We're all familiar with the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Well this week, one photo on South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem's Facebook page got quite a heated response from a newspaper columnist in California. And while he fell short of the 1,000 mark, he did manage to bang out 680 words defending the Golden State.

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In a column titled 'Memo to Gov. Noem: Trash California after South Dakota grows up', Orange County Register business writer Jonathan Lansner called out Noem for posting this photo on her Facebook page:

Referring to himself as a 'columnist with trusty spreadsheet', Lansner took great exception to the use of the word 'communism to describe his home state, which, in the interest of full disclosure, just happens to be where I was born and raised.

That leaves me conflicted, to say the least.

I haven't resided in California since 1986 and several things have changed dramatically, especially in Southern California, where this particular paper is published. The biggest difference I have witnessed in the past 35 years is the massive influx of people moving in from other places, significantly reducing the number of native Californians in the area.

Outsiders bring in their own ideas and preferences - some good, some not so good. In my opinion, things there aren't better or worse, just different.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.

In an attempt to counter the 'communism' claim, Lansner decided to 'scoreboard' the governor on some of the key number disparities between the two states.

He started with an obvious one - people:

'I view population as a measure of popularity, and in this case, it paints your state poorly. South Dakota’s 887,000 residents are approximately the same size as our Kern County. By the way, 10 California counties have even more people'.

No one is going to dispute that California's population of more than 39 million people is more than 40 times that of South Dakota. That hardly tells the entire story though.

For starters, the Golden State has far more space for people, considering it is more than double in size compared to the Mount Rushmore State - 163,696 square miles vs. 77,184.

California also has two things South Dakota never will - 840 miles of coastline and much more user-friendly weather.

So, for me, the population/popularity argument is weak.

Moving into his area of expertise, Lansner then decided to throw out some economic numbers and how they relate between the two states.

He started with cost of living:

'Yes, California is expensive. Our cost of living is 32% higher than your state and our homes cost triple what South Dakotans pay. But you get what you pay for, right? California’s household incomes also are 30% above your state'.

The numbers may be a wash, but I am not on board with the 'you get what you pay for' dig when it comes to houses. You get a lot more house for your money here than you do in California

Next stop? Taxes:

'South Dakota has no income tax, and California has high tax rates. But when the Tax Foundation studied all state and local tax burdens, your state’s 9.1% rate was only 14th best vs. California’s 11.5%, eighth-highest. Apparently, 39 million folks here think the extra 2.4% is worth it'.

I still have a number of friends and family in California and trust me when I tell you that not a single one of them has ever told me they think their state taxes are 'worth it'.

There were more economic comparisons about jobs, gross domestic product, and output. And not surprisingly, California once again runs circles around us.

The one compliment Lansner did throw out was one of South Dakota's biggest traditional economic selling points - unemployment:

'Congratulations on one of the swiftest economic rebounds of the pandemic era. South Dakota’s 2.8% unemployment rate for May was bettered by only New Hampshire, Vermont, Nebraska, and Utah. California’s jobless rate is still 7.9%. Only Hawaii and New Mexico are worse'.

The one piece of criticism that had perhaps the most traction was on the issue of health, specifically as it related to COVID-19:

'Governor, there was a harsh cost to your state’s quick business bounce off the pandemic bottom. Your modest coronavirus precautions meant South Dakotans suffered the third-highest COVID-19 cases per capita rate among the states and the 10th-worst death rate. California’s health cautions may have cost jobs, but it resulted in its citizens having the 13th-lowest infection rate and 18th-best death rate'.

In the end, Lansner saved his parting shot not for the governor but for the person who took the original photo:

'PS: To the ex-Californian with the car in the Facebook photo. Thank you, we needed your home. Good luck in South Dakota'.

Bottom line: it is perfectly legitimate to wonder if Governor Noem might have better things to do with her time than to provoke people on social media, but for Lansner to attempt to raise California's stature by tearing down South Dakota's is no better than the same sort of behavior he's calling out the governor for.

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