A teaser for my next blog

In my last post I reviewed some things that I learned at the South Dakota Republican Convention. Now I think that it is time for a discussion about the unique way that South Dakota chooses its delegates.  As a teaser for that topic, here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article, The Rick Santorum time machine, from March 15, 2013.

Also, be sure to read the discussion on the full article, found here.

“…Santorum voters are traditionalist Americans. They yearn for an age when America was run by white Christian men, when husbands went to work and wives stayed home and raised as many children as they could handle. (One Ohio blogger, explaining his choice for Santorum, called him “a real man.”) In that America, abortion was illegal and gay marriage was a schoolyard joke. In that America, everybody went to church.

Santorum and those who voted for him are looking back to a time when the United States “was free and safe and prosperous,” as he said in a victory speech this week, “based on believing in free people and free markets and free economy, and, of course, the integrity of family and the centrality of faith in our lives.” That last phrase refers, of course, to Roe v. Wade, but it also refers to a conviction (which Santorum shares with his fans) that God is real and intervenes to improve people’s lives.

This is the version of America described in “Game On,” a pro-Santorum song that has become a YouTube sensation. Sung in close harmony by two daughters of an Oklahoma pastor named David Harris, the song imagines a time “maybe for the first time since we had Ronald Reagan” where there’s “justice for the unborn, factories back on our shores.” “Yes,” the girls sing, “I believe Rick Santorum is our man.”

And in some ways, these voters’ concerns are justified. Their world did once feel better and more secure. Unemployment in Mississippi hovers near 10 percent, and in both Mississippi and Alabama, divorce and high school dropout rates stand above the national average. Mitt Romney — despite his five strapping sons and his professed love for “cheesy grits”—fails to convince these voters that he’s like them, not because he’s Mormon (though that’s part of it), but because he doesn’t share their determination to turn back time.

Romney, whatever his faults, likes to move forward. But conservative Christians’ sense of crisis is so deep, they don’t want to make a pragmatic choice. Romney wants to roll up his sleeves, organize some focus groups and apply some algorithms to their problems. What they want is to pray….”

All I Really Need to Know I Learned—at the South Dakota Republican Convention

I learned a couple of things at last week’s South Dakota Republican Convention:

  1. The representatives of the party wanted no more of Jason Gant. The vote was more than two-to-one for someone other than his selected assistant. There would have been more votes in the “no more Gant” camp, but Ms. Miller ran a very excellent campaign and is a well-liked person.

What do we take away from such a lopsided vote and where do we go from here?

  • The honorable thing for Mr. Gant to do would be to immediately resign as Secretary of State. This would allow the governor to install the choice of the party in the office.
  • Ms. Miller should act on Bob Mercer’s observation, “Odd that someone, whether it be the secretary of state or his deputy or one of the office employees, wouldn’t have tracked these matters down Friday and corrected them.”
  • Further, IF—as has been reported—Mr. Gant no longer comes into the office, Ms. Miller should talk to the Attorney General about if any of Mr. Gant’s salary should be withheld. She alone would know if he is performing his duties as Secretary of State.

Individuals will want to discuss resolutions repeatedly—even if what they have to say has already been said by someone else and even if the resolution will result in no significant legislative action. Despite the lack of action, the resolutions do serve to express the opinion of the leaders of the Republican Party.

It was a good convention and I look forward to attending the next convention and learning even more!

A Disturbing Pattern

When the Mayor tried to leapfrog his friend Lt. Elias Diaz into the Chief’s several steps up the ladder, Kooiker wrote, “I’m excited about Eli’s continuing contributions to our community.  As our next Chief of Police he has a wealth of experience that will greatly benefit the City and our region.” (Diaz Press Release)

As you know, the City Council correctly rejected this nomination on a 8-2 vote.  When the Mayor (wisely, I think) submitted the name of Karl Jergeris, he was more effusive in his praise:

“Chief Jegeris is a talented leader and an outstanding choice to helm the RCPD. I am confident Jegeris has the skills and experience necessary to lead a large agency and continue the department’s standard of excellence in public safety.” (Jergeris Press Release)

In the  Mayor’s own words, then, Diaz would have made a vague contribution of some sort of benefit to the city and area, whereas Jegeris has the skills and experience necessary to lead a large agency and continue the department’s standard of excellence.  No question in my mind which of the two sets of skills are most necessary in a Police Chief. The mayor made a wise final decision, which is good for all of us.

