Archive for January 2014

The story of Heidi and Obamacare, by Tim Johnson

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 3:19 pm
By: Kevin Woster
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In his column this week, Sen. Tim Johnson offers a real-life story to defend the sometimes-difficult-to-defend Affordable Care Act and its rocky rollout.

The senator does it with a story about a constituent named Heidi, who managed to get signed up for health care even though it wasn’t easy:

“Heidi, a resident of Aberdeen, was met with the same initial setbacks that many South Dakotans faced. After a little persistence, however, Heidi successfully enrolled in a plan that allows her to keep her doctor, saves her nearly $100 on her monthly premium, has a $500 deductible instead of a $5000 deductible and offers better coverage than her previous plan.   Heidi no longer lives with the fear that her next doctor’s visit will send her deeper into debt and is putting the money she’s saving towards paying past medical bills.  While obtaining health insurance was not as seamless as it should have been, health reform is providing Heidi and many like her with the security that comes with having comprehensive, affordable health insurance coverage.”

There are other stories as well, of course. Anybody out there have one?

Meanwhile, Johnson’s column has this interesting bit of data, which I found surprising to the point of amazement:

“Prior to health reform, over 345,000 South Dakotans with pre-existing conditions, like asthma or diabetes, were either unable to obtain health insurance on the individual market, required to pay more because they were sick, or forced to accept plans that did not provide adequate coverage.  Folks could have their health coverage discontinued when they needed it the most and far too many Americans lived in fear of the astronomical cost of an unexpected health care emergency.”

Could more than 345,000 out of a state of 800,000 really have pre-existing medical conditions that complicate their insurance?

Have we been deluding ourselves about being a healthy state?


Ravnsborg’s service built shortcut to respect

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 3:49 pm
By: Kevin Woster
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Jason Ravnsborg

U.S. Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg looks good in the KELOLAND office.


Respect is a two-way street that typically must be constructed over time by those who share it.

But Jason Ravnsborg earned a shortcut with me when he stopped at the KELOLAND TV office here in Rapid City this morning for a chat about his U.S. Senate race.

Three tours of duty overseas, including one each in Afghanistan and Iraq, are plenty good to earn my immediate respect, at least on a personal level.

On a political one, well, I couldn’t help but be frank:

“What makes you think anybody, including you, is going to beat Mike Rounds?” I asked, with just a hint of the bug-eyes of astonishment.
Nobody ever accused me of taking a Dale Carnegie approach to interviews.  And Ravnsborg (which I believe is pronounced ROUNDSBERG, ironically enough) could have been put out by my initial delineation of all the reasons Rounds was the clear-and-present  favorite to win the Republican primary and go on to win the general election. He was patient, however, and waited for his chance for the resurrect the win by Rounds in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary as affirmation of the old surprises-do-happen-in-South-Dakota-politics line.

Well, sure, except that Rounds was a five-term state senator and Republican Senate leader when he, uh, came out of somewhere to defeat favorites Steve Kirby and Mark Barnett. So it was a surprise (OK, I might have been shocked), it was a miracle of somewhat minor proportions, if such a thing exists, when compared to what Ravnsborg is attempting to do this year.

Rounds has money, name ID, an undefeated campaign record that includes two wins in the governor’s race and the support — officially acknowledged or not — of the machinery of the state GOP and its statewide network of loyalists. Ravnsborg has a USD law degree, an admirable history of military service and a desire to help bring change and order and fiscal sense to a Congress that could use all three. Of those campaing assets, the military service is the most impressive, and something that should translate into votes in the GOP primary.

Not enough, almost certainly, but finding out for certain is why we have those regular election days.

Meanwhile, Ravnsborg  is trying to set up a campaign structure built so far primarily on volunteerism and good will. He’s trying to separate himself from that group of other Rounds challengers in the primary, including state Sen. Larry Rhoden of Union Center, state Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton and Dr. Annette Bosworth of Sioux Falls.

