Guest Column: Senator Deb Peters – Public deserves straight facts on GEAR UP

District 9 State Senator Deb Peters (R-Hartford) is currently Chair of the Government Operations and Audit Committee, and President of the National Conference of State Legislatures

I am a District 9 state senator, the chair of the legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee, and a certified public accountant.  In those roles, I get a lot of questions about the GEAR UP Grant and Mid-Central Education Coop. With all the news coverage and the claims being made, it is confusing and would I’d like to set the record straight with a few facts as I know them:

  1. The heart of this matter is an embezzlement scandal involving Mid Central Coop’s former business manager, Scott Westerhuis. Mid Central Coop was created by a group of small school districts, and it is controlled by a board made up of representatives from those districts. Auditors have found that $1.4 million from Mid Central’s bank account is not accounted for.
  2. That missing $1.4 million was not GEAR UP money. GEAR UP is a federal program to help at-risk high school students go to college, and in South Dakota it is used to help Native Americans. Mid Central administered the program for the State of South Dakota. The federal funds went to the state Department of Education (SD DOE). Mid Central would submit receipts to SD DOE, and if the expenses were related to the federal program, Mid Central would be reimbursed. Although some GEAR UP dollars may not have been spent effectively, the audit did not find that any GEAR UP money was missing and no money was stolen from the State.
  3. Secretary of Education Melody Schopp has been accused of illegal and unethical conduct which has been based on hearsay and rhetoric not facts. What hasn’t been stated correctly is because of the SD DOE oversight of the federal grant; GEAR UP had fewer problems than the other direct federal programs that Mid Central administered without state oversight. Audit Reports show the other direct federal grants (not GEAR UP) administered by Mid Central had a myriad of issues.
  4. In fact, although some people like to talk about “Pierre insiders” or “establishment Republicans,” that is exactly who found and exposed the Mid Central wrongdoing.
    1. Going back to 2012, concerns by SD DOE staff led to increased oversight of and reporting by Mid Central. The Department of Legislative Audit, which answers to the Republican-controlled legislature, found compliance and oversight problems that SD DOE attempted to require Mid Central to fix.
    2. And in 2015 when Mid Central failed to improve, Secretary Schopp terminated Mid Central’s contract. Even before the Westerhuis tragedy attracted press attention, our Republican-controlled Government Operations and Audit Committee held public hearings on this very issue, at which the SD DOE staff and Mid Central staff offered testimony.
    3. And it was Attorney General Jackley who investigated the embezzlement scandal and is pursuing criminal charges against those involved.
  1. South Dakota state officials have taken many steps to learn from this situation and to enhance procedures and improve operations.
    1. In 2016, Governor Daugaard and Lt. Governor Michels proposed a new Board of Internal Controls and adopted by the Legislature, which created strict and detailed new policies for entities receiving grants and contracts, to prevent another Mid Central-like situation from happening.
    2. In, 2017, Attorney General Jackley proposed legislation and adopted by the legislature that strengthened prosecutors’ ability to pursue public corruption and conflict-of-interest cases.
    3. In 2016 and 2017, Speaker Mickelson and myself led the efforts to create tough new laws on conflicts of interests by state employees, school officials and public board members.
    4. And in 2017, State Rep. Karen Soli, a Democrat, sponsored legislation to create a new Government Accountability Board, made up of non-political retired judges, to investigate and respond to ethical complaints.
    5. Every one of these steps have been received with broad bipartisan support.
    6. In 2018 Government Operations and Audit Committee will have additional proposals to shut down even more loopholes presented during the current hearings in process.

This is a big topic and I can’t cover everything in one op-ed. But I want people to know these facts. There are always those who grandstand or use a tragedy for their own political purposes. My priority for the Government Operations and Audit Committee is to understand the FACTS about what exactly happened, and to make tangible improvements to our processes to ensure nothing like this tragedy happens again.

