My top 5 South Dakota under-reported political stories from 2013

1269850054 (1)At midnight tonight 2013 will officially end. I’ve decided to take a couple of minutes to look back at what I consider to be 5 of the top under-reported political stories in South Dakota 2013. My list will not likely match up with any other top 5 in South Dakota because I am focusing on top issues I feel didn’t get enough attention. This is in no particular order.

HB 1129: Gun Rights vs Property Rights

South Dakota had some interesting gun rights bills in the legislature this year. While most of the attention was focused on the ‘School Sentinel’ bill, I found HB1129 worthy of more attention. This type of bill is often called a ‘parking lot bill’. The bill, if passed, would have prohibited employers from creating policies that restricted employees and customers from having firearms in their vehicles. As a gun rights advocate I understand what this bill was trying to do. However when creating new laws it is important to look at all rights involved and reconcile that. In this case I do not believe the property rights of a business owner should be overridden by gun rights of others. Had this bill passed I believe it would have continued the gradual erosion of property rights.

Agreed, taxpayers should not pay dues for ALEC… or NCSL.. or CSG!

South Dakota legislators have taken a lot of heat for using taxpayer dollars to pay the dues and travel expenses associated with American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). I agree, taxpayer dollars should not be spent on such groups. Groups such as ALEC are used by lobbyists and big corporations buy legislation. But, ALEC is not the only group of this kind. There are two other groups that are just as bad (if not worse) but seem to get a free pass because they are less openly conservative. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Council of State Governments (CSG). A vast majority of the bad laws, both at the state and federal level, can be connected back to one of these groups. It is quite hypocritical to attack one of these groups and ignore the others. There is no reason for taxpayer dollars to be used as dues or travel expenses for any of these groups.

The South Dakota Freedom Index

Back in October the South Dakota Freedom Coalition released it’s South Dakota Freedom Index scorecard. I found this to be a good reference when grading legislators in Pierre because freedom is a huge topic for me. Just as with any scorecard it must be realized that it is targeted and does not tell a whole story. But with that in mind, I found this to be well done and agree with its findings. Scorecards like this should be one of the many tools we as constituents use to decide whether it is time to replace incumbent legislators in 2014.

South Dakota parents becoming aware of Common Core, my notes from the Lake Norden Common Core meeting

2013 became an interesting year for education in South Dakota. It is when many parents (including myself) first learned the implications of Common Core. Personally I think both sides of the issue have exaggerated some points (which is likely to happen in any politically charged issue involving children). Yet the more I look into Common Core the more I worry about the future education for our children. Part of the problem is the belief that education needs to be further standardized and centralized, I completely disagree with this approach. While this is in my ‘under-reported’ list for 2013, I actually expect this to be a top issue reported on by the mainstream media in the 2014 legislative session.

South Dakota Pheasant Habitat Summit

This last month in Huron the Governor hosted a Pheasant Habitat Summit. I found this to be a great event and am glad the Governor has taken this step. Conservation concepts should always be at the forefront of our minds. That is especially true for farmers and ranchers in South Dakota. Personally I don’t think a lot will come directly out of the summit, but in order for there to be a change there has to be a starting point. To me the Pheasant Habitat Summit was a good starting point for getting South Dakota focused on conservation. Perhaps with enough attention there will be private solutions that come forward and we can be proud of the steps taken within South Dakota’s borders to promote conservation.

These are five topics I felt didn’t get enough attention in 2013. They simply aren’t as ‘cool’ or ‘interesting’ when compared to the Senate Race or the EB-5/Benda scandal. It will be interesting to see what issues are under-reported in 2014.

How did South Dakota’s congressmen vote on the budget deal and defense bill

scales-of-justiceToday President Obama signed into law the Ryan/Murray budget deal and the defense bill while on vacation in Hawaii. Both bills were bad and should not have been passed as written. Of course there was little actual resistance to either bill. I thought it would be worth looking at how the three congressmen from South Dakota voted on these two bills.

