South Dakota Bans Abortion

Gov. Mike Rounds has signed the South Dakota abortion ban into law, in direct defiance of Roe v. Wade. The bill bans nearly all abortions unless there is a direct threat to the life of the mother.

This bill leaves me conflicted. I personally find abortion to be a barbaric practice in which the life of an innocent child is sacrificed often for nothing more than the convenience of another person. At the same time, this action was taken rashly and will cost the state of South Dakota millions in legal fees and will probably never see the light of day in the Supreme Court. Had the Legislature wanted to approach this with more subtletly than a bull in a china shop they could have ratcheted up the restrictions on abortion in an incrementalist manner – instead they’ve gone for a blanket ban that is poorly written and poorly considered.

That being said, Roe is bad law – based on a horrendous stretching of the law that relies on “penumbras” and “emanations” rather than a concrete reading of the Constitution. Even if Roe were overturned, the chances of a blanket ban on abortion nationwide would be slim to none. States like California and New York would never vote to ban abortion, and those states represent the vast majority of abortions performed in this country. Those wishing to procure abortions will always have the option of going elsewhere to get them.

There were better options that would have dramatically cut back on the abortion rate (not that South Dakota has a particularly large abortion rate to begin with). Something like Germany’s mandatory conseling law could have passed muster with the Courts, helped reduce abortions, and heped change the culture towards a more pro-life end. Instead, the South Dakota legislature and Gov. Rounds have further inflamed the issue, forcing people to take sides, and passed a law that is blatantly in violation of federal law and is unlikely to ever be grated certiorari by the courts. Instead, the federal appeals court will strike the law down and the state of South Dakota will be out millions of dollars in legal fees.

This was a rash decision that will have dramatic and long-reaching consequences, and will end up setting back the pro-life cause by years. Instead of following an incrementalist model that would help change attitudes about abortion, the state of South Dakota has ensured that the abortion debate will continue to be one of acrimony – and ultimately nothing will have been decided.

The Legislature and Gov. Rounds are now celebrating what will ultimately be a Pyrhrric victory in the defense of the unborn, and their ill-considered law has caused far more harm than good.

Supporting Intellectual Diversity In Higher Education

Via Instapundit comes this piece on an effort to help foster and promote intellectual diversity in South Dakota higher education:

HB1222, passed by a vote of 42-26, asks the Board of Regents to report annually on what the state’s six universities are doing to promote “intellectual diversity,” defined as “a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological and other perspectives.”

“The 2007 higher education budget request is half a billion dollars,” Rep. Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, the chief sponsor of the bill, said. “It is simply good governance that legislators ask questions and seek answers. Students and taxpayers deserve no less.”

I’ll admit some level of skepticism about how the Legislature intends to measure intellectual diversity, and how much interference is appropriate in this case. Indeed, despite the fact that the bill has already passed the House, there are some worries about how it would be implemented:

Other opponents took issue with a list of suggestions included in the bill on which reports can be based, such as encouraging a variety of speakers at campuses and creating an ombudsman.

Rep. Tom Hills, R-Spearfish, a retired Black Hills State University professor and dean, said the bill would “micromanage” tasks that should be left up to administrators.

But Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, disagreed. He said the criteria are merely suggestions and that an annual report is not a hardship.

However, reading the full text of the bill helps show why this law is narrowly constructed enough to not be burdensome. The bill is quite simple, and lays out exactly what the report should contain. This does seem like a reasonable measure to help foster a climate of intellectual diversity.

The fact is that higher education often has a view of diversity that is literally only skin deep. Diversity is more than the color of one’s skin or one’s geographical position. Universities are often some of the least intellectually diverse institutions in society, where each and every issue from anthropology to zoology seems to be based on the secular Trinity of race, gender, and class. The partisan identification of college professors is overwhelmingly Democratic – and far to the left.

I know many people in academia, and while they aren’t consciously biased against conservatives, they have a worldview which systematically ignores and suppresses ideas that don’t fit within the narrow confines of normal academic discourse. They’ve essentially defined “academics” in accordance with a particular worldview, which is why the academy is often so far removed from the rest of society. Conservatives are kept as a minority, and conservative ideas are rarely if ever given much of a fair hearing. This kind of educational monoculture stands in opposition to the values of free inquiry and intellectual diversity.

As they say, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and ensuring that taxpayer-funded higher education upholds the values of intellectual diversity and pluralism is a goal that’s worth supporting. This bill should pass the Senate and Governor Rounds should sign it into law.

Ellsworth Off The Chopping Block

John Thune is breathing easier this afternoon as the BRAC Commission has voted 8-1 to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base open. The Commission decided on the merits of the case that the costs inherent in closing Ellsworth would overshadow any cost savings of closing the base. Ellsworth is the second-largest employer in South Dakota and a major economic force in the west-river region of the state.