SDDP FEC Report. What was that the Represent SD People were saying about foreign money in SD Elections….

The South Dakota Dem’s August 2017 FEC Report is up.

Dems Aug 2017 Fec by Pat Powers on Scribd

What was that the group involved with Represent SD was saying about stopping foreign money involved in SD Politics…..?

Maybe Democrats should start with the South Dakota Democrat Party…

… and all the money that’s rolling in from Washington DC to keep them afloat.

More on questionable petitioners from Represent SD. Nevada group recruiting to “end foreign spending in SD politics.”

My previous post has generated a bit of activity in the form of insider tips with regards to the petitioning efforts from the Represent SD Group led by lobbyist Mitch Richter.

First and foremost is that Richter has apparently hired the Las Vegas firm “Advanced Micro Targeting to run their petitioning. Petitioning insiders out in the field tell me that as noted in the information from the previous post, they’ve brought in these people from Nevada, with one possibly from Ohio, to do their signature gathering.

Which just underlines the fact that you need to demand to see their South Dakota Driver’s license if they start soliciting you.

Another person out petitioning for a different ballot measure sent this to me:

It gets even more ironic when you see that part of their pitch is “End Foreign Spending in SD Politics.”  Because it’s coming from an out-of state petitioning organization hired with out of state money to gather petition signatures. And you can make South Dakota a better place by calling the Nevada Phone Number.

While it’s only anecdotal, I spoke with one person who had worked for them in another state who indicated they’re trained to be very aggressive. In fact, they told me that he’s observing at the fairs they’re getting kicked out of areas, only to return, and be kicked out again. (Not sure if this was at Sioux Falls, or Aberdeen, so it’s just their observation at the moment).

Another person involved on another measure related to me that one of the people out recruiting left an above flyer in a business, and when asked they were (allegedly) telling people $100 per day for 100 signatures, which if true, would seem to be a problem with South Dakota’s laws on how signatures are collected.

It’s hearsay at this point, but it might be something to give the Secretary of State and AG pause, and reason for concern if they can corroborate the accusation.

Stay tuned. More to come.

You should demand to see petitioner’s ID. South Dakota residency required.

Here’s an interesting tale related to me from one of my readers:

My son was.. collecting signatures at the Sioux Empire fair (for a different petition). He was telling me about this woman (Circulating petitions for Represent SD) leading three or four other people who were also collecting signatures. He told me that the people he was speaking with (who were in her group) told him that they were all from Nevada.

At one point, she began a discussion with my son and it was obvious to my son that she was not from South Dakota. So he asked her where she was from. Her response: “it doesn’t matter where I’m from.”

On August 15, 2017, I was at the Empire Mall with another son and I could see this woman talking to people at the food court. When she approached me it was obvious she was collecting signatures so I took a picture of her as she talked with me.

She was very friendly with me until I asked her if she had an id on her so I could verify if she was a South Dakota resident. At that point, she physically backed away from me and got up from her chair. I continued to ask her for an ID she told me that it doesn’t matter where she’s from and she doesn’t have to show me any verification.  My son confirmed this was the same woman from the fair. Later, I approached mall security and was told that she was asked to leave an was given a trespass warning.

This brings me to the question that I have for you: if this woman is not from South Dakota, are the signatures that she gathered invalid?

As I noted to my correspondent, South Dakota law states:

SDCL 12-1-3 (9)     “Petition circulator,” a resident of the State of South Dakota who is at least eighteen years of age who circulates nominating petitions or other petitions for the purpose of placing candidates or issues on any election ballot;

If non-residents are circulating the petition, that’s a no-no according to state law.

How can you prove that the circulator is a resident?  It’s not like they stamp your hand at the border.

One very easy way is to demand to see the petitioner’s ID.  Why? Because for those petitioners coming from outside the state and establishing residency, once you become a resident of South Dakota, you are required to transfer your out-of-state driver’s license.  Which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who is legitimately a South Dakota resident.

