Monday, August 30, 2010

Kristi – Get On Message

In my previous post, Not Just Another Pretty Face, I concluded that the South Dakota Congressional will be a hard fought close election. It had been a little over a week since Herseth Sandlin played the Social Security card when last week Democrat operatives exposed what they presume is a character flaw in the Republican candidate. On Thursday KELO TV ran the story “Noem Not Proud of Driving Record.”

Essentially the story reported on the driving records of the four major candidates on the ballot in the November election, (Heidepriem, Daugaard, Herseth Sandlin, and Noem). Particularly to speeding tickets Heidepriem 17, Daugaard 12, Herseth Sandlin 1, and Noem 20. What seemed so egregious is that Noem’s last ticket was for 94 miles per hour and she failed to pay several fines, with failure notices being sent and warrants issued.

Understand that most political campaigns do some opposition research. Even the most rudimentary check their opponent’s positions and their background to varying degrees. For major campaigns like for Governor, U S Senate or House, professional researchers are usually employed to do the opposition research to find the hickeys. In these major campaigns, often candidates even have their own backgrounds and records checked to see what their opponent is finding out about them. If this seems a little unseemly, it may be but there is a lot at stake on the outcomes, it is not illegal, and it is part of the drill for a successful campaign.

Public records are checked, both civil and criminal. Besides driving records, property records, mortgages, liens, judgments, employment histories, divorces, and even visits to the neighbors. You may remember a couple of years ago when Democrat Senatorial Campaign staffers watched prospective candidate and former Lt. Governor’s Steve Kirby’s home to see pet groomers come to his home to tend to his dogs. Remember in the 2004 Senate campaign when Republicans discovered Tom Daschle’s declaration of D C residency on his Washington, DC residence? In my years at the State Party oppo research just came with the territory. As is often said, politics ain’t bean bag!

I can only imagine the light hearts and smiles in the Herseth camp when Kristi Noem’s driving record was exposed, particularly the failure to appear aspect. They had been given a gift.

Herseth Sandlin has been behind in this race, evidenced by both her campaign style and the polling that had been released (primarily by Rasmussen Reports). Stephanie played the Senior card at the Sioux Empire Fair and as previously discussed put Noem on the defensive. Then about 2 weeks later the driving records are exposed.

Sidebar – some may want to shoot the messenger, but it is newsworthy, and it is part of the campaign drill to help the media to its job. The Parties, special interests, candidate’s campaigns send out releases, talking points, blast faxes, emails, now tweets, retweets and on and on incessantly to push messages.

In South Dakota today we have just about lost our political press. I think the AP still has a State Capitol reporter and the R C Journal, the Argus, Bob Mercer, Tupper at the Daily Republic pretty much is the political press. With changing if not failing business models, mainstream media has little budget to do their own research. With high staff turnover and other coverage demands there is little time to scrutinize public records. So when presented with Noem’s failure to appear, it was in a word – Sensational.

When the story broke and confronted by KELO, Kristi Noem did the right thing. She said she was not proud of her record, was working to improve, and wanted to talk about important issues other than her driving record.

The Noem campaign and Republicans now need to move on. Quit talking about driving records, theirs and others. Don’t make this a two day or two week story. Democrats will try to keep ginning this story but the candidate has answered and must resist all impulses to keep talking about it.

What is happening is that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has regained the momentum. HS is defining Noem rather than Noem doing the defining. I.e. Senior Citizens can not trust Noem and she has character flaws. All the while, Stephanie is running feel good ads appealing to the her Seniors and reassuring her prior voters who might otherwise be questioning her values that she is the independent voice for South Dakota and not the candidate who is on the political fringe.

South Dakota voters do not support the President and the budget deficits are the number one issue. This is the issue South Dakotans care about. Kristi must tell South Dakota voters that Barack Obama is taking our Country in the wrong direction. His $800 billion budget busting stimulus plan is not working. Stephanie supports the President’s wrong direction and supports and voted for his stimulus plan. In her advertising Kristi should look right into the camera and deliver this message with conviction.

Tell voters, real South Dakota values are paying off the mortgage for the future not adding to it. South Dakotans understand you can not buy prosperity. Tell ‘em.

