The top South Dakota political stories of 2006

Okay. I've thought long and hard on this one. And I think I've come up with my list for what I believe to be the top political stories of 2006.

Unlike KELO or the Argus when they get around to their top ten stories, no lame zip feeds mill here. Just SD political stuff.

I've reviewed and revised this list. Things have gone on and off of it, and I'm trying to put it to paper, so I'll be over and done with it. So, here it is. I can't change anymore, so it's yours to argue and debate.

The top ten political stories of 2006

10. Dang, is that ballot long.
Some view it as activism, some view it as due to the in-activism in the legislature. Either way, people were signing a lot of petitions this year. Medical Marijuana, JAIL, Smoking, School Start date, abortion, and the list goes on. I can’t recall when we’ve had so much to consider.

And the challenges! Many of those ballot issues were in court at least once in these hard fought tooth and nail battles. Maybe, just maybe we’ll catch a break in 2008.

9. The Rise and Fall of Ron Volesky
First he’s running for Governor, Then he’s not. Then he’s running for Attorney General. Then a few hours before the polls close… he’s not. And then he hands the blame to the SDDP for not funding him much (if at all).

Ron claims that this was his last campaign, and it remains to be seen if that promise will hold true. Either way, it was a somewhat ignoble end to a political career which spanned many decades, many campaigns, and 2 political parties.

Ron is on this list not so much for his recognized ability to grab headlines as much as his longevity. He's been around a long time, and it looks like he might have saddled it up for good this time.

8. The many layers of Stan Adelstein
It’s hard to hit on which aspect of Stan is best to talk about in terms of being one of the top ten political stories of the year.

A) His campaign money being political poison in June. B) His defeat in the primary and subsequent sour grapes against his opponent. C) His self promotion as a running mate for Billion. D) His activism on the Abortion task force and subsequently being Planned Parenthood’s Republican poster-legislator. E) His continued backing of the Mainstream Coalition, or F) His treason against the GOP accompanied by tens of thousands funneled into Democratic races.

Any of them are big stories, but put them all together and you have this unique person at the center of each maelstrom, either shilling for publicity or having it thrust on him. Love him or hate him, Stan remains news. And with him already hinting at running against the politician whose Senate seat he paid for, it’s not going to end anytime soon.

7. Jack Billion as candidate and now chairman
Jack Billion came in as one of the two serious candidates after Ron Volesky dropped out of the race for Governor, and emerged victorious from the June Primary against Dennis Wiese, a candidate backed by some of the more moderate Democrats.

Jack, viewed as more of an attack dog than his primary opponent seemed at times to come out swinging, and at other times making odd moves, such as naming a complete unknown as his running mate. While no one would contest Eric Abrahamson’s intelligence, it left most political observers scratching their heads.

Not too long after that, Billion had a mid-campaign shakeup which did little more than set the stage for his race to slowly peter out as he limped towards the finish line. Rumors abounded about him having to continually cut back on campaign television buys. And they seemed self-prophesizing.

As this campaign heaved into its final few weeks, the outcome was hardly in doubt.

But after that, Jack surprisingly was re-energized into pursuing and gaining the State Democratic Party Chairmanship over a couple of close competitors. Backed by a more strident faction of the SDDP, it remains to be seen if he’ll go on the offensive against the Governor and the Republican legislature.

6. Democrats show signs of life (but not in the constitutional races)
Democrats seemed to make a strategic decision early on in the campaign as at a time where they were believed to have little money, they fielded a greater number legislative candidates than they had in years.

Many, including me, speculated that the SDDP couldn’t support both a solid legislative effort AND a solid effort at running candidates for constitutional offices. And those that thought that were correct.

Democratic Candidates were often a force to be reckoned with at the legislative level, and well funded through efforts previously in place from Daschle funding. But at the constitutional level, funding was anemic if not completely pathetic.

Billion… Volesky… Healy…. All suffered from money woes as far as the SDDP were concerned. And at a time when their legislative races had sometimes tens of thousands of dollars pumped into them. And it showed. Democrats picked up 6 legislative seats, and they traded their one statewide constitutional officer for a newcomer in the PUC.

