LEAD | Chicken lovers celebrated the results of a special election here Tuesday night, while chicken haters squawked that they had "egg on their face."
The special election was held to determine the fate of a new city ordinance, passed unanimously by the city commission in June, that sought to establish stricter controls on backyard chickens and prohibited other farm animals in town. Opponents had gathered the necessary petition signatures to force the special off-year election.
By a vote of 174 (60.4 percent) to 114 (39.6 percent), voters who showed up at the polls scratched their ballots in favor of supporting the new ordinance, City Administrator Mike Stahl reported shortly after votes were tabulated Tuesday night.
Chicken advocates were ecstatic with the results.
“We won,” exclaimed Robin Lucero, who helped lead the effort to draft the new ordinance. “We actually are celebrating at our favorite brewery on Main Street right now.
“We won not only for people who want change when they make an effort, but now we will be able to have chickens for our families,” Lucero added.
Former Mayor Jerry Apa, among eight Lead residents who circulated petitions calling for repeal of the “backyard chicken” ordinance, believing chickens don’t belong in town, was less enthused.
“The yolk's on us and we got egg on our face,” Apa said Tuesday night after hearing the results. “The people have spoken.”
Stahl said the city commission would officially canvass the vote at its Monday night meeting and the ordinance would take effect the following day.
“So, chickens will now be enforced with the new ordinance,” he said.
NEW UNDERWOOD | Nathan Rambo climbed a 100-foot tower north of here Tuesday and went inside an object resembling a giant Ping-Pong ball.
"You don't want to run into birds up here, they will scare the heck out of you," he quipped.
As an electronics technician for the National Weather Service, it's Rambo's job to perform maintenance on the weather radar tower. At least once every three months, he climbs the steel staircase and makes his way into the giant white ball above the surrounding farmland.
This week, Rambo is working at a small outbuilding just below the tower with two technicians from a Nevada-based company to make sure this radar station has a long life ahead of it. The radar tower gives an accurate picture of incoming weather, from Gillette, Wyo., to Chamberlain, S.D.
The maintenance project, called the Service Life Extension Program, is part of a $150 million, seven-year joint endeavor by the NOAA National Weather Service, the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration to refurbish the 159 weather radars across the country. The tower outside New Underwood is the first in the state to receive the upgrade.
"This radar is 20 years old and it can go for another 20 years, but it just needs some upgrades," Rambo said. "As opposed to going out and purchasing a new radar, this will save the government a lot of money."
The weather service radar system is vital to being able to predict severe weather before it strikes. One example Rambo mentioned was giving people advance notice in the case of a flash flood.
"We can see not only the storms coming in, but we can see how much rainfall is going to hit an area," Rambo said.
The data the radar collects is used to issue tornado warnings in the summer and spring, and blizzard warnings in the winter.
Inside the small outbuilding Tuesday morning, the technicians opened up a large electrical box and rewired the unit. Red labels are plastered all over the tan box with warnings for high voltage, gamma rays and radiation.
"This thing will kill if you aren't careful," Rambo said with a laugh. "Even though we have the power off to the unit, we still follow strict safety measures."
The technicians worked on replacing old breakers and cables with new ones. The rewiring is the second phase of the Service Life Extension Program, which is expected to be completed by 2022 at all 159 weather radars nationwide
While the crew is working this week, the New Underwood radar station won't be operational, but others in Nebraska and Wyoming will be able to cover the area.
"We will still be covered if a thunderstorm pops up this week," Rambo said.
He expects the radar to be up and running again by Friday.
Editor's note: This is the third in a four-part series on the candidates for governor of South Dakota.
Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s one member in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.
Why she’s running: When Noem defeated U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in 2010, Noem made a promise. “I said I wouldn’t be in (Washington) D.C. in 10 years,” she recalled Friday.
She had already made the decision she wouldn’t seek re-election to the House after 2016. Last November, three days after winning the House seat again, Noem received a phone call.
The message: If Noem wanted to transfer funds left from the U.S. House contest into a state account for governor, she had two days under federal regulations to get it done.
At 4:59 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2016, Noem filed the organization paperwork for Kristi for Governor. That same afternoon, the Kristi for Congress account shifted $1.6 million to the governor account.
By Dec. 31, Kristi for Governor accumulated had $1,834,259 and spent $27,124, according to the year-end report for 2016 activities filed Feb. 6.
Noem was, as her slogan says, all in. “I believe governor’s races are about experience — who has the background to hit the ground running,” she said.
Born in 1971, Kristi was one of four children of Ron and Corrine Arnold. They farmed and ranched in rural Hamlin County. She won the South Dakota Snow Queen pageant and went to Northern State University.
