NBP finds Huether lead (updated)

Nielson Brothers Polling has released the second part of their Sioux Falls municipal poll, in which they show incumbent Mayor Mike Huether with a moderate 48-36 lead over challenger Greg Jamison.

I’m still waiting on the full question order and crosstabs from the poll, though it does raise an eyebrow that the poll appears to have asked respondents’ opinion about the direction of the city and the two candidates and city council before asking about the head-to-head matchup. Anything you ask respondents before a head-to-head question can influence how they’re thinking when the main question comes up.

Heuther, in the poll, has a slightly higher approval rating than Jamison (a lower-profile figure), but also higher disapproval. Subtracting “strongly disapprove” from “strongly approve,” Huether is +21 and Jamison is +17.

They also poll the at-large city council races, finding a dead heat in the Christine Erickson-Denny Pierson race, but a firm 34-20-7 lead for incumbent Rex Rolfing over Manny Steele and Emmett Reistroffer in the other at-large race — though both races had high levels of undecided voters.

NBP is still establishing its track record, so it’ll be interesting to see how this poll compares to the actual results.

The poll was conducted from March 18 to March 20, via automated push-button response, with between 500 and 600 registered voters responding to different questions.

UPDATE: Some very interesting tidbits in the crosstabs for the poll, which NBP gave me access to.

Here’s two, focusing on how voters break down by party affiliation and ideology.

NBP asked respondents whether they were a Democrat, Republican or an independent. Among Democrats, Huether (a Democrat) beats Jamison (a Republican) 61-27. Among Republicans, Jamison has a slender 44-40 lead. Huether leads among independents 42-32. (There were 238 Democrats, 251 Republicans and 80 independents.)

Respondents were also asked if they consider their ideas to be liberal (96 respondents), moderate (168), conservative (196), or aligned with the Tea Party (60). 

Among liberals, Huether leads 65-16. He also leads moderates 54-33. The decisive factor is Huether combining that with a 45-37 lead among conservatives. Only among Tea Partiers does Jamison lead, 56-29.

All of that shows why the poll showed a lead for Huether — if Jamison is running as a Republican candidate, he has to do better than a 4-point lead among Republican voters.

I also scrolled down to look at the at large council races for one more tidbit. Overall, Rex Rolfing has a huge lead in the At Large A race, with 34 percent to 20 percent for Manny Steele and 7 percent for Emmett Reistroffer. If you look at the crosstabs by ideology, Rolfing has big leads among moderates and liberals, and a narrow lead among conservatives. But Steele wins Tea Party voters 38-25 — about what you’d expect, given Steele’s outspoken conservatism in the state Legislature.

Prenatal care for illegal immigrants draws praise in first hearing

A bill providing state-funded prenatal care for pregnant illegal immigrants sidestepped controversy Thursday, despite pitting two powerful currents in the conservative movement against each other.

Advocates for the bill said that in addition to saving the state money by preventing pregnancy complications, it was a moral imperative to help save the lives of infants.

"If you’re a fiscal conservative, you have to vote yes on this bill," said Rep. Melissa Magstadt, R-Watertown. "If you’re pro-life, you need to vote yes on this. If the immigration part is the big part, I guess that’s where this starts getting muddy."

For one day, at least, most lawmakers said the issue was clear despite the clash between “pro-life” interests and anti-illegal immigration interests.

"I look at it as a moral responsibility of this state, because these will be U.S. citizens," said Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls and one of the Legislature’s most prominent opponents of illegal immigration.

The proposal was backed by a range of medical and social groups, including the state medical association and the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls.

Lawrence Fenton, a doctor who specializes in caring for infants, said many conditions that can lead to death or lifelong disability in infants can be prevented by simple prenatal checkups and inexpensive treatments like vitamins.

"Little or no prenatal care leads to prolonged stays in the (newborn intensive care unit) because it leads to increasing prematurity," Fenton said. "Good prenatal care can prevent so many complications."

