Gov. asks AG to investigate calls, mailings attacking legislatorsThe long-simmering war in the South Dakota Republican Party broke out in the open Wednesday.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The long-simmering war in the South Dakota Republican Party broke out in the open Wednesday.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the people behind an anonymous campaign against some Republican legislative candidates in South Dakota are “cowards” who are a threat to the state’s election process.
Daugaard, in an email released by his campaign committee, Daugaard for South Dakota, called on Attorney General Marty Jackley to investigate the automated phone calls, letters, postcards and emails that have been issued in recent weeks attacking some Republican legislators for supposedly not adhering to the party’s basic principles.
The postcards and letters do not report who is behind them and have apparently fake return addresses on them, including addresses in Cincinnati and Chicago. When The Daily Republic called phone numbers that appeared to be connected to the material, the call went to voice mail. The newspaper also replied to some of the emailed material but got no response. The sender’s address includes the phrase “ReaganRepublicSD.”
At almost the same time Daugaard issued his statement, state Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, asked Jackley, a fellow Republican elected in 2010, to investigate Daugaard for possible wrongdoing.
Nelson said Daugaard is angry over the defeat of Senate Bill 188 in 2011, which Nelson claims sought to end an education benefits program for National Guard members. He termed it a “disgraceful bill” that he was proud to oppose.
“If your office deems it appropriate to do the governor’s political bidding, to go after his political opponents who are complaining about his embarrassing bill, and those that voted for it, while those doing so are being substantially compliant with our state law, then I respectfully request the same standards be applied to the governor,” Nelson wrote to Jackley.
Tony Venhuizen, Daugaard’s director of policy and communications as well as his son-in-law and 2010 campaign manager, said the Senate bill was designed to shift funding from graduate study programs to undergraduate programs. It would not have prevented current Guard members from using funds for graduate programs — just new members, Venhuizen said.
Venhuizen said Daugaard doesn’t want to focus on the bill — he wants to put a spotlight on the anonymous campaigning. He said it doesn’t surprise him that Nelson wants to alter the discussion.
“This issue has nothing to do with the bill,” Venhuizen said.
Nelson said the critics of the governor and other GOP politicians are acting within their legal and constitutional rights.
“Going after them for expressing their First Amendment Constitutional rights smacks of the Chicago politics and is something I would expect in a corrupt third world country, not South Dakota,” he wrote.
Daugaard also alleged dirty politics were at play.
“These ‘robo-calls’ are using misleading half-truths to target state legislative candidates,” he said in a statement. “The voice on the call does not identify himself, and the organization that supposedly ‘paid for’ the calls appears to be violating state election laws to hide the identities of the sponsors.
“The people who are sponsoring these calls are cowards. They are hiding their identities behind shadowy out-of-state organizations and unlisted phone numbers.”
The governor urged people not to believe what they hear or read in anonymous phone calls, letters or postcards and to do their own research.
Daugaard also asked people to submit recordings of the calls and get them to investigators while warning their family and friends of the campaign.
The charges and counter-charges have South Dakota blogs buzzing and have caused a great deal of thought and conversation by both Republicans and Democrats.
Pat Powers, the founder of the conservative website Dakota War College, has been involved with South Dakota politics for 24 years.
Powers said intra-party divisions occur most years, but usually during a primary squabble. For it to continue into the fall is unusual. He feels the anonymous calls and mailings are being sent by a small group of people.
“It’s kind of an isolated group who’s causing some of this,” he said. “It’s not a division in the party at all; it’s some disaffected group that’s taking issue with others in the party.”
In the end, these anonymous attacks may provide evidence that campaign disclosure laws need to be strengthened, he said. These are clearly “political attacks,” Powers said, and if they are not currently regulated, perhaps they should be governed.
Bob Ellis, a Rapid City tea party leader, conservative writer and blogger, responded to Daugaard’s comments on reporter Bob Mercer’s blog, my605.com, referring to the governor and other Republicans as RINOs — Republicans In Name Only.
“He and his RINO buddies are the cowards. They like to advance liberal policies and oppose conservative ones, but don’t have the guts to live openly as a liberal,” Ellis wrote.
“It is his lies and the lies of his fellow RINOS (portraying themselves to be good Republicans, even as they undermine the Republican agenda) that are a threat to the election process. … If they’re not going to play by the Republican playbook (and it’s pretty easy to figure out, being documented in the platform), they don’t deserve to be on the Republican team.”
On his own website, americanclarion.com, Ellis said America has a proud tradition of anonymous political writing.
He noted that the Federalist Papers, essays written in 1787-88 favoring the adoption of the Constitution, were published anonymously by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay under the name “Publius.”
“Were Hamilton, Madison and Jay evildoers?” he asked. “Were they cowards?”
Former state Sen. Bill Napoli, a Rapid City Republican, said the contest for the soul of the South Dakota Republican Party has been under way “for a long time,” and he knew it would come to the surface.
“Is this politics gone crazy?” Napoli asked rhetorically during a phone interview with The Daily Republic. “This is the split between what I call the real Republicans, the conservative Republicans, and the mainstream. It’s becoming very ugly.”
