Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Importance of Clean Elections

I know I’m not the only person in South Dakota who’s a little bit less satisfied with our elected officials than he could be. With a few notable exceptions, they have a distinct tendency to pander to (often out-of-state) extremist political groups and big corporations.

Just look at Stephanie Herseth’s endorsement of the radical right-wing Federal Marriage Amendment during her campaign, which she later dropped the once she realized how much it appalled her base. Or consider Senator Daschle’s vote for President Bush’s pork-laden energy bill, which was thankfully defeated by a broad alliance of Democrats and Republicans who were opposed to deepening our record deficits with even more corporate welfare. On the topic of corporate welfare, consider Representative Herseth’s vote to cut corporate taxes by more than $140 billion at a time when the families of soldiers in Iraq have had to take up collections to pay for body armor. Even Governor Rounds’ bizarre decision to censor our public libraries has something to do with these unwholesome ties to big business and ideological extremists.

So, what’s the connection between these examples of political misbehavior? Access to money. They say the oldest rule in politics is “You got to dance with them what brung you,” and the sad fact is that ideological and corporate funds “brung” most of our elected officials to office.

Stephanie Herseth’s win in the recent special election has been trumpeted by the left-leaning press not as a victory for South Dakota, but as a triumph for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s fundraising abilities.

Tom Daschle, despite his off-stated fealty to “family farms,” receives major contributions from the agricultural megacorporation Archer Daniels Midland, which would have been one of the biggest recipients of taxpayer bailouts in the defeated energy bill.

Mike Rounds’ decision to override the unanimous decision of Rapid City’s library board to force the removal of family planning information at the request of the Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese appears to be a cynical attempt to shore up his conservative base, very similar to President Bush’s suspiciously-timed support for the now-defeated Federal Marriage Amendment.

So that’s the problem. To win elections, our politicians need to forsake the needs of the majority of their constituents in an effort to appease big corporations and radical extremists, since those are the groups that raise the money. If only there was a solution!

Well, fortunately, there is a solution. For the last few years, Arizona and Maine have had “Clean Elections” laws on the books. These wonderful pieces of legislation require that all elections are publicly-funded at the same level, so that the candidate with the best ideas will win, not the candidate with the most money.

Of course, one has to worry that every oaf in the state will run for office, resulting in a drain on public resources and a confused political landscape. Fortunately, Clean Elections laws have an almost-perfect solution to this problem. In order to qualify for public funding, a candidate has to raise a significant amount of initial money from his or her neighbors in his or her own district in donations of no more than $5 per person, an amount that almost anyone can contribute. That way, no candidate will get public funds unless a good portion of that candidate’s constituency believes that he or she would be the right person for the job.

So, if you’d like South Dakota’s political campaigns to be about issues and ideas instead of elaborate fundraising schemes, write your state legislators and ask them why they haven’t introduced a Clean Elections law already.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Our Media, Our Politicians, Our Problem

If you were watching Senator Tom Daschle’s speech at the Democratic National Convention on C-SPAN tonight (and, hey, who wasn’t?), you probably noticed several shots of local media mogul Bill Duhamel’s ecstatic, smiling visage. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the Duhamel family (which controls 50% of our state’s television resources) also exerts no small amount of control over our state’s Democratic party.

The Democratic party, of course, has the noble reputation of representing the interests of the average American, whereas the Republican party has generally been known as the party of big business. Oddly enough, the South Dakota Democratic party is chaired by Judith Olson Duhamel. Judith is, of course, the wife of Bill Duhamel, the president of South Dakota’s largest and most influential media corporation.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with the South Dakota Democratic party associating with local business leaders. The vast majority of our local businesspeople have done a fantastic job of giving back to our community and assuring that our community is as prosperous and successful as possible.

Duhamel Broadcasting is not one of these benevolent corporations.

Remember, media corporations – no matter how powerful – do not own our airwaves. This great and powerful resource, the medium that gives the first amendment to our Constitution real meaning,, belongs solely to the American people. We graciously allow local broadcasters to use these wonderful assets – free of charge – and we ask only in return that they genuine coverage of community events and meaningful community access to our airwaves.

