Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Death by dog pack

Over a week ago,  a 49-year-old mother of five, Julia Charging Whirlwind,  was killed by a pack of dogs on the Rosebud Reservation.   In November, 8-year-old Jayla Rodriguez was killed by a dog pack on the Pine Ridge reservation.  There are a number of reports of dog pack attacks throughout the nation, some of them in crowded urban areas. 

The accounts of these attacks do not include photographs which show the injuries which  produced the deaths.  Most people could not stomach them.  If one googles "dog pack attacks,"  one will find many bits of internet advice on how to handle mass canine assaults.  Many of them are based upon theories of animal behavior.  A favorite theory is that dogs or their relatives will not attack humans unless they or their pack are threatened somehow.  However, ethologists, the scientists who study animal behavior, tend to differ. One of my first experiences with dog pack attacks introduced me to an ethologist who explained a science-based theory of why they happen.

I was the farm editor of an Illinois newspaper when I received a very early-morning call from Hank, a distant relative and friend of mine who was the county conservation officer, known in more colloquial terms as a game warden.  He said he was at the scene of the killing of more than 80 sheep by animal attacks.  I grabbed my camera and notebook and took off for the farm where the incident happened.  When I got there, many law-enforcement agents were surveying the scene and speculating on what produced this massacre of sheep.  The idea of a wolf pack which had come into the area was among the first theories raised, but Hank said that was not likely.  He said wolves left the region more than a century ago and the sighting of single wolf wandering through had not been made for 30 years.  Then the likely culprits raised were mountain lions.  Hank said there might be a few around, but they did not run in packs and did not engage in such mass slaughter.
A sheep killed by a dog pack.

Law enforcement was baffled, but at the outset Hank had his suspicions and called for the help of a well-known scientist who worked for a federal agency downstate and was often called in for cases of this kind.  He made it to the scene that morning and made a methodical survey.  Like Hank, he had a suspicion of the most likely participants in the slaughter and sorted out the evidence.  He found tracks.  They were canine tracks, but of different sizes.  He and Hank talked the sheriff's deputies and the state police into canvassing the nearby farms for dogs.  Within a very short period of time, he started receiving reports from the canvassers and visited the farms.  A number of the dogs on those farms had blood-stained muzzles, and he asked that they be gathered  together.  He also interviewed the farm families.

Some of the teenagers who were out at nights noted that the farm dogs tended to visit each other and gather into a  pack at night.  As the ethologist observed and examined the dogs when brought together, he was able to find evidence of which dogs participated in the sheep slaughter and determine which dog was the leader of the pack.  It was a German Shepherd, which identification made the owner furious.  But the ethologist was able to make a detailed reconstruction of the incident and put it in the context of hundreds of reports of such incidents his agency had gathered.

His explanation was that dogs descend from predators and retain some of the instincts involved in their survival.  Dogs which have been bred for their aggressive traits are usually the ones involved in attacks against humans.  But as dogs are social animals and tend to pack, they can revert back to predatory behavior when they get together.  Like humans who get a thrill from hunting, even though they aren't hunting for food,  dogs can take a kind of joyous delight in rampaging.  That is what happened to the 80-some sheep.  The dogs reverted to their packing and hunting instincts.

Many years later, the ethologist came to a campus where I was teaching at the invitation of a biologist who was teaching a unit on animal behavior.  It was a beautiful spring day, late in the afternoon, and the biologist, ethologist, and I were walking to the union for coffee when the ethologist had finished talking to a class.  The time was during the hippy era, and students were cavorting in an open field by the union, doing everything from flying kites, letting their children romp, romping themselves, and having a toque or two.  Some of them had very young children and the inevitable dogs with them.  The children were running and playing with the dogs, when we noticed that one dog was getting excited and playing rather roughly with a little girl. Then another dog joined in the action, and the ethologist said, "Oh, oh, that little girl is going to get hurt."  He ran over to the child just as the dogs had pushed her down and were jumping on her in what seemed like play.  The child was crying at this point.  The ethologist grabbed the child and shooed the dogs away, and the girl's mother came over.  The ethologist explained to the young mother that what seemed like play was turning into a mauling by the dogs, and the dogs needed to be controlled and their behavior needed to be discouraged.  When dogs revert to pack behavior, they can attack humans whether they are in danger or not.  They revert to behavior which is a characteristic of the species.  As the ethologist explained, the drive to hunt and the drive to attain some level of dominance within the pack combines and subverts the gentler behaviors of domestication. 

