A Mother’s Day tribute to a refugee mother

75 years ago my  children’s mother arrived on the last refugee ship from Europe in New York City, after fleeing for 18 months.  Her parents, herself and brother and sister were barred by a quota – not very different from a quota now proposed.

That quota, then as now, limited people from certain countries, supposedly, regardless of religious faith.  But meant to reduce immigration of Catholics and Jews from Poland where they represented majorities seeking freedom.

At the last moment, the family received a special visa exception.  Two years later they went to Canada for a few hours, and came back as immigrants or citizenship – since the quota from Poland had now opened – and their families left behind in Europe perished.

Two of her two sons, born in freedom, committed their careers two public service.  Her oldest, a West Point graduate, Special Forces Lt. Col. and senior staffer for Sen. Mike Rounds; her youngest a Commissioner of the US Federal Communications Commission, as well as director of the Rural Utilities Service.  Two US SD US Senators, of different parties told me that they were the most effective and committed members of their staff.

Who might be those gifted servants of America, never to be born, because their mother was not permitted to enter this promised land of freedom.

Changing the outcome of this election

I want desperately to change the outcome of this election–one that could be a disaster for our county. We have a chance. Please listen.

Attacking a patriot mother’s tears

A heartfelt speech is given by the father of a fallen soldier as his wife, a Gold Star Mother, stands at his side. A presidential candidate’s responds by attacks them.

We cannot accept this.

Donald Trump suggested the heartfelt presentation by Khizr Khan, the father of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan who was killed in Iraq, was written by a Clinton speechwriter—despite Mr. Khan’s clear expression that it was from his heart.  In fact, Mr. Kahn specifically stated that he had been offered and refused professional help in writing his speech.

Trump suggested that Ghazala Khan, a Gold Star Mother, was silent because her faith wouldn’t allow her to speak, when in truth it was her deep grief for a beloved son that silenced her. When anyone watching her could see that, should she try to speak, tears would fill any space intended for words. (Read Ghazala Khan’s op-ed in response to Trump’s attack here.)

How are we supposed to vote for a presidential candidate who suggests that a bereaved father is a liar and who defies any human decency in his response to a mother’s tearful inability to speak? A man who has behaves in a manner so appalling that staggers and numbs our collective consciousness. Many Republicans have watched their party seized by a demagogue who in no way represents their spiritual, political, or constitutional values.  How are we to now elect this man as our president?

(Click here for my post about how “it” could happen here.)

In a presidential election year when both major party candidates are so unsuited for the position, many of us are wishing for another option. Fortunately there is one: Gary Johnson, former Republican Governor of New Mexico, and his running-mate William Weld, former Republican Governor of Massachusetts.

The Johnson-Weld ticket will appear on the ballot in all fifty states for the Libertarian Party. In Johnson we have opportunity to vote for a leader whose values are in-step with our own. With Johnson on our ballot we can enter the voting booth with excitement to cast our vote for a president with the experience, heart, and judgement that this country needs.

This is the first of a series of blogs that will discuss how South Dakota can once again change the outcome of a presidential election.  Please share this post and help to make a difference in this small bastion of true American values that we all love!

Could it really happen here?

When Donald Trump decided to run for president his rhetoric seemed familiar to me, like I’d seen this kind of leader before—and I had. Only it wasn’t in real life, it was in a book I’d read at three memorable points in my life: Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here.

I first read It Can’t Happen Here was in high school, when, like so many Jewish boys, the fear of what had happened in Germany resounded in my head. The second time was after visiting Israel and being repeatedly asked, “What makes you so sure that what happened so many times in the past can’t happen in the United States?” (My reply was that it couldn’t. More on my response below.) The last time was after first being elected to the South Dakota Legislature as the first Jewish person in thirty years—and only the third ever—to serve in that capacity.

The book was meaningful to me at these points in my life as it warned what could be if we give up some of the central values we hold so dear in the United States. It tells of an authoritarian leader, Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, who campaigns for and wins his bid for president. Once in office he implements a totalitarian government in which dissent is outlawed. Windrip is described as “…vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic….” But he captivates supporters, addressing them as if “he was telling them the truths, the imperious and dangerous facts that had been hidden from them.”

