Monthly Archives: June 2013

NBP survey: Rounds far ahead for U.S. Senate

Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds would be far ahead of either Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem or Democratic candidate Rick Weiland in a U.S. Senate race right now, according to the latest survey results from Nielson Brothers Polling.  In a Rounds-Weiland contest, the people surveyed preferred Rounds over Weiland 54 percent to 27 percent. In a Rounds-Noem contest for the Republican Senate nomination, the Republicans surveyed preferred Rounds 56 percent to 29 percent.

The June 10-14 survey was conducted among 492 likely voters regarding Rounds-Weiland, with a possible margin of error of about 4.4 percent, and among 296 Republicans for the Rounds-Noem primary, with a possible margin of error of about 6.3 percent. Noem has announced she will run for re-election to the U.S. House in 2014. Rounds and Weiland are the only announced candidates so far for the U.S. Senate seat. The Democratic incumbent, Tim Johnson, has announced he won’t seek re-election to the Senate in 2014.

Weiland has run twice previously for the U.S. House, losing to Republican John Thune in 1996 and failing to win the Democratic nomination in the 2002 primary. The NBP poll found Weiland’s current name identification at 50 percent, while Rounds was at 92 percent. Among people who recognized Weiland’s name, 22 percent had a favorable opinion and 17 percent had an unfavorable opinion. For Rounds, who was twice elected governor in 2002 and 2006, the favorable rating was 52 percent and unfavorable 29 percent.

Asked about the direction of South Dakota, 49 percent said right and 23 percent said wrong.

For what it’s worth, Mike Rounds beat Democrat Jim Abbott in the 2002 general election for governor 56.8 percent to 41.9 percent. Rounds won re-election as governor in 2006 against Democrat Jack Billion, 61.7 percent to 36.1 percent.

If the old rule of thumb applied regarding the Rounds-Weiland contest for Senate, with the lesser-known challenging getting two-thirds of the 19 percent undecided vote, the election would come out roughly like this: Rounds 60 percent and Weiland 39 percent. That is similar to the Rounds-Billion outcome.

Little or no Sunday morning TV for region’s senators

The New York Times published a neat analysis recently: Which U.S. senators have appeared most frequently on the major Sunday morning news-talk shows since 2010?

Through June 3, five were on at least 35 times, led by John McCain, R-Arizona, at 61. Next is Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, with 58, followed by Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, 52; Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky 43; and Charles Schumer, D-New York, 35. The programs include “Face the Nation”, “Meet the Press”, “This Week”, “State of the Union”, “Fox News Sunday”, and “Al Punto” (a Univision program).

To put those numbers in perspective, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the shows nine times. And that leads to further perspective regarding our region’s current and recent U.S. senators. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, led the group with nine appearances, followed by John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, at seven and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, with five.

John Thune, R-South Dakota, was next with four. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, was on twice.

That leaves a big bunch with zero appearances. They are Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota; Max Baucus, D-Montana; Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota; Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming; Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska; Al Franken, D-Minnesota; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; John Hoeven, R-North Dakota; Mike Johanns, R-Nebraska; Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska; and Jon Tester, D-Montana. (Conrad, Dorgan and Nelson no longer are senators.)


What now, for South Dakota, on marriage? w/updates

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision today that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding due process, the court’s majority made clear that defining marriage is a state-level issue. It also was clear from the majority opinion that five justices regard same-sex marriage as affording dignity and further protecting sexual conduct in a consenting relationship. For South Dakota, whose voters adopted a definition of marriage in the state constitution, the high court’s decision appears to mean the status quo can continue here. Marriage will remain defined as between a man and a woman. The question that next arises is whether there will be an attempt through a statewide vote to reconsider the 2006 constitutional amendment:

“Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in South Dakota. The uniting of two or more persons in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other quasi-marital relationship shall not be valid or recognized in South Dakota.”

The 2006 vote was 172,305 yes and 160,152 no. To read the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, here is a link:

UPDATES: State Attorney General Marty Jackley said South Dakota’s constitutional definition of marriage and the definition in state law remain in effect after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. He said South Dakota had joined California in a related case over its definition of marriage. The Supreme Court ruled to uphold a U.S. district judge’s decision overturning the California definition. Meanwhile, South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf declared the fight isn’t over despite the Supreme Court overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “The South Dakota Democratic Party is committed to marriage equality, and we’ll keep working until every loving couple across South Dakota has the same rights under the law that the US Constitution affords them.”

FURTHER UPDATE: Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson praised both decisions. “I am glad the United States Supreme Court has moved America forward in the name of equality,” Johnson said in a statement issued by his office.