I’ve visited quite a few cities across America, and I’ve made an amazing (and depressing) discovery. Local broadcasters in Newcastle, Wyoming provide their community with public access to the airwaves. The gigantic megacorporation Comcast provides New England residents access to their public airwaves. In my travels, I have found only one local broadcaster who showed sufficient disdain for the people of their community to refuse to provide them with public access television.

That corporation was Duhamel Broadcasting.

So, I offer this challenge to the South Dakota Democratic party: either disassociate yourself from Duhamel Broadcasting, or ask them to live up to their obligations as members of our great community.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Unqualified

Governor Mike Rounds will be giving a speech on the future of our state’s educational system in the auditorium of Philip, South Dakota’s high school on Thursday, July 22. I cannot imagine any one government official in our state who is less qualified, on both moral and practical grounds, to give this speech.

One has to wonder what Governor Rounds sees as the “future of education” for South Dakota. Based on his recent censorship of the Rapid City Public Library’s teen website, Rounds clearly holds the great goal of providing our state’s youth with (sometimes life-saving) information subordinate to advancing his partisan political goals.

The United States does not have a network of public schools and public libraries to support any one group’s ideology. The public education system was created because of the undeniable reality that an effective government and a successful society requires a fully-informed electorate that has access to all points of view.

With his latest actions, Governor Rounds has essentially created the precedent of turning South Dakota’s civil infrastructure into a “faith-based” government. When I say faith-based, I do not only refer to the Governor’s decision to overrule a public board in favor of a single religious official.

This is the basic idea: why bother with the collective opinion of a body of local citizens who are experts in the field of library management? That’s a complicated and unnecessary hassle. What we ought to do, Rounds seems to want us to believe, is to simply have faith in his enlightened leadership. What is best for out state is what he says is best for our state.

When Governor Rounds speaks in Phillip High School, he’d best hope that none of the students in the auditorium have taken Civics. Otherwise, they might know that we elected a governor, not a philosopher king.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

A Vacuous Scandal

Let's be forthright about this: It doesn't matter if Tom Daschle hugged Michael Moore. In fact, I can think of precious few things in this world that matter less. There’s nothing about this so-called scandal that’s worth writing about. However, since our local commentators seem to be so incredibly fascinated with this non-event, a few points ought to be made.

First, is it really the public’s business who our elected representatives hug? Sure, if Daschle had been seen hugging Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, or a reincarnated Adolph Hitler, then I suppose that he would be out of line. One American citizen showing friendship towards another American citizen who happens to have differing political beliefs is hardly in the same category.

Also, bear in mind that our Senator has little reason to be a raging Moore fanatic; after President Bush, Daschle receives the harshest treatment in Fahrenheit 9/11. If the story about Daschle hugging Moore is correct, all it proves is that Senator Daschle is a good sport who can still get on civilly with an opponent in spite of political differences. We’d be lucky if all of our politicians were so well-mannered.

To put things in perspective, consider this: Just a few months ago, several of our lawmakers took part in the coronation of a dubiously-sane South Korean cult leader who believes that he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Say what you will about Michael Moore, he's not that.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Thune Misleads South Dakota

John Thune's latest actions suggest that he cares more about supporting the partisan agenda of right-wing Washington extremists than about issues that actually affect South Dakotans.

The Republican candidate for Senate has launched an alarmingly disingenuous smear campaign denouncing Senator Tom Daschle as an "obstructionist" for his refusal to support the radical "Federal Marriage Amendment." Rather than appealing to the hopes and aspirations of his South Dakotan constituency, Thune is desperately trying to plant the seeds of irrational fear in the blind hope that such unseemly tactics will draw supporters away from his popular opponent. Such transparently negative campaign tactics are rarely successful.

If one bothers to look past the smokescreen of fear that Thune has so cynically deployed, one will most likely see that not one person in South Dakota has been harmed by the (resounding and well-deserved) defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment, and that our nation as a whole has greatly benefited from its defeat. Do any married couples genuinely believe that their relationship is on the verge of collapse because some people of the same gender have chosen to make a lifelong commitment to each other? If John Thune genuinely respected the sanctity of marriage, he would not make such absurd claims for political gain.

