South Dakota Editorial Roundup

Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

The Associated Press

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, March 6, 2013

Corn Palace big enough for state tournaments

State tournaments were taken away from the Corn Palace in 2006 when the South Dakota High School Activities Association determined that the Mitchell landmark is too small to host such big events.

The decision has proven painful for Mitchell, a basketball town that suddenly found itself on the outside looking in as tournaments — and the lucrative tourism dollars that come with them — have headed elsewhere.

Meanwhile, attendance numbers at all of those tournaments over the past decade or so show that the Corn Palace could, indeed, have hosted at least a few.

It’s time for the SDHSAA to come back to the table and once again explain to Mitchell why we have been left out of the rotation for state tournaments.

Last week, The Daily Republic outlined attendance figures at girls’ tournaments since 2005. Out of the 180 total girls’ basketball tournament sessions that have been held over the past decade — there are six sessions per tournament — only six have surpassed the seating capacity of the Corn Palace.

That means that only about 3 percent of the sessions held in the past 10 years would have been too big for the Palace. In the meantime, Mitchell has racked its brain trying to figure out ways to get back into the tournament rotation, including several proposals to build a new arena or to enlarge the Corn Palace itself.

Statistics show that the average per-session attendance figure ranges from 1,600 for Class AA and Class B to about 1,800 for Class A. Yet the Corn Palace has seating for 2,989 for basketball games.

Are we just not understanding the math?

This is maddening. We firmly believe Mitchell can host a state girls’ basketball tournament, and we feel it’s time for Mitchell officials to go back to the SDHSAA board and ask, once again, why we aren’t.

American News, Aberdeen, March 9, 2013

Enjoy the good times, but also feel the burn

An agricultural economist recently planted in Aberdeen some seeds of advice for us all.

Hope, but don’t believe, the good times will last forever.

“What the market gave you, it will take away,” said Michael Swanson, a senior vice president for Wells Fargo.

“If you look at farmers’ balance sheets, they are probably bigger than 80 percent of the small businesses in the United States,” he said. “Almost all of the assets are land.”

Swanson said while he was optimistic about farming and corn, he was more pessimistic about land values.

Ag land is being pushed higher by low interest rates and high prices for crops. While both might continue in the short run, over the long run, it is unlikely they will continue at such high levels, he said.

Whether you swallow all, some or none of Swanson’s message, one thing really rang true. In the middle of good times, map out a plan for the future when times might not be as good.

That holds true for farmers, business owners or your own family finances.

“There are good times and bad times in agriculture, and they don’t last,” Swanson said.

Assessing situations and anticipating risks is important in all businesses, including farming.

“Anticipating a risk is like an NFL quarterback reading a blitz and knowing what to do with the football,” he said. “The good ones throw a short pass and throw it out of bounds so they don’t take a loss. The Vikings quarterback takes a 15-yard sack. We don’t want to be like the Vikings.”

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, March 6, 2013

Lawmakers fail driver safety test

The South Dakota House passed a bill on Monday that would prohibit drivers younger than 16 from using cellphones while driving after failing to pass the measure last week and rejecting another bill that would ban texting while driving for all drivers.

Let’s see. It’s not OK for young drivers to use a cellphone while learning to drive, but as soon as they turn 16, they can talk and text all they want.

Supporters of the bills argued that young drivers should not use cellphones and no one should text while driving because doing so increases the chances they will cause an accident. Opponents said there’s no proof that banning cellphones reduces crashes.

Common sense alone will tell you that talking on a cellphone or texting are dangerous distractions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has studied the causal relationship of distracted driving and automobile crashes. A 2009 NHTSA study found that driver distraction was the cause in 26 percent of fatal accidents in 2008. The leading distractions were dialing a hand-held device, entering text or talking on a hand-held device (cellphone). The NHTSA website notes that drivers texting while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.

That’s plenty of proof for us.

When the House Judiciary Committee rejected the texting ban, not one person testified against the bill, yet committee members were sufficiently convinced that texting while driving is not a problem.

Opponents said there are other ways to teach that texting is not acceptable. Why pass laws then, if lawmakers believe they’re not effective in changing behavior?

It’s irresponsible for legislators to reject a bill that prohibits a driver distraction that NHTSA studies have linked to an increase in accidents by claiming the behavior isn’t hazardous.

The teen cellphone ban was the only recommendation from the teen driving task force to pass the Legislature – a disappointment to the task force members who devoted many hours and miles to improving teen driver safety only to have all but one of their solutions rejected.

This year, state lawmakers have failed their driver safety test.

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, March 12, 2013

Advocate for transparency during Sunshine Week

South Dakota is a small place, and our lives are defined by close relationships with neighbors and friends, including those we elect to govern us.

Certainly, familiarity and relatively easy access to government are two advantages of living in our sparsely populated state.

But even that culture of trust and familiarity needs some limits. When our government officials’ actions are allowed to be kept secret, they risk cheating the voters’ good faith and trust.

That’s why this state’s unwillingness to restrain officials’ power by allowing public oversight of their actions is so alarming.

As a small state, we should demand more questioning of public actions, more public input on policies and programs, more oversight of taxpayer spending — and all of that begins with a more transparent government.

Nationally, and here in South Dakota, it’s Sunshine Week, a week designed to highlight the importance of open government. In short, it means recognizing that the public’s business should be done in public and that we shouldn’t settle for anything less.

During meetings of the state’s Open Government Task Force last year and in other public discussions, some citizens have argued that no one wants their dirty laundry aired in the newspaper or through electronic media. People won’t run for office unless some things are allowed to be secret, they argue.

That’s the opposite logic for strong government. If people don’t want to run because their abuse of office would be discovered, they really shouldn’t run. If people don’t want their dirty laundry known public, then don’t do anything that falls into that category. It’s less about whether something will appear in the newspaper and more about whether we as citizens are able to know how our government representatives are spending our money or whether they are scrupulous in the process of working for us.

Many people who are elected to office have the public’s best interests at heart. Some, unfortunately, are willing to cross the line of ethics, greed or power and abuse their public trust, sometimes in small ways but other times in big ways. Based on the tenents of democracy, we all should know when that happens. Knowing they could be found out in public could even be a deterrent. If instead, government actions and spending are secret, it is no longer a democracy in which the people can make enlightened decisions.

That’s why news organizations advocate for transparency at all levels of government, including committees of public boards, such as a school district committee judging whether a book should be banned from the library. In an open government, those decisions are made in public. It’s also why lawsuits involving government officials should not be sealed if they are settled in court, leaving the public never knowing the nature of the infraction and how much taxpayer money was paid out in the settlement, an amount that can be hefty but is being kept from the people.

Violating the public trust and expecting to keep that secret — whether it be a big deal or small — is destructive to freedom. Are we as a society willing to settle for that, a secretive, mediocre representation of us?

We must change our culture and our thinking to know that just because we know our elected officials and trust them, doesn’t mean they should govern without transparency.

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