- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

Aberdeen American News, Aberdeen, March 20, 2016

Thune, Rounds wrong on Obama SCOTUS nomination

South Dakota’s two U.S. senators last week announced they were taking a break from their jobs.

Sen. John Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds said they will be among Senate Republicans who will not give a hearing to President Barack Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland.

Thune and Rounds are in lockstep with their GOP colleagues in denying an up or down vote on Garland’s merits. It’s a bit of political posturing that insults the people who put them in office.

“For the last seven years, President Obama has attempted to circumvent Congress and the will of the American people with unconstitutional, overreaching regulations. The Senate Republican majority was elected to be a check and balance to President Obama,” Thune said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“The American people deserve to have their voices heard on the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice, who could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation. Since the next presidential election is already underway, the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Thune is wrong. So is Rounds, who echoed these words.

Obama’s nomination of Garland is not unconstitutional. In fact, the U.S. Constitution plainly says the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint” judges of the Supreme Court.

The insinuation that the American people did not have a voice in this process is silly.

Obama has been elected twice to the presidency by wide margins. Those terms are for four years each. His second term doesn’t end until Jan. 20, 2017 - 306 days from today.

Obama - or any president - is expected to fulfill their term.

For instance: If, God forbid, the U.S. found itself in a position to go to war today, the president would have to make hard, long-lasting decisions. That’s not a can that can be kicked down the road.

Neither is a nomination to the highest court in the land.

In seven years, Obama has had the opportunity to make two appointments to the court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

He might have had no opportunities over his two terms. He might have had nine.

It is impossible to know, with the justices’ lifetime appointments giving no inkling of duration.

In Obama’s case, he has been put in a position to nominate three justices.

To be fair, it is an election year, and both parties are jockeying for position. Democrats, in years past, have made the same argument about Republican nominations to the Supreme Court during election years. The Dems were wrong then, just as Republicans are now.

The American people expect better.

And we expect better of Thune and Rounds. They were sent to Washington, D.C., to make the hard decisions, not to run from them.

They also were elected to work until their last day in office. They don’t get a bye in an election year to do nothing because “South Dakotans deserve to have their voices heard” first.

That’s not how it works.

That’s why there is a deadline: Obama leaves the presidency on Jan. 20, and the president-elect assumes the office on Jan. 21.

Ultimately, the joke may be on the GOP. Can Thune and Rounds imagine a scenario where, come January, a President Hillary Clinton nominates to the Supreme Court the most-vetted human on the planet, the former lawyer Barack Obama?


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, March 23, 2016

Age is more than a number in politics

The grumblings are getting louder.

It’s a presidential election year, and the coverage of debates, primaries and the “he-said, she-said” is already getting exhausting.

With two high-profile candidates in Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and nominee Hillary Clinton, who’s leading the Democratic field, it feels like each major TV network has daily coverage of the banter, blaming and name-calling.

It surely feels revved up even more this go-round, so we’ve got a long seven-plus months to go before a new president is chosen.

Hard to believe anyone would want to get into politics these days, right?

Well, last week we heard some refreshing news that a student at South Dakota State University who is graduating this year plans to run for the Legislature.

Caleb Finck, 23, announced his intention to run for District 19’s state senator spot, and while we know little to nothing about his policy opinions, we commend him for considering politics at such a young age.

As representatives of their local constituents, legislators have an important duty to uphold by making and amending our state’s laws. As with any Congress, there should be a variety of lawmakers - young, middle-aged and older - to determine what’s best for the overall body of the people. (Aside from age, there should be a variety of legislators represented by political party, sex and race to keep a fair, balanced Congress.)

During this year’s session, there were 13 legislators between the ages of 24 and 35. The largest age demographic make-up for South Dakota was between 55 and 65, at 33 legislators, or about one-third of the group. Another 30 percent of the legislators were 66 years or older.

Based off the numbers, South Dakota needs more young people to get involved in politics and grow an interest in becoming politicians.

Young people can bring in fresh, new ideas, and they have a different perspective.

To be clear, we’re not endorsing Finck - a Tripp resident - to become District 19’s senator. People should vote for candidates based off their political agendas and ideas.

We just think it’s pretty awesome to see someone so interested in politics at such a young age.

Others should take note.


Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, March 19, 2016

Raising teacher pay must ignite grand debate

Life would be easy if money solved all of our problems.

That’s not reality in life, and it’s not true of statewide education policy.

The technical aspects of how South Dakota will spend more than $60 million of new sales tax money are just beginning to emerge. The raging debate in the Legislature was only to decide whether to spend the money and under what parameters. The nuts and bolts of the plan will play out in as many ways as there are school districts.

It certainly was the right thing to do.

It most certainly is only the beginning.

We started the year under the assumption that we have a teacher salary problem. At just a little over $40,000 a year, our teachers made more than $8,000 on average less than our physical and fiscal neighbor North Dakota.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to raise the sales tax by one-half cent to pay for the salary bump will merely put us even - for the moment - with the next-to-worst paid teachers in the country.

That’s not going to mean more college students flocking to the teacher education programs. New grads can still make more money in other careers.

It’s not going to mean teachers in Fergus Falls or Fremont or Le Mars are looking across the border for a new job. We’re still not at the same level of pay as Minnesota, Nebraska or Iowa.

It doesn’t mean the quality of the education for the average South Dakota kid is going to go up. Money is no guarantee of quality and that was never the promise.

An evaluation of the quality of education is another discussion entirely.

Gov. Daugaard - in an interview with several Argus Leader Media reporters and editors earlier this year - said one of the factors in his conversion on the teacher pay issue was data indicating that our test scores were slipping in relation to other states.

Standardized testing is not the only, or the necessarily the best, indicator of the quality of education a state or district is delivering. But it’s one, and about the best we got.

The “Great Teacher Raise of 2016” isn’t going to make test scores go up. There’s a much deeper, persistent and troubling trend at work in our schools.

Quite simply: We’ve quit caring about quality.

That’s not to say that individual parents don’t care about the instruction for their children. In most cases they do.

What’s at work here is a broader malaise in which the collective no longer feels it has a stake in the intellectual development of all the children. It’s perhaps a symptom of the South Dakota notion of individualism. Or even more broadly, a national selfishness emerging from the mutation of exceptionalism.

South Dakota is too small, too isolated to believe that it can survive, let alone excel, without a deep value placed on maintaining a quality public school system.

People will not move here, they will not stay here, they will not return here without good schools.

South Dakota is a self-made place, where people believe first and foremost in the idea that we solve our own problems, that we make our own way. Much of that is myth, of course. But if that ethos has any traction in our communities today it must also apply to education.

That means we have to grow our own teachers who will produce the skilled workers and researchers that will drive our economy for the next several decades. We must hold our schools to a high standard, reward excellence and encourage innovation. The teachers themselves must lift up their own profession and embrace more rigorous evaluation of methods and personnel.

That’s going to take money, but more importantly it demands a change in focus and rhetoric.

As South Dakotans, we must end the demonization of teachers. We must hold dear the fundamental truth that the underpinning of a free society is an educated electorate. We absolutely must believe that our investment today will be returned tenfold.

These are grand and great ideas that start with small but significant actions.

A half-penny sales tax increase could be just that.

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