Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Petition Reform

Senator Dan Lederman is floatingthe idea that South Dakota should pass a ban on paying people to circulate petitions.

I do not agree with Senator Lederman on banning the practice of paying circulators. I do agree the petition process is being abused and is in need of some reform.

This election cycle we have learned there needs to be a longer filing period. It can be stipulated that petitions for both candidates, initiatives, and referendums should have longer filing periods. And The Secretary of State should have longer to examine the petitions for form and accuracy before certification. Both the date for taking out the petition and filing deadline should be advanced so that petitions have time to be properly certified and appropriately challenged (if necessary) in time that election officials can print ballots for both absentee voters and for election day.

Specifically to paid circulators – Senator Lederman is correct, more candidates and interest groups are using paid circulators. There is nothing wrong with that. It creates jobs. I like it. The problem is it gives the impression that the candidacy or issue is popularly supported. Historically because the circulators were volunteers, citizens believed there was public support for the candidate or issue. With paid circulators popular support is implied when it is actually hired.

A few current examples of paid circulators are – The use by the S D Democrat Party and interest groups to foster legislation they could not pass or get passed in the Legislature. Examples are the minimum wage legislation and the you can choose your own doctor without restrictions from your health plan initiatives that are on the ballot this November.

It is my understanding though I will stand corrected that among others Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie employed circulators. Even this spring here in Sioux Falls, Mike Huether who was running for re election as Mayor, when confronted about using paid circulators, he told the press he was too busy with important work to be troubled with petitions.

It is a short leap to ask about campaigns and parties using paid staff to circulate petitions. Every campaign in memory with paid staff uses them is some fashion to see petition signatures are gathered and filed. Should this also be reported?

Take me away, I plead guilty, while leading the Republican Party our organization used staff to help candidates with their petitions.

To rectify this, I would propose a couple of remedies. First anyone candidate or group would file with the Secretary of State or local election official as appropriate a statement declaring they are using paid circulators, the names of the circulators and or the contractor as appropriate. I would require that the circulators get a sales tax license and pay the general sales tax on all fees charged the beneficiary of the petition. I would additionally require that all persons circulating petitions be required to wear a badge or button that can be seen by the potential signatory that identifies the circulator as being paid.

A personal suggestion is circulators wear a minimum 4-inch in diameter pink button with black letters stating, “I am being paid to ask for your signature.” Whatever the disclaimer, any law could specify the language or delegate it to the Secretary of State or the S.D. Board of Elections.

I have suggested before, the number of signatures that are required for initiative and referendum petitions should be seriously raised.

The current requirements when enacted were daunting. Today much easier, in effect lowing the threshold of public support. Today we don’t travel by horse and buggy, we have telephones, fax machines (remember those?), the Internet, social media. Ease of gathering petitions and disseminating information is much easier than when initiative and referendum were enacted. Today using paid circulators (as Senator Lederman suggests) if you have enough moolah you can get anything on the ballot. Raising the requirement would create even more economic activity and employment.

Finally we must restore confidence that all players in elections play by the same set of rules. To maintain public confidence in our election process there is no room for the mistakes taking place with voters getting the wrong absentee ballots or election law being administered one way for one candidate and another way for a different candidate. People can and do make mistakes (myself included) but when mistakes are made there is a loss of public trust.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Medicaid and Medicare – A Taxing Matter

A majority of South Dakotans does not support Obamacare (Affordable Health Care Act) and did not support it when it was passed.

Senator Tim Johnson this past week in his letter to Governors reaffirmed his support of socialized medicine when he wrote to urge States including South Dakota that have chosen not to increase Medicaid coverage to do so.

Just a little history – Politically the nation was divided on the issue when Obamacare passed. It passed the U S Senate by one vote. Senator Johnson voted Yea, Senator Thune and Representative Herseth Sandlin voted Nay.

In order to receive the necessary votes to pass the bill a few controversial deals were made.. Senator Landrieu (D, Louisiana) got an additional $5 Billion in relief for Hurricane Katrina (the 2nd Louisiana Purchase), Senator Ben Nelson (D. Nebraska) got special additional  reimbursement for any additional Medicaid cost for his State, Nebraska, (the Cornhusker Kickback which was later taken out of the Act when his Constituents revolted), and Senator Bill Nelson (D. Florida) also received for Florida full federal reimbursement for any additional Medicaid cost. Florida of course is a leading State in the number residents who are senior citizens. Note Florida pays nothing for additional Medicaid costs for its eligible residents.