Fenton cited South Dakota statistics that an infant who receives no prenatal care is six times more likely to die.

Low-income citizens are already eligible for prenatal care through the Medicaid program. But illegal immigrants aren’t in South Dakota, even if their children would be American citizens upon their birth. With no coverage, these financial reasons can keep those immigrants away from the health system until they give birth.

"There’s not a lot of things (to lower infant mortality) unless you can get to the moms," said Deb Fischer-Clemens, an Avera Health executive. "If the moms are not going to seek care because they don’t have the resources, we can’t make a lot of change. "

Providing prenatal care through Medicaid costs about $2,000 per woman. With just under 200 births last year to women here illegally, that’s a total annual cost of around $400,000, split between the federal government and the state.

But medical experts said the state would make back that cost almost instantly by avoiding expensive complications that put infants into intensive care.

An infant in intensive care costs about $3,000 per day, Fenton said.

"Even babies born a few weeks early can wind up in special care for a couple of weeks," he said. "You can see that it would not be difficult for a baby (born earlier) than 32 weeks… to easily become a million dollar baby."

Those costs are currently absorbed by the state and by the hospitals.

The lone dissent Thursday came from Rep. Jenna Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, who worried about the precedent.

"I’m viewing it as expanding Medicaid eligibility to illegal immigrants," Haggar said.

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 11-1 to approve the bill and send it to the full House.

Last year, a similar measure passed the House but died in the Senate near the end of the legislative session despite support from Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

'Scheme of blackmail by the federal government'

At the insistence of the federal government, the South Dakota Legislature just took a step to tighten its laws about where billboards can be placed.

Current South Dakota law limits interstate billboards to areas zoned commercial or industrial, within one mile of an interchange. Even that law was an imposition after Congress passed the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which took away 10 percent of a state’s highway funds if they didn’t comply with restrictions on billboards near federal highways.

South Dakota tried to sidestep that law by allowing so-called strip-zoning — effectively allowing the creation of commercial or industrial zones for the sole purpose of allowing highway advertising. That decision brought the state into conflict with the federal government, and South Dakota’s defense of its law failed in circuit court in the 1973 case South Dakota v. Volpe.

Today, the state Department of Transportation brought a change in the state’s zoning language, at the insistence of the federal government, dealing with the same issue.

HB1036 provides that billboards aren’t allowed in an otherwise compliant commercial or industrial zone if the zone is “created primarily to permit outdoor advertising structures is not recognized as lawfully enacted for purposes of this section.”

It passed the House Transportation Committee this morning, but only after protests from some of the more conservative members of the committee.

Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, called it a “scheme of blackmail by the federal government.”

Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, agreed.

"It really sticks in my craw that the federal government comes in and sticks their nose into our business," Steele said.

But he recognized the reality that not passing this law could cost South Dakota around $15 million annually in federal highway money.

"But under the circumstances, we don’t have much choice," Steele said.

The law change won’t make any existing billboards come down. They are grandfathered in and can remain and be maintained until they are taken down or destroyed.

HB1036 passed 8-4 and now heads to the full House.

South Dakota legislators by the numbers

In just a few months in the South Dakota Legislature, new Sen. David Omdahl has “made a reputation for himself of being an easy no,” his former majority leader Russ Olson said, last March.

Now you can put a number on that reputation: 64.3 percent.

That’s the amount of time Omdahl voted with his average colleague in 2013, his first year in the Legislature.

It seems like a lot. But that number is actually the lowest figure in the entire South Dakota Senate, a body marked by high levels of agreement, even between Democrats and Republicans.

The same is true in the House of Representatives, with the big caveat that a loosely aligned group of conservative Republicans often split with both Democrats and mainstream Republicans.

Compared to the U.S. Congress and most other states, South Dakota has very low levels of partisanship in its Legislature.

That’s the conclusion of an in-depth quantitative analysis of voting patterns in the Legislature, the subject of my story in today’s Argus Leader.

