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OPINION: Senator objected to honoring television's Angela Kennecke

PIERRE — As feuds in the Legislature go, there might be none deeper these days than between Sen. Deb Peters and Sen. Stace Nelson over the GEAR UP scandal.

Their dispute reached a strange low last Monday.

Peters invoked a legislative joint rule to stop, specifically, SC 28: Nelson's commemoration recognizing investigative work of KELO television reporter Angela Kennecke.

Peters, R-Hartford, cited 6H-4:

"Any member of the body may object to the approval of any legislative commemoration by so stating on the floor of the body at any time before adjournment on the legislative day upon which the legislative commemoration is calendared.

"If no such objection is made, the legislative commemoration shall be deemed approved and the presiding officer shall deliver it to the other house.

"If there is objection, the legislative commemoration shall be deemed disapproved."

Presiding officer was Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. He looked at his Red Book, which each legislator receives, and upheld her objection.

Nothing in the rule allowed Nelson, R-Fulton, to object to Peters' objection. In the span of a few seconds, the Kennecke commemoration went away.

That's too bad. Once Kennecke got onto GEAR UP, no news reporter did more.

Nearly $1.4 million couldn't be accounted for from Mid Central Educational Cooperative at Platte, the state Department of Legislative Audit concluded.

Other reporters did their parts many times, including those at the Mitchell Daily Republic, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and other newspapers.

GEAR UP began partially through a tip by an anonymous source that reached Auditor General Marty Guindon. His staff began probing in 2014.

Their annual report in spring 2015 questioned some Mid Central costs.

That led me to a Mid Central Educational Cooperative board meeting. Driving to Platte, I received two phone calls.

One came from an Associated Press reporter seeking comment about the South Dakota Supreme Court decision that day.

The court denied my appeal for the Richard Benda death-investigation records. I hadn't seen the decision.

The second came from state Attorney General Marty Jackley. He said he wouldn't seek court costs from me for challenging the release of the Benda records.

I happened to be pulling into Platte when Jackley called. I asked if he knew where the Mid Central meeting was.

Jackley said he knew the jail location but not the meeting site. He asked why I was there. I said a state audit raised questions about Mid Central and I wanted answers.

Jackley didn't know about the audit. He told me in a tone I perceived as cocky to let him know if I found anything criminal.

Later that day, I met Dan Guericke, Scott Westerhuis and Nicole Westerhuis. Those interviews became the first story on GEAR UP.

We're still reporting on GEAR UP.

Nelson had asked weeks ago if I wanted to be in the commemoration. I declined, saying the story wasn't done. The first criminal trial starts June 25.

Angela Kennecke deserved that commemoration.

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