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.

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.










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.


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!”


He’s not the kind of big-money superdelegate Bernie Sanders has in mind

As a superdelegate for the Democratic Party in South Dakota, Nick Nemec has been getting predictable attention from the presidential campaign.

The 57-year-old Hyde County farmer/rancher is uncommitted, you see, in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And it’s a race where delegates — including the “super” kind — are a lot more important at this stage than many of us might have believed they’d be a year or so ago.

“I’ve got letters signed by both the candidates addressed to me as a superdelegate,” Nemec says. “And I’ve gotten calls from both the campaigns, either staff or super delegates in other states supporting one candidate or the other.”

Last time the Democratic primary was hotly contested Nemec was already long committed by this point. He came out for Barack Obama in the fall of 2007, at a time when that move didn’t set well with some on the Hillary Clinton team in the 2008 primary.

“Not so much from the Clinton campaign, but from some of the hard-core Hillary supporters in South Dakota. It unleashed a great deal of enmity against me,” he said. “I have no regrets about what I did, but you did become a target.”

Not so this time. Not only has Nemec not declared for either Sanders or Clinton, he won’t — at least not as one of the four superdelegates in South Dakota, and one over east to be discussed in a minute. That’s because he’ll be resigning that position prior to the Democratic state convention in late June, so the Democrats can select his replacement prior to the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia later in the summer.

“Sixteen years is plenty,” Nemec said. “I’ve really enjoyed the job over the years, and I’ve made some great relationships. But it’s time for somebody else.”

Nemec figured it was time a while back, but thought he’d go to the Philadelphia convention and wrap up that way. But when his wife, Mary Jo, a family nurse practioner with Urban Indian Health in Pierre, couldn’t join him because of a work conflict, Nick decided to stay home and let the new superdelegate make the trip.

That’s what former superdelegate Jeff Viken  of Rapid City, who now serves as Chief U.S. District judge in South Dakota, did for Nemec in 2000.It was an interesting year, with the Al Gore nomination at the convention at the Staples Center (Yeah, LA Laker turf) in Los Angeles leading up to the whole squeaky tight general-election vote and vote- count controversy.

Then there was Boston and John Kerry in 2004, Denver and Barack Obama in 2008 and Charlotte and Obama again in 2012.

Along the way, Nemec’s four daughters got a good education on the delegate process, the conventions and the campaigns — including visits to the convention floor.

Nemec recalls much about the bitter Obama-Clinton race in 2008 that focus unprecedented attention on South Dakota with a string of more than 30 visits by Bill, Hillary and Chelsea, and several by Obama.

There was worrisome unrest in some members of the Clinton camp even going into Denver.

“But Hillary had a big meeting with just the Clinton delegates and talked some of them off the ledge,” Nemec says. “To her credit, she calmed things down and announced her support for Obama.”

Then Bill made his rhetorical magic on the big stage, supporting Obama.

“Barack Obama gives a good speech,” Nemec said. “But Bill Clinton beats him as far as being an inspiring speaker.”

Which reminded Nemec of 2012, when the South Dakota delegation got sort of stuffed off to the side of the convention hall. The seating was so bad it was good, however, as they had a side view of Clinton and could watch the massive teleprompter, while it was on anyway.

“About a fourth of the way through the speech, he just went off on his own,” Nemec said. “And after a while, they just turned the teleprompter off.”

The machine was turned on again near the end of the speech, when Clinton decided to veer back onto the pre-planned communication trail. Name will have memories such as that one to savor as he looks back on his year as a super delegate, which require a certain amount of personal investment since the business trips are usually on the superdelegate.

As state Democratic National Committeeman, Nick is one of five superdelegates South Dakota has now, the other being Democratic National Committeewoman Sharon Stroschein, state party Chair Ann Tornberg and Vice-Chair Joe Lowe.

Because of his status as former Senate majority leader, former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle gets life-long superdelegate status, whenever he wants to use it. And he’s expected to show up in Philadelphia for at least part of the convention.

Although some in the Sanders campaign have criticized the superdelegate  concept as being part of the inside-the-machine party apparatus, it has honorable roots, shaped partly by the father of the modern Democratic Party in South Dakota, George McGovern.

