After she tells Bryon and the kids, she’s telling me

Kristi Noem promised today that I’d be no worse than the fifth person she tells when she makes a decision on the 2018 governor’s race.

“How about if you’re one of my first five that I call when I’ve decided,” she said. “How’s that sound? I’ll make that commitment to you, all right?”

That’s not bad, when you consider she’s first gotta tell her husband, Bryon, and then her three kids. It’s only fair that they be the first four.

Or, wait, maybe they don’t count as first calls, since they’ll be in on the deciding process. Probably not

And I’m not sure if she really did the math in her head today after a brief news conference in front of Sioux San Hospital, when I changed the subject from Indian Health Service health-care challenges to the 2018 governor’s race. I’ve been pestering the Republican congresswoman quite a bit on that point.

As I’ve said before, I expect Noem to be a candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary race. I also expect state Rep. Mark Mickelson of Sioux Falls and Attorney General Marty Jackley of Pierre to jump in, which would make for a lively primary. I know Jackley’s running, even though he hasn’t announced if officially. I assume Mickelson is, too, although I’m not nearly as well acquainted with him as I was to his dad.

And, after today, I really expect Noem to announce her candidacy for governor by the end of the year. I figured that before. It makes sense to announce in, say, early December, then get a big influx of donations before the year-end reporting period. Add some of her campaign cash at the federal level (which can flow down to state races, even thought state cash can’t flow up to finance federal campaigns) and she’ll be tough to beat for campaign cash coming out of the blocks.

What she has said about a governor’s race, and what she said today, does nothing do discourage my expectation.

“You haven’t asked that for a while,” Noem said. “You know what, I’m running for reelection for the House. So you know what, I’m going to run hard and win in November, and then we’ll talk about the next race.”

The next race? Now, she could mean the next race for reelection to the House in two years. Or maybe Commissioner of School and Public Lands. But I don’t think so. And it makes sense that she would get the November election behind her, but then make a decision and, I’d expect, an announcement on that “next race,” the one for that nice big office on the second floor of the South Dakota Capitol.

Starting about Dec. 1, I’m going to keep my cell phone charged and ready.

Reflections on a Keltgen cap, an old farmer and the chittering call of happiness

It was the Keltgen Seed cap that captured my attention. You don’t see those much anymore. And this one looked almost new.

A pleasant-looking fellow named Raymond Schweiss was wearing it this morning on a replay of Due North Outdoors, a Fox North show I watch from time to time.

I was in the kitchen, scrambling kale and sweet pepper and egg whites and sipping jasmine green when I glanced up at Raymond and his cap — and his wrens.

A Keltgen Seed cap always catches my eye, because it’s been so long since Keltgen Seed was a fully functioning seed-corn company.

My former father-in-law, Keith Keltgen, founded the company with a group of five courageous associates willing to depart from well-paid, secure jobs at what had been called Trojan Seeds — before it was acquired by Pfizer Genetics — in Olivia, Minn., for an adventure that would be a challenge and a success.

I’d like to stop here and tell you how I saw Olivia Newton John in Olivia, Minn., once back around 1980, when she followed a whim and an invitation to appear at the town’s appropriately named Corn Capital Days.

But this is about the cap and the wrens, and some other recollections.

Between the time Keith Keltgen — appropriately known to those in corn country as the Corn Doctor — started Keltgen Seeds back in 1977, I married his daughter, Jaciel, and soon also fell in love with her family, parents Keith and Bev, and seven siblings.

We were married 12 years (almost all of them, in my opinion, good years), had two kids and divorced in predictable misery but about in about as amiable a way — since we both did our part in the failure of our marriage — as is possible. Our kids benefited from the fact that we have never really stopped caring for each other, to this day. Nor did we ever hate each other, or act like we did.

Jaciel and I benefitted from that, too.

That’s another story. Back to the cap, and the wrens.

Keith played an essential role for me, filling in for the father I lost when I was 16. It was an unreconciled, unfathomable loss that left me spinning through my formative years in a sort of untethered search for a father figure and for kind of peace and perspective.

Keith was there when I desperately needed him. We hunted and fished together, celebrated family events together, argued sports and politics together and spent time at the Keltgen factory together, as he explained the genetic imperatives of corn breeding and sales, as well as the essential of human interaction.

Keith and I stayed close after the divorce, and I was part of the family at St. Aloysius Catholic Church, where Jaciel and I were married, for Keith’s funeral in1999.

The Keltgen hats, once so common and comforting across the farmlands of Minnesota and South Dakota, diminished with time. So did the Keltgen Seeds signs at farm driveways.

So now when I see a sign or a cap, I connect again with the man and the family who will always matter to me.