First there is the Ryan/Murray budget deal, oficially known as the Continuing Appropriations Resolution of 2014 (HJ RES 59). This ‘deal’ was bad from a fiscally conservative viewpoint. Previous I blogged about the ‘deal’ increasing an airline tax and removing the little fiscal gains made by sequester cuts. One of the few actual cuts in this bill was targeted at veterans. Representative Noem (R) voted yes to the bill. I still am not surprised by this vote, Noem simply isn’t the type of legislator to stand up for what is fiscally right. In the other house Senator Thune (R) voted no while Senator Johnson (D) voted yes. Again, there is no surprise here. Senator Johnson has never shown any concern about fiscal responsibility, so his vote was known ahead of time. Senator Thune made the correct vote as he joined many other Republican Senators wishing to add amendments that would fix problems such as the targeting of veterans. Reid however called that obstructionism and would not allow any amendments to voted on. The Senate either had to pass the flawed bill as-is or else…

The defense bill was also signed into law today, which is officially known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014 (HR 3304). This bill was bad on many levels (too many to go into in this short post). The worst parts of this bill include:

  • Making indefinite detention of people (including US citizens) easier than previous version of NDAA. This doubled-down on this unconstitutional practice.
  • Creates a data-warehouse for all collected data, including potentially illegally gained data by agencies such as the NSA.
  • Added a great amount of pork to the military-industrial complex.

The House voted on this bill by a voice vote. So there is no record of how Representative Noem voted. In this case we can be pretty sure she voted Aye because her office praised its passage due to the inclusion of part of a military sexual assault bill Noem had sponsored. It is commendable what the sexual assault portion of NDAA tries to do, but it does no override how bad the rest of NDAA is. In the Senate both South Dakota Senators voted Aye. Thune’s office released a statement applauding NDAA’s passage because it included an amendment from the Senator funding a next-generation bomber. I guess pork outweighed constitutional rights for Thune on that vote. Either that or he didn’t want to look weak on defense spending. And true to form Senator Johnson had no problems spending more taxpayer dollars while taking away constitutional rights.

If I were to grade the South Dakota congressmen on these votes it would be as follows:

Representative Noem: F – FAIL – South Dakota’s lone representative in the House didn’t stand up for fiscal conservatism or civil liberties.

Senator Thune: C – Campaigning – Thune took the rights votes going into a 2016 Presidential run. On the budget he voted no, knowing full well it would pass without him. That allows him to get a good fiscal conservative vote on record without risk. And voting for NDAA he looks strong to war hawks. Too bad civil liberties isn’t more of a campaign issue…

Senator Johnson – R – Reid – Once again Senator Johnson voted how he was told by Senator Reid. I look forward to when South Dakota will replace this seat in the 2014 election.

Going into 2014, the first major actions to watch from these three are what they do about the farm bill and the pending debt ceiling battle. Maybe enough time will be spent on those two issues that Congress can get little else done. We can hope anyhow…

South Dakota state senator wants to raise road taxes

"Highway To Anywhere" by Kim Newberg
“Highway To Anywhere” by Kim Newberg

Last week AP reported that South Dakota state senator Mike Vehle (R-20) is continuing his fight to raise road taxes in South Dakota. This from a story posted on SFGate:

Republican Sen. Mike Vehle, of Mitchell, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, plans to hold a series of hearings when the 2014 Legislature opens in January to gather information about the need for highway funding and how that revenue might be raised. Any bill to raise highway taxes would not be introduced until 2015, he said.

Vehle has been vocal the last few years about raising road taxes. It is commendable that Vehle is holding a series of hearings to determine how much funding the highway department requires. The motor fuel tax in South Dakota has not been raised since 99 and it is quite possible the current levels will fall short of maintaining the road infrastructure long-term. It is however surprising that a Republican senator is looking to ‘raise revenue’; instead of looking at other places in the budget where funds can be diverted from. Later in the article it clarifies what Vehle means by increasing revenues:

Vehle said he hopes the governor would consider an increase in road taxes because he has supported efforts to build up South Dakota’s infrastructure. And the senator argues the gas tax is more of a user fee than a tax.

