Rounds files nominating petitions

Gov. Mike Rounds became the fourth U.S. Senate candidate to file his nominating petitions this cycle today, according to his campaign.

Rounds filed more than 7,000 signatures, well over the 1,955 signatures a Republican needs to make the ballot for a statewide office.

Republican state Rep. Stace Nelson was the first Senate candidate to fill petitions, followed by Republican state Sen. Larry Rhoden. Both of their petitions have been approved by Secretary of State Jason Gant, as have those of independent candidate Larry Pressler.

Democrat Rick Weiland and Republicans Annette Bosworth and Jason Ravnsborg, among announced candidates, have yet to file their petitions.

Weiland needs 1,221 valid signatures to make the ballot.

Typically candidates turn in a number of extra signatures as a buffer against some signatures being ruled invalid.

Under the radar, Rep. Kristi Noem has also filed her petitions for reelection. Gant approved them on Friday.

Noem’s Democratic opponent, Corinna Robinson, will be filing her petitions today.

Candidates have until next Tuesday, March 25, to turn in their petitions.

Committee: Parents should vote where they live, not where their kids go to school

Under South Dakota’s open enrollment system, students can attend schools other than the district in which they live. But their parents remain residents of their home district, voting in its elections, not the districts where their children study.

On Wednesday, a legislative panel rejected a proposal to change that.

Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, had proposed letting parents vote in districts where their students study, though they would have to pick which district they’d vote in.

"It encourages the parents to be able to vote and participate and possibly run for the school board in the school where their children go," Begalka said.

Begalka said some open-enrolling parents identify much more with the school their children attend than the district in which they live, and should be able to get involved in the running of their children’s school.

But the proposal ran into a one-two punch of opposition. School representatives said Begalka’s idea was unfair, while Secretary of State Jason Gant and a county auditor testified it would be very difficult for elections officials to administer.

Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, noted that these non-resident parents would be able to vote on tax increases “even though they don’t pay taxes in that district, even though they have no property, and even though they would not be affected by that decision.”

Gant said it would be very complicated if elections officials had to deal with some citizens voting outside of their jurisdictions.

"The more information, the more ballot styles, the more complex that you make elections, it causes errors," Gant said.

Begalka said many of the criticisms were “red herrings,” but a majority of the Senate Local Government committee said the bill’s opponents raised valid concerns.

"This is really representation without local-effort taxation," said Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls.

The committee voted 6-1 to kill Begalka’s bill, Senate Bill 73.

The decision came a few minutes after the same committee approved a bill allowing non-residents to vote in a different type of election — the formation of road districts.

Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, said it was unfair that residents of an area could form a road district to tax all the land in an area without the consent or input of non-resident landowners.

His Senate Bill 65 redefines valid electors for a road district election as all landowners in the district, rather than registered voters as it is currently.

Landowners includes businesses and trusts that own land in the district.

The Senate Local Government committee approved the bill unanimously, though at the end of the day Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, expressed some worry about how far the state should go in de-coupling voting from residency.

"Where do we draw the line and why about where an absentee landowner can participate and have a voice, and where they can’t?" Tieszen said.

SB65 now heads to the full Senate.

Lawmakers reject ban on outside funding of elections

South Dakota lawmakers rejected a ban on outside groups funding South Dakota elections Wednesday, amid concerns the bill would harm Native Americans’ access to the polls.

Secretary of Jason Gant had proposed the bill, SB33, which he said was motivated by concern that outside groups could try to sway elections by giving local governments money to help with their elections.

"You need to think of the billionaire from New York who’s going to come in and say, I’ll give the county $X million, set up a voting location here, here and here, but only here, here and here," Gant said. "You don’t want some outside group being able to have that option to try and come in and have that activity take place. It’s up to the government to run the administration of an election."

So far in South Dakota, the only group to help fund elections is Four Directions, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Native Americans vote. That group’s executive director, O.J. Semans, told lawmakers Four Directions stepped in to help cash-strapped reservation counties offer early voting locations closer to where Native Americans lived.

In some South Dakota counties, such as Buffalo and Dewey counties, the county courthouse is located in a rural area far from Native-dominated towns. Residents of these impoverished areas, many of whom lack cars, have to drive 30 to 100 miles round trip to visit the courthouse, Semans said.

"I never thought that providing equal access to Native Americans was considered influencing an election," he said. "I consider equal access to the ballot box the backbone of our democracy."

The political “elephant in the room” in the debate, as Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, termed it, is that “Native Americans tend to vote Democrat.”