Raymond Schweiss clearly took good care of his brown cap with the gold K on the front. It looked to be one of those stylish corduroy models that Keith included in his diverse collection of promotional items.

So I had to stop and watch the show, about Raymond and the wrens he loved and tended on his neat, Minnesota-style farm outside of Fairfax.

My mother, Marie, loved wrens, too, and enjoyed the same “music” that Raymond talked about.

“When they’re happy,” he said on the show, “I’m happy.”

And they’re always happy, if you judge joy by their song.

So I spent some time, tea in one hand and fork in the other, standing in front of the kitchen TV, watching Raymond and his hat and his wrens and thinking about my own mother and her wrens and my only ever father-in-law (Mary’s dad, Red, had died before we got together) on this earth.

It warmed me like the tea, settled me like the sound of wrens in the backyard at Chamberlain, or the loving weight of Keith’s strong hand on my shoulder and his even-stronger words in my memory.

Near the end of the show, the wrens flew south, silencing Raymond Schweiss’s neatly managed farmyard, and he bid them farewell until the following spring.

I wondered then how many springs Raymond Schweiss had left, at 79. And I learned a few seconds later that he died a few weeks after the segment was shot.

I was saddened by that, of course. And that sadness called up the deeper essence of more profound and personal losses that I — like you — carry every day.

It called up the question Stanley Kunitz asked in The Layers:

“How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?”

How indeed. Kunitz suggests the answer is to “live in the layers, not on the litter.”

And, oh, how rich the layers can be, including the sadness and the joy of recollection found in a TV image of a hat, a old farmer and the music of wrens.

And while Raymond Schweiss won’t be there waiting next spring on the backyard step, the wrens will return, navigating on ancient instinct back to the place of their origins, offering their chittering call to happiness.

If only we have the ears to listen.




If you think Thune likes Hillary please raise your hand

Here’s what I think about John Thune and Hillary Clinton.

Just like Barack Obama in 2008, Thune thinks she’s likable enough.

He won’t say that. He can’t say that. But I’m pretty sure it’s true.

Thune dislikes Clinton’s political philosophy. And he’s probably put off, as I am, by her unwise use of a personal email server while she was Secretary of State and by her ongoing inability to just speak straight about her missteps there.

But on a personal level, I assume Thune likes Hillary Clinton. There’s nothing he has ever said, on the record of off, to lead me to believe otherwise.

Just recently, when asked about Clinton at a Black Hills Press Club luncheon, Thune remembered when they served together on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said she always came well read, well prepared, well informed on the issues before the committee.

That’s about as nice as he can afford to get.

As for Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton’s VP pick, Thune went even further, saying “everything they (the Democrats) said about him is true. He’s a genuinely good guy.”

Thune also repeated a story I’d heard years back, that being that he had spoken to Clinton following the 2008 primary, she told him how she enjoyed campaigning here and how her win in South Dakota was one of her favorites.

Thune joked at the Press Club that Clinton’s satisfaction at the win was probably because “Bill Walsh was supporting Barack Obama.”

That brought a general chuckle from the mostly Republican crowd.

A long-time Black Hills Democrat, former Catholic priest, Franklin Hotel Owner, travel mogul and current Democratic National Committeeman from South Dakota, Bill Walsh did support Obama in 2008. But he’s a big Hillary backer in this campaign.

Thune isn’t a Hillary backer, obviously. But having known him for 25 years or so, I have no doubt that he likes Hillary Clinton on a personal level better than he likes Donald Trump.

Other than certain points of politics, Thune and Trump are miles apart as people and politicians. Trump is rude. Thune is polite. Trump is insensitive toward people, ultra-thin-skinned and crude and mean-spirited in his rhetoric. Thune is the exact opposite.

Trump condemns the political system and continues to show ignorance in how the government system actually works. Thune is a knowledgeable part of both systems and wants to improve them, not destroy them.

All indications are that Thune is a good guy at heart. I’ve seen no such indications from Donald Trump.

The Republicans had a chance to nominate a number of genuinely good people and qualified candidates for president, and they picked Trump. That puts people like Thune, a leader in a party that Trump belongs to in name but often not in actions or rhetoric, in a difficult spot.

For example, as Donald Trump continued to slog through self-destructive exchanges over Muslim Gold Star parents a few days back, I caught up with Thune down in Pine Ridge. After discussing tribal law-enforcement problems and IHS health care, I asked Thune if he thought it was time to move on from the issues around the appearance at the Democratic National Convention by Khizr and Ghazala Khan.

“Absolutely,” he said. “A long time ago.”

Thune seemed to include the DNC planners when he said it was wrong to politicize the loss of lives suffered by Gold Star families. But it was more clearly a nudge for Trump to move away from that particular fire and toward potentially productive campaign issues.

