Let’s all go to the Convention!!!

In 1972 I had the opportunity of going to my third Republican National Convention. In the “olden days” delegates were selected by “their betters,” the senior elected office holders and party officials, with little input from rank and file Republicans. E. Steves Smith, Republican State Chair, and I thought that there must be a better way of picking delegates.

We came up with an amendment to the state party constitution, put it on the agenda for the state convention, and picked the smallest meeting room in what is now the Ramkota in Pierre. To our surprise, no one came to that meeting, and the amendment was adopted.

Basically, we arranged that in presidential election years, a meeting would be held in each county in the state on a given day in January. On that day, anyone in the state that wanted to support an announced candidate for president, an unannounced candidate, or simply wanted to go to the convention uncommitted to anyone, would gather in the county seat of their home county.

Those folks elected delegates to Pierre for a daylong meeting.  In the morning the delegates for each candidate met, with those delegates from each of six party districts to choose nominees, for a final slate of delegates from that district. 

These delegates were allowed to cast votes based on the number of votes cast in their home county for the last republican governor candidate in a general election.  If a county had cast 12,000 votes in the election for governor and all three delegates came to Pierre, that day, each of those delegate would have 4,000 votes to cast.  If the three were not all in Pierre, 12,000 votes were divided by those present. Thus, voting strength of the county delegations reflected the size of the voting population in each county.

In the afternoon all delegates gathered again with others supporting their candidate and chose the final members of the delegation, from those nominated from the district meetings, as well as the position of each member on the June primary ballot.

In 2012 South Dakota had twelve delegates and twelve alternates to be selected for the national convention. There were eleven delegates and twelve alternates to be nominated to go on the ballot in June, the 12th delegate was the chairman chosen by that presidential candidate.

Each delegate chosen for the national convention was obligated by party rules to vote for their candidate for at least two ballots.  If their candidate for President withdrew or failed to win by the the third ballot, that delegate or alternate was free to exercise their conscience.

This prevented something called “the unit rule.”  In the past state delegations, including South Dakota would—by majority vote—require the entire delegation’s vote would be cast at the national convention for the Presidential choice of the majority.  It’s easy to see how a forceful governor or senator or even state party chair could pressure delegates to change their mind,  regardless of the vote back home in the primary.

That would have the effect of allowing the back room boys to cut deals to overturn the choices expressed by voters back home.

I had seen this “unit rule” imposed on our delegation for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and was repelled by the ease with which the voters back home were ignored.   Barry Goldwater might have excited the passion of insiders—he was a wonderful, decent, intelligent, and principled man —but it turned out that, though he was the best candidate, he could not, and did not, win.

The delegation receiving 20% or more of the republican primary vote sent that percentage of delegates and alternates to the convention.

In 2012, the only candidate to receive more than 20% in the election was Governor Romney and that slate of delegates and alternates went to the convention in Florida.

A clear message was sent by South Dakota republican primary voters. Please reread an earlier blog which quoted part of the Washington Post article outlining presidential candidate Senator Santorum’s appeal.

My letter to the Post suggested that the Senator’s message of promising to turn back the clock was not new, Adolph Hitler was nominated and elected on the same promise, and that, “…if some of the delegates on the Santorum slate from South Dakota were voting in 1932 they would be wearing brown shirts.”

These individuals wanted to turn time back to the 1950s.  The time when women knew their place, people went to an acceptable church on Sundays, and black people were educated in segregation for the only kind of life’s work “they were fit for.”

This primary showed quite clearly what South Dakota voters wanted by their choice of delegates. 

To me, the rejection of the Santorum slate by nearly 80% of voters showed that his regressive platform and his South Dakota delegates were unacceptable, and perhaps repugnant.

While the party’s system now makes the whole process more democratic (small D), there was an interesting past convention where the “good old boy system” gave South Dakota a chance to make history.

In 1952 Barbara Bates Gunderson, South Dakota’s National Committee Woman, and U.S. Senator Karl Mundt from Madison were delegates due to their status.