The street fighter in the White House

Twice in the past six years, Barack Obama showed the nation the abilities he and his core team have in political organizing at the grassroots level. He won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 by rolling up victories in caucus states, where organization is especially important and beneficial. He kept rolling to victory over Republican McCain to capture the White House that November. He won re-election last November by a larger than expected margin, showing new methods of organization and turnout. The concepts of Saul Alinsky are part of President Obama’s political DNA. We are about to see those on full display in the coming 16 months through Organizing for America, the grassroots machine that began as his campaign apparatus in his first run for the presidency. Specifically, OFA will be leading the fight for Obamacare in the 2014 election campaigns nationwide, and OFA will next take up the climate-protection agenda that President Obama attempted in his first term, and then abandoned, through an OFA-offshoot, Repower America. The Obamacare advertising is already running on national cable-news channels. The president’s speech Tuesday on climate and carbon emissions was the trumpet calling his side back to that battle. By sending the Environmental Protection Agency again after coal plants, this time by calling for new regulations on carbon dioxide emissions, he is going down the executive path after Congress showed little interest in helping him on clean energy early in his first term. Whether EPA can get standards in place before his successor takes office in January 2017 is uncertain, but there would seem zero reason to doubt those aren’t already in draft form. It’s unknown yet what this move will do to power plants such as Big Stone in northeastern South Dakota, where hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades are just getting started. But some of the questions facing publicly traded utilities, such as Otter Tail as the lead partner at Big Stone, are whether current investment in upgrades will be stranded altogether and what the payback will be on those investments if plants can remain open under the Obama CO2 regulations that are coming. Ultimately electricity consumers and company stockholders, which in many cases include retirement funds and public pension plans, pay for the costs of regulation. As for the Keystone XL pipeline approval, it seems highly, highly unlikely that the Obama administration’s State Department will approve the permit for the project to cross the Canada-U.S. border. Climate advocates hate the idea of Keystone XL, with China perhaps being the ultimate destination for much of the Canada tar-sands oil it would carry. If President Obama is going after coal-fired power plants, it would seem odd that he allow the United States to be used as a conduit for more carbon emissions to be produced in China. The Keystone XL pipeline would run through South Dakota if approved. Each day that his administration delays the Keystone XL decision is another day of stranded investment, too, for TransCanada and its customers on that project. Whether or not John Kerry has a different attitude about Keystone than did Hillary Clinton as secretary of state isn’t clear, but in reality the decision ultimately rests with President Obama. All of this might have been in the works long before the Snowden leaks and the NSA controversy. President Obama clearly suffered among his base over the data-mining revelations. His re-announced climate agenda probably changes that equation. The  only difference between Organizing for Obama and Organizing for America is one word. This is still his campaign operation at full speed.

A lump of coal from President Obama

South Dakota Rural Electric Association executive director Ed Anderson says every coal-fired electricity plant will be taxed out of business under the Clean Air regulations declared today by President Barack Obama. Specifically the president wants to apply regulations to carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the national Climate Reality Project is calling on people to thank the president. Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune was first of South Dakota’s congressional delegation to declare his opposition, calling it “a national energy tax on Americans who are already struggling in the sluggish economy.” Thune estimated the average household will pay $1,400 more annually and 500,000 jobs will be lost as energy prices climb 20 percent. The president can set air-quality regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Is pre-clearance over for voting laws? w/AG update

South Dakota, because of the size of its American Indian population, has at times needed what’s known as pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for changes in state election laws. The U.S. Supreme Court decision today appears to remove that requirement in a round-about way. The court threw out the formula used for determining when states were subject to pre-clearance. Without a formula (section four of the Voting Rights Act), enforcing pre-clearance (section five) would seem to become moot. South Dakota is among 15 states that are either fully subject (nine) or partially subject (six, including South Dakota) to pre-clearance. We’ll let you know as we learn more in the hours ahead.

To read the court’s decision:

UPDATE: State Attorney General Marty Jackley had filed an amicus — friend of the court — brief in this case joining the argument for pre-clearance to be overturned. To read his statement:

April job numbers pointed right way

This is slightly old information, but it’s newsworthy. In April, according to the state Labor Department, employment in South Dakota reached 430,090. That is the high mark in South Dakota history. Also in April, the unemployment rate dipped to 4.1 percent. That is the lowest rate in more than four years. Not since December 2008, when the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, has it been lower. The worst in recent times was the 5.4 percent of January 2010. Will this summer mark a return to below 4.0 percent?

