Daugaard appoints Jones to Olson Senate seat

Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed Chuck Jones, a casino manager from Flandreau, to replace Russell Olson in the state senate Tuesday.

Jones, 42, is the former city administrator of Flandreau, a Gulf War veteran, an an enrolled member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. 

Olson, then the Senate Majority Leader, resigned in August to accept a promotion as CEO of Madison’s Heartland Consumer Power District. Daugaard’s appointment of Jones came more than four months after Olson announced he would step down.

Jones is the manager of Flandreau’s Royal River Casino. In addition to his active duty service in the Gulf War, he was in the National Guard from 1991 to 2001 and the U.S. Army Reserve from 2001 to 2012. Born and raised in Flandreau, he’s also lived in Minnesota and Iowa served in the Iowa and Minnesota National Guard while living in South Dakota.

Jones is registered to vote as a member of the Republican Party. All of Daugaard’s six legislative appointments have been Republicans appointed to Republican-held seats.

He’ll represent District 8 in the South Dakota Legislature, which includes Lake, Miner, Moody and Sanborn counties.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Olson resigns (updated)

The majority leader in the South Dakota Senate, Russell Olson, will resign to accept a new job.

Olson, 43, will become the CEO of Heartland Consumer Power District, a public power utility based in Madison. The demands of the new job, Olson said, required him to leave the Legislature.

"The South Dakota Legislature has been a second family to me for the last seven years," said Olson, who called the choice bittersweet. "It wasn’t an easy decision at all."

Olson has worked for Heartland in other roles since 2005. He’s served in the Legislature since 2007, and was Senate majority leader since the 2011 session, his second term in that body after one term in the House.

The resignation is effective Sept. 30.

Olson said the opportunity arose earlier in the summer, but he didn’t formally interview for the job until this week. He was given a formal offer on Tuesday, and announced the decision to his fellow lawmakers before the end of the day.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard will get to appoint Olson’s replacement, a job Daugaard has been getting used to. Counting Olson, in two-and-a-half years as governor Daugaard will have appointed six legislators — as many as Daugaard’s predecessor Mike Rounds picked in a full eight years.

Here’s a table showing every South Dakota legislative resignation since 1957.

At some point in the near future, Olson said he would meet with Daugaard to discuss possible replacements.

Senate Republicans will also have to pick a new majority leader to replace Olson.

The news of Olson’s resignation was first reported by the South Dakota War College blog.

The resignation means Olson will be putting politics on the backburner after seven years. He said he’s fully focused on his new job but isn’t ruling a possible return to public service in the distant future.

"If someday, way down the line, the state of South Dakota wants me to help them with their needs, that’s a conversation for way down the road," Olson said.

Olson’s District 8 comprises Lake, Miner, Moody and Sanborn counties in eastern South Dakota.

Sutton pursuing dreams despite paralysis

On the front of this morning’s paper, I profiled state Sen. Billie Sutton, who has won elections, served in the senate, and even helped out on the family ranch despite being paralyzed from the waist down from a rodeo accident.

Read the article here.

Videographer Jay Kirschenmann produced two videos about Sutton. Here’s a video profile of Sutton, and here’s a music video of “Billie’s Song,” a country song written by Sutton’s sister Rehme.

Photographer Jay Pickthorn also took a lot of great shots, which you can look at in the article.

Also, I wanted to share one great quote that didn’t make it into the article. Russell Olson, the majority leader in the state Senate, said being in a wheelchair hasn’t stopped Sutton from getting around the Capitol.

"I’ve served out there for 7 years, and there’s a lot of senators and representatives I’ve never seen take the stairs yet," Olson joked.

Would there really be legal issues with partisan staff?

In this morning’s paper, I took a look at a proposal to hire partisan staff members to work with political party caucuses in the Legislature.

You can read that here.

Some Republican leaders think having some partisan staffers alongside the current nonpartisan staff would make the Legislature more effective vis-a-vis the executive branch, and lead to more specific and detailed policy debates in Pierre.

Reporter Bob Mercer highlights one concern I didn’t address:

To take any of the $500,000 for the purpose of hiring a Democratic staffer or two Republican staffers seems to beg for a lawsuit under 12-27-21. And for those legislators seeking re-election or election to another office, the assistance they might receive from a Democratic staffer or a Republican staffer seems to beg for a Supreme Court interpretation of the word “influencing” in 12-27-20.

Partisan research staff would be new ground for the Legislature, and it’s entirely possible current law wouldn’t allow the proposal being pushed by House Speaker Brian Gosch and Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson.

But I’m not so sure. For one thing, a majority of other states have partisan legislative staff and have presumably found a way to make that work with their conflict-of-interest election laws. That’s not to say South Dakota wouldn’t have to change its laws to allow partisan research staff.

Except that the Legislature ALREADY has taxpayer-funded staff members in the secretaries (and possibly interns, depending on the details of their  compensation) for caucus leaders. They’re not doing bill-drafting, but they are working on explicitly partisan activities like arranging news conferences, distributing press releases and statements, and even researching issues. Is there a significant difference between those longstanding, presumably legal partisan activities and what would be done by the three partisan LRC staff Gosch and Olson want to add?

