Monthly Archives: September 2012

Gosch case moves into unclear territory, while Gant loses dismissal motion in federal court on Shannon County case

The decision by South Dakota Circuit Judge Robert Mandel to move the Gosch election petition-notarization case from Pennington County circuit court to Hughes County circuit court has raised some big questions about what needs to happen next. Judge Mandel previously had set a hearing for Oct. 3. By rescinding that order as part of his change-of-venue decision, there’s no longer a hearing set, and there’s no longer a show-cause order pending against Secretary of State Jason Gant. Further, it’s unclear whether the Pennington County clerk of court transfers the case file to Hughes County or Stephanie Strong has to file the paperwork against Gant in Hughes. Strong contends that Gant shouldn’t have accepted the candidacy petition of Rep. Brian Gosch because Gosch notarized the signature of a person gathering signatures from registered voters for his petition. Just last week Gant through his lawyer informed Gosch that Gant wouldn’t defend the legality of the Gosch petition. That caused Gosch and the Pennington County Republican Party to seek the court’s permission to intervene in the matter. Now all of those twists and turns are floating in the vapor somewhere between Rapid City and Pierre, while early voting has been under way for six business days already.

Meanwhile, in federal court on an unrelated matter, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier rejected Secretary of State Gant’s motion seeking dismissal of an early-voting lawsuit brought by residents of Shannon County, whose state and county elections are administered through the Fall River County auditor’s office. Because Shannon County doesn’t run its own elections, the question is what must be done to accommodate Shannon County residents regarding early voting. Rather than get 46 days of in-person early voting in Shannon County, the original remedy called for six days of in-person early voting there. Fall River County meanwhile, as the site of the courthouse, offers the full 46 days to Shannon and Fall River residents. Gant sought to be dismissed from the lawsuit, but Judge Schreier said Gant is a proper party to be sued for early voting shortcomings in Shannon County because of his legal authority to oversee emergency elections and his control of Help America Vote Act federal funding.

No longer so young, still politically active

Yes, we’re talking about state Sen. Bob Gray, the past South Dakota Republican Party chairman; and Lucas Lentsch, the past South Dakota Republican Party executive director; and Rob Skjonsberg, one of three chiefs of staff for past Gov. Mike Rounds; and Jason Glodt, who recently resigned from Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration.

The three amigos – Lucas would make it a gang of four if he decides to roll back into realpolitick some day — constitutes South Dakota’s new Republican political consulting shop.

Gray and Glodt date back to then-Attorney General Mark Barnett’s office and his ultimately unsuccessful run for governor in 2002.

Barnett started as the favorite but hit a tough headwind in a three-way Republican primary won by Rounds, whose driver and everyday confidant was Skjonsberg. When Rounds won the governor’s election in November 2002, Skjonsberg naturally became his chief of staff.

Skjonsberg later left Pierre for a job in Sioux Falls he hoped would be more personally satisfying as a political lobbyist for Broin (now Poet) ethanol after the death of Jeff Fox left a vacancy in that spot.

In the past year Skjonsberg, who never was able to sell his family’s beautiful house in rural Pierre, returned to Fun City with his family and went to work for the Fischer Rounds insurance and real estate agency in downtown Pierre.

The presumption among many is Skjonsberg really came back to help Rounds prepare to run for U.S. Senate in 2014 when Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson faces the decision whether to seek re-election.

After the Barnett campaign, Glodt served as political director for the South Dakota Republican Party and later was hired by Rounds midway of his first term as governor to handle various areas in the Rounds administration such as game, fish and parks.

Glodt also continued to be deeply involved in legislative elections and supported the re-election of Rounds as governor and the election of Lt Gov. Dennis Daugaard as governor in 2010.

Glodt took leave every two years from state government to assist Republican candidates.

Gray meanwhile decided to become a candidate, rather than just working for one. He challenged and defeated Republican Sen. Patti de Hueck of Pierre in a 2004 primary for the Hughes County-area Senate seat  that Rounds previouslyheld until he was term-limited in 2000.

Gray, after his election, quickly won support from the Republican Senate caucus and, in just his second term, was selected as Senate president pro tem. That made him the No. 2-presiding officer in the chamber behind the lieutenant governor.