Here’s what it looks like:


This “network graph” is a visualization of voting patterns in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 2011 to 2012. Each circle represents a lawmaker. Every line between two lawmakers means those two lawmakers vote the same way 70 percent or more of the time — a “connection.” Lawmakers with many connections are drawn together, while those with few connections are pushed apart, though positions have been edited for visual clarity. Larger circles reflect lawmakers with more connections. 

The graph shows that the House divides into three general groups. The central mass of mainstream Republicans are clustered in the middle. Part of the same group, but distinct, are Democrats, who frequently vote with Republicans in the South Dakota Legislature. Finally, a group of around a dozen conservative Republicans are off to the side, reflecting their habit of often voting against mainstream Republicans as well as Democrats.

(This is a somewhat different version of the teaser I put up on Friday.)

The chart is even more interesting with names attached to the circles. You can take a look at them here, and an interactive version here.

Voting analyses like this have far more uses than just this sort of superficial visualization, though, as neat as it is. The dataset behind that graph includes a list of the percent of the time every single lawmaker voted with every single lawmaker.

So picking a legislator — say, Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls — you can see that since 2011, he voted 71.2 percent of the time with Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, 64.1 percent of the time with Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, and 80.0 percent of the time with Rep. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls.

I highlighted a number of interesting conclusions from the project in today’s article.

I’ll be returning to this data in the coming days and months for more analysis, since it’s a rich information source and one of the few quantitative ways to look at the South Dakota Legislature.

In the coming days I’ll also be making the full dataset public for other people to analyze.

More interesting tidbits from the Dykstra interview

Earlier, I transcribed every reference to Rep. Stace Nelson from the Gary Dykstra interview that attorney Joel Arends said implicated Nelson in last year’s robocall campaign.

That’s not all that’s interesting in the 72-page transcript, the accuracy of which Dykstra affirmed in an affidavit. A few other choice bits:

Involvement of other conservative activists

On pages 37 and 38, Arends asks Dykstra if, in addition to Daniel Willard and Stace Nelson, state Rep. Manny Steele or Lincoln County Republican Party chair Betty Otten (who beat Arends to win the post) were involved in the robocalls.

To each, Dykstra answers with a succinct “no.”

The Ron Paul campaign

On page 31, Arends asked Dykstra if he knew that Willard “went out and bought a TracFone at Wal-Mart?”

"It wouldn’t surprise me. I mean, we used some TracFones for the Ron Paul campaign," Dykstra replied.

Dykstra and the grand jury

In the interview, Dykstra discloses that he testified to the grand jury in the criminal robocall case against Willard. On page 66, Arends asks Dykstra if there is “anything you have told me here today that would be inconsistent with that, with what you told those proceedings?”

"I don’t think so, but — I — not to my knowledge, I guess," Dykstra replied.

Dykstra’s deal

At the end of the two-hour interview, Dykstra’s attorney Brad Schrieber reads a statement into the record about the agreement that led to the interview.

"Part of the agreement was that in cooperation for that there would be no civil liability, or Gary would not be brought in as a defendant in this lawsuit or any other lawsuit by Joel or his client related to this matter," Schrieber said.

Regrets, he has a few

"Was there any thought of, you know, asking for advice from legal counsel (during the robocall campaign)?" Arends asked Dykstra.

"Unfortunately not," Dykstra replied.

House passes two resolutions touching on United Nations

South Dakota lawmakers took shots at the United Nations over environmental issues Wednesday.

The state House passed two resolutions touching on the United Nations, highlighting suspicion of the international body among many conservatives.

House Concurrent Resolution 1008 was a resolution “exposing and opposing United Nations Agenda 21.” There’s a sea of conflicting information on that agenda, with a cottage industry warning of the grave dangers to American sovereignty, and other people deriding those people as alarmist conspiracy-mongers, saying Agenda 21 is totally innocuous.

