Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

October 21, 2019

Aberdeen American News, Oct. 19

Deserved honors keep coming for legendary Reifel

In the last couple of years, one of South Dakota’s greatest leaders has been honored several times.

That makes us smile.

You don’t have to dig very deep into former U.S. Congressman Ben Reifel’s legacy to uncover his consistent courage, perseverance and commitment of service to others.

Reifel (Sept. 19, 1906-Jan. 2, 1990), also known as Lone Feather, was raised on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Reservation. He has degrees from South Dakota State University and Harvard, and several honorary degrees, including one from Northern State University.

This summer in Sioux Falls at a groundbreaking for a middle school, Reifel was honored as part of his latest namesake. Reifel Middle School is scheduled to open in northwestern Sioux Falls in fall 2021.

That is a great fit. Reifel worked tirelessly for education. He believed that education was the key to lifting up everyone, including his fellow Native Americans.

Farmers also had a great friend in Reifel, who served in Congress for 10 years (1961-71). The Republican was all about service to others, including his country as he achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel during his stint in the Army.

For five years (1955-60), Reifel served as the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Aberdeen Area Office that oversaw a three-state region. He then became the nation’s first elected U.S. representative of Sioux or Lakota descent.

He served on numerous service groups. He also was on the national board for groups like the Protestant Episcopal Church and Boy Scouts of America.

His leadership abilities and style, his sincere interest in others and his insights into how to make the world around him better were invaluable to many. He freely shared his gifts, which is one of the reasons he was so highly sought after by many.

He performed a lifetime of good works.

That is one of the reasons why Reifel has remained relevant in the state he loved and the state that loved him.

In May, U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota introduced legislation that would rename the post office in Rosebud the Ben Reifel Post Office Building.

A couple of years ago, Gov. Dennis Daugaard designated Sept. 19 as Ben Reifel Day in South Dakota.

Such honors for Reifel started long ago.

In 1990, members of Congress changed the name of Cedar Pass Visitor Center at Badlands National Park to Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Meanwhile, the SDSU campus in Brookings has its Ben Reifel Hall and Sisseton High School has its Ben Reifel Gymnasium.

No one is more deserving of such honors than Reifel.

He was born in a log cabin with a sod roof and dirt floor as one of five boys in his family. He had few resources for education, and he had to work hard to earn it.

“He touched many lives through his lifetime with his commitment of service to others,” Reifel’s oldest granddaughter Lisa Moss told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader this summer at the middle school groundbreaking. “And he had a way of making others feel like they were significant and important because he was genuinely interested in them. This school will continue that legacy by bearing his name.”

We hope the story of Ben Reifel is always told not only in South Dakota schools, but in schools across the nation.

His inspiring story is worth telling over and over again.


Black Hills Pioneer, Oct. 19

Hemp: Cash crop or cops’ nightmare?


How can such a small word cause such polarizing opinions?

South Dakotans are currently in the throes of a debate on whether the state should make industrial hemp legal.

A bill to do just that was vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem during the last session of the South Dakota Legislature.

Since that veto, the Industrial Hemp Study Committee — an interim committee of the Legislature — has been busy studying the matter at length.

Here is the committee’s charge:

To study the regulation and cost of implementing an industrial hemp program.

To determine what the economic impacts of the production and sale of industrial hemp would be;

To find out the potential costs or challenges for law enforcement;

And, to study requirements for registration, licenses, and permits; as well as seed certification and access.

Hemp, the lesser-known cousin of marijuana, is also in the cannabis sativa family, one of three main subtypes of the cannabis plant.

Unlike marijuana, hemp is a non-intoxicating crop that contains less than 1% of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which gives marijuana users a high.

Hemp fiber can be used to make fabrics and textiles, rope and paper. Hemp seeds and flowers are often used for health foods and organic body care including the controversial CBD oil.

The 2018 Farm Bill changed federal policy regarding industrial hemp, including the removal of hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and the consideration of hemp as an agricultural product. But, the feds are still in the process of working toward developing regulations to implement the 2018 Farm Bill provisions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, only South Dakota, Idaho, and Mississippi do not allow cultivation of hemp in their states.

Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee of the 2019 Legislature and Butte County rancher, was a co-sponsor on the original bill to legalize the growth, production, and processing of industrial hemp and derivative products in the state.

He said during last year’s session that if South Dakota didn’t act, it would be left behind in the hemp production race.

Researchers say that hemp will grow on most any type of ground, including lesser quality and more alkaline soils.

