Republican domineers in Pierre.  A good, engaging "where's the beef?" approach to economic performance is long overdue in our state's political discourse. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

As Long As You're In Town, Mr. Vice President, Could You Tutor Kristi Noem And The Rest Of Us On How Medicaid Expansion Works In Indiana?

     Vice President Mike Pence will be dropping by for a campaign event aimed at bolstering
Works For Indiana
Why Not South Dakota?
Republican Kristi Noem's run for South Dakota governor. 
Looks like he'll be here at the Rapid City airport in one of the hangars on Monday the 5th.  I'm sure they'll be taking note of the fact that I'm not there, lol. 
     In my absence, I hope somebody will bring up a politically delicate but important subject while our Veep is in the neighborhood.  I've noticed here for the longest time that South Dakota is one 17 states that hasn't taken advantage of Medicaid expansion, which has been available since the Affordable Care Act came into being.  ACA, of course, is the acronym for that oft-scorned healthcare overhaul that is known as Obamacare, which has routinely been trashed by Republicans since it came into being during Barack Obama's administration.  In fact, looking at a map of states that have and have not signed up for this deal, it looks like every one of the no-thank-yous come from the swath of reliably red states that have been dominated by Republicans during recent years.  Not surprising, except for a couple of major exceptions, one of which just happens to be Mike Pence's home state of Indiana, where he just happened to be governor in 2015 when Indiana signed up for Medicaid expansion.  And this is where the subject just happens to be suffused with some political delicacy.
     Pence, whose conservative Republican creds are well known, spent two years negotiating a deal with the Obama administration.   The effort finally materialized into a set up that looks like it should warm the cockles of every conservative heart in America, including those of our chronically recalcitrant Republicans in South Dakota who seem to break out into a frenzy of reflexive revulsion anytime an Obama-associated program gets brought up.  Heck, our Republican governor Daugaard thought highly enough of the prospects for expanding Medicaid to come up with a decent plan to bring the program into South Dakota.  He was meeting with some stiff resistance in our state's GOP-dominated legislature, but put the whole idea aside when Trump won the '16 election on a platform conspicuously supported by a plank devoted to shutting down the ACA, thereby ending Medicaid expansion altogether.
     Trump's subsequent failure to end ACA, however, left expansion hopes intact.  Governor Daugaard has been unwilling to restart that fight, but now that his successor will take over in January, it's time to bring Medicaid expansion back on the table.  This is just too good a deal to pass up, as then-Governor Mike Pence figured out in Indiana.  No doubt if Democrat Billie Sutton wins this election, it will be on his agenda with some force early on in his administration.  Republican Kristi Noem will be a tougher sell--especially considering that she's already stated that her goal "is to get people off Medicaid," which sounds like expanding the program is a pretty low-priority item on her agenda.  However, I haven't heard her say she'd explicitly nix the idea, and given Indiana's success with the program inaugurated by Pence, I'd be surprised if Noem isn't at least open to considering it if she becomes our next guv.
     Soooo, even if I have to miss the festivities at the airport hangar on Monday (dang, what did I do with that invite?), I hope that if a Q and A materializes, somebody brings up medicaid expansion.  Pence's success with the program should certainly give Noem pause before she rejects it out of hand.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Former GOP Legislator Mitch Richter Says Amendment W Is The Right Choice.

Yes on Amendment W is the Right Choice

Amendment W is a truly bipartisan proposal that will protect South Dakotans from corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. It was written by South Dakotans at forums held across the state. Over 50,000 conservative, progressive, and independent voters came together to place it on the ballot. Even though I’m a former Republican legislator and my co-chair, Darrell Solberg, is a former Democratic legislator, we have united in support of Amendment W. We know that corruption does not wear a party label.

Amendment W will ban lobbyist gifts to legislators. South Dakota is one of only a few states where lobbyists can wine, dine, and entertain legislators with no limits whatsoever. We’re not paying lawmakers our hard-earned tax dollars so they can eat free steak and drink free booze supplied by special interests in Pierre with their own agendas. It’s time we clean up Pierre so the citizens are put first, not the lobbyists.

Amendment W will prohibit the use of state resources for personal gain and permanently ban the personal use of campaign funds. Contrary to current thinking in Pierre, government exists to represent the will of the people, not to pad the pockets of political insiders.

South Dakota is one of only seven states without independent, ethics law enforcement. Putting an ethics cop on the beat to crack down on corruption could save South Dakota taxpayers $1,300 per year, according to an Indiana University study. The legislature created a government accountability board early last year—but they exempted themselves from oversight. Amendment W closes that outrageous loophole by ensuring that fair and independent ethics law enforcement applies to all public officials, no exceptions.

To ensure full transparency, final ethics law enforcement reports will be available to the public and all meetings of the government accountability board will be required to follow South Dakota’s public meeting laws.

The Argus Leader rightly notes that our legislature has done very little to address the problem of unaccountability in Pierre. But it was disappointing that the editorial board refused to meet with supporters and opponents of Amendment W to ask us questions and dig into who is on each side of the issue and why. The campaign opposed to Amendment W is ninety-nine percent funded by lobbying groups. The lobbyists know that Amendment W would drain the swamp.
After the emergency repeal of Initiated Measure 22, the anti-corruption act passed by a majority of South Dakotans in 2016, voters were left in the dark. Instead of “replacements,” we received a slew of watered-down bills given the seal of approval by the very lobbyist interests we need to rein in. Our lawmakers clearly prefer that decisions be made in the hallways of the Capitol without our voices being heard. Amendment W prevents the legislature from overturning voter approved laws without letting voters have the final say.