There were some testy times in the Senate chamber as supporters of Sen. Lee Schoenbeck maneuvered to put Schoenbeck in a light more favorable than Lt. Gov Daugaard in anticipation of a 2010 Republican primary for the governor nomination.

Then Schoenbeck didn’t run after all. And Gray’s interest reached much wider. He accepted appointment as South Dakota Republican Party chairman and presided over an unusually successful 2010 election cycle for Republican candidates.

His executive director was Lentsch, who had been a Republican legislative candidate in 2008 and later moved to Pierre to work in the central office’s key post.

After his 2010 victory, Gov.-elect Daugaard was in position to support his own choice for chairman of the Republican Party.

Gray, taking the route of political decorum, stepped aside.

Lentsch also left his Republican Party job but landed well with a key spot in the state Department of Agriculture.

Then, in a big career change, Lentsch somewhat unexpectedly resigned from his state government job, which paid $74,160 annually, to join Sen. Gray in the Reinke-Gray Wealth Management firm in Pierre.

The Glodt resignation this month seems to cement the deal among them.

He said in a recent email to friends and others that he is leaving his state government job, which paid $87,550 annually, to open a law firm and public relations firm. He’ll be partners with Gray and Skjonsberg — hence the GSG Strategies name.

Bob and Rob aren’t leaving their current day jobs, at least for now; and Jason typically left in even-numbered autumns anyway. Bob is term-limited as a senator after four consecutive terms, so his future, too, soon will be much more open to new possibilities.

And, amazingly for such a political city, there isn’t a public relations firm in Pierre.

For now, Lucas will be sticking to his knitting in the Reinke Gray office, although Bob says there could come a time when that could change.

The first initial in GSG belongs to Bob Gray. While the group hopes to work for a Rounds campaign for U.S. Senate, they intend the firm to be a permanent, broader business with possibly other political and grassroots work. Under state regulations Gray can begin to lobby the Legislature in 2014. In the meantime he has a business to run. And soon he will have two.

Lottery profits were strong

While the South Dakota Lottery Commission focuses its current attention on increasing play on video lottery terminals, there was good news today regarding scratch-ticket and jackpot-lotto sales during the past fiscal year ending June 30. Lottery director Norm Lingle said $6.6 million was transferred to the state treasury in net revenue from scratch tickets. That was the second-highest in the lottery’s 25 years of operation, he said. The other big news was that $9.4 million was transferred to the treasury in net revenue from lotto sales. That was a record amount, according to Lingle.

Congress stalls again on highway funding

Last weekend Congress approved a six-month continuing resolution for federal transportation funding to states, rather than actually approve a new budget for the new federal fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. South Dakota Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said this morning the funding level is a bit below the target that was set in MAP 21, the two-year transportation plan that Congress approved earlier this year for fiscal 2013 and 2014. More and more Congress seems to run the federal government like a company teetering fiancially and facing receivership.

Oil and gas study panel might continue in ’13

Rep. Roger Solum, R-Watertown, said this afternoon he hopes the Legislature’s Executive Board will extend the lifespan of the interim committee on oil and gas development into 2013. Solum is chairman of the current panel. Its final meeting is set for Oct. 30, when legislation will be discussed for possible introduction to the 2013 session.

In defense of the secretary of state? — Updates I & II

Secretary of State Jason Gant can better explain for himself what he did or didn’t do regarding the information he has put in the ballot-measures pamphlet. State Sen. Stan Adelstein wants Gant’s resignation because of the lack of “con” statements for four proposed amendments to the state constitution that are on the general election ballot this fall. The four amendments were sent to the ballot by the Legislature. In each instance there was at least one legislator who voted against the resolution. Whether Gant contacted those legislators, we don’t know. He will need to explain. But in the past there have been times when no one was willing to write a “con” statement on a ballot measure. It is worth noting that “con” statements are in the pamphlet for the two refererred laws and the initiative. In the future, perhaps the secretary of state should add a sentence on the “con” statement page that no “con” statement was received for that specific ballot measure.

UPDATE I: As a public service, here are the names of the legislators who voted against the resolutions to put the four proposed amendments on the ballot.

Corporations amendment: Rep. Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland.