Other VA projects have overshot estimates

Looks like South Dakota wasn’t alone when the bids came in considerably higher than expected for the proposed new state veterans home at Hot Springs. A recent story in The Denver Post highlighted the trend nationally on federal VA projects, including the new hospital at Aurora, Colorado. Likewise for hospital projects in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando, according to the June 16 newspaper article. The Aurora hospital project began on the drawing board at $185 million to $200 million as part of a new Colorado University hospital. That was 16 years ago. Now the new stand-alone VA hospital carries a Congress-authorized price tag of $800 million and is scheduled for completion in 2015 or thereafter.

The Tony Post move

When South Dakota Republican Party leaders took the chance on hiring Tony Post from his Minnesota Republican endeavors an election cycle ago, the deciders faced criticism from within the broad ranks. Their decision meant some South Dakotans weren’t chosen. The South Dakota Republican office had its share of bureaucratic challenges early in the past decade, but the combination of Bob Gray and Brett Koenecke, both of Pierre, as state chairman and state treasurer and the hiring of Lucas Lentsch as executive director did a lot to straighten the road. That trio had the double benefit of strong Republican candidates determined to raise money and win, and of a weakening post-Daschle Democratic organization in South Dakota financially and in voter registration. Lentsch joined the state Agriculture Department and Post was hired for the vacancy. Meanwhile the new administration of Gov. Dennis Daugaard didn’t seem interested in giving Gray the choice whether to continue as Republican state chairman. Gray was term-limited as a senator and didn’t seek election to another office. Eventually another sitting state senator, Tim Rave of Baltic, succeeded Gray. Rave decided after the 2012 elections, which were another sweeping success for Republicans, to step aside, and into the opening stepped Craig Lawrence, the long-time Sioux Falls advertising and marketing executive and behind-the-scenes advisor to several Republican governors’ administrations. No one challenged Lawrence for the chairman’s slot last winter, and in winning the job he announced that former state legislator Kim Vanneman of Ideal would be his co-chair. Technically, she was elected as vice-chair.

Against this background Tony Post considered his future. One of his resume assets from Minnesota was use of social media in campaigns, according to those who chose him as executive director for the South Dakota Republican Party. Coming from Minnesota he didn’t always know — and couldn’t know — the swirling and tangled background of intra-Republican relationships in South Dakota going back to the Mickelson and Miller and Janklow and Abdnor years. Lawrence meanwhile succeeded in business because he is good at it and he is a hard-driving, passionate person. Add to the mix two other situations: Tony Post’s own cancer history and the failure of the American Cancer Society to win passage in the Legislature last winter of the legislation from Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, attempting to rein in “hookah” smoking joints. The cancer society had transitioned from its own successful, hard-driving lobbyist in Jennifer Stalley to a former Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper reporter, Megan Myers, as its 2013 session lobbyist. Post likes South Dakota, seems to like the legislative process and has political relationships with every Republican in the Legislature for the 2014 session as well as all of the constitutional offices. For Tony Post to step aside from the Republican job and take the new job as lobbyist for the American Cancer Society in South Dakota is a wise career move. With Republicans facing what is shaping up as minimal opposition at best from Democrats in 2014 races,  Republicans will be left to further turn on themselves in more political-purity tests where the term RINO — Republican In Name Only — now gets thrown around like liberal or socialist once did. Meanwhile Rep. Noem has ended speculation about a Senate run, leaving that route to the Republican nomination to Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds, who has assembled a campaign team of former members of his administration, Rob Skjonsberg and Jason Glodt, along with Bob Gray in their new consulting venture.

Now Mike Rounds and Craig Lawrence and Kim Vanneman can pick their own executive director for the 2014 election cycle. And Tony Post, a genuinely good guy who’s putting down roots in South Dakota, will see his life get much simpler in good ways.

SDHP adds a major

Today, the South Dakota Highway Patrol promotes Lt. Rick Miller to the rank of major and to the position of assistant superintendent. Under the reorganization of the patrol by its superintendent, Col. Craig Price, there are two assistant superintendents. Miller, a 13-year veteran of the patrol, moves from Rapid City, where he has been in charge of operations for that district. He now will oversee administrative operations for the entire patrol, including training, human resources, budget, finance, State Radio, the Fusion Center information-sharing hub and headquarters staff. The assistant superintendent for field operations is Maj. Dana Svendsen. He oversees the Rapid City, Aberdeen and Sioux Falls districts, as well as the motor carrier division and special operations. The promotions come in the wake of the retirement of Maj. Randy Hartley, a 25-year veteran of the patrol, earlier this year.