If a petitioner refuses to provide a valid South Dakota ID or Driver’s license, if it were me, I’d seriously call into question their residency.

And their ability to legally circulate the petition they have in their hands.

Is it time to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system?

Earlier this month, I and a few of my kids went to Disney World in Orlando. It was the first time flying for a couple of them, and thankfully it went off without a hitch. A lot better than when I went to DC earlier this year and found myself backed up for hours.

I didn’t make any appointments for that day I landed in DC, because I knew that air travel times are not predictable and true to form, it wasn’t.

Yes, weather can come into play, but sometimes, a small problem can cascade. And we’ve all been there – sitting on an airplane or at the gate when a flight attendant makes the dreaded announcement that your flight has been delayed (to mass groans from all those in their seats). Even better when they take you off the plane. And it might be a sunny day, so you’re not getting booted because of weather, but because of congestion in Chicago, Minneapolis, or Denver, or wherever because of a lineup of planes all waiting idly to take off.

(Seriously, I actively avoid flying through Chicago because I expect my flight times are going to be mucked up because of it.)

From what I understand, there are a number of times that the reason for these delays is our current and outdated air traffic control (ATC) system.

Do you still use a VHS player at home? Most would say no. But the current ATC system is not even at that level. It technically still “works,” but it’s very clear that faster and better options are available. Airplanes today are still flying on a 70-year-old radar system, instead of using satellite guided GPS. It is a system stuck in the VHS-era, unable to enjoy the speed, ease, and significantly lower cost of online streaming.

The problem with this old system, like any utterly outdated technology, is that it makes our flights longer and our delays more severe, creating a major headache for everyone that flies. Meanwhile, cancellations and delays waste billions of dollars annually.

Isn’t this the same United States that put a man on the moon in the 60’s? Aviation has progressed in the time since. Our lack of innovation in the aviation industry does not bode well for the U.S. The government has known our system is outdated and in need of help for over 25 years, yet every proposed solution has absolutely failed when it comes time for implementation.

The solution is simple, and one that most people should support. It’s been talked about for years. Why not privatize? Why not get the government out of the air traffic control business and in its place, establish an independent entity to oversee it. President Trump has also come out in support of this decoupling, making it a pillar of his infrastructure plan.

If this were to pass, it would be one of the most significant reductions in the size of the federal government in a generation. It would improve safety, efficiency and make flying a little less of a hassle for everyone.

Seems like a win-win, right?

The problem is that private parties such as corporate and private jet lobbyists oppose this plan because of a preexisting sweetheart deal with the government. Despite accounting for nearly 10% of all takeoffs and landings, private jets pay about 0.4% into the system.

So, fixing aviation? This is an area where our people in Washington can play an important role. As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, who has oversight of this, our own Senator Thune is a critical player in this debate.

There’s already a group promoting the change at the federal level. If you agree that Air Traffic Control will operate more efficiently when run independently, I encourage you to visit to learn more, and express your support to our elected officials.

For conservatives, it’s a pretty simple choice – either you stand for reducing the size of the government and the burden on taxpayers, or force all of us to suffer the consequence of an outdated air traffic control system which continues to deteriorate.

Thune Discusses Farm Bill Proposals, Thanks Farmers and Ranchers at Dakotafest Farm Bill Forum

Thune Discusses Farm Bill Proposals, Thanks Farmers and Ranchers at Dakotafest Farm Bill Forum

We’re lucky to have so many hard-working farmers, ranchers, and other dedicated professionals who help support agriculture in South Dakota and make it our state’s number-one industry.”

MITCHELL, S.D. — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today participated in Dakotafest’s annual farm bill forum in Mitchell. Thune thanked South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers who help make agriculture the state’s top industry, and he highlighted the five farm bill proposals that he’s introduced so far this year. In early March, Thune began his farm bill rollout by introducing legislation that would create the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP), and nearly every month since then, he has introduced various pieces of legislation that target different titles of the farm bill.