“Honor these citizens. Respect these families, and those who have lost loved ones. Give them every heart-felt expression of gratitude that we possibly can,” Thune said. “But then address the issues that the campaign needs to be talking about. It’s time to get back on that agenda.”

During the Press Club appearance a few days before Pine Ridge, I asked Thune what he thought of Trump saying that Vladimir Putin has “better leadership skills than Barack Obama.”

Thune laughed, uneasily.

“I think in a lot of ways, it’s sort of Trump being Trump,” he said. “And I think the shock effect of some of the things he says is starting to wear off on people. I think they realize that’s part of his persona.”

But Thune said he hopes for a lot more than familiar persona from Trump.

“What I’m looking for in him is somebody who going into the fall campaign is going to focus on serious issues and serious solutions,” he said. “Because I do think he can win.”

Pressed on that point, Thune said:

“I believe that people are ready for change. I don’t think they want to continue the status quo, which is what Hillary represents. But he’s got to demonstrate that he can articulate a positive agenda for the future of this country that addresses the very serious challenges that we have. And if he can do that, I think there’s a pathway for him to win the election.

I asked Thune if he could ever see himself saying what Trump said about Putin and Obama.

“There are probably a lot of things that Donald Trump says that I couldn’t see myself saying,” Thune said. “But I don’t think that would come as a surprise to anybody.”

Which his way of saying, “no, I could never say that; I would never say that,” without actually saying it.

What I wonder is this: If Trump continues to campaign with rhetoric that has little to do with concrete issues and so often crashes through the lines of propriety as Thune sees them, how long will he be able to not say it?

We could get a chance to find out.










Loved ones carry burden of grief five years after anguished call: “Officers down!”

Late in the afternoon five years ago today, I was just settling in for my night-reporter shift in the Rapid City Journal newsroom when I heard something on the police scanner I’d never before heard: “Officers down!”

Officers down? Officers?

 My Lord!

 That’s a “runner” for a news reporter. You run out of the newsroom and run to your car and race as safely and legally as you can to the site of the news.

 It was horrid, that site — and its sights – at the corner of Anamosa and Greenbriar in North Rapid City. Officer Tim Doyle was badly wounded, and being rushed from the scene. Officer Ryan McCandless was dead. Officer Nick Armstrong was mortally wounded and would die later in the hospital.

 Their assailant, 22-year-old Daniel Tiger — a young man I’d seen in Mass from time to time years earlier at St. Isaac Jogues Church, tending lovingly to his grandmother — had pulled a gun and opened fire during what started out as a random check for an open container in North Rapid City.

 Tiger suffered wounds in the return fire that would prove fatal.

 So much that day was tragic: The deaths of two young officers with their whole lives ahead. And the terrible turn of a young man who surely had promise but got lost on the edges of society and turned increasingly angry and addicted and eventually so deranged that he ended his own life by taking the lives of others.

 I still feel the emotions of that day, and the loss of those two young officers — a loss that is so much deeper and more profound for their fellow officers, and especially for the loved ones who must carry it every day.

 I grieve today for who they might have become and what they might have meant in this community and this world. They already were and meant a lot.

 I carry their memory with me, and always will.

 But I also think of Daniel Tiger, about what good might have waited for him in a different world or with different opportunities and the sustaining salve of hope. I grieve that terrible turn he took and the loss that his family suffered that day — a loss that they, too, carry with them every day.

 And I pray I’ll never again hear those words: “Officers down!”





Nothing “pending” about the size of that salmon!

State-record salmon

Darrick Koch of Watertown holds the pending state-record salmon — 31.54 pounds — caught last Friday on Lake Oahe near the face of the dam.


The record is pending because Geno Adams,  GF&P’s fisheries program administrator in Pierre, has been out of the office and won’t be back in until Thursday. He’s the guy who signs off on new state-record fish. But the fish was weighed on a certified scale and confirmed as a chinook salmon by a GF&P fisheries biologist.

So the “pending” seems simply to be a formality until Adams gets back in the office.

Anyway, there’s nothing pending about the excitement such a beast creates in the South Dakota salmon-fishing club.


More than Lloyd Christmas-like self-delusion, Hawks might really have a chance — someday

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance … yeah!!!!”

— Lloyd Christmas, Dumb and Dumber


First, Paula Hawks is no dummy.  She knows how to feed cattle, combine corn and introduce high-school students to the intricate world of the mitochondria.

Unlike the aforementioned Lloyd Christmas, Hawks is not desperate for a date. She has one, for life. Her husband, Steve, is an SDSU physics graduate with a West-River-ranch upbringing and East-River-farm expertise.

They’re a pretty good team these days, as Hawks — a two-term Democratic  state House member — runs for the big House in Washington, D.C.

