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Geoff Preston / Geoff Preston Journal staff 

Jamison Pfingston serves during the Dakota Guardian Trust Junior Open at the Tennis Center of the Black Hills Saturday.

PODCAST: Candidate says incumbents meet slaughter with silence

Democrat Tim Bjorkman has emerged as the only candidate in South Dakota's U.S. House race to propose a slate of gun law reforms in response to mass shootings and other gun violence.

Bjorkman has proposed seven ideas on his website under the heading “Common Sense Gun Law Reforms.” In a new episode of the Rapid City Journal’s Mount Podmore political podcast — which is available on the Journal website, iTunes and other podcast apps — Bjorkman discusses each proposal and challenges the state’s all-Republican congressional delegation to respond constructively to recent school shootings.

“Maybe the most troubling thing of all to me is, how does our congressional delegation rationalize to themselves their silence on gun reform in the midst of these little children being slaughtered?” Bjorkman said. “As our representatives in Congress, shouldn’t we expect them to lead the discussion here in South Dakota?”

Mount Podmore 9: Tim Bjorkman

Bjorkman, a retired circuit court judge from Canistota, is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Kristi Noem, who is running for governor rather than re-election to the House.

Bjorkman has no apparent challenger in the June 5 primary election, but will face one of several Republicans in the Nov. 6 general election. Candidates for the Republican nomination include Dusty Johnson, of Mitchell and a former public utilities commissioner and former chief of staff to Gov. Dennis Daugaard; South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, of Fort Pierre; and state Sen. Neal Tapio, of Watertown.

The Journal sought responses to Bjorkman’s gun law proposals from all three Republican candidates and received replies from Johnson and Tapio.

Johnson sent a written statement calling for better mental health policies and lamenting the decline in traditional connections forged by families, communities and churches. He made no mention, either favorably or negatively, of any specific gun law reforms.

"I strongly support the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms, so I was appreciative of Tim’s attempt to identify areas of common ground," Johnson said.

Tapio said he shares Bjorkman's concerns about the underlying societal problems that contribute to gun violence, which Bjorkman wrote about recently in a 55-page article in the South Dakota Law Review. But Tapio diverges with Bjorkman on gun law reforms.

"I think he and I agree completely on the problems, but it's then how do you address those problems? I don't look at the last shooting as a gun issue," Tapio said, referencing the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Florida. "I look at it as a breakdown of law enforcement to deal with just the sheer volume of people that are checking out of society."

Bjorkman said he is a supporter of the Second Amendment, is a gun owner and occasional hunter, and is the father of three military veterans who received extensive firearms training. But he said the time has come for a “thoughtful, respectful discussion, unimpeded by special interests, about gun violence.”

He has proposed:

• Mandating uniform background checks on all gun sales.

• Prohibiting any devices (including bump stocks) that convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon.

• Prohibiting people on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying firearms.

• Encouraging states to adopt red-flag laws allowing courts to temporarily remove guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

• Promoting interventions for at-risk people, based on models including a program called the Sandy Hook Promise.

• Committing the nation to a “war on mental illness."

• Repealing a federal policy that effectively bans the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from spending money on research into gun violence.

Bjorkman discussed details of each proposal in the podcast interview and said he is willing to consider additional ideas.

“What I aim to do is advocate steps — first steps that we can take that are aimed at reaching a broad consensus among South Dakotans, and really among Americans,” Bjorkman said.

Blackfeet dig out of Blizzard of '18

HEART BUTTE, Mont. | No snow stuck to the basketball court where Sullavin Wells and Lalontae Nomee shot some hoops on Wednesday afternoon. The Blizzard of 2018 piled it all in a 5-foot-high berm right outside their front door, 10 yards away from the park.

The boys had been housebound since the start of February, when snow and wind began paralyzing the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and particularly this community of 600 on the edge of the Rocky Mountain Front. Asked what the worst day of the ordeal was, Wells said simply, “The last three weeks.”

The blizzard upends assumptions of what a winter disaster should look like. Most of the 36 miles of the Heart Butte Road to Browning sits bare and dry — except for the 53 snowdrifts at least 2 feet deep. That’s enough to high-center a four-wheel-drive pickup. Some were 5 feet thick and had cars embedded in them, abandoned after the drivers angled off the road in whiteout conditions. A snowball’s throw farther, horses grazed on bare grass.

