Monthly Archives: September 2009

Spotlight on booster seats

National Public Radio broadcast an in-depth story today during its Morning Edition program regarding three states which don’t require booster safety seats for children up to age 8. They are South Dakota, Arizona and Florida. The National Transportation Safety Board has drawn attention to the situation and recommends requiring their use in motor vehicles in all 50 states. The report noted that Gov. Mike Rounds had vetoed the legislation in South Dakota. That took place in 2007 (HB 1189 sponsored by Rep. Mark Willadsen, R-Sioux Falls, and Sen. Gil Koetzle, D-Sioux Falls).

The NPR report included comments from former state legislative leader Garry Moore, D-Yankton, about why he thinks the requirement is unnecessary and unworkable. Among his points: law enforcement officers would have to guess the age of children and parents would need to produce birth certificates.

Here’s the main thrust of the governor’s 2007 veto message:

I can think of a plethora of circumstances where compliance with this law is unworkable. Parents with large families and neighbors dropping children off at school come immediately to mind. I will not force South Dakota citizens to weigh their passengers before deciding whether to transport them to the movies. How can a law enforcement officer enforce this law? Are we going to provide scales to law enforcement to weigh each child before writing a warning ticket? Are we going to require children to carry identification or a birth certificate to prove their age? Simply put, I can support any type of encouragement to utilize booster seats short of making the failure to do so a violation of the law. Sometimes good advice does not make good law.

An amazing GFP Commission coincidence

Wednesday is Sept. 30, also known in Harding and western Butte counties as the opening day of South Dakota’s hunting season for sage grouse. Thursday is Oct. 1, which happens to be the second and final day of the sage grouse season. Oddly enough, our state Game, Fish and Parks Commission just happens to be meeting in Lemmon on Thursday and Friday. And Spence Hawley, the commission’s chairman from Brookings, happens to be a hunter of sage grouse. Now that’s what you call luck. But wait! This isn’t the first such wonderful coincidence. The commission’s May meeting, held in Custer State Park, happened to come during spring turkey season.

I haven’t figured out what they were hunting or fishing for when the commission met in downtown Sioux Falls back in April…


They don’t look like gardeners.

For those of you seriously interested, the commission meeting starts at 1 p.m. MT Thursday in Beeler Community Center on Lemmon’s Main Street and is scheduled to continue there Friday morning.

Lead zeppelin? Pawlenty’s presidential run

The South Dakota Republican Party’s leadership evidently has a higher opinion of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty than his state’s citizens do. He’s the SDGOP’s keynote speaker at the big Rapid City dinner coming up. While he’s looking at a 2012 presidential campaign, he’s not getting much encouragement back home. Here’s the latest from the Minneapolis Star Tribune in today’s editions:

A majority of Minnesotans don’t want to see Gov. Tim Pawlenty run for president in 2012, but nearly as many say they would give him a look if he were nominated, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

The poll shows that only 30 percent of adults want to see the two-term governor make a try for the White House three years from now, while 55 percent do not.

But in a mixed message for Pawlenty, 25 percent of Minnesotans said there was a “good chance” they would vote for him if he became the GOP nominee, while another 25 percent said there was at least “some chance” they would vote for him. A solid 43 percent said there was no chance they would vote for a President Pawlenty.

The survey of 1,000 Minnesota adults was completed last week, after Pawlenty had spent months traveling the country to address Republican groups — appearances that could pay off should he run for president, but which may have irritated some Minnesotans.

Go to for the whole story.

Say it ain’t so, Cindy!

From Britton, to SDSU, to the Aberdeen American News: That’s the career path taken by AAN editor Cindy Eikamp. It has become rare for journalists to make their entire career at the newspapers where they start. Cindy is one of the few. She let the AAN news staff know recently that she is ready to retire. No date is set, and no replacement is waiting. But she’s ready and plans are in the making for her to start a much-deserved and well-earned rest some time in 2010. They so no one is irreplaceable. They don’t know Cindy.

Munsterman joins debate on driver-license stations

Former Brookings mayor Scott Munsterman, who’s hoping to win the Republican nomination for governor in 2010, is the latest to question the Rounds administration’s decision to close 17 driver-examination offices.

Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls and Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem of Sioux Falls came out earlier against the shutdowns, which are scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. Knudson and Heidepriem also are running for governor.

Don’t be surprised if Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, backs off at least some of the closures. Under federal “motor voter” law, people can register to vote at driver license stations. The U.S. Justice Department takes a dim view of any steps which can raise barriers to minority voters. South Dakota already is under restrictions in Indian country that require USDOJ clearance. Closing driver-exam stations very well could fall within the federal government’s scrutiny.