The need for Amendment W is clear. After the dual, tragic scandals of EB-5 and Gear Up, you have to ask yourself: how many times are we going to get robbed before we install a security system? Lobbyists and insiders might love politics-as-usual, but weak oversight coupled with a lack of transparency has bred a culture of corruption that has already cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Corruption, misuse of office, and government waste have taken a clear toll on our state. Politics-as-usual is no longer good enough. We need solutions to these problems. Amendment W will give us the transparent tools and assurances we need to know that our government is serving us rather than special interests, bringing us one step closer to our state’s motto: “Under God, the People Rule.”

Read Amendment W for yourself at www.yesonamendmentw.com. Then, I hope you will join us in voting Yes on Amendment W this November.

Mitch Richter is co-chair of the Yes on W Coalition and a former Republican legislator

Monday, October 29, 2018

Now Kristi Noem Pits Neighbor Against Neighbor. She'd Rather Divide Than Unite.

     Talk about uncool, crass, desperate and divisive.  Republican gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem just put out an ad featuring two of her opponent Billie Sutton's neighbors bad-mouthing him as some sort of political phony.  One says "the Billie you see on TV is not the real Billie."  Another says that Sutton "campaigns as a conservative then will turn around and govern as a liberal."  The point of the spot is to use people in Sutton's neighborhood as props, claiming that Billie is "too liberal for his neighbors." That claim that is ridiculous on two fronts.  First off, two antagonistic individuals do not a neighborhood make.  And secondly, the totality of his neighbors in District 21 admire Sutton enough to have sent him--unopposed--to the state senate in both of the last two elections.  That the GOP couldn't field a candidate against him in a state that's saturated with Republicans says a lot about the centrist and moderate leanings of Democrat Billie Sutton.
Sutton's Neighbor
Bad-Mouthing Him

      What it tells us about Noem is that she's hoping the voting public won't independently examine Sutton's record to find out just how "liberal" he actually isn'tHe separates himself from the commonly held liberal attitudes toward abortion rights and the Second Amendment.  He has an 80% rating from South Dakota Right to Life and a 79% rating from the National Rifle Association.  Siding with those organizations 4 out of 5 times makes him more than just "safe" when it comes to taking sides in the "culture wars."  He also unequivocally rejects the notion of a state income tax.  I don't get where that neighbor of his claims that Sutton will govern as a "liberal," because it's pretty clear that on major issues that matter to most South Dakotans, Sutton won't be programmed by partisan ideology.  He certainly isn't afraid to go against the grain of conventional Democratic thought on big issues of great importance to the party itself.
     This is where the most compelling difference exists between the two candidates.  Noem's campaign rhetoric is pure Republican orthodoxy with no maneuvering room. That makes finding some common ground among South Dakotans a tough option to pursue.  No doubt this appeals to her most ardent GOP base, but I believe there's a big slice of Republicans in this state who don't see inflexibility as an asset.  That shows up in recent polls that have the candidates tied, which is practically unheard of in a state where party registrations so lopsidedly favor Republicans. Noem's ham-handed "neighbors vs. neighbors" ad is further alienating the moderates from the diehards in her party.  Her risk is that dividing them will turn out to be a self-conquering strategy as Sutton claims the "big middle" and takes over a governorship that has been calcified by Republican inflexibility for a few decades too many.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Noem v. Sutton, Part II

     Last night's PBS faceoff between Kristi Noem and Billie Sutton was their second and last
Sutton, Noem
He's Pragmatic, She's Political
televised debate as they head into the final days before their contest for governor of South Dakotal. 
There was a third party on stage, Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans, but his rhetorically fumbling presence, devoid as it was of substance--he several times acknowledged that he had no thoughts or ideas on the issue at hand--made him a nonentity for my purposes.  I'll focus on Democrat Sutton and Republican Noem.
     Both candidates came off a bit better than they did Tuesday night at the KELO-TV debate.  Noem was more measured.  Sutton was much more comfortable.  Noem happily laid off her annoyingly repetitive claim that Sutton is a Bernie Sanders clone, bringing it up only once.  Sutton was self-assured and spontaneous, brushing off the Sanders remark with a quick "I don't know how Bernie Sanders got into the conversation," mercifully ending the topic.  If it came up again, I missed it.  Noem wasn't quite so forgiving of our sensibilities when she repeated her debunked claim that Sutton supports a state income tax.  For the umpteenth time, Sutton denied it and stated unequivocally that he does not support a state income tax.  Noem's repetitiveness is starting to come across as one of those lies that, mouthed often enough, will come to be regarded as the truth. Noem is insulting the intelligence of South Dakota voters by resorting to that tactic.
     Noem's dubious claim that Sutton supports an income tax relies on the Democratic Party Platform and the fact that as the head of the party, Sutton favors its contents. But the platform doesn't call for an income tax, per se.  In it, Dems believe that  the state should embrace "a tax system which taxes all income levels fairly as allowed by the South Dakota State Constitution."  The platform is a response to the well-established fact that because of our heavy reliance on sales taxes, South Dakota is one of the most regressive (meaning those with lower incomes pay a greater proportion of their earnings in taxes than those with higher incomes) taxation states in the country.  But note that the platform doesn't say "taxes all incomes."  It says "taxes all income LEVELS (emphasis mine)."  There's a big difference.  Merely dropping the sales tax on food, as the platform states, would go a long way toward fixing regressivity.  The loss in revenues to the state could probably be made up by revoking many of the special interest sales tax exemptions that amount to a loss of $1.1 billion in revenues to South Dakota.  Our state is perfectly capable of spreading out the tax burden more fairly without imposing an income tax.  Noem is all wet on this one.
     The conflict over Medicaid expansion was an instructive one, as it revealed that Noem's hostility to the idea (which she repeatedly dubbed "extending Obamacare") wasn't based on facts, but on ideology--along with a reflexive disdain for anything associated with Obama.  She claims that she wants to lift people up from the need for Medicaid, but didn't actually present a plan to do so, other than clinging to the hope that she can lift South Dakota's economic status to the point where people who don't make enough to buy health insurance now would be able to do so after she brings the overall economy up to speed.  Sounds good, but it ain't gonna happen.  On a per capita basis, South Dakota's economy has gone nowhere under Republican control this decade and I doubt that Noem can come up with a solution to fix that soon.  Sutton, on the other hand, knows that getting people on health insurance via Medicaid makes for a healthier workforce and more efficient healtcare system.  Heck, Mike Pence instituted Medicaid expansion in Indiana while he was governor there, and he's about as rigidly conservative and anti-Obama as any elected official in this country.  I don't get why Noem has to be so high and mighty about this.
     In sort of a partisan switcheroo, Sutton came across to me as the pragmatist while Noem is stuck with the position of ideologue.  As Sutton has been saying all along, his background is down home and practical.  Noem has indeed become the Washington politician, stuck on partisan rhetoric and learned political behavior.  Sutton won this thing on both style and substance points.  I sure hope he's our next governor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Last Night's Noem-Sutton Debate--My Impressions Of The Candidates

