Before I get to Pactola trout, let's talk about the Republican Women's Club, warblers at McNenny and a column on internals I can't seem to write

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on
Given a choice between rainbow trout and campaign internals, well ...

Here’s the lede for the column I didn't write yesterday and won't write today:

“Our internals suck.”

It will be followed by something like this: “That’s something you’ll never hear a campaign manager say, even if it’s true. No, especially if it’s true. Because internals in a political campaign never, ever suck, at least not to the outside world.

My tentative plan last week was to take that lede and the following sentences and extended them on into a look at internal polling — which campaigns themselves conduct, celebrate and typically don’t release — in political races, its value and methodology and how it shapes the campaign strategy and messaging.

As the internals go, so goes the tone and tenor of the candidate, and the campaign. So, too, might go the election.

I was inspired toward that column by a political poll that wasn’t internal. It was taken by Rockbridge Strategy, a Republican polling company, that contacted 500 South Dakotan Republicans likely to vote in the June 5 primary. And it showed Kristi Noem with an 11-point edge over Marty Jackley in the highly competitive GOP gubernatorial primary.

I say "highly competitive" because I doubt there's really a double-digit lead by either candidate right now.

Both sides had something to say about that 11-point poll and its worth, especially Jackley’s campaign staff, which called it “fake news.” Both sides also had something to imply — as in, “Hey, great news!” — about their own internal polls, without actually releasing any numbers or talking in any specifics.  Let's just say they're both very encouraged  by their internals.

How could internals from both campaigns be good? They always are, according to the campaigns. Go figure.

My plan was to write more about that last weekend, including the notion that the real campaign for the GOP nomination is just starting. So stay tuned.  But then I stopped — and got stopped, from entering, at least initially —at  the Pennington County Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday night

So I ended up with a few things to say about that, both in the story I published Tuesday on my On the Other Hand blog on the South Dakota Public Broadcasting website and on public radio with Lori Walsh yesterday morning. The story I wrote is immediately below this one on the blog. Just scroll down. And you can listen to our radio chat here:

Being denied access to the dinner on Saturday was a surprise to me. That was a different policy than I remembered. And eventually it was explained to me that things have changed. So I wondered if things would be different than they used to be at the monthly Pennington County Republican Women's Club luncheon on Thursday.

My first “not to worry” moment was when Republican state Rep. Tim Goodwin of District 30 walked over as I headed for the luncheon room in the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn: “I read your blog piece,” he said.  "I about fell on the floor laughing.”

More than that, though, Goodwin said there was no reason I shouldn’t have been allowed in to observe and take notes at the Lincoln Day Dinner: “We should be an open book. We don’t have anything to hide.”

That was always what I remembered, before I took a break from regular political coverage to work as KELO’s roving TV reporter west of the Missouri River. Lots of forest fire coverage and city government coverage and tribal-issues coverage, but not so much regular politics, especially specific to Pennington County events.

But I knew there wouldn’t be a problem at the Republican Women when I saw Julie Lien at the check-in table.

“Is it OK if I just stand in the back and take some notes?” I said.

She smiled before she answered: “Of course, you can stand or sit anywhere you like.”

So I stood, mostly, and sat occasionally, and took a string of notes and a fair number of personal comments — all positive, with most similar to Goodwin’s — about my Lincoln-Day Dinner blog piece. Meanwhile, Julie got the meeting going with something said by Chuck Lien, who died April 7 at 93.

“In the immortal words of my dear father-in-law, ‘being an American is a privilege, and not something we should take for granted,’” she said.

Chuck Lien never took it for granted. Nor did he just talk about an American work ethic. He lived it. He was one of the founders of Pete Lien & Sons here in Rapid City, where he worked for 75 years, up to within days of his death, his family reported. He was married for 65 years to his wife, Barbara, a communion minister of gentle demeanor and deep faith at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral. Chuck was also a community leader and philanthropist, with particular interests in young people and youth sports.

And Chuck was also one of the original members of the South Dakota Commission on Gaming. That’s where I got to know him, going on 30 years past, as a congenial and reliable source of information about commission business in particular and the gaming industry in general.

Years later, I got to know Chuck’s son, Chris, who was a congenial and reliable candidate for the U.S. House during his 2008 challenge of Democratic incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. That was a time when Herseth Sandlin, the first woman in South Dakota history elected to the U.S. House, was still known as the party's upcoming McGovern or Daschle or Johnson. And she was considered — by me and others — to be virtually unbeatable, at least in 2008.

Chris Lien failed in his attempt to beat her. But win or lose, good candidates make the process, the state and the nation better. And Chris Lien — with extensive help and support from Julie — did himself and his party proud with an honorable, issues-based campaign that, I’d guess, made his dad proud, too.

