By Bob Mercer
State Capitol Bureau
PIERRE – We sent the world quite a message with Joan Jett.
We could have promoted South Dakota as a place of tolerance and inclusion.
We could have said, “She doesn’t eat meat, but we grow great food period in South Dakota. Rock on!”
Instead, we forced her off South Dakota’s float in the Thanksgiving Day parade.
And then we got played as hicks again.
Some of the replacement musicians – Can you name them? I can’t – turned out to be vegetarians, too.
What a joke.
The bigger lesson is we need to think carefully about what we say South Dakota is.
We’re headed toward a generational cliff. We don’t have enough young people to replace the retiring people.
That’s especially true in the ranks of professionals and craftsmen who make our economy go.
You see it on our Main Streets and dairy farms too.
The population segment with the greatest growth is young American Indians. But the academic gap is deep, and we have blown through another generation without addressing it.
The reservations don’t have jobs, while places such as Aberdeen and Mitchell can’t get workers enough.
Our Republican administration in state government refuses to expand Medicaid to cover lower-income workers.
Young people, especially those less educated, tend to be lower-income workers.
The Democratic Party and labor organizations put a measure on the 2014 statewide ballot to raise the minimum wage.
Democrats are so weak that ballot measures are one of the few ways they can exercise any power in South Dakota.
The Republican Party is determined to win the U.S. Senate seat in 2014 as Tim Johnson retires. He is the last Democrat holding a statewide elected office in South Dakota.
Other states legalize gay marriage. I struggle to understand that desire. I also struggle to understand why South Dakota allows marriage only between a man and a woman.
We’re a long way from New Hampshire and “Live Free or Die.”
Think about what we’re saying. South Dakota is polarized and closed. And we’re not even talking weather.
So it isn’t any wonder, really, that Gov. Dennis Daugaard came up short with his plan to recruit families and workers to move to South Dakota.
I look at my own life. I’m glad as parents we were able to raise our family here.
I understand why our daughter moved to the brighter lights in another state where she is carving the first steps of a career.
But I think her life could be just as fulfilling here, if in different ways.
Money, excitement and nice apartments are great attractors for many young people. Are we sending any messages about those things?
For a decade or more, tuition and fees went up and up at our state universities, and in recent years our technical institutes have gone the same path.
We built the university centers at Rapid City and Sioux Falls and Pierre but we didn’t price them affordably.
We have a tuition freeze coming next academic year. But when do we hold the sale?
A sale, people understand.