Senator Mundt had promised the delegation to Senator Bob Taft from Ohio. At a key point in the balloting, Barbara convinced many in the delegation to switch their support from Taft to Dwight Eisenhower. The timing of her move started a big swing towards General Eisenhower, who went on to become President of the United States.  There are more stories spinning out from that moment, and I will share them in future posts.

It occurred to me while I was working on this blog that I had never asked Barbara why she had done this, nor as far as I know had anyone else asked her. It became clear to me, however, as I thought it through. Barbara’s husband Bob, an attorney and the love of her life, had slogged his way across Europe in the war against Hitler under the command of Dwight David Eisenhower.

Senator Mundt, on the other hand, had been an early spokesman for the isolationists who opposed U. S. intervention in Europe. He also was associated with a group known as “the German American Bund” who suggested that Hitler had a reason for what he was doing. Maybe I’ll share some more on that subject sometime in the future as well.

Reflecting on recent killings in Israel

Mark Vargo, our State’s Attorney and committed to justice under law, sent to me a copy of a letter written by a close friend. He suggested that this go on my blog—and I readily agree.

Before we all read that letter, I want very much to express my feelings about the murder of a young “Palestinian” boy who was an Israeli citizen just as the murdered three boys were citizens of Israel.

Last Wednesday I participated, online via a live stream, in a Board of Governor’s meeting of the American Jewish Committee—the oldest and most powerful Jewish organization in the United States which was originally suggested by President Teddy Roosevelt to a small group of Jewish leaders from the East Coast—hence the term committee.

As the meeting started a rabbi came to the podium and asked us to join him in a prayer for Mohammed Abu Khedair. He remarked that the week before we were praying for the safe return of “our” three teenagers and noted all victims are “ours”. He then asked us to rise and join him as he recited a traditional prayer for victims and martyrs in Hebrew. While I was in Keystone participating in front of a computer screen, I rose as well and as I stood there my eyes were drawn to the faces on Mount Rushmore—the four founders of values of these United States.

As a Jew, there is no way to reconcile the murder committed in such an especially horrid manner as this young man suffered. When will the madness cease? When will all the youth that suffer across the world be protected against this kind of madness?

As the rabbi said, “These murders are beyond our faith, our traditions, and even the remotest justification.”

I cannot erase from my mind that this was the kind of death handed out to my forbearers, my children’s grandparents that ended—at least when they came to these blessed shores.

British paper the “Guardian” described how some Israelis responded to the murder of Mohammed Abu Khedair:

“On Saturday evening in Jerusalem’s central Zion Square, after a small peace rally, small groups of participants wandered off into the night to walk and keep watch in Palestinian neighbourhoods against incursions by rightwing Israeli groups.

Across Palestinian neighbourhoods of the city, from Beit Hanina to the deep cut valley of Silwan, residents have formed neighbourhood watch groups, patrolling their streets and checking strangers’ cars.”

Had I been there, I too would have joined my fellow Jews in keeping watch.


3 July 2014 | 5 Tamuz 5774

Shortly after the funerals of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar, and Naftali Frenkel, the three Israeli boys who were kidnapped and murdered, Shalem College Provost Daniel Polisar reflected on the tragedy and its meaning for both the country and his two young sons. He shared these reflections with a number of friends and family members, many of whom asked him for permission to pass them on to others. We have therefore decided to post these reflections for the benefit of the entire Shalem community. Anyone who wishes to respond to Dr. Polisar is invited to write to him at dpolisar@shalem.ac.il.

Reflections for My Children on Israeli Society and Our Mission 
in the Wake of the Kidnapping and Murder of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali

The members of my parents’ generation in America remember where they were and what they were doing that moment, half a century ago, when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been felled by an assassin in Dallas. For my generation in Israel, the event seared in our memories took place two decades ago on a November evening when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv. For my children’s generation, the moment they will likely carry with them for the rest of their lives occurred last night, at 8:30 p.m., when the story broke that the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar, and Naftali Frenkel, the three teenage students kidnapped by Hamas terrorists a few weeks ago, had been found not far from where they had been seeking to hitch rides home to their families at the end of their week at school.

