Tag Archives: South Dakota

The Changing Scenery of the West

Lamedeer_sceneryKansas City   From Missoula, Montana to New Orleans is a long haul, more than 2200 miles.  It’s not something I recommend doing every year, but every once in a while it’s good to see what’s happening out there in America.  Having made it as far as my uncle’s in Kansas City, means we’ve traveled across all of Montana and all of South Dakota as well as down the border between Iowa and Nebraska.   Trust me if you’ve never done that, those states are huge!  And, there are a lot of changes!

            Casinos are one of the big ones.   They are everywhere it seems.  Gas should have been way cheaper than $3.70 per gallon since so many of the fill-em-up stations seemed to be empty-your-pockets-out casinos.  And, the big boxes are everywhere, but they are no longer just K-Mart’s and Walmart’s, there are now a bunch of Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops that are huge in town after town.  There must be some folks seriously gearing up in the Great Recession for something out there in the small towns of the West.

            We drove through Lame Deer, Montana in the southeastern corner of the state.   Lame Deer is where the Northern Cheyenne agency is located.   I went through forty years ago on some brief training I was doing there.  It was different.  There’s a college there now named after a former chief.  There’s a sizeable casino but more functional than fancy, but enough cars to make you notice.  It was still possible to watch a young man riding a horse at top speed, both bareback, across a pasture along the highway.  It was also possible to see that at best the economic development has been very uneven on the reservation.

            There are some grace notes that have come to the country though.  We pulled up for the night in Belle Fouche, South Dakota, a small town in the Black Hills on the way to Rapid City.  Walking the dog, I ended up on a nicely done parkway along the river.  I didn’t see any water, but the cattails were eye level and I wished I had had the time to walk the whole route.  Driving past Sioux City, Iowa, there were significant improvements along the river there as well that beckoned through the industrial zone, and of course there seemed to be a casino not far away as well, though maybe by that time I was seeing things.  Who knows?

            There’s another world in the edges of so many of these smaller cities.  When you get to the areas where the Motel 6’s and especially the Super 8’s are all clustered, in the West (and South to be honest) you are suddenly entering the world of the man-camps.  Pulling through a Super 8 parking lot at 930 pm the other night, the place was hopping.  Folks were hanging out of their doors and along the balconies.  Beers in hands there were three or four small barbeques going.  If you weren’t in some kind of pickup or work truck, you didn’t belong in the lot.  There was good spirit, but this was an urban camp of hardworking men after a hard summer day.  Glad to have jobs that paid, even if they were booming out at a Super 8 to make it happen.   The motorcycle riders heading west towards the annual Harley fest in Sturgis were old, fat guys lined up at Wall Drugs for gravy on their biscuits.  They were the Motel 6 crowd, while workers were Super 8 all way.

            Welcome to the changing face of America.  A lot the way it’s always been but adapting in some new ways that we’ll have to watch to see what happens next.



State Initiatives Move the Needle on Key Issues in USA Elections

New Orleans  Obvious disclosure:  I’m a huge proponent of the strategic and tactical value of local and statewide initiative on our issues to build organizational power and actually win campaign results.   This is obvious given the number of living wage, lifeline utility, sales tax on food & medicine, generic drug, minimum wage increase, and single member district measures we put on the ballot – and mostly won – before voters in cities and states throughout the country with ACORN.  When people are given the opportunity to speak and be counted, and when organizations prove they have both the wherewithal and the courage to put the questions before them, the needle moves.  Sometimes it moves with us, and sometimes it moves against us, but, doggone it, it moves!

In the elections around the country it moved yesterday in some interesting ways, so let’s look at a couple with undoubtedly more to come:

  • In Michigan I had called attention recently to a number of measures where unions were willing to take their case to the voters on important collective bargaining issues.  There were mixed results.  The preemptive effort to ward off “wisconsinitis” and protect the public employees bargaining rights in the constitution failed, though it may have immunized the state in the future, which is critical.  On the other hand the powers of “emergency managers” to take over schools and cities and reject existing collective bargaining contracts won decisively.
  • Teachers, and this is mostly the NEA, were able to turn back statewide initiatives by so-called school “reformers” masking as hard right turners in Idaho and South Dakota and protect both collective bargaining and tenure in those states.
  • In California upending all of the Debbie Downers and pollsters that were signally that Governor Jerry Brown was going down, voters decisively voted to raise their taxes to try and rebuild the once great public school system in that state.  This is the first successful pushback to “repeal” the impact of the Howard Jarvis property tax limitations from over 30 years ago that have crippled public funding.  This is huge!
  • Maryland and my friends at Casa de Maryland have much to celebrate having not only won a state-based “DREAM” act through the legislature but also winning voter approval to the measure in the shadow of the White House.  We’re going to win DREAM soon, I would bet.
  • On protest votes on Obamacare voters in Alabama, Wyoming, and Montana on health exchanges:  I’m glad I only got to Montana for fish and fun, because my brothers and sisters there are drinking bad water before voting these days.  Florida voted “yes” which should have been a message to Romney, but whatever for the 47%, eh?  It doesn’t matter though since federal law preempts state measures in the USA.  The tide is moving out on this rightwing resistance.  Even the business-based conservative Times-Picayune in New Orleans editorialized a couple of weeks ago in our solid red state that Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was a fool to not take “free” federal money for three years to provide Medicaid support for Louisiana citizens.  Their message was essentially “don’t play national politics with the lives of Louisiana poor people.”  A lot of these governors are going to be getting this message about reality now.
  • Remember that Planned Parenthood is still fighting in the trenches state-by-state to protect its health services program after the ACORN-style Congressional scam attack, well in Florida voters lined up to say that state funding for their programs and others around birth control were fine with them.
  • On other “wedge” issues dividing modern voters, two more states, Maryland and Maine are ok with gay marriage.  My bet is that the Supreme Court will be watching these state plebiscites with decisions coming before it soon on this issue.  Washington and Colorado were OK with legalizing marijuana (yes, I can already hear the advertisements about being a “mile high” there!), but Oregon said no.  Unclear how this will sort out since the US and the Attorney-General are still insisting anything about marijuana is a crime, but Latin America is also moving this way with Uruguay and other countries believing we must legalize to stop the Mexican drug cartels.  Change is coming on both of these issues no doubt!

Let the people speak and be prepared to follow.

We need to put more living wage and minimum wage efforts on the ballot locally and statewide in 2014.  We need to look at some of these other issues and assess what it takes and start making plans.