“We’re lucky to have so many hard-working farmers, ranchers, and other dedicated professionals who help support agriculture in South Dakota and make it our state’s number-one industry,” said Thune. “As a South Dakotan and a legislator, I’m thankful for their contributions here and around the country, and I always appreciate their feedback on proposed policies in Washington, D.C. No one knows these issues better than the folks who till the land or raise livestock in South Dakota, so all of their ideas and honest advice are invaluable to me. Each day that passes means we’re one day closer to the 2018 farm bill, so I look forward to having more of these conversations in the coming weeks and months.”

South Dakota Agriculture Stakeholders Comment on Thune’s Farm Bill Effort:

“By introducing these individual proposals well in advance of the 2018 farm bill even being written, Sen. Thune is leading by example and showing that he’s eager to be part of the discussion with stakeholder groups across the state, like the South Dakota Farm Bureau,” said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “I want to thank him for his work and especially his commitment to farmers in South Dakota and around the country.”

“We are thankful that Sen. Thune is leading the drive for a modernized and responsive 2018 farm bill as evidenced by his foresight in proposing SHIPP as well as improvements to the ARC County program,” said Jerry Schmitz, president of the South Dakota Soybean Association. “The senator’s efforts are helping to craft a prosperous future for South Dakota farm families.”

“Livestock producers, like all of the hard-working people the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association proudly represents, are glad to have Sen. Thune in our corner fighting for the issues that matter to us,” said Jodie Anderson, executive director of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association. “His early work on the 2018 farm bill is encouraging news, and we look forward to continue working with him as Congress prepares to put pen to paper on the next farm bill.”

“I appreciate Sen. Thune’s vision and the important groundwork he’s laying for the 2018 farm bill,” said Lisa Richardson, executive director of South Dakota Corn. “It’s never too early for this work to begin, and I’m thankful he’s willing to put in the time to listen to farmers, ranchers, and others in the South Dakota agriculture community as these policies are being developed.”

Components of the Thune Farm Bill (Additional Proposals Will Be Unveiled Soon):

  • Creating SHIPP, a new voluntary income protection program for farmers that is designed for today’s production agriculture and soil health needs (click here for more information).
  • Adding flexibility to haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program contracts, which would eliminate the need for emergency haying and grazing and mid-contract management, and creating new management options for other easement programs (click here for more information).
  • Simplifying the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County payment process for multi-county farms and requiring a mandatory crop acreage base update that would be determined by planted and considered-planted commodity crop acres on a farm for the years 2014-2017 (click here for more information).
  • Updating the Thune-authored Livestock Forage Program and Livestock Indemnity Program (click here for more information).
  • Increasing the effectiveness of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and improving the National Environmental Policy Act, which would help simplify and streamline federal forest management (click here for more information).

To learn more about Thune’s 2018 farm bill proposals or provide feedback, please visit the farm bill section


Noem Advances Farm Bill Reforms at Dakotafest, Drives Forward Tax Reform and Trade Proposals

Noem Advances Farm Bill Reforms at Dakotafest, Drives Forward Tax Reform and Trade Proposals

South Dakotans weigh in on proposals

Mitchell, S.D. – During today’s congressional forum at Dakotafest, Rep. Kristi Noem heard from South Dakota producers about three critical Farm Bill proposals she’s offered. The Fair CRP Payment Act, DRY Act, and Wetland Determinations Efficiency and Transparency Act each aim to make the Farm Bill work better for South Dakota farmers and ranchers.

“Every farmer and rancher knows agriculture is a risky business, but few Americans understand that,” said Noem. “It takes some education before folks recognize safety nets for producers are really safety nets for our food supply – and even our national security. But that’s why we’re getting an early start on the Farm Bill. I’m proud to drive reforms that will make the Farm Bill work with more accountability, efficiency and predictability. At the same time, I’m fighting to make sure our tax and trade policies give producers the opportunities needed to continue their operation into the next year and the next generation.”