Rounds is strongly supporting the 2010 gubernatorial candidacy of Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard. If the Rounds administration has to backtrack on driver-license stations because of possible voting-rights violations, it can’t be helpful to Daugaard. It also could open a new round of arguments if the Rounds administration proceeds with closures of driver-license stations elsewhere while preserving those that serve Indian country.

Here’s the main text of the Munsterman statement:

“Closing some locations to save the state some money may make a lot of sense at first glance. Drivers licenses need to be renewed only every five years and people often have to travel to larger communities for necessities on a regular basis, so combining a trip to the licensing location with a shopping trip might not be much of an inconvenience in order to save the state some taxpayer money. But that is exactly what is wrong with this decision – taking yet one more reason away from people to do their business in their local community, negatively impacting main street South Dakota.”

“The recent closings of several drivers license examination locations is yet another example of the top-down type of governing that has become all too common in recent years,” Munsterman said. “Just like the state has removed the ability of local communities to determine themselves whether they want to have a school in their town, State Government continues to make it just that much harder to do business outside of the larger cities in our state. Unfortunately, that’s just short sighted, and guarantees that instead of making our state a stronger place to do business as a whole, we’re cutting off markets to people. “

“In the case of our drivers license stations, were the mayors and other local government officials and/or local economic development professionals of the affected communities contacted for advice on how the state could lessen the impact or solve this problem without losing services? The answer is no. It is time to change the way we do business in this state and allow communities to be involved in the decision making process. Involving communities in the process allows the state to find the most common sense solutions that have the best impact on communities, affording people convenient access to needed services.”

Munsterman stated “We can utilize technology and combine existing governmental locations with technology to provide services at a much lower cost and also keep services within the community. There is no doubt in my mind, had our administration sought the advice of local government officials and active civic leaders, that good ideas would have surfaced resulting in creative solutions that would work.”

“All too often in our state we make decisions that slowly erode away at the foundation of our smaller communities. We need to rethink this decision and allow our communities to become active participants in the solution. After all, they are their tax dollars too. And as I can attest from my first hand experience as a mayor, local officials would relish the opportunity to help,“ Munsterman said.

Two other top Democratic legislators, House leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton and Rep. Larry Lucas of Mission, had joined Heidepriem in their statement several weeks ago disagreeing with the governor.  One of the first to draw attention to the matter was Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton.

The Rounds administration points out there will still be 56 locations open. The sites scheduled for closure are Britton, Howard, Tyndall, Parkston, Salem, Freeman, Canton, Flandreau, Clark, Clear Lake, De Smet, Deadwood, Platte, Philip, Beresford, Mission and Wagner.

Strib poll: Obama’s bloom fading in Minnesota?

Just three weeks ago, President Barack Obama went to the Target Center in Minneapolis to lay out details of his approach on health-care coverage. So the news in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper surprises me:

President Obama’s once-robust support in Minnesota has dwindled sharply as he confronts a sluggish economy and significant unease about a health care overhaul that has split Democrats and Republicans in Congress, according to the latest Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

At 51 percent, Obama’s overall approval rating in Minnesota has shrunk 11 points since April, with close to half — 45 percent — expressing disapproval of his handling of health care policy, his signature domestic priority.

Just 39 percent said they approve of the president’s handling of health care, while 16 percent were undecided.

At the same time, a slim majority support Obama’s calls for a new government health insurance plan and a law requiring all Americans to have health insurance. The telephone poll, conducted last week, found Minnesotans split 51 percent to 37 percent in favor of the so-called public option, the most controversial part of Obama’s reform plan. The 1,000 randomly selected Minnesotans in the poll split by a similar margin in favor of mandatory insurance, 54 percent to 37 percent.

On the other hand, with the push for mandatory insurance — which would affect younger adults perhaps the most because they traditionally are the largest bloc of uninsured — there’s a number in the story which doesn’t surprise me:

Most significantly, the poll found a 17-point decline among 18- to 34-year-olds, one of his best demographics in the election.

For the whole story by reporter Kevin Diaz and related material, visit on the Internet.

To initiate is to legislate

We have five possibilities for ballot measures, so far, in the 2010 general election but none has qualified yet. Two of them present an interesting juxtaposition in tactics.