Regardless of the validity of the strong assertions contained in this resolution, the South Dakota House voted 55-14 to pass HCR 1008.

A few minutes before doing that, the House also debated and passed a resolution sticking the state into a thorny international dispute — the sovereignty of Taiwan.

House Concurrent Resolution 1007 endorsed Taiwan’s participation as an observer in two international bodies. This is thorny because China maintains Taiwan is a breakaway province, not an independent country.

But the objections to HCR 1007 didn’t come from people concerned about ticking off China. Instead, they were lawmakers objecting to one of the two international bodies in which the resolution endorsed Taiwan’s participation — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Rep. Manny Steele said he supports Taiwan but couldn’t vote for the resolution.

"UNFCCC is a promoter of global warming and oceans rising, which is a fallacy," Steele said.

The resolution did in fact touch on the issue of climate change:

WHEREAS, as an island in the Pacific Ocean, Taiwan is imperiled by rising sea levels and the ravages of extreme weather; and

WHEREAS, it is apparent that to overcome the challenges posed by such an immense factor as climate change, there must be concerted effort and cooperation among the world citizenry; and

WHEREAS, Taiwan’s exclusion from meaningful participation in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been to the detriment of both the Taiwanese people and the global community as Taiwan not only has the means but also the incentive to make a meaningful contribution;…

Despite objections to climate change from several other lawmakers — Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, called rising sea levels and global warming “a hoax,” the House approved the HCR 1007 63-6.

Rep. Steve Hickey, said he doesn’t believe in climate change but supports the resolution.

"If the devil is going to hold a convention, I think we ought to have a seat at the table so we can tell him the truth," he said.

Advocates urge Medicaid expansion, some lawmakers skeptical

PIERRE — South Dakota lawmakers heard an hour and a half of emotional testimony from advocates of expanding Medicaid to cover thousands of uninsured citizens, but many remained skeptical.

In a special joint hearing of the Legislature’s two Health and Human Services committees, medical professionals, hospital executives, religious leaders, county officials and people without insurance cast expanding Medicaid as morally and economically needed.

“Medicaid expansion is the best way to serve the low-income individuals,” said John Mengenhausen, CEO of Horizon Health Care of Howard. “Medicaid is also the least expensive way for the government to ensure that they’re providing health care for this population.”

Under the 2009 federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, states are called on to expand Medicaid eligibility up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line starting on Jan. 1, 2014. Due to a Supreme Court ruling upholding most of the act as constitutional, however, states have a choice about whether to expand Medicaid. The federal government, under the law, will pay 100 percent of the added Medicaid cost for the next three years, then 90 percent after that.

An estimated 48,000 South Dakotans are currently uninsured with incomes under 138 percent of poverty. But around half of them would be eligible for subsidized insurance on the new health care exchanges.

Several people testified about how many uninsured are hard workers with families who have trouble making ends meet.

“These people are not lazy. They are not deadbeats. They’re not milking the system,” said Linda Sandvik, a Rapid City nurse.

Kathy Ruggles of Pierre told of refusing to seek needed medical care because of fears about the cost.

“Hospitalization is out of the question for many of us,” Ruggles said, speaking for “the poor people of South Dakota.” 

“It is bankruptcy waiting to happen. We risk have what little property we possess, such as our cars, seized for payment.”

Hospital leaders told lawmakers they were scheduled to absorb millions of dollars in cuts over the next decade as part of the Affordable Care Act. Expanding Medicaid would make up part of that shortfall, they said, by covering treatment currently paid for by the hospitals as charity care for the poor.

Two conservative activists testified against expanding Medicaid, with Florence Thompson of Caputa warning the Affordable Care Act would lead to shortages of doctors and drugs. 

“I urge our state to be a leader and say ‘No, we’re going to have the free market,’” said Stephanie Strong of Rapid City.

It’s unclear how many lawmakers’ minds were changed by the 90 minutes of testimony. Several said they remain opposed to expanding Medicaid.

