- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Rapid City Journal, Jan. 5

Sen. Thune on impeachment, Russian meddling, hyper-partisanship

Senator John Thune is not quick to criticize President Donald Trump or other Republican leaders, but that doesn’t mean he always agrees with their policies.


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Sen. Thune met with the Rapid City Journal editorial board this week. He said his place at the table as Majority Whip was most important at those times when he disagrees with Senate leaders or the administration.

“You try as a member of the leadership to be the best team player that you can,” Thune said. “If the direction is crosswise with South Dakota, that’s where I will make my stand. I think it is helpful to have a seat at the table where your voice is being heard. I can try to at least shape a policy before it is announced.”



Some important areas where Sen. Thune has been at odds with others in his party have been on trade policies and agreements that have hurt South Dakota farmers.

“The new Japan deal is great for livestock. It is tailored after TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) I wish we would have agreed to stay in that. It would have been a great deal for South Dakota,” Thune said. “There are good things happening in the ag world. There are some bad things in the ag world - the weather we had last year and the trade impacts of the tariffs, especially with China - we’re hoping the lenders are still willing to work with farmers for another year.”

When it comes to impeachment, Thune said he wants a fair hearing of testimony from both sides.

“I think we have to make sure that both sides have an opportunity to be heard. That was lacking on the House side,” Sen. Thune said. “Both sides will have an opportunity to make the case.”

But Thune was quick to say he didn’t want to see the process drag out with a Presidential election looming.

“There are a lot of people who view this process as one, time-consuming, two not going anywhere, and three not relevant to their daily lives and want to see it over,” he said. “If you ask most people and give them the option between impeaching and removing the President or having voters decide in November, it is overwhelmingly in favor of letting the voters decide.”

One instance where the Senator was most willing to break ranks with others in the GOP leadership was on what happened during the 2016 election. Some GOP leaders have signaled to constituents that Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 election - or at least they weren’t the only country to do so. Thune sides with the Senate Intelligence Committee that plainly stated that Russia interfered in the electoral process and could again.

“It is important that we keep our elections clean. It was Russia that interfered in the 2016 election,” Sen. Thune said. “Trying to change the narrative about that I don’t think is constructive or helpful. We need to acknowledge that and make sure there is no further meddling going forward.”

Sen. Thune also discussed how social media has encroached into the legislative process. Compromise is seen as a betrayal of the party by many partisan people and social media platforms allow them to take aim at legislators who work with someone across the aisle to get a bill passed. Thune pointed to his TRACED Act as an example of how the legislative process can work. He worked with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) to get the bill passed. But blocking unwanted robocalls isn’t a partisan issue, so that bill sailed through the House and Senate and has been signed by the President. Bills with any partisan component don’t fare as well.

“Social media has completely, dramatically changed the way things happen and business is done in politics,” Thune said. “What you have to remember is that there is a small number of people who are on Twitter and a smaller amount who are actually paying attention to what is happening in politics. It is easy to get sucked into a myopic bubble and think that small group speaks for everyone.”

He said the partisanship in politics isn’t causing people to become more divided. Thune believes that the culture drives politics instead of the reverse.

“People say why is politics so divided?” he said. “To me, politics is downstream from the culture and not the other way around. What happens in politics is what is happening in the rest of the country. The tone is a lot less civil. There are fewer people who are willing to accept new information.”

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Aberdeen American News, Jan. 4

SD’s youth suicide problem is horrifying

Add youth suicide to the list of topics that should be important to South Dakotans.

It’s up there with methamphetamine addiction, education funding and our nursing home crisis.

Two of the issues - youth suicide and methamphetamine - seem especially difficult to deal with. Money won’t hurt, but there’s no way to know for sure whether it will help or what the best way to spend it is.

That’s why it’s up to us to do the hard work.

You and me. Real people. Family. Friends. Neighbors.

Schools and educators have a role, but there’s nothing that will trump the personal touch. Checking in. Asking questions, even if they are tough.

Plenty has been said and written about the state’s anit-methamphetamine campaign and all of the problems the drug causes. More often overlooked is how big of a problem youth suicide is in South Dakota and across the nation.

Between 1999 and 2016, the rate of suicides in South Dakota increased 44.5%, according to Josh Clayton, state epidemiologist.

Suicides in South Dakota occur, on average, at a younger age than at the national average, he said. Rural areas also have higher suicide rates than urban areas across the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2013 through 2017, death by suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people in South Dakota ages 10 to 39, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.

Those statistics should be alarming to all of us. They reflect a real and terrifying problem.

Our youngest citizens are struggling. Sometimes they don’t know or can’t see or comprehend how loved and cared for and valuable they are.

That needs to change. And the work is ours.

It’s hard, because sometimes the warning signs of struggling are hard to see.

Let’s start by acknowledging that being a pre-teen or teenager is tough. There is no escape in this day and age. With social media, bullies can track you down anywhere, even at home. The bombardment of bad news and violence is easy to find on every tablet and smartphone in every bedroom. Even the reminders that friends are out having fun while peers are at home feeling uninvited and excluded are hard to avoid because of constant Facebook and Instagram posts. These are dicey and difficult times.

Further complicating matters is that young people have a skewed view of time. Three months to a 13-year-old seems an eternity, a long time to deal with a painful problem. A 50-year-old likely processes that same amount of time differently, knowing things will get better sooner rather than later. That’s the wisdom only age can offer.

The Rev. David Zellmer is the retired bishop of South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He offered this take.

“All the training I’ve ever had, if (a young person is) in a crisis mode, you have to stay with them,” he said. “Once you get them through that, then you’ve got a different animal.”

The tough part for adults is striking the right balance. Expressing concern and care without being overbearing and annoying. Offering support and love without smothering.

The power people described as empaths have - the ability to sense how others are doing emotionally and mentally - is a valuable one, but not everybody has it. So then what? The best answer is to sincerely ask questions and offer support. Communicate clearly and exercise compassion.

Shy of anything else, at least keep this list of resources handy.

Are you struggling or do you know somebody who is? Here’s a list to help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Community resources helpline center: 211.

Local 24/7 crisis line: 605-229-1000.

National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline: 800-950-6264.

Never forget there are people who care.

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Madison Daily Leader, Jan. 2

A time to step up on teaching civics

For generations, K-12 students have learned the fundamentals of how the United States government works. Typically, topics included the three branches of the federal government, responsibilities of each, elections and the role of American voters.

Some students yawned their way through such courses, often called “civics.” To a degree, the functioning of government didn’t change much and was taken for granted. Some observers believe high school graduates don’t know enough about the functioning of government to fulfill their role as citizens.

The problem has grown in recent years, due to the deep political divide in America. It doesn’t help when elected officials turn every topic into a Republican vs. Democrat issue, or call each other liars, or say press coverage is “fake” simply because it doesn’t promote a political party line. The speed of falsehoods spread via social media is another factor.

While we believe the problem is probably at its worst today, there might be an argument for other time periods in American history, such as the bribery scandal during the Harding administration, corruption in the Nixon White House, or many others in the past 244 years.

Regardless, we believe civics education in schools needs a new emphasis. And so does John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In his annual year-end report, Roberts said he intends to promote civic education this year, especially relating to the political independence of the judiciary.

Ramping up civics education may end up being just as hard as getting a bipartisan bill passed in Congress. Any changes in curriculum are likely to be criticized instantly by party loyalists, saying the changes would favor one party or another.

The difficulty of boosting civics education is still worth pursuing. And we hope schools throughout the country see the long-term national benefit of doing so.

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