He proposed a counterfactual in which the Republican Party or some ally paid to help a conservative county open voting centers in places with lots of conservative voters.

"I think they’re admirable efforts on the part of Four Directions, but I think the path this leads to is probably not a good one," Tieszen said. "At the end of the day, you might ahve to relegate Four Directions to doing other things than being involved directly in the governmental process of voting."

But other lawmakers on the Senate Local Government committee were more skeptical of Gant’s idea.

"At the end of the day, this is about access," said Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton. "I think the intent is very good, (but) I’m not sure this is the fix."

The committee voted 5-1 to kill Gant’s bill. After the vote, Gant said he wouldn’t push further for lawmakers to revive the concept, though he added that “if legislators want to do that stuff, they can do it.”

Also on Wednesday, the same committee unanimously approved two less controversial voting bills Gant proposed.

One, SB34, will let military personnel who are deployed overseas cast South Dakota ballots electronically. Right now, they have to vote through mail, a process that can take weeks with someone stationed in Europe or Asia.

"I think this is a wonderful step forward to help our military," said Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls.

Gant said he’s looking to expand the idea, first to U.S. State Department employees stationed overseas, and then to military spouses. He didn’t rule out future applications of the concept for the general electorate.

The committee also approved SB35, which adds new flexibility for delaying local elections in the event of emergencies such as disastrous weather.

Krebs promises to be nonpartisan if elected secretary of state (updated)

State Sen. Shantel Krebs promised to be a “nonpartisan” secretary of state Saturday, as she officially declared her candidacy for that office.

Krebs, a Republican, made the announcement at the Lincoln County Republican Party’s Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner a week and a half after incumbent Jason Gant announced he wouldn’t seek another term.

In remarks before her announcement, Krebs criticized Gant’s handling of the office in multiple areas and said she would do a better job. Both businesses and candidates, Krebs said, have complained that the secretary of state’s office isn’t doing a good enough job handling their filings. She promised to make fixing that a priority and said she’d work with stakeholders before making any major changes.

Gant drew criticism in his first three years on the job for endorsing candidates in primary elections and for not retaining veteran staff. Krebs promised to not “support candidates in any way, shape or form” if elected.

"You have to take your partisan hat off and know that this office, once you walk in that door, it’s nonpartisan," Krebs said.

In a statement announcing he wouldn’t seek a second term in office two weeks ago, Gant said he was “far from perfect” but that he had “always tried to do my best and serve the people of South Dakota well” and made “tremendous improvements” in the secretary of state office.

Democrats have said Krebs will be no different from Gant. Zach Crago, executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said noted Krebs had told Republican activists she would “do whatever it takes” to help Republicans win every single statewide office on the ballot next year, include secretary of state.

"Hasn’t that kind of rank partisanship in the secretary of state’s office been part of the problem?" Crago said in a statement.

Krebs said both parties do their best to win the secretary of state’s office, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t serve fairly and in a nonpartisan manner once elected.

Krebs also said she would reach out to experts to work in the office. Krebs has experience in business and the Legislature but has never worked as an auditor or in the secretary of state’s office.

"Being an outsider, I think you also see what it’s like to be a user of that office," Krebs said. "Having said that, I also will surround myself with people that have the collective years of experience and wisdom, that have been in that office previously… I know my limitations."

She didn’t say which former secretary of state workers she would hire if elected. But she has consulted with former secretary of state Chris Nelson, currently on the Public Utilities Commission.

Nelson said he encouraged Krebs to run and gave her advice, and would do the same for other potential Republican candidates.

Krebs said vote centers, where citizens can vote around a city or county and not just at their local precinct, are the “way of the future” and promised to support them. Vote centers were one of Gant’s primary initiatives in office.

One subject that’s been disputed recently is the request by some Native Americans for special voting centers on reservations. The state runs early-voting programs in Todd and Shannon counties, reservation counties that don’t have courthouses, and Krebs promised to maintain them.

But she said she opposes calls to add early-voting sites to three other reservation counties that do have courthouses — but located away from the towns where most Native Americans live.

"Those voters have access, just like any other county voter," Krebs said.

Krebs has been heavily politically involved. Her husband, Mitch Krebs, is the spokesman for U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds, and Shantel Krebs was Rounds’ campaign treasurer.

But Krebs said she resigned last week from her role in Rounds’ campaign.

"I feel that as a secretary of state candidate that I have to be nonpartisan and not be associated with any candidate," Krebs said.

Krebs is the first candidate to enter the secretary of state race. Several Democrats are considering running for the office, Crago said, but he said they’re not ready to make their interest public yet.

