Senator-Elect Mike Rounds Announces Senior Leadership Team

From a release:

Senator-Elect Mike Rounds Announces Senior Leadership Team
Skjonsberg named Chief of Staff
Kobes named Deputy Chief of Staff and Counsel

roundsPierre, SD (December 18, 2014) – U.S. Senator-Elect Mike Rounds announced today the appointment of his senior leadership team: Rob Skjonsberg as Chief of Staff and Jonathan Kobes as Deputy Chief of Staff and Counsel.

“Rob and Jon bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in both the private and public sectors,” said Rounds. “Both have industry experience important to South Dakota, including agriculture, energy and financial services. In addition to our legislative priorities, our focus is continuity between the Washington, D.C. and state offices and serving the citizens of South Dakota. Rob and Jon will be tasked with leading those objectives.”

Rob Skjonsberg: Originally from Sisseton, South Dakota, Skjonsberg (Shawns-burg) managed Rounds’ successful senate campaign. From 2003-2007, he served as Chief of Staff to then Governor Rounds. Skjonsberg also served in various management positions with Wells Fargo and has an extensive background in renewable energy, economic development, production agriculture, state government and tribal relations.

Skjonsberg is currently a partner with GSG Strategies and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from South Dakota State University. He will split time between South Dakota and Washington, D.C. Skjonsberg and his wife Larissa, reside in Pierre, SD with their three children.

Jonathan Kobes: Originally from Sioux Center, Iowa, Kobes (Co-bus) is currently Rounds’ Deputy Director of Transition. Until recently, he was the Director of Corporate Compliance for Raven Industries, Inc. Kobes has also served as in-house legal counsel in the renewable energy and agriculture fields and as a litigation attorney at a Sioux Falls law firm. His public sector experience includes serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Rapid City, as an Honors Attorney with the Central Intelligence Agency, and as a law clerk for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kobes received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in History from Dordt College and his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. He currently resides in Sioux Falls with his wife Beth and four children.

“Their combined backgrounds are a perfect complement to our committee assignments. We’re in a strong position to hit the ground running,” added Rounds.

Senator-Elect Rounds is sworn in on January 6, 2015.

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Also dear readers, I’m hearing that another staffer is joining Team Rounds as well. Justin Rollins has been named Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff. Justin was Deputy Director of Victory this cycle, consultant for GSG, Political Director for the SDGOP, and worked for Secretary of State Jason Gant.

Chief of Staff Skjonsberg noted to me…

“Justin’s a trusted friend and confidant. His Meade County roots have been a breath of fresh air. He’s an asset and we intend to keep him engaged on issues throughout the state.”

Senator-Elect Mike Rounds Announces Washington, DC Legislative Director and Communications Director

Senator-Elect Mike Rounds Announces Washington, DC Legislative Director and Communications Director

PIERRE, SD (December 11, 2014) – U.S. Senator-Elect Mike Rounds announced today the hiring of two key positions for his Washington, D.C. office: Gregg Rickman as Legislative Director and Natalie Krings as Communications Director.

“I’m pleased to welcome two highly talented indiduals to our team,” said the Senator-elect. “Their backgrounds and experience will mesh very well with the state offices to provide the best service possible for the citizens of South Dakota.”

Gregg Rickman currently serves as a Deputy Director in the Policy and Government Affairs department of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. From 2006 – 2009, he served as the U.S. State Department’s first Special Envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism; traveling to 28 countries in defense of victims of religious and ethnic intolerance. From 2003-2006, he served as a senior committee aide to three Foreign Affairs Committee Chairs and Subcommittee Chairs. He also has experience as a Legislative Assistant and Legislative Director for U.S. Senators Alfonse D’Amato and Peter Fitzgerald. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in Russian and Middle Eastern History from John Carroll University in Cleveland, OH, and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Miami in Miami, FL.

Natalie Krings currently serves as Communications Director for retiring U.S. Senator Mike Johanns. Since 2008, she has served in many roles for the senator including: Northeast Nebraska Director, Deputy Press Secretary and Press Secretary. She holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Senator-Elect Rounds takes the Oath of Office on January 6.

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Is the life issue waning as a motivator in SD politics? And is it because “Life won?”

The National Right to Life News web site recently had an article which cited the life issue as one of the primary reasons that Mary Landrieu was beaten this last weekend in Louisiana.

As NRL News Today has discussed extensively, Cassidy’s victory raises to nine the gain for Republicans in the United States Senate. In addition to Rep. (and now Senator-elect) Cassidy, other winners included Dan Sullivan in Alaska, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Steve Daines in Montana, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Mike Rounds in South Dakota, and Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia.

It is no doubt true that one reason Landrieu lost was because it was a Republican year and because there is such strong opposition in Louisiana, as there is almost everywhere, to President Obama. But there is a more fundamental reason that would have placed her re-election at risk in a more favorable political environment: she is pro-abortion in a state that is overwhelmingly pro-life.


Press Cross, a political science professor from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, told the Times, “Gradually Catholics started to listen to the abortion message and that issue started to really become a preeminent issue and as it did, they started to move to Republican Party.”