     Last night's KELO-TV debate between South Dakota gubernatorial hopefuls Republican
Noem, Sutton
Not His First Rodeo, Nor Hers
Kristi Noem and Democrat Billie Sutton revealed much of what most of us probably already know. 
Noem is an experienced hand at this sort of thing and was in command of herself.  Sutton is the newbie in state-wide politics and had a somewhat halting demeanor.  Noem was polished and pat.  Sutton was ingratiatingly genuine. Noem was programmed.  Sutton was spontaneous, if defensive most of the evening.  I doubt that Noem lost any support, but I think Sutton's tepidity was disconcerting.  His supporters might have had their confidence in him tested.  He'll get a chance to brush up on his counter-punching skills over the next day or so.  They meet on TV one more time, tomorrow night on SDPB at 8:00 CST.  This time Libertarian Kurt Evans will be on the stage, and that may change the dynamics of the evening a bit.
     As to last night, if affability is the vote-getting factor that I think it is, Sutton's aw-shucks-I'm-just-a-cowboy persona may have done him some good.  Noem was cloyingly relentless with her insistence that Sutton supports an income tax, a claim that was debunked by an independent fact check done by the Associated Press.  Her badgering tone contrasted poorly with Sutton's repeated denials, making Noem look mean, insistent, and oblivious to facts.   I also thought her well-rehearsed and oft-repeated claim that Sutton is really a Bernie Sanders clone was way out there and smacked of desperation, looking as it did like a gratuitous attempt at pulling away a non-existent curtain to reveal a non-existent Wizard of Oz.  Does anybody take seriously the notion that Sutton is interchangeable with Bernie Sanders? Honestly.  I once wrote a piece here that was titled "Only In South Dakota Could Billie Sutton Be Called A Democrat."  If Sanders were ever to look at Billie Sutton's agenda, Bernie would disavow him on the spot.
     The most intriguing exchange came after a question about living in Pierre while in office.  Noem said her home would remain in the eastern part of the state and that she'd commute back and forth to the capitol, much as she does now with D.C.  Sutton said he'd spend the "vast majority" of his time in Pierre, without actually committing to the prospect of making the capitol his home.  Both answers struck me as a little weird.  I guess I've always been under the impression that running a state, even one as small as South Dakota, is pretty much a 24/7 commitment and requires residence at the Governor's house in order to keep up with the constant stream of issues and situations that need immediate attention.  I didn't realize I was so last few centuries about that, but apparently I missed something about modern day governance.  Either way, I'll be tuning in tomorrow night and focusing on the issues, hoping to make enough sense of them to comment here the next day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This One's Really About Experience, Not Party Or Ideology. Randy Seiler Should Be South Dakota's Next Attorney General