“Everyone wants good roads and safe bridges. It’s just that no one wants to pay for it. Well, someone’s got to pay for it,” the senator said.

Vehle said if a consensus can be reached on highway funding, he and others could spend the next year explaining the issue to the public before the Legislature votes in 2015 on any tax increases.

It is quite clear that Vehle is planning to use the hearing as a means raise taxes. Calling the tax raise a “user fee” increase doesn’t fool anyone. This is the same trick Representative Ryan used to increase taxes in the Federal Budget with the aviation security services ‘fee’. Conservatives didn’t fall for this double-speak at the federal level, and it shouldn’t be allowed at the state level either. It is mind-boggling that a Republican state senator would use hearings as a means to justify more taxes.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to hold the hearings where it can be determined if the current road infrastructure funding is too low for long-term maintenance. Once the hearings are completed there would be a better understanding of how much, if any, extra revenue is needed. There are many possible answers that don’t involve raising any taxes at all. Here are a few ideas for the legislators to look at if there is a need for increased highway maintenance funding:

  • Find other places in the transportation budget which can be cut.
  • Analyze and renegotiate contracts for highway construction and maintenance projects. Private sector businesses will find ways to cut costs if it looks like they will lose a cushy government contract.
  • Find other places in the overall state budget which don’t need to be funded to their proposed levels. The Governors Office of Economic Development (GOED) is a great place to start. GOED takes taxpayer dollars and gives it to favored businesses. Instead of this cronyistic approach, why not eliminate GOED and increase funding in road infrastructure maintenance. That would be a move that benefits all businesses in South Dakota.
  • Refuse federal funds that have stipulations attached. I am not sure if this applies to transportation funding or not. However federal education funding often comes with requirements that actually make the state pay out more money than if they had not accepted the funds. Analyze all federal dollars being used to fund infrastructure maintenance and withdraw from any programs that are causing the state to waste federal and state taxpayer dollars.

There are likely more ways to raise highway maintenance revenues. Unfortunately the state senator appears set on ‘fixing’ the current perceived funding issues by raising taxes. Senator Vehle may find more support for increased revenues going to highway maintenance if he wasn’t using it a means to raise taxes. Hopefully there will be enough fiscal conservatism left in the Pierre legislator to fight such an attempt.

PS. I predict now that Vehle or another state legislator will also propose a new tax for miles driven as an other solution.

A favorite Christmas song: The Rebel Jesus

Today and tomorrow I will be taking some time away from blogging to focus on family. But I thought it would be good to include a serious Christmas post. I have been asked more than a few times if Christianity and libertarianism can co-exist; to which I answer “I believe Jesus is one of the oldest recorded libertarians in history”.  There is much to learn from the teachings of Jesus for everyone. This is true even for those who are not religious and do not believe Jesus is the son of God.

Below I have embedded a video containing one of the truly best Christmas songs of all time: The Rebel Jesus. I have also included the lyrics to The Rebel Jesus as written by Jackson Browne. I think the lyrics tell a better story than I ever could…

The Rebel Jesus by Jackson Browne

All the streets are filled with laughter and ligh
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by ‘the Prince of Peace’
And they call him by ‘the Savior’
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Now pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There’s a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

Watch this video if you plan to take an airplane flight this holiday season

Reason has released a new video as a way to help travelers understand some of the rules as to what the TSA does not allow on board airplanes. Anyone planning to fly should watch this video (or if you really like satire):

Best comment on YouTube about this video: “And trust me, you want a bad situation on a plane, take the knitting AWAY from the knitter. Go ahead. I dare you.”

Have a Merry Christmas everyone.

PS. Yep, I gotta post this song just one more time (last time this year, promise!). Remy’s TSA Christmas song:

Kurt Evans decides not to enter US Senate Race in South Dakota

logo_web_gifA few months ago Kurt Evans, a distance education facilitator in Wessington Springs, announced his intention to run for US Senate as a Libertarian Party candidate. Now it appears he has decided against running for the US Senate.