In our first interview, there were two things I really wanted to know from Hawks, beyond her answer when I invited her to the Requiem to Mount Blogmore Invitational Pheasant Hunt & Charitable Chili Feed this October (she said “yes”):

  1. Will she be a one-and-done congressional candidate after she loses to Kristi Noem in November.
  2. In the event that she doesn’t lose – beating some pretty substantial odds — would she move to the D.C. area?

Her answers: No, and yes.

I liked both of them.

One: Any Democratic candidate for South Dakota’s lone U.S. house seat should be prepared to lose. That would include former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, although she could also be prepared to win, because she’d be close to an even bet.

Anybody else this side of say, Tom Daschle, would be in the position Hawks finds herself in: Trying to make a good showing, and almost certainly not winning.

But would she then disappear like, with respect, Matt Varilek did after the 2012 race and Corinna Robinson did after the 2014 campaign. That’s not how the Democrats are going to retake that seat.

Our Saturday morning Old Man’s Breakfast Club had concluded by consensus – there’s no such thing as unanimous at the club, with the possible exception of mass concern over PSA levels – that any Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat in South Dakota should prepare to run a four-year campaign.

Two to get things started, and two more to get serious about winning.

So when Hawks joined us for breakfast and political chatter (Kristi Noem, John Thune, Mike Rounds, we’ve got a seat waiting for you!), that was one of the first things we asked.

Hawks said what she had to say first: “I’m in it to win. And I believe I can.”

Yeah, OK, whatever. But here’s the answer that mattered: She’ll be around next cycle.

“Elections come and elections go and people jump into elections and out of elections,” Hawks said. “But I’m here to help build a stronger Democratic Party in South Dakota. And if I win, that’s a wonderful way to get there. But even if I lose it’s still a start to building up a greater party.”

It’s also a way of getting started on the House race in 2018 that will really matter to Hawks, if she’s really serious about the House seat and about building a greater party. (At this point in South Dakota, I’m using “greater” out of a spirit of generosity)

Build a base. Expand name ID. Develop funding sources. And be prepared to run against, oh, maybe Shantel Krebs or Dusty Johnson in 2018. You know, somebody like that.

Noem? Naw. She’ll be running for governor, possibly in a three-way primary with Attorney General Marty Jackley and state Rep. Mark Mickelson of Sioux Falls.

OK, I’m not entirely certain on that. But this is a blog, where running off at the mouth is expected. Even so, I’ll be surprised if Noem doesn’t run for governor, and Mickelson and Jackley are likely GOP candidates for that primary.

Whatever happens there, Hawks will be a more experience, more competitive Democratic candidate in the general, if she’s in it. That’s good, and not just for Democrats but for the state.

I don’t know that the ridiculous imbalance of power in South Dakota created an environment where EB-5 and Gear Up could happen. But it didn’t help.

Ridiculous imbalances tend to be, well, ridiculous.

So suppose Hawks would win in 2018. Next up is the where-to-live decision.

It used to be assumed that people who ran for Congress in South Dakota were prepared to move themselves and their families to the D.C. area. That was a life’s commitment that everybody in the family had to make.

That ended, pretty much, in 2004, when John Thune beat Tom Daschle with a barrage of criticism that included Daschle’s D.C. residency (the Jaguar in the driveway didn’t help, either, I suppose) and allegations that he was out of touch with South Dakota.

That’s a debatable point, perhaps for a later thread. But since defeating Daschle, Thune has played the “I’m a resident of Sioux Falls …” game, with his family living in Sioux Falls in reality and him living there in a sort of dreamy mix of reality and political theater.

Meaning he spends a lot of time on planes, flying to and from his home in Sioux Falls to his residence and job in D.C. Many weeks there. Most weekend here.

Noem has done the same thing — at some cost, I think she would admit,  in time she’d want to spend with her family. Rounds, without kids at home, came into the “I’m a Fort Pierre resident…” routine without quite as much to sacrifice.

But he’s away from his wife and adult children and his grandchildren during the week, as Noem is away from her husband and at least one child at home.

Is it worth it? I wonder. Hawks thinks not.

“I have three children ages 15, 12 and 5, and I have no intention of being a part-time parent or a part-time legislator, when it comes to serving as the single voice for South Dakota in the House,” she said. “So the best option for me that my husband and I can see is to move to Washington, D.C., to have them there all the time, so I can be a full-time parent while being a full-time congresswoman.”

Noem would argue that she’s more than part-time at both responsibilities. And I know she has worked hard and flown often to make as many of her kids’ events as possible, while trying to keep in fulfill work obligations here at home and in D.C. Thune did the same.

Still, it’s kind of part-time parenting. It has to be.

