Monday, February 24, 2014

Republicans Struggle With Math and Social Justice

The Democrats in Pierre tried once again to do the fiscally and morally sound act of expanding Medicaid in South Dakota.  Even though the Republicans brought back an anti-Common Core bill, they decided to reject another attempt to expand Medicaid for 48,000 South Dakota citizens.  District 4 Representative Kathy Tyler sums it up best on her Facebook page:
The House Republicans minus one brave soul just killed Medicaid Expansion in South Dakota. Instead they want a bill that costs $14,000,000 per year and covers 4000 people who work, instead of $1.9 million to cover 48,000. Which investment would you choose?
It turns out that two Republicans actually supported the amendment:  Representatives Dean Wink and Kyle Schoenfish.  Not only did the GOP work to deny expansion of healthcare for 48,000, they couldn't find the will to expand it to 4,000.  The Munsterman bill went down in flames:
But with Gov. Dennis Daugaard opposed to creating a state-run health program alongside Medicaid, more than half of lawmakers voted Munsterman’s bill down. Only 24 legislators voted for the program, while 45 voted no. It needed 47 yes votes to pass.
So much for any real courage from the GOP. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

South Dakota Economy in Trouble According to Ernie Otten

Mr. Ernie Otten tried explaining why we simply can't help schools get more teachers to help our students: He pointed out that our economy is in trouble.  Revenue from lottery is down and it seems that a lot of other issues abound that will be the excuse for preventing sensible investment on education and the health of our state.  He pointed out that our economy is almost to the point of stagflation.  

Stagflation is defined as "persistent high inflation combined with high unemployment and stagnant demand in a country’s economy" according to Oxford Dictionaries.  I am not so sure about stagflation, but Ernie Otten's point was that the South Dakota's economy is in serious trouble.  An interesting way to justify not increasing funding for education and Medicare, since his party has had an iron grip on the economy and have been bragging about the amazing job they did in getting through the recession.  I mean Daugaard said so in the State of the State:

Daugaard mentioned in his speech that South Dakota's economy is booming. The state has 10,000 more jobs than it did before the recession.   
Daugaard proposed some new efforts to train people for jobs critical to South Dakota's economic development. 
He also touched on South Dakota's improving economy and on how the average income in the state is now among the highest in the nation.  
So what is it: Growth and plenty of money to invest and get education back after Daugaard gutted it or stagflation and approaching doom as suggested by Ernie Otten.  Funding in education is an investment that would help avoid the stagflation suggested by Ernie Otten.  Funding education would mean that schools could hire more teachers and begin to lower teacher-pupil ratios which has been proven to improve educational outcomes.  We need to get to the 3.8% as pointed out in the Argus Leader:
But adminstrators say they need 3.8 percent to begin reversing cutbacks they made after their budgets were slashed in 2011. 
“Three percent keeps us going. Teachers would get minimal increases in salary,” said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “But it really doesn’t help restore what we had to cut.”
It is time for education to become the priority and not excuses as to why it can't be funded at a level that shows South Dakota has at least a little respect for education in our state. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SB 128 Dies in Committee, but Don't Forget About It

The newest anti-gay person bill has died in committee.  The bill would have forced judges to dismiss any lawsuit against a business that openly discriminates against a person based on their sexuality and ignore any federal protections for people of the LGBT community.  The bill SB 128 failed on a 5-2 vote that sent it to the 41st legislative day.  