Unfortunately the expense of a US Senate run is not viable for Evans at this time. This from the Capital Journal:

In an email exchange, Evans told the Capital Journal he made the decision to end his campaign on Wednesday after considering it for approximately two weeks. One of the driving reasons was the financial costs, including money that had to be spent on gathering signatures for a nominating petition.

“The campaign had already cost me as much as I could reasonably afford. The petition drive would have required me to abandon the kids at school and spend thousands of dollars more,” his email said.

To have his name on the ballot, Evans would have been required to collect and turn in 250 signatures from registered Libertarians, after filing a declaration of candidacy, to the Secretary of State’s office by March 25.

While that is only a fraction of the 1,955 signatures a Republican candidate needs or the 1,221 signatures for a Democrat, that still is more than 10 percent of all Libertarian voters in the state. As of the beginning of December there were 1,262 registered Libertarians across the entire state, according to numbers on the Secretary of State’s website.

Evans also said to have a chance of wining he would need the support of a Libertarian super-PAC by September of next year. To attract that type of backing his campaign would need to raise at least $20,000, he said.

Also, without that support the political media in the state would not have taken his campaign seriously, Evans said.

Sadly this is the main reason many third-party and independent candidates are unable to run. 250 signatures does not seem like a lot on paper when compared to the almost 2000 needed for a Republican candidate in the race. Yet the trick is to reach 250 voters registered as Libertarian in South Dakota. Part of the expense is getting the list of registered Libertarian voters from the Secretary of State. Recently I attended Constitution Party of South Dakota event where it was mentioned the Secretary of State’s office was asking about $2500 to get a list of all registered CP voters in the state. The same list only cost them $50 under the previous Secretary of State. I believe this is one of the costs Evans is taking into account when looking at the cost of running. (part of me hopes this is a misunderstanding between the CP Chair and the SOS, $2500 is too much to ask).

Another aspect of this story is that the Libertarian Party of South Dakota must field a candidate in the Governor’s race and gain enough of the vote to retain their Party status in South Dakota. Realistically it would not make sense for any Libertarian to run for office until a gubernatorial candidate can be found that is able to get enough votes. It is also unlikely any national super-PAC would give money to a South Dakota Libertarian for any office is there isn’t a viable gubernatorial candidate running.

Finally what really makes this race hard for Libertarian candidates such as Evans is that most libertarians do not identify with the Libertarian Party; and as such are registered as Republican, Independent, or Democrat. Even with the recent rise of libertarian populism the actual Libertarian Party has not seen much of a boost. Rather there appears to be more of a rise of libertarian thought within the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent within the Democrat Party. Unfortunately any Libertarian candidate in South Dakota (or any state really) is going to have to figure out how to get people to listen to their stances instead of looking simply to see if they are an R or D.

Personally I hope the Libertarian Party is able to field some candidates in the 2014 election. More choices at the ballot is always a good thing. I do however think 2014 will be tough for a Libertarian gubernatorial candidate to get enough votes in order to retain party status. Independent candidate Mike Myers is very libertarian-like and will likely get more votes than anyone the Libertarian Party of South Dakota has to enter the race. I’ve heard it suggested that Myers run as a Democrat (which is basically 3rd party in South Dakota) and give the presumed winner of the Republican primary Daugaard a run for his money. That would be an interesting race.

Evans does say in the Capital Journal article that he plans to run for US Senate in 2016. I think that is a smart move on his part. Entering a race like this will take a lot of work and coordination with other Libertarian Party members. 2016 will also potentially be an ‘open’ seat in the event Thune does not run (I think this is possible, see note below). If he does run in 2016 and Thune is still in the race it will be interesting to see if people try to call Evans a spoiler again. That is the normal attack from those supporting losing candidates against third-parties. Third-party candidates, such as Evans, are not spoilers. It is also worth noting that Evans has not “dropped out” of the 2014 race, he technically never officially entered it. Hopefully he will in 2016.

