Dana Hess

Dana Hess

Dana Hess spent more than 25 years in South Dakota journalism, editing newspapers in Redfield, Milbank and Pierre. He's retired and lives in Brookings, working occasionally as a freelance writer.

Legislators and guests wait for Gov. Kristi Noem to deliver her budget address on Dec. 6, 2022, in the House chamber at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

Legislature protects us from dangers we didn’t know existed

By: - March 29, 2023

It’s amazing the amount of effort that the South Dakota Legislature puts into protecting citizens from things they didn’t even know were a threat. Lucky us. Consider ranked choice voting. That’s all you’ll be able to do — consider it. You’ll never vote that way because the Legislature just outlawed it. Held up as one […]

Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at a January 2022 event in the state Capitol at Pierre. (Twitter/Governor Kristi Noem)

A state that’s ‘pro-birth’ should also be truly ‘pro-life’

By: - March 26, 2023

No matter where you fit on the political spectrum, the news on June 24, 2022, was staggering: The Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that guaranteed women the right to an abortion. Polls indicate that two-thirds of the country saw this as a crippling blow to the rights of women. For […]

Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her annual budget address Dec. 6, 2022, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Makenzie Huber/SD Searchlight)

Noem’s next move will reveal her level of tax-cut commitment

By: - March 20, 2023

Will she or won’t she? After she signed the budget bill on Monday, that’s what South Dakota lawmakers have to be asking themselves right now as they wonder whether Gov. Kristi Noem will veto the state sales tax reduction they endorsed. At the end of the legislative session, lawmakers compromised on a state sales tax […]

Governor Kristi Noem uses a custom branding iron dipped in ink to issue her first veto of the 2023 legislative session. (Courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Veto of lodging tax bill doesn’t align with Noem’s freedom-loving rhetoric

By: - March 19, 2023

Gov. Kristi Noem could often be heard during the pandemic saying that South Dakota’s response to COVID-19 was based on freedom. Her message was that the state wasn’t going to tell local governments to shut down — that was up to them. It wasn’t going to shut down some businesses while designating others as essential […]

Rep. Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish, on the House floor during the 2023 legislative session at the Capitol in Pierre. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Don’t legislate love of country into the lesson plan

By: - March 13, 2023

After twice missing passage by just one vote, it’s likely that next year South Dakota lawmakers will, once again, have to decide if they want to create a Center for Exceptionalism at Black Hills State University. According to the failed legislation, the center would make curriculum available to K-12 schools that would teach “students to […]


Where the sun doesn’t shine in local government

By: - March 12, 2023

Across the country, March 12 through March 18 is Sunshine Week, a time for shedding a light on open government. In South Dakota, the sun doesn’t shine through too clearly. Here it’s, at best, partly cloudy. Sunshine Week was started in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors. According to its website, the purpose […]

Voters line up to cast early ballots on Nov. 4, 2022, at the Minnehaha County Courthouse in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Open primaries should be part of debate over candidate nominations

By: - March 10, 2023

As the legislative session wound down, Republicans had a tough time deciding the fate of Senate Bill 40, a bill that originally called for primaries, rather than political party conventions, to decide on top state candidates. In the end, Republicans couldn’t agree on how to change the system. In its original form, SB 40 called […]

Gov. Kristi Noem testifies in support of a bill that would have eliminated the state sales tax on groceries in front of the House Committee on Appropriations on Feb. 21, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Journalism changing and thriving while Noem avoids press conferences

By: - March 5, 2023

One of the features of the 2023 legislative session has been something of a head scratcher: Gov. Kristi Noem has quit making herself available to South Dakota media for weekly press conferences. She has chosen to give Capitol reporters the silent treatment at a time when journalism in this state has more outlets than ever […]

A vote-here sign, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022, at the All Souls Church on Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Republicans trying to inject integrity into an election system already dripping with it

By: - February 26, 2023

It seems that South Dakotans should be upset about the integrity of their elections. If the long list of bills in the current session of the Legislature is any indication, our elections are all fouled up. A recent South Dakota Searchlight story noted that there were 43 — count ’em, 43 — election-related pieces of […]

(Illustration by Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Lawmakers love ‘local control,’ until they want the power

By: - February 17, 2023

If you want to get South Dakota lawmakers to talk in hushed, reverent tones, just say these two magic words: local control. Legislators purport to love the fact that local citizens serve on their school boards to decide on budgeting, personnel and a thousand other decisions that go into the care and feeding of a […]

(Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Salivating over a surplus: Tax cut proposals are enticing, but shortsighted

By: - February 11, 2023

Most national news about the economy seems to be filled with worries about whether or not the nation is heading for a recession. In South Dakota, we’re worried about what to do with this avalanche of tax revenue. In this state, tax revenue projections are traditionally conservative. Lately, they have also been wildly inaccurate. In […]

The Senate floor in the South Dakota Capitol at Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

Bill on public comments at meetings doesn’t go far enough

By: - February 5, 2023

Whenever the topic is citizens being mistreated by their local government, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “There oughta be a law.” Well, if you’ve been mistreated by a local government entity and your friend is a member of the state House of Representatives, a new law is what you’re going to get. That’s […]