Sidebar – the obvious question here if this was such a good deal why didn’t Senator Johnson get an exemption for South Dakota?

(more history) Several States litigated Obamacare regarding the so called individual mandate. The U S Supreme Court ruled that it was not a mandate but a tax but additionally ruled that the federal government could not force states to participate in the Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid expansion is what Senator Johnson, Democrats in the South Dakota Legislature, the South Dakota Democrat Party, and several Democrat candidates support. Last year the South Dakota Legislature did a summer of study of Medicaid expansion and determined that while expanding Medicaid eligibility had some merit it was not something that state government could afford in the out years when federal funding would decrease. In fact it was an unfunded mandate (if the State chose to participate).

I too oppose Obamacare but as a pragmatist believes it will not be repealed. We currently have a President who would veto any repeal and currently a U S Senate (with a slight chance of change with the mid term election) that will not pass repeal. It would be very un characteristic of Washington officials of either party to vote to dis enfranchise any group from existing benefits. Rather we will see reform. Will they be Democrat or Republican or some compromise? I guess time and which political parties are in power will tell.

While I am sympathetic to the feelings of those who are preaching repeal, the horse is out of the barn. Promising repeal is just pandering.

Healthcare affordability can’t be addressed by only figuring out who pays. The real problem is fixing why it costs so much? This is much harder because instead of spending money we don’t have, we have to ask providers, insurers, trial lawyers, and others to take a hit.

Democrat U S Senate candidate Rick Weiland proposes fixing Obamacare by rolling it into Medicare. As a Medicare participant I will say it works well. What Weiland won’t tell you is that it is very expensive.

Currently the Medicare tax is 2.9% of ALL wages paid in our Country plus an additional 0.9% on all wages paid by those earning over $200,000 annually. That is a really big number. Having said that, Medicare is not paying its own way now and the Medicare trust fund is being drawn down and expects to be insolvent by 2026. Under the Weiland plan far many more people will fall under Medicare. What Rick Weiland needs to tell us is how does he propose to pay for this gigantic expansion of a broke system?

The fact is Medicare and Medicaid is already increasing our deficit. These promises cost money. Lots of it!

From a public policy perspective government health care systems are neither responsive nor efficient. Having government make personal decisions does not work well. Government and bureaucracies must make rules that treat everyone the same. This leads to less personal decision (in this case on one’s own health.)

To reverse current cost escalation and make health care more affordable people must first take primary responsibility for their health. We must become more self-reliant and less reliant on government. The current Veteran’s Administration scandal (not the first one) points how a socialized system works (or does not work.) In this case administrators receiving bonuses for seeing patients timely. When in fact records are being falsified so that bonuses are paid. It is frequently heard that the Indian Health Service, another socialized system does not work well.

Liberals cry that these systems don’t work because they do not receive adequate resources (funding). It is not the funding that needs reforming, as much at it is the cost.

Personal note – I support and believe there is a role to collectively help those that are unable to help themselves; particularly veterans with service connected disabilities, children from poor families, and the disabled.

We are not going to fix these problems by spending more.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Closet

Kevin Woster tripped my trigger with his Politics in Keloland blog post on his recent breakfast club meeting with Larry Pressler.

Thanks Kevin for the spark and the opportunity to bolt on to your post. Kevin crafts a great story and having him still contributing to recording and explaining the fabric of South Dakota is a big plus for our shared culture. Thanks KELO for making a very smart move snapping Kevin up when he separated from the RC Journal.

Larry Pressler should not need an introduction to SD Political readers but just a few highlights. Larry Pressler was first elected in the post Watergate election on 1974 (forty years ago). He served 2 terms in the U S House and then 3 terms in the U S Senate (defeating Don Barnett, George Cunningham, and Ted Muenster). He was defeated in 1996 by Tim Johnson. Pressler again ran in 2002 for the U S House seat that was won by Bill Janklow who went on to defeat Stephanie Herseth.

Pressler has a sterling resume. Among his vitae, Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law School, first Viet Nam veteran to serve in the U S Senate, 22 years service in the U S Congress. Senator Pressler as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee also oversaw the rewriting of the mega important Telecommunications Act. He also did extensive work on the Under the Sea Treaty. For a little spice, if you are a little interested Google (the verb) Pressler Abscam investigation and (Google again) Pressler amendment.

