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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

Monday, August 28, 2023

Democratic Doomsday: they slog around in wet shoes.

For many years, I was active and held county offices in the  South Dakota Democratic Party.  During that time, Democrats held both the U.S. Senate seats and the House of Representatives seat, and my county had Democrats in the state legislature. Today, Democrats holding those same offices doesn't seem like a possibility.  The current number of registered Democrats in the state is vastly outnumbered by Republicans and independents, and the latter seem to heavily support Republicans in the voting booths.

I began to note the decline in party membership during the time I was active.  Among the local party members, there was a significant outmigration.  Their children were leaving the state for higher education and to find jobs commensurate with their educations and abilities, and they seldom returned to live in South Dakota.  Many members moved out of state for better jobs or retirement.  As people left the party through  attrition, there were no younger people taking their places.

But there were other factors that affected the party.  One year the state party convention was held in Aberdeen, and local members were much involved in facilitating the work sessions.  We noted that factions were very aggressive about obtaining and holding on to power.  The delegates from the larger metropolitan communities, Sioux Falls and Rapid City,  often exhibited a patronizing attitude toward delegates from the rural areas.  On some matters, the internal politics were ruthless, approaching hostility.  At one point, a few people were offended and decided to leave and go home.  I recall that federal office holders had staff members go after the disaffected ones and try to conciliate with them.

A long-time staff member remarked that he wished the party members would show that kind of intensity during the election campaigns, rather than "pissing on their shoes" during our organizational meetings. At this time, there are no South Dakota Democrats holding national offices, so there are no current Democratic staff members at work in the state who possess contacts and political knowledge.  Staff members work directly with their constituencies, understand the concerns of the people, and provide the political intelligence that informs their bosses.  As a matter of full disclosure, I note that my spouse has staffed members of both the Senate and the House.

Staff members are acutely aware of how the public perceives the party, because they deal with the public daily.  They are aware of the dedicated opposition, of which people focus  on competence, integrity, and effectiveness, and which people are mindless partisan hacks.  When the elected officials asked their staff members to try to make amends with the people who were leaving that meeting, they were concerned about the way the party was presenting itself to the members and the general public.

The dwindling of registered members cannot be totally attributed to an outmigration.  The way the party conducts itself and the way it deals with problems determines to a large degree whether people want to associate with the party.  As Democrats are a minority in the state, they don't receive much press coverage.  They have received a lot of late, but it is of the pissing-on-shoes variety that makes experienced and savvy politicians cringe.  

The party has voted to recall the state party chair who had been in office for only four months.  Leaders say she violated the party constitution by taking actions without getting required approval from the central committee and that she created a hostile workplace, which caused a newly appointed executive director to resign.  The central committee vote to recall her was unanimous with a couple of abstentions.  This removal received extensive reporting by the press, which has the effect of telling the public that the party is in disarray.  It's a message that Republicans love to circulate.

When the recalled chair took office, she said, according to a report in the South Dakota Standard:

“I was honored to be elected as the leader of the Democratic Party here in South Dakota,” she said in a statement provided by the SDDP. “Democratic politics in this state is a challenging job. I know many of us feel ignored and looked down upon. Our voices are valuable and deserve to be heard. I intend to make that happen.”

That statement does not correlate at all with the reasons stated for her removal.  Her stated intentions appear to be in direct contrast with her relationships with party workers.  Her removal from the chair was angry and noisy.   And the result will be something political strategists fear most:  heavy collateral damage within and outside the party.  Once again, party members put on a spectacle of pissing on their shoes.

I have heard some of my colleagues in the communication arts groan and say, this is so South Dakota!  That raises the matter of the outmigration of people from South Dakota and the reason it reflects the dwindling numbers of Democrats in the state.  South Dakota, while it claims a superior work ethic and more freedom, has earned a reputation among many people for meanness. pettiness, and deficits of intelligence.  People of liberal values tend to leave, while certain brands of conservatism find it comfortable.  The brands I speak of are those which  cling to racism, sexism, class divisions, and which dislike programs that help the disadvantaged.  The rather boisterous removal of the Democratic chair demonstrated that the party is more motivated to respond to personnel issues than it is to formulate and promote measures that improve democracy.  

While the recall of the chair may be justified, it adds to the image of a bumbling organization in the minds of many.  That is a major obstacle that Democratic candidates for office have to deal with.  The party certainly has the right and responsibility to take necessary actions to insure that it is properly run. But it also needs to acutely be aware of the messages its actions send to party members and the general public.  The message sent with the firing of the chair came across as a good, old South Dakota pissing contest, not a demonstration of responsible, honest, effective governance.

There is huge irony in this situation.  The kind of things party leaders accused the Democratic chair of are the kinds of things the press reports that the current Republic governor does.  

She won re-election, is very popular, but legislative leaders admit they don't talk to her.  There is much about her administration that is an offense against decency.  She provides young liberals with reasons for leaving the state.  If the Democrats can get their act together, there  is quite a story to tell the people.  If any are left in the state to tell it.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The gate keepers of the concentration camps


"[the] tired, [the] poor, [the] huddled masses yearning to breathe free"
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who aspires to the presidency of the United States, and Gov Greg Abbott of Texas put on an unusual display of emulating the Holocaust.  It involved immigrants.

What to do about the migrants piling up at our southern border has been a conundrum for decades.  We used to call it the wetback problem for the people who swam the Rio Grand to get across the border and then labored in the fields in sweat-soaked shirts harvesting America's produce.  Those people were driven over the border to find work and survival.  Today they are more driven to escape oppressive regimes.  There is a constant supply of them crossing the border.

Gov. DeSantis' solution was to put the migrants on a plane and send them to Martha's Vineyard, a favorite gathering point for wealthy liberals.  Abbott chartered buses and sent migrants to New York City.  People at the destination had to figure out ways to accommodate the migrants.

The governors said they took this action to give those northern liberals a taste for what it was like to have to deal with the influx of migrants. They were using human lives to make a mean and resentful point.

This was the same tactic that the Nazis used on people they didn't want.  They loaded Jews, Roma, and others onto trains, but they had preparations at the destinations:  concentration camps equipped with gas ovens.  DeSantis and Abbott did not send the migrants to death camps, but their trivialization of migrant lives was carried out in the same spirit.

And so, they sent "[the] tired, [the] poor, [the] huddled masses yearning to breathe free" to oblivion.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States