The hero book’s hero, Doremus Jessup, is an aging, small-town newspaper editor who joins the resistance writing and publishing articles about governmental abuses of power. When his actions are discovered he is sent to a concentration camp and his family terrorized in his absence. Jessup realizes in the book that, yes, “it can happen here.”

It seems that I’m not the only one who recognized the similarities between Trump’s “leadership” style and that of Windrip. Carlos Lozada did too in his Washington Post article “How does Donald Trump stack up against American literature’s fictional dictators? Prety well, actually.” It opens:

“Americans have seen this leader before. Boastful, deceptive, crudely charismatic. Dabbling in xenophobia and sexism, contemptuous of the rule of law, he spouts outlandish proposals that cater to the lowest instincts of those angry or frightened enough to back him. He wins the nation’s top office, triggering fears of an authoritarian, even fascistic U.S. government.”

The article continues. (The article is well worth you reading in its entirety, which you can do by clicking here.)

“…features a populist Democratic senator named Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip who wins the White House in the late 1930s on a redistributionist platform — with a generous side order of racism — and quickly fashions a totalitarian regime purporting to speak for the nation’s Forgotten Men.”

“Reading these works in this moment, it is impossible to miss the similarities between Trump and totalitarian figures in American literature — in rhetoric, personal style and even substance. Yet the American-bred dictators are not the true protagonists. Ordinary citizens, those who must decide how to live under a leader who repudiates democratic values and institutions, are the real story. They must choose: Resist or join? Speak up or keep your head down? Fight or flee”

“If Trump is elected and the fears of those crying “fascism” materialize, it is those characters and their choices that become especially relevant. In Donald Trump’s anti-America, what would you do, and who would you be?”

Who would you be?

At the end of the article Lozada observes:

“Even now, whether or not Trump wins this election, whether or not he builds his walls and subverts our laws, he has set loose passions and compelled choices that will long mark us.”

I encourage you to read to pick up a copy of It Can’t Happen Here, give it a read, and think about who you would be. (The audio book can also be checked out through the Rapid City Public Library website). I hope you will share your answer in the comments below.

I know who I would be: I would resist. I would speak up. I would fight.

P.S. My reply when asked, “What makes you so sure that what happened so many times in the past can’t happen in the United States?” was that these United States have had a two-hundred-year commitment to a political concept and almost universal pluralistic support of differing religions, races, and ethnic origins. Trump has been blatant in both his challenge both the Constitution and ignorance of the operation of our government.  An obvious challenge to the Constitution was the statement that the U.S. Armed Forces would do whatever he told them—even if it meant breaking the law. His ignorance of the operation of our government was shown in ordering elected members of his party to “keep quiet.” How dare he order the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives to be “quiet.”

Click here for a summary of It Can’t Happen Here’s plot.

While others served—Jensen wouldn’t wear our country’s uniform

In South Dakota have great pride in those who served their country—volunteering to serve or stepping up when called—and we have a great appreciation of what this nation stands for. We welcome soldiers home. We take aging soldiers on honor flights. We gather to celebrate those who live and to mourn those who have passed. So it catches my attention when someone wants to make the laws of our state, but they refused to wear our country’s uniform when called. Someone like Phil Jensen.

Uncle Jack who died during WWII.

Uncle Jack who died during WWII.

My family’s story is like many in South Dakota: an immigrant family, a fierce sense of patriotic duty, and a strong history of military service. My immigrant grandmother homesteaded in Kadoka and her son, my father, enlisted in the Army during WWI. All of her grandsons old enough to serve during WWII did so, including my cousin Edmund Mizel who delayed his wedding until after the war out concern of leaving behind a widow. On my mother’s side, Uncle Jack, my mother’s only brother gave the ultimate sacrifice during WWII. It was my great honor to serve in the military and the tradition has continued. Our family’s military service it is more than a tradition, it is part of us—it is woven through our very being.