Amendment repealing five cents/mile travel reimbursement for legislator’s first trip to and from Capitol: Reps. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell; Kristin Conzet, R-Rapid City; Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg; Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City; Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids; Ed Iron Cloud III, D-Porcupine; Don Kopp, R-Rapid City; David Lust, R-Rapid City; Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell; Dean Schrempp, D-Lantry; Patricia Stricherz, R-Black Hawk; Shawn Tornow, R-Sioux Falls; Chuck Turbiville, R-Deadwood; Mike Verchio, R-Hill City; Val Rausch, R-Big Stone City; and Sens. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg; Bob Gray, R-Pierre; Ried Holien, R-Watertown; Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls; Kent Juhnke, R-Vivian; Russ Olson, R-Wentworth; and Jim Putnam, R-Armour.

Revising cement-plant investment payouts: Reps. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton; Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland; and Larry Lucas, D-Mission.

Requiring a balanced state government budget: Reps. Mitch Fargen, D-Sioux Falls; Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton; and Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls; and Sens. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City; Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge; and Angie Buhl, D-Sioux Falls.

P.S. — How did I previously miss that Rep. Stricherz had moved across South Dakota, all the way to Black Hawk, from Winfred? Of course she’s not running again!

UPDATE II: Tonight (Wednesday), Sen. Adelstein sent a letter to SOS Gant and many news organizations demanding that Gant recall all copies of his ballot-measure explanations and insert a “con” statement that Adelstein has now submitted on the balanced-budget amendment.

Roadside distractions — er, campaign signs — increasing

As the leaves turn colors, now come the election campaign signs in the fields along our roadsides. During some heavy travels the past 30 hours throughout southeastern and east-central South Dakota, I spotted my first Matt Varilek sign; he’s way behind Kristi Noem in the category in their U.S. House battle. Democrat Larry Lucas is getting his signs farther east to compete in his new district against Republican Kent Juhnke in an important state Senate race. Ray Ring (using orange and black) is getting a good foothold down in his House district.  Democratic challenger Charlie Johnson and Senate Republican leader Russ Olson have signs up; Olson’s are unusually ornate.

Chris Nelson beats everybody in sheer numbers with his home-cookin’ (aka simple and straightforward as can be) style for PUC, and Fiegen has plenty up, too, putting the two Republicans far ahead of their Democratic challengers Nick Nemec and Matt McGovern who have zero along the roads I covered Monday and Tuesday. Democrats Scott Parsley and Roy Lindsay appear to be running together for the state House, at least as signs go, and so far are far ahead of Republican Gene Kroger. Democrat Ann Tornberg of Beresford, running for the House, might have the classiest so far this election cycle and, with her use of red and blue, the classically purest (and most patriotically ambigous without tipping whether she’s a red R or blue D).

That’s only a partial list — lots of places I didn’t visit in those 1,200 miles, with lots of signs just starting to go up (Stace Nelson, Jim Schaefer, Jon Hansen and Larry Zikmund among others I saw) — but the two trends that did seem to be taking shape were Republican candidates getting out there across the board, and Democratic candidates for the Legislature seem to be better advanced on the sign front than their statewide counterparts…

Gant won’t defend legality of Gosch petitions

The case about whether Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, should be allowed on the ballot for re-election to the state House of Representatives is becoming more complex. For starters, the election is already under way; early voting via absentee ballots began Friday. How the Pennington County auditor’s office will handle the ballots cast early while this case proceeds will be a challenge in itself.

Second, there’s disagreement about whether Stephanie Strong’s lawsuit should be heard in state circuit court in Pennington County or Hughes County. Pennington County is where Strong lives and where Gosch lives. Hughes County is where Secretary of State Jason Gant presides over state elections. Strong’s lawsuit is against Gant. Circuit Judge Robert Mandel has set an Oct. 3 hearing date in Pennington County. The current skirmish is whether the case should be moved to Hughes County. Strong seeks a court ruling that Gant shouldn’t allow Gosch on the ballot because of alleged violations of nominating-petition laws. Gosch notarized part of his own petition. The previous secretary of state, Chris Nelson, didn’t allow this practice. Gant, serving his first election cycle as secretary of state, did allow it, at least in the instance of the Gosch petition.

Now we are to the point where this matter turns strange. The lawyer representing Gosch in this matter, Sara Frankenstein of Rapid City, on Friday filed a petition on behalf of her client seeking the court’s permission for Gosch to intervene in the Strong lawsuit. Her argument for intervention is common sense in one respect. The lawsuit affects whether Gosch is a candidate. The other point that Gosch’s lawyer raises is a head-turner. She says in the court papers that her client has been informed that the state lawyer representing the secretary of state doesn’t plan to argue in court that Gosch’s petitions were legal.