There were several reasons reject the bill.  One included the poor way that the bill was written, and the fact the main sponsor of the bill, Phil Jensen, does not have a simple understanding of government.  Tony Barnett, executive director of the South Dakota State Bar explains:

He said he finds two parts of the bill to be unconstitutional: one directing a judge to dismiss such lawsuits and another that declares any federal recognition of sexual orientation as a protected class would not apply in South Dakota. 
Federal law takes precedence over state law, Barnett said.
The most important reason to reject the law is that it is discriminatory and encourages people to fear those of the LGBT community.  That is the question that was asked by one Senator:

Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, a member of the committee, said the measure and similar ones introduced during this year's legislative session seem to be focused on trying to divide society.
"Because what? We fear them? We fear what it's going to lead to?" Hunhoff said. "I have a difficult time as a faith-based person that I'm supposed to be afraid of these people."
The answer to that question is simply yes.  To many in the right-wing of the GOP fear something that is different.  It is true of people of different sexual preferences, just as it was (and is) true of people of different skin color or religion.

The next question needs to be what should done about people that support fear based legislation like this and Ernie Otten's SB 67?  People, Democrat or Republican, need to stand up to these tactics and remind voters that legislation like this is harmful.  It is harmful to businesses, it is harmful to the image of South Dakota, and most importantly, it is harmful to human dignity.  These votes must become an issue during primaries or the general election in November.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

It Is Okay for Conservatives to Stand Against SB 128

SB 128 is schedule for a hearing tomorrow in Pierre.  I am sure that several conservative members are willing to support this bill on the grounds that they are "protecting" businesses, but in Kansas the state Senate is rejecting a very similar bill.  The reason why this anti-gay bill failed?  Is it because that conservative's realized that legalized discrimination is wrong?  Is it because several Senator's children came out and announced that they are gay and this bill would hurt their chances of happiness?  Nope.  It is because the business community told them not to do it.  As reported on MSNBC
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill. So did the Wichita Independent Business Association. And Kansas City Power and Light. And AT&T Kansas.
By Friday, Wagle, the state Senate president, conceded the bill “negatively impacts both small and large businesses.” And at that point, support among skeptical lawmakers simply collapsed.  
So SD Senators, if you can't support basic human rights at least support businesses.  I hope to see SB 128 go down in flames on Tuesday. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Did Ernie Otten just blame Mike Rounds for All the Budget Woes?

One of the more interesting things that came out of the legislative coffee in Lennox with Representative Herman Otten and Senator Ernie Otten (since Representative Isaac Latterrel was a no show) was a comment about why we need to be really tight with the purse strings and why we had to do so much cutting after Rounds left.  The reason in part offered by Ernie Otten; because "the previous administration ran budget increases of 6%"  before Daugaard stepped in.   This prompted one member in the audience to say, "So Mike Rounds is to blame for the budget mess." So are you saying there are better alternatives to Mike Rounds' approach out there?" (Thanks Richard for the correction!) 

This brought some uncomfortable chuckles, and Herman Otten offered a half-hearted defense of the former Governor along the lines that he has been asked that question and he simply can't say why Rounds made the choices he did.  He wasn't there when certain economic forecasts were given and no one could have expected the recession that hit America and the length of it.  Ernie Otten did not come out and specifically attack Mr. Rounds, but I think it would be safe to say that he did not think highly of the choices made by the former Governor.  Certainly neither Otten gave a ringing endorsement of candidate Mike Rounds's ability to handle the state's finances.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Increasing Education Funding Is Not Throwing Money at a Problem

Today at the legislative coffee with District 6 Senator Ernie Otten and Representative Herman Otten, I asked Senator Otten about his vote against his vote against HCR 1002 (which passed the House on a vote of 49-18).  When you read the whereas statements you see facts about the difficulties in finding and maintaining teachers in part to the low wages offered by the state.  The facts of the teacher shortage are not in dispute (although some argue it is not because we rank 51st in the nation).  The (non-binding) resolution ends with the following resolved statements:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty-Ninth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the South Dakota Legislature recognizes that teachers are in short supply in this state, and that school districts of all sizes are now struggling to retain qualified teachers and to fill teacher vacancies;and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Legislature joins school officials in acknowledging that teachers are a highly valued resource in this state, and in exploring tuition reimbursement programs and other programs or policies that could help attract more good people into the teaching profession in South Dakota, and to keep the good teachers that are already here. 
I had brought the question up to Mr. Otten once before and the answer did leave me a bit confused.  His response is that local schools set the wages, but if the schools are limited in their funding from the state (property taxes can not be used to pay salaries) and that funding is zero or one percent, how can schools increase salaries?  This logic baffles me, and I wish I would have brought it up in that way, but I did not want to enter a full-blown debate over one issue.  He said that he just didn't want to get forced into having to spend more tax-payer money or raise taxes to pay for it if he signed on; however, no where in the resolution does it say that we must increase taxes.  The real reason came about later in discussion about other educational issues.  