Is the sacrifice worth it? Only they can say. But Tim Johnson, whose family joined him in the D.C. area, where Johnson was a resident for most of his 28 years in Congress, wanted to be home with his family during the week, not just on weekends. He also thought connections between congressional members – including those of the opposite party – were easier to keep when more people stuck around on weekends, sometimes socializing together with their families.

I suppose these days that would be considered evil socialization.

But living there subtracted those rushed flights on Friday and Monday, or sometimes Tuesday and Thursday, allowing – Johnson argued – more work time and some personal connections. And he never seemed to lose touch with what we were living with and hoping for here in South Dakota.

So it worked pretty well, it seemed to me, before 2004, for Democratic and Republican congressional members. Hawks thinks it could work well again.

“If we look back to representatives and senators who moved to D.C., they were doing a good job of representing the state and still coming back to do constituent work,” she said.

There’s quite a bit of time for that, during what seems like an endless array of congressional breaks. And Daschle, for example, worked to maintain both the appearance of being connected at home and the reality of it by trying to hit all 66 counties every year and by making his annual, extended driving tours – often by himself, or with a reporter – across the state.

I rode along on a few of those. And I can tell you, they meant something — to him and to the South Dakotans he spoke to along the way.

Hawks likes that idea, or something similar. And she’d love a chance to give it a try.

Which brings us back to that pesky, expensive, uphill U.S. House campaign – the one that will really matter, in 2018.




What do Trump, Janklow and a Russell Means lightning strike have to do with Rounds and the IHS?

Not long after Mike Rounds made the Janklow-Trump comparison, lightning struck and I lost power – along with the interview notes on my computer screen.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I should have been saving those notes. But sometimes when an interview gets good, as this one did, a guy gets busy asking question and pounding the keys and forgets about hitting the “save” key.

Ka-boom. Notes. Gone. Ouch.

Have to admit, right there I thought of Russell Means, who said a couple times in the months leading up to his death he wanted to come back as lightning and strike the White House. I think of Means regularly when lightning strikes. You don’t suppose he took a shot at Rapid City, when he heard Trump and Janklow in the same sentence?

Anyway, with the computer flashing like it was shot with a rifle, I grabbed a pencil and scribbled down what I could remember to that point, including a couple quotes, and asked for help in reconstructing a few others. But much was lost.

It was good stuff, too. But it didn’t start with Trump and Janklow. It started with questions on the Indian Health Service troubles, something  that is currently engaging Rounds, a former two-term governor now in his second year as our junior U.S. senator. That makes John Thune the senior senator, of course, but he probably already notes that when the kids at McDonald’s automatically give him the senior discount. (Come, senator,  they do. Admit it!)

Whatever the age and rank, Thune, Rounds, and Congresswoman Kristi Noem have been working on the Indian Health Service medical-care fiasco with passion that mostly seems to transcend politics. Obviously, the fact that by bashing the IHS the Republican congressionals indirectly get to bash the Obama Administration is a sweet GOP bonus.

But there’s real outrage and concern there, too, with good reason. IHS in this region in particular is a mess. While there is certainly good care being provided in some instances, it fails in others. Hence the closed ER at the IHS hospital in Rosebud and long, dangerous and — some tribal members say —  in some instances deadly delays in critical treatment as ill or injured patients are rushed to other hospitals.

As Noem said recently in one of my TV interviews, the federal government has a treaty obligation to provide health care to Native people through the IHS, and “we are failing.”

There are plenty of reasons for that, including a stone-walled institutional structure in IHS that makes it as bullet-proof against transparency and responsiveness as any agency at any level I have covered. There might be good people doing good work inside the figurative and literal walls of IHS, but you’d never know it.

I’d have better luck getting an interview with a member of the Politburo than getting into the office of whoever is in charge at Sioux San Hospital here in Rapid City, or other IHS facilities in Rosebud or Pine Ridge, with my camera rolling.

Why is that? I have to think the military basis for the IHS is part of it. Even though their work hardly constitutes national security missions like the duties of officers and airmen at Ellsworth Air Base, many IHS leaders are still military. And there’ a sense in the military, in my experience, that says: “We’re kind of immune from the public openness rules others play by.”

And they probably kind of should be when real national security is at stake. But what’s at stake in the IHS works is health and lives. And openness, not secrecy, is the way to help protect those.

Add funding shortfalls the IHS can’t control, the complicated relationships between the federal government and the sovereign-yet-dependent tribes, throw in some politics, mix in profound health-care challenges among tribal people and the isolated reservation landscapes and you’ve got health-care dysfunction beyond your imagination.

Or as Rounds said, speaking of the deeply troubled Rosebud IHS facility, “some of the stuff that went on down there is terrible.”

All at the expense of tribal people.

