South Dakota Politics
A University of South Dakota law student's blog dedicated primarily to shining light (either a harsh, unyielding spotlight or a soft, warm glow) on figures and institutions in South Dakota.

Saturday, May 24, 2003  

Imagine the brouhaha that would have erupted if a Republican senator had done this.

posted by Jason | 1:12 PM

Thursday, May 22, 2003  

Argus Leader executive editor Randell Beck's assertion on Greg Belfrage's radio show that the Argus Leader doesn't report on the wives of political candidates is bogus. A cursory glance through the Argus Leader index at the I.D. Weeks Library here at the University of South Dakota yields well over a dozen stories, most of them puff pieces on the wives of Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson. Many of these were published during Beck's tenure as executive editor. One hard-hitting story that I discovered during my research was particularly fascinating and was published BEFORE Beck became the executive editor.

The hard-hitting story I found was written by Gannett reporter Norm Brewer, and went into exquisite detail about Harriet Pressler, the wife of Larry Pressler, the former senator. The piece, entitled "Pressler faces D.C. Housing Controversy" and published on July 13, 1990, was about a controversy involving a two-story townhouse in Washington, DC, purchased by the Presslers. The Presslers were seeking a zoning variance from the city's zoning board to allow them to rent the townhouse to commercial tenants rather than to residential tenants, which would have greatly increased the value of the property. The crux of the story rested on the insinuation that Senator Pressler was using his position in congress to help his wife in her real estate business. It begins, "Sen. Larry Pressler is seeking a potentially lucrative zoning change for property he owns across the street from the site of a planned federal building he backed while on a Senate Committee."

Of course, this story shares shades of similarity to current reports that Tom Daschle and his lobbyist wife have purchased a multi-million dollar home in Washington, D.C. The 1990 Argus Leader piece on Larry and Harriet Pressler's property purchase spans thirty-six paragraphs. Yet Tom and Linda Daschle's property purchase merited a mere five sentences in a column by David Kranz. I might add that the only reason Kranz printed those five sentences was because I declared a "Kranz Watch" on SDP and counted the days until Kranz reported the story. That's the "local conversation" Kranz alludes to in his report. There's no discussion about where a senator gets the kind of money to buy such an expensive home, and certainly no insinuation about corruption, as there was in the 1990 piece by Brewer.

The bias exhibited by the Argus Leader in the 1990 race was so obvious that even the New York Times commented on it. Here is the comment from the November 7, 1990 edition of the Times:

In the Senate race the incumbent, Larry Pressler, narrowly defeated two opponents: a well-financed Democrat and a vituperative newspaper.

Although the challenger, Ted Muenster, a Sioux Falls businessman, was well connected politically and commanded campaign funds approaching $1.6 million, Mr. Pressler mustered enough money to pay for a media campaign that stressed his independence from Republican Party politicking.

Mr. Muenster, who served as chief of staff under Richard F. Kneip when he was Governor, seemed to take his campaign script from The Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the state's largest newspaper. At times the Senator reacted more stridently to the newspaper's criticisms than to his opponent's.

And the biggest gem of all in the whole sorry state of affairs at the Argus Leader is that David Kranz, then the managing editor of the Argus Leader and currently the "dean of South Dakota political reporters," was fingered by Roll Call as the man behind the Argus Leader's "vituperative" bias against Larry Pressler in 1990. Here are the key excerpts from the July 30, 1990 edition of Roll Call:

[P]ressler has been the target of intense investigation by the state's biggest newspaper, and [Roll Call] receives a steady stream of anti-Pressler, Argus Leader clips sent to us by his opponent, businessman Ted Muenster. Their flavor is captured in this typically even-handed headline: "Pressler Is Told to Clean Up His Act."

Prior to the real estate article, the attacks have been the picayune kind of charges [Roll Call] hears about many incumbents every campaign season: franked mail abuses, improper or lavish spending from office accounts, personal foibles.

The bad blood between Pressler and David Kranz, the AL managing editor and political columnist, is well known in South Dakota, according to sources in the state press....

[Pressler chief of staff Kevin Schieffer] believes the guiding hand behind the AL's treatment of Pressler is Kranz, the managing editor, and this claim was backed up by two South Dakota reporters very familiar with the paper's operation.

In an interview with [Roll Call], Kranz declined to discuss coverage of Pressler for the record, except to say, "We are in the business of reporting the news, not making the news."

But in an April 12 interview with The Hotline, Kranz promised, "Pressler will be running against the Argus Leader" in his campaign for re-election.

"Sometimes the paper does appear to be working hand in hand with the Democratic party," said one of the reporters, but he noted that the Pressler coverage is also "a reflection of the general lack of respect for Pressler in upper circles," both Democratic and Republican, in South Dakota.