The comment made by Herman Otten (in an unrelated topic of Teach for America and the increased funding for students out west and on the Reservation lands.) was "throwing money at the problem is not a solution."  Ernie Otten in essence said the same about increasing education funding.  He stated that if education gets 3% this year, they will want 3% next year.  "Education will always want more money."  When your teachers are paid 51st in the nation because the state has avoided making it a priority for decades, then yes, it will be about the money for a long time.

He also stated that it may have been a better political move to vote yes on the bill, but he just didn't want to get boxed in on the position.  Recognizing that "teachers are a highly valued resource in this state" should not be about fears of getting boxed in on spending money, it is a simple show of respect.  The same level of recognizing Tea basketball for winning their regions or the excellent work of a young music educator in your district.  Making funding of education a priority in South Dakota is not "throwing money at a problem." It is acknowledging the importance of education and getting it to a base level to maintain a system that is desired because if you don't, you may end up wondering how will our children get effective education when there is no one left to teach them.

Quick Comments From District 6 Coffee in Lennox

I am just getting back from the District 6 Coffee that was held in Lennox.  I would like to offer a few quick reflections.

First, I have mistakenly stated that Herman Otten and Ernie Otten were brothers.  I hang my head in shame for being so wrong.  I don't know if someone said that they were brothers or that I created the information in my head, but Herman and Ernie Otten are actually cousins.  That was an embarrassing mistake that I made and I need to do better at double checking my statements.

Second, where in the world was Isaac Latterell?  He was a no show at the talk in Lennox and it appears no one has any idea why.  I don't know if he made the one in Harrisburg, but I got the feeling he did not.

Third, I appreciate both Ottens (cousins, not brothers) for being there.  The talk lasted over an hour and half, and they listened and were attentive to the small audience's questions.

Fourth, I am getting more and more concerned about the state of funding for education.  It sounds like a 3% increase has support and both Ernie Otten and Herman Otten said that they support the increase of 3% or more if the money is there, but then they started talking about how the money might not be there.  That seems to be a normal song and dance of "we want to support education" and then it disappears until the Governor announces another 30 million to add to the state reserves that comes out of Pierre.  

Finally, a lot of issues were discussed ranging from meandering waters, school boundaries, education funding, medicaid expansion, net metering, and SDHSAA to name a few.  Both Ottens (Ernie and his cousin Herman) were very informative on the issues and in my opinion did not get sidetracked with speeches about political philosophy or other side tangents.  The Federal government did get brought up from time to time, but that was to be expected in our neck of the woods.

PS. Where was Isaac Latterell?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Coffee with District 6 Representatives and Senator

District 6 Representatives Isaac Latterell and Herman Otten with Senator Ernie Otten will be holding a legislative coffee talk in Lennox at the Pizza Ranch starting at 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, February 15.  The Pizza Ranch will even give you a discount on their lunch buffet.  

I am looking forward to this one since I should be able to attend.  I will be asking Mr. Ernie Otten and Mr. Latterell why they voted to not support the resolution declaring that there is a teacher shortage in South Dakota and the legislature should consider some possible steps to help deal with the problem.  

I also want to get their take on where they sit for increased funding for education.  Ernie Otten has declared that he supports the Governor's proposal of 3%.  His brother Herman Otten was very clear during the debates in 2012 that he believes that education should be funded at the levels before the Governor took a hatchet to the education budget in 2010.  That would mean going above 
the purposed 3%.

