Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

November 4, 2019 GMT

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Nov. 1

Can the South Dakota Democratic Party come back from the brink?

To say that the South Dakota Democratic Party is in shambles right now would be a vast understatement.

A once-proud political coalition has been laid low by mismanagement, disorganization and general malaise in the face of Republican state superiority, with no leadership lifeline in sight.

The question now is how damaging this demise will be to South Dakota interests, which have always been best served by a multiple-party system with an open marketplace of ideas.

As it stands, one of America’s reddest states is a flashing siren for Democrats, whose emergency plan is uncertain as a critical election year awaits.

Matters were already grave before last week’s news that SDDP chair Paula Hawks and executive director Stacey Burnette were stepping down from their roles.

Longtime treasurer Bill Nibbelink retired in August with the party in negative-cash mode and nearly $50,000 in debt, and the Federal Elections Commission soon found that the party had misstated its finances by millions of dollars during the 2015-16 election cycle.

Then came the closing of SDDP offices in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, followed by the exodus of Hawks and Burnette, a former Stephanie Herseth Sandlin staffer who had taken the reins in early August.

Randy Seiler, a viable candidate for state attorney general last November, is serving as temporary party chair until new leaders can be elected in December.

Clearly, though, there is no quick fix for a party that has zero statewide office holders and a shortage of promising candidates looking ahead to 2020. Though the SDDP has received some money from the national ranks, it will first need to clean its own house before being deemed worthy of further support.

That means grassroots outreach to the 156,000 registered Democrats in South Dakota, stressing core party stances such as expanded health care, education funding, addressing gun violence and protecting reproductive rights. There are about 130,000 independents in the state presumably looking for leadership beyond standard conservative platforms.

That outreach extends to recruitment of competitive candidates, not just for statewide office but for a legislative body in which the GOP holds a 30-5 advantage in the Senate and 59-11 edge in the House, effectively voiding the notion of checks and balances.

Most jarring about the state Democratic demise is how quickly it came about, following the timeline of a Tea Party surge in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidential win in 2008.

It was a little more than a decade ago that South Dakota had two Democratic U.S. senators in majority leader Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson and a House member in Herseth Sandlin, lengthening a party legacy in Washington that included Jim Abourezk and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern.

Combined with Democratic stalwarts such as Billie Sutton, Rick Weiland, Jim Abbott and Jack Billion, there are no shortage of standard-bearers who should be concerned about the state party’s future.

Weiland has worked to pursue a progressive agenda primarily through ballot measures, while Sutton ran a strong and substantive gubernatorial campaign against Noem that positioned him as a party leader.

Though fresh perspectives are needed, it could be that a special Democratic Party summit with prominent voices is needed to find a modicum of momentum heading into 2020.

It is national elections, after all, that frequently move the needle of state politics, as do seismic developments such as the potential impeachment of a president.

Rather than simply wait for political winds to inspire its base and change its fortunes, the South Dakota Democratic Party needs to show that it can deliver on the promise of a better future with inspiring candidates, a consistent message and the financial wherewithal to stay in the game.

As it stands, they’ve got miles to go and a short time to get there.


Aberdeen American News, Nov. 2

SDSU impresses the college football universe

Congratulations to our neighbors in Brookings and at South Dakota State University.

You won over the hearts of many fans when a popular three-hour college football pregame show took over the SDSU campus, Brookings and South Dakota.

ESPN’s “College GameDay” visited Brookings for last weekend’s rivalry game between the Jackrabbits and North Dakota State University. It’s estimated that more than 1.7 million viewers tuned in Saturday morning. Some of those same eyes watched Brookings being featured in another 30-minute ESPN program, “College Football Live,” on Friday afternoon.

Throw in all the social media, and SDSU hit the national prominence jackpot. Even after ESPN pulled out of Brookings, Jackrabbit Nation was being talked about by ESPN broadcasters wearing Jackrabbit gear.

SDSU, Brookings and South Dakota made a good first impression on “College GameDay,” and the rewards, we hope, will be ongoing for years to come.

“College GameDay” rarely stops at small Division I schools that compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, commonly called FCS. It often broadcasts from much larger Football Bowl Subdivision campuses such as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma.

SDSU was “GameDay’s” ninth visit to an FCS campus since the show started broadcasting on location 26 years ago. That is only nine times in 331 broadcasts. The ESPN gang has been to NDSU in Fargo, North Dakota, twice. Only 74 schools have hosted the show.

Large, loud crowds of Jackrabbit supporters greeted and impressed the team of ESPN broadcasters who comprise “GameDay’s” on-air talent. The fans showed up early and were respectful and enthusiastic.

It was everything “College GameDay” wants from its hosting campus.