Thune was feeling the heat after he said that his closer ties to President Bush would help in saving the base. As it happened, President Bush didn’t seem very eager to help Thune save Ellsworth, which led Thune to threaten a vote against UN Ambassador John Bolton. (Although he did do the honorable thing and vote for closure to give Bolton a fair vote – which ended up being obstructed once again by the Democrats.) In the end, however, it appears as though Thune has been given a reprieve by the BRAC Commission.

This means that Thune can breathe a sigh of relief – being a “maverick” in the Senate is hardly a dangerous position (see Chuck Hagel, John McCain, etc…) and the voters of South Dakota will credit him for working across party lines with Senator Tim Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth in saving Ellsworth. South Dakota’s Congressional delegation and Gov. Mike Rounds worked very hard in persuading the BRAC Commission that Ellsworth was important to national security and that closing the base wouldn’t produce sufficient cost savings. It appears as though their arguments were successful.

Losing Ellsworth would be a major blow to the economy of South Dakota – a state with a population of less than 800,000 people. Even though Ellsworth has survived this round of cutbacks, the B-1B Lancer program won’t be around forever. The next major hurdle the state needs to overcome is diversifying and expanding the state’s economy and improving the quality of life in the state. Saving Ellsworth is cause for celebration, but as South Dakota continue to lose population and face the challenge of transitioning from a mainly agricultural state to a more diversified economic base, the real challenges may yet be ahead.

UPDATE: As you’d expect South Dakota Politics is all over this one – Thune’s rightly stating that saving Ellsworth was a group effort, which it was. Thune knows that he’s going to get political capital from this either way, and being able to reach across party lines is something that South Dakota voters appreciate.

ADDENDUM: The Rapid City Journal has a blog covering the understandably happy reactions in Western South Dakota

ADDENDUM: Red State has even more on Ellsworth and Thune.

With Friends Like These…

Robert Novak has a scathing piece on the way in which President Bush has completely screwed over Sen. John Thune (R-SD). It appears likely that South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base will be put on the chopping block thanks to the BRAC list, despite Senator Thune’s tireless efforts. The White House has shown absolutely no interest in helping Senator Thune despite the fact that he was their hand-picked candidate for the Senate. As Novak explains:

President Bill Clinton saved Ellsworth for then Sen. Daschle during the last BRAC process in 1995, but President George W. Bush was detached in 2005. The resulting closure demolishes Thune’s home state prestige and threatens Republican domination of western South Dakota (where Ellsworth is located) by eliminating 6,000 civilian jobs. Local political setbacks may be reversed, but damage to Thune as a national fund-raiser and candidate-recruiter seems irrevocable. He has been transformed from regular to maverick. Bush might ask himself: Is closing one air base worth this?

BRAC’s defenders say the price is not too high because no military installations could be closed if politics prevailed. Yet, to ignore Thune and consider Ellsworth the same as big-state base closings contradicts the image of a White House that puts politics first. Instead, the Bush team looked like tone-deaf, old-fashioned Republicans interested more in going by the book than winning elections.

President Bush has no problems with being a big spender, so why in the world is he leaving Senator Thune out in the cold on Ellsworth? A base closing in Connecticut is a blow to the local economy. Losing 6,000 jobs in a state like South Dakota with a population of 700,000 is a major loss. Surely there are other uses for Ellsworth if the B-1 Lancer program isn’t enough reason. However, it appears as though the people of South Dakota and Senator Thune are being left completely in the lurch.

I’ve been critical of Senator Thune’s obstructionism, although I give him credit for at least voting to give Ambassador Bolton a fair up-or-down vote in the Senate. However, the treatment he’s received from the White House has been horrendous. Senator Thune represents the future of the Republican party – he’s young, charismatic, and a great political asset to the state of South Dakota. In a state where the Republican Party has suffered the atrophy of years of political power and patronage, Senator Thune was a ray of sunshine.

Now the White House has made Thune look like a fool and failed to give him the support he needed. They asked him to run for the Senate and now they’ve pulled the rug out from underneath him. That sort of action is politically idiotic – the White House should have known better.

The White House needs to realize that leaving one of their brightest stars out in the cold is simply unacceptable. The White House should work with Senator Thune on drafting a plan to either save Ellsworth or work on finding some way of spurring economic development in western South Dakota. Building someone up only to tear them down is not the way a party builds a lasting majority. The treatment of Senator Thune at the hands of the White House has been nothing short of shameful, and it is time that President Bush shows that his support is not confined just to filling a Senate seat.

More On Thune And Ellsworth

Mike Krempasky has an interesting argument about Sen. John Thune and the BRAC list which has scheduled South Dakota’s Ellsworth AFB for closing. He suspects that Thune’s recent threat to vote against John Bolton is a political ploy and that Ellsworth won’t really be closed. In short, that the whole thing is just a bunch of political theater.