     Attorney general is a job that shouldn't be politicized because the office is committed to
Experience Is Of The Essence
dealing with laws, not politically-driven public policies. 
And considering that an attorney general is typically regarded as the chief law enforcement officer of South Dakota, whoever holds that position should have a strong resume in criminal investigation and prosecution.  Of the two aspirants (Randy Seiler and Jason Ravnsborg) for that position on November's ballot, Republican Jason Ravnsborg  hasn't much experience (the Rapid City Journal characterizes it as "minimal, if any") as a prosecutor in criminal cases.  It's not that his civil law background is irrelevant to the job. It's just that it's too limiting.   Ravnsborg correctly notes that the AG's job can often involve matters of civil, not criminal, law, such as defending the state in court challenges and filing civil actions for South Dakota.  The attorney general also provides an explanation of every ballot issue that voters see on election day and serves as a legal advisor to the governor and other constitutional officers.
  There's really no question that civil law experience is a definite asset to candidates seeking the AG job.  The more compelling question is whether or not civil law experience alone is enough to merit hiring, by way of electing, a candidate.  I don't think it is.  Once an AG is in office, plenty of competent civil law attorneys can be put to work fulfilling the functions of advice and civil litigation.  Criminal justice is another matter.  Considering that South Dakota's prison population has grown by 750% during the past 4 decades (a rate 30 times greater than overall population growth), we need an AG with a lot of experience in criminal law, an area where Ravnsborg is wholly lacking.
     By contrast, Democrat Randy Seiler has a strong background in criminal law--and a pretty decent one on the civil side of justice as well.  As a former U.S. Attorney, Seiler has prosecuted 70 jury trials and worked closely on more on 500 felony cases, including homicide, child abuse and rape.  His tenure as a federal prosecutor included developing and overseeing civil, appellate, and administrative divisions within the U.S. Attorney's office.  These multi-dimensional aspects to his background are attributes that Ravnsborg just can't match.
     My inclination toward voting for Seiler has one more aspect to it.  He's way beyond the point of seeking out this job as a stepping stone for higher political aspirations, i.e., governor.  With no plans along those lines, Seiler can devote his time to business, not developing a base of political support.  He'll be working exclusively at his job as Attorney General, and I have no doubt that he'll give us our money's worth.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Sutton, Sutton, He's My Man. If He Can't Do It, Nobody Can.

     I guess you could say I'm a bit enthused by Billie Sutton, the Democrat who has a real shot at becoming South Dakota's next governor.   With a life story as compelling as any I've seen (he's 
The real deal, plain and simple
paralyzed from the waist down because of a rodeo accident during his youth) and a reputation as a solid, thoughtful state rep and investment advisor from the small South Dakota town of Burke, there really isn't much downside to his background.  I met him once, briefly, during a visit to the state capitol in Pierre and found him to be polite and self-contained, without the usual Type A-personality style that's so common among politicians.  Having heard much good about him prior to the meeting, I was taken aback by his reserved demeanor.
     It never occurred to me that this quiet cowboy would ever develop the charisma that it takes to win a statewide election, but he's defied my misgivings and preconceptions and now looks to be on the verge of being our next governor.  I sure hope he makes it.  His opponent, retiring Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem, is a plastic product of South Dakota's GOP establishment, utterly predictable in her recitation of her party's persistent themes.  In its endorsement of Sutton, the Rapid City Journal  defined Noem's pitch as "stay the course . . . don't raise taxes, limit federal intrusion, and hold the reins on spending."  In other words, standard Republican boilerplate, which even the RCJ notes "we've heard before."  That staying-the-course approach hasn't done much for South Dakota, as our state's economy has stagnated during this decade, underperforming the rest of the country by a mile.
     We need to change course, not stay on the same-o same-o.  I don't think Noem can do that, mired as she is in GOP orthodoxy.  Sutton can.  He's not married to an entrenched political establishment that prospers while South Dakota stagnates.  "Culture war"-oriented Republicans can generally feel comfortable voting for Sutton, whose well-known positions against abortion and for gun rights make him more South Dakotan than Democrat.  And business/economy-minded types can feel reasonably confident that Sutton, the investment advisor, along with running mate Michelle Lavallee, the Northwestern University MBA who has brought her education back to her home state, know plenty about economics and finance.  These two understand something about growth and will put their  money-oriented expertise to work for South Dakota's languishing economy.
     South Dakota can use a breath of fresh political air.  Billie Sutton will usher it in.  Join me in making him our next governor.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

I'll Take Tim. Bjorkman's The Kind Of U.S. Rep We Need In Congress. Trump Already Has Enough Lapdogs.

     Tim Bjorkman is festooned with a liability that he can't shake.  He's a Democrat running for Congress in South Dakota, a state that went 63% for Donald Trump.  We're also a state where 47% of
I'll Take Him
voters are registered as Republicans, 29% are Democrats and 23% are Independents.  The outgoing Republican U.S. Rep, Kristi Noem, beat a strong Democrat three elections ago and cake-walked through the next two challenges, which makes Bjorkman's task seem all the more daunting, considering the strength of the Republican stranglehold on South Dakota in recent years.
     To Tim's credit and our benefit, Bjorkman is not intimidated by these numbers and is running an energetic campaign, which not only sticks to the issues but sticks it to the campaign of his Republican opponent Dusty Johnson.  For one thing, Bjorkman has refused to take money from PACs or special interest groups. About a third of Johnson's top twenty contributors are PACs, complemented by an array of special interests, including Koch Industries.  On that score alone I think it's fair to say that a Congressman Bjorkman will never have to juggle allegiances between his South Dakota constituents and what the Koch Brothers would like to achieve.  Forsaking that kind of money puts Bjorkman at a financial disadvantage, but he's committed to his principles and I think he's getting his point across.  I attended a gathering in Rapid City a couple of weeks ago and was impressed by the size and enthusiasm of his crowd.
     Having met Bjorkman a couple of times and having read his eye-opening study on the effects of a dysfunctional childhood on crime and imprisonment, which he wrote for the University of South Dakota Law Review last year, I'm impressed, in equal measures, by his intellect and his passion.  Ten years as a circuit court judge have given this legal scholar a most valuable perspective on bread and butter issues that affect our communities, and I have no doubt that he'll bring that background to his job of representing us in the U.S. House of Representatives.
     You know, we've had our fill of Republicans claiming to have the best interests of our state at heart when they're in Washington.  These are the Trump-enablers who stood aside and watched our farmers get plundered by Trump's ill-advised trade war, ruining our best overseas markets for South Dakota's crops, principally soybeans. These are the Trump-enablers who've been railing for years about "unsustainable" federal deficits and vowing to do something about them, then putting their phoniness on display by supporting Trump's tax cuts, way disproportionately benefiting the wealthy, which have caused such a dramatic drop in government revenues that projected federal debt is reaching undreamed of heights.  And now these Trump-enablers are blaming the poor and the elderly for the debt explosion, as if they couldn't see it coming.  I've got news for these neo-Pavlovian subjects calling themselves Congressional Republicans:  try paying into Social Security for your entire lives then living month-to-month on that check you get after you've retired.
     My take?  Bjorkman won't buy into this baloney because he hasn't sold his soul to the wealthy bidders who've created a society where the economy is growing but wages aren't.   In 2017, South Dakota ranked in the lowest quintile in the country for personal income growth. That's consistent with our abysmal per capita GDP growth rate, which has been virtually flat for the past several years, compared to a 6% jump in the rest of the country.  What we don't need is another Trump lap dog in Congress.  We need an independent voice sustained by a great intellect and a passion for serving his constituents, not the special interests and PACs that fund so many other campaigns.  Tim Bjorkman fits the bill.  I hope you'll join me in voting for him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