The dog attacks on the reservations are being addressed by tribal authorities.  But the problem is one that pet-owners and dog fanciers tend to dismiss.  In the domestication of dogs, the inherent instincts of social, predatory animals are modified, not changed.  One of the things that makes dogs such good companions is that they are loyal to the pack and obedient to the alpha member of the pack.  This loyalty and responsiveness is used for work such as shepherding, guiding, and guarding.  The need to fit into a pack is what makes some dogs such excellent and dependable members of a family.  But like humans, dogs are individuals.  Their temperaments vary.  They may  be great friends and guardians to a single person or family, while being dangerous to others.  Their domestic purposes dominate their personalities,  but they can revert to the tactics of predation and the struggles for dominance.  And in many cases, dogs reflect the intentions of their owners,  whether gentle or vicious.  

While we may condemn what dogs do when they form packs, we tend to place what humans do when they revert on a higher level.  The epithet that someone behaves like an animal is, as Mark Twain pointed out, a fallacy.  When it comes to depravity and viciousness, animals have yet to reach the accomplishments of humans in that regard.  Humans, too, revert to a primitive and vicious mentality, and when they pack together akin to dog packs or chicken flocks, their vicious streak dominates.  
One of the things that the social and digital media have done is make dog-packing much easier with fewer restraining influences to impede it.  Evidence of that is in comment sections on news pages and blogs.  A characteristic of most of the comments is the absence of mind and the verbal rampage characterized by hate and malevolence.  What readers are witnessed is the reptilian cortex of the human brain taking dominance over the layers of brain cortex that comprise what we might call the more humane developments in the species of mankind.  
  Mass shootings and other atrocities of the disciples of the gun and the jihadists aside, the darker and primitive side of human nature  on full display on the Internet, as people lash out like threatened snakes.  In many people and in many instances,  the reptilian cortex is triumphant.    The human legacies of thought, compassion, education, and literacy are overruled by the need for concerted hate and dominance over others.

We may note and cluck our tonques over the dog packs on the reservations but shrug our shoulders in submission over the things that characterize the antics of the South Dakota legislature and the U. S Congress,  as we witness intellectual death by the dog pack there. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

John Boehner gives the nation lessons in the art of niggering*

Barack Obama has violated the social order among those who believe that people fit into categories of rank and damned well better know their place.

It is okay for a black person to occupy the White House as a valet or food service person, but to fill the role of master is an outrageous affront.  It is one thing  for a black man to run for president, as it gives the nation a chance to show its devotion to equality and giving everybody a chance.  But to actually win the damned job—twice—is when uppity just goes too far.

No one has done more to restore the social order than Speaker of the House John Boehner.  He knows all the ploys for showing disrespect and trying to humiliate someone.  These ploys are not limited to racial discriminations.  They can be used in any work or social situation to let someone know they are regarded as shit.

One way is to exclude someone from plans for some social or business event for which their attendance would be mandatory.  This tactic is used often on college campuses.  One college president loved to do this when someone pissed him off. 

Our university had hired a vice president for public relations and development who had worked in that capacity for a prestigious military academy.  He hit the campus, which had beautiful lawns and flower beds, running.  He inadvertently  ran into the university president, who thought he knew more about creating public images of the university than his new vice president did.  The two disagreed about the best way to promote a good image of the institution.  The president did not like to be disagreed with.  So when he called a big meeting of the campus administrators to launch a fundraising and promotional campaign, which would ordinarily be the development vice president’s job, he did not invite his vice president to the meeting.  At that point the new vice president launched a search for a better job, which was successful, and he was gone in a matter of weeks.  As for the big image-building and financial campaign, it went with him.  The story of the president’s snub got around the community and the state, and established in the public mind the image of a big asshole into which no one would throw any money.