Any fair reading of the qualifications of both men leaves no doubt that Jegeris was far and away the better candidate, which begs the question: why did the Mayor try to promote his buddy instead?  (Diaz’s wife worked in Sam’s office, his in-laws were campaign donors, and there may be other connections and reasons).

It’s an important question, for this reason: there has been quite a turnover in top positions in city hall since Kooiker took office, the most recent two being the Police Chief and our excellent Civic Center Manager, Brian Maliske.  They are just two among several.

Quite a number of good people have left under Kooiker, and that’s a problem because it costs taxpayers a lot of money to groom top-notch leaders, and quite a bit more when their know-how goes MIA.  If we have a Mayor who drives away good people, that’s serious cause for concern. Let’s hope that this experience, as well as the rejection of his two nominees for the courthouse (for Auditor and Register of Deeds) leads to a different kind of politics in the future.

Picking people is one of the most important things a Mayor does.  A number of his choices to boards and commissions fall short of the best talent our community has to offer.  In this last incident, we see that the Mayor’s process was deeply flawed.

The city council and the press would serve us well to keep an eye on this.  Might also be a good idea and backtrack to see if there’s any pattern in the city’s loss of so much good talent.

Just Say No—to the possibility of four more years of Jason Gant

Allow me to insert a plug for friend and colleague Shantel Krebs, with whom I served in the State House and State Senate.

Thankfully, Shantel has thrown her hat in the ring to be nominated at the SD Republican Convention this week to be the Republican candidate for State Auditor.

I used the word “thankfully” and meant it.  The other likely candidate’s credentials do not measure up to Shantel’s, and worse, the other candidate (Patricia Miller) has been part of the current administration of that office, under the dubious “leadership” of Jason Gant, whose track record in office has been sketchy on a number of counts.

Miller having been part of the problem, there’s little reason to think she’d be part of the solution.  Indeed, the evidence we have at hand indicates that she has no intention of changing the way the Secretary  of State’s office is run.

What evidence do I mean?  I learned last week that there were false reports of people having endorsed Patricia Miller for the office.  When complaints about that falsehood were heard, the claims apparently were withdrawn.  No apology, no explanation, just pull it down and hope nobody notices.

That’s pure Gant in style and substance.

Likewise, no action has been taken on problems with Gant’s last financial reports.  Bob Mercer’s Pure Politics column lays out the detail on that story. In it he comments that, “Odd that someone, whether it be the secretary of state or his deputy or one of the office employees, wouldn’t have tracked these matters down Friday and corrected them.”  Suffice it to say that Miller did not step up to the plate to call for the necessary changes.  Not exactly a profile in courage.  Business as usual, Gant style.

The principal responsibilities of the Secretary of State’s office deal with business reporting and elections. Miller has no previous experience in either. The closest to elections experience was her previous run for State Auditor while she was the director of the State Historical Society. The report is that while she had been asked twice to resign from that office, she continued to take a salary from it while seeking the nomination during the last cycle.

By contrast, Shantel Krebs is a stickler for honesty. She is intimately knowledgeable on election law and election methods and procedures. In addition to that, Shantel, unlike Ms. Miller, has successfully operated and managed more than one business.

To the best of my knowledge, nowhere in the past have there been as many complaints from businesses about erroneous online filing, lack of confidentiality, and frankly general screw-ups as we’ve seen recently coming out of the Secretary of State’s office.

Republicans would do well to nominate someone who is in a clear position to clean up the messes in the Secretary of State’s office and restore public confidence in its competence and integrity.

If we don’t, the Democrats will.

Response to Uninformed Nay-Sayers

To you who say there is a “good ole boys” network and an “ascendancy process” in city hall, let me relieve your anxiety.

There is no “ascendancy process” (your words). There is a “succession plan” which is present in every, and I mean every, soundly run organization in the business world, nonprofit world, and government sector.

In the case of the Mayor’s appointment of a new police chief, this plan was ignored—and maybe for good reason—we have no way of knowing.  But—and this is a big but—without any participation by the Board of Directors (in this case the City Council) there is no justification for jumping over two captains and an acting chief in the type of closed process the Mayor used. If you jump over them the Board should have notified (with due time to act—rather than by putting this on the agenda for a regular meeting). 