In sum, I think it can safely be said that nothing has changed at the Argus Leader, even with Randell Beck currently at the helm. We still get vituperative bias from Gannett reporters under outrageously misleading headlines. We still have a so-called political reporter who can barely muster a scintilla of objectivity when reporting on the South Dakota political scene, and who shouldn't be allowed to pass off his lack of objectivity as even-handed reporting. If those in charge at the Argus Leader care about being objective and credible, it's about time they glance inward. There's a hell of a lot of room for improvement.

posted by Jason | 10:15 PM

Greg Belfrage adds more details about Randell Beck's appearance on his show yesterday.

posted by Jason | 3:21 PM

DECONSTRUCTING KRANZ: On Tuesday, I quoted from a 1986 editorial piece by David Kranz singling out various members of the Daschle campaign for praise shortly after Tom Daschle's victory that year. Apparently, singling out various Democratic campaign members for praise fits a pattern for David Kranz. An observant SDP reader pointed out this article from David Kranz shortly after Tim Johnson's victory last fall. Excerpt:

[Steve] Hildebrand was the glue for the operation. He's a quiet guy who never raised his voice and calls George McGovern his hero.

These days, the Argus Leader doesn't put Kranz columns like this in the editorial page. Kranz articles like this are held out to be objective reporting. At least back in 1986, Kranz's Hildebrand Hagiographic™ was relegated to the editorial page of the Argus Leader.

posted by Jason | 11:59 AM

Wednesday, May 21, 2003  

The Argus Leader went to great lengths to intrude on Rob Broin's life regarding the plush home he is building. Yet there never was a story on Tom Daschle's plush new multi-million dollar home in Washington, DC. Rob Broin is a private citizen who doesn't deserve the type of scrutiny given in this story. Tom Daschle is a public official, and all the Argus Leader has about his new home is a paragraph written by David Kranz. The Argus Leader seems to have misplaced priorities.

posted by Jason | 12:09 PM

Steve Sibson adds his voice to the blogosphere, via "Sibby Online." Welcome aboard, Steve. The Argus Leader is in for a rough ride now that Steve can point out its failings to a wider audience. And I think outdoorsman Tony Dean, a possible Democratic candidate for Bill Janklow's House seat, is going to be under some closer scrutiny too.

posted by Jason | 2:40 AM

Tuesday, May 20, 2003  

DECONSTRUCTING KRANZ: After delving into old editions of the Argus Leader, more substantive information can be brought to light that raises more questions about David Kranz's impartiality when it comes to reporting on Tom Daschle. On November 2, 1986, shortly before Tom Daschle was elected to the United States Senate, David Kranz, then the city editor for the Argus Leader, cast his vote as an editorial board member to endorse Tom Daschle. This alone should call into question David Kranz's impartiality as a political reporter. But it gets better. On November 9, 1986, shortly after the election, David Kranz wrote an editorial piece that can only be called a celebration of the Daschle victory. In this piece, Kranz singles out various Daschle campaign workers for praise, calling one worker an "unsung hero" for getting out the vote for Tom Daschle. Also among the workers singled out for praise was current Daschle campaign manager Steve Hildebrand. The Daschle victory was ascribed in part to Hildebrand's "political awareness."
The fact that David Kranz has in the past voted to endorse Tom Daschle in the 1986 Senate campaign, coupled with the celebratory nature of an editorial piece Kranz wrote shortly after Daschle's victory in 1986, speaks volumes about David Kranz's impartiality as a political reporter covering Tom Daschle today. Once again, these facts do not make David Kranz a bad person. They are merely important things that the average reader should be aware of as he reads David Kranz's columns. David Kranz holds himself out to be an impartial observer of the South Dakota political scene. However, when one exercises a modicum of effort in researching Kranz's journalistic background, it immediately becomes clear that David Kranz may not be an impartial observer. As the 2004 election approaches, with Tom Daschle once again campaigning to keep his seat in the Senate, South Dakotans deserve to know that the dean of South Dakota political reporters may not be able to report objectively on this race.

posted by Jason | 9:32 PM

In Congressional Quarterly Today, Alison Stevens discusses the maneuverings of Senate Democrats for the position of Democratic Leader in the event of Tom Daschle's defeat in 2004:

The senators most often mentioned as having higher ambitions are Reid and Dorgan, who signaled they had locked up sufficient commitments from their colleagues last winter - Reid to be elected leader, and Dorgan to become whip - had Daschle stepped aside.
Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois also are among the oft-mentioned potential leadership candidates.
First-termers Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Jon Corzine of New Jersey also are said to have higher ambitions. But neither Clinton, who took over as chairman of the Steering and Policy Committee this year, nor Corzine, the new chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is expected to challenge their more senior colleagues for the top positions if they open up.

Reid is the clear favorite to become Democratic leader if he is re-elected but Daschle is defeated next year. As his opponent the White House is recruiting Republican John Thune, the former House member who lost last year to South Dakota's other senator, Democrat Tim Johnson, by 524 votes.

Just before Daschle abandoned his nascent presidential campaign, Reid said he had commitments from at least 35 of the 49 Senate Democrats in January, leading up to what turned out to be a premature campaign against Dodd. But Reid, who has never won a Senate election with more than 51 percent of the vote and survived in 1998 by only 428 votes, is considered the most politically vulnerable senator with his eyes on a higher post.

posted by Jason | 2:53 PM

Denise Ross discusses an interview she had with Club for Growth president Stephen Moore in today's edition of the Rapid City Journal. Some choice quotes:

"Paul [Erickson] has been a good adviser to the club. He knows South Dakota politics as well as anybody I know. He gives us sound strategic advice."

