The people’s business, done behind closed doors

Perhaps the most important piece of legislation to come before the South Dakota Legislature received a hearing Monday.

It was the first, and likely last, public discussion of SB 235, a plan empowering the South Dakota Board of Economic Development to issue refunds, er, reinvestment dollars, to large companies for the sales and use taxes they paid for a project.

“The reinvestment payments would be available for new business projects costing at least $20 million and for existing businesses replacing equipment of at least $2 million,” reports Pierre newshawk Bob Mercer, who had a very pointed blog post on this same topic.

The plan was almost completely assembled in closed-door meetings. Legislators, sensitive to the media and public paying too close attention to such a proposal, rolled it out in a press conference Thursday. Both Republican and and Democratic leaders attended the presser, and all endorsed it heartily.

Monday in Pierre, the plan was given a hearing. No one spoke against it, and now it rolls ahead.

This may be a wonderful thing for South Dakota. It may spur investment and create jobs and boost the state’s economy.

It does nothing, however, to dismiss the theory that South Dakota politics and government are decided in private meetings, where the public and the press are not welcome.

Silicon Valley in South Dakota?

Wall Street Journal columnist David Weidner used newly hired Yahoo executive Marissa Mayer to prove a point about business-friendly tax climates in a July 18 piece.

… If Californians approve Proposition 30, which would raise the state sales tax and increase taxes on Californians making more than $250,000 annually … Such an increase would drive away potential Ms. Mayers to states with friendlier tax policies, critics of the proposal say. Silicon Valley could very well relocate to Alaska, South Dakota or Texas given their lack of state income taxes altogether.

Click here to read the rest of the column. (Thanks to Mitchell Area Development Corp. Executive Director Bryan Hisel for sharing the link.)

I guess I take this as a compliment, though I’m not sure we should be flattered that Weidner picked South Dakota as the most far-fetched-sounding place for a tech company to locate.

Et tu, Steve? The Daily Republic becomes Democrats’ Public Enemy No. 1

Whether we’re right or wrong, at least we’re relevant. Incredibly relevant, judging by the Democratic mouthpiece known as The Antidote, which has devoted most of its current edition to slamming The Daily Republic.

And to think, all this venom from Mitchell’s own Steve Jarding, the editor of The Antidote.

I’ve been amused by the rabid nature of the Democratic reaction to our editorial praising Gov. Dennis Daugaard for turning a budget deficit into a surplus in just two years. The budget turnaround seemed an obvious bit of good news to us. How could it be bad news? Would the Democrats have preferred Daugaard to double the budget deficit rather than convert it to a surplus?

Democrats, who to my memory were accusing Republicans of overspending just a few years ago, are now saying the surplus is evidence that Republicans are “hoarding” money. That seems a bit premature, given that we only learned about the surplus in recent weeks. It wasn’t as if Daugaard budgeted for a surplus — he budgeted to break even, and things turned out better than expected. Again, how is that bad news?

The thing missing from this whole blow-up is that this should be a forward-looking development, not a backward-looking one. Democrats want us to believe that Republicans have been running around the state stealing money from teachers, students and old people and stuffing the cash in a pot somewhere in a hidden corner of the state Capitol.

What’s really happened, it seems to me, is that state departments are under-spending their budgets (again, isn’t that a good thing?) and the economy is doing well, and those factors and others have produced an unexpected surplus. I agree with the Democrats that this money shouldn’t be “hoarded,” but again, that’s a forward-looking concern. We didn’t know we’d have a surplus. Now we do. It’s now incumbent upon Republican and Democratic legislators alike to go to Pierre in January and deal with the surplus responsibly.

If Democrats want to have any voice in that discussion with what, barring a miracle, is likely to be a Republican majority, they’re not helping their cause with all the bomb-throwing they’re doing now.

Is 60% really all that high for a Republican gov in SD?

SD Gov. Dennis Daugaard earned a solid 60% job approval rating in a recent poll, but other Republicans have outshined him. Is that really a good number for a SD Republican in his first year in office?

Dennis Daugaard is just about the nicest guy you will ever meet. South Dakota has its share of nice politicians, but this one tops them in my book. (Isn’t there a Twitter person going by Denny Do-good?)