South Dakotans Can Grasp Complicated Proposals And They Should Reject Amendment Z Next Month.

     There's an engaging simplicity to Amendment Z, which will be on the South Dakota ballot
No On This Amendment
It's a can of worms
next month. 
The Amendment wants to limit all future constitutional amendments to a single subject, which seems okay at first.  It's kind of a "keep it simple, stupid" approach to ballot questions, and who doesn't like simplicity when considering new laws and their consequences?  But like just about everything else that strikes you as a neat, clean, easy-as-pie solution to a complicated problem, Amendment Z has some self-created pitfalls.
     First off, would somebody supporting this please define "single subject?"  I can't imagine a constitutional amendment being that easy to create when it comes to operations and enforcement. Heck, even the single-subject list of the Ten Commandments isn't all that easy to interpret, much less enforce.  "Thou shalt not kill" has so many levels of exceptional circumstances that it's practically useless as a realistic guide for moral action.  This is why constitutional amendments have to contain operational clauses and subchapters in order to define just exactly what they'll accomplish if passed.  The current Amendment W is a good example.  Its "single subject" is government and campaign reform.  How it sets out to accomplish that goal consists of a series of measures that cover many subjects. 
     Single-subject advocates probably want to see measures as sweeping as Amendment W split up into numerous parts.  Each part would become a separate ballot item, requiring separate petition-gathering and campaign efforts, making it practically impossible to put together an extensive reform package with numerous components.  The definition of a "subject" is malleable and likely to create much confusion when it comes to satisfying ballot access rules.  I could see a lot of litigation hamstringing the process as the sides line up when measures are proposed.   Amendment Z looks like a can of worms just waiting to be opened.  Voters should reject it. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

It Finally Dawns On Kristi Noem That Trump Might Not Be So Good For South Dakota After All

    After a two-year nonstop barrage of political ingratiation with the Trump administration,
Noem Yesterday
She Finally Gets It
our Congresswoman, Republican Kristi Noem, has finally had to concede that President Trump has been a problem for South Dakota. 
Campaigning in Huron yesterday, Noem all but acknowledged that her run for Governor is up against some headwinds created by Trump's awful handling of trade issues affecting this state.  Exhorting her supporters with the words "we've got an uphill battle . . . I'm going to need your help," Noem basically conceded that her campaign visuals of the lady on horseback cantering about the South Dakota prairie haven't ignited much enthusiasm for her race against Democrat Billie Sutton.
     Noem's reasons for her campaign's somnolence?  Laughable, kind of. Whining that "usually at this time the Republican candidate maybe would be up by 10 or 15 points," Kristi complains that "we're in a totally different environment.  We've got trade wars going on.  We've got a national environment that's definitely impacting us here in South Dakota."  Specifying the problem, Noem went on to say that Trump "decided to go to war to get us more fair agreements; the problem is that he did it after four years of depressed prices already.  So we already had farm income cut in half because of low commodity prices and then to go into this trade war at this time is pretty devastating."
     Wow.  This kind of finger-pointing at the President as the reason for her gubernatorial campaign's uphill challenge is quite the reversal of her tone when Trump was here a month ago,  helping her campaign with a stop in Sioux Falls.  Then Noem said she is "eternally grateful that God gave us a President that puts America first," adding that our state can partner with the President to "make South Dakota and America even greater."  I suppose this kind of blatant obsequiousness is de riguer at events like these, but it sure contrasts with her outburst yesterday about Trump's trade policy being "devastating" to South Dakota.
      Given the financial hit that South Dakota's soybean industry is taking thanks to Trump and his incompetent trade policies, our state hasn't become "even greater."  It has become even lesser--to the tune of about $500 million less.  The only thing that's gotten "even greater" since Trump went on his trade war rampage is our country's balance-of-trade deficit, which is on track to make ten-year highsKiplinger last month just flat out said that Trump's "policies are more likely to grow the deficit than to cut it."  And in the meantime, we have millions of tons of soybeans, which historically have been a bonanza for balance-of-trade calculations, looking for a market because China, Trump's principal trade antagonist, has said "no thanks."
     What amazes me is that so many people could see this coming while Noem didn't even acknowledge the risk.  With many others, this blog (in '16, months before the election) was full of concerns and warnings about just such a scenario.  But did Noem pay attention to the apprehensiveness that was so pervasive at the time?  Not really.  I can't find a peep about the gathering storm coming from her office during the last couple of years, so this Kristi-come-lately outburst in Huron yesterday smacks of inattentiveness or lack of understanding.  I think it's both, which make for two reasons to dismiss her from public office next month.