Larry Pressler is a complex personality, always has been. For over a decade he was the Champion for Senior Citizens and owned their votes. I have often thought that Larry Pressler possesses somewhat of a split personality (never quite certain which Larry Pressler he is); The United States Senator who is just a farm boy destined to be the Champion for Agriculture or The United States Senator who is an Academic (Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law) destined be a University President or Ambassador to the U N or some important nation. BTW Pressler was briefly a candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 1980.

Despite Kevin’s claims about the Janklow camp in South Dakota (I think I might have been on the Board of Directors), there has never been any report by someone who witnessed the man behind the door story. Where I agree with Kevin, Pressler often acts like the absent-minded professor. 

In my recent StraightTalk blog post,I noted that Pressler is simply past prime time, though he in his own way will bring value to the fall’s campaign, i.e. the debates.

Larry Pressler literally bumped into me a month or so ago at the wellness center. I, barely clothed in a towel after showering was getting dressed and Larry Pressler who was walking about holding his locker key and looking for his locker. At that point it was a classic absent-minded professor scene.

I had not engaged with Larry Pressler for 12 years. I acknowledged and greeted him as he did me. The encounter was pleasant. At this point very similar to Kevin’s breakfast, just a couple of old war horses doing some reverie about past encounters. He said he reads my blog and was complimentary (at that point I hadn’t posted in 5 months.) I appreciated his compliment. I acknowledged he was again a candidate, and he jumped right in talking about his campaign.

He then in about 60 seconds told me that health care affordability was a big problem and that as he campaigned people were telling him that. He said that Obamacare was not going to be repealed and needed fixing (a very pragmatic view in my opinion). He then offered what seemed to be the developing Pressler solution. Why couldn’t we (he suggested), have health care delivered through cooperatives, like the Farmer’s Coops? Profits would not be retained by for profit health providers or non-profit health providers but instead by the cooperative’s members?

My purpose isn’t to pass judgment on his evolving health care proposal but rather to compliment someone for having one.  Disclaimer: I am not supporting Larry Pressler, past prime time, and supported Barack Obama in both his elect and re elect campaigns. While I appreciate his effort to reach across the aisle, for those endorsements alone, I cannot support him.

The 2014 campaign in the GOP primary so far has been five candidates not talking about making anything better. No new ideas, no policy proposals, no nothing. They are to varying degrees angry birds.  Just Shouting! Angry, more angry, and pissed off! ? “I love guns more than you.” “I hate Obamacare more than you.” “I am more conservative (says me) than you.”

Senator Pressler is out of the closet (if he was ever in one) talking about effecting change. It is time for the other candidates to come out of their closets and tell us how they are going to make America better.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

South Dakota Is Getting a New U S Senator

Primary election day is some six weeks away, yet the campaigns for U S Senate in South Dakota are bizarre and dysfunctional. Observing elections in South Dakota for now almost forty years, we haven’t seen one like this before.

Bottom line, there is about an eighty percent chance Mike Rounds will replace Tim Johnson. Rounds will win the vaudevillian GOP primary with 50 percent of the vote or more. Therefore he will run in the General Election against Democrat Rick Weiland and Independents, former Senator Larry Pressler, and if we believe him Gordon Howie

Our Nation faces more than a few very important issues. Issues that affect our national life are not being addressed because of the ideological political warfare that exist in our Country.

In the macro sense the issues are: Less self-reliance and personal responsibility / More reliance on government, our explosive and corrosive national debt, and Our divided national and government where blame and political credit are the business rather than solving problems.

In the micro sense issues that are not being addressed are balancing the budget, funding social security and medicare, energy independence, immigration, health care affordability, education (which I don’t believe should be a Federal issue), national fiscal policy, the deterioration of our foreign policy in the past five years, and increased political instability in the world. BTW – there are many more problems.

There are also important social issues but generally I believe individuals can make better choices than government.

Neither of the Parties is fielding their best Candidates.

A look at the field –

Rick Wieland is a two-time loser and hasn’t proven he has what it takes to win in Republican South Dakota. I don’t completely rule him out but in the past he hasn’t demonstrated the political abilities of Stephanie Herseth Sandlin or her vote getting abilities.

As noted, I do not completely dismiss him. Rick Weiland knows Democrats can win in South Dakota. Rick Weiland is working very hard and somewhat smart. He is busy developing a narrative and touching regular South Dakotans not just those that are politically active.