I found myself remembering specific events and interviews and stories I wrote during that campaign as Julie got the luncheon going. And it assumed a rapid pace with quick pitches from Dusty Johnson, South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and state Sen. Neal Tapio about their campaigns for the GOP nomination in the U.S. House race.

Tapio led off, followed by Johnson, who got what would be the biggest laugh of the luncheon during a story about teaching his three sons to be gentlemen by modeling proper behavior himself.

“I try to be a gentleman,” he said. “For example, I haven’t said anything bad about anybody here, except for Woster.”

And really, who could blame him for making that exception? Probably not most members of my own family.

Johnson also did some gentleman modeling when he strolled past the table where Krebs, his main GOP opponent, was sitting. He smiled and patted her shoulder in passing, and she looked up and nodded, with a smile.

Johnson wasn’t smiling as much, however, when he spoke of growing up in Fort Pierre and Pierre in a working-poor family, “and knowing the shame that came with understanding  we were on a welfare program." He did smile, however, when he added: "But that shame was nothing like the joy I felt when I bought my first second-hand car with money I had earned myself.”

Johnson fears welfare programs now too often “force people to stay in poverty,” something he wants to work to fix if elected.

Krebs pointed out when she followed Johnson with her own campaign pitch that she had fixed up a mess (sorry Jason Gant, but that’s on you) in the Secretary of State’s Office and could help do the same in D.C. A farm girl grown up, she said she had been calling farmers and ranchers about storm-related calf deaths on the way out to Rapid City, and heard estimates of “about a 20-percent loss.”

Livestock indemnity and other government assistance can help, Krebs said. But ranchers also told her “you’ve also got to have a lot of faith in the Lord.”

Faith in the Republican president apparently won’t hurt either. Krebs said she is “running for Congress to help President Trump.”

Krebs also noted that she had made it from Sioux Falls to the Lincoln Day Dinner in Rapid City on Saturday, despite the blizzard conditions that kept Johnson in Mitchell.

She said she “took all the back roads doing about 35 miles per hour. And we made it here, because it’s important.”

Asked after the lunceon about the travel reference, Johnson -- who missed the Lincoln Day Dinner because of the snowstorm -- said that with the interstate closed he wouldn’t have felt comfortable looking for a back-roads route that would be safe. And he said his wife would have vetoed such an idea anyway.

And speaking of vetos, one GOP candidate for governor was there. Attorney General Marty Jackley talked about making an oral argument in front of the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the week defending a state law mandating taxes on internet sales in the state.

“I’ve never been so proud to be a South Dakotan,” he said.

Jackley also said his wife, Angela, had noted his attire -- a suit -- as he loaded his pickup before heading to Rapid. He told her it was for the luncheon and other campaign stops. So she noted the jeans and boots he was packing. He said it was for branding calves at her family ranch north of Rapid.  Then she noted he was packing his shotgun. He explained that the turkey season was on.

And I wouldn't be surprised if, by weekend's close, the candidate and his hunting-and-fishing-inclined son, Michael, will have bagged a turkey or two.

But back to the poultry of politics. Jackley’s formidable opponent in the governor’s race, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, couldn't make the luncheon. But she was ably represented by Ted Hustead, grandson of the Ted who founded Wall Drug. He pitched Noem’s experience in the state Legislature, her four terms in the U.S. House, and leadership roles in both, and her farming and small-business background as essential qualifications for the governor’s chair.

Hustead also praised Noem for her work for veterans who rely on the VA medical center in Hot Springs, the fight against mountain pine beetles, assistance for ranchers following Winter Storm Atlas and the insertion of permanent rancher disaster assistance in the 2014 Farm Bill.

And Hustead told about the first time he watched Noem in action when she was running a committee in the state House of Representaves and he was testifying on a bill they wanted killed, and got killed. He noted then: "She could beat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin."

He was quicker to realize that than I was. My money was on Herseth Sandlin, an extraordinarily gifted congressional member who wasn't quite so good as a candidate, until very late in the game.

We're getting kind of late in the primary game now, which is why the candidate string at the luncheon had its allure. Two of the three candidates for attorney general— John Fitzgerald and Jason Ravnsborg — were there, as were a number of other candidates for legislative seats. So, too, was state treasurer candidate Josh Haeder, who introduced himself as "a Facebook friend." Which, to me, is a significant credential.

The two county officials who stopped me from entering the Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday also were there, but we didn’t get a chance to speak.

I was still thinking about the Thursday luncheon Friday morning, as I sipped green tea and digested my kale scramble along with the latest cable-news episode in the ongoing soap opera we might call the Trump Diaries, or maybe Fifty Shades of Orange. I was also just minutes away from sitting down to work on the “internals” column I began last week with a lede and good intentions.