Note: I think Thune is motioning for a 2016 Presidential bid, but I don’t think he will win the Republican Primary. Yet I do see Thune as one of a handful that could potentially be picked for the VP slot… and even if he is not chosen I would give Thune a very high chance of being chosen for a cabinet or other high position in the White House when a Republican candidate wins the Presidential run in 2016.

Join the open letter to Congresswoman Noem from South Dakota veterans about the Ryan budget deal

Below is an open letter that will be sent to Congresswoman Noem from South Dakota veterans. If you are a South Dakota veteran and would like to be added to the list please comment in the area below or contact Rich Hilgemman.

Congresswoman Noem,

We are very concerned by your recent vote for the Ryan budget. As veterans we don’t mind leading by example and can understand that the federal government has been bloated to disastrous proportions therefore programs need cutting. But we do not want to see our own left to die in the gutters while programs for non essential activities and non Americans are allowed to continue to grow. Senator Thune voted against cloture and the budget; which means he didn’t even want the bill brought up for a vote in the Senate and opposed it once brought up. We are used to being dropped off in some foreign land to fend for ourselves but we surely aren’t prepared to be abandoned in our own country.

In Liberty,

Richard Hilgemann

Dan Kaiser

Josh Dougherty

George Stainbrook

Ken Santema

Jesse Salo

Nick Bratland

Nathan Severson

Stacy McCurdy

Mack Miiller

Shane Glover

Shaine Anderson

Matthew Hansen

Thomas Young

Dana Lipp

Cinton Rainford

Rod Schlechter

Tony Lunzman

Don Bonnet

Paul Kelly

Danielle Herrold

Stace Nelson

Jay Engebretson

Dorothy Tipton

Justin Reinbold

Matilda Ewalt

Adam Long

Kieth Rock

Daniel Bloom

Tony Leptien

Cece Figueroa

Teressa Schipke

Todd Schaefer

Tyler Vander Vorst

Joel McNeely

Clay Urban

Katie Urban

Dan Willard

Aaron Heidelberger

Patti Lefforge

Jesse Rierson

Kenneth Olsen

Geri Opsal

Josh Breitag

Davin Johnson

Lawrence Klipfel

Norm Keeler

Tom Diede

Notes from Obama’s final presser of 2013, including his push to keep unemployment artificially high

ObamapresserThis afternoon President Obama held his final press conference of 2013. This post has some random notes and thoughts that I have taken away from this presser. But first I will take a moment to look at his unemployment policy mentioned in the presser.

For the last year Obama has been touting the gains his administration has made in tackling unemployment. Now today he blames Congress (specifically Republicans) for not extending unemployment insurance benefits. There is a large disconnect between the two concepts Obama is touting. By extending the availability of UI benefits it would continue to keep unemployment numbers higher. The problem is the Keynesian approach to economic policy ignores human nature in general, and specifically the Keynesian approach ignores motivation. Extending UI benefits has the unintended consequence of keeping unemployment tenures longer. That does’t necessarily mean an unemployed person thinks “i’m unemployed, so I will milk the system and stay unemployed until benefits run out”. Some of that happens, but that will always exists. The bigger problem is the people that take their time and refuse to ‘settle’ for a job that isn’t what they had before. In this case extended UI benefits removes urgency from finding a job. Without urgency there is no motivation to leave the UI benefits system soon. Actually the longer UI benefits are available it makes someone less likely to have the motivation needed to get a job quickly. That is why UI benefits cannot continue to be extended for such long periods of time. It removes the motivation from getting a job.

