Sunday, October 22, 2006


Good neighbor Don

By Julie Carter

The old saying that "good fences make good neighbors" should have another list attached that outlines some of those neighboring attributes.

In ranch country, "neighbor" is a relative term that does not necessarily mean "next-door dweller." Next door is likely many miles down a dirt road, but the concept is the same. Bein' neighborly developed out of necessity for social and economical reasons.

Helping with farming, ranching or birthing babies, the neighbor's role is important in the western culture. And it's a two-way dirt road for rural dwellers. The opportunity for life-long friendships is cultivated through trust and simple "good people" attributes. The sure-fire chance of unlimited entertainment is also readily available.

Don is one of those neighbors that provides a lifetime of stories that, you've heard me say it before, you just can't make this stuff up. Don lives in the far north part of Montana where, come fall, the hills are gold with ripened grain. According to Ernie, his friend and neighbor, Don is a walking testimonial to creative thinking leading to disastrous results.

Don's most recent story was about the slab they poured last week for a new hopper bottom bin. The small 12 foot by 12-foot slab needed a proper trowel to get a proper finish. This would be with a large engine-powered trowelling machine, not a hand trowel.

After the trowelling was complete, Don and his carbon-copy son decided the easiest way to clean the trowel was the "cowboy way" which was to set it off on the grass and let the trowel run, expecting the grass to wipe the blades clean of concrete.

With this good idea sparkling in their eyes, the son opened the throttle and away the trowel went, made about two revolutions and hooked a big clump of grass pulling the handle out of the lad's hands.

Undaunted the machine continued unmanned. Round and round it went, blades frozen still but the engine racing and the handles rotating around faster and faster.

After a few futile attempts to grab the fast-moving handles and getting beat up a bit for their trouble, they decided to let the machine run out gas but when son said to dad, "it might take a couple hours," Don came up with another plan.

Being a quick thinker, good neighbor Don walked over to his pickup to get his rope. After a few well-aimed throws, his loop catches the handles, which are somewhat "horn-like." Immediately upon the "connect" the rope pulled tight and pulled right out of Don's hands as it wound down the handle of the spinning machine.

Some serious creative thinking was in order. It was a borrowed trowel, so he said, "I couldn't shoot the damn thing," but did finally manage to get a hold of the spark plug wire with the cement rake and get it shut down.

The entire event was described as just another "mundane day for good neighbor Don." A man you just can't help but think the world of but know that he is pure creative hell on borrowed equipment.

© Julie Carter 2006

Of the People

By Larry Gabriel

It is about time for the people to have their voice in the affairs of government in two ways--one voice is the regular vote to elect leaders, the other is a limited power to make law directly.

Despite President Lincoln's famous words "of the people, by the people, for the people" spoken so eloquently by him at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863, not all people are free to participate in our system of self government. Only registered voters can vote and not all people are allowed to register. Minors and felons are "of the people", but not allowed to vote. In 1863, women were not voters.

The second voice, commonly called rights of referendum and referral, are even more restricted. That power arose from the early farm movements such as the Grange Society which laid the foundation for the farmer-led populist movement of the late 1800s. The Populist Party national convention in Omaha is said to have come up with the name "populist".

In 1896, the movement gained enough influence in the Democratic Party to nominate William Jennings Bryan for president. In 1897, South Dakota put the power of initiative and referendum into the South Dakota Constitution, reserving that power to "qualified electors".

Not everyone was happy about that. Eight times since 1897, the electors of South Dakota were asked to change that section of the South Dakota Constitution. Eight times the voters refused to do so. Finally in 1988, one small amendment was made which deleted a provision requiring the legislature to enact proposed measures.

South Dakota constitutional power of initiative and referendum applies to only two kinds of law, state law and municipal government. The power to make law is not the same as the power to reverse administrative decisions.

The executive branch makes administrative decisions. The legislative branch makes law.

Our legislature later extended a limited version of initiative and referendum to county voters, where the distinction between administrative functions and legislative functions seem to be lost on many. The granting of power to voters of a county is not a "right", but a mere privilege created by statute. It can disappear with a statutory revision.

The initiative and referendum process became popular about the time western states were created. It is largely unheard of in the east. Proponents call it "direct democracy".

Thanks in part to this direct democracy, South Dakota voters face the challenge of deciding eleven different ballot issues this November.

There is another limiting factor in this system--you have to show up. Only those who show up get a voice, and a majority of them will make law for the rest of us.

If you did not register to vote by Oct. 23rd or fail to show up on Election Day, you’re stuck with the decisions of others.

That's the system we have, at least until "the people" change it.

Larry is the South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture

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