“I will resist an expansion of Medicaid in the state. I think it would be insane,” said Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, said he’s torn on the issue.

“Your arguments are compelling,” Hickey said to proponents of expanding Medicaid, adding that he believes South Dakotans are “paying for this either way” by hospitals who shift the cost of care for the uninsured to other patients.

But Hickey said he worries expanding Medicaid is a way for health care companies to get richer, and that undeserving “bums” will get subsidized health care along with hard-working families.

Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, conceded that expanding Medicaid would help a lot of people with what he termed a “major problem.” But he said the cost to an indebted country of paying for the coverage would prove too much.

“I think we need to go back to the drawing board and come up with some new ideas on this,” said Steele. “On a temporary basis, this would help people who need to be helped. But on the long-term basis we’re looking at a disaster.”

Several lawmakers spoke out in favor of the expansion. Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, told the committee his own family has been unable to find health insurance. Rep. Karen Soli, D-Sioux Falls, said she has concerns about expanding Medicaid but ultimately sees it as an obvious choice.

“There is no part of me that could not support this,” she said.

The joint committee took no action on expanding Medicaid Wednesday. There are several options for lawmakers if they choose to expand Medicaid, by amending existing bills. The Legislature could also do nothing this year and revisit the issue in 2014.

(UPDATE: This post has been updated to clarify a statement of Rep. Steve Hickey.)

A few thoughts on state’s rights and local control

For some who sometimes advocate more local power on key decisions, the position is mostly instrumental. That is to say, they don’t have any firm philosophical commitment to decisions being made more locally, they simply believe that more local governments are more likely to endorse their preferred policy outcome.

If the political situation changes, and they can achieve their policy goals through a less local approach, these people don’t hesitate to abandon their prior rhetoric about local control and embrace a more centralized approach.

For these people, local control is a means to achieve their ends, not an end in itself.

Other people do have a philosophical commitment to the idea of local control. But this is rarely absolute. Sometimes this is practical — a committed state’s rights advocate might nonetheless concede that the military makes the most sense as a national program, for example.

This can also be a matter of principle.

Rep. Manny Steele addressed the issue at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast a few weeks ago.

"That gets into an area that is what I consider a moral issue, not a state issue," Steele said when asked about same-sex marriage. "I don’t deviate from my moral issues."

He’s not alone, and not just on the right, in framing things that way. Many people say they believe in state’s rights — but that certain fundamental moral issues override the principle of local control. Local control is a principle, but not necessarily the highest principle.

The problem is that not everyone who follows this philosophy agrees what is a fundamental moral issue to be decided universally and what is a less important question that should be left up to more local governments.

Take gun control. Sen. Tim Johnson made news yesterday by saying “he favors solutions tailored to a state-by-state approach to regulating firearms… Johnson said firearms issues in South Dakota are not likely to be the same issues as those in New York and New Jersey. Johnson said he is looking for ‘common sense, not one size fits all.’”

This drew a sharp retort from state Rep. Steve Hickey on Twitter:

Here we’ve got Johnson, who has been skeptical of some gun control measures in the past, advocating a state’s rights approach on the issue. Hickey says the issue is so important it shouldn’t be decided nationally.

It may be becoming obvious that there can be some overlap between this moral/local dichotomy and the instrumental approach, with the philosophy simply a cloak over the instrumental. But some people do have a genuine commitment to local control — the test is whether they’ll advocate for it even when it seems likely to produce results they don’t like.

Forum move heightens focus on Minnehaha County GOP election

The next hotly contested election in Sioux Falls could be the one to lead the Minnehaha County Republican Party.

The GOP group for South Dakota’s largest county hit the spotlight this week with its decision to boycott traditional legislative forums sponsored by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and hold its own at the same time.

The county party’s leadership includes many outspoken conservative activists. Several of its top figures, including chairwoman Lora Hubbel and parliamentarian Daniel Willard, have clashed with established Republican officials including Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Its decision to compete with the Chamber-sponsored forums drew cold shoulders from many local Republican officials and a rebuke from the statewide Republican Party.