Nelson hits Gant’s performance

Former secretary of state Chris Nelson criticized the performance of his successor, Jason Gant, hours before state Sen. Shantel Krebs officially declares her candidacy for the job.

"(Krebs) understands we need to restore some trust and integrity in that office, and I’m certainly glad to see that she’s stepping out and willing to make a run for that," said Nelson.

Nelson didn’t mention Gant by name, but his statement about the secretary of state’s office currently lacking “trust and integrity” echoes one levied at Gant by Krebs, among others. Gant has been criticized for allegedly being too political as secretary of state.

Nelson said he hasn’t endorsed Krebs, nor made a decision about whether to endorse in the race. After being term-limited out of the office in 2010, Nelson was appointed to the Public Utilities Commissioner, where he serves after winning a full term in 2012.

But Nelson said he’s had conversations with Krebs in recent months about the office.

"She’s asked some very good questions," Nelson said. "If anybody else on the Republican side has those same kind of questions and is thinking about getting in, I’m certainly willing to be a resource."

Ex-deputy Bray won’t run again for secretary of state

In 2010, then-deputy secretary of state Teresa Bray ran to succeed her boss Chris Nelson as secretary of state, but was defeated by Jason Gant at the Republican convention.

More recently, as criticism mounted of Gant’s performance as secretary, Bray says she considered running again for the office.

"I absolutely always will have a passion for that office and ensuring that the office serves the citizens of the state the way it should be, especially in the area of elections," Bray said Wednesday afternoon.

Today, after Gant said he wouldn’t seek a second termBray said she’s decided to pass.

"At this point, I’ve decided that I will not be seeking that office," Bray said. "That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to work really hard to make sure we have a Republican elected to that office."

Bray said her decision came after “months prayerfully considering” another run.

She’s definitely no fan of Gant, saying “we desperately need to restore the integrity and trust to that office.”

As for soon-to-be candidate Shantel Krebs or other potential candidates, Bray said she’s not going to be making any endorsements — yet.

"I possibly will in the future," Bray said.

Krebs: ‘My intention has always been to run’ for SOS, announcement coming ‘very soon’

State Sen. Shantel Krebs, who has been exploring a run for secretary of state for months, made that interest public Wednesday after incumbent secretary Jason Gant announced he’d pass on a second term.

"My intention has always been to run, but I have an official announcement coming very soon," Krebs said. "I want to make that announcement at that time."

Krebs said she didn’t want to make a political announcement today, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Gant won’t seek second term (updated)

Embattled Secretary of State Jason Gant won’t seek a second term in office.

"I have decided I am not going to seek another term," Gant said Wednesday morning. "I’m looking forward to returning to the private sector when my term ends."

He will serve out his term, which runs through the end of 2014.

Gant had faced criticism from several quarters since taking office in 2011. Conservatives criticized him for endorsing state Rep. Val Rausch in a primary challenge to a sitting state senator in 2012. Democrats and conservatives alike said he mishandled nominating petitions in the 2012 race. A judge ruled Gant didn’t do everything he could to solicit opposition statements to a proposed constitutional amendment and forced him to reprint his voter guide with a statement added.

Joel Rosenthal, a former chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, said Gant probably recognized “the handwriting’s on the wall” for his political future.

"I think it’s become increasingly clear to observers that South Dakota was going to get a new secretary of state," Rosenthal said. "To Republicans… it was just a question about whether the new one was going to be a Republican or not."

A prominent state lawmaker, Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, has been laying the groundwork to run for secretary of state for months. After Gant’s announcement on Wednesday, Krebs made that interest public.

"My intention has always been to run, but I have an official announcement coming very soon," Krebs said. "I want to make that announcement at that time."

Krebs said she didn’t want to make a political announcement on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

It’s unclear whether any other Republicans will run for the now-open secretary of state position next year.

Local party officials around the state had been having discussions lately about Gant, and whether he was a liability for Republican electoral goals.

Even Gov. Dennis Daugaard met with Gant earlier this year to discuss the future.

"(Daugaard) had a private conversation with Jason a while back," said Daugaard aide Tony Venhuizen. "The meeting was at Jason’s request to talk about some political matters, and that’s a private conversation."

In recent weeks Krebs circulated a letter to Republican delegates, saying the “integrity of the secretary of state’s office has been damaged and much of the public have lost faith in it.”

In that same letter, Krebs said the biggest risk to the Republican goal of winning every statewide office was the secretary of state race.