It’s a little crowded in the Upset Camp these days, particularly since all four wanna-be upsetters are trying to set themselves up as the conservative alterative to Rounds, who’s not all that liberal himself.

Each must gather just short of 2,000 valid signatures by late March to make the primary ballot in June. Ravnsborg is in that process now. He notes that it isn’t easy, and wonders if everybody who’s trying will actually get there. That’s about as close as he came to criticizing the other campaigners in the Upset Camp during an hour or so in my office. During that time he did proclaim himself “a conservative all my life,” which had me picturing him in the third grade educating classmates about the dangers of runaway federal spending.

But you know what he meant.

And while, like most candidates, he really couldn’t identify areas of the federal budget that can be cut to make a real difference in the deficit, he noted that  something like a 1-percent across the board reduction might be a good place to start. Despite his standing as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve (he smiled when I suggested colonel status someday), Ravnsborg believes the military should be on the cutting block, just like social programs.

“Those are our biggest pots,” he said.

The imposed sequestration process was a testament to failures of congressional leadership and the questionable benefits of compromise, he said.

“It was a compromise that brought a hatchet to something that needs a scalpel.”

A Catholic and avowed pro-lifer, Ravnsborg stopped short of saying the abortion issue would be his litmus test for a U.S. Supreme Court nomineee.

“I’d want ot look at their entire record.”

Ravnsborg is comfortable with the campaign-funding world created by the January, 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which gives unions and corporations unlimited spending options in candidate campaigns.

“I believe in free speech.”

But he also is uncomfortable with the situation in today’s political world, saying “it’s kind of sad that money and special intersts have gotten such a hold on them.”

Although a conservative suspicious of compromise, Ravnsborg says he would not be a builder of stalemate. He says his military service helped him build team-centered skills that seek long-lasting solutions rather than weak compromises assembled in desperation late in thee legislative process.

I suppose the anti-Carnegie of news interviews could suggest that Ravnsborg’s campaign is being assembled in somewhat the same manner, compared to, say, the Rounds campaign, which has been in the works for years.

But I’d hate to suggest that about the son of a Vietnam vet who served us in multiple deployments overseas. Nor will I completely write off a Republican who shows up in Rapid City with plans to meet, first, with Mayor Sam Kooiker (be patient, it gets better) and then head for Pine Ridge. Ravnsborg has a meeting set up with President Bryan Brewer and other tribal leaders, for pretty simple reasons.

“I believe that Republicans in the past have not done as much as we could to understand the issues on the reservation,” he said. “They are citizens of the state. I want to hear from them.”

I can respect him for that, too.




Solano follows Stan on fiscal issues, not abortion

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm
By: Kevin Woster
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Alan Solano

New District 32 state Sen. Alan Solano


A fiscal conservative.

That’s how Alan Solano, who was appointed to fill the District 32 state Senate seat held by the retiring Stan Adelstein, described himself this morning.

“I’d classify myself as a fiscally conservative Republican,” Solano said. “We both shared that conservatism.”

The 82-year-old Adelstein and his 47-year-old replacement aren’t quite so compatible on social issues. Adelstein could easily be classified as moderate to liberal on abortion restrictions, for example, while Solano considers himself “pro life.” That typically translates into pro restrictions on abortion, something for which South Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature is noted.

Solano says he’s been registered Republican for about as long as he can remember, which doesn’t mean he wasn’t registered as somethign else earlier in life.

“Honestly, I’m trying now that you’ve asked to remember if I was every registred as anything other than Republican,” he said, leaving open the possibility. “As people go through life, they change.”

He  isn’t saying much about his politics right now, however. He’s just trying to get things arranged on short notice to spend an exotic winter in Pierre. He’s looking forward to it. That’s something he and Adelstein also share, because few could match Adelstein’s passion for legislative business in the South Dakota Capitol, at a time of year when a man of means certainly could have been elsewhere.