From Marias Pass to East Glacier, buildings along U.S. Highway 2 had snow stacked a yard high on the rooftops. As the mountains declined to foothills, snow berms reached from the ground to the roof eaves, while the shingles had blown bare.

The National Weather Service recorded 78 inches of snow at East Glacier in February alone, setting a new record and burying the average 28.7 inches for the month. For the 2017-18 winter, East Glacier has accumulated 242.5 inches — more than double any other monitor site covered by the Weather Service's Great Falls office. The next competitor was West Yellowstone, which currently has 115.6 inches.

But sustained winds of 50 mph off the Front and temperatures always below freezing kept that snow constantly on the move. The landscape farther south around Choteau looks like a postcard Montana winter, with a solid blanket of white. The Blackfeet Reservation seems almost zebra-striped, with tons of snow here but not there.

In Browning, Four Winds Assembly of God Pastor Joel Toppen recalled one day that defined the strangeness.

“I stepped outside into sunshine, but a quarter-mile that way and you’re in trouble,” he said, gesturing up the main drag toward the north end of town. “You look over there toward the casino and it’s a ground blizzard. You couldn’t see anything.”

Blackfeet Disaster and Emergency Services Director Robert DesRosier started bracing residents for trouble on Jan. 4, warning that impending weather would put people at risk of isolation in the 1.5-million-acre reservation. A blizzard on Jan. 12 dumped an impressive load of snow. Typical Chinook winds, which might have compacted and melted that accumulation, failed to follow. Instead, subsequent blizzards kept churning the drifts like a wolverine in a flour mill.

“We’ll be talking about this one for a long time,” DesRosier said Wednesday. “We’re in our 11th day of continuous operations trying to manage storm requests. We just got access to Heart Butte today for the first time in a couple weeks. We were rescuing folks on the highways a couple nights running. There’s been so much stuff coming at me, I can’t remember all the statistics unless I write them down.”

What DesRosier does know is roughly half of the 9,000 residents on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation live in isolated river bottoms and ravines. Cellphone coverage is sketchy. Even two-way radios don’t penetrate some wrinkles in the landscape. Often the only way to get food, fuel and medical supplies to some outposts was on a sled pulled by a horse.

Wednesday’s break in the weather had resupply missions heading off in all directions: Kiowa, Babb, Duck Lake and a dozen more unnamed collections of homes sprinkled across the reservation. At the Blackfeet Food Pantry, Roy Crawford had staff sorting three kinds of food: government commodities, donated groceries and sacks.

That last is the pile of brimming paper sacks, each stuffed with a loaf of bread, apples, potatoes, cans of soup and beans, peanut butter, jelly and applesauce. One bag holds enough to feed a family of five for about two days. Crawford keeps the pile replenished so every snowplow driver, game warden, tribal police officer, sheriff’s deputy and anyone else patrolling the snowdrifts can stash several in the trunk to pass on as emergency rations.

While pantry workers usually sort and distribute state-provided food, the scale of the blizzard problem dwarfed that supply. Instead, charities, churches and concerned citizens have been sending whatever can get through. Within an hour on Thursday morning, Crawford received a thousand pounds of frozen turkey gathered by Missoula-based Essential Eats Distributors and two semi-truck loads of food from Albertsons Corp.

“Someone from their distribution office just called while they were getting on a plane in Miami (Florida) and said ‘What can I do?’” Crawford said. “They’re sending 478 cases of dry goods, 50 cases of beef brisket and a team of drivers. That’s what it’s been like. You get one load taken care of and start getting ready for the next one. I got 160 cases of chicken and it was gone within half an hour after we got the word out.”

Gov. Steve Bullock declared a winter storm emergency for the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne reservations on Wednesday, and visited Browning on Thursday. DesRosier said that relieved the concern as to whether all the overtime, fuel and supply bills would get covered. The state also provided extra snow-removal equipment and a team of mechanics to keep them running.

Pantry worker Lonnie Pemberton said the only time he could remember a crisis this intense was the winter of 1979.