But at the same time money talked as they won in some tough legislative races. Ted Klaudt beaten in a Republican district in a race he was expected to walk into. Nancy Turbak in Watertown, Scott Heidepreim trouncing Dick Kelly - despite all the money the GOP threw at the race. Even Jim Peterson beating Larry Diedrich. Any way you cut it, it was not a GOP year in SD - and it was mainly due to the laser-like focus on the Democratic legislative races.

5. Campaign Finance
When did it first start? We had Stan Adelstein using 2 and three PACs to funnel money around. Then we had Minnesota Democrats using the SDDP PAC’s to shift funds around before they sent them back. And that was before the Campaign finance donnybrook that this fall’s election was.

We had this PAC giving to that PAC, and a tribe having to take a check back, and Roger Hunt using a corporate entity to shift money through. We had Jack Billion taking PAC money from a PAC who got it from another one. And PAC upon PAC upon PAC being used to get around campaign finance limits on either side of the aisle. Some people would report and others wouldn’t. One legislator intentionally didn’t report to see what would happen. It got so bad that it’s tested South Dakota’s laissez faire attitude on campaign finance to the limits.

Guess what? It went past the limit. And reform – which hasn’t happened in well over a decade or two - is coming.

4. Tim Johnson’s health.
We pray for a speedy recovery for the Senator, and for his family’s peace of mind this holiday season.

Everyone recognizes that this is earth-shattering. And as everyone holds their breath as we watch the very early chapters of this story, it has implications for politics on not just a state level, but on a national level.

3. HB 1215
No single issue dominated the political scene like HB 1215. It caused a rift within both the GOP legislators and the Democratic legislators. The referral of the measure drove two mult1imillion dollar campaigns with as much spending as you’d see in a hotly contested US Senate race. It turned SD into a national focus on the issue, and the dust is still settling.

2. Senator Dan Sutton’s alleged sexual fondling of a male legislative page.
The old joke is that a politician should never get caught with a dead prostitute, or a live boy. And it all goes downhill from there.

The allegations (which started in the rumor mill about in April) reached a head in the middle of October, when they went public. State Senator Dan Sutton allegedly had an 18 year old boy - the son of the losing Democratic Primary Candidate for Governor - stay in his hotel room with him while the young man was serving as a legislative page during the 2006 session. And from there, the stories diverge.

It sucked the wind out of the Democrat’s publicity machine, sent the state’s media into a firestorm, and had the Senate hit the brink once with hearings, only to be drawn back when the Senator resigned in hopes of having a more favorable Senate next January. These allegations have even brought Bill Janklow back into the spotlight, acting as advocate for the victim.

This has dominated political talk like nothing else since October, and will remain a huge story in 2007.

1. The Rise and Fall of the conservative faction of the SD GOP
Why is this #1? Because it’s shaped so many events surrounding it. Amazingly enough, it started when several incumbent moderate legislators were thrown out of office in favor of newcomers. Liberal to moderate legislators such as J.P. Duniphan, Stan Adelstein. Clarence Kooistra and others found themselves unexpectedly out in the street when individual conservative challengers rolled the dice and took a chance in the primaries.

But come the fall, several conservatives, new and old, subsequently found themselves on the outs. Some were due to defections from the GOP, such as Adelstein campaigning because of sour grapes against Elli Schwiesow for Democrat Tom Katus. And others found themselves abandoned by the Republican Party because of their conservative views, such as Isaac Latterell. And there were those such as Earley and Kelly who just plain got beat.

This led to the remaining moderates in the senate being strong enough in numbers to shut out an anticipated conservative takeover of that body, setting the stage for not just this next session, but a continuing struggle between the conservative and moderate elements of the GOP which arguably won’t stop with the selection of a new chair in February.

It remains to be seen if this dip in the authority of the conservative branch of the GOP will hold, or whether the footsoldiers of the GOP will once again put their people in the driver seats in the June 2008 primaries.