Napoli, 64, retired from the Legislature in 2008 after 14 years. He had worked as an activist and lobbyist in Pierre for 22 years before running for office.
“This war’s been going on for a long time,” Napoli said. “I think what you’re seeing is animosities that have reached the point of absurdity. It’s destroying the respect we have for the legislative process. It’s childish, from all sides.”
The party fracas might cost the GOP some legislative seats, he said.
“In all honesty, I hope it does,” Napoli said. “I hope we do lose some seats. We have been too successful for too long.”
He said the party has been in power so long, it may need a shakeup and a return to the party’s core principles.
“People are joining the Republican Party who aren’t Republicans and never were Republicans,” Napoli said.
He pointed to former state Sen. Dave Knudson, of Sioux Falls, a former Democrat who became the Senate majority leader in 2006, as someone who did not believe in Republican principles, at least in Napoli’s view.
Still, Napoli said he feels the conservatives have gone too far in attacking Daugaard.
“I do believe Daugaard has some real strong Republican principles,” he said. “He’s conservative fiscally, he’s conservative socially. He’s an all-around decent Republican. He’s just a good Republican and he’s getting the crap beaten out of him by people who wanted someone just like him.”
Napoli said he feels some Republican may challenge Daugaard in a 2014 primary. Former state Sen. Gordon Howie, also of Rapid City, is a possible challenger, he said.
Howie ran against Daugaard in the 2010 GOP primary and finished a distant fourth. He did not return a phone call Wednesday.
Napoli said he doesn’t know who is behind the anonymous phone calls and postcards, but “I have my suspicions.”
Venhuizen said he doesn’t know who is behind the anonymous attacks, either.
“If we did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” he said.
Powers said he has some thoughts on who might be involved, but he didn’t care to mention any names. He said Nelson has told him he’s not involved in the anonymous campaign, and he believes him, but he also said the people responsible may be in some legal jeopardy.
“There are laws with regard to advocacy,” Power said. “I know potentially there are some federal laws they have run afoul of.”
Nelson, in his letter to Jackley, said he has some knowledge of the anonymous calls and mailings.
“I have received several of these calls from a person identifying himself as representing a veterans group, and have listened to others I have not received online. I have also called the contact number these calls emanated from and received an answering machine,” he said.
“While I am not in total agreement with the sentiments expressed, the recounting of how these legislators voted for this bill appears accurate, and there appears to be no advocating for or against the candidates’ re-election.”
Nelson said he feels they are “in substantial compliance with state law” with their actions.
“I support the rights of any group to put out factual information about their elected officials’ voting records, especially when they clearly appear to be complying with S.D. law and the U.S. Constitution,” he wrote.
Nelson also asked Jackley to investigate Dakota War College, which he has written for in the past. The political blog “is rumored to be the property of a candidate/and or PAC/political party,” he said.
“It routinely disseminates/allows dissemination of information about elected officials and candidates without any of the required disclosures,” Nelson said.
And he also asked the AG to look into reports that state Rep. Brian Gosch, the House speaker pro-tem, has engaged in illegal conduct by killing a bill “for a pass and assistance” from the National Rifle Association.
There has been another ongoing fight between gun rights groups, with a group called South Dakota Gun Owners, based in Rapid City, claiming several Republican legislators who have NRA backing are actually “anti-gun.”
Gosch is already in a legal battle to remain on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Stephanie Strong, of Rapid City, who considered both Republican and independent runs for the state’s U.S. House seat, asked Circuit Judge Robert Mandel to toss Gosch off the ballot in the House District 32 race.
Gosch notarized his own petitions to qualify for the ballot and that is against state law. Secretary of State Jason Gant, who rejected Strong’s petitions to qualify for the House race as an independent because of technical problems, said Gosch should remain on the ballot.
Mandel has ordered Gant to explain his decision on Gosch by next week.
Since ballots have already been printed, if Gosch is removed from the ballot, the GOP might not have a candidate in the race.
Napoli said it’s interesting to note that Republicans are the ones trying to remove Gosch from the ballot. That’s another sign of the intra-party squabble, he said.
Powers said he would be more impressed by the calls and mailings if the people responsible would put their names on them, and stop calling names instead of trying to make stronger cases.
“It just shows they lack the courage of their convictions,” he said. “I personally find the term RINO distasteful.”
Powers said the internal strife might show the South Dakota GOP is too large and has had much success in the recent years.
“You know, sometimes we have these squabbles when we have a lot of Republicans,” he said. “Right now, the Democrats don’t pose much challenge.”
District 16 state Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, announced Wednesday that he will file a civil suit in an attempt to unmask the people issuing the attacks.
Lederman said he will file the lawsuit with his Rushmore Political Action Committee.
“We are bringing this lawsuit because we think that the South Dakota public deserves better than mudslinging from anonymous people involved in the election process purposely cloaking themselves from public view,” he said on his website. “We don’t care who is doing this. We just want them and everybody else to follow the law.”