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.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another South Dakotan Made Good!

I don’t usually respond to other SD political blogs but found this recent post at SD War College blog rather informative. War College reported South Dakota’s former Congresswoman received in compensation over a half million dollars in the last reporting year. The information comes from a Morningstar report of Compensation for Key executives of Sioux Falls based Raven Industries.

I am guessing the author at War College is not a reader of Morningstar reports but identified Mrs. Herseth Sandlin’s 620K+ from a Google notification or the like, that tracks SHS for him.

I agree Mrs. Herseth Sandlin’s salary is handsome but do not believe it is among the reasons she decided against being a candidate for the U S Senate in 2014.

Should SHS have entered the 2014 Senate race, she would have been perhaps the most formidable candidate from either party; most importantly the only battle tested candidate who had been through the real war of a campaign. The perhaps exception is Kristi Noem, who also chose not to seek the Senate seat and is running for re election to the House of Representatives. It is not lost on followers of S D politics that now Rep Noem defeated Rep Herseth in 2010 in a close contest.

The previous big knock on Stephanie was she is DC; went to school there, then went to work there, and then came back only to run for Congress. Except for the school part, the her working in Washington is a very similar to the work histories of Larry Pressler (another 2014 Senate candidate), Tom Daschle, and to some degree John Thune who returned to South Dakota after working in DC to work near State government and politics in Pierre (Party ED, State Government, and Association Exec) for eight years before running for the U S House.

Partisans in South Dakota often rail about those living and working in the Washington culture; i.e. they are not one of us. It’s an easy target. It certainly wounded Senator Daschle in his 2004 re elect when his District of Columbia real property tax exemption was disclosed.

Politicians in South Dakota speak often (sometimes unhappily) about our kids going out of State for higher education and careers. When one of the wanderers returns, often the same pols speak with glowing praise how South Dakota is a great place to come home and raise a family.

There is very positive magazine piece (in fact the cover story) about “Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Wife, Mother, Leader” in the April/May issue of Sioux Falls Woman that tells such a similar story. (Her picture on the cover is quite a glamour shot.) Did she return for politics, fortune, or Zachary Lars Sandlin? You can decide for yourself, but I don’t believe it’s the dinero.

Combined with the very nice article (to my political eye – a puff piece) and with the recognition of her salary, what sparks my interest is the contrasting life of our former Representative and the politics of the President.

Raven Industries is not shelling out big bucks because she is not talented. Neither did Skadden Arps the established White Shoe law firm she worked for in Washington, DC. The girl is smart (Yea Groton High, Georgetown, and Georgetown Law!) and talented.

Mitt Romney, who was a product of meritocracy and believed in individual ability and initiative, was disparaged by Democrats for seeing America as a meritocracy, a Country where the talented progress based on their ability. In America those with brains, ideas, and a strong work ethic should succeed. We believers in the Meritocracy also believe the opportunity to succeed must be available to all. Consequently thus we understand the need for free public schools, free public lending libraries, and a society that provides opportunity to all.

Barack Obama sees America quite differently. Hardly a day does not go by that he is not out touting and preaching income redistribution and playing the class warfare card.

Clearly Stephanie Herseth Sandlin resides not only in South Dakota but in the Meritocracy camp as well.

Endbar –Repeating previous postings - the biggest difference between the two major political parties are: Republicans believe in the equality of opportunity, Democrats believe in equality of outcome.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Kind of Town

Sioux Falls voters went to the polls on Tuesday and said they are for the most part happily living in the Queen City on the Prairie.

Sioux Falls is a good place to live was good news for incumbent candidates who were all re elected (Mayor Huether, Councilpersons Erpenbach and Rolfing, and School Board member Morrison.) Our new Councilors for the open seats are State Representative Christine Erickson and Rick Kiley.

The losers were the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) forces. Included in this category were the measures against the outdoor pool at Spellerberg Park, the construction of a Wal-Mart at 85th and Minnesota, and the Shape Places new zoning ordinance. Ms. Schwan who lost the Southeast District Council seat was also closely identified because of her activism and outspoken opposition to the 85th and Minnesota Wal-Mart zoning and construction.

I am not sure we have heard the last from Ms. Schwan or of her opposition to building that Wal-Mart (despite the vote).

Voters said that while the some opposition may be valid progress is important and the City need to move forward.  

It is instructive that the ballot percentages for the losing NIMBY elections (the three NIMBY issues and the Southeast Council seat) were essentially 2 to 1.

The Mayor’s election was the variant. Mike Huether won re election by 56% to 44%, approximately 10 percentage points less than the anti progress yet otherwise happy Sioux Falls Citizens.

In analyzing the election it is important to understand that incumbent Mayors win re election. The candidate with the most money also usually wins. Mayor Huether also aggressively used the power of incumbency during the preceding two weeks before the election if not the preceding three years. There was an announcement from the City almost every day.

Briefly summarizing the campaign, Mayor Huether’s campaign was one of personal accomplishment. The Mayor talked about what has happened in Sioux Falls in the last four years and either specifically or generally took personal credit for everything good. This includes resurfacing the streets, the events center, river greenway, and even non-governmental activities like building housing and creating jobs.  

Economic cycles play an important part in elections. That certainly is the case in Sioux Falls. When the Mayor took office in 2010 Sioux Falls had almost zero growth in sales tax collections. This was a result of the effects of the great recession and the aftermath of what had been explosive growth in the Ethanol industry that peaked and whose growth couldn’t be sustained.

After Mayor Huether took office sales tax collections began to rise again (politicians take the credit, but the City of Sioux Falls had little to do with the economic turn around.) Also Sioux Falls credit card industry took a hit with the passage of the Dodd – Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2011. After extensive employee layoffs in Sioux Falls and subsequent successful litigation by the credit card industry, many financial jobs in Sioux Falls were restored. I believe some of these new jobs were baked into the Mayor’s claim of creating 3000 new jobs.

Challenge candidate Councilman Greg Jamison, in contrast focused his campaign on People First. Jamison laid out a plan of what he would he like to accomplish and specifically raised the issues of traffic control, returning tax dollars to taxpayers rather than increasing historically high treasury reserves, and addressing the rising crime rate in Sioux Falls. Jamison also challenged the Mayor over his ethical behavior that the Mayor refused to address.

Interestingly in each case the Mayor deferred to engage on these choosing to basically relying on his self-proclamations of accomplishment, or trotting out his Police Chief or City Finance Officer to address the issues with them saying the City was already taken care of that issue. Specifically on the crime rate the Mayor when first asked denied there is a problem stating that so many people would not be moving here if there were.

While people like their City, that 10% difference between NIMBY and the Mayor’s race results represents increased dissatisfaction among some over the Mayor’s job approval.

Mayor Huether to my judgment, lives in the here and now. His governing philosophy is about time and money. He is focused on personal impact and accomplishment with little vision of the long term.

However things are not perfect. There are problems. Crime is on the rise and is correctable if addressed. Increasingly there are retail vacancies downtown that the private sector needs to address with City encouragement. Parking is a pressing issue as well, particularly on the East Bank. Maybe getting rid of that River Ramp so quickly wasn’t the best idea. Railroad relocation is still an issue as is public transit.

People are happy here in Sioux Falls and while NIMBY seems to have been addressed, government goes on and there are still issues both short and long term. Essentially this election has formed a new government with the same Leader.

I wish them well.