My two youngest sons were out with my wife Jocelyn and me at a restaurant in Jerusalem’s German Colony,  celebrating the successful completion of fifth and seventh grades, respectively, and the green belts they had just earned in karate. This was our first sustained moment of levity since the kidnapping, as our family had very much shared in the national sentiment connecting all Israelis to the kidnapped students and their families. Each morning, one or both of them would come to me immediately after waking to ask, “Did anything happen overnight with the boys?” It was the last thing they spoke about before going to bed, and often they would ask to stay up late to look at “just one more news site” in search of clues as to what was going on. Between their rising up and their lying down, they joined their peers at school, at synagogue, and at home in saying prayers and reciting psalms to punctuate the fervent wish that the three be returned alive. And so, at 8:40 p.m. last night, when my eldest son texted Jocelyn and me to give us the news, I thought to prolong the celebration just a little bit longer, to let them enjoy that last bite of dessert before destroying their evening, but doing so seemed inappropriate in light of their very grown-up concerns. I said I had sad news to share, and my ten-year-old asked soberly, “Was one of the boys killed?” I answered, after a long pause, that all three had been killed. My sons  reacted with the kind of spontaneous, overwhelming grief one might expect if they had received this terrible news about people with whom they had been close for years. As my wife and I sought to comfort them, they managed to get out a few words, some angry and some sad, and to ask a few questions—as if the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son, and the son who does not know how to ask had stepped out of the pages of the Haggadah all together and suddenly confronted, in one piercing moment, the dizzying and painful reality of what it means to grow up in today’s Jewish state.

Throughout the day today, while in meetings at Shalem College with students and colleagues who, like me, were in mourning and only half-present, I thought about what to say to my boys when they are ready to speak again–which they surely were not this evening, having spent a couple of hours glued to the television watching the triple funeral. They are now sleeping, albeit fitfully, so it is time to put down some notes for what I hope to say when the time is ripe. I am not yet ready to answer their theological questions about “Why didn’t God answer our prayers?” nor do I feel particularly qualified to speak about what the Israeli government and security forces should do next. But I do have some thoughts on what it means to be a young person growing up in Israel today, and what it means to be a parent who moved here from a seemingly simpler and safer place, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, with the aim of contributing to the incredible miracle of rebuilding the Jewish state. So here goes, notes for a conversation that I never wished to have, but that I now hope to hold sooner rather than later.

This is a very sad time to be an Israeli. Since the meaning of Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh l’zeh is that all of us are responsible for one another, we feel each other’s pain precisely when it is most intense. Even if we are not all sitting shiva and tearing our garments, all of us are undoubtedly in mourning. It is also a proud time to be an Israeli, and though my heart is heavy, it is also bursting with pride. It is incredible to be part of a country in which everyone has adopted three kidnapped boys as if they were their own. It is inspirational to be part of a society that produces parents like those of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, who in the midst of their grief have taken every opportunity to thank the soldiers risking their lives to bring back their sons, and to express gratitude to everyone in Israel and around the  world working and praying for their boys’ safety. And it is amazing to be part of a nation that has produced the Israel Defense Forces, whose soldiers are motivated by the sense that upon their shoulders rests the responsibility not only to defend our borders and our citizens, but to do everything possible to protect each and every one of us.

Indeed, the operation to bring these three boys home was aptly named “Shuvu Achim,” or “Return, Brothers,” an expression not of some tactical aim but of the sentiments of our young men and women in uniform. Throughout these three terrible weeks, I have been comforted by the knowledge that our security forces are not only superb at what they do, but that they literally would not rest until they had achieved their mission. I am now comforted, at least in part, by the knowledge that as a matter of solemn duty, they will do everything conceivable, and perhaps some things that are not, to bring to justice those who had a hand in the kidnapping and murders.

For your Ima and me, this triple kidnapping-murder does not weaken our resolve to do what we came here to do. We knew, when deciding to move to Israel 25 years ago, that there was much work to be done in making the country secure and prosperous, but especially in creating the kind of society that would make worthwhile the sacrifices building a Jewish democracy in the Middle East inevitably demands. For this venture to justify its enormous costs, it is not enough to safeguard the existence of a state that can provide a haven for Jews. We also need to create a model society, built on individual initiative and compassion, freedom and solidarity, an unswerving commitment to our own defense and a fierce desire to secure peace for ourselves and for all mankind. We must forge a country that can serve, genuinely and without cynicism, as a “light unto the nations,” as the Biblical prophets called upon us to do.