But then I remembered I had forgotten to call Mike Barnes at McNenny Fish Hatchery near Spearfish — closer to my beloved Beulah, actually — to ask if the warblers were in yet. And about that time, my springer spaniel became insistent that we needed to take her morning walk.

So I did both, calling Barns, a professional fish manager who keeps track of birds on the side, and at the same time walking Rosie on the West Boulevard. With a cell phone in one hand and a plastic bag in the other, I was on the phone with Barnes when Rosie made her first rest stop.

And the warblers?

“No, we’re way behind,” Barnes said. “No sign of the warblers. The tree sparrows just left.”

Those are the American tree sparrows, subtly attired little native sparrows with rusty caps, delicate lines and a distinctive dark spot on the breast. Despite the name, they typically do their nesting on the ground, but not the ground around here. Not anywhere near here.

After wintering hereabouts, and in and along a band of the United States stretching from eastern Washington and Oregon to New England, American tree sparrows typically leave early in the spring for their breeding grounds in the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

They’ve got a long way to go, mostly at night. But considering where they’re headed, they don’t want to leave too early. Which is why they just left McNenny. Brrrrr.

The juncos also have only recently departed McNenny, Barnes said. And I’ve recently noticed a declining number of juncos showing up with the chickadees to feast on the scattering of safflower seeds — not too many or the sparrows and collared doves show up — I leave on Mary’s gardening bench on the kitchen patio.

Warblers typically begin returning to McNenny in mid-April, about the time trees get serious about budding out. And many yellow warblers will stay, while yellow-rumped warblers (no comparisons to politicians intended) will soon follow, arriving from their wintering grounds in far southern states, Mexico and Central America. Other warblers show up, too, for short stops on the long flight north.

These are exciting times for those of us who get all worked up about little winged beings that weigh half an ouce. And if If you haven’t been to McNenny, it’s worth a stop, and not just to view songbirds or gaze down at the mammoth brown and rainbow trout finning about in the deep, blue, spring-fed pond along the roadway into hatchery headquarters.

Crow Creek wiggles its way past the hatchery grounds and is a fine fly fishing spot. Caution is required, however, while wading the stream, which has springs and “quicksand” spots. And in summer rattlesnakes slither through the streamside thickets from time to time, although I have yet to see one there myself.

You can “bird” at McNenny without much concern about snakes or quicksand, especially when the spring migration is on. Which it isn’t just yet, as I found out from Barnes before I turned the subject to fish and fish stocking.

That’s behind, too, because of the weather. In fact, Pactola just recently opened up to allow the McNenny staff to add a load or two of rainbows to the reservoir. And not just any stockers, either. Because of the northern pike population in the lake, the average size of the rainbows stocked was 2 pounds, which fish managers hope will give them a better chance of avoiding Old Toothy.

Two thoughts about that:

 1) May I just say, “thank you,” sincerely, to Barnes and the fish crews across the state for working to make our angling adventures more productive. And may I also say “thank you,” in the most sarcastic of ways, to the genius “sportsman” or “sportsmen”  (because a woman angler would never be so stupid) who decided to take fish management into his/their own hands and throw a bunch of relentless eating machines into a trout, bass and bluegill lake.

Nice thinking, genius.

 2) I’m a wild-trout-loving stream fisherman, usually not much interested in catching stocked trout in large lakes. But 2-pound average? Shucks, as Tony Dean might have said, that’s worth delaying a political column and taking a drive up into the hills. Besides, Mary’s always bugging me about bringing something home to grill, other than political stories.

So I was just about ready to start packing up the fishing gear when Terry Mayes called with an offer I rarely refuse: 10 minutes. Chai tea. With the Mayes boys. Yesterday it happened to be at the new Dunn Brothers shop.

So gathered around warm drinks, the staunch Republicans and twin brothers, Terry and Larry Mayes, and I talked about the Lincoln Day Dinner deal and their concerns about my treatment. We talked about when we might get together on Belle Fourche Reservoir for a walleye trip. And, after Larry left for some wife-imposed home-appliance duties, Terry and I talked about why he isn’t at all interested in the 2-pound trout at Pactola.

He put it like this: “Once you’ve had walleyes, why have trout?”  Fair point. Trout can’t touch walleye as table fare for me, either, despite their heavy dose of beneficial Omega 3. Still, when touched up with Mary’s sauces or seasonings and hauled off the grill sizzling and juicy, stocked rainbows aren't bad at all.

The trout-collecting part of the deal isn’t bad, either. So, Pactola it was.

But I’ll get back to that “internals” column before you know it.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.