Kristi Noem needs to get on message!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Not Just Another Pretty Face

The political winds are blowing at close to gale force at the backs of the GOP and into the face of the Democrats. It is very safe to say that Democrats are going to have a terrible electoral year.

The cause and ultimately the blame will be President Obama.

Citizens are worried about the economy, jobs, and particularly the deficit. Surprisingly health care reform that was shoved down the throats of a skeptical and divided nation seems more like a symptom than a cause of voter anger.

The shift in political winds has had a profound effect on the At Large U S House election in South Dakota.

During the primary election campaign, I believed the SD GOP had three very good candidates. In terms of articulating the issues and offering solutions I believed Kristi Noem was the weakest. I thought Chris Nelson and Dr. Curd better articulated the issues. In the end while I thought Nelson would pull out the win, I was not surprised Kristi Noem won. Her gender was a clear distinction and she had the organization and financial support of many activists in the Thune Camp. (I have believed for many years that Women make good candidates.) This is nuanced as nearly 100% of South Dakota GOP activists are in the Thune Camp. Particularly helpful to Noem were the Women for Thune group that worked so diligently for Thune in 2004. They were feeling their oats as a few of the Women for Thune had been in Massachusetts last January working for Scott Brown to win the Ted Kennedy seat, and they returned fired up to put our House Seat in the GOP column. Kristi became their cause. Contrary to suggestions in blogosphere I do not believe that Senator Thune or any of his staffers (campaign or otherwise were involved.)

Polling by Rasmussen has shown for sometime that Stephanie HS is facing a real battle this election cycle. She has the Democrat base and those supporters who have been with her now thru four elections. But she has lost much of her GOP support and the important Independents that supported her in past elections and Barack Obama in 2008. The effected GOP and Independent voters now want another Change.

The latest polling by Rasmussen Reports shows Noem with a 51% to 42% advantage, and on Friday (August 20) the non partisan, call them like you see them, and usually right, Charlie Cook calls the Noem / Herseth Sandlin a toss up.

Without question, the US House race in South Dakota will be the Marquis election in 2010. I suspect that toss up is right. Kristi Noem has the momentum and Republican voters are energized, Democrats are despondent. However Herseth Sandlin as well as the National Democrats has dusted off the Social Security card. In the past this has been a very effective play for them (blaming Republican candidates for wanting to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.) Given the current state of the House race, the seniors will be the deciding factor in who wins.

A smaller factor in the race is Thomas Marking the Independent candidate. Marking presents some interesting ideas, seems to be a Conservative with a Libertarian bent. He will get some attention but not real traction. His one to four percent of the vote will come from what would otherwise be Noem voters. I will get back to the Social Security issue and debate this past two weeks, after just setting up a few preliminaries

Prelims – Herseth Sandlin is well known, very articulate, a skillful debater, has battled in close elections (Janklow and Diedrich), and is popular. On the downside, last year she seemed to be off her political game. She did not do open events. To the extent she touched her constituents, everything was very controlled. Certainly part of it was the public mood (she wanted to avoid confrontation and the Tea Party) but some element was her desire to be with her infant son when the Congress was out of Session. Her voting on the big issues in the last two years has not followed any distinct pattern. She voted against TARP twice, for the Obama Stimulus package, against Cap and Trade, and against the Health Care Reform bill. To avoid a primary she apparently has promised not to work for health care reform repeal.

Mrs. Noem won the primary election. She has served in the Leadership but in four Sessions not notably led on any Statewide “hot political” issues where she distinguished herself as Mrs. Go To on an issue. In her advertising she ran heavily against Washington, DC and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Politically this bothers me on several levels. While Kristi is running against Washington she has travelled there seeking National Party support and money. It is an assumption on my part but if the past is any indication she is probably accepting money from other GOP Congressional Leadership PACs. Perhaps national GOP figures will come here to campaign for her. Is this an anti Washington message? Send me there and I will become part of the team.

The other Noem statement that “gets to me” is her saying she can not support the San Francisco limousine liberal, Nancy Pelosi. Foremost, the voters that Noem needs to win over for the most part do not know who Pelosi is. They do know President Obama is who they don’t like and the GOP should save their fire for him. The claim is made that Stephanie votes with Nancy 95% of the time. That is probably true but which votes? Does that include only roll call votes or procedural and voice votes as well? For comparison, what percentage of the time does House Minority Leader, John Boehner, 65% or 75%? Noem repeatedly claims she will not vote to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House. Well of course not!

