On March 26, 2015, the Brown County Democrats held their monthly meeting at the Eagles club in Aberdeen. Sen Jason Frerichs (D, Dist 1), Rep Steven McCleerey (D, Dist 1), and Rep Dennis Feickert (D, Dist 1) were all guest speakers to give their perspective about how the SD 2015 legislative session went. In this post I’ll pull out some of the highlights of what they each had to say (and keep my editorial comments to a minimum)
Frerichs was the first legislator to speak. He opened up by noting that the Senate Democrat caucus actually gained one member in 2015. Along those lines he noted it would have been nice to keep Chuck Welke in the Senate, but he was defeated last fall by Sen Brock Greenfield (R, Dist 2). He noted that each additional person in the Senate gives the Democrat caucus a little more power, but they need to work on getting at least a third of the Senate to make any real headway. I would agree, in 2016 the Democrats should work hard on getting twelve seats in the Senate if they truly want to have any impact in Pierre.
When talking about this session, Frerichs noted a big theme of this session was that big issues were being avoided. The issues he brought up that were ignored this year include Medicaid Expansion, teacher pay, and teacher recruitment. He believes those issues were “brought up, and placed on top, and placed to the side. And that is unfortunate.”
When talking about the roads bill SB 1 Frerichs noted that the Governor wanted the roads bill and “wants it bad”. He noted the first time going through the Senate he voted no to SB1 quite easily because it really didn’t do much for local governments. Frerichs noted that the conference committee for the bill was one of the worst he has ever seen in Pierre (and I would agree). He noted the bill kept getting delayed during the conference committee process and that the House was holding it up. From his perspective it wasn’t even a Republican vs Democrat issue. It was purely the House trying to control the bill. On the Senate side he noted the Democrats were being lobbied hard to vote for SB1, because they were a couple of votes short in the Republican caucus. Frerichs said that was a good opportunity for the Democrats to push for more local money. The final bill he felt was more “leveled out” so he voted for it the second time. (My summary of what is in SB 1 can be read here).
Frerichs then went on to talk about the water management bills SB 2 and SB 3. Both of these are bills he worked hard on to get passed and will continue to work with going forward. SB 2 creates nine river basin natural resource districts. He also mentioned it creates a pilot project in his area of the state and has a legislative oversight taskforce. He believes there will be a lot of work implementing SB2. He noted that the districts will be a work in progress. When talking about the districts he doesn’t think they will solve all of the water problems; but he does think the program will get the state down the right path of managing the water in the river basins. He said “we shouldn’t just sit back and let mother nature rule us.” That was an interesting segway into his next point. He noted the legislature also passed legislation providing funding for the pine beetle situation west river (SB 152). He noted that west river is fighting to save their property and their economy from a mother nature problem. Further, he finished that thought by saying “This is our pine beetle problem of the east”.
McCleerey said if he had to sum up the session in one word it would be “frustrating”. He believes there is a lack of leadership “coming from the other side” and coming from the Governor’s office. He believes that is an unfortunate situation for the people of South Dakota. When talking about the youth minimum wage bill (SB 177) he felt the Governor should have used a veto. That seemed to tie into the lack of leadership points he made.
Briefly McCleerey mentioned something I have noted and plan to a post about in the future. He felt the time being put in while at Pierre is not sufficient. It was frustrating for him that session ended so early every day, and then on Friday they would be out of there at 1:30 pm.
McCleerey also took a few minutes to talk about the highway bill. He noted that when campaigning transportation funding was one of his top issues. But he was hesitant to vote for the bill because it was a such a “poor bill from the start”. The addition of the interstate top speed of 80 mph made the bill even worse for him. He did vote yes to the bill in the end.
Looking to the future McCleerey stated he believes the 2016 legislative session will be about Medicaid expansion and education funding. After that he believes the next two session will be about the Governors race. He doesn’t believe anything substantial will be done in 2017 and 2018 from his perspective. (I agree with him on these points, I would say the run for Governor in 2018 has already started, but that is a topic for a different post).
Talking about bills before the Health & Human Service’s committee, McCleerey mentioned HB 1080. HB 1080 allows investigational treatments to be used by patients under certain conditions. He was happy to the bill passed so it could help people out.