So I was staggered when I learned that Phil Jensen replied, “no,” when called upon by his country. During the Vietnam War, while his peers stepped up when drafted doing their duty in combat and non-combat roles, Phil Jensen objected to serving in the military. But Phil didn’t just object to combat—he wouldn’t wear the uniform at all, not even in a non-combat role (that was an option, there was a classification for that). He answered no and was assigned community service in a parking garage safe at home.

Jensen-draft dodger selective service classification form

Well, it’s time we said no to Phil Jensen. It is time that we told him no, we won’t give him our vote. No, he can’t put up a sign. He chose a legal avenue to avoid the draft, and that was his option. It is our option to tell him we don’t want him representing us in Pierre. Let’s tell him no.

Violence as a method to win a nomination?!

When I have compared Trump’s campaign to Adolf Hitler’s ascension to power, almost everyone insists that is a ridiculous association!

Yet Hitler came to power after receiving more votes than the other candidates—not a majority of the votes—and the violence that followed led to his appointment as being appointed Chancellor. We all know the rest.

Today we have this authoritarian from New York who warns that “bad things will happen” if he isn’t automatically chosen as the Republican Party’s candidate.

Having represented South Dakota at conventions—a threat like his goes against the very political process in which we believe.

In 1952 Barbara Bates Gunderson, our then National Committee Woman, convinced the South Dakota delegation to switch to General Eisenhower, and the rest is history!

Yesterday’s New York Times article, “Donald Trump Warns of ‘Riots’ if Party Blocks Him at Convention” quotes Trump as saying:

“I think we’ll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you, if we didn’t and if we’re 20 votes short or if we’re 100 short and we’re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400, because we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say that we don’t get it automatically,” Mr. Trump said. “I think it would be — I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous, many, many millions of people.”

Where will Trump get the Brown Shirts to do this?

What do you think? Please follow the link above to the read the entire New York Times article and share your thoughts.

Announcing a press conference on education funding

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 5, 2016

Stanford Adelstein to Hold Press Conference
to Announce Method to Fund and Pass the
$75M Needed in New Education Funding

WHO:       Former State Senator Stanford Adelstein

WHAT:     To hold press conference to announce the method to fund the $75 million needed in new and ongoing education funding to increase teacher salaries to competitive levels, including how the legislature can pass the proposed funding source during the upcoming session.

DATE:      Thursday, January 7, 2016

TIME:       11:00 am

WHERE:   Rapid City Public Library, Downtown
Meeting Room B

####

The fair way to fund the Blue Ribbon Task Force recommendations

Last week Governor Daugaard delivered his FY 2017 budget address and in it he went into depth about some important issues for our state. One important issue—the Blue Ribbon Task Force recommendations—was acknowledged, but we will have to wait until the State of the State Address in January to learn our executive branch’s recommendations for how we implement and pay for the task force’s important recommendations to raise South Dakota teachers’ salaries.

There is a fair to fund the needed $75 million in new and ongoing funding needed to increase teacher salaries’—set the agricultural property tax rate at the same rate paid on the owner-occupied properties. This would raise $77,717,862 additional tax dollars, based on 2015 values and the owner occupied tax levy, and is the only reasonable source of increasing funding for education.

(See my previous blog posts which explain in detail how this amount is reached: The benefits of fairness, How our children are being cheated, and What would happen if education were funded fairly?)

In its final report, the Blue Ribbon Task Force recommended an increase in state sales and use tax to fund the increase in teacher salaries, but this wouldn’t address the inequities in our current funding formula—it would only increase them.

The agriculture sector doesn’t pay sales tax on many purchases and receives a sales tax exemption benefit greater than any other group. For example, the agriculture sector doesn’t pay sales tax on parts & repairs to farm machinery, agricultural services, seeds, fertilizers & pesticides, livestock, feed, nondomestic animals, fuel, and more. In a 2013 South Dakota Department of Revenue report, Summary of State Sales Tax Exemptions, the 2010 sales tax loss from the agricultural sector was estimated at $221,911,821. That’s a $221,911,821 subsidy to agriculture in sales tax alone, in 2010 alone.

The $221,911,821 was based on the current 4% state sales tax. If the state sales tax were increased by 1% it would mean an additional $55 million subsidy to agriculture interests—yet another state revenue source where agriculture isn’t paying its fair share.