Constitutional Amendment X? Another Attempt At Trashing South Dakota's Motto, "Under God, The People Rule."

     What is it with some of these people that go to Pierre and run the government of South
NO On This Turkey
I happen to like majority rule
Are they under the impression that majorities of our state's voters aren't capable of making substantive decisions at the ballot box?  After the last election they trashed an initiated measure (IM-22) that would have radically reformed the way government conducts business in this state after a majority of the voters approved it.  So discombobulated were government officials by the wholesale revision of their status quo that they found a way to legislatively negate the measure even before its constitutionality was determined by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
     But as I noted a couple of blog posts ago, that stubbornly reformist "cat" came back, this time  with a replacement amendment (Amendment W) that will again test the nerves of elected officials who are married to business-as-usual in Pierre.  They'll be stuck with the results of Amendment W if it carries, at least until the courts can give it a constitutional go-ahead.  That notwithstanding, some of these public servants have taken their own pro-active steps to make it much tougher for simple majorities to make constitutional decisions in South Dakota.  They have trashed the long-honored principle that majorities rule in South Dakota and in the process have trampled on the state's motto "Under God, The People Rule."
     This cavalier and condescending endeavor goes by the name of Amendment X on the coming ballot.  Amendment X essentially says the heck with a majority of South Dakotans, what we now require to amend our state's constitution is a supermajority of voters, namely 55%, to change our constitution at the ballot box.  Why is it cynical?  Because it lets our political class pick the size of the majority that knows what's best for South Dakotans.  Why is it condescending?  Because its arbitrary cutoff point of 55% tells 54% of South Dakotans that their voice doesn't matter.  In other words, if you were part of a 54% majority of voters who wanted something that was rejected by 46% of the voters,  Amendment X tells you to get lost.  That is completely. freakin' bonkers.
     I get that people are fed up with out-of-state interests paying signature gatherers to manage the tough job of getting issues placed on our ballot.  By raising the ballot approval threshhold beyond a simple majority, Amendment X will supposedly make the job of obtaining enough petition signatures for constitutional amendments to make the ballot in the first place much tougher, thereby reducing the number of such measures that turn up in South Dakota.  I think that's an iffy assumption, but I don't think it's the most relevant consideration anyway.  We should be most concerned by the fact that if signature gathering will be made more difficult by Amendment X, the stiffer challenge also applies to in-state activists seeking constitutional changes.  That's where my 54-to-46 scenario gets meaningful, because it essentially makes a minority of voters the ones who determine the fate of proposed changes to our constitution.
     That doesn't work for me, and it shouldn't work for anybody who believes in the tenet that "the majority rules."  Join me in voting no on Amendment X.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

You'll Get Some Seriously Serious Government Reform In South Dakota If Enough Of Us Vote Yes On Constitutional Amendment W.

     For starters, a lot of us, me included, are still plenty burned up about the cavalier
Sick Of This?
A Dose Of Amendment W Might Help
treatment that Initiated Measure 22 received from both the legislative and executive branches in Pierre a couple of years ago. 
IM-22 was a broadly inclusive set of reforms that dealt with campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics oversight.  It also contained a public-financing-of-elections component.  That last aspect turned me off so completely that I opposed passage of the measure here in my blog, in the column I was writing at the time for the Rapid City Journal, and as a panelist during a public forum in Rapid City.  My opposition was animated and unequivocal.
     The measure carried just the same, capturing about 52% of the vote.  Disappointed though I was, losing at the ballot box isn't a particularly new phenomenon (goes way back to '68 when Tricky Dick beat The Hube) for me and I was somewhat resigned to my fate. I say somewhat because it seemed clear to me (and my lawyer friends) that there were elements in IM-22 that would render it unconstitutional, and sure enough, its first hearing in court seemed to affirm that, so it was effectively put on hold pending a hearing at the state Supreme Court. It was going through a process that would probably nullify it altogether, and it really didn't seem like the entrenched political class in Pierre would have to confront it.
    Or so it seemed.  Unwilling to exercise some collective patience and let the process play itself out in the courts, our state's Republican Governor Daugaard and the overwhelmingly GOP-dominated legislature set themselves the task of doing away with it via the legislative process. They essentially did so by passing a bill (HB 1069) that pretty much wiped out the elements of IM-22 that were most threatening to the status quo.    The voice of the people was canceled out and, despite my opposition to the measure in the first place, I and a lot of other folks have neither forgiven nor forgotten this breach of the public's call for change.
     The upshot?  A motivated group of reformers called Represent Us were able to write and place a measure, Amendment W, that creates a series of reforms similar to its predecessor, IM-22, but without the public-financing-of-campaigns component.  Shrewdly packaging it as a constitutional amendment, proponents are making sure that it can't be amended or repealed without voter approval.  In other words, Amendment W is off limits to the legislative and executive branches.  No doubt this measure will undergo a constitutional challenge, but it'll be the courts, not a body of self-interested elected officials, who will make the determination about its status.  I hope you'll take the time to go to the link I provided and at least get an outline of what Amendment W will accomplish.  In a state that's perennially ranked as one of the most corrupt in the nation, I think it will do some good.
    Hope you'll join me in voting Yes on Amendment W.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

South Dakota's Initiated Measure 25 Wants A Few Of Us To Pay For Something That Benefits All Of Us. 'Tain't Fair.