For Ima, that means becoming a yoetzet halakha, an expert on Jewish family law, simultaneously helping improve the quality of life for couples throughout Israel while gradually transforming the opportunities available to Jewish women. She is doing so at Nishmat, where one of the teachers, and an early graduate of the same program in which she is studying, is Racheli Frenkel, mother of Naftali of blessed memory. For me, it means doing everything I can to ensure the success of the fledgling Shalem College, an institution I hope will be able to nurture the kind of future leaders whose wisdom and passion will enable them to help make our country a light unto the nations. And it means devoting ourselves to guiding the six wonderful children with whom we have been blessed, so that each of you can take your place not only as strong, happy, independent, and productive men and women, but as engaged citizens who take part in the collective enterprise of building and sustaining the Jewish state and people.

As for the two of you, I hope you’ll take out of this tragedy, which has caused you to become politically mature beyond your years, a desire to take on as much responsibility as you can, if not more. When you come of age, you will have the awesome privilege of serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and I hope it is clearer to you now than ever before why that is not only a legal obligation, but a moral duty that should be assumed with a sense of mission. You should be preparing yourself for that task in the coming years, not only by becoming physically fit and technically able to do what soldiers must do, whether in combat positions, Intelligence, or wherever else you can best serve, but by trying to understand why you are defending your country, what makes it worth defending, and which are the crooked parts that need straightening so that it may become even more worthy of the sacrifices required for its defense.

Your army service will be only the beginning, Ima and I hope, of your efforts to take leading roles in the next chapter of our people’s awe-inspiring story. We hope you find your callings, as we believe we have, so that in good times you can proceed joyously, knowing that you are contributing to the noble enterprise of the Jewish nation; and in bad times, like today, you will know that you are not helpless victims, but instead can emerge from tragedy with a strengthened resolve: You can strive to help shape the kind of society whose sacrifices, painful as they are, are part of a broader effort to build and sustain a nation that will be a blessing for its inhabitants and for all of mankind. We hope, that in the coming days, you will find not only peace and comfort, but also strength, and a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. 

Daniel Polisar
Executive Vice President and Provost
Shalem College

WHY – oh why did HE – have to lie

I will postpone, for a short time, the planned blog on SD Republican Convention Delegates, in order to attempt to correct a deliberate obfuscation.

Mayor Kooiker’s deliberate and detailed falsehood must be rebutted immediately. He lied, and he knew he was lying when he said that his appointment for Police Chief was rejected by the Rapid City Common Council (by a vote of 8-2), due to “racisim.”

As a Jew, my whole youth was subject to painful experiences of prejudice. Even much later, there were a few instances of prejudice in my years as a Legislator. I chose not to make a big deal about those instances and to forgive and move on. As a consequence of having so long and so often been a target of bigotry, my antenna has been carefully tuned for over eighty years to the smallest suggestion of prejudice.

I know, and the Mayor, who has himself had similar experiences, knew that the Council Decision was not, let me repeat NOT! as a result of his false allegation. He did not do his homework before making the appointment. He did not appoint the most qualified candidate available. Thankfully the City Council turned down the Mayor’s first choice. As a result, with due thanks to the Mayor for the wisdom shown the second time around, we now have a much more qualified Chief. For years the Mayor and I have been friendly and have shared our feelings about the terrible insult that prejudice visits upon its victims. That is why I am especially disappointed about his dishonesty in this last episode. It puts on sad display a vindictive side of the Mayor that we’ve heard whispered about in city hall but that he has generally managed to conceal from public view.

In order to make the point even clearer, this Blog was given permission to use the following letter, from “the mouth of the horse” – a very wise thoughtful horse – Councilwoman Bonnnie Peterson.

Rapid City (SD) Alderwoman Bonny Petersen Responds To RC Mayor Sam Kooiker’s Post Dated 6/27: on John Tsitrian’s “The Constant Commoner” Blog spot

I can’t let Mayor Sam Kooiker’s remarks on your June 27, 2014 post stand uncorrected. As a council member, I can assure you that the Mayor knows why the appointee wasn’t confirmed and it had absolutely nothing to do with his heritage.

