Lalley: It's a long way to Pierre

The cultural gap between Sioux Falls and the capitol seems wider than ever.

Kadyn Wittman.PNG
Rep. Kadyn Wittman of Sioux Falls testifies in favor of a proposal to waive fees on nondriver identification cards in the House Transportation committee on Feb. 7, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

SIOUX FALLS — When you live way down in the southeast corner of South Dakota, the state capital can seem a long ways away.

Because it is.

Omaha is closer than Pierre.

Des Moines is closer than Rapid City.

Physical distance is one thing, it’s measurable and tangible. Culture is not.


Cultural differences come and go. They pop up like prairie dogs, or spring thunderstorms, or potholes.

One of the reasons I like living in Sioux Falls, one of the reasons I still live here, is that in large measure people are reasonable.

I used to think that about South Dakota.

Coming of age, I always believed that one of the great things about the state, that I’ve said and written many times, is that in most cases you could be who you wanted to be as long as you didn’t bother anybody else.

Yes, that’s a massive generalization, but it was the best way I could put it at the time.

That was never about a political party. Rather, it’s a philosophical base upon which decisions could be made. Over the arc of time, that has tended to be a conservative outlook on life.

And that’s OK.

In the nonpolitical sense, it’s a good way to live. A careful and restrained approach, like investing in indexed mutual funds rather than gambling on stock trades.


The result on any given issue may not be what you may want as an individual, but taken collectively it works.

If you’re a teacher, you may have a decent beef about pay. So can a lot of other people.

Before every teacher slays me with social media memes, I get it, it’s a hard job. In fact, after getting certified and doing my student teaching and some subbing, I decided that writing and reporting was a “better fit” for my life.

I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t want to do it. I’m happy you do — and did. Thank you.

Rest assured, there’s not much distance between us.

Back to Pierre.

It’s not a good look.

Over the past several years our state has become famous for distance. The cultural distance between the broadly embraced affirmations of personal freedom and individual morality imposed upon the whole.


Which is a syllable-laced way of saying one person telling another person who to be — or not be.

It’s the very thing that I thought during my coming of age, as South Dakotans, we were not.

This is not to say that any given legislator in Pierre is not allowed to forward their ideas, to debate them and pass them if they can.

Go ahead.

It seems though, that what is lost is the ability to do simple things to help people who actually do need it.

There was an example in a story published on Sioux Falls Live this week by our capital reporter Jason Harward.

The story detailed a plan to waive the fees on nondriver identification cards for residents who are homeless.

The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Kadyn Wittman of Sioux Falls, who worked in a homeless shelter and who was inspired to run for the Legislature because of her experiences with this issue.


“This was something I ran into weekly. It always bothered me that there is not a box that somebody can check that says, ‘I’m homeless, but I need this ID to move forward with my life,’” Wittman said in the story. “It bothered me so much that I said, ‘I’m going to run for office and I’m going to do it myself.’”

That’s wonderful. One person trying to help other people get back on their feet.

It’s easy — and cheap. The bill has an appropriation of $75,000.

"It always bothered me that there is not a box that somebody can check that says, ‘I’m homeless, but I need this ID to move forward with my life,’” said Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls.

In relative terms, it’s about the same cost as an off-season junket for a gaggle of elected representatives to get handed legislation they don’t understand, or maybe haven’t even read, to bring back to South Dakota and turned into laws.

It happens.

Wittman’s proposal is the kind of thing that should be simple to get behind. It should have gone through the system without a hitch.

But, this being South Dakota, it did not.

It went down twice before getting passed by the House Transportation Committee. Even then it was sent to the Joint Appropriations Committee without a recommendation where it could drift into the ether like mist from a vape pipe.


Because the homeless residents of Sioux Falls aren’t the constituency of the social imposition in Pierre.

That’s unfortunate and a missed opportunity for the true conservatives among us.

A free ID card isn’t welfare, it’s empowerment.

Couple an ID with a bus pass and you’ve given people the tools to make life better. Whether they do that or not, is subject to that person’s drive and ability to do so.

But at least you did something for the many people struggling in Sioux Falls, not just to get by, but get up.

The ID plan isn’t dead yet. There’s still a chance that our lawmakers will see the wisdom in this one little thing.

Maybe then Pierre won’t seem so far away.

Opinion by Patrick Lalley
Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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