Gant said the reason he wasn’t running was because he had accomplished his goals, including improving the secretary of state’s online presence and promoting vote centers, where citizens can vote anywhere in their jurisdiction rather than just at a particular precinct.

"I have met and exceeded my goals and am confident that the next secretary of state will inherit a government agency that is at the forefront of technology," Gant said.

Gant insisted Krebs’ challenge didn’t play a role in his decision not to run.

"I’m confident, had I decided to run for another term, I would have been successful in both the primary and the general," Gant said.

Political science professor Jon Schaff at Northern State University said that’s “exactly what (Gant) has to say,” but was skeptical that was the real reason.

"To me, it’s too much of a coincidence" that Gant’s "been a little bit under fire and he’s looking at a potential primary and decides to step down," Schaff said.

Rosenthal, who said he considers Krebs a friend, said Gant probably wouldn’t have won if he ran again.

"It’s maybe a little hard to know, but I think the way things were coming together, no, he wasn’t going to win," Rosenthal said.

Gant’s most outspoken critic, state Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, said he wasn’t satisfied by Gant’s announcement.

"Now if he would go just one more step and resign immediately, to allow the governor to appoint someone who would be effective in the job," Adelstein said.

Secretaries of state aren’t chosen by voters in competitive primaries. Instead, political parties pick nominees at conventions of delegates elected from around the state.

Several Republican delegates said Gant hadn’t been reaching out to them, unlike Krebs’ active efforts behind the scenes.

In 2010, Gant won the party nomination against then-state Rep. Thomas Deadrick and Theresa Bray, a deputy to Gant’s predecessor Chris Nelson. Gant went on to beat Democratic nominee Ben Nesselhuf in the general election.

Before becoming secretary of state, Gant served six years in the state senate.

Democrats’ minimum wage hike approved for petitioning

The attempt by Democrats to raise South Dakota’s minimum wage by initiated measure passed its first hurdle today.

Secretary of State Jason Gant approved the initiative petition, letting advocates begin gathering signatures. They probably don’t want to waste time — they need 15,855 signatures of valid voters by Nov. 4 of this year.

Its official title is “An initiated measure to increase the state minimum wage.” It won’t get a number until it reaches the threshold; what number it gets will depend on whether it’s the first initiative to turn in petitions.

Here’s Attorney General Marty Jackley’s official explanation

The initiated measure amends state law to raise South Dakota’s hourly minimum wage for non-tipped employees from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, effective January 1, 2015. Thereafter, this minimum wage will be annually adjusted by any increase in the cost of living. The cost of living increase is measured by the change in the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Department of Labor. In no case may the minimum wage be decreased.

In addition, the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees will be half the minimum wage for non-tipped employees as adjusted by any cost of living increase described above.

These increases would apply to all employers in South Dakota, with limited exceptions.

Gant releases explanation of EAC controversy

Late Friday afternoon, Secretary of State Jason Gant released an explanation of why he referred the question of South Dakota spending a pool of federal funds on voting centers in several reservation counties to a panel that has no members and is incapable of providing the advice he wants.

His release, printed in full at the bottom, answers some of the questions raised by Jonathan Ellis’ article and by several members of the election board. Others are left up in the air.

But the biggest unanswered question is why Gant only provided this explanation now?

If he had returned the messages Ellis, a fair and thorough reporter, had left him on Thursday, than his point of view would have been included in the story on the front page of today’s Argus Leader.

Wouldn’t that story have looked far better for Gant than what ended up running without his comments?

This wasn’t a freak incident — Gant, who started out his tenure as secretary of state with promises of newfound accessibility and handled all calls to his office himself, has avoided the media for more than a year now. His self-imposed isolation came around the time he was under fire from a variety of corners for some of his decisions — which, of course, led to articles in the press describing and investigating those complaints.

I’m sure Gant has what seems like a good reason for not returning media calls. But here’s a media relations tip: a story will almost always end up better for you if you talk to the reporter. Journalists want to present both sides. They may not present your side in exactly the way you’d wish, but they’ll present it. Boycotting the press out of some misguided attempt to punish or delegitimize the media just means stories get written without your side presented.

Now, this is a self-serving argument for me to make — as a reporter, a world in which everyone calls reporters back will be a much better world. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also true. Calling reporters back will in almost every case be better for your public image. (Now, talking to reporters can make things worse if you say stupid or offensive things to them — but that’s not a reason not to call reporters back, it’s a reason to make sure you don’t say stupid or offensive things when you do.)

Here’s Gant’s full explanation, after the jump:

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