Gov. Daugaard’s office sent this out to South Dakota media in advance of Laura Sullivan’s three-part series, which concludes today. (MDR’s intrepid editor Seth Tupper emailed me this document after my blog post was published.) The prebuttal is as much required reading as the NPR series itself.
Every state official who has dealt with Sullivan, including Secretary of Social Services Kim Malsam–‐Rysdon and Governor’ Office Press Secretary Joe Kafka, has characterized Sullivan as being one‐sided and predisposed to a particular position, regardless of the facts.
Daugaard and his staff concluded correctly that NPR’s stories would not be glowing, and they (p)responded to what they anticipated the focus would be – Daugaard’s history as head of the Children’s Home Society and that nonprofit’s state contracts.
Part 2 of the series does focus on that, and as bad as it looks – and it looks bad by any objective measure – I think there are much more important aspects of NPR’s coverage, both broadcast on All Things Considered and the more extensive online content.
The much bigger, longer-standing issue is whether South Dakota complies with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act and other laws, for example when social workers enter Indian reservations with which the state has no agreement and remove tribal children from their homes. The Crow Creek tribe threatened to prosecute for kidnapping in one case, NPR reported, and the children were promplty returned to their relatives.
Back to Daugaard, CHS and state contracts. This seems to me to be an unfortunate aspect of the story, almost a distraction from the ICWA issue. All of the unflattering facts are true: Dennis Daugaard was both lieutenant governor and CEO of CHS when the agency landed some big state contracts.
I’m guessing anyone who’s been around South Dakota politics for very long probably had a similar reaction to my own: “I knew most of that already, but, yeah, when you say it like that it doesn’t sound so good.”
I’ve watched Dennnis Daugaard since his early legislative career, and to be frank, he won me over when he spent an entire legislative session trying in vain to pass some reforms for the state’s juvenile corrections system after 14-year-old Gina Score died in the state’s boot camp. To this day, you would have to convince me that he doesn’t approach his work and his life by trying to contribute to the greater good. I’ve been disappointed by people before, but every interaction I’ve had with Daugaard reinforces those early observations.
Couple Daugaard’s earnest nature with South Dakota’s citizen Legislature and even our citizen lieutenant governors, and the intersection of his political office and his private sector job don’t seem too remarkable to Rushmore State folks. It looks different to those hailing from bigger locales – and almost every place is bigger than South Dakota.
In his prebuttal, Daugaard et al point out the long-standing relationship between the Department of Social Services and CHS:
There is a long history of contracts between the State and Children’s Home Society to provide services for children, beginning years before Governor Daugaard’s association with Children’s Home Society.
DSS has had contracts with Children’s Home Society going back to 1978, when it was first licensed as a specialized group treatment home.
The relationship between DSS and Children’s Home existed long before Dennis Daugaard was hired there, and the bigger issues with DSS, foster care and native children existed long before he was elected governor or even lieutenant governor. The NPR series reports a financial turnaround for Children’s Home after Daugaard become its CEO and also lieutenant governor. That issue deserves more exploration, and no doubt that will come.
Overall, the tone of Daugaard prebuttal is defensive, but never moreso – and less credibly – than when it claims that, as lt gov, he had no authority over state employees.
None of the DSS officials mentioned were “subordinates” to Lt. Governor Daugaard during the Rounds Administration.
Daugaard was a part-time lieutenant governor. … Like a state legislator, a part‐time lieutenant governor serves during the two-month legislative session, but has another full‐time job. Lt. Governor Daugaard presided over the senate, offered advice to Governor Rounds, and occasionally led special projects for the Governor. He did not oversee any personnel, and had no direct influence over decisions made by DSS employees.
The Secretary of Social Services reported directly to Governor Rounds and to his Chief of Staff.
While technically true, every state employee knew who the lt gov was, and no doubt the Social Services folks who arranged those contracts knew who headed CHS. You simply cannot switch hats at the drop of one. During those years, Daugaard’s head was doubly covered at all times. Those hats were surgically attached.
Even his own prebuttal points out how widely known his two jobs were.
Here’s my hope, especially given my enduring belief in Daugaard’s character. I hope that he acknowledges that the state contracts for CHS look bad, but I hope he then vows as governor to look into South Dakota’s foster care system, our compliance with ICWA and our rate of taking children from their home – about 3 times that of other states.
I hope he works as hard at that as he worked as a young lawmaker to bring some reform to juvenile corrections. This time, he has a lot more power to affect change.
Certainly given his professional background, he is the right governor for the job. Given his personal nature, I hope, he is doubly so.