McCleerey was disappointed to see the tanning bed prohibition for minors (HB 1166) was not passed. He says cancer is increasing at an extreme rate. He says the bill was stopped by “small business libertarian types”. He felt it was almost embarrassing that the bill could not be passed, even though it had been amended many times to work out the differences. He felt it was wrong to choose between cancer and small businesses. Going further, he noted that a bill was passed to allow the use of a chemo therapy pill to treat cancer (SB 101) but the legislature couldn’t pass a bill to prevent cancer.
At the end of his time McCleerey noted the Republicans “are a split party”. He hopes the Democrats can capitalize on the split that is evident in the SD Republican party.
Feickert began by saying it was a disappointing how few bills the transportation committee actually took up this year. He noted that many of the bills that went before Transportation dealt more with updating the dates referenced in law. He was truly disappointed in SB 1 because there was discussion about where the road funding bill should go. Due to politics, he said that there was a push to get the transportation funding bill taken out of Transportation and put into State Affairs. The committee actually voted to keep the bill in Transportation. Then the next day it voted on the House floor to force the bill out of Transportation and into State Affairs. He said from that point on the massive transportation bill really didn’t have any involvement from the Transportation committee. (This is another issue that deserves a separate post, Feickert has a good point about the politics of this bill).
When going into specifics about SB 1, Feickert noted he was not happy with the tiered property tax portion of the bill. He said this new method of funding roads is “worse than an opt-out”. He believes the tiers are going to hurt big population counties. When it comes to property tax funding he felt the Governor’s original proposal was much better, but that was changed on the Senate floor.
Feickert also felt it was bad that the bill asking for a study on taxing agricultural land by its actual use was not passed (SB 4). He felt the study would have been able to show what the impact would be if a production-based property tax was implemented. Many opponents of the bill said it would negatively impact school funding. Feickert said the study should have been approved so it could be determined if that was true. Along the same lines he mention the bill that would have created a new leased residential property classification (SB 100). SB 100 was vetoed by the Governor. He feels the same arguments for SB 100 should have been used for SB 4. But at the same time he questioned whether landords would actually have passed savings on to renters if SB 100 had been implemented and a new lower tax levy was created for it.
Overall I would say all three legislators tried to make the case that it is hard to serve in a party that is in a super-minority. But all three noted that division within the Republican party does allow for them to have power at certain times. If they can get more numbers in the 2016 election it might open a new door for Democrats. (That is a BIG IF at this point).
On Tuesday, February 3rd, at 7:45 AM the SD House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee will take on 2 bills.
Rep Lee Qualm (R, Dist 21) and Sen Bill Van Gerpen (R, Dist 19) are the prime sponsors of this bill. This bill removes the language for “at any time upon request of any person” and keeps the “upon request by a conservation officer or other law enforcement officer”. That change makes sense to me. Why would the law need to allow anyone else to request to see a sportsman’s license? This section code has a Class 2 misdemeanor attached to it.
Rep Steven McCleerey (D, Dist 1) and Sen Betty Olson (R, Dist 28) are the prime sponsors of this bill. This is a change I wish would go further, but has failed in previous years. Currently a landowner can enter into an eternal conservation easement for a one-time sum of money. Such easements are such bad policy, especially with the government being one of the parties. Such an easement is saying that nobody in the future can best determine how to use land. This bill would limit such conservation easements in SD to 100 years (which is still a long time). This bill would only apply to new conservation easements, it would not retroactively change ones entered into already. I wonder if this will pass this year. I hope it does.
This will be the first in a series of thirty-five posts looking at the SD legislative races going into Election Day 2014. To start the series I will look at District 1. This district is a very blue district, no Republicans were even found to run for a legislative seat. The district includes Day, Marshall, and Roberts counties; plus a weird N-NW portion of Brown County. Actually if you know where Dennis Feickert lives you will notice how the 2010 redistricting happened to put him in District 1, where he used to be in District 3. Some have said the odd shape of District 1 in Brown county has more to do with putting him in that blue district as part of the redistricting game.
