There was some tumult in Aberdeen today, as the local offices of South Dakota’s congressional delegation all received suspicious packages.
Hazmat teams were called in as the buildings were evacuated.
Late this afternoon, word came that at least two of those suspicious packages contained not ricin or anthrax but tea bags — a harmless, if politically symbolic item.
Read the full story here. It’s unclear who sent the packages, and indeed if we’ll ever know — the investigation could stop here or continue.
Matt Varilek, the Tim Johnson aide who ran for Congress in 2012, has been appointed to a post with the federal Small Business Administration.
Varilek will be the regional administration for SBA’s Region 8 — a six-state region including South Dakota. It’s one of 10 regions for the federal agency.
As a Johnson aide, Varilek focused on economic development.
He resigned from Johnson’s staff in late 2011 to challenge Rep. Kristi Noem for Congress, and handily won the Democratic primary against Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth. But Noem beat him handily, 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent.
Johnson announced Varilek’s appointment in a news release and praised his “private sector experience and strong roots in the region.”
When I initially reported on campaign fundraising a few weeks ago, finance reports for Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune were not available, due to some antiquated Senate rules that involve senators filing their reports on paper.
Now, finally, those reports are online.
Johnson’s fundraising report doesn’t materially change my initial reporting about how much money the retiring Democrat has remaining. At the time, he had $1.235 million in the bank. In the first quarter of the year, Johnson raised $95,000 and spent $55,000; he now has $1.275 million.
The $95,000 Johnson raised was the lowest of the four fundraising South Dakota politicians — the three members of Congress and Mike Rounds. It was also Johnson’s lowest quarter since early 2011, when he took in just $22,000. But that’s not surprising — Johnson’s chief of staff told me the senator stopped raising money after his retirement announcement.
Thune, meanwhile, led the pack with a comfortable $292,000 — ahead of Noem’s $269,000 and Rounds’ $183,000.
In fact, John Thune has so much money in the bank — $8.5 million — that he made a cool $60,000 from interest alone this quarter. By way of comparison, in six separate quarters since his reelection in 2008, Johnson raised less than $60,000 combined.
A Piedmont man is facing charges for allegedly threatening Sen. Tim Johnson.
According to the FBI, Jonathan Constantine wrote on the senator’s Facebook page:
“I’m giving you a last warning tim. Stop supporting gun control. It will be the last thing you ever do. If you want to end up dead somewhere just keep supporting it.”
He’s also accused of showing up at Johnson’s Rapid City office and yelling at staffers. According to the affidavit, Constantine declined an interview with the FBI but told them the post “was not intended to be a threat.”
On Saturday the FBI arrested Constantine, and charged him with “using interstate communications to make a threat to injure.”
Read the story from Josh Verges here.
Johnson voted for expanded background checks and limits on magazine size in recent Senate votes, but voted against a ban on assault weapons.
Democrats had a split focus at their state party dinner Saturday night — celebrating the past service of retiring Sen. Tim Johnson and the recently deceased George McGovern, and hope for the upcoming 2014 elections.
The annual McGovern Day Dinner in Sioux Falls included a video tribute to McGovern, the former senator and presidential candidate and namesake of the dinner who died last October. Party chair Ben Nesselhuf termed him the “founder of our party” for his work rebuilding an almost non-existent Democratic Party in the 1950s, while Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether discussed lessons he had learned from McGovern.
There was also a valedictory speech from Johnson, who announced his retirement from the Senate last month. Johnson shied away from politics but thanked his friends and supporters in the audience.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making us feel like the luckiest people in America,” Johnson said.
Other speakers focused on the politics. In an unscheduled speech, Democratic strategist Steve Jarding gave a fiery speech blasting Gov. Dennis Daugaard and other state Republican leaders for their policies with regard to education, economic development and the environment.
“Let’s take this thing back, let’s win the governor’s race next year, and let’s make South Dakota strong again,” said Jarding.
With the party looking to defend Johnson’s U.S. Senate seat, the dinner’s keynote speaker was a senator many South Dakota Democrats hope to emulate — Heidi Heitkamp, who won an upset victory in North Dakota last year.
Heitkamp told attendees that a combination of hard work and passion was the key to winning in a Republican state.
“No stone was left unturned, because we knew it was going to be that close,” she said.
So far Democrats have no announced candidates for Senate, governor or U.S. House in 2014, though several names are rumored and Heitkamp told the crowd “you know who they are.”
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, a rumored Senate candidate, was not present. Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin introduced Heitkamp, but didn’t discuss the 2014 race in her remarks.
On Monday, my story about Sen. Tim Johnson’s remaining campaign war chest ran, listing the various things he could do with his money.
In listing the various ways federal law lets him make unlimited transfers of much or all of his $1.2 million-plus, I overlooked one very important option for Johnson: he can give the donations back to the donors.
Generally politicians will honor requests to have their donations returned; I’m not aware if they’re under an obligation to do so. I would be surprised if Johnson gave a large portion of his money back unsolicited, but he certainly could.
Republicans have made it clear for some time that if U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson runs for Senate, one of their lines of attack on him will be nepotism — attacking him for trying to succeed his father Tim Johnson in the Senate.
Now, as speculation mounts about if and when Johnson will declare his candidacy, a group of Republican state legislators are reviving some 2009 accusations concerning Johnson’s ties to his father.
State Sen. Dan Lederman and 9 other lawmakers have sent an official letter to the Senate ethics committee, requesting an investigation into possible impropriety collected to Johnson’s 2009 nomination as U.S. Attorney.
The letter rehashes accusations made at the time, that Tim Johnson had improperly influenced the nomination and confirmation of his son. Tim Johnson has denied the claims.
Lederman denied that the letter had anything to do with the rumors that Johnson will run for Senate, but the letter does return the issue to the public eye as political watchers wait to see what Johnson will do.
“This is about getting the right answers, and having the people in charge of this to do their job,” Lederman said.
Lederman’s letter says “recent news reports” suggested the impropriety. The only example he cited in the letter and in an interview was a Politico story about Republican plans to attack Johnson on the nepotism charge, which briefly revisited the 2009 incident.
There are no accusations of wrongdoing more recent than 2009 in the letter.
Read his letter here.
(h/t South Dakota War College)
My story in this morning’s paper looks at the possible uses Sen. Tim Johnson can put his more than $1.2 million in remaining campaign funds to.
Among the options:
- the South Dakota Democratic Party
- the national Democratic Party
- a Super PAC or “527” group
- small donations to candidates
Read it here.