Of J.A.I.L.s, rats and sinking ships
Or "Oh No, these JAIL stars won't wash off"

(Hat tips to Progressive on the Prairie and CCK)

I don’t think anything in South Dakota politics is more entertaining to watch at the moment than the accelerating implosion of the J.A.I.L. ballot initiative effort in South Dakota. One month ago they were fierce in their attacks on South Dakota Legislators, threatening lawsuits over the legislative resolution. But lately they’re acting like the author of the South Dakota measure, National JAIL Commander-in-chief Ron Branson contracted leprosy and anything he had touched before is UNCLEAN.

On top of that, prior mainstream political supporters such as Dr. Allan Unruh are now no longer listed as supprters as they once had been.

I was sent the article in Slate which recently took after the movement, but I hadn’t written on it because others had, and I didn’t think I had much more to add. Then this morning, I noticed where Progressive on the Prairie pointed out that in the space for comments under the article, Bonnie Russell, the campaign coordinator for the South Dakota component of the JAIL-4-Judges effort, is absolutely throwing Ron Branson, the author of the South Dakota measure, under the bus:
1. Mr. Stegmeier flew to California last week. While there Mr. Stegmeier acknowledged and thanked Mr. Branson both for his tireless efforts, and for providing the template for Amendment E.

2. However, Mr. Stegmeier also clearly stated the South Dakota proponents of Amendment E were troubled by the appearance of a J.A.I.L affiliation. As such Mr. Stegmeier would be taking steps to insure the public is aware the two groups are separate, and not affiliated.

3. We hope by tomorrow, old information will be deleted from www.southdakotajudicialaccountability.com as well as debuting the newer website; www.AmendmentE.com.
So, now instead of being “the author,” Ron Branson is now “the templater.” And you know what? I’m not buying it. Let's look at the Jail-4-judges national website and see what their take on the question of Ron's authorship is:
Ron Branson, the author of the measure (my emphasis, PP), says that the government in South Dakota is placing all on the line, including risking their offices, by lying and misrepresenting Amendment E in an all-out effort to deceive and defraud the voters of South Dakota, which Branson believes is criminal. "Our founding fathers arose and took a stand over taxation without representation. Where is the taxpayers representation in South Dakota? The best they can hope for is that no one will read Amendment E for themselves before going to the polls."

"It is near impossible for all the media in South Dakota to walk goose-step in unison against the truth with none breaking rank before November 7th," says Ron Branson. "Once this thing busts wide open, there will be no stopping it!"
Well, according to the Slate comments, something's busted open.

And don't get me started on Bonnie's comments that "South Dakota proponents of Amendment E were troubled by the appearance of a J.A.I.L affiliation." Appearance of a J.A.I.L. affiliation? Are you kidding me? THEY ARE AFFILIATED! Let's go back to just 1 month ago and explore the special relationship that Ron Branson and Bill Stegmeier share:
Branson boasts of a national JAIL organization with military-esque ranks and titles. He calls himself the National JAIL Commander-in-Chief -- similar, he says, to a five-star general. When he appears at particularly formal events as a representative, like a conference he attended in Virginia, he wears a blue suit with five stars on his chest, and five more on the points of his shirt collar. The ranks below him, he explains, go from lieutenant-commander-in-chief (the equivalent of a four-star general), to jailer-in-chiefs (two-star generals) in charge of each state.

Zerman, on the other hand, refers to JAIL as a "loosely knit" group, and doesn't use his title. When he makes a high-profile appearance on JAIL's behalf, like he did on CNN a couple of months back, he says, "I just wear a business suit."

He estimates that he spends about 30 hours a week working on JAIL efforts from his home office or doing interviews, and suggests his crusade to reform has hurt his civil practice.

"I have a few cases, but you pay a price for doing this," says Zerman, who is acting as a spokesman for the South Dakota campaign. "I tell [potential clients], having me as your attorney may be hazardous to your case, because I've got some judges gunning for me."

And for all that, he and Branson weren't getting very far. That is, until the Internet extended the reach of their message.

As best he can recall, William Stegmeier, whose company outside Sioux Falls makes grinders for livestock feed, ran across JAIL's Web site and was intrigued enough to donate $100 or so.

"You know, a lot of patriot organizations, sometimes they link to each other," Stegmeier said by cell phone from rural South Dakota. "The name jail4judges does elicit curiosity, no doubt about that."

It wasn't long, Stegmeier added, before he got an e-mail asking him if he wanted to be "jailer-in-chief" for the state.