It’s a system that started to coalesce following the fiasco of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and was revisited and revised later to provide stability in the nomination process. Frankly, as an outsider looking in, I think it does. More superdelegate-type influence in the Republican Party this year might have helped them head off the Trump Tornado. But that’s another story, one that has the Republican establishment perplexed and somewhat chagrined.

As for the Democratic superdelegate-wealthy-power-broker thing, maybe elsewhere. But Nemec’s a farmer and rancher and former state legislator. Strosheim is a former Tim Johnson staffer who operates a cattle operation with her husband near Aberdeen. Tornberg and her husband run a dairy farm near Beresford. And Lowe is small businessman in Rapid City and a former firefighter and fire chief.

Then there’s Daschle, the kid from Aberdeen who went on to be, perhaps, the most successful politician on a national level South Dakota has ever produced.

So far, at least. (John Thune, if you’re worried about history, about legacy, about your place in the respectable order of things, run, run, run from Donald Trump as fast as you can …)

Daschle is the only one of the South Dakota superdelegate bunch with serious dough, I’d guess. And even so, I’d think most party faithful would trust him.

Not sure where Daschle is on this selection process, but none of the local supers has come out for either Clinton or Sanders yet. And Nemec says he won’t make a choice before he heads out the door.

He admires both candidates for their strengths, and loves the energy Sanders has brought to the campaign, the focus on important issues and the new power from younger people. He is concerned, however, about what he sees as a segment of the most vocal and energetic parts of the Sanders crew who seem to attack Clinton pretty personally, even hatefully, and hopes if Clinton gets the nomination, Sanders will be able to rein them in to support Clinton.

As we discussed at my Old Man’s Breakfast Club last Saturday morning, the thing about a revolution of the people is that you’re dealing with some revolutionaries, who tend not to be calmed down easily or willingly settle for less than they demand.

“After a spirited primary, we have to come together to support our nominee,” Nemec said.

Nemec has been doing that since he was barely old enough to run a combine , beginning as a 14-year-old (I’m guessing that, unlike me, he could run one at that age, and did)  who was recruited by a city kid (well, OK, Highmore) named Bret Garrigan to join a young Democrats club and work for George McGovern

Bret comes from a Catholic family of 12, with  five sisters and four brothers. One of those sisters is my staunchly Democratic wife, Mary, who was in Nick’s class.

Small state? Sure. Small enough for me to have laughed aloud this morning when Sanders appeared on CBS Morning News and talked about the “establishment folks,” the “money people” who make up the superdelegate ranks.

Nick’s favorite establishment is a field of ripe sunflowers or corn, or a near-the-front pew at St. Mary’s in Highmore. He likes beat-up pickups best, still shoots a  well-worn old shotgun and uses borrowed or gifted or just-found-in-the-pickup-glove-box shells. If he’s got a big stash of bucks somewhere, it must be underground in old cream cans. (Yeah, I can hear him now as he prepares to make a big cash withdrawal: “Mary Jo, where’d I bury that other million dollars?”)

But whatever his financial bottom line, the former U.S. Marine and USD math graduate is wealthy in Democratic spirit.

That won’t change, even after he departs his spot in the official party apparatus and focuses more on his kids and grandkids and farm-ranch operation, where he – lucky guy! – and Mary Jo are now incorporating a daughter and son-in-law into the operation.

Talk about super. That’s it.




From Rapid City furniture sales to battling Trump

It’s a sublime convergence for Bob Fischer that Jesus was a furniture maker whose skills in carpentry — a term in biblical times that included mastery of both the tools of the hand and of the heart — produced essentials for family living but also built a place for God in the world.

Fischer sells furniture and Christian conservatism in ways that he believes and hopes continue the work of his savior. He has built a bit of a furniture empire, while also praising God and capturing the heart of the conservative-Christian community.

So when Bob Fischer speaks, conservative Christians listen. That’s true in western South Dakota, but also across the nation.

Reporters listen, too, or should.

Fischer is a soft-spoken player in an expansive community that sees the connection between God and good government as a perfect union. He doesn’t seek headlines for himself. And you’ll rarely see him on stage, if he can help it, other than the stage of Christian values that includes his leadership in public-prayer gatherings — one of which,  the Faith & Hope Community Breakfast, will be held here in Rapid City next week.