Former state Treasurer Dave Volk said he’s taking the ballot-measure route so that the language of his effort — a repeal of South Dakota’s ban against stem-cell research — can be precisely the way that he and other supporters of the repeal want it. They don’t want the Legislature to change the language, although we already saw this year that the state Senate wasn’t ready to repeal the ban anyway. Volk is still putting together the final version of his intiative.

On the other hand, we see the petition effort started by former state Rep. Joel Dykstra now being dropped. Dykstra was sponsor of a petitition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the 2010 ballot that would guarantee voting should stay secret, including in union-organizing elections.

It says: “The right of individuals to vote by secret ballot is fundamental. If any state or federal law requires or permits an election for public office, for any initiative or referendum, or for any designation or authorization of employee representation, the right of any individual to vote by secret ballot in any such election shall be guaranteed.”

Rather than continue down the petition path, Republican legislative leaders Dave Knudson and Bob Faehn plan to introduce a resolution in the 2010 session for the Legislature to directly put the secret-ballot proposal on the 2010 statewide ballot as a constitutional amendment.

The difference between the two situations? Looks like Knudson and Faehn know they have the votes in the Legislature to pass their resolution and know they can keep control of the wording. On the other, Volk and his folks know they don’t have the votes, after seeing Sen. Ben Nesselhuf’s legislation killed in the Senate earlier this year, and they have to go the long route of gathering signatures through a petition drive.

Time was getting tight for Dykstra’s petition effort anyway. The filing deadline for proposed constitutional amendments to make the 2010 ballot is little more than a month away. By no later than Nov. 2 Dykstra needed 33,551 valid signatures of South Dakota voters.

Volk meanwhile has more time, and needs half the signatures, because he’s pursuing a change of law rather than a change of the constitution. The filing deadline for an initiated measure is April 6, 2010, to make the 2010 ballot. An initiated measure needs 16,776 signatures.

Hard to say no on highway names

Members of the state Transportation Commission remain stuck in a tough spot. They hold the responsibility to decide whether segments of state highways are specially designated to honor a group or concept or specific person. The state Department of Transportation has an official policy for the process. The struggle comes on who, or what, qualifies under the definition written in the policy: “Named highways must commemorate an individual or group of individuals of historic significance to the State of South Dakota or to the United States.”

There’s nothing in the policy about what to do if information later arises that would cause the commission to reconsider the wisdom of having named a segment. The only “review” comes once every 10 years, when DOT seeks a renewal fee from the person or group which requested the designation. If the renewal is paid, the signs stay up. There’s also no requirement to get approval from the local county commission or city council where the signs are to be located.

The state commission has granted approval for signs to be erected along S.D. 44 in Turner County for slain deputy sheriff Chad Mechels. The signs won’t go up until the criminal proceedings are finished against the man accused of killing him; the defendant claims it was self defense.

DOT staff members originally recommended against the designation for Chad Mechels because, while his death was tragic, they weren’t certain whether he met the standard of “historic significance” set in the state policy. They used as context the list of other designations already in place.

The problem that will soon arise for the commission is: How do you say no?

This was the same situation which DOT eventually found itself mired in, when a gay and lesbian organization wanted to be the clean-up volunteers for a segment of highway in Minnehaha County. Under the Adopt A Highway program, signs were posted, bearing the group’s name, along the segment of highway. That turned controversial. Then-Gov. Bill Janklow wound up settling the matter with a two-pronged decision. The group got its signs. But all Adopt A Highway signs would come down over time, as DOT crews had the opportunity in the normal course of work. Since then, similar dilemmas have cropped up elsewhere in the nation. The signs could be used to harass or taunt or provoke if used in malicious ways.

So far this year, the state commission has considered and granted four requests honoring World War II ace Cecil Harris, Crazy Horse, the Little Bighorn battle and Chad Mechels.

Here’s the long list of current “historic” designations in South Dakota:

Blue Star Memorial Highway – Named for mothers whose children were serving in the U.S. armed forces. U.S. 12 and U.S. 83.

Historical Highway 77 – S.D. 15 from Milbank south to I-29.
American Legion Memorial Highway – U.S. 281 from Nebraska through South Dakota to North Dakota.
Hubert H. Humphrey Historical Highway – Named for the South Dakota native and U.S. vice president. S.D. 37 from S.D. 34 to Groton.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway – Named for the pioneer author. U.S. 14 from six miles east of DeSmet to six miles west of DeSmet.