John Boehner used this tactic when he invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress without notifying the President.  This tactic cannot be taken as anything other than a contrived and deliberate slight, an effort to humiliate the President.  Boehner taught him who his boss and superiors are. 

Another tactic I have encountered on campuses prone to cliquishness and affected snobbery is not to invite someone a clique is down on to a party and then regale each other with the fun and hilarity of the party in front of the person who wasn’t invited.  Members of Congress did this as they wildly applauded Netanyahu and gave him chortling praise as a message of their contempt for the President.  That should put that black interloper in his place. 

Another tactic Boehner has used to show his contempt is not to answer or return telephone calls.  That was a favorite ploy of that university president I mentioned earlier.  He did not get on well with his academic dean, largely because that dean had twice been acting president of the college and knew too much about how to run the place.  When the dean was out-of-town at a meeting at which some issues were being decided that would affect the university, he tried to call the president and brief him and consult with him on some decisions.  The president refused to take his calls.  The dean, of course, realized he was being cut out of the loop, as they say, and soon resigned.

Boehner did this early in Obama’s presidency when they were trying to negotiate a deal about the national debt ceiling.  Boehner got miffed at the president, would not take telephone calls or return them when the president tried to keep the negotiations going, and Boehner tanked any potential deal.  That is how you teach a houseboy his place.

Of course, there is no element of racism in Boehner’s attitude toward the President.  Or in Mitch McConnell’s.  Or in the emails from the Ferguson police department. 

However, the President,knows what is driving this behavior.  And so do many of us who are old enough to remember the civil rights era. 

This episode should be remembered as an example of American exceptionalism.    

 *to inflict denigration, contempt, insult, abuse, and humiliation on someone in ways commensurate with what the N-word historically means. 

Top 6 instances of disrespect toward President Obama

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ballot issue in preparation for open and conceal carry on campuses


Some South Dakota citizens are preparing a ballot issue that would permit students and others on college and university campuses to open or conceal carry books. Proponents say citizens have to arm themselves against stupid, which has launched relentless attacks on the state legislature. 

In response, legislators have hog-housed the education-funding bill and replaced the content with a requirement that any issue must require signatures of 110 percent of the voters to be placed on the ballot.  Sen. David Novstrup (R-Lower Colon), leader of the hog-housing, says having ordinary people dork around with education and stuff makes him nervous.  “Books contain all sorts of dangerous and unpatriotic ideas,” he said.  “We have to protect our young people from this menace.”

Critics have pointed out that a book-carry law is not needed because colleges were sort of created for consorting with books.  Proponents of the ballot issue say that being seen with a book on some South Dakota campuses is considered a social offense and results in harassment and abusive treatment.  Hog-house supporters say that the ballot issue is not needed because the market place of ideas regulates the use of books in South Dakota.  “We ain’t like some other states,” said Novstrup. “And there is nothing in the Constitution that gives the right to read.  We can’t have people running around violating the founding principles.”

Les Worthy, a leader for the ballot issue, stated that the unforgivable sin in South Dakota is the earning of a Ph.D., as it implies that the holder has read and maybe even understands a lot of books.  Most campuses employ many Ph.D.s and, Worthy explains, while libraries act as carefully regulated arsenals for keeping books, you can’t keep them under lock-and-key all the time and there is often a need to carry them about.  Those Ph.D.s need to look like they’re doing the jobs they were hired for now and then.

The ballot issue includes Kindles and Nookbooks in its carry provisions, although they seldom received much resistance on campuses because you can view pornography on them and use them to say mean and stupid things on the social media.  “How do you think legislators get informed?” said Novstrup in that regard.  “But we can’t afford to have those crucial resources in the hands of the unqualified.”