But what about Trump and Janklow? Not yet. First, the life-and-death realities, offered by Rounds before the lightning struck:

The IHS Great Plains Area, which includes South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa has:

  • The 2nd highest rate of infant mortality among all IHS regions.
  • The highest diabetes death rates (129.7 per 100,000 compared to IHS average 65.6 and U.S. average 23.3)
  • The second-highest in alcohol related deaths (77.0 per 100,000 compared to 44.7 IHS, 6.9 U.S.)
  • The highest tuberculosis death rates (3.2 per 100,000 compared to 1.0 IHS, 0.2 U.S.)
  • The lowest life expectancy rate at 68.1 years as compared to the U.S. average of 77.7 years.
  • The highest age adjusted death rate (1301.5 per 100,000 is higher than IHS average of 953.7 and U.S. average of 776.5).

Terrible stats, Rounds says, but there are more from the senator:


  • IHS allocates less than 0.4% of its total budget to equipment purchases.
  • It appears only one-third of IHS’s roughly 15,000 employees (full time or equivalent) are dedicated to front-line health care professionals (doctors and nurses, for example).
  • Of its 15,000 employees, IHS has more than 3,700 people dedicated to Medicaid billing (25%) while only 750 people are identified as doctors (.05%).
  • IHS spends less per capita than the Bureau of Prisons spends on each inmate. ($3100 compared to $5100 annually)


More than that, Rounds says IHS isn’t even particularly responsive to the tribes when it comes to crucial decisions affecting the tribes.

“There has been minimal or no consultation at all with tribes on those decisions. They’ve simply too often been left out of the discussion,” Rounds said. “And that’s got to stop.”

Money is a factor, too. And just about everybody agrees the troubled region needs more of it. Rounds says the funding formula doesn’t’ seem to make sense or have a structure, other than what has previously been given to the agency and to a region.

I’ve said before and continue to content that the IHS lost a great opportunity when former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew name from consideration for health and human services secretary. He had issues to deal with in being confirmed by the Senate. But they could have been overcome had Max Baucus, then a Democratic senator from Montana and alleged Daschle friend, been truly supportive and had the Obama Administration been more resolute in backing Daschle.  Knowing both the D.C. system and the IHS system, especially in this region, Daschle would have meant real change for the better.

But we have what we have, including an apparent commitment of the state’ Republican delegation to force improvements.

Rounds says an independent audit is needed, and he’s encouraged by IHS cooperation there. He will join Thune and Noem this Friday in Rapid City for a field hearing on IHS issues by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and its chairman, Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming.

The hearing won’t be the end of the IHS inquiry, however.

“We want to make sure it’s clear that we’re not going away this time,” Rounds said. “We have to stay on top of this until there’s systematic change in the IHS, but always in cooperation with the tribes.”

Now, when you think “cooperation” don’t you think Janklow, and Trump?

That’s not exactly what moved the interview to those two. Actually, I wanted to talk Trump with Rounds even before the Senate hearing came up, so I tagged some questions on to the end of the interview.

Like Thune and Noem, Rounds has endorsed Trump (last I knew, Gov. Dennis Daugaard still had not). And I guess I can understand the endorsements, since the billionaire is almost certain to be the GOP presidential nominee, and these folks play the political game at the national level, where partisanship is most, well, pervasive.

But, I asked Rounds, whose political life has been represented by polite commentary and the general rejection of name-calling and personal invective, if he wasn’t troubled by Trump’s vulgarities and pejoratives and personal attacks.

Doesn’t it make Rounds uncomfortable?

“Yes, it does,” he says. “And I tell people that there are some things that Trump says – good goals, changes that need to be made, bringing jobs back, strong national defense – that people agree with.”


“He says things that I would not say,” Rounds said. “I wouldn’t say it like he says it. I just don’t use that kind of language.”

That’s been my experience with Rounds, on and off the record. My experience with Janklow, on and off the record, was much different – especially off. He said things on the record that would make a half-drunk cops reporter blush. Mostly, but not always, he was more careful on the record.

But he still crossed lines of rhetoric than Rounds wouldn’t have crossed. As a state Senate leader, Rounds worked with Janklow on many initiatives and admired his performance as governor, if not always specifics of his public rhetoric.

“There were times when I’d walk into his office and say, ‘Bill, why did you say that?’” Rounds recalls.

If you loved Janklow and loved his Wild Bill style, and plenty of South Dakotans did, you also embraced some of what he said that some might have considered over the line.

He was pretty good at personal attack. And great at bullying. I can’t imagine, though, that he ever would have suggested we ban all members of a religious group from entering the country or spoken about a reporter with disabilities the way Trump did.

