A drawback of the Democrats’ new centralization strategy

Anybody who’s worked in a large, geographically dispersed organization knows there are positives and negatives associated with the centralization of certain organizational tasks. While great efficiencies and gains in quality can be achieved by centralizing a task with one expert at company headquarters, things like local knowledge can get lost along the way.

A giant postcard I received last weekend from the state Democratic Party is a good example. We published a story Saturday about the Democrats’ new focus on the oversized postcards. They’re sending them all over the state on behalf of Democratic legislative candidates, and Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, has been especially targeted. Ben Nesselhuf, the state party’s chairman and executive director, explained the strategy this way in our Saturday story:

“We have essentially set ourselves up to be the campaign consulting team for our candidates. We’ve been able, by using a more centralized strategy, to bring costs down.”

That sounds good, and it probably is mostly good for the party and its candidates. But it also makes it more likely that somebody working from an office in Pierre or Sioux Falls will make a mistake that a local candidate would not make.

Take the picture below, for example, which I shot with my phone. It’s a postcard sent by the Democratic Party on behalf of Democratic District 20 Senate candidate Quinten Burg. The postcard includes an absolutely lovely view of Lake Prior in Woonsocket (it’s not labeled as such; I just know the lake from having seen it many times).

The problem? Woonsocket and its beautiful lake are in District 8, not District 20. I’m sure Quinten Burg knows that, but apparently somebody at the state party office doesn’t.

So that’s what an “ice luge” is

Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but when I heard and read that Kristi Noem was criticizing Matt Varilek for drinking Jagermeister from an ice luge (it was part of Corndog-gate), I didn’t really know what she was talking about.

Then, Friday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Avera Foundation’s Splash of Spirits fundraiser here in Mitchell. I was walking through the lobby of the Highland Conference Center when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a real, live ice luge (see photo below that I snapped with my phone). At Splash of Spirits, the luge was being used to pour liquor. There were two slots in the back of the huge ice block, and the liquor poured down a couple of ice chutes into a waiting glass below.

We can only hope there will be an ice luge at Matt Varilek’s election watch party tomorrow night in Sioux Falls. I’ll tell our photographer to be on the lookout for it.

Climate change? That’s so five minutes ago

Drought-damaged corn is shown in Le Roy, Ill., in September. (Bloomberg News photo)

If you watched the last few presidential elections closely and then went into a cave or a coma for the past few years before emerging to witness the last two presidential debates, you’d probably wonder whatever happened to the issue of climate change. Given the issue’s sudden disappearance from public discourse, you’d probably figure it must have been solved.

Well, it hasn’t. We’ve just stopped talking about it, and I suppose that’s because of the economic crisis.

But climate change is still with us. In today’s Daily Republic, we have a stark reminder of that from the Washington Post/Bloomberg News Service.

The story tells us that the corn belt isn’t just moving west, as we’ve often observed here in South Dakota when we travel west of the Missouri River and see corn being grown in places it couldn’t be grown before. According to the WaPo/Bloomberg story, that westward expansion of the corn belt is kind of an illusion. It turns out the corn belt isn’t so much moving west as it is north.

That’s of course true, and we know it by looking around us. The story quotes an expert who says that because of the northward push of the corn belt, “the number of rail cars, the number of silos, the amount of loading capacity” all are increasing in what used to be the northern terminus of the corn belt. For evidence of that, just look to the Kimball/White Lake area, where a nearly $40 million rail-fed grain elevator on steroids has sprung up suddenly from the prairie.

The story goes on to note that while Kansas farmers sowed their fewest corn acres in three years this past spring, corn acreage in the Canadian province of Manitoba has nearly doubled over the past decade.

And then there’s this statistic: “September was the 331st consecutive month in which temperatures worldwide topped the 20th-century average, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center said Monday.”

Three hundred thirty-one consecutive months of above-average temperatures. Folks, that’s climate change. If you’re still among the skeptics, you need to get in touch with reality.

Given all of these recent developments, it’s terribly disappointing to hear no talk whatsoever about climate change in the presidential or any other campaigns. I understand that campaigns this year are about the economy, and they probably should be, but let’s get something clear: While we’ve been sleeping at the switch, climate change has not stopped. It has grown into an inexorable force that is causing the proverbial ground to shift underneath us. While our political candidates squabble about short-term concerns, climate change is transforming our world in a decidedly long-term way.

What’s causing our climate to change? There is an abundance of evidence to suggest human influence, and other evidence to suggest natural processes. Likely it’s both. We should do what we can to minimize the human side of the equation — on that, we should all simply agree. If you don’t believe human activity is contributing to climate change, then you shouldn’t mind if the rest of us try to reduce pollution. It won’t hurt you to breathe cleaner air.

Beyond that, our leaders need to expand their focus past the tree-level issues and start looking again at the forest-level issue of climate change. It already is rendering enormous changes in our agricultural economy, and these changes need to be studied, understood and dealt with accordingly.

Ignoring the issue will not make it go away.

A dose of Medicare, whether you need it or not

Medicare turned 47 this week, but the government healthcare program for the senior set is battered and limping heading into the final stretch of the 2012 election cycle.

South Dakota’s own US House candidates are sparring over what to do about Medicare, but I’ll bet you can’t find a voter who isn’t paid to care about such things to explain it.

Matt Varilek

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

Set aside for a moment the real politic that darn few single House members – let alone candidates – bear a Band-aid’s worth of influence over what Medicare reform might look like at the line-item level. Democratic challenger Matt Varilek and Republican incumbent Kristi Noem are trying to get us to take our medicine, trying to get us to stare the root of our collective fiscal woes in the face.

Sure, they think they’re campaigning. But with a Fiscal Cliff as America’s horizon, Medicare literacy will become vital if we want to travel beyond that horizon in a non-Thelma-and-Louise fashion.

Predictably, the middle-of-the-road Democrat talks of protecting Medicare as we know it, while the conservative Republican backs some bold reform measures including a voucher program.

While we need to take it all seriously, it is almost August – seriously. So for today, I offer this bit of levity courtesy of the knaves at the SD GOP. Do not adjust your screen.

If you are in a more serious mood – and the issue certainly warrants it – you can read Matt Varilek’s real plan here, read Kristi Noem’s op-ed here and read the GOP press release response to Varilek’s plan here.