If you are in Lennox Saturday around 1:30, come down to the Pizza Ranch.  For those that are in Harrisburg, you can go to the Legion Hall at 9:30 on Saturday.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Isaac Latterell and Lederman Playing Fire With the Constitution

Despite the idea that Mr. Latterell thinks he can teach about government, it appears he could use a lesson in the Constitution.  Latterell and Lederman have introduced a resolution to call for a Convention of States.  A similar call was done in Virginia and was soundly rejected on a vote of 67-29.  There were several reasons given for voting against a measure like this. 
But Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County, said on the House floor that he was concerned with the idea of a convention because the Founding Fathers “did not spell out specific rules” for such a gathering. 
“This is something very fundamental that may alter the structure of government,” Marshall said. “There is no clear understanding how this would proceed and I urge a no-vote on that.”
Even the John Birch Society has come out against such an action like the Convention of States.
The John Birch Society, which has repeatedly warned of using Article 5 to propose constitutional amendments, applauded the resolution’s defeat in the House. 
“A lot of educational effort is going into both sides of this issue; however, since an Article 5 convention process would be unlimited, the outcome of such a convention could be detrimental not only to the Constitution, but to the security and happiness of this and future generations of Americans,” said Bill Hahn, the group’s spokesman. 
In fact "Left-wing, radical" places like Renew America have explain that this Convention of States is a smoke screen to reject the Constitution.  One member on the website, Publius Huldah writes about the Convention of States idea:
But the "convention of states" conspirators [3] say the only solution is a convention to "propose amendments" to the Constitution. They tell lies about nullification – the one remedy our Framers actually advised when the feds usurp powers. They say our Constitution is the problem. They say it contains "loopholes and vague phraseology" which politicians exploit. They suggest the States are victims of federal tyranny; are the ones to "fix" our Constitution; and that the States call and control the convention. They say it is impossible for the convention to force a new Constitution down our throats. But I submit that is precisely what they intend to do.
Phyllis Schlafly writes about the call for a Convention of States
The whole process is a prescription for political chaos, controversy and confrontation. Alas, I don’t see any George Washingtons, James Madisons, Ben Franklins or Alexander Hamiltons around today who could do as good a job as the Founding Fathers, and I’m worried about the men who think they can.
Mr. Latterell states his reasoning for his support
One of the reasons this is gaining so much momentum here, says Rep. Latterell, is that South Dakotans have a strong belief in local control: “South Dakotans are passionate about self-governance, but are growing increasingly concerned that the federal government’s continued overreach and insolvency are erasing our children’s hope for a bright future. Using Article V, we will put the federal government back in its proper place, so we can focus on living our lives the South Dakota way.”
My suggestion to Mr. Latterell is to start focusing on the needs of his District and putting forward legislation that will not damage the state and possibly the nation. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mr. Otten, God Did Not Give You The Right to Discriminate.

Ernie Otten came out swinging against Rep. Anne Hajek on his Facebook account because she had the audacity to call SB 128 what it is; bigotry and just plain sad.  He spouts off about radical lefties and judges that must want to turn him gay. 
Greg, thank you for your courageous letter. The Representative's comments at Saturday's Legislative Coffee were unwarranted and irresponsible to SD voters. I’m willing to give her a pass that she’s simply ignorant of the facts as to what is happening by radical extremists & activist judges in other parts of the country. I don’t believe anyone other than an radical extremist would want a South Dakota individual or business financially ruined because of their deeply and sincerely held Christian beliefs.
 A pass because she is ignorant?  That seems a bit condescending.  He then drops this tripe:
Yes, all of us have friends or family who are self-defined as part of the GLBT community. We love them. We’ve also heard from them – and they, too, want to live in peace without the interference of those extreme radical activists coming into SD. Who we are as a community is why they choose to live here and not California or New York.
What I particularly like is the phase "who are self-defined as part of the GLBT community."  It is clear that Mr. Otten believes that people who are gay have chosen that lifestyle in the same way he has chosen to be a self-described member of the Tea Party.  It is that simple to him. 