Then there’s the other thing: Janklow was extraordinarily bright and knowledgeable on the law, politics, government and just about any other subject he found interesting (from catalytic converters to black holes in space to the impacts of music on the developing brain of a fetus), something even his supporters would have trouble honestly saying about Trump.

Yet, you did have to look past some things to work with Janklow. Rounds did just that. And he seems to be prepared to do the same with Trump – up to a point.

“There are times when Mr. Trump has made inappropriate comments,” Rounds said. “And I won’t defend them.”

My guess is that in the coming months Rounds will have plenty of opportunity not to, again. And again.









Daugaard still searching for route to the Land of Trump

This just in from the office of Gov. Dennis Daugaard on his decision on whether to endorse Donald Trump.


I’m not sure what that Zzzz thing means. But last I heard from the governor’s staff regarding an endorsement, Daugaard wasn’t there yet there.

“There,” of course, is the Land of Trump (which some might argue is farther from Eden than the Land of Nod), and an endorsement that Daugaard has wished he could avoid and clearly has delayed making.

That leaves him on a bit of an island of inaction hereabouts. After all, Kristi did it. Mike did it. John did it. So did Vladimir and Kim Il.

OK, OK, I threw in the presidents of Russia and North Korea (that’s ETERNAL president to you, buster, if you happen to be in North Korea!) for my stepson, Padraic, who needs a lift after feeling The Bern begin to subside under all that cold, Hillary Clinton water.

He’s an avowed Sanders man, and he dislikes Hillary as much as his mother likes her. But he doesn’t dislike her enough to vote for Trump.

When pressed, Kristi Noem, Mike Rounds and John Thune fall back on the, “Well, at least he isn’t Hillary” response to defend their Trump endorsements. And there is a big difference between Trump and Hillary, starting with the hair. Hers is pretty nice. And his? Well, I miss the David Letterman nights, and all those comments about “that thing on Donald Trump’s head.”

A Democratic friend of mine said months ago that for Trump to win the GOP nomination, he’d have to change his hair style. So, that’s another way Trump has confounded the experts.

But the state’s Republican congressionals do have a valid argument for Trump, from a Republican perspective, in that the crucial U.S. Supreme Court nomination has potential impacts that help them overlook the odious behavior of the man who could make it, for the Republicans. And it’s possible that Trump might also do some government downsizing, although going smaller never seems to be in Trump’s character.

And the latest news on Hillary’s private email server gives the South Dakota congressional gang of three a bit more cover for their “anyone-but-Hillary” chorus – even as many national GOP leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, slam Trump for a stunning comment about an American judge who happens to have Mexican ancestry.

I’ve liked Ryan better and better throughout this process, as he reflected the good sense and reason that I still believe lives at the core of the Republican Party.

Far from the Land of Nod, and Trump.

Which is where Dennis Daugaard would like to stay. But can he? How long can he avoid speaking the words I believe he dreads: “I’m with Trump. Gag me.”

OK, OK, I added the “gag me” part, which he might feel but never say.

Because, no, he isn’t with Trump. That’s obvious on his face and clear inside his carefully chosen words when asked about the brash billionaire and when, if ever, he might endorse him.

Weeks ago when I asked him in the lobby of a Custer State Park motel, he glanced wistfully out into the pines and mumbled that he was wasn’t there.

I doubt he is yet, even though I’m sure that he, like me, waits and hopes for Trump to grow up. He is, after all, trying to be our president. Should he succeed — and given the events of the last six months, we’d be foolish to rule that out — I’d like an adult in the room when critical adult decisions are made.

It would be nice to see some policy specifics, too, although those pesky specifics can get in the way of a good campaign rant, especially for a guy who obviously just hasn’t been paying that much attention to national and international events, to say nothing of other incidentals, like the U.S. Constitution.

Dauggard would love to see some signs that Trump is worthy of his endorsement. Trump could start by shutting up once in a while, by sticking to a prepared script written by skilled writers and strategists, by pretending, at least, that his heart is as big as his ego, and by showing some respect for the process and office he wants to win.

That would make this whole thing a lot easier for Daugaard, who is perhaps the most self-reflective governor I have covered.

I check in on the governor and impending decision from time to time with his son-in-law chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen (Yes, son-in-law. And  I’d like to resent him over it, except that he does his job so well…).

Yesterday Venhuizen had nothing new to report. That meant Daugaard, who also has a delegate’s role in the Republican National Convention this summer, was still avoiding what might be the inevitable for a Republican governor from South Dakota. It’s tough to hide from this one. Trump just cruised past a decimated primary field of opponents —  suspended campaigners Ted Cruz and John Kasich were the only other GOP names — with better than two-thirds of the vote.

When I spoke to Daugaard last month, he noted that as a delegate to the national convention in Cleveland next month he is bound by party bylaws to vote on the first ballot for the candidate that wins the state primary. A second ballot is unlikely, of course. So expect Daugaard to cast his delegate vote for Trump, whether he has publicly endorsed him or not.