But he’s part of a larger movement that has some heft in conservative politics nationally. And he’s not afraid to put his money and his reputation where his political philosophy is — which is never far from the Bible.

That might make some uncomfortable, and Fischer seems uncomfortable when it does. He’s that sort of guy. But he follows his heart on these things, sometimes in ways that seem to blur the lines between business and political speech. But it’s based on a powerful conviction and a generally gentle form of Christianity that inspires him to pray for his adversaries and avoid the kind of mean-spirited rhetoric that has dominated the Republican presidential primary.

Largely, we have Donald Trump to thank for that. He certainly didn’t invent mean-spirited rhetoric. But he embraces and magnifies it in a blunt, clumsy, inarticulate way like few before him — at least few who ended up being national players in politics.

I’d guess that bothers Bob Fischer. But more than that, I’d guess he saw through Trump’s concocted conservatism and phony spirituality long before the Corinthians reference. And apparently Fischer didn’t like what he saw enough to get a little more public than he would prefer, as part a national campaign to promote a conservative alternative to Trump.

If it doesn’t work in the primary,  there seems to be a third-party option. And if that develops, with Fischer in the middle of it, it isn ‘t likely to stray far from the heart of Christian conservatism, or the Bible.

Both of which are areas where Donald Trump is unlikely to ever get comfortable.

So, does this really make sense in Jones County?

I’m no scholar, constitutional or otherwise, but I’m having trouble figuring out why a U.S. president with almost a year left to serve shouldn’t be allowed and expected to make a nomination to fill an empty U.S. Supreme Court seat.

And while I have a great deal of respect for my fellow West-River flatlander John Thune, his statement this morning doesn’t do much to clear it up:

“For the last seven years, President Obama has attempted to circumvent Congress and the will of the American people with unconstitutional, overreaching regulations. The Senate Republican majority was elected to be a check and balance to President Obama.

“The American people deserve to have their voices heard on the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice, who could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation. Since the next presidential election is already underway, the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

I’m OK with having Hillary make the nomination, of course. I just don’t understand why we should wait.

Do you?


— Just noticed this release from Mike Rounds, the italics are his:

“Whoever is confirmed to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court will be serving a lifetime appointment,” said Rounds. “Keeping in mind the current political makeup of the court, the man or woman who will replace Justice Scalia has the potential to hold incredible influence over the ideological direction of the court for a generation to come. It is critically important that the next justice is committed to upholding the principles of the Constitution. We owe it to Justice Scalia, our judicial system and the Constitution to uphold the highest standards when determining our next Supreme Court Justice. We also owe it to the American people to make certain their voice is heard in this election.”

I guess my only question on that is, How about the voice of the American people from the last election?



F-bombing the Secret Service? It’s worse than messing with Sasquatch

I’m trying to remember the last time I teased a Secret Service agent who was on duty.

Pretty sure it was October of 1974 at the Sioux Falls Arena, when Gerald Ford stopped for a speech just three months after he took over as president from, well, you remember that guy, his “I am not a crook” moment and the big-wave helicopter ride out of town.

The town in D.C., I mean.

But back to the town in Minnehaha County, where likable, affable President Ford stood on the arena stage with one South Dakota Republican office-holder and three hopefuls — Jim Abdnor, Larry Pressler, Leo Thorsness and John Olson — for a speech scheduled, as I recall, around a pheasant-hunting trip.

His timing was off just a bit for the ringneck chase. South Dakota’s pheasant population was sliding that fall, on its way to one of the lowest levels on record a couple years later. But the birds of political fortune were flushing gloriously for Democrats, who were right smack in the middle of their historic, not-ever-repeated-since surge.

Imagine: A Democratic governor, a slight edge to the Democrats in the state Senate and House, two Democratic U.S. senators in George McGovern and Jim Abourezk, and a U.S. House member (back when we had two) in Frank Denholm.

Wow. No, scratch that. Wow!

