Before the Argus Leader offered me an early retirement package late last year, my vaguely formed plan for the future centered on 2010. I figured I'd just keep reporting news from Pierre through the 2010 Legislature. At that point, I'd be 66 and eligible for full Social Security -- and perhaps more important, Social Security that wouldn't be affected by how much other work I could do (that is to say, money I could earn).
I miss the old days when people took a longer view of things. I saw an Associated Press write-up of Gov. Mike Rounds' recent appearance on the Dakota News Network. Nearly every month the governor goes to KGFX in Pierre and sits for an hour of conversation and call-in questions. The AP report talked about Rounds' belief that the Republican Party has some work to do before next election. It's sound, but it needs some work, he said. Well, sure, it does, and I've seen any number of column pieces and talk-show conversations about the future of the GOP.
South Dakota should be able to ride out the current recession without any more federal stimulus money, Gov. Mike Rounds said recently in a story by The Associated Press. My goodness, I would hope so. What the state has been able to get from the stimulus package - or at least what they were talking about for a total when I left the Capitol press room in the middle of March - is something in the range of $770 million. Now, I know that's not a big bundle of cash in some parts of the country.
One of my favorite stories from the early days of covering South Dakota government involves the reorganization of the state executive branch. That's the branch the governor oversees, and before 1973, it included well over 100 boards, agencies and commissions, many of which had little oversight and few lines of authority to figure out who ought to be watching them. Organization charts were shadowy things, sometimes. Ted Muenster, the first administrative assistant to Democrat Gov.
I have to say, I expected Judge Lori Wilbur's reasoning in the lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the distribution formula South Dakota uses for state aid to K-12 schools. Essentially, the judge said in her recent decision that the state could do better, but she didn't accept the plaintiffs' argument that state aid is so low the system is constitutionally underfunded.
Midway through the 1970 legislative session, Democrat Sen. Dick Kneip from Salem gathered the AP and UPI reporters in the spectators' gallery above the Senate and announced that he was running for governor against incumbent Republican Frank Farrar. I don't remember much about that moment. My boss, Jim Wilson, a former sportswriter for The Daily Republic, covered the event. I do remember a couple of folks criticizing Kneip for announcing so early.
It's going to be interesting to see how the people trying to kill a public smoking ban frame their question in a ballot-question campaign. The last Legislature passed a bill banning smoking in bars and gambling halls and video lottery places. Much of the lobbying opposition during session came from the bar businesses and the gambling industry. I have no doubt that opponents to the ban can gather enough signatures -- something under 17,000 -- to successfully refer the issue to the 2010 general election ballot.
Gov. Mike Rounds apparently found little to dislike about the product of the 2009 South Dakota Legislature. He issued just three vetoes. That's the least number of vetoes in his seven sessions as governor, and it is one reason the Legislature's final day Monday was measured in minutes, not hours.
Here's how dominant the Republican Party has been in the South Dakota Legislature: I covered 40 legislative sessions through the one that just ended its main run. During that time, I saw one election in which Democrats won political control of the House of Representatives. That was the 1972 election, and the Democrats won the Senate that year, as well. Democrats held the Senate for two years after the 1992 election, too. That's the most recent time they've controlled either house.
Look for South Dakota highway interests to mount a fairly extensive public education campaign this summer and fall to try to convince citizens that state and local roads need more money. The last Legislature killed several bills that were aimed at raising highway money. A bill to raise the excise tax paid on the purchase of a vehicle was dumped pretty early in the going.