2015-12-17 Agriculture Sector Sales & Use Tax Subsidy

Instead of giving them another subsidy, let’s ask agricultural properties to pay part of their fair share. This property tax rate proposal isn’t for the $221,911,821 in sales tax lost in 2010 (and each year)—by comparison it is modest. By simply taxing agricultural property at the same rate as owner-occupied properties we would not only meet the $75 million need identified by the Blue Ribbon Task Force, we would exceed it by $2.7 million.

If we divided the additional $77,717,862 raised through property taxes by the number of South Dakota students each school district could receive an additional $597.59 per student, based on 2015 numbers. That would mean more than $1 million in additional funding for the Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, Watertown Brandon Valley, Harrisburg, Brookings, Mitchell, Yankton, Douglas, Pierre, Meade, Huron, Spearfish, and Todd County school districts.

School Dist which would recieve $1M or more increase

Of the school districts with opt-outs, Sioux Falls, Brookings, Mitchell, Harrisburg, Madison Central, Wagner Community, Dakota Valley, Deubrook Area, Parker, Sioux Valley, Scotland, Mobridge – Pollock, Florence, Colome Consolidated, Redfield, Plankinton, Lemmon, and Timber Lake would receive an amount greater than their opt-out.

Opt out school district increase

The time has come for us to make much needed increases in teacher pay, to increase our investment in education—and we can do it. We just need to stop letting one group pay less than its fair share.

 

The benefits of fairness

The last blog shared some stark realities about the unfair subsidies that agricultural properties receive. One of these subsidies is agricultural properties paying less than owner-occupied properties when they have the same assessed value. Now let’s see what would result if, in fairness, agricultural properties paid the same tax rate for education as owner-occupied properties and our schools received the millions in funding they were deprived of because of greed.

State-wide, South Dakota school districts would have receive nearly $78 million in additional funding this year if agricultural properties had paid the—still reduced—owner-occupied tax levy (click here to read the last blog post for a full exploration of how this number was determined).

Increase in school funding if ag taxed at same rate as OO

Looking close to home, the Rapid City School District would have received nearly $8.3 million more for school funding this year had agricultural properties paid their fair share. That is $2.3 million more than the opt-out would have raised and $4.3 million more than the school board recently diverted from capital outlay to increase teacher salaries!*

* The diverting of funds from capital outlay is something that state law currently allows, but the ability to do so will sunset in 2018. So if we want to keep paying teachers at their current salaries, we will have to find another source of funding by then.

Funding increase per student

Funding increase for Rapid City School District

Had agricultural properties paid the same tax levy as owner-occupied properties for education, every school district could have received an additional $597.59 per student. For the following school districts, that additional $597.59 per student would have meant more than $1 million in additional funding.

School Dist which would recieve $1M or more increase

Many South Dakota school districts have, in desperation for additional funding, chosen to opt-out.  Below is a chart showing how the increase these opt-out school districts would have received had agricultural properties paid the same mill levy as owner-occupied, compared to the amount raised through the opt-out.

Opt out school district increase

For eighteen of the opt-out school districts, the increase in funding from agricultural properties paying a fair tax rate exceeds the amount raised through the current opt-out. An additional thirty opt-out school districts could have funded 50% to 96% of the need currently paid for through an opt-out. The people of all opt-out school districts would have had the opportunity to decide if they wanted to scale back their opt-out—and many may never have had to opt-out in the first place.

As the increased funding each school district would have received this year was calculated by allocating funds per-student, the twenty-eight opt-out school districts which could have funded 50% or less of the need currently paid for through an opt-out are all small districts. Of these school districts, the largest has 314 students and the smallest has just six students.

(Click here to see a full chart with it broken down by school district.)

For Rapid City, an additional $8.3 million for education would mean a big step towards no longer treating the unacceptable as if it were, in fact, acceptable. It would mean a step towards honoring the obligation to educate our youth—the future voters and leaders of our community and our country—in spirit and not just meeting the letter of the law.

It is time to realize that we must make a greater investment in our children’s education. Stay tuned for how the rules of the legislature can make this happen.