“They called that the ‘Cap’n Crunch Winter,'” Pemberton said. “They helicoptered in loads of Cap’n Crunch and Quisp cereal. My mouth was sore for a month trying to chew all that Cap’n Crunch.”

Another difference, Pemberton said, was the prevalence of social media this time — both high- and low-tech. Tribal authorities have been using Facebook and other apps to update road reports, food distribution opportunities and requests for aid. And Pemberton and friends have been operating their low-power FM radio channel to spread the word to those without cellphone connections.

A mile south of Browning at the Bump Ranch, Sheriann Hill has been coordinating donations provided through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. A major function has been coordinating chainsaw volunteers to break down semi-loads of logs into firewood.

“We’re sending out a half-cord of wood per household,” Hill said. “At our house, we’re getting drifts over our horse barn. We’re climbing 12- to 16-foot drifts just to feed the animals. But we have people stuck in homes in Home Gun Ridge, St. Mary’s, Kiowa, Babb — just about every outlying community has been affected. As soon as they got roads opened, the winds picked it back up and shut it again.”

Heart Butte may have drawn the strangest hand from this winter’s deck of surprises. As the blizzards ground into gear, so did the Heart Butte Warriors boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. They headed out on Feb. 10 for a thrilling run through the state Northern Class C divisional tournament in Great Falls, along with many family members and friends. Most couldn’t return for two weeks as Heart Butte all but vanished off the road map.

“We couldn’t get into this street for two weeks,” said Heart Butte resident Cat Vance, standing in a berm just outside a row of houses next to the outdoor basketball court where Wells and Nomee were playing. A rotary plow had cut a lane barely wide enough for a single car — five times. At the next row of houses, a trio of children ran across the snow from their yard to the eave of their roof, just because.

“We made homemade bread, homemade soup for days,” said neighbor Cyan Wagner. “We lost water for about two days when a snowplow ran over a fire hydrant and flooded the area in the middle of the blizzard.”

With the brief break in the weather last week, attention turned to a coming crisis. All that snow has to go somewhere when it melts. Road crews not detailed to cutting through drifts have been assigned to dump truck relays hauling thousands of gallons of future floodwater to a well-drained field south of town.

“My nightmare is we get a cold spring and then a hot rain and it all melts,” Pastor Toppen said. “I’ve already ordered 100 sandbags for the church property. We got heavy snow last year and water pooled everywhere. This year, we’ve got two times as much.”

Three miles north of Browning, Gordon Azure and Keely Carrette were walking to town for groceries for the first time in a week and a half. That involved almost stepping over the stop sign on Blevins Road, still buried up to its octagonal disk in a drift.

“People can’t find the road, so they’ve been driving through our yard,” Azure said. “The UMCOR folks brought us some firewood, but they had to toss it off the truck and I had to slide it over in a toboggan. I can’t wait to get to town and get a good, greasy hamburger.”

As they slid down the drift toward the bare asphalt of Duck Lake Road, Carette pointed out a large bird flying their way.

SD residents stand out with vehicle vanity plates

SIOUX FALLS | Since 1988, South Dakota drivers have taken nearly 50,000 opportunities to use the tiny space of real estate on the back of their vehicle to express something about themselves — in seven characters or less.

Some of these vanity license plates are funny. Some are political.

Others show allegiance to a sports team or alma mater, while some are obscure references difficult to interpret for inquiring minds.

Some personalized plates — 3,000, in fact — have been denied by state officials since 2008, often for carrying "connotations offensive to good taste and decency."

What they all have in common is that a South Dakotan had an idea that they thought was worth an extra $25 annual fee.

That's pretty affordable compared to Maryland's $50 annual fee, or the eye-popping $100 fee that Washington, D.C., asks of aspiring vanity plate owners.

On the other hand, Virginia sets the bar even lower — you only have to put down an extra $10 a year.

Despite the low cost, a national study showed only 1.39 percent of registered motor vehicles in South Dakota had personalized plates — 44th in the country.

When Argus Leader Media filed a records request recently with the South Dakota Department of Revenue, we got them all. Even the rejected ones.

What can't be on a license plate? There are no "vulgar words, terms or abbreviations" allowed, and the characters "cannot express represent or imply a profane, obscene or sexual meaning."