Friday, February 6, 2015

Rapid City Journal demonstrates what it means to suck

The Rapid City Journal’s handling of the incident in which the occupants of a luxury box at a hockey game are alleged to have spattered 57 native American children with beer and abuse is a symptom of degraded state of journalism.   The Journal has apologized for screwing up, but its apology did not grasp what was screwed up.

In a follow-up, now taken off the web, to stories on the original incident, the Journal cited an anonymous source who claimed that the abuse directed at the children was a response to the children’s failure to stand during the playing of the national anthem.  The headline to the story read, "Did Native Students stand for National Anthem".  However, the story itself reported that people who accompanied the children said that was not true. 

In its reporting in this story, the Journal committed a basic error.  It did not try to establish the facts.  In recapping the fundamental premise of journalism, the Pew Research center restates,  “[The] ’journalistic truth’ is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts.”  The Journal made the mistake of concentrating what people said about the facts without  verification of the facts themselves. 

First of all, the issue in the incident is about adults mistreating children between the ages of 9 and 12.  The abuse, according to those who witnessed it was racially driven.  Quoting an anonymous person who claimed to be a bystander in the VIP box is a violation of a basic standard of journalism for those who believe journalism has professional standards.

The use of anonymous sources as the basis for a news report verges far into the region of incompetence.  Sometimes a source will present information to a reporter that is essential to explaining a story if the source's account can be independently verified.  In my time as a journalist,  that meant that a reporter had to find two other sources who were not in collusion with the original source to verify the account.  If the account was not verifiable, it was dismissed as unrealiable or false. 

There is also the matter of using anonymous sources. It is also a reporter’s responsibility to make clear attribution of any information used in a story.  If a sources does not wish to be identified, the information the source provides is suspect, unless it can be verified.  A responsible, professional news organization would not have printed the accusation. 

The Journal compounds its errors in its apology for mishandling the story.  The paragraph that tries to explain away the reason for using an assertion by anonymous source totally fails to address the rules of responsible journalism involved.  It claims it withheld the identity of the source because of a death threat: 

Questions also have been raised about the use of an anonymous source in the article. On the day the article was written, the business owner who rents the suite where the harassment took place — who was neither present nor
involved — received a death threat.

A source in such a state of advanced retardation that he would claim the failure to stand for the national anthem as a motivation for abusing children is already brain dead.   But the issue for the Journal is its failure to follow basic journalistic procedure in dealing with factual matters, and its apology dissembles on that point.   Furthermore, if it wants to cite death threats, it needs to specify the nature of the threat, who received it, and how it was transmitted.  Its citation of a death threat is as specious as the claim that the kids did not stand for the anthem. 

The Journal is by no means the only news organization that sacrifices journalistic competence and integrity for a chance to provoke degradation.  As a medium that reflects community attitudes, it is a fitting voice for a town that has a well-earned reputation as a racist snake pit.  But some of the failings it embraces are a general state of affairs among news media which abandon good journalistic practice to compete for an audience with the Internet social media.  Polls have established that comments people make online about news stories affect the journalistic credibility of news organizations very negatively.  News media have to decide, apparently, whether to practice journalism and endanger their existence or join in the competition for stupidity and scurrility. 

Part of the the decline in news standards is the contribution of radio and television.  To connect with their audience and utilize the capabilities, the electronic media use sound bites as a required element in their stories.  Sometimes the person they show commenting is involved in the story, but whether or not the commentary verifies facts or contributes to an understanding of the story is not an issue.  Getting some kind of graphic or auditory element comprises the objective of a sound bite.  Often, the sound bites are not from anyone who can contribute information, but are only for providing an audio or visual element, whether it contributes to the story or not.

The other fallacy that pervades the contemporary news media is the idea of balance.  It is based on the notion that controversy is the primary criterion for evaluating newsworthiness as far as what an audience responds to, and so the media looks for controversy.  Although there can be disagreement about what  the facts are in a given situation, the facts are usually clear and straightforward if the journalists have done their primary job of assembling, clarifying, and verifying the facts.  Controversy is introduced in comments about the facts where commenters have differing attitudes concerning what happened.  Consequently, the media emphasizes what controversies they can find rather than hard facts.