This battle is not over yet, as a new chairman will be tasked with trying to bring together a still divided GOP as we move towards 2008.

Honorable mentions

Here are the stories I had in or out of the list and I just couldn't forget them as I wrapped things up.

The Argus still hates Governor Rounds.
Never in state history has a newspaper carried out such a sustained vindictive agenda against an elected official, and continued to pat themselves on the back for it. It was one of my top stories in 2005, and in 2006 it’s notable because it continues.

Hardly a month went by without Randall Beck taking some sort of swipe at the head of South Dakota’s executive branch, and it has no signs of letting up, as they pat themselves on the back for supposedly losing revenue because of it. (or maybe it was because they're losing value as an advertising venue).

Frank knows e-mail.
It’s too early to see how this will impact the political scene, but Senator Frank Kloucek absolutely blundered when he included personal rantings about his colleagues in an e-mail to the media, which included some wild statements on embattled Senator Sutton.

At the very least, it’s earned him some embarrassing mea culpas as well as getting him kicked off of the Farmers Union Board of Directors. Is this actually a chink in Franks’ legendary armor of invincibility? I’ll let you know in 2008.

Not to be one to toot my own horn, but dang, I have had a good year.

A year ago, I had fewer than 5000 monthly visitors. Today, I’m over 5 times that amount. I’ve gotten some breaking stories that the media has on occasion picked up on, and it's even earned me some face time on the MSM, most notable state and national public radio.

That’ll do pig. That’ll do.


Anonymous said…
If I had thought about it as much as you have I might have come up with a different list or placed some of the items in a different order than you have.

But, all in all, it's a good list. Thanks for the recap.

I read your blog on a daily basis and while you sometimes drive me nuts because of your devotion to the GOP (warts and all) it is always an interesting read.

I appreciate the time and effort you put into this blog to keep it fresh. Running a blog like yours must be a little bit like milking cows, you have to be there twice a day, everyday.

Keep posting and good luck in 2007.
Anonymous said…
Congrats on your success, PP. Here's to more of the same.

Anonymous said…
yepp thats qwuiite a list other then the slap at my emale. It wasonly intinded to go 2 rporters.

sOmewon pleez help me figger out my compUter!

an let metell yu aboot janklow and his
Anonymous said…
PP - Ron Volesky losing another election is not a story. Volesky winning an election? Now that's a story.
Anonymous said…
Congrats, PP. This is truly a must read for people interested in SD politics. You have done a very good job and provide an outlet for thoughts and ideas. Keep up the good work.
Anonymous said…
I think your pick of number one is appropriate. It is truly disgraceful that the Governor and state party would lose seats to defeat conservatives, like Lateral. It will truly take a gifted leader of the GOP to put things back together. I don't think that will happen, however.

What is most likely to occur is more losses in two years from an utter lack of leadership in Pierre and crushing defeats at the Congressional level. Those losses may usher in a conservative backlash against Pierre. If not, the GOP will probably lose the Capitol in 2010.
Anonymous said…
Garry Moore going out of control should rate honorable mention.

Intentionally violating campaign finance laws by not filing a report. Closing a public committee hearing while discussing a public report. Rushing to change the cigarette tax increase and public equipment initiatives just passed by voters.

What's next? taking away federal constitutional rights? Hounding fellow Democratic officials out of office?
Anonymous said…
Anyone know why Volesky's wife is living in Mitchell and they are sending their kids to Mitchell so they can play basketball?
Anonymous said…
Volesky didn't feel his kids were getting enough playting time in Huron - so one week a Tiger, the next a Kernel --- sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't
Anonymous said…
First a Tiger, then on to Wolsey, then back to being a Tiger and now to being a Kernal. Poor kids.
Anonymous said…
Nice try on the number one story PP, but have the Christian wing-nuts really been displaced from the party?

I don't think so and as a Democrat I certainly hope not.

Go Rob Reiger! Go Leslie! Go Pat Robertson! Go Jimmy Swaggert! Go Jason Gant!
Anonymous said…
If they didn't get enough playing time in Wolsey, they must be pretty bad.

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