The fact he is in the field with advertising during primary season (even though unopposed) shows he learned something from his former boss, Tom Daschle. In 1986 Daschle ran ads during primary season to remind voters he was alive (while Republicans were slugging it out in Senate and House primaries) and setting the stage that problems in the country were not being addressed. Remember the with the red ink flowing over the Constitution?

Sidebar – I recently raised the point that SHS was the best Dem candidate with a very partisan Democrat who took offense and told me Stephanie was a Republican. He said SD Dems are furious with her over her vote against Obamacare and her not supporting same sex marriage.

As a GOP partisan, we should have a candidate who is younger than John Thune. I’m crying over spilt milk but we have four outstanding young leaders who have won statewide elections that would have been stronger Senate candidates than those running for the GOP nomination. (Alphabetical) Marty Jackley, Dusty Johnson, Chris Nelson, or Kristi Noem would have been a stronger Senate candidate.

As far as the GOP campaign field goes – as previously stated, Rounds wins. The former Governor got out very early, co-opted other Republicans by announcing his candidacy despite what Tim Johnson decides and harvesting the establishments campaign cash and support early. Rounds accomplished his early goal of convincing Kristi Noem her political future was better staying put. Otherwise the only even remotely qualified candidate is State Senator Larry Rhoden.

Dr. Bosworth and Stace Nelson are proving to be fringe candidates who in the best sense are running, as “Change” candidates and the worst sense are woefully unqualified for political office. Jason Ravnsborg just is too late, unknown in political circles, and not even remotely vetted.

Sidebar – the GOP does have a deep bench. Rather than the Staces, Bozs, Ravnsborgs, there are highly more accomplished and attractive GOP teamers on the bench ready to take the field of statewide office. Consider State Representative David Lust, State Senator Corey Brown, and State Senator Shantel Krebs (who is seeking the GOP nomination as Secretary of State.)

The campaign for the GOP nomination is not only a circus but has the sideshow and menagerie as well. Primarily they are only campaigning at Republican events.

Republican Lincoln Day Dinners are a great tradition and useful tool for the Republican Party.  It’s a great way for candidates to meet the activists and party faithful – but frankly while maybe attendance is mandatory for Governor and Federal races (absolutely mandatory for Constitutional Office candidates (that’s where convention delegates are), it’s a lousy way to get votes. Way over half if not more of those that attend have already made up their mind whom they support. GOP events are not the way to connect with voters. Candidates Bosworth and Rounds made far better voter contact at the Sportsman’s show than any LDD they attended. I noted that candidate Rhoden was at Lion’s Pancake Days in Sioux Falls last week.

Sidebar – One of the best campaign techniques I witnessed was when former S D Representative Don Ham approached me at the old Prairie Market warehouse food store in Mitchell one Saturday afternoon when my family were shopping. Rep Ham was running against Clint Roberts in 1980 for Congress in the “old” 2nd Congressional District. Don approached with the line that since I was shopping at a warehouse market I must be a man who wanted to stretch my dollar. If that was the case, he was my man to send to Congress. Don probably got more votes that day talking to shoppers than he ever got at GOP dinners. (Don lost!)

Worse yet the biggest issue is who hates Obamacare more? “Vote for me I hate it more than you do.” Then they talk about not attending debates, not being ideologically pure, i.e. “I am the real conservative in this race.” “I love guns more than you do.” (as defined by their own standards).

The issues I detailed above, are absent in this campaign.

Sidebar – My personal favorite is the attack on one of the candidates that he used to be a registered Democrat.  Just a reminder but Ronald Reagan, John Thune, Phil Gramm, Norm Coleman and many others were at one time Democrats.

Independents –

Howie puts himself in Stace Nelson’s camp. I couldn’t agree more. Enough said.

Former Senator Larry Pressler is simply just past prime time. He will add to the discussion and subtract marginally from the GOP vote totals next fall. Pressler is motivated for both personal reasons and because he too is unhappy with what’s going on in our Country. Many of Larry Pressler’s previous supporters are no longer with us. It’s worth noting, he hasn’t been on a ballot in South Dakota for 12 years as Mike Rounds hasn’t been on a ballot for 8 years. Presser’s endorsements and support of Barack Obama won’t be helpful in South Dakota where the President and his health plan enjoy little popularity.

While South Dakota has not put its best on the ballot, I take comfort in knowing that a pragmatic Republican Mike Rounds will when elected vote consistently for South Dakota and pretty consistently support his party in Washington.