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South Dakota Governor Dennis Dugaard (R)

In an effort to help secure and buy the Senate seat for his old boss, Former Governor and U.S. Senate candidate, Mike "Abortion Ban" Rounds (R. SD), current Governor Dennis Dugaard (R. SD) has appointed former Rounds Chief of Staff, Rob Skjonsberg, to the South Dakota Board of Economic Development:

Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds crony
Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds Crony (Right)

PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Thursday appointed an associate of former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds’ to a board that awards state economic development loans, a move the state’s top Democratic Party official called a blatant effort to help Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Daugaard, a Republican, appointed Rob Skjonsberg, of Pierre, to the state Board of Economic Development. Skjonsberg worked eight years in the banking industry before becoming Rounds’ chief of staff in the governor’s office in 2003. He later worked at POET, an ethanol producer, and is currently chief of staff at Rounds’ real estate and insurance company in Pierre. Skjonsberg also is a partner in a political consulting firm that is helping Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who has said he will announce later whether he will seek re-election. - The Daily Republic, 1/4/13

Skjonsberg returned to Rounds' insurance-and-real estate company early last year:

In a move certain to inspire more speculation about a possible U.S. Senate run for Rounds in 2014, Skjonsberg will be the former governor’s chief of staff at Fischer-Rounds & Associates. But he will handle duties for Rounds in other areas as well.

When asked Friday if those areas could include a U.S. Senate run, Skjonsberg said: “Possibly. If my rejoining the former governor helps him get more comfortable with this Senate race, then I think that’s an added benefit.” - Rapid City Journal, 3/9/12

It's not surprising that Dugaard would appoint one of Rounds closest cronies to such a prominent board that is in charge of awarding economic development loans.  South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf has called out Dugaard's appointment of Skjonsberg as an effort to help Rounds’ campaign because those who benefit from state economic development loans could feel pressure to contribute to Rounds’ campaign:

“Do you believe in coincidences? The man running Gov. Mike Rounds’ campaign for US Senate just got appointed by Governor Daugaard to help dole out state tax dollars for economic development. Whose interest is being served here? It’s just another ongoing example of Republicans leaders in Pierre using state tax dollars to support Republicans running for office.

“I am calling on Governor Dennis Daugaard to rescind his offer to Mike Rounds’ campaign aide for a seat on the state Board of Economic Development.

“Politics has no place in managing state tax dollars for economic development. South Dakota cannot afford to question whether Mike Rounds’ campaign aide is serving South Dakota or Governor Mike Rounds’ US Senate candidacy.” - South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf, 1/3/13

I've written a bit about Rounds before and after he announced his candidacy and Daugaard appointing Skjonsberg proves to me that Rounds isn't a sure winner as everyone would think.  Yes, Rounds enjoyed a high approval rating while serving as Governor of South Dakota, except when he signed the abortion ban in 2006 but was overwhelmingly repealed by the voters.  Rounds' approval took a brief but step hit.  But Rounds was always a candidate who needed big money backing to help him win.  It's Super PAC cash that helped him pull a surprise victory in the South Dakota Republican Gubernatorial Primary:
Rounds might very well owe his political career to the state's loose campaign finance regulations.

He benefited from large PAC contributions as a fledgling gubernatorial candidate in 2002. Rapid City lawmaker and philanthropist Stan Adelstein funneled $60,000 to Rounds' campaign via two contributions from the Building Rapid City PAC, which was almost entirely funded by Adelstein. Of that $60,000, $25,000 came at a critical point late in a three-way primary race when Rounds was gaining momentum but running out of money.

Candidate Rounds also received more than $200,000 in 2002 in two separate contributions from Adelstein's A Better South Dakota PAC. While that PAC was organized by Adelstein, it was funded by a series of $5,000 contributions from several individuals.

Adelstein's fortune hasn't reached the heights of Sanford's, but he has been actively involved in South Dakota politics on both sides of the aisle since taking over the family construction business as a young man in the 1950s.

Rounds won a Cinderella victory in that three-way GOP primary in 2002, and went on to easily win the general election and serve two terms as a popular governor, from 2003 through 2010. - The Center For Public Integrity, 10/24/12

Rounds is just another right-wing extremist who can paint himself as a reasonable and friendly guy but needs all the financial backing he can get to win.  Plus with POET being not only a big South Dakota-based business but also one of the biggest ethanol and ethanol technology distributors, it's no wonder Daugaard and Rounds want Skjonsberg on the Board of Economic Development:

Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds crony
Skjonsberg’s early life lessons, coupled with his government experience, seem perfectly suited to his role with POET.  As the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Skjonsberg works with everyone from small-operation farmers to the nation’s highest-level government officials as he works to advance government policies to help the ethanol and agriculture industries.

“Everything I have done has led me to this point,” Skjonsberg says. “What we’re doing here at POET is for a very real purpose. It’s fate.”

Part of that feeling of fate, Skjonsberg says, comes from the fact that he was introduced to POET CEO Jeff Broin by the late Jeff Fox, Skjonsberg’s friend and predecessor at POET. Fox died in 2007, a devastating blow to the POET family. - Vital Magazine

If elected, Rounds would be nothing but a puppet for the ethanol industry and Skjonsberg would be pulling the strings.  The Senate voted a while back to end subsidies for the ethanol industry but with Rounds in the Senate, big ethanol would benefit greatly under him and that's not a good thing at all:

The federal government’s support for the ethanol industry has come under sharp questioning in recent years, as opposition has grown against corn ethanol — the “first generation” type of ethanol produced in this country. Environmentalists argue that growing corn to make ethanol produces too many greenhouse gases, partly relating to land-use change it causes, and also cuts into food supplies. - New York Time, 3/30/11
Rising food costs have been the biggest issue surrounding the ethanol industry lately. Some say  ethanol plants are driving up the cost of corn, which in turn raises food prices. - Globe Gazette, 3/19/11
In late 2011, the U.S. Senate vote to end ethanol subsidies.  Senator Tim Johnson (D. SD), who has a pretty consistent environmental record, was in the minority of Senators to vote against ending subsidies for the ethanol industry.  However, Johnson did co-sponsor legislation with his colleague Senator John Thune (R. SD) as an alternative to Senator Tom Coburn's (R. OK) proposal to immediately end ethanol subsidies:

While Coburn's language would completely eliminate the subsidy, the pro-ethanol proposal would cut off the subsidy on July 1, and replace it with a variable subsidy that fluctuates with the price of oil. Proponents of the bill, like Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), said the variable subsidy bill would help guard against attempts by oil producers to lower the price of oil in order to drive the ethanol industry out of business.