They cite balance as the reason for including opposing viewpoints about a situation, even though there may be no disputing of the facts.  Controversy to the contemporary media is a matter of people getting into nasty and accusatory spat.  The veracity and quality of things they contend do not matter.  What attracts audience is the spectacle of watching people cast verbal and sometimes physical abuse on each other.  Journalism to many means inciting people into degraded and vile behavior of the kind that Jerry Springer promoted on television.  Balance is showing “both sides” no matter how inane and stupidly mean the contentions are.  Such is contradictory to what effective, responsible journalism is.

The Rapid City Journal had opportunity to be balanced on the abuse kids were exposed at the hockey game.  One if its own staff members wrote an account which related the experience from one of the chaperones who accompanied the incident itself.  Rather, the Journal chose to feature the idiotic claim that the kids did not stand for the national anthem.  Stupid sells big in South Dakota.  It makes a lot of people feel like somebody.

The state legislature demonstrates every day it is in session a retrograde movement away from an aspiring democracy.  It is enmeshed in the idea that the will of the people is to limit, eventually eliminate, liberty, equality, and justice for all.  The Rapid City Journal is more devoted to the opinions behind this movement than in reporting the facts of what is happening to people.

South Dakota’s intellectual and moral failure is rooted in the journalistic failures of its media.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lakota medicine man charged with rape dies in prison

A well-known South Dakota medicine man who had been charged with abusing and raping at least six girls on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation died in prison Tuesday night, according to law enforcement officials.

The entire Washington Post story can be read here

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Disrespecting the police in the hinterland

As a newspaper reporter and editor, I never had the police as a regular beat.  But I often filled in for regular police beat reporters, and dealt with the police often on an investigation team of which I was a part.  When interrogating suspects in the investigation of crimes, police often play the roles of good-cop, bad-cop.  In reality, outside the role-playing, there are good cops and bad cops.  And there are times when police departments give in to the temptation of corruption.  JT,  the managing editor of the last newspaper I worked for and a longtime city beat reporter, said police corruption had about a ten-year cycle, when crooked cops came to light.

The corruption involved bribes and pay offs, not police killings and racial harassment—although those things did happen.  Shootings by police did not become common until police departments began to form SWAT teams, which put police into combat roles.  Up until that time, police regarded themselves more as peace officers with armed conflict a comparative rarity.  They did not face as much danger from shootings because gun laws were much stricter and the police did not encounter as many people who were armed as is common now.  The combat role of police emerged as necessary when they began to encounter the use of military-type automatic firearms used in the commission of crimes. 

I witnessed a number of police scandals over the years.  One night a vice team of officers composed of county sheriff deputies and city police raided a brothel in Rock Island, Ill.  The whorehouse was such an institution in the town that it was nominated for inclusion as a  historic site.  When the madam was taken to the police station and allowed her telephone call, the person she called was the chief of police at his home.  She said, Claude, you know we are supposed to have a warning before police raid our place.  That’s what we pay you guys for. 

Needless to say, Claude was not the chief of police much longer.  He went into the antique business.

My first encounter with police corruption was as a student reporter on a university student newspaper in Chicago.  The editor was an ex-Marine Korean War veteran going to school on the G.I. Bill.  An acquaintance of his was arrested at a basketball game for soliciting a prostitute.  The acquaintance said he had been approached by a woman who asked for a cigarette light and he found himself taken into custody by the police.  He was asked to post a hefty bond, which he did to the police, not to a court.  He was told that his court date could be foregone, if he wanted.  The incident motivated the editor to investigate the situation and see if the police had an organized extortion system.  A mentor for the student newspaper was a Pulitzer-winning reporter for the Chicago Daily News, who helped us find more victims of the scam.