Of course, if John Thune was truly the voice of mainstream Republican values that he claims to be, he would have voted against the Amendment, too. Arizona's Senator John McCain, one of the most respected voices in the Republican party, explained that "The constitutional amendment we're debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans." The Senator added that the Federal Marriage Amendment "usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them."

You don't see that quote on John Thune's website, but you would if he had any interest in being honest with the people of South Dakota.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Betraying Her Base

Dear friends,

If the people of South Dakota had wanted a Congressperson who would vote the Republican party line in the House, we’d have elected a Republican to our sole House seat. However, we elected Stephanie Herseth, a Democrat.

Perhaps her right-wing voting record shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Herseth came out in support of President Bush’s radical anti-gay “Federal Marriage Amendment” during her campaign. To her credit, Herseth did back down from this position once she realized that her South Dakotan supporters were against tampering with the United States Constitution for partisan political gain.

As a proud South Dakotan, I am cannot help but be disappointed by Representative Herseth's performance. Her vote to allow Administration bureaucrats to bypass proper public oversight when enacting new forest management policies is a disgrace. I am confident that all South Dakotans, Democrat or Republican, feel a deep love for our national forests, and would not want any legislation that might adversely affect them enacted unless we were certain that all sides of the issue had been properly heard. Sadly, due to Representative Herseth's vote, that may no longer be possible.

Representative Herseth's vote for $143 billion in corporate tax cuts (HR 4520) is especially disappointing. The suggestion that wealthy corporations should receive taxpayer-funded handouts while federal and state budgets are desperately tight, and while our brave men and women are risking their lives in Iraq is simply disgraceful.

I believe that any South Dakotan who cares about our environment, our economy, or the principles of honesty and shared sacrifice that form the basis for our American ideals ought to be ashamed of Stephanie Herseth's recent performance.

Yours,
Peter

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Endangering South Dakota's Youth

Dear friends,

I am extremely disappointed by Governor Rounds' decision to force the removal important information regarding the health and safety of our community's young people from the Rapid City Public Library's website.

The worst part of this wrongheaded decision is not that the Governor threatened to overrule the library board after they had twice voted (unanimously) to keep the Planned Parenthood link available, nor is it that the Governor has set a shameful precedent of censoring a public library.

No, Governor Rounds has not just ruffled the feathers of a public board and offended civil liberties advocates; he’s made a decision that is very dangerous to our city’s youth. Removing a link to a website that provides information about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases will not magically stop teenagers from being sexually active, as Rounds seems to imagine. However, it will make it more difficult for teenagers to have safe, healthy relationships.

By forcing the removal of this important information, Governor Rounds has recklessly exposed our community’s youth to the threats of sexually-transmitted disease and unplanned pregnancy. Governor Rounds has made no secret of his anti-abortion views. However, does the Governor seriously believe that limiting access to information about safe sex and birth control will reduce the amount of abortions that occur in our state? Regardless of political affiliation, I believe that most rational observers would agree that teenagers without access to proper contraceptive information are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies, and are therefore more likely to have abortions. No one benefits from this foolish decision.

It’s depressing that Governor Rounds values political ideology more than he values the safety of our young people.

Yours,
Peter

Welcome!

Dear friends,

It is my great pleasure to introduce the "South Dakotans for a Sound Society" weblog. The intention of this publication is to provide a venue for the genuine, patriotic social and political beliefs of ordinary South Dakotans. We resent attempts by radical partisans, corporate flunkies, and Washington insiders to hijack our strong moral beliefs for political gain.

We firmly believe that the interests of the South Dakotan people can best be served by open access to information, fair taxation, safe and reasonable environmental policies, and a strong justice system that applies equally to all members of our community, regardless of political influence.

We'll be doing our best to serve the interests of our great state, but we can't do it alone! We'd love to hear from our fellow community members about ways to improve South Dakota. We look forward to working with you, and we guarantee you'll be hearing more from us in the near future!

Yours,
Peter