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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

July 29, 2019

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, July 26

Where do South Dakota’s elected leaders draw the line?

Words can be poisonous, and the dangers spread slowly, methodically, if the contagion is permitted to thrive. The truth of that has been made excruciatingly plain over the past two weeks.

We have witnessed an appalling display of what now passes for political discourse, with racist statements coming from the mouth and Twitter pronouncements of the President of the United States, the person occupying the most influential office in the world.

It’s disheartening to see many of our neighbors, and even the three members of our state’s congressional delegation, shrug off racism as “rhetoric” in naked displays of political expediency. Given recent history, though, maybe it’s not surprising.

Donald Trump’s tweeted suggestion July 14 that four freshman Congresswomen of color “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” quickly infected supporters who attended a North Carolina rally three days later.

The president spent five minutes painting Somalian-born Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who immigrated as a refugee with her parents and was naturalized in her teens, as an anti-Semitic terrorist sympathizer who hates America. The ensuing crowd reaction devolved into loathsome chants of “Send her back! Send her back!” Trump did nothing and said nothing to stop it.

Is this what the current version of the Republican Party stands for? If not, where is the outrage?

Those who argue that Trump’s “go back where you came from” sentiment, issued toward the politically left-leaning quartet of women known as “The Squad,” is somehow not racist are engaging in mental gymnastics. His comment was aimed at four non-white American citizens — three of whom were born in the United States and all of whom are duly elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

South Dakota’s own elected officials made the minimum responses needed to look like actual human beings in the storm that ensued. Representative Dusty Johnson called Trump’s comments “inappropriate” and not “helpful,” but first he made sure to indicate his alignment with the president regarding the policy stances of “the far-left members of the House.”

Senator Mike Rounds called Trump’s choice of words a “distraction” and said that he wished “both sides acted with more civility.” Senator John Thune stood beside Mitch McConnell as the Senate Majority Leader told reporters that “the president is not a racist.” In a statement after that press conference, Thune said “I think the president needs to tone down the rhetoric, stop the personal attacks, rise above this kind of commentary and focus on the issues that matter to the American people.” All three called for a pivot toward enacting the policies they believe will strengthen the nation.

Thune, the second-most powerful Republican in the Senate, notably called for Trump to be dropped from the presidential ticket in 2016 after the release of an “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump used an obscene slang term to describe his predatory approach toward women he desired sexually. We know Thune is willing to draw lines, but how often are they tied to political benefit? At the time of that rebuke, all signs pointed to the GOP, with Trump at the vanguard, losing the election.

After Trump’s widely unexpected win, Thune tempered his public stance to a large degree. The state he represents went for Trump in that election by a margin of 2-to-1, and South Dakota voters continue to poll heavily in support regardless of the president’s increasingly incendiary language.

Failure to roundly condemn these words is not merely just as bad as full-throated support. It may be worse. It enables continued incremental degradation of our social discourse and deepens the political and racial divides. Watered-down rebukes and redirections to policy differences are not nearly enough — especially for Thune, whose duties aren’t limited only to undiluted representation of his constituency. He is also responsible for bearing the Republican standard at the highest level.

In Senator Rounds’ initial response to the “go back” controversy, he implied that the blame for Trump’s words lay with “The Squad,” saying “I believe the president is attempting to point out their unproductive, anti-American criticisms of our country.” Later, on the same day of the “Send her back!” chants, Rounds (who is up for election in 2020) ramped up his wrongheadedness, tweeting: “South Dakotans are patriots. We love America and South Dakota’s quality of life. We’re tired of radical nonsense from professional resisters. We must aim higher and focus on what unites us. We stand for our country, our flag and with (Trump).”

This editorial board believes that our members of Congress hold themselves to be good men with a reliable moral compass. But too often they demur to the whims, language and actions of the current president rather than standing up for basic American values, such as the right of all citizens, no matter their skin color or background, to offer dissenting views and challenge the status quo.

This country was built on the backs of those who came from somewhere else, those who look “different,” those who disagree. To stand back and allow inflammatory language to the contrary smacks of political cowardice, or the opposite of principled leadership.

It’s past time for South Dakota’s trio in Washington to decide where they will draw their line. Ours has already been crossed.


Rapid City Journal, July 27

Housing shortage fixes both a risk, and opportunity

A shortage of affordable housing stands, arguably, as Rapid City government’s greatest challenge, and the current shortage could worsen.

Several efforts are afoot to ease the pain, but risks also loom. The issues are technical, but if you care about the city’s future, you’ll pay attention to affordable housing proposals scheduled to come before the council this fall. Rapid City desperately needs housing solutions, but it doesn’t need short-term fixes that cause more pain later. The details will matter.

The housing shortage is big, real and here. A 2018 study found Rapid City short by 3,500 owner-occupied homes costing less than $900 per month. The city is short 1,500 rental units costing less than $500 per month. It’s hard to deny the evidence: Recent housing price increases have been reminiscent of the West Coast.

