Yesterday I noted that SDPB’s Lee Strubinger wasn’t able to find any proponents to speak on Referred Law 19, the Incumbent Protection Plan. This morning I discover that SDPB has updated that story, replacing the audio of Senator Corey Brown’s January 2015 testimony in favor of making it harder for independents to run for office with Senator Ernie Otten’s more current defense of taking away voters’ rights:
“So, if you’re tired of the Republicans for what they’re doing or if you’re tired of the Democrats, being an Independent… I get that end of it,” Otten says. “But having said that, when one rejects either party, what then gives them the right to think that they are aloof from everybody else? If you’ve rejected to be a Republican and you’ve rejected to be a Democrat, then why do you think you should be able to go back to those individuals and get those signatures?” [Lee Strubinger, “Referred Law 19’s Intent Is to Clarify Election Petitioning Process,” SDPB Radio, updated 2016.08.15].
I can’t figure out what Senator Otten means with his “aloof” comment. But he speaks as if independents deserve punishment. He also ignores that RL 19 doesn’t just take rights away from the independent candidates whom he finds so damnable; it also takes away the rights of every Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Constitutionist in this state—almost 418,000 South Dakotans right now—to sign petitions for independent candidates.
I would suggest to Senator Otten that leaving a political party to become independent may require surrendering partisan privilege but not losing a basic right. Consider: we’re all born independents. If we had automatic voter registration, we’d assume every voter is an independent unless and until a voter indicates a party preference. In that default position, voters should have the right to nominate any independent candidate for the general election ballot.
When voters sign on to a political party, they gain an additional privilege: they get permission to participate in the private affairs of their chosen political parties. Registering Republican is like joining Kiwanis: Kiwanians get to vote on their club officers and budget even as they continue to participate fully in other civic affairs. If a Kiwanian leaves the club, there’s no reason that erstwhile Kiwanian can’t ask former colleagues for help, and there’s no reason Kiwanians should be forbidden from helping.
If Republicans find themselves disappointed with their party’s candidate for a particular office or with their party’s failure to field anyone for that office, Republicans retain their basic right to nominate an independent for that office. Senator Otten is trying to take away that basic right from his fellow Republicans for the sole purpose of quashing independents and cementing his own party’s power.
Senator Otten only adds bitterness to the clueless justifications he gave for Referred Law 19 (née Senate Bill 69) back in 2015 when he carried the water for his incumbent-protecting amendments to the petition reform bill. Why punish all voters when you’re mad at independent candidates for challenging your partisan orthodoxy and hegemony? Senator Otten’s grouchy proponentry shows that Referred Law 19 is just a power grab for incumbents like him who want as few fair fights in November as possible. Don’t let Senator Otten take away your rights; vote NO on 19.