The only vote that a Congressional Candidate (House or Senate) owes their party is to support their Caucus’ nominee for leadership.

In watching the day to day soap opera of national government and politics we sometimes forget that the Legislative Branch of Government (The Congress) is Bi-Partisan and is organized by the two major political parties. The Majority Party organizes the government. The Speaker of the U S House of Representatives organizes the Committees, and oversees the apparatus by which legislation proceeds. The majority rules.

Thus when a person becomes a candidate for a partisan ballot and declares they are a Republican or a Democrat they owe it to their party’s voters to support their party when organizing the government. Otherwise in all other matters, they represent all of their constituents regardless of party by doing in their judgment what is best for the common good.

The Debates, Social Security, and Medicare – Both Candidates have faced off now several times in the past two weeks. I will comment on the two that I watched on the Internet, Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls on August 11 and Dakotafest in Mitchell on August 17.

If you watched the Sioux Empire Fair debate and were unfamiliar with the issues, the candidates, and the politics, you would have easily determined that the more strident, voice raised, finger pointing Herseth was trailing in the polls. Kristi Noem was calm and collected and accounted for herself and made no gaffes. Herseth however did lay a glove on her a couple of times and began positioning Kristi on the Social Security issue. The first time was in response to being question on the vote the day before to spend more for teachers and supplements for health care to Seniors. Herseth Sandlin said used her replied that South Dakota caregivers, nursing institutions, and Seniors themselves had contacted her about lost benefits and lost jobs. Kristi did not respond. In the second instance when questioned about her Stimulus vote, Herseth responded very directly to the GOP candidate that the GOP in Pierre had deficit spent for 7 of the last 8 years and in fact had used the Stimulus dollars that Noem was criticizing to balance the budget. Noem did respond saying that had South Dakota not used the dollars some other State would have.

Thus began the positioning of Noem as not a friend of Seniors. In the next few days both campaigns continued to position themselves and their opponent on the issues.

Stephanie claiming that Noem would cut payments to Seniors or supports privatizing social security (I continue to think this is not a bad idea if properly constructed and with proper oversight. - a complicated issue for another time perhaps. Social Security today is a Ponzi scheme that would embarrass Bernie Madoff.).

Kristi took a pledge of her own promising to protect Seniors and promising to repeal Obamacare that cuts Medicare funding. Unfortunately, the problem is the more Kristi talks about that Stephanie is lying about her position; she is talking about it instead of Congress or President Obama.

At the Dakotafest debate there were more charges and counter charges but this time Kristi punched back and refused to be labeled. Kristi Noem accounted for herself well on issues and presence. She looked like a Congresswoman.

Sidebar – While the debates were pointed it was for the most parts on issues. This was not a catfight. They did however demonstrate why a man running against a woman is at a disadvantage another woman is not at. My observation in the Herseth Sandlin losing effort to Bill Janklow in 2002, Janklow was careful to not be critical of his opponent.

Just a quick note on Stephanie and seniors -They are her secret group. When she campaigned in 2002 she seemed like she was at every senior center in South Dakota. Perhaps she just found it easy to campaign there or she genuinely wanted to build this coalition. (Note to the Noem campaign – go to a few of these also and remind the seniors what Obama and deficits are doing for their grandchildren.) Stephanie has not forgotten them. Remember the advertising in 2008 with Herseth Sandlin playing the piano for the Democrats and Republicans that supported her? Mrs. HS has worked this group and will be all over them this time. You can also expect to see her telegenic Grandpa pitching on her behalf again this year.

And back and forth it will go. I expect there will be money coming in on both sides talking about Medicare, Social Security, and Health Care. Stephanie will try to keep Kristi in the box and Kristi must get out. If the debate is not changed, the current Noem lead may evaporate.