     There's something obnoxious about singling out a group of people and taxing them to
Not Fair
support a civic function that benefits all of us. 
Initiated Measure 25 on South Dakota's ballot next month wants to do just that by jacking up the tax on tobacco products to the cumulative tune of $35 million, according to estimates by both Republicans and Democrats, whose respective parties have each come out against this measure at their conventions last Summer.
     I can see where supporters are coming from.  Republican Speaker of the South Dakota House Mark Mickelson, who proposed the initiative, last June told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that many South Dakotans in search of technical educations are migrating out of state to better educational opportunities elsewhere:  "You talk to anyone in Yankton or out in western South Dakota and those folks end up going to Norfolk, Nebraska, or Gillette, Wyoming.  We can't compete.  Workforce development is a critical issue and I think we have a responsibility to act."  Indeed we do, and the aims of IM 25 are worthy and straightforward, with the dual approach of lowering tuition and providing money for the schools.  As an employer in this state, I'm acutely aware of our labor shortage and the need for developing a workforce from within.  Losing young people to better educational opportunities elsewhere is something that needs to be addressed, and pronto.
     Im-25 just doesn't happen to be the right way to do it.  South Dakota has been imposing a tobacco excise tax above the standard sales taxes since 1923, a system that now dings tobacco users in all 50 states.  I haven't researched the philosophical bases for these taxes, but they have been in place for so long that they're now an embedded part of state budgets here and probably in every other state.  I suppose there were so many smokers way back when that squeezing a few cents a pack out of them and putting the money into the general revenue fund seemed like a fair way to tax a broad pool of residents for widespread government operations.  As recently as 1965, 43% of Americans were smokersNow that number is 17%.  Back then the burden was distributed much more broadly. Now it targets fewer than 1 in 5 of us.  It isn't right to squeeze that small minority for money to support a program that benefits everybody in the state, either directly by providing good technical educations or indirectly by the improvement that a good labor force brings to the economy. We need to unify and address workforce development, not hand the burden to a small minority of our residents.
     This initiative is for the birds.  IM-25 needs to be rejected.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Wieczorek Is Out There, But I Think He Makes A Point. Posting This As Information.

September 29, 2018
Independent Candidate Wieczorek Being Held out of TV Debate
On Friday, Oct. 19, KELOLAND-TV is sponsoring a public debate in their Sioux Falls studio for qualified candidates seeking to represent South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives. 
As of today, I am being held out of that debate, on the grounds that I have not met all the criteria set by Nexstar Media Group, which owns KELOLAND. Criteria No. 5 states that the candidate must have raised $50,000.
Headquartered in Irving, Texas, Nexstar owns, operates, programs or provides sales and other services to 170 TV stations, reaching 100 markets (38.7%) of all U.S. TV households. KELO-TV (a CBS Affiliate) in Sioux Falls, is one of those stations.
In my mind, and I hope in yours, it is the South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office which is the sole determiner of who is placed on the ballot and who isn’t. On April 24, I submitted nearly 4,000 signatures on my petition for ballot status, almost twice the number required, and was duly certified by the Secretary of State for my Independent candidacy. My position on the Nov. 6 ballot is #3, ahead of the Democratic Party’s candidate.
In my mind, and I hope in yours, no out-of-state money-making operation such as Nexstar Media Group has any business determining who South Dakotans are permitted to witness in civil debate on the burning issues facing our State and our Nation.
In my mind, and I hope in yours, Nexstar has no right to limit my freedom of speech by excluding me from this debate. 
I am therefore, calling on you to make your thoughts known to Nexstar. Support my right to be admitted to this public platform to present my views and policies, so that the voters of South Dakota can exercise their sovereign judgment as to who they think will best represent them in Washington in the House of Representatives this November 6.

Thank you!

Nexstar Media Group 972-373-8800 KELOLAND-TV 605-336-1100

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Bears Repeating: Reader Lanny Stricherz Goes Off On South Dakota GOP Congressional Candidate Dusty Johnson.

    This is Lanny's letter-to-the-editor in yesteday's Sioux  Falls Argus Leader:

Are you sure that you want Dusty Johnson to represent you in the US House of representatives? As a member of the PUC, he voted to approve the first Trans Canada Keystone pipeline, which leaked within the first six months of its existence and several times since. 

He voted to approve the BigStone II coal burning power plant, which was eventually turned down by the Minnesota PUC, because of its potential damage to Big Stone Lake as well as surrounding lakes in both Minnesota and South Dakota. 

He voted to approve the Hyperion oil refinery and coal burning power plant in the Elk Point area which eventually failed because the founders could not get investors,because they could see the potential damage to prime farm land and the extreme amount of Missouri River water which would be needed for the refinery and power plant. 

He has voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which Nebraska is refusing to approve, because of possible damage to the Ogallala aquifer as well as other waters and lands. 

After standing for re-election in 2010 and winning, Mr Johnson ignored the vote of the people and took a job as Chief of Staff in the Governor’s office even though he had been reelected. Who’s to say that he won’t do the same if elected to the US House of representatives, and the President wants him to serve in some climate change denier position in the executive branch?