One was an Ohio businessman who was arrested at the Lincoln Park Flower Conservatory, when a woman approached him and engaged in a conversation.  He posted a bond and was given a court date.  He returned from Ohio with a lawyer to keep his court date.  When they  got to the court, they found he was not listed on the schedule, there was no record for his arrest, nor any record of the bond he posted. 

We found other victims who had been arrested in the men’s room of the basketball arena for making homosexual approaches to other men.  At that time, it was a felony in Illinois law for being homosexual.  Bonds were readily posted.  The young student reporters, however, were able to work with some of the scam victims to identify the police officers involved, and that led to a series of stories in the student newspaper that exposed the scam and sparked a purging of the offending officers from their jobs.  Actually, most of them were merely transferred to a different precinct.  However, the stories alerted a Chicago watchdog group, the Better Government Association, to the scam, and brought the department under public scrutiny.

Police departments throughout the nation have histories of corruption and malfeasance which form the backdrop for the concerns and protests over the killing of unarmed people, particularly of African American men. The New York Police Department in its petulant dissing of Mayor DeBlasio is earning the contempt of many people who have experienced and witnessed crookedness or unwarranted violence and oppression on the part of the police. Department members are angry that the Mayor has listened to the complaints of citizens and has been tolerant of demonstrations in which citizens have protested the actions of the police, particularly in the deaths of unarmed citizens.  The police turn their petulant backs on the Mayor rather than face up to the problem actions some of their fellow officers have done that have created distrust and even contempt of the police.  Rather than work with elected officials to confront and correct their problems, the police want to be praised as heroes who put their lives on the line everyday to serve and protect the public.  Their real problem is that too much of the public do not see heroes, but see bullies who are only protecting and serving their inflated and often corrupted egos. 

 The bad attitudes toward the police extend to the hinterlands in places such as Aberdeen.  Devious and incompetent police actions taint the entire justice system.  Prosecutors and judges go to court with evidence of questionable integrity because of they way it was handled by police. 

In recent years, I have spent quite a bit of time monitoring court proceedings.  These proceedings have largely involved matters concerning judicial intervention into religious matters, such as disputes in Hutterite colonies,  Indian reservations, and cases in which South Dakota’s laws that permit government secrecy are involved.  I came across a comparatively minor case involving assault charges against an individual in which evidence provided by the police was disputed.  The state’s attorney and the defense attorney chose to ignore the dispute of evidence.  The defendant in the case was convinced by the defense attorney that going to trial would be so expensive that the defendant could not come up with the money and that it would damage the family involved.

I have often worked with wrongful conviction projects in checking out information and court actions.  In that assault case, I recognized that it was a classic example of how wrongful convictions are made.  The defendant, because of financial reasons, took a plea bargain to a lesser charge, although he contended the testimony supplied by the police was false.

This case led to an examination of other cases that came to the attention of wrongful conviction organizations.  Many young people, we found, have pled guilty to minor offenses because they could not afford the price of a trial, and court appointed attorneys do not think a full-scale defense is worth the money the courts provide them. 

One night I was in an emergency room with a child that had developed a dangerously high temperature.  That night, EMTs rushed in with a young woman who had overdosed.  The police were there trying to get evidence of what drug the woman had taken and where she got it from. The ER physician was getting very agitated.  He finally told the EMTs to “get those fucking idiots out of here so we can do our jobs.”

There is a consequence to this situation.  Most of the young people we have interviewed in Aberdeen regard the police force as a gang that is claiming turf over which it wants to rule.  They respond with derision to the idea that the police have any connection to the administration of justice.  They feel that the police are a force they need protection from, not which protects them.

Police say they feel betrayed by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.  They ignore how much of the public feels betrayed by them.  It is not just the killing of unarmed citizens that shape the public’s perception;  it is the multitude of miscarriages of justice in less publicized incidents and the history of corruption that clings to many police departments.