So when I ask if the governor’s 60% job approval rating in a recent poll is really all that high, I’m not asking if Denny is likeable. He most certainly is. So is Barack Obama, but that hasn’t helped his job approval ratings of late, either.

I remember Mike Rounds scoring an off-the-charts 75 or something, the highest approval rating in all the land. John Thune got re-elected to Congress a few times by that very comfortable margin.

And while many a politician would give a year’s worth of campaign contributions to get even close to 60%, the number struck me as low for a Republican on the Second Floor in his first year.

So I wonder aloud if anyone else had the same reaction.

Could it be the budget cuts? I know I winced when nobody blinked on cutting 10% across the board, being the mother of 2 toddlers and caring very  much about the school down the street. (I know schools didn’t suffer the entire 10%; it was still rough.)

Could it be somehow the flood? I have heard through the grapevine that some residents of the northeastern lakes territory felt a bit chagrinned that so much focus went to the Mighty Mo while they, too, faced rising waters. I have also heard grumbling about disproportionate use of National Guard resources in the tony Dakota Dunes community.

Even if these complaints are unwarranted – and I must confess I have not followed up, the perception is certainly out there. And, you know, people talk.

Could it be a lawyerly, perhaps professorial speaking style that, for all of Denny’s niceness, lacks a bit in the broad charisma that is the currency of modern-day politics?

Could it be that the stepped-up rhetoric coming from the Dems is having an impact?

Could it be that I’m simply all wet? That 60% is really quite high in the current electoral climate?

Cameras in court would have cast different light on Janklow case

Few people were less surprised than I was that Bill Janklow got caught speeding. Again.

His statements at sentencing portended his recent spate of speeding tickets.

I have no insider knowledge or extra dim view of Janklow, despite some of his protests about my coverage while he was in office. What I do have is a memory shared by a few dozen others who were in the courtroom in Flandreau on Jan. 22, 2004, when a judge sentenced Janklow to serve 100 days in jail for manslaughter.

I remember him standing up to speak to the judge before the sentence was issued. I remember him pointing his finger in the air, punctuating his points. I remember his tone and struggle still to put the right word to it – petulant, defiant, perhaps Janklovian is the best. It was not humble or contrite, that is for sure, even though he used the word “sorry” multiple times.

But that is my point. South Dakota law did not allow cameras in the courtroom in 2004, and hundreds of thousands of South Dakotans must rely on dry court transcprits and press accounts from people like me to get a sense of what happened that day. History has been cheated, and eight years on, my memory has blurred the details. I have only the press accounts of the day for reference.

I went back and re-read the story I wrote for the Rapid City Journal. Despite my memory of Janklow’s demeanor, some of his quotations still took my breath away as I read them anew in 2011.

“I can tell you this, judge. All my driving tickets were before 1995. While I was governor, I drove fast, really fast. I had a lot of places to go and things to do. I lived in Pierre,” Janklow said. “I’m not making excuses. I’m just telling you, that’s reality. Since I left that office, I’ve been stopped one time and was given a warning ticket in Nebraska. I drove thousands and thousands of miles, and nobody complained about my driving.”

At the time, what captured the collective imagination was the sentence itself – no prison time, but still jail, and the matter would be wiped from his record if he successfully completed probation. That’s what folks were talking about in January 2004. Far less attention was paid to Janklow’s own remarks, which to be fair also included passages in which, in word at least, he took responsibility for having killed a man.

“I fully understand I killed somebody. I’m sorry for what’s happened. I wish I could change it. … I can only imagine how I’d feel if this happened to one of my children. I’m not sure I’d be forgiving, ever. If I could change places with him – and it’s easy for me to say that – but I would.”

None of us can ever know how Janklow felt and still feels in his heart about his role in that tragic traffic crash of Aug. 16, 2003, whatever the tone he took in court.  But had there been cameras allowed in courtrooms on Jan. 22, 2004, I am certain that South Dakotans would have been as fixated on Janklow’s statements as they were on his sentence.

I am thankful that South Dakota has begun the move to allow our state’s courtrooms to be truly open to the public as judges and other court officials grapple with real concerns over disruption to solemn proceedings. (As of this year, cameras can roll if both attorneys and the judge agree to it.)

I think the concerns can be addressed by the professionals involved. As Janklow’s case attests, the public misses key components of public trials when they cannot witness those events for themselves.