A better option is Tim Bjorkman, who is the Democratic candidate. He refuses to take money from the Democratic Party, any of the PACs including labor unions. He will only take private donations because he wants to represent the people and their interests and help to end the corruption in government. 

Lanny Stricherz
Sioux Falls SD

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

First Up In My Ballot Question Run-Through: Initiated Measure 24, Banning Out-Of-State Contributions To Ballot Question Committees. I'm Agin' It.

     I'm like a lot of frustrated, disgusted, wary and just plain tired South Dakotans who are fed
IM-24?  NO!
Good Intent, Lousy Outcome
up with our state being used as some sort of political laboratory. 
In 2016, more than $10 million was spent by out of state interests on South Dakota ballot issues that were designed as marketing vehicles for agendas promoted throughout the country.  It's relatively cheap to run a campaign here, and a win in South Dakota would give supporters some serious credibility as they pursued their aims in other states.  Payday lending, victim rights, campaign finance reform . . . they and other measures were on the ballot, and the money for and against them poured in.    We have good reason to be tired of the process, and the frustration led to a measure, IM-24, on this November's ballot meant to put the practice to a halt.  It's easy to support the intent, but the outcome?  That's another story.

     I certainly share the vexation, but then again, who in this state, or the entire country for that matter, hasn't been frustrated at one time or another by some of the hassles created by the delirium that is sometimes called Democracy?  Like it or not, Initiated Measure 24, which would ban "individuals, political action committees, and other entities from outside South Dakota from making contributions to ballot question committees," has some decent intentions, but that's where its positives stop.
     First off, there's the issue of its constitutionality.  In assessing IM-24's chances of a constitutional challenge should the measure pass, South Dakota's Legislative Research Council Director Jason Hancock said last June  in a letter to IM-24 supporters that "contribution limits to ballot question committees . . . have been viewed by the [U.S.Supreme] court as a restraint on the rights of association and free speech." Secondly, it just doesn't seem right, much less constitutional.  I know I'd be plenty put off by a law that, just because I live in South Dakota, would keep me from sending in a contribution to a committee pushing a ballot issue in, say, Nebraska, if I had an interest in the outcome.  The whole conversation has a "no way" quality to it.
     IM-24's dubious constitutional prospects along with its self-evident repudiation of the fundamental rights of Americans has led to some strange bedfellowing.  Writing in opposition to the measure are Ben Lee, state director of the Koch brothers-funded Americans For Prosperity ("I believe that citizens should have the right to support the causes and issues they believe in").  Simultaneously Cory Heidelberger, whose Dakota Free Press blog has proven over the years to be about as antithetical to Americans For Prosperity as anyone can get, has said that  IM-24 "is a step in an unconstitutional direction."  That these two stalwarts of their respective and utterly contradictory worldviews can unify in their opposition to this measure says much about its inherently obnoxious nature.  IM-24 just plain doesn't cut the mustard and should be resoundingly defeated by South Dakota's voters.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

China's Serenade To American Soybean Producers: Got Along Without You Before I Met You, Gonna Get Along Without You Now.

         knew this would happen.   I just knew it.  Chinese agronomists and hog producers are adjusting to life without American soybeans. Turns out they've been using more than they've needed all along, so the downside alteration to their hog industry's soy consumption won't be that difficult to navigate.  Separate items from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post last month and Reuters this morning tell a story that will probably set off some profound changes in America's heavily Chinese trade-dependent soybean industry, which of course has some huge implications for South Dakota farmers, who this year will raise nearly 300 million bushels of soybeans.  At around $8/bushel, that's a multi-billion dollar industry, and it's one that has already taken a sizable hit thanks to President Trump and his tariff-fixation over China.  China's retaliation to Trump's gratuitous tantrum, slapping a 25% tariff on its imports of American soybeans, has driven the market down by about $2/bushel, accounting for a $600 million reduction in the value of this year's South Dakota harvest.  That's a lot of money to a state with just over 800,000 residents, and I have no doubt South Dakota's general economy will take direct and indirect hits as result.                                                                                                                                                      So what is it that's happening to China's hog production that will permanently alter America's soybean industry?  Just this.  China has been "importing far more soybeans than it really needed and could do without American imports," according to a Beijing-based agribusiness consultant named Ma Wenfeng.  Turns out that Chinese pig producers can get along with about 65 million tons of soybeans a year, but have been importing about 95 million tons, nonetheless.  That 30 million ton "surplus" is just about how much they've been importing every year from the United States.  Relatively low cost and easy access to supplies have induced Chinese producers to use soymeal for about 20% of their feed requirements even though the science of optimizing feed ingredients to provide the best nutrition at the lowest cost has reduced the soy requirement to about 12%.  Ma notes that "we have plenty of replacements for soymeal, such as peanut meal, cotton meal and rapeseed meal" to replace the protein content of soymeal.  Chinese producers can also add the amino acid lysine to replace soymeal protein.  The changeover to the lower soymeal requirement has been slow because so many producers in China don't have the financial incentive to overhaul feeding systems and formulas, according to Reuters.
    But now that soy prices have escalated because of China's retaliatory tariffs, the incentives
American Soymeal Ration
Soon To Be Reduced
to switch over to lowered-soy content feed are there. 
The wide application of the know-how will permanently affect the 36-year long relationship between Chinese hog producers and American soybean farmers, which up to now has been worth about $13 billion a year.  Considering that soybean sales to China before it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 were about $2 billion a year, the value of trade alliances should be self-evident to South Dakotans, who must be asking themselves why Trump is doing what he's doing.