The Senior vote is important and critical to winning. Larry Pressler in the mid 1980s and early 1990s was a hero to Senior Citizens. By the 1996 election against Tim Johnson, unfortunately many of his earlier supporters had passed away. In 1986 in the very close Abdnor Daschle Senate election, the weekend before the election (before dialer calls)the Daschle campaign attempted )and completed many) to call every Senior Citizen in the State and tell them that Jim Abdnor had voted to cut Social Security. It has happened before and the stage is being set for history to repeat itself.

At the end of the day, this election will not be a beauty contest and despite the political winds, it will be hard fought close election. Maybe not a Johnson v Thune but a nail biter.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sioux Falls Sewage Emergency

Public Works are one of civilizations amenities until they are non operational - then utilities you take for granted that are out of sight and out of mind, during an emergency or disaster become a necessity.

Wednesday afternoon one of the City’s trunk sewer lines apparently collapsed. It collapsed likely because of the age of the sewer line, the stress of high ground water tables and heavy use; the heavy use being exacerbated by errant homeowners discharging basement sumps into the sanitary sewer system rather than outside and into the storm water system. Until investigation and study are completed, the exact causes won’t be known and longer term remedies will not be determined. The temporary fix consists of an above ground bypass of the collapsed portion of the sanitary sewer.

Natural disasters such as floods, forest fires, blizzards, tornadoes, and the like are excellent opportunities for political leaders to demonstrate leadership. The events surrounding such disasters also assure high media exposure. Politicians neither enjoy nor wish for these kinds of problems but the exposure and real political opportunity exists none the less. It goes with the territory.

When the sewer line break was discovered and the potential for vast damage was assessed the Sioux Falls Public Works department, the Emergency Management folks, and Mayor Mike Huether swung into action forcefully and expeditiously.

It was reported the break was about 2:30pm and by 4:30pm the Mayor had gathered the media and announcing an action plan. Included were pleas and orders for restricting all water use west of Minnesota Avenue north of 26th Street, and all of Sioux Falls west of Interstate 29. The Mayor also encouraged residents in the north central section of the City to action to move valuables in their basements to higher elevations. Employers were encouraged to let employees return to their homes to protect their property.

City Departments appeared coordinated, including Police, Fire, Public Works, Emergency Management, Media Service, and the Mayor. (Certainly there were others, I am just unaware of all who were involved). Over the past two days our public servants have done their job. While any damage is too much, painful and tragic to the affected, other than to infrastructure real disaster was averted. There was minimal damage. Tonight reportedly 30 homes were affected. Undoubtedly there will be more, but thousands of homes, businesses, and other buildings could have been damaged.

Maybe the City’s orders went too far. Perhaps there was overkill. But in this situation overkill is justified. Residents responded appropriately and Mayor Mike did take the lead.

The Mayor seemed to be enjoying the attention at times, but to the point: actions and results (and that is what really counts) were appropriate, timely, and effective. I understand throughout the emergency, the Mayor communicated with and briefed the City Council on the emergency.

Overall City Government worked as we would expect and deserve high marks.

Caveat – Proper repairs and improvements should be made to the infrastructure, but we should not shoot a pigeon with cannon. Several years ago when there was flash flooding and basements with water in the 33rd Street and Minnesota Avenue area in near South Side and Central Sioux Falls, the City Council rushed to judgment with their cannon to make overly extensive storm water improvements – spending $42 million on what was proposed to be a $24 million project. Our City Fathers should take a deep breadth before hurrying to call in artillery again.

Sidebar - I have been observing Mayor Huether’s job performance since he was elected and it is still too early to assess his job performance. An assessment two and one half months into his term would be anecdotal. Pundits and the public should give him a year so that he is judged by results. However, I do plan to post on Mike Huether a Work in Progress in the near future.

Endbar – Associated Thoughts – I have heard some grumbling about the discharging of massive amounts (over a million gallons) of raw sewage into the Big Sioux River and Covell Lake. I question if it would have been better backed up in homes? Is putting raw sewage more or less egregious than a petroleum spill?

With all the rain we have had in the last several weeks, the high water table, and specifically the two of 5 and 6 inch plus downpours the end of last week; what is the explanation as to why there was not flooding in the areas the Army Corps of Engineers says is in the Flood Plain? Sioux Falls is spending millions to comply with Corps’ Flood Plain revisions and property owners are paying large premiums for flood insurance – Should not there be an explanation?