"I don't think we are huge John Thune fans."

"I would probably be more enthusiastic about Janklow than Thune."

Fascinating stuff. Read the whole thing.

posted by Jason | 12:30 PM

The Rapid City Journal editorial board castigates Tom Daschle's use of the filibuster to block an up or down vote on the nominations of Miguel Estrada and Patricia Owen to the federal appellate bench. The editorial board also summarizes Daschle's column on the issue of judicial nominations printed in the Journal this past Saturday:

Daschle writes that the "confirmation process is working well" (without mentioning the unprecedented use of a filibuster to block confirmation votes) and then changes the subject midway through his article to the economy, deficits, ethanol and drought relief.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Jason | 2:17 AM

Read about Neal Tapio's announcement that he will be forming an exploratory committee for a US Senate run here and here.

posted by Jason | 1:30 AM

The Democratic Party's biggest contributors believe that Tom Daschle and his House counterpart will remain in the minority through 2004 and beyond:

[T]he AFL-CIO is giving up hope on congressional Democrats. Labor bosses, including President John Sweeney and political director Karen Ackerman, say there is little chance of winning back the House or Senate, so they're focused on the White House. "They better rethink that," says a top Democratic Party official angered by labor's assessment.

posted by Jason | 1:08 AM

Monday, May 19, 2003  

Tom Daschle states in a column for the Rapid City Journal that the judicial confimation process isn't in a crisis:

Far from the "crisis" that some suggest, the numbers show that the confirmation process is working well. Only two of the president's nominees have met with sustained opposition.

However, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez disagrees and points out that several Democratic senators also disagree with Tom Daschle:

-- Chuck Schumer in his April 30 letter to the president stated that he "could not agree more" with Mr. Bush that the process is "broken" and that we are in a "vicious cycle" of "delayed" confirmations.

-- Dianne Feinstein in her May 5 letter to Mr. Bush stated that she believes the judicial confirmation process is "going in the wrong direction" and is potentially "spiral[ing] out of control."

-- Mark Pryor in his April 30 letter to Sen. Bill Frist agreed -- together with all 10 of the new senators -- that the "judicial confirmation process is broken and needs to be fixed" and that the "United States Senate needs a fresh start."

-- Zell Miller in his May 9 statements to the media said the Senate was becoming the "world's greatest obstructionist body" because a
minority of senators was denying votes on judicial nominees.

Tom Daschle also plays the numbers game in his column:

In the past two and a half years, the Senate has produced one of the most efficient records of judicial confirmations in recent history. Since January 2001, 126 presidential nominees have come to the floor of the Senate. Of those, 124 are now serving on the Federal bench. Only two have not been confirmed. That comes to a confirmation rate of 98.4 percent, a record.

The judicial confirmation process is moving swiftly. The Senate has approved an average of one judge per week for the past two years. As a result of our work, the number of vacancies on the federal courts has been cut in half, and the vacancy rate is now at its lowest point in 13 years. Federal courts are working more smoothly than they have in many years.

But Alberto Gonzalez knows how to play the numbers game too:

The overall delays in holding hearings and votes on appeals-court nominees have also risen to new and extraordinary levels: The 107th
Congress was the least efficient in modern history in holding hearings and votes on appeals court nominations, according to a recent
independent study by historian Sheldon Goldman. In this presidency, more appeals-court nominees have had to wait at least a year for a hearing than in the last 50 years combined. As a result, 12% of the federal appeals-court seats are vacant, and 9% classified as judicial emergencies.

Gonzalez easily punctures Tom Daschle's arguments. Sadly, Gonzalez's column is unlikely to appear in the Rapid City Journal or the Argus Leader in response to Tom Daschle's column.

posted by Jason | 2:20 PM

Neal Tapio will be announcing today that he is forming an exploratory committee for a US Senate run.

Time: 11:30 am
Where: Sioux Falls, Downtown Holiday Inn City Center, Ambassador Room

posted by Jason | 10:22 AM

Sunday, May 18, 2003  

KRANZ WATCH: David Kranz, the dean of South Dakota political reporters, grudgingly reports the news of Tom Daschle's state-wide polling which occurred two weeks ago, not "a few days" ago as Kranz states. Note that there's no mention of Tom Daschle's focus-grouping activity in Huron that occurred in tandem with the telephone polling. Also, there is no mention of Tom Daschle's stunning flip-flop on the Iraq war within the same time-frame as his intense polling and focus-grouping activity. David Kranz can find a connection to Paul Erickson when Club for Growth president Stephen Moore comes to the state to discuss his organization's commercials, but somehow, Kranz just can't connect Tom Daschle's polling with Tom Daschle's flip-flop. All in all, I'm saddened and baffled by Kranz's lackluster performance. Perhaps Greg Belfrage can ask Tom Daschle some follow-up questions related to this story if Tom accepts the invitation to be on Belfrage's radio show. You know, to tie up some loose ends.

posted by Jason | 2:16 AM
Ungarnered Praise
Talon News Series on Argus Leader Bias