“All I can think of is Butte County. This would be a perfect place for hemp to grow,” he said during a crackerbarrel at Newell last winter.

Gov. Noem wrote in a newspaper column this fall that, as a farmer and rancher, she would be thrilled to get a new crop into the hands of the state’s producers, especially as ag markets struggle.

“A new source of revenue for farmers would be great. But industrial hemp is not the answer,” she said.

Legalizing industrial hemp legalizes marijuana by default, she said.

Here’s Noem’s justification — legalizing industrial hemp weakens drug laws. It hurts law enforcement. It’s a step backward. South Dakota already faces a drug problem. Families continue to be ripped apart by substance abuse.

“South Dakota must lead by example. We cannot rush into legalizing industrial hemp without knowing the cost we will pay. The safety and health of the next generation is not worth the gamble,” she said.

As we have done so many times on other issues, there needs to be a period of give-and-take on the part of the legislators and the governor. Legislation will surely be introduced during the 2020 South Dakota Legislative Session.

Hopefully the federal government will have regulations in place by then on which the state can base their laws.

We believe the state should proceed with caution and weigh the benefits to an ailing farm economy when it comes to legalizing the growth, production and processing of industrial hemp in South Dakota.


Rapid City Journal, Oct. 20

SD budget shaping up as a challenge

Gov. Kristi Noem will unveil her next budget proposal in about 80 days. Meanwhile, she’s keeping her spending priorities under tight wraps.

J.K. Rowling probably revealed more before the Harry Potter finale. For her second year as governor, Noem likely wishes she, too, could work magic.

The four pillars of Noem’s gubernatorial campaign remain intact, including a no-additional-taxes pledge, so the budget challenges looming large will put program cuts in the offing. The real question: How much?

Inside the Journal offices this past week, Noem expressed a desire to continue subsidizing the extension of rural broadband. She also hoped state bounties for pheasant predators would return next spring. But those desires could easily run into expected money shortages.

While Noem isn’t tipping her hand on priorities, the litany of state woes she outlined effectively communicates to legislators that no pool of funds will stand available for them. It could get interesting.

Without citing specific numbers, Noem dismissed as modest what once was hoped to be a windfall from new internet sales taxes resulting from the Supreme Court victory in South Dakota vs. Wayfair. Conservative lawmakers unsuccessfully moved in the last legislative session to funnel that anticipated revenue toward reducing a half-cent sales tax.

Noem says now the state was wise in not counting those chickens early. Don’t expect her to support the sales-tax reduction next year, either.

The rest of the state funding picture, meanwhile, sounded positively bleak. You might think South Dakota was the land of pharaoh’s Egypt after hearing a recitation of plagues rolling through since winter — a bomb-cyclone snowstorm, tornadoes, endless rains and floods, delayed and forgone crop planting, international trade shocks, a fifth year of depressed grain prices, small-refinery ethanol waivers, and the repeal of internet taxes which had poured millions into state and municipal coffers.

And the picture doesn’t look to improve soon. Farmland remains saturated heading into winter, so ag woes could easily extend into spring. Economic forecasters, meanwhile, say that although the Midwest continues to gain ground, growth has slowed noticeably.

Add in some pre-existing or perpetual needs — state technical schools are too expensive, hampering workforce development; the meth crisis continues unabated, driving up law enforcement and prison costs — and the Legislature’s coming spending debates could turn grim.

In the last session, county governments complained state prison reform and presumptive probation had unfairly shifted prisoner costs onto them. Many counties now find themselves in even worse funding straits because of the widespread disaster declarations.

Noem has called this past year’s wet and windy growing season the largest slow-rolling natural disaster in state history. So far this year, federal disasters have been declared for 58 of 66 counties and on three reservations. Funding requests so far total $56 million, but additional requests are likely.

The federal government pays 75 percent of authorized funding, leaving the state to match 10 percent and local governments 15 percent. Predominantly rural counties don’t have that kind of money. Longstanding state limits on local tax increases, meanwhile, allow few options for finding it. Noem said rural legislators have already begun raising the issue. Meanwhile, the state’s own share of disaster spending could climb above $5.6 million.

For now, Noem is directing department heads to tighten belts and recommend further cuts. We could speculate more on what lies ahead, but it’s probably better to wait and allow the governor to explain her plans.

Many expect the battle over industrial hemp to provide the grand drama of next year’s legislative session, but hemp could easily become overshadowed by money. Unfortunately, there are no magic wands.