Under this proposal, ethanol blenders would get no subsidy at all when oil prices are above $90 a barrel. If oil falls to between $80 and $90 a barrel, they would get a six cents per gallon subsidy. Another six cents would be added for each $10 drop in the price of oil, and a maximum subsidy of 30 cents a gallon could be received when oil falls to $50 a barrel or less (a summary of the bill is here).

That's still less than the current 45 cents a gallon subsidy that ethanol blenders receive currently, regardless of the price of oil.

Proponents of the bill say ending the current system on July 1 and moving to a variable subsidy would save $2.5 billion. In a nod to Coburn and his supporters, the bill would use $1 billion of that for deficit reduction.

The rest would be used for the variable subsidy, but also for the development of ethanol infrastructure and other incentives. For example, the bill would expand tax credits to ethanol blender pumps, and extend through 2014 the small producer ethanol credit. - The Hill, 6/14/11

Along with Johnson, Thune and Lugar the other cosponsors included Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).  The legislation was rejected.  Johnson expressed his disappointment with the final vote:

"The real waste of taxpayer dollars is the subsidies flowing into the coffers of Big Oil," he said. "Every barrel of American ethanol replaces a barrel of foreign oil and helps with prices at the pump." - Argus Leader, 6/16/11
I personally support ending ethanol subsidies but I can understand why Johnson would support an alternative to ending ethanol subsidies:
The issue is important to South Dakota's economy. Aside from being home to Poet, the world's largest ethanol producer, the state generated more than 1 billion gallons of the biofuel last year - fifth most among states. - Argus Leader, 6/16/11
Skjonsberg and Daugaard will help Rounds secure all the POET backing possible to try and label Johnson as an Obama rubber stamper hell-bent on destroying South Dakota based jobs by pushing through a radical environmentalist agenda.  The big question is if it will work if Johnson runs again.  This might be why Johnson is taking his time make his decision.  But Johnson long history of winning close races and his tough campaigning might help him whether the attack ads.  Plus it would make Rounds look like a liar.  Another question to ask is will John Thune actually have to balls to help Rounds push this sort of lie to deceive voters.  It might be too big of a risk for Thune as well, it would make him look stupid attacking his colleague who co-sponsored his own proposal.  But if Johnson decides to run again, he has two things working in his favor:

1.  He has a good war chest ready for his next campaign:

Johnson has yet to announce his decision but a lobbyist with strong ties to Senate Democrats predicted he would run for a fourth term.

He reported $1.2 million in his campaign war chest at the end of September. - The Hill, 11/25/12

2.  Johnson will have the Native American vote behind him, which is essential for Democrats to win in states like South Dakota:
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) announced that five South Dakota tribes will receive $1.3 million in grants to enhance public transit service on tribal lands. The funds were competitively awarded as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit Program. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a transit bill authored by Chairman Johnson which will double funding for transit programs on Indian reservations and give tribal transit providers greater certainty for planning and capital improvements.

“These funds will help tribal members stay connected and keep local economies growing,” said Chairman Johnson. “Reliable and accessible public transit is vital for many residents of Indian Country, and I will continue working to bring transportation options and economic opportunities to every part of South Dakota.” - Political News, 12/9/12

Rounds will have a very hard time appealing to Native Americans in South Dakota as kossack members meralda and Aji have pointed out Rounds delay in requesting disaster relief for Native American tribes during the huge ice storm:
For me, his delay in seeking a disaster declaration for aiding the SD reservations devasted by ice-storms and blizzards in Dec. 2009 and Jan. 2010, were especially hard to accept.  After filing the request in March 2010, the Presidential declaration followed and aid was given.  But the delay was tragic. - meralda's diary, 2014 Senate race - SD, 11/29/12

That's what this is about:  The state of South Dakota, under the auspices of the Rounds administration, does not want to spend any extra state money to get federal disaster assistance for the reservations.  

And now that private aid is pouring in, thanks in large part to the efforts of Kossacks over the last two weeks, the governor's office has the perfect excuse not to move forward with the federal disaster process.  Inadvertently, we may just have given him exactly what he wanted:  Time to wait out the weather and public sentiment.  (Not that we had a choice in the matter; lives were at risk.  But the fact that some folks are now in a better position thanks to private efforts should in no way excuse the state of South Dakota from its obligations to its citizens.) - Aji's diary, Why is S.D. Gov. Mike Rounds Denying Federal Aid to Indian Reservations in Crisis?, 2/16/10

Whoever the nominee maybe, whether Johnson decides to run again or if his son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson or Former Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin (D) decides to run against Rounds, this is going to be one of the closest and probably most expensive races of 2014.  But no amount of unlimited ethanol and Super PAC backed cash can help Rounds if Democrats can get their base to the polls in 2014.  Personally I hope Johnson runs again and we will be hearing his decision very soon.

Originally posted to pdc on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:27 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Climate Hawks, Native American Netroots, and South Dakota Kos.

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