The part that irritates me the most is invocation of God, Almighty to his cause.  I see no where in the Bible where it allows and encourages people to reject others for their differences.  I am not a theologian and do not have an MDiv degree (That is my wife who does, and she unaware of this idea of mixing commerce and religion and bigotry in the Bible: especially in words spoken by Jesus.)
There are already other lawsuits on the books as well, so we need to be proactive in keeping our God-given religious liberties here in South Dakota.
If that is the case, would Mr. Otten encourage businesses not to allow service to people of a different race?  Would he suggest that businesses have a right not to serve women?  These have all occurred in the past
Refusal to serve — and using religion to discriminate — isn’t new. In the mid-1960s, Lester Maddox claimed biblical justification for his refusal to serve blacks at his Atlanta restaurant, which he famously defended with ax handles in his campaign to become Georgia’s governor. Throughout the 19th century, women were refused entry to taverns, professions, and, really, to anything a proprietor decided to exclude them from. The second-class status of women was often, if not always, justified by biblical text.
This idea is continued on the website Faithstreet by Nancy Kaufman when she closes her article saying:
We can’t relegate same-sex couples to second-class treatment in the public square. If the refusal doctrine gains more headway, the hard-won progress that enables LGBT Americans to live free of legally sanctioned prejudice will also be short-lived. Without vigilance, the many jurisdictions that have outlawed discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation will see those laws rendered toothless. 
The idea that service could be denied based on religious conviction didn’t survive the civil rights revolution and should not be revived now. 
I leave Mr. Otten with this verse from 1 Coronations 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
My God-given right is not refusing service.  My God-given right is not to sit in judgement upon others that would walk into my place of business.  My God-given right is simply to LOVE A PERSON and that includes self-proclaimed Tea Party members. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Coming Out Against SB 128? Not Likely for District 6 Representatives.

The Senate continues to show their close-minded and bigoted beliefs with bills like SB 128.  In fact as Cory Heidelberger reports that Republican lawmakers like Representative Ann Hajek from Sioux Falls and Senator Reid Holien from Watertown are apologizing for their parties actions.  Can we expect the same from the District 6 Senator and Representatives?  I doubt it.  Isaac Latterell has been quite about these issues on his update blog.  So far he and Herman Otten have not had the opportunity to vote on any of the discrimination bills coming out of the Senate.  Ernie Otten has been clear that he supports protecting people from the evils of same-sex advocates.  When discussing his support to Senate Bill 66 and 67, Ernie Otten responds to an upset individual with this statement, 
You are okay with the extremist radical activists & Progressive activist judges in other states punishing those Christians who hold a deeply-held Biblical belief, thereby forcing them into financial ruin rather than allowing them to live in peace with their moral convictions. It’s become a way for the extremists on the left to push their radical agenda of intolerance of someone else's conscience.
It is clear that extremists on the right like Ernie Otten are willing to push their intolerance on someone else's conscience.  I am pretty sure that is what he was trying to say.  

As one individual asked Mr. Otten, who has now refrained from making any other comments,  
Mr. Otten you write about, "radical activists & Progressive activist judges in other states punishing those Christians who hold a deeply-held Biblical belief, thereby forcing them into financial ruin rather than allowing them to live in peace with their moral convictions." Please in all honestly cite a case where this has occurred, the reasoning behind it, and how supporting the persecution of homosexuals who now wish to live in peace free of state action condoning discrimination is any different than these Christians you claim to protect. And what about those individuals who use "religious preferences" to also discriminate against people for racial or gender reasons. Or do they also get to hide behind their religion and "live in peace"?

Unfortunately it seems that facts simply do not matter to these Republicans.  They have proven it over and over on several different issues.