On that stage that day, former Vietnam POW Thorsness was less than a month away from losing a competitive Senate election to McGovern, on a day when Olson would also fail in his challenge of Kneip, South Dakota’s last elected Democrat in the governor’s chair. Only upstart Larry Pressler managed to come through for the Republicans in a challenger’s role, using a populist message, a plaid shirt and jeans and a pretty nice set of sideburns to unseat two-term Democratic U.S. House member Frank Denholm.

That fall Abdnor would hold the U.S. House seat he won two years earlier, propelling him further into a strong House incumbency and an eventual Senate win over McGovern in 1980.

I was shooting the Ford event for the SDSU Collegian that October of ’74, and traveled down from Brookings with Collegian Editor Tim Hinkley in my sweet little Toyota Carina.

We were late, as you might expect, possibly because we made a couple of side trips along the Big Sioux River so I could exercise my Nikkormats and Hinkley could, well, get relaxed before the big show. Fortunately, Collegian Managing Editor Tena Andersen — who would go on in life to become a widely respected AP reporter and manager — was there early, as you might expect. And she was nearby on one side of the Secret Service line when Hinkley and I tried to joke our way through from the other side.

That’s when I developed the rule: “No joking with the Secret Service .”

We had some irregularity with our press passes. And things got more irregular when I tried to joke with the guys checking us in.

I didn’t get choked and slammed to the floor, as a Time photographer did yesterday. But I got pretty thoroughly intimidated. Always on the lookout for our next misstep, Tena stepped up to testify to the agents — who seemed more susceptible to her charm than they were to mine — that we weren’t nearly as disreputable as we looked, which was faint praise of course, but helpful at the time.

My old pal and former RCJ managing editor, Steve Miller, liked to say, “I’m not very smart, but I am trainable.” And I got trained that day in how to respond, and not, to the Secret Service:

Even if they’re unfriendly, I don’t joke. Even if they’re rude or unreasonable, I do what they say.

Even when jostled, I keep my mouth shut, difficult as that might be to believe, for those who know me.

But then, I don’t work with those guys every day. Your attitude might change if you did.

So this Christopher Morris apparently took a different approach at a Trump rally during a Black Lives Matter protest. Morris was shooting pictures of protesters as they walked past, and stepped a bit outside the media area.

When a Secret Service agent tried to get him back inside the boundaries, Morris seemed to resist, just a bit, and swore at him.  Actually, he dropped the F-bomb, in fact, right in his face — a move that makes me shiver a bit, just to see on video.

The agent grabbed Morris by the front of the neck with both hands, spun him around and slammed him down on the edge of a table and then onto the floor. It was a pretty cool move to watch. I’m guessing experiencing it was less than cool.


To his credit, or not so much, Morris then kicked up at the agent from the ground in a manner I won’t attempt to describe, for fear of being unkind.  Let’s just say that I recall doing something similar when I was about seven. And when he got up, Morris sort of grabbed the agent by the throat, saying later he did it to show what had been done to him.

Bad idea number three. Or is it four?

Whatever the count, the agent overreacted in the way he handled it. But Morris — a regular D.C. photographer with years of White House experience — really seemed to initiate something that didn’t need to have been initiated. How about you just step back inside the media corral when asked, even if asked with a little attitude?

Morris now regrets his role in the incident. And the Secret Service folks are reviewing things, as they should.

One connected issue is whether Trump and his handlers require tougher or tighter Secret Service actions and reactions. If they do, they shouldn’t be able to, should they? Another is whether this harshly physical reaction by the Secret Service should have the chilling effect on all of us that it has on a friend of mine with past national media experience.

I’m concerned by it, but not chilled. It’s one of those rare situations, outside of an outright riot or a cattle stampede, where I think even I could have responded a more subdued way than those involved.

Huh. Imagine that.

These agents are of inestimable value to the political system, to presidents and presidential candidates and their families and to this nation. They keep important people safe, and are willing to risk and give their lives in that work.

So I automatically respect them for that, even when they’re grumpy, which they usually are. And I try to keep out of their way, even thought I highly value my own role in preserving the nation’s best interests, and especially the roles of those who play the news game at a much higher level.

But the Secret Service folks have the guns, the grips and the authority to use them emphatically to protect the people they are called upon to protect.

Even I’m not dumb enough to mess with that.