“He is very passionate with strong beliefs and that’s a good thing,” Solano said of Adelstein. “He’s been a good servant to the citizens of South Dakota. I do hope the citizens of this state keep him in thier prayers as he continues his recovery.”

Adelstein retired because of a lingering infection that followed his hip-replacement surgery in October. It was a nasty bug that took months and a reservoir of antibiotics to beat. It also required a series of follow-up surgeries. As Adelstein rebuilds himself, Solano looks forward to quick-study requirements on a legislative learning curve that will be steep and — trust me, senator — occasionally confusing. It helps that he has stayed close to legislative matters in his work with the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce, and moderated the city’s entertaining legislative crackerbarrels.

He’s been a good moderator, with a cool disposition, an articulate style and a face for TV which, well, not all TV reporters have.  (I can think of one, for example, well, never mind…)

Solano was growing more and more interested in a legislative run himself, when an open seat came around. Then news of Adelstein’s retirement broke. He sought the job and got the nod from Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who announced the appointment today and praised Solano as being “a leader in his community and in his field.”

Solano is CEO of Behaviorial Health Systems, a mental health and behavior treatment provider here in the Black Hills. He’s also a Rapid City native who likes to hunt, fish and camp, and who grew up in District 32, attending Robbinsdale Elementary, South Middle School and Central High School. He ans his wife, Carol, have five kids who are or have been through a chain of education similar to their dad’s: Granview, South, Central.

Go Cobblers? Oh, yeah.

“Once a Cobbler, always a Cobbler,” Solano said.

Soon he’ll be a lawmaker, too. He isn’t planning to promote any specifical legislation at this point, although he’s close enough to the process to know decisions on how to spend some extra money in the budget – more for education, Medicaid providers, state employees? — will be high on the priority list. He likes the idea of more money for teachers and  maybe expanding Medicaid for the working poor, but there’s a fiscal concern first.

“I have to say that I’m a big believer that we don’t spend money we don’t have,” he said.

Even if we have the money from the feds to expand Medicaid now, that doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily have it a few years down the road, Solano said, talking a bit like Double D.

“I think you have to be cautious,” Solano said.

There could be some points of departure from Adelstein’s philosophy in that caution. Despite the former senator’s professed fiscal conservatism, he has a soft heart for certain social programs, and the people who use them. That’s all likely to be discussed when Solano and Adelstein chat, probably yet today.

Meanwhile, Solano prepares to head east and a bit north tonight, so he can “be there right away in the morning.”

And early start makes sense. He has some catching up to do. And the Capitol show starts tomorrow with the governor’s State of the State message.







He couldn’t have done it without Jimmy Carter

Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm
By: Kevin Woster
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The unkind might call it the Carter Effect.

Blaming the rabbit-clubbing, Habitat-for-Humanity helping, erstwhile Democratic president for all that happened to the economy in the late 1970s is popular, it not entirely fair or accurate. But whenever the core cause, the economic malaise led Sioux Falls businessman Gary Hanson to consider a campaign for Congress.

“With interest rates up around 18 to 21 percent, unemployment up, the misery index somewhere around 45 percent and what Paul Volcker was doing in raising interest rates to curb inflation, it was all destroying small businesses,” says Hanson, now chairman of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. “And I decided I was going to run for Congress to be a voice for small business.”

So, to D.C. he would go — not.

As it turns out, Hanson’s political future would not only be rooted in South Dakota, it would grow and blossom here, in some really interesting ways.

“I decided I needed some political experience before I ran for Congress,” he says. “So I was going to run for the South Dakota House.”

Good idea? Not to his father, Wendell, a two-term state senator from Sioux Falls who thought that was the chamber his son should pursue.

“My father said, ‘You won’t like it in there (in the House) because everybody talks all the time and you can’t get anything done.'”

Harsh and, like the Carter Effect, not entirely fair — but also with some basis in reality.

