Whitney: Amidst coffee shop chaos, citizens are fighting
Rick Ahlers does not generally frequent Cafe and Josiah Cafe during the summer as he does not drink hot chocolate in July. He made an exception on Wednesday.
The owner of a body shop near Josiah’s in downtown Sioux Falls has closely followed the controversy surrounding the cafe and its owner, Steve Hildebrand, whose fight against the payday loan industry has made of him a target of foreign activists and big brokers.
The recruitment of homeless people by professional protesters posing as “missionaries” has bumped into Ahlers the wrong way. He walked into Josiah’s house and signed a petition for a voting initiative that would cap the fees and interest payday and title loan companies can charge, giving voters a chance to wipe out the industry in Dakota from South.
Ahlers discovered he was not alone. The place was packed with repeat customers a day after the orchestrated upheaval reached a boiling point of police involvement and media frenzy.
“I thought it was all underhand,” Ahlers said of the efforts to disrupt Hildebrand’s business. “We’re a bit old-fashioned here. It hasn’t gone well.”
There was no sign Wednesday of Floyd Pickett, the so-called “Deacon Pete” exposed as an agent for Rod Aycox, owner of Georgia-based Select Management Resources, which handles North American securities lending and other companies that critics claim plagued revenue customers.
After several weeks of harassment under the guise of Christian charity, during which homeless people were brought to the small cafe for food and drink, Hildebrand was told of the tactics to disrupt normal operations and slow down the collection of items. petition signatures.
He learned that Pickett lives in Atlanta via Peoria, Ill., Where he organized a $ 25,000 donation of $ 25,000 to a community center in his hometown three years ago from the Rod and Leslie Aycox Family Foundation. .
In a 2012 Peoria Journal Star article announcing the donation, Pickett is listed as doing “contract work” for Aycox and tells reporters of his boss, “This man gives and expects nothing in return.”
This statement is laughable, as Aycox has donated millions of dollars to federal, state, and local candidates to fulfill his role as “the payday loan industry’s most passionate evangelist,” as reported by media outlets. Atlanta.
According to Hildebrand, Aycox came to Sioux Falls last month with the intention of persuading the cafe owner and political consultant to drop his petition. When Hildebrand refused, the guerrilla tactics began.
It has been said that this payday loan battle could get ugly, and here is proof. South Dakotans for Responsible Lending (the effort launched by Hildebrand and Sioux Falls pastor Steve Hickey) had previously seen efforts to confuse the public with a similar petition campaign, as well as a legal challenge to the wording state ballot. But it was something else.
They were boots in the field, disturbing a small business owner whose friends and loyal customers – as well as some neutral observers – found the tactics unbecoming. Maybe this stuff works in other states, where people are tired of battle and immune to outrage. But here we are waiting for a fair fight.
The column continues after the photo gallery.
If you want to debate the merits of payday loans and claim that some people have few other options, that’s great. But don’t expect the people of South Dakota to adopt a “look away” attitude when the high-stakes bullying begins. We feel offended when one of our own is disturbed. We feel inclined to retaliate.
When Pickett, who is black, and his infantrymen began accusing Hildebrand – a proudly gay former campaign strategist who helped get President Obama elected in 2008 – of being a fanatic, all bets were on.
If the mission was to reduce the petition effort and get Hildebrand and his supporters to back down, the armed approach had the exact result.
“People kept saying, ‘We don’t do this in South Dakota,'” said Matt McLarty, who volunteered to collect signatures from Josiah on Wednesday after hearing about the heckling. “It created a backlash where we’re going to get over 1,000 signatures today. The lines have been deleted.”
Few people were more motivated than Tove Hoff Bormes, owner of the Rugs & Relics store, next to the Hildebrand café in the East Shore. She delayed opening her doors on Wednesday so she could work on collecting petitions at Josiah’s home, where she collected more than 200 signatures in about five hours.
“It’s funny how things work sometimes,” Bormes said. “These guys were intending to intimidate Steve into pulling himself out of this thing, and look what happened instead. It was a major underestimation of who we are as community.”
As for uncovering the ruse and finding out that Pickett wasn’t exactly a Christian missionary, Bormes said, “Do they think we don’t have the Internet in South Dakota?”
Aycox’s attempts to distance itself from the controversy ring hollow, given its history of active involvement and association with Pickett. The tactics were delicate enough to create common ground between Hildebrand and Chuck Brennan, the Sioux Falls native and founder of the Dollar Loan Center, who clearly opposes efforts to cap lending rates.
“While I strongly disagree with his stance on short-term loans, I have some admiration for (Hildebrand) as a small business owner,” Brennan said Wednesday. “I have never met or known (Aycox) so I cannot comment on him. One party is a competitor and another wants me to quit business. Maybe I should stay away. both.”
Keeping other opponents away could be a more difficult sale. There was a small private security presence at Josiah’s Wednesday, mainly to keep any commotion from disturbing other businesses. But there’s a feeling more fireworks will arrive as the November 8 deadline for nearly 14,000 signatures draws closer and opponents aim.
“These people have multi-million dollar income streams,” said Reynold Nesiba, the South Dakotans’ treasurer for responsible lending, who stood in front of Josiah with the clipboard in hand. “They have big houses and private jets that need to be funded, and they’re going to fight hard. They won’t go away quietly.”
If we’ve learned anything this week, it’s that potential voters and concerned citizens of South Dakota don’t get scared easily, either. We are more than capable of making some noise ourselves.
City of Argus Leader Media columnist Stu Whitney can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @stuwhitney