Enough about UI… Here are some random notes from his presser:

  • At one point he took time during a question to mention gun control? He wasn’t even asked about it? I guess when the economy is doing poor gun control is always a good redirect.
  • Multiple times during the presser Obama said he doesn’t care what the polls says… And at the same time he mentioned doing what Americans want. Does he realize polls reflect what Americans want?
  • Obama refused to answer what the thought should be done with Snowden. But he made it sound like he has full faith in what the NSA has been doing. Actually he said the NSA situation is “interesting”. Interesting? Really? Spying on American citizens is interesting?
  • When talking about the healthcare exchange he didn’t mind throwing IT under the bus. (sometimes I am glad I left the IT field, IT is always thrown under the bus).
  • Just like every presser Obama said he is willing to work with the other side and wants more bipartisanship… then goes on to say he “will not negotiate”.
  • The President said the NSA getting caught spying is a diplomatic issue. Apparently Obama thinks the act of spying is OK, it is just getting caught that is an issue.
  • Obama believes in the “core of the law” in respects to Obamacare. The specifics of the law appear unimportant to him. Thus his continued disregard for rule of law.
  • Obama mentioned he likely won’t have time to attend the Olympics due to other priorities; but he looks forward to attending Olympics when he is no longer in office. He could retire early and make this Olympics. Just saying…
  • Obama would not answer the question about being honored with the Lie of the Year.
  • When speaking about Iran Obama continues to play the ‘reluctant war hawk’ role. Too bad we can’t seem to ever get a peace president.

Overall the presser was very long and he was brilliant at saying very little. I think the presser could be best summarized as “not my fault”. After this presser it is not surprise that 72% of Americans believe big government is a big threat.

All I want for Christmas is another Remy Song

It’s Christmas time! A time for religious merriment and family celebrations. It’s also the time of the year to ask Santa for something really important. This year Remy has asked for something that would be a true gift for the United States economy:

“I’ll take the candy… you can keep the Keynes.” Classic.

And since Keynes was brought up here is a pair of music videos that best shows the difference between Keynes and Hayek’s approaches:

I know I posted this song just a week ago but I can’t do a Christmas post without including this Remy classic:

Merry Christmas everyone!

Supporting Noem’s School Nutrition Bill

liftarn_A_traditional_lunch_boxEarlier this month South Dakota Representative Kristi Noem announced a new school nutrition bill that would restore some local control back to schools in meal choices. She also happened to mention the bill to my middle son’s class yesterday. According her release the bill would to two important things:

  • Make the USDA’s temporary easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent, allowing schools more flexibility in serving meats and grains while still staying within calorie maximums
  • Give administrators flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs for school districts

At that time the bill was not yet publicly available for viewing. Now it has been designated as HR 3663 and named the “Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act”.

This bill was introduced in direct response to new federal mandates that were handed down on school lunch standards and began in the 2012 school year. In response to parent outcries, the Department of Agriculture did temporarily suspend the regulations requirements for limiting grains and meat. This legislation introduced by Noem would make these temporary changes become permanent law. It is quite likely the Obama administration will fight against this bill since it was Michelle Obama that pressed hard for the new school lunch regulations to be passed.

Local control is truly what’s at stake in this fight Noem has taken a leadership role in. Our schools employ school lunchroom cooks to provide our children with nutritious and tasty meals. Overreach from federal regulators takes away the ability of these local school cooks to properly performing their duties. Parents and schools do not need bureaucrats in DC determining what one-size-fits-all approach works best for our children. If the lunches are locally controlled and the parents have a problem with the meals being served, they could take that up with the school board. Right now parents have no place to go other than our congressmen to fight these changes. That is as far from local control as one can get.

Hopefully Noem will get the bill passed in the House. It currently sits in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and should be passed on from that committee with little or no problems. On the House floor there is no reason to believe the Republican majority won’t support a bill that brings some local control back to schools. I don’t think the Senate will pass this bill. Obama will lean on Reid to prevent the bill from ever being offered on the floor. So realistically if this bill were to pass it would happen when re-introduced in 2015; and only if Republicans regain the Senate (which doesn’t seem likely, I think the Republicans will gain a couple Senate seats, but not enough to take control away from Reid).

PS. Yes, I have been somewhat critical of Noem on other topics. But it is just as important to let legislators know when you support them as when you oppose their actions.