So Hanson the younger ran and won in 1982, and served three terms in the Senate. But he was only getting started, in South Dakota.

“With yong children, I decided the world was going to have to get along without me in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “And I decided to step out of the state Senate and go back to concentrating on business.”

But politics beckoned back home in Sioux Falls, too. And he ran and won a seat on the Sioux Falls City Commission, specializing in utilities. That work made him a leader in the effort to bring Missouri River water to Sioux Falls and parts beyond, through what would become the Lewis & Clark Project. He was the project’s first chairman and president, a position he would give up in 1994 when he moved on from the city commission to mayor’s office. Two terms as mayor of the state’s largest city kept him perhaps busier than he’d ever been through 2002, when he was term limited out of that office but ran successfully for the PUC.

Reelected to another six-year term in 2008, he now faces another reelection campaign next year. And, yes, as he recently told my colleague and friend, capital reporter Bob Mercer,  Hanson will seek – at almost 64 – another six-year term as one of three elected commissioners handling a collection of complicated, important utilities issues tied to the same type of utilities work he was doing in Sioux Falls way back when, but on a wider scale.

So, what, running, fishing, hunting, scuba diving, sky diving and grandkids aren’t enough to keep the guy busy? Sure, busy enough. But not enough for him to give up work just yet.

“The PUC has been a wonderful opportunity for me to extend my public service,” Hanson says. “It involves a lot of individual study, formation of opinions based on extensive research and duties that help shape the direction of energy around the United States. It’s been great.”

Not exactly the D.C. route he had planned as a young, frustrated business owner. But it was one that made sense to his dad,  who is 96 and still living in Sioux Falls with Gary’s mom, who is 94.

With that kind of longevity in the gene pool, who knows how long Hanson might serve.

Other than state voters, or course.


Going to pot in Colorado? Not me

Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 11:32 am
By: Kevin Woster
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Those who know me, know I was never much of a pot smoker, even back in my, uh, quasi-hippy days.

The idea of sucking smoke into my lungs for any reason has always seemed counterintuitive, and counterhealthy. And the feelings I got when I did inhale marijuana never seemed to match the delight my friends got.

And I tend to like my brownies straight.

Nonetheless, I don’t understand why we spend so much time and money and end up sending so many people to jail over an herb that seems, in its impacts, no more dangerous or harmful than alcohol — and, in my experience as a non-stoned, non-drunken buddy of impaired friends, a lot less likely to turn a regular guy into an angry, explosive jerk.

So Marty Jackley and I often reach a point of philosophical departure on the subject of legalization of marijuana, either for medicinal purposes or just for fun. Here is a brief Q & A from my latest exchange with the South Dakota attorney general on the subject, by email.