Read it here.

It was noted to be a big issue in Louisiana this year, but in the last few elections, the battle over abortion seems to have abated in our own state somewhat. Seven or eight years ago, I could do a post on the topic of abortion, and count on sixty or seventy fiery responses. Now, that’s not the case. It seems as if the ‘fire’ on the issue has diminished somewhat as far as being used to motivate voters.

For example, In the earliest parts of the US Senate campaign this past year or so, Annette Bosworth made a point to use the abortion issue in her campaign prominently. “ProLife From Conception to a Natural Death – No Exceptions No Compromises” screamed the title of a video she did as late as December 2013.

When coming out on the campaign using language that talks about “no exceptions, no compromises,” you would expect that the life issue would have played more prominently in her campaign. There was another video here, a facebook post there…. and after January, except for a mention of her stance her heavy campaigning on the issue was gone before the race really started.  After that, it was about anything but her earlier headline on the topic.

The Life issue is still important to many. But it doesn’t seem to have the emphasis it once had with the vocal electorate as a whole. Part of it could be that South Dakota has settled comfortably into it’s role as one of the reddest of the red states. Part of it could be that lacking ballot issues on the topic, abortion is not an issue of primary motivation to the extent it has been in the past.

In South Dakota, adopting a pro-choice position seems to be the near kiss of death in a campaign, except in the state’s few remaining red-free zones. And even those can be battle zones, except Republicans usually shy away from heavy campaign investment in those areas anyway because they so seldom produce a GOP winner.

But for the rest of the state, in the eyes of the electorate, being pro-life is a requirement. In one case this year when a Republican candidate’s position was miss-communicated prior to the Right to Life candidate brochure going to print, they moved Heaven and earth to get a correction made which misstated their position. Because they knew even an unintentional error on that issue would have been a problem.

In the US Senate race, Senator-elect Mike Rounds was the clear pro-life candidate in the race for US Senate, and had the undisputed record on the topic to match. Rick Weiland was unabashedly pro-choice. But the issue was never really taken up on the larger state stage as a ‘wedge issue’ or used widely in broadcast media to illustrate the differences between the candidates outside of the pro-life community. Why? Because based on the party differences, we already knew.

With few exceptions, the electorate in the state identifies Republicans as being the pro-life party, and Democrats as the pro-choice party, both with few exceptions. And those who are outside of the party norms on either side take significant static on it.  But, you can’t ignore who the voters have put in office – an overwhelming number of Republicans.

Which begs the question – on the greater statewide stage, is the life issue waning as a primary motivator for the greater electorate in state politics? And is the reason because “Life won?”

Press Release: Senator-Elect Mike Rounds announces South Dakota field office locations and leadership staff

Senator-Elect Mike Rounds announces South Dakota field office locations and leadership staff

roundsU.S. Senator-Elect Mike Rounds announced today that upon taking office he will be establishing constituent service offices in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City. Satellite offices will be established in Huron and Aberdeen.

“I look forward to working as a member of the U.S. Senate for the citizens of South Dakota,” said the Senator-elect. “Our state offices will prioritize constituent service and continuity with the Washington, D.C. office. We will function as one team – for the citizens of South Dakota. These strategically placed locations will complement existing congressional offices and provide South Dakotans even broader constituent service coverage across the state.”

In addition to the office locations, Senator-Elect Rounds announces the following individuals will be joining his staff:

  • Jeff Marlette – West River Director based in Rapid City. Jeff currently serves as Superintendent and Elementary Principal for the New Underwood School District. He retired from the SD Army National Guard as a Brigadier General with more than 30 years of service and is a Combat Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Kim Olson – Central SD Director based in Pierre.  Kim joins the staff after more than a decade of service in the Offices of then-Gov. Mike Rounds and current Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Most recently, Kim served as a Policy Advisor to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
  • Mark Johnston – East River Director based in Sioux Falls. Johnston spent the last seven years as an executive at Sanford Health. Previously he served as Press Secretary to Gov. Rounds from 2002-2006. He is a retired U.S. Army Colonel with more than 28 years of service to the National Guard and Army Reserve.
  • Josh Haeder – Senior Field Manager based in Huron and Aberdeen. Haeder has spent the past five years as Chief Operating Officer for Allen Credit & Debt Counseling Agency. He also owns a voiceover production company.
  • Connie Tveidt (Tweet) – State Scheduler and Director of Administration based in Pierre. Connie has more than 25 years of service to the citizens of South Dakota. Most recently, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff for eight years in the office of Gov. Mike Rounds.
  • Katie Douglas – Press Secretary based in Washington, D.C. working with South Dakota media. For the last three years, Douglas has worked for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.  Previously, she served as press assistant for U.S. Representative Kristi Noem. Katie was born and raised in Pierre and earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of South Dakota.

“I’m proud of the team we are assembling to serve the citizens of our state,” said the Senator-elect. “All are seasoned professionals focused on providing the best service possible.”

Senator-Elect Rounds takes the Oath of Office on January 6. Field office location information and contacts will be made available at that time.