Leading voices within South Dakota’s agriculture community weighed in on the debate as well.

Jerry Schmitz, President of the South Dakota Soybean Association: “Each farm bill is a renewed oath to provide a safe and dependable supply of food, fiber and fuel for the benefit and security of every citizen of our nation. It provides a shield of protection for those of us who grow food today and assists us in protecting land, water and wildlife for the benefit of future generations. Congresswoman Noem is a standard bearer for agriculture and a leader of biofuel legislation which grows South Dakota’s economy, enhances our national security and provides a cleaner environment.”

Scott VanderWal, President of the South Dakota Farm Bureau: “In agriculture, a period of prosperity can be followed by one or more unprofitable years, potentially jeopardizing a generations-old operation. Rep. Noem understands that because she’s lived through it. As a result, she championed critical safety net programs in the 2014 Farm Bill and is fighting for reduced income tax rates and the elimination of the estate tax, among other priorities, in tax reform. Once again, Rep. Noem came to the table ready to listen during today’s Farm Bureau Forum. I think everyone who participated was grateful for the opportunity to share what’s working and what needs improving for South Dakota producers to succeed.”

Larry Stomprud, President of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association: “We commend Kristi for her hard work on the permanent disaster provisions for livestock producers that are part of the current Farm Bill.  Those programs are an invaluable tool for helping us manage our resources during tough years such as this one and we support their continued funding in the next Farm Bill.  We also applaud Representative Noem’s introduction of the DRY Act and hope this common sense legislation will also be incorporated into Farm Bill discussions moving forward.”

Julian Roseth, President of SD Wheat Inc.:  “Between record low commodity prices, unfair trade practices in the global market, disease issues, and extreme weather, wheat farmers across South Dakota are experiencing the toughest economic conditions they have faced since the 1980’s. Fortunately, programs authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, specifically crop insurance, have enabled farmers to be able to farm another year when prices collapse or disaster strikes.”

Marv Post, President of the South Dakota Dairy Producers:  “I look forward to highlighting the importance of a review of the Dairy MPP program in the Farm Bill, to make it work like the current programs for crops. Dairy farmers understand the crop insurance and the dairy program should be simple and available in a catastrophic event.


With additional proposals are expected following feedback from South Dakota producers, Rep. Noem has introduced three Farm Bill reform proposals to be included in the upcoming debates:

  • Fair CRP Payment Act. Currently, the National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) conducts rental rate surveys every other year, resulting in slow reactions to market changes. Under Noem’sFair CRP Payment Act, rental rate surveys would be conducted annually to more accurately reflect rate changes.
  • DRY Act. This legislation would permanently allow the hay harvested on certain CRP acres to be donated to ranchers suffering from drought or fire.
  • Wetland Determinations Efficiency and Transparency Act. Some producers have been forced to wait months or years to receive a wetland determination, delaying their ability to make improvements on their land. This bill would enact permanent reforms that make the wetland determination process more efficient, accountable and transparent.

Additionally, in early August, Noem joined members of the House Agriculture Committee for a Farm Bill listening session to hear from producers about changes needed in ag policy.

Outside the Farm Bill, Noem is the leading voice of agriculture on the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax and trade policy. Noem is the first South Dakotan in history to serve on the committee and has helped secure ag-friendly reform policies, includingmaking Section 179 permanent and extending the biodiesel tax credit. Noem also continues to fight for tax reform proposals will work for highly leveraged industries like agriculture and is the sponsor of the bipartisan Death Tax Repeal Act.

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Republican getting into the race for Sioux Falls mayor in next couple of weeks

My spies are telling me that within the next two weeks there will be an announcement made of an unexpected but very serious Republican contender jumping into the race for Sioux Falls Mayor.

This candidate would join the current Republicans in the contest, State Representative Greg Jamison and City Councilman Jim Entenmann.

Stay tuned.