I’m not so sure, however.

The BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) board is designed to be independent of the political process. They’re designed to not worry about political pork and concern themselves solely with providing the best force structure for the defense of this nation and the projection of military power. This arrangement is deliberate – by eliminating the politics from the decision as much as possible, the best policy can be made without regard to keeping spending in some influential Congressman’s district. The Pentagon has made their recommendations, now BRAC must make the final approval.

The fact is that the B-1B Lancer, while a beautiful and impressive aircraft, is a maintainance hog, spare parts are scarce, and the mission it was designed to fly no longer exists. For South Dakota, it’s important. But the Department of Defense has a larger mission than the interests of 700,000 people – they have to consider the national security of the entire United States. Does Ellsworth serve our national security interests in the 21st Century? It’s going to be up to those who want to save Ellsworth to show how it does.

Thune’s been put into a tough position, to be sure. He ran on the position that by using his influence with the President he could keep Ellsworth open. Now he’s gotten socked with Ellsworth being on the BRAC list. He’s looking out for his constituents by trying to save Ellsworth. He wouldn’t be doing his job if he just rolled over and let it be closed — plus, it would end his political career.

If this was all a piece of political theater, it was a good one, but it more than likely is not. He’s painted himself into a corner — there’s little chance that Ellsworth will be removed from the closure list before the Bolton vote, and if Thune carries through with his threat the White House has little incentive to help him out in regards to Ellsworth. If Thune backs down, he’s going to look weak. Either way, he loses.

Thune has reason to be angry at the situation, especially since the Pentagon is the one who recommended the closure of Ellsworth to the BRAC. Thune’s best bet is to use his influence with the President and sell the idea that Ellsworth is critical to this country’s national security. Threatening to torpedo John Bolton isn’t the way to go about it. Even if this was a deal, it was a bad deal from the White House that will have now set the precedent that threatening the President’s agenda is the best way of getting concessions on issues. That isn’t a precedent that the White House should be setting for Congress.

In any event, someone’s going to lose out in this deal – either Thune, the White House, or South Dakota, and it could be all three of them.

Thune Disappoints

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota has decided to vote against John Bolton’s nomination to the UN. The tacit justification for this action has little to do with Bolton and much to do with an independent commission deciding to close Ellsworth Air Force Base.

I’m deeply disappointed in Thune’s decision, especially since I voted for him in the last election. The issue of Ellsworth AFB is entirely unrelated to the Bolton nomination, and not only is voting against Bolton an act that is downright petulant and unstatesmanlike, but it’s entirely pointless. The BRAC commission was a bipartisan commission. Their recommendations are only in the recommendation stage, and Thune’s actions are pointless, petulant, and wrongheaded.

Sen. Daschle lost his job because of petulant and partisan obstructionism. It is extremely distressing to see a good man like Senator Thune follow in such lamentable footsteps. This action is the elevation of petulance above principle, and puts Thune on the side of obstructionism and against the critical task of pushing for reform and accountability at the UN. Furthermore, if Thune thinks that he can blackmail the administration into keeping Ellsworth AFB alive, he’s wrong. This action only hurts the cause of keeping Ellsworth open.

This is the sort of thing we’d expect from the Democrats, and the fact that Thune should know better only makes this choice more distressing.

Thune To Appeal Court Ruling

The Thune campaign is planning to appeal last night’s ruling in Charles Mix county based on Daschle’s arguments that GOP poll-watchers were intimidating Native American voters. Given that Daschle essentially lost the bid to exclude GOP poll-watchers and Judge Piersol’s order only applies to one county, I’m not sure I see how advantageous a move this would be. However, given that Judge Piersol is a Democratic partisan and an avid supporter of Tom Daschle, the ruling could well be thrown out – not that it would matter by now.

Based on what I’ve been seeing, Daschle is hoping that it’s close enough in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties that the reservation vote could tip the balance as it did in 2002. However, from what I’m seeing, I think Daschle’s maneuvers will have cost him votes, and the race won’t be that close by the time the reservation vote comes into play. Daschle’s clearly becoming increasingly desperate, not only through his lawsuit, but his challenge of absentee ballots in the Rapid City area. I smell a convincing Thune win here – and Daschle’s dirty campaign tactics are only alienating voters even more.

SD Polling Update

I just got back from voting, and the streets of Sioux Falls are packed. Even at 8 in the morning, there are lines at the polls. It’s looking like turnout will be high.

Nothing of note in regards to procedures. I was asked for ID, as was everyone else. The entrance to the polling place was festooned with various campaign signs, as is every available spot of lawn in the city. With luck, voting across the state will be so efficient…