I have many friend who have been law enforcement officers.  In Aberdeen, the shooting death of a professor on the NSU campus involved the resignation of one of the investigating officers.  Most of the friends I have who were police officers have resigned because of the internal politics of their departments and the taint of corruption that fellow officers cast upon those who were trying to be upstanding. 

In South Dakota, the cases that earn the suspicion and mistrust of law enforcement are those such as the malicious prosecution and false accusations involved in the Taliaferro-Schwab case and the refusal of the Attorney General to release the investigative record in the death of Richard Benda. 

If the police want respect and support, they need to earn it.  To earn it, the good officers will have to help weed out the bad, not whine petulantly that they feel betrayed.  Instead, they have decided to castigate officials who have bothered to listen to the citizens’ reasons for mistrust and disrespect. 

The whining from the police departments, instead of efforts at reform, merely deepens the suspicion and mistrust that the departments have earned over time.  They could remedy the public disrespect by facing the killings and miscarriages of justice their fellow officers have wrought  and by showing some respect for those they are supposed to serve. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

No access to Congress for Aberdeen

An aspect of Congressional offices that is never mentioned in campaigns or accounts of representative’s and senator’s service is the work their staffs do for constituents.  Senator Tim Johnson’s office went through the closing process this month.  It won’t be replaced.  His successor as U.S. senator for the state will not have a field office in Aberdeen. 

Rep. Kristi Noem does not maintain a service office in Aberdeen, either.  She has a staff member who comes to Aberdeen occasionally, but she does not have any staff members who consult with constituents and  on their behalf to resolve issues.  Sen. John Thune has an office in Aberdeen, the one vacated by Tom Daschle’s staff.  However, that office was literally forced on him.  As a congressman, Thune decided not to have an Aberdeen office, but prominent members of the Republican party in the Aberdeen region were incensed by
his neglect of their part of the state.  He was opposed to or showed no interest in projects for developing this part of the state.  Party members dragged him into the area and “educated” him on the projects and insisted that he have a functioning line of communication that a field office provides for the Aberdeen area. 

In contrast, the Democratic congress people have had fully staffed and very busy offices in Aberdeen.  My spouse worked on the staffs of Sen. Daschle and Rep. Herseth Sandlin.  While staff members worked on legislative business in representing their employees, a huge part of their job was helping constituents navigate the government bureaucracies. Such help might range from someone encountering visa problems in a foreign land and needing action by the state department, someone needing help in solving a social security problem, a farmer needing advice and assistance with a conservation program matter, or someone who has encountered confusion and difficulty with any aspect of government.  Often people seek federal help in coordinating matters involving state and local government.

After Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin lost elections and their offices were closing down, the staff members spent days shredding the case files the offices had accumulated working in behalf of constituents.  Staff members not only worked in their offices to be available to constituents, they were assigned counties which they visited regularly to represent their  Congressional employer and meet with people to answer questions or offer assistance.

The question in the operation of the field offices is not a matter of big government.  It’s a matter of making government work for the people and providing direct communication between constituents and their elected representatives.  For 8 hours a day, the offices were busy with people who needed consultation or assistance from Congressional representatives, and the phones were ringing constantly.  As one who volunteered for work in the offices,  I was often asked to fill in when the staff members had to be out of the office at staff meetings or constituent business to take messages so that staff members could get in touch with any constituents who came to the office or called.  The staff members conscientiously followed up on all inquiries and concerns.  The field offices were incredibly busy and productive in providing information and services to constituents and making government work for the people. 

The GOP congress people make nominal staff appointments of people who occasionally visit the county, they don’t believe in providing the vigorous service that actually solves problems and otherwise makes government work for the people.  The difference between the parties is most starkly apparent in they way they regard and treat their constituents.

When Democrats were in office, Aberdeen had three offices carrying on the business of government.  Now it is down to the one office that John Thune grudgingly established when his party supporters insisted that he have a presence in our part of the state. 

Noem has never offered much in the way of response or service to this part of the state.  Rounds has indicated he will follow her lead. 

The voters ultimately get what they ask for.  In the cases of Noem and Rounds,  nothing. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States