She married Bryon Noem at age 20. Two years later, her father died in a farm machinery accident. She left college and went home to work on about 10,000 acres.
Under deep debt from taxes on her father’s estate, the family started a hunting lodge. Kristi took on more duties working at a restaurant that her mother ran. Bryon opened an insurance agency where Kristi helped too.
Noem said those experiences helped form her. In 2006, she won election to the state House of Representatives, and re-election in 2008. That was significant, too, she said.
“I think it’s important for a governor to know how legislators feel and what it’s like to take votes,” she said.
Noem won a three-candidate primary election in June 2010 for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House seat. In the November general election she beat Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat and a four-term incumbent.
The tally: Noem, 153,703 votes, Herseth Sandlin, 146,589 and independent Thomas Marking, 19,134. Noem won 36 counties. Herseth Sandlin swept all 66 two years earlier.
Noem has won re-election three times since. Midway through she accepted a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which she said meets daily and is where 80 percent of the House’s work occurs. “It’s very intense,” she said.
She said the House has passed 270 pieces of legislation to the Senate so far this year. But after 2018, she’s walking away.
“I was coming home anyway,” Noem said. “I think I have something to offer the state.”
How she’s organized her campaign: Noem said that 10 to 12 weeks before the June 2018 primary she’ll focus, week by week, on specific topics.
“People will know what I’m doing,” she said. “There will be no doubt when people vote on primary day. I think people deserve that.”
She added, “The priority is my job in D.C. right now.”
Her first legislative session as governor would feature ideas such as pre-selection of development sites and tying aid with skills — “the quickest way to turn our budget around.”
How she’s raising money: It’s “going great,” she said.
Visits to South Dakota are scheduled months ahead. That doesn’t allow much for campaign appearances.
The day before, she attended congressional events in Watertown, Webster and Aberdeen. She jammed in an Aberdeen campaign fundraiser that evening.
How she plans to pick her lieutenant governor: “It has to be somebody I can trust,” she said. “We do have some tough decisions to make.”
How she greets people: Noem was a natural at listening and helping others relax. “I’d rather run on my merits,” she said.
It started with a simple advertisement on Facebook: "Searching for the next South Dakota Miss Teen USA."
For 14-year-old Torrance Howe, it was an invitation to pursue her dreams, just as her mother, CeeLee Mesteth, has always encouraged.
So, the Central High School freshman submitted an application. She sent profile photographs of herself — with and without makeup, head and shoulder shots, and full-length profile shots.
And then she waited.
One week later, the congratulatory letter arrived in the mail inviting her to take part in the two-day state pageant being held in Brandon on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. All she needed to do was come up with the $699 registration fee, not to mention the money for travel, lodging, pageant clothing and makeup.
They might as well have asked her for the moon.
Mesteth is a single mom. Despite a disability she works part time whenever she can. Money is always tight. The family, once homeless, now has a roof over their heads thanks to the generosity of their church.
Logic tells Mesteth she can’t afford to send Torrance to the pageant. But love drives her to do everything in her power to make her daughter’s dream come true. So for the past two weeks, Mesteth and Torrance have pounded the pavement, seeking sponsors and donations.
They’ve heard "no" and "sorry" more times than they care to count. But they have been touched by the generosity of others who have pitched in to help, including Mick’s Electric, Rapid Collision and Rural America Initiatives.
It’s been enough to get Torrance within $200 of the registration fee, which must be paid by Sept. 20. Others have donated gowns and activewear for the pageant events.
Even with the basics covered, Mesteth wonders how they will get to Brandon, where they will stay and what they can afford to eat. “She’s only 14, I’m not sending her by herself,” Mesteth said.
The Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants are contests of the Miss Universe Organization. Contestants in the Miss Teen competition are judged in three events: personality interview, evening gown and activewear. State winners advance to the national competition.
For Torrance, the pageant is about more than beauty. It’s an opportunity to achieve her goals and honor her Native American tribal heritage, a blend of Lakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Crow Creek and Dakota.
Winning the South Dakota Miss Teen USA title comes with a scholarship and advancement to the national pageant, where scholarship awards are even larger.
A scholarship would help her attend Princeton University and allow her to pursue her goal of becoming a forensic anthropologist — a career inspired by her mother’s favorite television show, “Bones,” and the novels of Kathy Reichs. If along the way Torrance can fulfill a few more of her dreams — to be a model and feel like a princess — well, that would be cool too, Torrance said.
The family has set up fundraising efforts through Cee Lee Mesteth’s Facebook page and a GoFundMe account under the names Cee Lee Mesteth and Brookye Mesteth. To donate, visit gofundme.com/travelclothes.