The shambles in South Dakota

Posted: Oct 23, 2002 12:00 AM
"You've got an economy that is in shambles," complains Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, whose party is now hounding President Bush for neglecting America's poor, the disenfranchised, the elderly and the unemployed. Well, Tom Daschle certainly knows about economic shambles and neglect. Look at his home state. Take the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which, along with several other reservations, is now being investigated by state and federal authorities because of criminal allegations of massive voter fraud tied to local Democrat Party operatives. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation sits in Shannon County, located in the southwest corner of Tom Daschle's South Dakota. It is the second-poorest U.S. county in the nation, according to the Census Bureau. The unemployment rate hovers around 75 to 85 percent. More than 60 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty level; per capita income is just under $6,300. The reservation is a magnet for mooches because federal time limits on welfare benefits don't apply at Pine Ridge. Here where cradle-to-grave socialism, the Democrats' fantasy state, is realized, more than half the reservation's adults battle addiction and disease. Alcoholism, diabetes and malnutrition are rampant. Life expectancy on the reservation is 48 years old for men and 52 for women. That's the shortest life expectancy for a community anywhere in the Western Hemisphere outside Haiti, according to The Wall Street Journal. The infant mortality rate is the nation's highest, at about three times the national average. Former President Clinton waltzed through Pine Ridge on a lip-biting tour with Tom Daschle and then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo in 1999. "You have suffered from neglect, and you know that doesn't work. You have also suffered from the tyranny of patronizing, inadequately funded government programs, and you know that doesn't work," Clinton thundered in a speech promising to create "new markets" for the poor and clean up the squalor in Tom Daschle's South Dakota. But the Democrats' grand housing construction and revitalization scheme for Pine Ridge, which made for nice glossy brochures and promotional videos, fell short. Tribal leaders grumbled about being exploited for Democratic political gain. Three years later, Tom Daschle is Senate majority leader -- and the 5,000-square mile reservation, second-largest in the nation, still has no banks, motels or movie theaters. Thirty-nine percent of the homes on the Pine Ridge reservation have no electricity. Many lack basic plumbing. Public housing units are so overcrowded and scarce that many homeless families often take to tents or cars for shelter. In fact, the plight of the Pine Ridge reservation is so infamous that churches in other states solicit donations of used wood-burning stoves to bring to the residents during harsh winters. Without basic insulation or central heating in their homes, many Indians on Pine Ridge use their ovens to heat their homes. Tom Daschle has been in public office in South Dakota since 1978, when he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served there until 1986, and then moved on to the U.S. Senate, where he has wielded power for three terms. By all accounts, Daschle owes his Senate seat to Native American voters who helped provide him with a razor-thin edge in his initial Senate bid. Now, he is leaning on those perpetually impoverished Native Americans across the state (dead or alive) to keep him in power and protect his protege, junior Sen. Tim Johnson, who is locked in a tight battle with GOP Rep. John Thune. While his destitute constituents on Pine Ridge huddle around their ovens for heat and drink in despair, Tom Daschle says he can do better for America's economy. Have you seen what he has done for South Dakota lately?