The Mayor knows the real reasons the vote was no, he knows it has nothing to do with heritage, yet that is what he suggests. He attacks two council members to divert attention from the real facts– that the selection process was adequate until it got to Mayor Kooiker. Once there, Mayor Sam Kooiker failed to do his due diligence. Let me repeat, Mayor Sam Kooiker and only Sam Kooiker failed to do his due diligence. He chose to ignore information that eight of us could not. He can say whatever he wants and point his finger outward, but the fact remains he made a mistake. The eight no votes were a no to a bad decision; it was not a vote for a preferred candidate. We knew that the Mayor could bring in someone from outside the state and we were willing to accept that over his appointee. None of us took our vote lightly.

We all make mistakes and it would be nice if the mayor would accept and learn from his mistakes, instead of turning to his counterproductive methods, of attacking others. Until I read his comments in your blog, I had always held out hope that the Mayor was capable of becoming upright in his techniques, that he would learn that his personal attacks are not good for the city.

Prior to the vote, I anticipated there was a high likelihood that Sam Kooiker would use the appointee’s race and heritage as a means to attack the council. Seeing him now actually use it, only confirms that Mayor Kooiker is willing to use race as a tool to get what he wants, whether for an appointee or revenge. This is disrespectful at best and dangerous at worst.

Now his words have spread across the state, the impact to the council, though significant, is minor compared to the impact on our community. Our city has real race issues without making them up for political gain. We have police out on the streets twenty-four hours a day and the last thing they need is our Mayor claiming governmental racism, when he knows it had nothing to do with the vote. He betrays our community by using race as a political weapon. He undermines the huge efforts made throughout our city every day to alleviate the effects of racism. How do these comments influence those that already feel disenfranchised or businesses looking to move here?

After serving with the Mayor for 4 years and working closely with him while in leadership for two years, I have noticed he uses predictable and unproductive methods that you have seen in his comments. When he detects disagreements, he launches attacks and accusations against people that reflect a different view or that he perceives as a political threat. He brings up totally unrelated facts and throws them out there in hopes they will stick. He is too ready to throw people under the bus for his political goals, whether they are his own citizens, employees or council members.

He takes advantage of situations that require confidentiality and the council can’t or won’t divulge information that would contradict what the Mayor says because it could end up in a lawsuit. He will shine the light on one part of a story that supports his claims, while knowing if the complete story was illuminated it would say something entirely different. Example of some situations that could require confidentiality and force council members silence are issues involving our employees, claims against a Mayor or council members, lawsuits or whether or not a council member actually asked for his legal fees to be paid.

The negative methods that Mayor Kooiker clings too and has mastered so well are the reasons the majority of the council no longer trust or respect him. Is this the fault of the individual council members? I think history clearly shows there is something about the way Sam Kooiker conducts himself that alienates people that work closely with him. (It is not his causes—many of us support his causes–it is his techniques.) Not playing well with others is fine until it undermines the city—and Sam Kooiker pointing to racism on this vote though predictable is beyond disappointing– it is outrageously irresponsible.

John, Even though the above needed to be said to reflect an accurate picture of what truly happened, I agree with the Mayor that there are things to celebrate. Coming in as a nurse wanting to serve her community, but not really connected to movers and shakers in the city, I didn’t really know what to expect. As I end my service on the council, I have more faith in our government than ever. Our council members come from all walks of life and bring different life experiences to the table. Overall, they truly desire what is good for the city. Each decision is based on that and only that. I have read speculations about 6 – 4, pro-Kooiker and anti-Kooiker or Establishment and Outsider, but I don’t see it that way. When a diverse group does their homework, and weighs that against their life experience and what they have heard from their constituents, their votes will naturally come together and differ at times. There is no sinister plot, council members seldom talk to each other off the dais. Rarely do they know the votes before they are cast. This is encouraging because the council is an important part of the checks and balances that work to do what is right for Rapid City. I will forever be thankful that I was given the honor to serve and I will forever do what I can to protect the city.

Bonny Petersen