George S. Mickelson Memorial Highway – Named for the South Dakota governor from Brookings who died in the state plane crash in 1993. U.S. 14 between Pierre and Brookings.
Eisenhower Interstate System – All of I-90, I-29 and other interstate highways in South Dakota and the nation, named for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who pushed the idea for the national four-lane system.
CANAM Highway – Named as one of the roads connecting North America’s nations. U.S. 85 through South Dakota, from North Dakota to Wyoming.
Veterans Memorial Highway – There are at least three segments designated for U.S. armed forces veterans. They include a segment of S.D. 20 in Watertown; the stretch of S.D. 37 between Ethan and Mitchell; and U.S. 12 across Day County.
Richard Kneip Memorial Highway – Named for the former South Dakota governor. U.S. 14 from Elkton to Brookings.
Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway – Named for the men and women at the U.S. naval base in the Hawaiian islands that was attacked by Japanese aircraft in 1941, marking the nation’s entry to World War II. U.S. 83 from Fort Pierre to I-90.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Highway – S.D. 34 through South Dakota from Minnesota to Wyoming.
POW/MIA Memorial Highway – Named for the U.S. armed forces members who were imprisoned or missing in action. S.D. 115 from I-90 to I-25 in the Sioux Falls area.
Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway – S.D. 4 from Rapid City to U.S. 385.
Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Highway – Two segments are designated. They are S.D. 37 from Mitchell to Parkston and U.S. 83 through South Dakota from Nebraska to North Dakota.
Cecil Harris Memorial Highway –Named for the World War II U.S. fighter pilot ace from the Cresbard and Onaka area. S.D. 20 from U.S. 83 to U.S. 281.
Crazy Horse Memorial Highway – Named for the tribal warrior and leader. U.S. 16-385 between Custer and Hill City.
Warrior Trail Highway – Named for the route leading to the Little Bighorn battle site in Montana. U.S. 212 from Belle Fourche to Wyoming.
Chad Mechels Memorial Highway – Named for the slain deputy sheriff. S.D. 44 from near Marion to Chancellor.

Lewis and Clark Trail – Named for the explorers’ expedition. Various highways along their route on the Missouri River through South Dakota, including Interstate 29, S.D. 1804 and S.D. 1806.

Yellowstone Trail – Named for the route leading to Yellowstone national park. U.S. 12 through South Dakota from Minnesota to North Dakota.
Black and Yellow Trail – Named for route leading to America’s West in the early days of automobile tourism. U.S. 14 through South Dakota from Minnesota to Wyoming.
Oyote Trail – Named for the original people before white man’s arrival to the region. Various routes in southeastern South Dakota.
Chief Standing Bear Bridge – Named for the Ponca leader who was a champion of American Indian rights. S.D. 37 across Missouri River near Running Water.
Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron Memorial Bridge – Named for the Navy pilot whose squadron of torpedo bombers made a suicide run against the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway that led to a U.S. victory. U.S. 14 across the Missouri River at Pierre and Fort Pierre.
Russell F. Christiansen Bridge – Named for the economic development leader from southeastern South Dakota. I-29 over the Missouri River between North Sioux City and Sioux City, Iowa.
Native American Scenic Byway – Various highways from Oacoma to North Dakota.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway – U.S. 14 A from Spearfish to U.S. 85.
Badlands Loop Scenic Byway – S.D. 240 through Badlands national park.
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway – Various highways in the Black Hills including segments of U.S. 16A, S.D. 87, S.D. 89 and S.D. 244. Among these are Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and the wildlife loop in Custer State Park.

By the numbers: Our economy’s slide

The September report on South Dakota’s economic condition from the state Bureau of Finance and Management is bare of brightness. Two of the key points:

Construction permits for single-family homes during the August 2008 through July 2009 period totaled 1,623, with an estimated value of $247..5 million. Those are decreases of 667 houses and $130.1 million from the similar period one year earlier.

Sales of new non-commercial vehicles for the August 2008 through July 2009 period totaled 27,382, a drop of 7,531.

Where TransCanada wants its XL work camps

While prowling through recent filings at the state Public Utilities Commission, we unearthed a small but interesting new nugget about TransCanada’s plans for its proposed XL crude-oil pipeline through South Dakota. If it gets federal and state permits, the XL line would be built through some 300 miles of mostly shortgrass range land in western and south-central South Dakota where few people live and few lodging establishments exist. Without much available in the way of temporary housing, the plans on file with the PUC call for two construction camps to be established, one near Union Center in Meade County and one near Winner in Tripp County. Each camp would have 30 acres for the contractor work yard and 50 acres for camping sites, set up to accommodate about 600 workers at each site.