EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a staff editorial.
In connection with a post about the City Of Yankton budget, a Yankton County commissioner has posted a meme that espouses the killing of politicians.
On July 30, Gary Swensen, Yankton County commissioner, posted on Facebook’s Yankton Buzz group a meme in the comments section below a share of a KYNT recording about the Yankton City budget from last week. As of this writing, the group’s administrators Randy Gleich, Mary Lou Mueller and Emily Hohenthaner Radech have chosen not to delete the post; a morally questionable decision. It is also visible on Swensen’s personal page.
The meme depicts an elderly woman in a confessional saying, "Forgive me father for I have sinned, I killed a politician." The priest responds, "My daughter, I am here to listen to your sins, not your community service work."
The United States has had experience with political violence. President John F. Kennedy was killed because a man felt the need to stand out in the world. Rep. Leo Ryan was killed in Guyana on the orders of a cult leader while checking in on the concerns of his constituents back home. There are many more instances to add to this list, but the reality is this — this is not a joking matter that ought to be approached lightly.
Commissioner Swensen, in addition to his posting habits, has a history of abdicating many of his duties as commissioner. For the majority of his tenure, Swensen has refused to take part in executive sessions for no stated reason. He has skipped budget meetings and other special county functions.
Swensen has also exhibited a number of instances of questionable behavior. During the Oct. 16, 2018, meeting of the Yankton County Commission, he seemingly likened other board members to historical leaders like Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. At the following commission meeting — the first since the election — Swensen stormed out of the meeting early on. He would not return again until the new commission was seated in January, in part due to a surgery he had in the interim.
There is a bit of irony to Swensen’s invocation of historical dictators, though. Stalin would kill politicians he felt were a challenge to him. Hitler purged members of the Nazi Party that he didn’t feel sufficiently toed the line — at times having the executions filmed for his viewing pleasure. Mussolini gave a speech in which he took personal responsibility and pride in ordering "squadristi" violence. These were the men that saw the killing of politicians as a "public service."
A politician joking on social media about killing politicians shows, at best, extremely poor judgment.
At worst, it’s a threat to the members of Yankton’s City commission — people with which Swensen should be working and not calling for their execution.
Just last weekend, a disturbed California man shot up a rural agricultural festival killing several people and wounding others. It is not out of the realm of possibility that such a disturbed individual could seek to carry out Swensen’s online "suggestion."
It is true that every community has a harmless local crank, but that person generally doesn’t get elected to office, an office Swensen is abusing with such hateful posts. These days, an average citizen who posts such things would likely be reported to the FBI and investigated.
Given the numerous mass shootings in the United States this year alone, we would demand additional security at Tuesday’s City budget meeting, which would be at the expense of City and county residents, not Swensen who has behaved as irresponsibly towards his duty as commissioner as he has in his online postings.
It should be noted that as a member of the commission, Swensen is being paid $13,284.24 in tax payer dollars. Is he being paid to behave this way?
In a time when uncivil political dialog at the national level is the new "normal," it is important for smaller communities to raise the level of discourse.
One of the great things about the United States is that people do have the ability to make it a better place. The great genius of the founding fathers was putting in place many remedies to fix what ails our government and remove those who abuse their powers. They set up a government for the people to participate in without the need for deposing leaders through violence. One of those ways is answering the call to public service. Calls to kill politicians one doesn’t agree with does nothing whatsoever to encourage people to aspire to public service.
One of the most shameful elements of this incident is the seeming lack of interest on the part of the other county commissioners to confront Swensen for this latest action. Commission chairman Dan Klimisch has been silent when he has an obligation to stand up and say something. States Attorney Rob Klimisch has remained mum on the subject.
It is equally shameful that the moderators of Yankton Buzz have done nothing to quash this blatant foolishness, when they proclaim to be acting on behalf of the people.
With his actions, Commissioner Gary Swensen has demonstrated a lack of will to execute his public service in a professional manner. If he is not willing to do so, then is it his duty to use one of our historic non-violent remedies and resign? Or, should it be the duty of the County Commission or states attorney?
Ask yourselves, your family and friends: Should Swensen resign? The P&D Editorial Board Staff are weighing this very question and prior to stating our position would like your input.
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