- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

Capital Journal, Pierre, Oct. 14, 2016

Get informed about the 10 questions on this year’s ballot

It’s going to be a long Election Day in South Dakota Nov. 8.

Along with the usual suspects on our ballots, the presidential candidates, the candidates for senator and representative both state and federal there will be a total of 10 ballot questions.

Our state constitution allows we the people to make our own laws, amend our constitution or veto laws passed by the legislature if we so choose. It’s called direct democracy and it can be a powerful tool for change.

Direct democracy can also be misused. After all we elect a state legislature for a reason. They’re supposed to be the ones who do the research, dig through the minutiae of policy and try to figure out what, if any, the unintended consequences of the laws they propose and pass will be. It’s what we pay them for.

Evidently there are a lot of folks out there who feel the legislature isn’t doing its job. To be fair this attitude is not without reason. We, the voters of South Dakota, have been asked to do the legislature’s job instead. And that means we’ve got to do our own research and our own soul searching before we can in good conscience vote for any of the 10 ballot questions.

In this election it is more important than ever to inform yourself about what’s on the ballot. Five of the ballot questions will amend the state’s constitution, permanently altering how state government functions.

One question, Amendment U, could prevent state lawmakers from ever regulating the payday loan industry. Another question, Amendment V, would do away with most partisan elections in the state. Gone would be the “R” and “D” from behind all but candidates for U.S. President.

Both questions represent profound changes for the state. It behooves everyone going to the polls on Tuesday, November 8 to be as informed about the risks and rewards inherent in each of the 10 questions we’ve been asked to answer.

We haven’t yet taken formal positions on any of the ballot questions. If and when we do, we’ll tell you why made our decisions. Until then we encourage each of you to take a look at the ballot questions yourselves and make a decision for yourself.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Oct. 27, 2016

Strengthen conflict of interest law

Election, campaign and state government reform are hot topics this year in South Dakota.

Two of 10 ballot measures seek to make significant changes in the way elections are conducted, a third establishes a nonpartisan redistricting commission, and a fourth seeks to overturn a new state law that prevents registered Democrats and Republicans from signing an independent candidate’s petition to run for office.

At the same time, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs has asked the Board of Elections to consider recommending to the Legislature as many as 25 changes to the ballot-measure process that more citizens and others are utilizing as a way to let the public decide on issues they believe lawmakers are neglecting.

Lawmakers themselves have taken steps to address concerns by passing a conflict-of-interest law in the last session that arose after extensive media coverage of the EB-5 and Gear-Up scandals that raised questions about executive-branch accountability and played a role in two suicides and a mass murder.

Now, Attorney General Marty Jackley is asking state lawmakers to put real teeth in this new law as the public waits to see if state government is serious about policing those who oversee state contracts and public funds.

In a letter to legislators, the attorney general asks that any direct conflicts of interest and reports of theft and fraud be reported to his office. Now, they can be reported to either the office of auditor general, who is employed by the Legislature, or the attorney general.

Jackley also asked that serious violations be treated as felonies that could lead to prison sentences rather than misdemeanor crimes where it is presumed the punishment is probation.

As state law now stands, it appears that lawmakers and state officials are above the law the rest of us are required to follow. It seems unfathomable that if a state employee or lawmaker is suspected of theft or fraud it is not reported to law enforcement but rather to an office that reports to the Legislature.

Also, state officials and lawmakers should face the same penalties as any citizen for theft and fraud. It reeks of protectionism to suggest that crimes involving public officials mishandling public funds can only be misdemeanors while those who steal from government can be sent to prison.

Now some may say that since Jackley is considering a run for governor in 2018 these requests are motivated by politics. Whether that is the case or not is immaterial if the request has merit, which it does in this case. The Legislature should make these changes to the conflict-of-interest law in the next session.

If not, questions will continue to linger about lawmakers’ commitment to transparency and accountability, which has put a spotlight on the state Capitol. To leave the law as it now stands will only foster more of the mistrust that many now feel toward all levels of government.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Oct. 24, 2016

Ag Still Drives Yankton Economy

A fact of life that sometimes flies under the radar with Yankton residents - we’re referring much more to those living in the community rather than in the county - is the notion of just how much agriculture means to the local economy.

That might seem like an obvious piece of information for a town situated in the heartland of the nation and surrounded for as far as the eye can see by an ocean of cropland and pastures, and islands of livestock operations.

But sometimes the point gets lost, especially in a place like Yankton that has a strong manufacturing sector and a thriving tourism component. In the former category, Yankton is one of the top counties in the state in terms of manufacturing jobs per capita; for the latter, Lewis and Clark Lake is the most visited tourist spot in the state outside of the Black Hills. So maybe those things distract people from the base-line facts of economic life here.

But we are still very much a farming community, and right now, we may be feeling a fiscal bite because of it.

During a media briefing Friday held ahead of Monday’s City Commission meeting, Yankton City Manager Amy Nelson discussed the perplexing see-saw nature of the city’s sales taxes this year. Revenue for the year is down a little, and it appears unlikely now that the city will hit its 3 percent goal. But it could hit 2 percent, which wouldn’t be bad at all, Nelson said. Meanwhile, the monthly numbers have bounced up and down in comparison to last year.

Why is this happening? It’s a good question, and a possibility mentioned in the meeting was the lower prices farmers are seeing these days. While the harvest may offer some promise - even though, of course, good harvests can lead to oversupply, which can soften the market - livestock prices are struggling. As a result, farmers are confronting less cash flow, and that may be translating into a drop in sales tax revenue locally.

Of course, this is not an isolated situation. Both South Dakota and Nebraska are seeing revenue trends that are falling behind projections, which could very well shape the budgeting processes in both states during the coming legislative season.

People who aren’t directly involved in agriculture - and, according to the census, that’s more and more of us - often overlook just how big of a player the farming industry still plays in our lives. In the years following the Great Recession, for example, it was a robust agriculture sector that helped South Dakota’s economy weather the storm rather well. But when farm prices are down, it impacts everyone, even those people who never set foot on a farm.

Thus, the ag sector is everybody’s business, because it impacts every town and every person on this prairie in some form. And its trajectory certainly bears noting now.

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