Unfortunately, residents here don’t earn California wages. In fact, South Dakota has the third-lowest average wage for employed people in the country. In Rapid City between 2010 and 2016, median household income — adjusted for inflation — fell by 3.2 percent, while the local adjusted median home price increased 11.5 percent. To ease the homeless problem, to solve the workforce shortage, something’s got to give.

Loosely defined, “affordable housing” refers to housing — including utilities — that costs less than 30 percent of gross family income. Is 30 percent affordable? In 2016, roughly 4,400 area households paid more than half of their gross incomes to housing. That’s definitely not affordable.

Strong population growth, meanwhile, stands as a probability. It’s even factored into the proposed tax rate for the next round of school district construction. Housing, income, schools and employment — it’s all connected.

Rapid City government has no magic housing fix. The city doesn’t build homes. It creates incentives and changes rules that affect housing. Among the ideas that could come before the city council in September:

— Lowering the cost of city building permits.

— Reducing lot size requirements to allow for the development of tiny homes — smaller than 400 square feet, equivalent to a room 20 feet square.

— Allowing property owners to build granny flats, provided they meet some minimal requirement and aren’t vacation rentals.

A survey seeking input on these ideas can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/RCAHSurvey . The deadline for comments is Aug. 19.

Each proposal comes with a trade-off. Low-cost building permits could reduce housing prices but they would also reduce city revenues.

Smaller lot sizes for tiny homes that cost less than $100,000 would benefit the poor, but done badly they could become a ghetto within decades. We don’t need additional dilapidated mobile home parks.

Affordable housing isn’t solely a factor of income. These are homes and communities for children and families. They provide measures of stability necessary to build better lives.

Small homes and less costly construction can be done well, but not if maximum profit is the driving force. Affordable housing done on the cheap could prove harmful to Rapid City’s future. Some places get it wrong and suffer the consequences. Some get it right and reap benefits. Communities take the wrong path out of desperation or when nobody pays attention.

Meanwhile, we’re encouraged by other efforts to create affordable housing.

In June, the council approved the development of 265 single-family homes and 250 apartments — the largest Rapid City subdivision in decades. Construction of the Shepherd Hills subdivision near Menards in northeast Rapid City should begin this summer. The developer, Rapid City firm Dream Design International, says homes will range between $160,000 and $350,000. Some apartments will cost between $500 and $600 a month. A separate Dream Design project, the 23-acre Shepherd Hills West subdivision, will contain a mix of affordable units and mobile homes.

June also saw the creation of a partnership between Rapid City Collective Impact and the Minnesota nonprofit CommonBond Communities. CommonBond, with advice from Rapid City leaders and using grants from the Black Hills Area Community Foundation and the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, expects to begin real estate development later this year.

Coming at the problem from a variety of directions increases the odds of success. With a little effort, Rapid City can benefit from expected growth while retaining its present charms.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, July 25

We say

With Honors

THUMBS UP to the University of Sioux Falls, which will induct the late Richard “Dutch” Erickson to its athletic Hall of Fame later this year. Erickson, who was born on his family’s farm near Vermillion and lived in Yankton when he passed away in 2015, left a mark on USF (then Sioux Falls College) as a head basketball coach and athletic director, spending 16 years at the institution. His 1969-70 team will also be inducted this year. He also left a mark on Yankton in his 12 years here, serving as a volunteer and helping with the Yankton Quarterback Club, among other things. It is a fitting honor for a man who left a big impact.

Crazy Times

THUMBS UP to a crazy two weeks of events that begin today (Friday) in Yankton with the NFAA Field Outdoor Championships. A two-day qualifier (July 29-30) will lead into the Hillcrest Invitational Pro-Am Aug. 1-4. Yankton will also host the South Dakota Class AA 13-14 Year-Old Baseball Tournament Aug. 2-4. Other events in the region include the District 6B Amateur Baseball Tournament in Wynot, Nebraska (July 25-Aug. 3), the South Dakota Class A 16-Under VFW Baseball Tournament in North Sioux City (Aug.2-4) and the South Dakota State B American Legion Baseball Tournament in Lennox (Aug. 2-6).

THUMBS DOWN to Washington’s ongoing inability to face up to the threat to America’s election security. During his testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Robert Mueller was asked about Russian attempts to interfere with U.S. elections similar to what Moscow did here in 2016 and has done in other countries. Mueller warned that it’s happened before and, “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.” On Thursday, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee echoed Mueller’s warning in issuing a report on the issue. But in between those two, Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith blocked consideration of three House bills focused on election security, and it wasn’t the first time that the Senate has stopped such measures. Draw your own conclusions, but the urgency on this issue is pressing and needs to be addressed by our lawmakers sooner than later.

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