  • KW: Let’s forget legalization for now. How about decriminalizing it, at least a bit, as Emmett Reistroffer suggests? (Essentially it remains illegal, but we don’t enforce the law much)
  • MJ:   Wouldn’t decriminalization be legalizing it?  The reason I have not supported decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana is for public safety reasons and believe our statutes strike a reasonable balance including misdemeanor amounts that law enforcement has been able to manage.  Last year, our legislature reviewed this as part of the overall criminal prison reform bill (SB 70), and determined that the current structure did not need to be modified.  As a former United States Attorney, it is important to point out that federal law, 21 USC 812 and 841, also makes marijuana illegal as a matter of federal law.
  • KW: Why not just make it a lot less of an enforcement priority?
  • MJ:  Certainly the Attorney General, State’s Attys, Sheriffs, and Chiefs of Police have to make resource decisions on a daily basis, but decriminalization is for the legislative body or the voters of South Dakota, as well as the United States Congress.
  • KW: Why not just make possession of small amounts a ticket offense, similar to overtime parking or speeding?
  • MJ:  At some level this is occurring for drug paraphernalia.  I am open to the discussion on lower misdemeanor level amounts being a ticket/citation option so long as there are appropriate parameters, including not applying to driving under the influence of marijuana which gives rise to further public safety considerations.
  • KW: Wouldn’t that free up stretched LE, prosecution and public-defender resources on more important crimes?
  • MJ:  The legislature determines the level or severity of criminal offenses, not law enforcement.  I believe some states that have legalized some form of marijuana use, including Colo. and Montana have experienced additional problems and creation of additional resources issues.
  • KW: Do we treat pot differently than we treat harder drugs like meth? If not, shouldn’t we? Why not?
  • MJ:  Our statutory scheme treats marijuana differently and less severe than other felony controlled substances.  Marijuana possession starting with misd. possession of two ounces or less of marijuana is set by SDCL 22-42-5.  Distribution of marijuana starting with misd. distribution of less than one-half ounce of marijuana is set by SDCL 22-42-6.  The unlawful manufacture, distribution, counterfeiting or possession of substances with high potential for abuse are set by SDCL 22-42-2 with more serious penalties again set by the legislature.  Similarly, federal law is set by 21 USC 812 and 841.
  • KW: What’s the most dangerous, widespread “gateway drug,” alcohol or marijuana?
  • MJ:  That is dependent on the individual and the circumstances.  There are unfortunately violent crime and addiction cases directly tied to marijuana which gives rise to a public safety concern.

A couple things in conclusion:

1) Marty might have made a little news in expressing a willingness to discuss lowering penalties for lower-misdemeanor amounts of pot.

2) Marty didn’t exactly answer that last question on which is the more dangerous, widespread, “gateway” drug.  Which could be the subject of another Q & A .

3) Jackley did expressed concern, in a playful way, that with all my questions and continued arguments in favor of legalization of marijuana that I might be considering a relocation to Colorado. I assured him that I was unimpressed with pot in the 1970s  as a 20-something and was unlikely to be any more impressed at 62. Besides, with an Armadillos in Rapid City and Zesto in Pierre, why look for anything better?


Channeling Adelstein or changing direction?

Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 at 3:38 pm
By: Kevin Woster
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Gov. Dennis Daugaard and his staff have received about 20 nominations for the District 32 South Dakota Senate seat vacated for health reasons by former Sen. Stan Adelstein.

A number of those who have been nominated are interested in the seat and being considered, according to Daugaard senior adviser Tony Venhuizen.

“The governor hopes to make an appointment in time (for the appointee) to be sworn in on the 14th, but recognizes that it will be very short notice for the appointee,” Venhuizen says be email.

The 14th is when the 2014 session opens. So it would be nice to have a warm body in that District 32 seat.

I’d expect an announcement from the governor’s office by the end of the week. But then, I’m often a man of unrealistic expectations. This one, though, seems logical, given the time frame and the number of interested candidates.

When Venhuizen told me the number of nominations, I feined disbelief — noting that “there aren’t that many Haggs of legislative age in District 32. I know. I live here.”

Of course, I tease. Just because two names — Brian and Rex — have come up in conversation with my band of merry tipsters does not mean it has to be a Hagg. Although Brian seems like he might like to try a little Senate action. Rex has been there, done that, in a just-next-door-in-the-House sense, and I’ve got to believe he’s having too much fun on the state mining board and its wrestling match with the uranium-mining issue to walk away now (heh-heh).

If the Senate appointment goes as usual, it will be somebody I never mentioned or thought of.

The bigger question is: “How much will the Adelstein replacement think and vote like Adelstein?”

And, maybe, how much should the Adelstein replacement think and vote like Adelstein? (An issue that was raised in comments – Hey, Napoli, nice to hear from you! – on my previous thread on t his subject)

Is the obligation in making an appointment to the legacy of the person being replaced or to the governor’s preference and priorities?

We should know something on that pretty soon.


P.S. I have from a reliable source that my name was NOT among those nominated, EVEN THOUGH I LIVE IN DISTRICT 32!

Go figure.