Now some GOP lawmakers are talking about getting more involved with the party’s operations — something they haven’t always taken the time to do.

“We’re all busy. We all have lots of conflicts,” said state Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, who noted that “organizations are run by those who show up.”

Since the legislative forum announcement this week, Johnston said, he has had “more than a dozen people call me and email me and tell me maybe it’s time I show up.”

Johnston lives in Lincoln County, and so wouldn’t be eligible to vote in the Minnehaha County GOP elections. But his sentiments are mirrored by other lawmakers who do live in Minnehaha County.

State Sen. Tim Rave, R-Baltic and the outgoing chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, said he’s heard a few people express “renewed interest in the process of county party activity.”

Things could come to a head in the early afternoon on Jan. 26, when the county’s central committee meets to elect a new chair.

Hubbel, an outgoing state representative, isn’t going to be a candidate.

She said she welcomes renewed interest from Republican lawmakers, who have voting rights on the county party’s central committee.

But she doubted an establishment-backed candidate could win an election as chair, predicting another conservative activist would succeed her.

The central committee Minnehaha County Republican Party is made up of a man and a woman from each precinct in the county, plus elected Republican legislators and Minnehaha County officials.

The precinct representatives are elected every two years in Republican primaries.

Not all the precinct committeeman and committeewoman spots are full but the incomplete roster has 71 people.

Elected officials bring the total number of voting members up to about 100, though some legislators such as Rave and Sen.-elect David Omdahl are also elected precinct committee-people in their own right.

The Jan. 26 meeting will take place after the dueling legislative coffees, the Chamber-sponsored one at the Holiday Inn City Centre and the party-sponsored event at the Ramada Hotel & Suites.

It’s the first of four legislative coffees for each group, all on the same days at the same times.

But state Rep. Manny Steele said that might also be the last legislative coffee hosted by the county this year.

Steele, a vocal defender of the county party’s decision to break off and hold its own forums, said the party might end up cancelling the last three events.

“I really doubt there’s going to be any extra legislative coffees put on by the Minnehaha County (GOP),” Steele said. “I would assume they’re going to have the first one.”

Renting rooms and holding question-and-answer sessions is expensive and hard work, Steele said. He argued the party’s announcement helped get “the message across” about the party’s concerns that the crowds and moderation at the Chamber-sponsored legislative coffees were too liberal.

Hubbel, however, didn’t see the party backing down.

“I think once people realize more about it… then they’ll come on board,” she said. “They just get a little bit of information and get scared that there’s something different here, even though they’ve been complaining about (the Chamber forums) for years. Once they realize that (the party forums) was not anything bizarre, it’ll be welcome.”

Steele stands alone for alternative forum at Chamber breakfast

At the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce’s legislator breakfast this morning, Rep. Manny Steele was asked about his support for the Minnehaha County Republican Party’s alternative legislative forums.

He mostly repeated the arguments he made to me yesterday, which you can read about in my full story here.

Steele did add this morning that he wishes the two forums were at different times, so he and others could attend both.

The Minnehaha County GOP scheduled its forums for the same time as the Chamber-sponsored coffees.

But the bigger news may have come afterwards, when moderator Jack Marsh asked the roughly 22 legislators present if they would attend the GOP forum.

Other than Steele, not a single one stood up.

Now, this was a Chamber breakfast, so lawmakers on the fence may have felt a little leery about declaring their opposition to the Chamber-sponsored forum. Yesterday a few said they’d consider going to the GOP forum on the weeks when their districts were not featured in the Chamber forums, though at least one later emailed me to say he’d changed his mind and would only go to the Chamber’s event.

And several local legislators weren’t present Thursday morning.

But the suggestion from this morning’s question is that this revolution against the Chamber legislative coffees is not going to spread very far.

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