You can't be offensive or disrespectful of a race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability status or political affiliation.

You can't support lawlessness, unlawful activities, or have anything related to illegal drugs or paraphernalia.

But other than that? Go wild.

Wade LaRoche, public affairs manager with the South Dakota Department of Revenue, said staff reviews the plate applications as they arrive — using Google and even Urban Dictionary to see if you're trying to sneak something through.

That's why you've got denied plates like 3SOME, AZZKIKR and the multiple people trying to trick the system with BADA55.

But for the people who aren't trying to shock or surprise as you drive down I-29, the reasons for getting vanity plates are often a lot more personal.

In our interviews with vanity plate owners, the inspirations ranged from college pride or self-promotion, or maybe just trying to make people laugh while they're stuck in traffic.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights.

Let's be clear — we're just talking license plates, but South Dakota State University clearly has the edge here over the University of South Dakota. Plates containing SDSU or JACKS outnumber those with USD or YOTES considerably.

Two drivers in the state refuse to take a side, as shown by the plates SDSUUSD and USDSDSU.

Black Hills State University shows up as BLKHILS, BLKHILZ, BLKHLLS, BLKHLS, and BLKHLZ.

As the schools get smaller, so do the chances that they make plate appearances — but Augustana University has still had six "AUGIE" plates, and at least one devoted fan of Mitchell's Dakota Wesleyan University had DWUTGRS for a time.

It should be no surprise that the Minnesota Vikings dominate this category. From SKOLMOM to DAVIKES, VIKEFAN to VIKEGAL, MNVIKES to GOVIKES, South Dakota's primary football fandom is evident.

GBPACK, PACKRMN and 4PACKRS are just a few of the plates from the state's Green Bay Packers fans, although "PACK" also shows up in less-clear situations. (Is 12PACK a reference to Aaron Rodgers or beer? These are the mysteries that vanity plates bring us).

In fact, every NFL team from the Chicago Bears to the Jacksonville Jaguars appears to be represented on a South Dakota plate, save for the Carolina Panthers. The plate PANTHER is in use, but none of the PANTHRS or PNTHERS plates you might expect.

The state has less interest in plates showing off non-Minnesota teams in the other three major professional sports leagues, although some are oddly popular.

At least 18 people have used their plate to cheer on the Boston Red Sox, while only two went for the Chicago White Sox. (One person, on the other hand, just wants to inform you that IKNTSOX).

The plate records obtained by the Argus Leader were pulled in December, before the Vikings pulled off a last-second win over the New Orleans Saints — but a quick check with the Department of Revenue shows that you should still be clear to go apply for MNMIRCL.

Fingers crossed you don't run into the car sporting EAGLES, though.

Now we run into what is perhaps the subtlest category of vanity plates. Sure, if you're parked behind ECTO1, you can guess it's being driven by a Ghostbusters fan. Here are a few more that would likely pass you by, but have all adorned a South Dakota vehicle.

CQB241 seems pretty unassuming — except that it's the license plate of Christine, an evil car that kills people in John Carpenter's 1983 film "Christine," based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. If you notice this plate on a 1958 Ford Plymouth, make a U-turn.

In the same vein, someone in South Dakota is driving around with the plate BEATNGU. You may remember this from "Jeepers Creepers," a movie in which an ancient, winged demon drives around in a rusty old truck, killing and eating people.

So, you know, if that's the vibe you're going for ... good for you.

With no list of cars supplied by the Department of Revenue, it's impossible to tell whether OUTATME is on a DeLorean DMC-12, or if EAGLE5 is on a Winnebago-turned-spaceship, or if NRVOUS is on a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder.

It's possible, sure ... but it's also possible some South Dakotans are just fans of "Back to the Future," "Spaceballs" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Not all inspiration comes from license plates, either — OHIMARK is a clear reference to one of the most famous lines from "The Room," the 2003 movie so bad it became a cult classic.

They tell you never to discuss politics or religion in polite company. But we all know the roads aren't polite.

OBAMA, 4OBAMA and NOBAMA once adorned cars in the state, although they appear to have fallen out of use.

In their place the state now has TRUMP, TRUMP45 and MAGA.