Rounds supported in his campaign by National Turkey Federation.

From politico, an interesting holiday season tidbit. Well, maybe not a tidbit, but the main course of a big meal we ate last week.

Mike Rounds earned a mention in politico for being one of the recipients of PAC support from the National Turkey Federation, who will likely be seeking some legislation to aid in a quest to turn leftovers into fuel (and not sandwiches).

TALKIN’ TURKEY: If the dinner conversation at your Thanksgiving table lags, feel free to dazzle with some wonky energy-related turkey talk. One of the National Turkey Federation’s top lobbying issues is the Renewable Fuel Standard; the group supported EPA’s initial proposal to decrease volume requirements in the 2014 rule (ICYMI, the White House last week whiffed on the 2014 rule: The turkey industry’s other lobbying topics include various bills to repeal or reform the RFS; a House bill requiring more study of E15 fuel; Senate propane supply legislation; EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions reporting rule; and “possible tax incentives for producing energy from animal by-products.” The NTF’s PAC has waded into the Louisiana Senate race, sending $2,500 to Mary Landrieu in September. Other key lawmakers the PAC supported this year include John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Fred Upton, Bill Shuster, Collin Peterson, Mark Warner, Pat Roberts and Mike Rounds.

Read it here.

Rounds on Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Ruling

Rounds on Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Ruling

roundsPierre, SD (June 30, 2014) – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds issued the following statement today regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case:

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for business owners and for those who believe in religious freedom in America,” said Gov. Rounds.  “It’s encouraging to see that the Supreme Court agrees with our belief that this failed healthcare policy goes too far, and family business owners should not be forced to give up their constitutional liberties and religious freedom to comply with bad policy.”

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Larry Rhoden endorses Mike Rounds at GOP Unity Luncheon.


Larry Rhoden enthusiastically and eloquently endorsed Mike Rounds at the GOP Unity Luncheon today after being introduced by US Senator John Thune.

Rhoden talked at length not just about acting with personal integrity but on the other meaning of integrity – the structural integrity of the Republican Party as it comes together in unity to support the Republican nominee, MIke Rounds.


Rounds also recognized Jason Ravnsborg for his pledge of support on the eve of the election.


Nelson Presser.. lots of rhetoric, but a false charge by Nelson brings a sharp reply.

Nelson_presserI had a last minute campaign material delivery in Sioux Falls today, so I made a point to go to the Nelson Press Conference this morning.

I was hoping to hear something new, but unfortunately, it was a lot of the same material that we’ve heard out of Nelson for the rest of the campaign. (And I will post the video later, but bear with me, this kind of thing can take a while to render & upload.)

Stace did touch on the VA, briefly, and went out of his way to frame a scenario where he believed Rounds could be blamed for the VA threatening to shut down the Hot Springs home.

And then there was a response to a question posed by Jon Ellis of the Argus Leader which provoked a very sharp response from the Rounds camp, which later had Nelson trying to claim he didn’t say.

The claim coming from Nelson was that the Rounds Insurance agency was a navigator for Obamacare. This drew a fairly fast response from the campaign who accused Nelson of not knowing what he was talking about.

The words used by the Rounds people were that the Nelson statement that Rounds’ Insurance Agency was an Obamacare navigator was “a complete fabrication.” And they pointed out that under federal law, it is actually illegal for insurance companies to serve as navigators.

As I tweeted a synopsis of the above, Nelson was very quick to fire back:

It was probably a poor choice of words for Nelson to use, as I did check.  And, as you can see, he very clearly and distinctly made the accusation:

It is interesting that Nelson was quick to deny the statement against the Fischer Rounds Insurance agency, as it’s not unheard of in South Dakota for private companies who are drug into political rhetoric to bring legal action against the candidate offering false statements against them, as noted in this 2006/2007 lawsuit:

Brady Phelps, an SDSU professor of psychology has issued a “Retraction” that brings to an end the lawsuit of Drs. John E. Cook and Frederick Fisher against him that started in response to a “Speakout” (“Opening of pain center raises ethical questions about Munsterman”) he wrote. It appeared April 1, 2006, in The Brookings Register. Cook and Fisher, board-certified anesthesiologists, charged that Phelps’ letter had hurt their business.

While Mayor Scott Munsterman, a Brookings chiropractor, was not named in the lawsuit, he was on the periphery because of business connections with Cook and Fisher. Gary Aguiar, an SDSU associate professor of political science, came into the picture also when it came to light that he wrote the Speakout letter that Phelps signed. And also to be factored in was the April 11 mayoral race in which Munsterman was reelected in a four-way race; Aguiar came in second.


A monetary payment is also part of the terms of the settlement; but it is confidential.

Read that here.

So, there’s a good reason Nelson was quick to deny it – there is recent precedent for Nelson’s statement against the Fischer Rounds insurance agency, accusing them of activity that’s illegal under federal law,  coming back to haunt him after the campaign.

At the very least, it may force Nelson to dine on a large serving of crow at this evening’s Minnehaha County Lincoln Day Dinner.