If there were good reasons for “throwing” those three hard working and carefully promoted and trained men “under the bus,” let’s hear them. The choice should be made public to the taxpayers who are being “end-runned.”

If such an abortive process has not happened before—at least not in the past thirty years—then the Mayor owes taxpayers and citizens an explanation for the unusual process he followed — and all of us, particularly the Council, are entitled to the information they need to assure themselves that the Mayor’s choice was the best possible one.  It’s not “his” police chief.  It’s ours.  All of ours.

The Mayor’s cadre of online yes men may not agree, or even “get it,” but that’s because they do not want to. But “Thems the Facts”—I did not make them up. I just love this town that I have lived in for nearly 83 years, and I care about those Police who have laid their lives on the line those 83 years.  They deserve the best chief and a selection and process that is above reproach.

The Mayor’s Folly

I am so grateful for the support of the community during a lengthy and life threatening illness. There’s no question that without that support I would not be here today.

Resigning from the legislature was one of the most difficult things any person could do if he or she enjoyed the process as much as I did.  However, there was no question that it was my obligation to the voters of District 32 to step aside until I was 100% able to do the job.

Now that I am nearly fully healed, let me use the experience learned in 12 years of the legislature to serve in another way those who sent me there.  Therefore this website is once again open for straight talking.

I’d like to begin with an issue that concerns me deeply.

Over 30 years ago Mayor Art LaCroix and Chief Tom Hennies established a method of preparing for future leadership changes in city government.  

The process involved careful evaluation of every member of the police force to identify future leaders.  From the results, a careful plan of promotion, mentoring, and training prepared some for future professional police leadership positions.  Thus the next Chief was chosen with care and without personal prejudice or intervention. 

The process has worked incredibly well, giving us effective leaders like Chief Tiezen and Chief Allender.

Sadly, Mayor Kooiker has chosen to violate the process, and it has had the predictable effect of reducing morale, embarrassing his appointee and, for that matter, embarrassing the whole police force.  

In a transparent effort to railroad his choice through without adequate council review, Mr. Kooiker has radically altered the agenda for the city Council meeting next week. He inserted an unheard of meeting start that involves the rubber-stamp appointment of the chief, his swearing in, and a recess before the actual council meeting so that there may be a “party” with his chosen candidate and family.

Evidently the plan is to intimidate the council to approve the nominee, lest there be awkward moments with his friends and family waiting in the room for the ice cream, cookies and punch, or whatever they are having.

It’s a tacky trick and I doubt the council will fall for it, no matter how awkward it may be.  The Mayor’s choice may have been the best choice available, but the council and the public will never know unless the council calls a “time out” to look at this extremely important appointment with the full measure of care that it deserves.

The Mayor has only himself to blame for the delay and confusion such a “time out” may cause.  Had he followed the well established, fair and open procedure that has been the tradition until now, all concerned would have been the better for it.

To date the city council has not been involved in any of the chicanery stemming from the Mayor’s weird, closed process. This railroad job prevented a discussion of the candidate by the appropriate city committee.  As a legislator, my experience was that whenever the committee process was deliberately avoided, bad things were sure to happen.  No good comes from such underhanded dealings.

This is not the only recent example of the Mayor’s attempt to play kingmaker.  He did the same thing recently by urging two “friends” to try disrupting County government by persuading them to run in the Republican primaries for Register of Deeds and Auditor.  Seventy percent70%!—voted against his nonsense.  

Likewise, candidates favored by the Mayor for city council fared badly at the polls.  Only one of them succeeded.  

I do not know the man the Mayor has chosen for Police Chief. I have heard that he is a fine person but one who is not yet ready to be the Chief.  Kind friends might urge him to withdraw his name this weekend.  That would speak highly of him, preserve his future opportunities to ascend in rank, and put an end to the turmoil the Mayor’s political game has set loose in the department.

We seem to have turned a corner in city politics of late.  I think the voters are getting tired of the Mayor’s underhanded, manipulative management style, a manner of governing that is all about self-protection and creating exit strategies to shield himself against any sort of blame.  It is a style that has bottlenecked decision making, undermined trust, defeated progress, and driven out one good department head after another.

Fortunately, we now have a good, clear-headed council with many strong leaders.  They should seize every opportunity to set the city on a positive path no matter how ineffective or damaging the Mayor’s conduct may be in the meantime.