In the way of even higher powers, we've got GOD, SHIVA, GANESHA, JESUS, ZEUS, YAHWEH, ATHENA and YAALLAH.

Ancient Egyptian goddess ISIS also made an appearance on a plate at one point. That plate is now, understandably, not in use.


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Talking Business: Commercial drone business taking off

Remote control drones are seemingly everywhere these days, some buzzing overhead for fun, with others strictly flying for business.

Co-owners Trevor Plett and John Herrera have obtained a franchise for a nationwide commercial drone firm primarily specializing in inspections of high-altitude places highly dangerous, or at least highly inconvenient, for human eyes to be.

Their Measure of the High Plains drone firm, based in Rapid City, will inspect utility transmission lines, cell towers, solar farms, wind turbines and power plants, perform on high agricultural crop surveys and visually chart progress of construction projects.

Plett and Herrera formed a corporation in early 2017, then decided to obtain a franchise with Washington, D.C.-based Measure a Drone as a Service Co.

“We just saw that as a opportunity to get in early and establish ourselves as a drone service provider,” Plett said.

Their Measure franchise covers South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Chief pilot Jeff Rizza is based in Missoula, Mont.

Measure headquarters provided training to a high standard and also gave them access to data processing and drone assets, Plett said. The franchise also allows them first access to work for national accounts, such as cellular service providers, within their region.

One big factor differentiating a commercial drone business from a hobbyist is the amount of training and certification required, Plett said.

All drones, for work or play, must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, but adding the commercial component takes the regulation to another level.

Many people, he said, would be surprised to learn of the training, insurance and regulation required for commercial drone operation with the FAA, including the need to receive clearance to work within certain airspace. For example, Ellsworth Air Force Base and Rapid City Regional Airport create a lot of controlled airspace in the area, he said.

“Having a commercial license, you have to know how to operate within that or around (controlled airspace),” Plett said. “It’s a real business. It’s not just a couple of people messing around with drones out there.”

For more information, contact Measure of the High Plains at 388-2590 or visit

New chiropractor has got your back

Chantel Pokorny is a third-generation chiropractor, recently opening a new practice at 2620 Jackson Blvd., Suite C, in Rapid City.

Her grandfather opened Pokorny Chiropractic Clinic in Dickinson, N.D., in 1969. Her dad and older brother still run the practice there, she said.

Following in the family business, Chantel graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, following a four-month internship with her father and brother in Dickinson.

Pokorny’s practice emphasizes the Gonstead technique, employing X-rays when necessary, which makes it safe for all ages and effective for treatment of athletic injuries, such as ankles and shoulders, she said.

“I love adjusting a newborn one minute, and someone in their 80s the next,” she said in an email.

Pokorny chose to open her practice in Rapid City because of the outdoor views and available activities of the Black Hills in deciding where to locate her practice. The community has been welcoming, she said.

“I moved around a lot growing up, and I always wanted a community like this. I know wholeheartedly that my practice is in the perfect place,” she said.

For more information, call Pokorny Chiropractic at 791-0868 or email

Smiling Moose Deli, Fuddruckers close

An alert reader, actually a sharp-eyed former Rapid City Rush stat-keeper, noticed the Smiling Moose Deli in the Rushmore Crossing Shopping Center appeared to be closed.

Sure enough, signs posted declared the deli not just closed, but closed permanently, meaning fans of their Original Mo and Mighty Mo sandwiches, soups and all-day breakfasts are out of luck, at least around here.

Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli is a Denver-based fast casual chain eatery, with the first location established in Edwards, Colo., in 2003.

And local foodie options have diminished further with the final shutdown of Fuddruckers Gourmet Burgers at the Rushmore Mall.

Fuddruckers had initially closed in early December, ostensibly for remodeling with a reopening promised after the first of the year, according to a news release from a Rapid City ad firm.

The restaurant never reopened, with handwritten “We’re Closed” signs persisting at the entrance. And on Wednesday, a crew from Rosenbaum’s Signs was just finishing removal of remaining exterior signage.

The website for the upscale burger restaurant’s Texas-based parent company, Luby’s Cafeteria, had removed Rapid City as a location for Fuddruckers in December.