That’s right. Gant’s lawyer won’t address the central issue in the matter.

Frankenstein also is seeking the court’s permission for the Republican Party of Pennington County to intervene in the case. State law provides that the county party selects a replacement candidate if a vacancy occurs because of death or a candidate withdraws. That section of law doesn’t appear to address what happens when a candidate is removed.

Here is a key excerpt from Frankenstein’s filing:

“As explained above, the Secretary of State will not argue that Representative Gosch’s petition is valid on the merits. Accordingly, without intervention, Applicants (Gosch and Pennington County Republican Party) will not have the opportunity to bring these crucial issues before the court.”

Regarding those merits, Frankenstein lays out key points of the Gosch defense later in the intervention filing. She argues there isn’t a criminal law governing whether the secretary of state can accept petitions. Instead, she points to a specific rule, and she says the rule doesn’t specifically address whether the secretary of state can accept petitions on which the circulator signed his or her verfication in the presence of a notary (which is required) if the notary was also the candidate.

Frankenstein further raises questions about whether the Strong lawsuit cites the appropriate state laws. Frankenstein also goes down the path of semantic argument in which she claims Gosch didn’t notarize his own petition; instead, she argues, he notarized the signature of a circulator of his petition.

All of this comes up long after the June primary election in which Gosch won one of the two Republican nominations for the district’s two House seats. Removing Gosch from the ballot leaves only only two candidates on the ballot for the two District 32 House seats, Republican Rep. Kristin Conzet and Democrat Jackie Swanson. If Gosch can’t run, because his petition was always invalid,  what about Jeanette Deurloo, who was the third Republican in the District 32 primary election? Should she then be on the ballot this fall because there were only two valid Republican candidates in Conzet and Deurloo? That question isn’t addressed in the Gosch filing. And will some supporter of Deurloo, if not Deurloo herself, seek to intervene in this matter too, so as to argue that a primary election never was necessary if the Gosch petiton was invalid, and therefore Deurloo should be one of the two Republican nominees whose names are on the November ballot?

Supposing that a decision is reached at the circuit court level, whether in Pennington County or Hughes County, on Oct. 3, there remains the next level for appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court. The justices could take the case expeditiously, but even if they do, the final decision will come within one month or less of the Nov. 6 general election.

There is an old doctrine of substantial compliance in South Dakota elections. Frankenstein does travel that route in her arguments. Don’t be surprised if, eventually, substantial compliance becomes the fallback for a decision keeping Gosch on the ballot this fall.

For what they’re worth: Latest NBP results — Update

It’s a nice surprise to be greeted with an email before 5 a.m. this starry morn with new polling numbers on South Dakota statewide election contests, but alas, my confidence in them is not strong. Nielson Brothers Polling released their self-described “Labor Day” results and right away comes the question: Aren’t these a bit late? Then comes the second reason to have doubt: NBP polled one of the Public Utilities Commission contests but evidently not the other. The NBP news release says Republican Kristie Fiegen led Democrat Matt McGovern 47 to 36.5 percent. Nothing, however, about Republican Chris Nelson and Democrat Nick Nemec I’ve shot an email back to Paul Nielson to ask about the situation.

In the presidential contest, Republican Mitt Romney led Democratic President Barack Obama in South Dakota 53.9 to 38.7 percent. For U.S. House, Republican Rep. Kristi Noem led Democrat Matt Varilek 50.8 to 42 percent. (These were inadvertently mixed up with the PUC results in an earlier version of this post.) The polling was done Aug. 29 through Sept. 6. Depending on the contest there were between 503 and 512 responses with a standard margin of error between 4.33 and 4.37 percent.

The last time NBP released results, back in early August, the U.S. House polling was Noem 47, Varilek 46; and Fiegen 43, McGovern 41.

UPDATE: Paul Nielson said this morning they decided against polling the Nelson-Nemec PUC contest in the latest survey. He said Nelson’s large lead (54-30) in the summer poll played a role in that decision. He said they will poll Nelson-Nemec again this fall. NBP will issue other Labor Day poll results Monday, such as on the proposal for an additional 1 percent of state sales tax.