Beyond the pregame show hoopla, three members of the ESPN staff also took time to meet with SDSU journalism students. Reporters Tom Rinaldi and Gene Wojciechowski and producer Drew Gallagher spent more than an hour with the students the afternoon of Oct. 25.

“The result: a semester’s worth of lessons and inspiration about the power and possibilities of journalism as not just a career but a vocation and a passion,” wrote David Bordewyk of the South Dakota Newspaper Association in a story he posted on Facebook.

The Brookings Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated the entire “College GameDay” week had an economic impact of more than $1.5 million on the city.

Congratulations again to all involved. You made your state, city and university proud.

Selby native and long-time SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier was impressive as well during his national TV appearances. His down home, humble style came across well as he spoke of his pride for his team.

The broadcast also dedicated time to SDSU’s growing list of NFL players. Players like Rapid City’s Adam Vinatieri and Britton-Hecla graduate Dallas Goedert.

At 46, Vinatieri is the oldest active player in the NFL. The four-time Super Bowl-winning kicker is the all-time leading scorer in the NFL and a future Hall-of-Famer.

Goedert is in his second year in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles’ tight end has had an impressive start to his pro football career, earning respect for his great blocking while catching 50 passes for 516 yards and seven touchdowns.

In the end, NDSU defeated SDSU 23-16 on the field in front of a first-time, sold-out SDSU stadium — 19,371, the largest crowd to witness a college football game in South Dakota history. The Bison have won seven FCS national championships and 29 games in a row.

NDSU is the two-time defending national champion, led by All-American senior defensive end Derrek Tuszka of Warner.

NDSU deserves all the recognition it gets on the national stage.

It was nice that the SDSU Jackrabbits got the opportunity to hop on that big stage as well. We hope the returns are bountiful in the years ahead.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Oct. 31

Stress on the river with winter on the way

Today, the calendar says it’s November, but the Missouri River that flows by Yankton insists that it isn’t.

The river lies, you see.

Go out to Gavins Point Dam and witness the chaotic deceit. The river is still roaring through the dam at 80,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is unheard of at this time of the year. (It’s not as mesmerizing as it was in 2011, when discharges at Gavins Point reached 160,000 cfs, but that only lasted a few weeks before the angry tide began to recede.) Gavins Point has been racing since the bomb cyclone in March as other major storms since have fed the flow for months.

However, maybe all this is telling us a new kind of truth.

I wasn’t there personally, but it was reported there was some stress in the air last week when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) held a public meeting in Sioux City, Iowa. It was one of several meetings held throughout the river system to talk about the state of the river and its management plans. That, of course, explains the stress.

It’s the byproduct of what has been a punishing year on the Missouri River basin. Massive storms and record precipitation will do that.

In such circumstances, the friction between the Upper Missouri and the Lower Missouri — that is, everything north of Gavins Point Dam versus everything south of it — becomes much more pronounced. Recently, wild weather swings, ranging from record flooding to record drought (in the space of one year, mind you), have further aggravated the different priorities on the different ends of the river.

But what if this is the new normal on the basin?

If you accept the probability that climate change is impacting our weather and our lives, we must at least consider the idea that we’re now facing a much different river system than the one that was tamed and regulated by dams more than 60 years ago.

Where does the current mess end? Corps officials have declared in no uncertain terms that releases must wind down when the system freezes for winter in a few weeks. That may take down the releases and soothe the river to its winter state, but it doesn’t really end the problem. Instead, it will probably postpone things until next year, when the new snowmelt and runoff will most certainly thaw out the problems again to some degree.

What that probably means for those downstream from Gavins Point Dam is more of what they saw in 2019, and they saw way too much in 2019: flooded land, drowned highways, breached levies and more. It’s produced frustration and anger at public meetings, and questions during telephone conferences (and I actually did hear this one this past summer) about why the USACE couldn’t just shut down Gavins Point releases for a few days to give the southern reach a chance to drain out. Closer to Yankton, it’s meant that the swollen James, Vermillion and Big Sioux rivers have drained more slowly because of the high level on the Missouri River.

Throw into that whatever the looming winter brings, and next year figures to be another round of headaches and uncertainty.

Again, is this the new normal? Is this what the river system must deal with now thanks to changes in the climate? If so, is the dam system up to the even more immense challenges of balancing the upstream and downstream interests?

So far, frankly, the answers don’t seem promising. Ask the people at Dakota Dunes or the Omaha area or anywhere in Missouri. Ask anyone who has a home on riverfront property where once no one dreamed of building because of the unpredictable river.

The unpredictability has returned to the Missouri River basin in wild force.

Whether it’s a passing trend (like a 500-year flood) or a new normal (like a 500-year flood that happens every four or five years) remains to be seen.

This year, we’ve seen plenty. But there may be even more in store (or in storage) as the race to evacuate the water from the reservoirs just seems like a losing cause with each passing day. And winter is closing in too fast.