PIERRE — Sometimes the past sets the path for the future. Here are six news events from 2012 that foretell what likely will follow during 2013 in South Dakota politics and state government.
SECRETARY OF STATE
2012 was a rough, rough year for Republican Jason Gant. He saw several of his top staff resign; was found to have filed fictitious documents for his consulting business; was cleared of criminal activity after an investigation by the state attorney general into the office including the campaign business activities of deputy Pat Powers; publicly endorsed a candidate in a Republican legislative primary who was a client of Powers; provided access to other states’ election officials in exchange for donations from two technology vendors to his political action committee; and rebuilt some respect for the office by hiring two established figures in Sue Roust, the retired Minnehaha County auditor, who oversaw the 2012 elections on a temporary basis, and former First Lady Pat Miller, who is now office administrator.
Watch for an effort in 2013 within the Legislature to impeach Gant, which is unlikely to succeed because of the two-thirds majority necessary. But also watch for an attempt by legislators to change state laws so primary elections are held starting in 2014 to nominate candidates for at least secretary of state, and possibly other state offices, rather than continuing the party-convention nominating process. Gant’s seat is up for election again in 2014.
LAMBS AND LIONS
The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission increased the harvest limit for the 2013 hunting season for mountain lions in the Black Hills to more quickly bring the population of big cats into control.
The 2013 season actually began Dec. 26, 2012. The Black Hills hunt will run through March 31, 2013, unless hunters before that date harvest 100 lions total or 70 female lions. As of Dec. 31, there were six females and six males taken.
Meanwhile the commission in December approved designating for auction a highly coveted license for hunting one bighorn sheep in 2013. A foundation will handle the auction, which will be open to bidders regardless of whether they are South Dakota residents. The proceeds will be put toward improving the Black Hills sheep herds.
Two other bighorn licenses will be available on a lottery basis for South Dakota residents.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson sent mixed messages in the past six weeks about what he intends to do, but it is a question he will need to answer at some point in 2013.
If Johnson is running, he needs to be fundraising millions of dollars. If he’s not running, at least one other Democrat will need to be fundraising millions of dollars. Meanwhile Rounds definitely will be raising millions of dollars — and already has started.
The South Dakota Lottery Commission in late December approved a pilot project to greatly upgrade technology between its central computer system and video gambling terminals.
That will begin in 2013 and probably will be expanded to 1,500 locations eventually. The communications technology will allow many new types of gambling games including progressive jackpots, such as seen in casinos, to be played in video lottery establishments such as bars and convenience stores.
This could be the gateway to very big changes in legal gambling throughout South Dakota.
The South Dakota Retirement System board of trustees made difficult choices in 2012 to bring better long-range balance to the pension system that serves state government, many local governments and many school districts.
One of the choices ahead in 2013 and beyond is whether a second system should be created offering reduced benefits to new members. The current system is under-funded. Whether investment returns can bring it back to balance is sufficiently questionable that alternatives such as the second system are being considered.
Meanwhile the city of Sioux Falls wants to start moving employees into SDRS because its system isn’t financially strong enough, a request that will be presented to the Legislature in 2013.
STATE BRAND BOARD
Through efforts by the Gov. Dennis Daugaard administration, peace seemed to be reached at last in 2012 after a decade of feuds between the board, which oversees livestock ownership inspections in the counties west of the Missouri River, and the South Dakota Stockgrowers, who pioneered the program and ran it for some 60 years, before the duties were brought in-house during the Gov. Mike Rounds administration.
Director Larry Stearns quietly notified his board in late 2012 that he is ready to move on. The board will select a new director for the program in 2013. The board members — Mark Kimball of Platte, Wanda Blair of Vale, Bart Blum of Reliance, Curt Mortenson of Fort Pierre and Scott Vance of Faith, as well as some of their predecessors — have been steady in the saddle through some hard times.