Since then, he's put up about $140,000 of his own money for a constitutional amendment based on the California JAIL proposal drafted by Branson. Last month, South Dakota's secretary of state declared that the amendment had the 33,456 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.

Apparently going for a toned-down image, Stegmeier says he calls his statewide campaign South Dakota Judicial Accountability. And on the campaign trail, he's not really using the jail4judges name -- "We thought it would be a bit too strong for rural South Dakota" -- nor going by his two-star title.
I strongly recommend that you read all of this excellent article from Pam Smith of the Recorder and decide for yourself how strong the bonds of this relationship formed from a support of J.A.I.L. are. Because what I'm reading is that Ron Branson is a 5 star general in the J.A.I.L. army, and Bill is a two star general. As in "Bill is someone who follows the orders given to him by his superior JAIL officer."

So, why is the organization disavowing itself of the group that spawned it? For some odd reason, Bill Stegmeier, the two-star Jailer-in-chief for South Dakota is going to find the two stars pinned to his lapel a bit difficult to scrub off before the November election.

I think what we’re seeing here is a very simple tactic that you may be familiar with from old movies. When a boat starts to sink, the crew will often start to throw unessential heavy items overboard to slow the sinking. And the first thing the SD effort has grabbed on to and thrown overboard? The South Dakota measure’s author, Ron Branson.

Like the big controversial anchor he is for the South Dakota movement, they're pitching him into the sea. Maybe they'll retreive him later, maybe they won't. The problem for the new AmendmentE.com people is that no matter how much windowdressing they put on their measure, it's still what it is. A radical measure that nobody in their right mind is going to vote for.

It looks like the South Dakota J.A.I.L. people are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic at the moment. The thing to pay attention to now is how long it takes before the rats clustered in the bowels of the ship realize that it's sinking fast.


Anonymous said…
"mainstream political supporters"

Anonymous said…
The more I read about this group the more it sounds like some wacked out cult.

Ron Branson calls himself a five star general and actually goes around wearing fake military insignia. What rational adult actually dresses up like a soldier if they aren't in the military? It sounds like something a bunch of third graders do on Saturday afternoon before playing in the back yard. Be careful, don't shoot your eye out.

The saddest part of this whole thing is William Stegmeier. I don't know anything about him so for all I know he could be loaded and $140,000 is petty cash. However, to donate that kind of money to a nut case like Branson shows a stunning lack of rational thought. What the **** were you thinking! Do you have a wife? I shutter to imagine what my wife would do if I had made that kind of a donation to any group let alone J.A.I.L.. This truly is cultlike activity. Next we will read about some compound where they all live together.

There are no "mainstream political supporters" of this crazy and dangerous idea. Dr. Allan Unruh's early vocal support of the J.A.I.L. amendment shows how far out on the edge of the political spectrum he really is and calls into question his credibility on other issues.
Unknown said…
Stegmeier didn't donate $140k to Branson. He spent it putting the JAIL Amendment on the ballot.

I believe it was money spent unwisely. However, it was money spent by Stegmeier in the honest attempt to improve the justice system in South Dakota.

I have seen a number of instances wherein the chances for justice would have been improved had there been the possibility of a citizen review board to investigate allegations against a judge.

Unfortunately "E" will not be the vehicle by which such an entity arrives.
Anonymous said…
One thing with all the flurry of change.

Supposedly this whole big dis-affiliation thing was in the works for at least a week prior to the Slate.com piece, according to Bonnie's letter.

There’s a problem with the time line.

The www.amendmente.com website was only purchased on 3/14/06 by Bonnie Russell from a New Orleans address. She also bought www.amendmente.net and www.amendmente.org the same day with the same New Orleans address.


First, what’s with the New Orleans address if this is a South Dakota operation?
Second, for those of you keeping score at home, the Slate.com piece went out (wait for it) on 3/14/06.

A historian once coined the phrase “coincidental conversion”. This walks and talks like it.
Anonymous said…
Who is Bonnie Russell? I know she is quoted as the spokesperson for SD J.A.I.L. but, who is she?

The J.A.I.L. web site lists a phone number for her with a San Diego area code. A Google search of her name comes up with a web site FamilyLawCourts.com. The site seems to be about child custody/visitation/support horror stories.

In 1993 during my legislative years I sat on a summer study that worked on custody/support/visitation issues. We heard alot of one sided sad stories. Like most summer studies I don't think anything of substance came out of those meetings. Some of the suggestions given were pretty off the wall. There was alot of anger in that room. Anger at the system, at child support, at court ordered visitation, at judges, at ex-spouses. I can see how that kind of anger could fuel a movement like this.

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