Lori Walsh asked me on public radio yesterday what Trump’s 67 percent win here meant. After I finished hyperventilating I said I wasn’t quite sure. Obviously, the fact that he already won the nomination was a factor. And he is the Republican candidate in a state that hasn’t gone Democrat in the presidential election since the beagles, and the  Johnsons, were in the White House.

Many Republicans seem to hate Hillary, for reasons of fact and fiction. And many seem to believe Trump could be the agent of change Washington, D.C. needs.

And, sadly, some like Trump’s message and style overall. I love this state, and believe in its people. But some like everything Trump says and does, because they do and say those things themselves, and love seeing it all on a national stage.


Not Dennis Daugaard. Not even close. What I know about him and what I saw in his eyes and heard in his tone, if not his words, last time we spoke was abhorrence for the way Trump behaves, many of the things he says, some of the emotions and actions he inspires.

How does a man with personal convictions against such things stand up in public and endorse Donald Trump?

Weakly, painfully, I’d guess, and with hesitation and a sense of sadness, when the times comes — if it comes.

He’s not there yet.


Precocious Pierre 13-year-old hauls in 127-pounder, takes paddlefishing bronze

Paddle luke twoPaddle luke

Luke Leingang, 13, of Pierre took this monster paddlefish over the weekend on the Missouri River near Chamberlain, fishing with his dad, Aaron. At 127 pounds even, it was nine ounces shy of the state record.


His dad awarded him the unofficial bronze in South Dakota paddlefishing.

But Aaron Leingang was wearing gold-medal pride at the monster paddler his 13-year-old son, Luke, hauled out of the Missouri River last weekend.

“Long story short, after a crazy circus we got the fish landed after close to a half-hour ordeal getting in and out of the boat and under and around the boat,” Aaron wrote in an email announcing the catch.

But that didn’t mean the work was finished. You don’t weigh that thing with a hand scale, or a bait-shop scale, for that matter.

“An hour of searching for a place to get it weighed,” Aaron wrote. “Finally got it weighed at the Chamberlain meat locker.”

I know that locker well. It’s a place where hogs go to die. And this was a hog, with a paddle.

“It came up 9 ounces short of the state record,” Aaron writes.

I remember that fish. Bill Harmon caught it a couple years back in May, also from Lake Francis Case — where the hog paddlefishing is done in South Dakota these days.

Aaron Leingang says there was another caught just an ounce short of the state record. Wow, if you’re that snagger, don’t you think: “Seriously, 127 plus pounds, and I miss by an ounce!”

But that means Luke is third in the state paddlefish ranks, which still earns plenty or praise from his pop.

“I told Luke he’s now the bronze medalist of paddlefishing in South Dakota,” Aaron says.

It’s not surprising, either, that Luke’s fishing buddy is another Pierre kid named Michael Jackley, who has been on this blog a number of times with hefty fish.

Those two could be on their way to the pro-fishing circuit.


Daugaard hits the brakes on the rocky road to Trumpville

During a week when prominent Republicans across the nation have been screeching to a halt short of endorsing presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, Gov. Dennis Daugaard is hitting the brakes himself.

“I’m not there,” he said yesterday during a chat outside the state Game, Fish & Parks Commission meeting at Creekside Inn in Custer State Park .

“There” is giving his support and endorsement to Trump.

Don’t get the Republican governor wrong. He’s not planning on supporting Hillary. But Trump? Trump? Well, the look of misery on his face at the mere question indicates a level of discomfort that, in existential terms, seems close to what he’s been experiencing physically from the ruptured disk in his back.

Which hurts worse, the ruptured disk or Trump’s success? I couldn’t tell by looking.

As Daugaard says, he has a ways to go to get there with Trump. And he’s not alone.

So does U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said much the same thing this week. Not there.

And when asked if they’d support Trump, W and HW apparently begged off in a way that seems to indicate their road to “there” might be long and bumpy and perhaps impassable. I could easily see either one casting a vote for Clinton, even if they didn’t admit to it.

Daugaard says that regardless of where he is on the road to Trump – or some alternate route — he won’t be able to beg off on his convention vote as an elected delegate from South Dakota to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in mid-July.

“As I read the bylaws, I don’t have a choice,” he said. “If he (Trump) wins the primary and comes in as the only candidate, I have to vote for him.”

I think I caught a wince as he spoke the words, and it wasn’t the back.

It’s clear that Daugaard wishes he had another Republican option to Trump.

“He offers simplistic solutions to complex problems, and makes ridiculous statements,” Daugaard said.

And all across the Republican primary landscape, voters have been saying “right on!”