Back in May I looked at the Primary election in District 1. Since all legislative candidates in District 1 were Democrat, there will be no general election for the legislative races. Here is the current status of District 1 going into the 2015 Legislative Session:
District 1 State Senator: Jason Frerichs
Jason Frerichs is the current Democrat Minority Leader in the State Senate. He sailed through the Primary Election and now the General Election with no opposition. During the 2014 legislative session he seemed to do a pretty good job keeping focused on some standard Democrat stances such as Medicaid expansion. If I were a Democrat (which I’m not), I would say he is doing a pretty good job in Pierre.
This previous legislative session he was State Senate prime-sponsor for House Concurrent Resolution 1017 (HCR 1017). If passed, HCR 1017 would have urged Congress and various federal agencies to “recognize industrial hemp as a valuable agricultural commodity”. I’ve spoken with many farmers around the NE portion of the state that would love the option to include industrial hemp in their options of crops to produce. Hopefully Frerichs will try again in 2015, his being a farmer helps to reinforce that the agricultural industry would benefit from allowing the production of industrial hemp.
Really the only thing that outright annoys me about Frerichs is the fact he had no Primary or General Election opposition in 2014. And that isn’t his fault, there just wasn’t anyone in District 1 stepping up to oppose him.
District 1 State Representatives: Dennis Feickert & Steven McCleerey
The House seat did have a Primary Election. Feickert won his re-election easily with 1,638 votes. Sisseton area farmer Steven McCleerey easily won the second seat with 1,350 votes. The third person in the race, Dustina Gill, did a lot of work traveling the district trying to get votes. But from the feedback I’ve heard in the district, she just wasn’t that good at actually engaging people. If Gill runs again she might want to re-evaluate how she interacts with potential voters. A lot of interactions can backfire if not done properly.
One thing worth noting about District 1 is that all three legislators fall in the farm/ranch category. I don’t think the average farmer in District 1 can say they aren’t well represented in Pierre!
Yesterday I took a brief look at South Dakota legislative District 3, which I think will be pretty competitive this election season. Now it is time to look at legislative district 1; which will NOT be competitive at all. This district has no Republicans running, and no primary in the Senate race. There is a primary in the state House race because Rep Wismer threw her hat into the governors race.
Here is a list of the candidates running for office in District 3 and some brief comments I have on each of the candidates (if I even have any):
District 1 State Senator (1 Seat)
Jason Frerichs – Democrat – Frerichs is the incumbent Senator. He is also the only person running for state Senate in District 1. Watching him in Pierre this last session I can attest that has done his best try advancing Democrat Party causes. Hopefully that is what District 1 wants in their State senator, because that is what they are getting.
District 1 State Representative (2 Seats)
Dennis Feickert – Democrat – Feickert is the incumbent in the house race for district 1. Feickert has served three terms in Pierre already. The beginning of his tenure in Pierre was actually in district 3, before redistricting “moved” him to district 1. In 2012 he and Wismer ran with no primary or general election opposition. But, I think its pretty safe to assume that his incumbency advantage combined with his time as a brown county commissioner will help him keep his seat.
Steven McCleerey – Democrat – I really can’t say anything about this candidate. Candidates need to work harder to at least make sure they have a campaign Facebook page that can easily be found. About all I have found notable about McCleerey is that he was (is?) the Community Service Team Director for the Roberts County Thrivent Chapter.
Dustina Gill – Democrat – At least her I can find info on and know people that have met her. She is the legislative aide for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. Actually this excerpt from a Native News online article makes her sound like a good candidate to me:
Gill said if elected she plans to focus on the various issues of agriculture, health care and roads funding, but also to ensure educational funding remains a top priority. She further explained, although these are state-wide issues, they do a disservice when applied in the one size fits all approach to each area of the state. Each area is unique in its needs and resources and should be considered accordingly.
I love it when a candidate (of any party) realizes that one size fits all solutions do not work. She also has gone about this race in a smart way. For the last eight years she has been working towards a house race.
Looking at her Facebook campaign site (hers was easy to find) it appears she has been traveling the district and working hard to earn the vote. I see a few stances I would disagree with on her page, but definitely admire her commitment to actually serving District 1.
Gill may be one to watch out for in this race, and in Pierre if she makes it there.
Early Thoughts – Right now I give the biggest advantage to Gill. She seems to be working hard at getting elected in District 1 and will be tough to beat. The other seat should easily go to Feickert. He has the incumbency advantage. At this time I simply don’t know enough about McCleerey to know if he is even a factor in this race.