Updated: Daugaard’s first veto

There’s no announcement yet, but a lawmaker says Gov. Dennis Daugaard has vetoed his first bill of 2013.

On Tuesday, I previewed the batch of bills still awaiting action by Daugaard, and looked at the possibility  that we could see no vetoes this year.

“I haven’t got the sense from conversations with the governor’s staff that there will be anything upsetting,” said Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, the Senate Majority Leader. “The bills the executive branch was tracking and opposed to, that I was aware of, he’s already signed.”

But yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs highlighted one bill that could draw a veto that I hadn’t focused on: Senate Bill 115, which increases fertilizer fees and uses the revenue to fund fertilizer research.

"I would expect 115 will be vetoed, the fertilizer increase," said Frerichs, a supporter of the measure.

After tweeting about this, Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, confirmed Frerichs’ speculation:

Krebs is the prime sponsor for SB 115. Prime sponsors typically get courtesy calls when their bill is vetoed before Daugaard announces his action to the public:

SB 115 passed both houses over the two-thirds threshold needed to override a veto, but it did have sizable opposition in both chambers. Supporters said the fertilizer industry was asking to tax themselves, which made it okay. Opponents said it was wrong for government to tax private businesses to fund research.

Legislature approves $500K hike to own budget

The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee just approved, after considerable tumult, a $500,000 increase in the Legislature’s budget 2014.

Part of the money will be used to pay for more legislative travel to regional and national conferences. Other amounts will be used to hire more legislative staff — including, intriguingly, possibly partisan legislative staffers to go along with the existing nonpartisan staff. Finally, around $65,000 will pay for the higher legislator per diem authorized in a bill that passed this year.

After the motion was introduced, appropriators paused for a long period of conferencing any lobbying. When they reconvened, Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson and House Speaker Brian Gosch appeared to testify for it.

The Legislature is “by far the least costliest” of the three branches, Gosch said. When its staff are overworked, “they make errors.” Approving extra funding, he said, well make the Legislature “a more effective legislative body.”

Olson praised hiring some partisan legislative staff.

"We have to rely on the nonpartisan nature of the LRC to keep secrets… that puts them in an unfair position at many times," Olson said.

In the 2011 budget cuts, the Legislature’s budget was cut by around $650,000.

Some lawmakers were highly skeptical of increasing the Legislature’s own budget when K-12 education and Medicaid providers weren’t getting more than 3 percent bumps in ongoing funding.

Appropriations “just decided $500,000 legislative travel money was more important than K-12 and Medicaid funding,” Rep. Susan Wismer wrote on her Twitter account.

But the full committee adopted the proposal on a 12-6 vote.

After considerable debate, proponents of increasing the Legislature’s budget $500,000 for more travel and staff brought up Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson and House Speaker Brian Gosch to pitch the increase. (Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget director Jason Dilges can be seen in the background between Olson and Gosch.)

After considerable debate, proponents of increasing the Legislature’s budget $500,000 for more travel and staff brought up Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson and House Speaker Brian Gosch to pitch the increase. (Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget director Jason Dilges can be seen in the background between Olson and Gosch.)

'Building South Dakota' amended, near passage

A committee of legislative leaders unanimously approved a package of economic incentives Thursday, putting it very close to final passage.

The bill was amended to include a “trigger” protecting the general fund in the event education, health care and state employees don’t get their annual increases.

The “Building South Dakota” package includes incentives for large project and money sent into areas such as education, housing and infrastructure.

It now is before the House and Senate, which have to approve the amended version produced by the conference committee.

The House previously approved a different version of the bill, 56-13.

Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, predicted smooth sailing for the bill in the Senate. He said there are some objections for members about the complexity of the bill, but predicted there wouldn’t be any procedural attempts to split it into multiple smaller bills such as that attempted by Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, in the House.

When will we see the economic development bill?

After the jump is my story from today’s paper, summarizing the new economic development package unveiled by a bipartisan group of legislative leaders yesterday.

It was a tough story to write, because I had only descriptions (often vague) of the bill’s mechanics to go on.

That’s because the specific language of the bill hasn’t yet been released.

UPDATE: Now it has. Read the bill here.

The leaders promised it would be posted online at some point this weekend, though they didn’t say where that would be posted.

Hopefully that actually happens, so people can study the idea before the 7:45 a.m. hearing on Monday when it will be adopted.

From some of the language used Thursday, I gather the reason bill text wasn’t released immediately was they were still tweaking the proposal. 

"We’re on the verge of one of the more complex and bipartisan compromises I’ve seen put together in a long, long time,” Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton said. (Emphasis added.)

Once I see a final version I’ll post about it here.

Here’s my story:

Read More

Sen. Russell Olson, Rep. David Lust, Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, Sen. Jason Frerichs and Sen. Corey Brown, the top legislative leaders of both parties, introduce a new omnibus economic development package on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.

Sen. Russell Olson, Rep. David Lust, Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, Sen. Jason Frerichs and Sen. Corey Brown, the top legislative leaders of both parties, introduce a new omnibus economic development package on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.

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