- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

Capital Journal, Pierre, June 26

Allow for federal fund drought relief

The Hughes County Commission declared a natural disaster draught emergency Monday, hoping to generate federal and state money to help farmers who have lost crops due to the ongoing draught.

Brian Stewart, director of the Farm Service Agency, reported that 300 farmers in the county have been impacted by the dry conditions, which were created by the area receiving just 61 percent of normal precipitation this year.

Pierre has received 1.86 inches of rain this month, which is .57 inches below the 30 year norm for the first 19 days of June, and just 6.31 inches of moisture since Jan. 1, down 33 percent from normal.

Stewart calculated wheat farmers in the county have lost at least $16 million in lost crops (3.32 million bushels of winter wheat) since March 1 because of the draught and a late frost. He predicted that even with additional rainfall, many of the remaining crops are too far gone to be saved.

The draught disaster declaration by the commission claims the draught is a natural disaster beyond the capabilities of the county and state, asking for federal assistance, hoping to make emergency loans available. It will be sent to the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for action by Congress.

It’s no secret that farmers and ranchers have been having a tough time lately. Low prices and extreme weather conditions have made their profession even more perilous than usual. Our hope is that Congress will take swift action, providing farmers relief in the way of low interest loans to help them recover from this natural disaster.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, June 29

New council faces ongoing challenges

Now that Rapid City has a historic City Council - for the first time five women will be on the 10-member board - let’s hope it will energize city government to tackle our lingering challenges in an open and vigorous manner.

For the past two years, city government has done little more than propose new rules through ordinances, settle lawsuits, hire consultants and add positions to city government or increase pay for vacant positions. In the meantime, the Public Works and Legal and Finance committee members all too often made no recommendation on proposed ordinances, preferring to withhold their votes until later.

The low point for the committee process was Tuesday when three of the five council members - Ritchie Nordstrom, Charity Doyle and Brad Estes - on the Public Works Committee failed to show up for a regular meeting, which was then canceled for lack of a quorum. It makes it hard for elected officials to complain about low voter turnout when they don’t show up for meetings, a key part of their job description.

So, perhaps, it is time for a new dynamic on a City Council that has the final say on a $160-million annual budget and makes decisions that can have a profound impact on our pocketbooks and quality of life.

On Tuesday, Laura Armstrong secured the final seat on the new council after trouncing Ron Sasso, a former council member, by a 68 to 32 percent margin in a runoff election. The first-time council member joins Doyle, Lisa Modrick, Darla Drew, Amada Scott and fellow newcomer Becky Drury as the first five women to serve simultaneously on the council; Nordstrom, John Roberts, Steve Laurenti, Jason Salamun and Chad Lewis round out the council that will be sworn in on July 3 after which they will be confronted by a host of issues that should be addressed in a timely manner.

The fate of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and the President’s Plaza project remain up in the air where they have been for another two years. Although Mayor Allender may disagree, many residents would like to see the city adopt a residential street-improvement program. The local economy - not counting new convenience stores - is stagnating even as the cost of housing is in an upward trajectory. The problems with homelessness and downtown loitering and pandering don’t appear to be going anywhere.

The city needs to address these issues and bring some sort of closure to the civic center and President’s Plaza projects. The new City Council, however, should just not dutifully await proposed solutions from city staff or even the mayor’s office. It needs to make its voice heard and help chart a path for the future. We ask that the council members be bold and wish them good luck in doing so.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, June 26

Taking politics out of redistricting

Old ideas never go away. That seems to be true in South Dakota, where an effort is being made again to create nonpartisan primary elections for state legislative candidates, as well as to create an independent commission that would oversee the redrawing of legislative districts every 10 years.

If these things seem familiar to South Dakotans, they should. Majorities of voters rejected the ideas during last year’s ballot bonanza, when 10 initiatives and referendums were up for votes. Of course, if you can’t clearly recall them, it might be they were lost in that blizzard of ballot action.

While it would seem the nonpartisan primary election idea is going to be a tough sell - the parties, particularly the dominant GOP, aren’t real keen on this - we’d like to again offer a nod to the notion of having an independent commission in charge of redrawing legislative districts.

The premise would work like this: instead of having the Legislature (that is, the party in control of the Legislature) in charge of redistricting every 10 years, an independent commission would instead be given the task. The nine-person commission would include no more than three members apiece from both the Democrat and Republican parties. By doing this, the redistricting process would, in theory, be done in nonpartisan fashion, with the shadow of possible political opportunism removed from the process.

This makes a great deal of sense, because the mechanics of an election should not be determined by those who stand to directly benefit from that election.

In other words, why should political parties have the opportunity to rearrange the boundaries of a district in order to improve its own chances? That basically allows politicians to set the rules of the game they’re playing.

But democracy isn’t a game. The mechanics of elections should be above political influence and be about the people, not about the parties.

One argument that was made against the proposal of an independent commission last year is that many of those who would be making these decisions wouldn’t be subject to a vote of the people.

But that’s also the point. Collectively, the commission wouldn’t be a political mechanism to orchestrate political advantage. It would establish boundaries based on logical delineations, not political calculus.

Whether this idea will make the ballot remains to be seen, and if it does, the odds that voters will reverse themselves seem long.

But the idea has merit. Politicians should not be at the levers of running elections, for partisan temptations will always be present and often acted upon, unfortunately. An independent board would at least attempt to take that aspect out of the matter.

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