The ballot question pro/con statements are out! Secretary of State Shantel Krebs has posted the PDF version of the 2016 Ballot Questions Pamphlet, which includes the Attorney General’s explanations, the sponsor names and addresses, and, most fun, the proponent and opponent statements submitted for each of the ten ballot measures we South Dakotans get to vote on this November.
I’m sponsor of two measures, Referred Law 19 and Referred Law 20. The Secretary only allows an individual to write one Pro or Con statement, so I tackled the arcane petition rules of Referred Law 19, the Incumbent Protection Plan, while my friend econ prof and Senator-Elect Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) provided the Con statement for Referred Law 20, the youth minimum wage cut.
Consider the statement Rep. Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) offers in favor of RL 19. Given a 300-word maximum, Rep. Gosch produces 48:
Passage of Referred Law 19 will mean fair and honest elections, increased transparency, and will prevent abuses of the election process. Republicans drafted this bill, Republican Legislators passed it, and a Republican Governor signed it. Every voter, especially Republicans, should support Referred Law 19 [Rep. Brian Gosch, Pro statement on Referred Law 19, 2016 Ballot Question Pamphlet, August 2016].
Not only does Rep. Gosch fail to provide any specifics about how RL 19 works, but he appeals to raw partisan politics, saying 19 is good because Republicans voted for it. Rep. Gosch apparently knows he can’t win on the policy, so he hangs an “R” on it and hopes for the best. Those 48 words are the weakest, most transparently partisan effort in all 20 Pro/Con statements.
Instead of appealing to partisanship, my Con statement points out that RL 19 is bad for Republicans, Democrats, and independents:
Referred Law 19 is an attack on democracy. Incumbent legislators hijacked a petition reform law and turned it into this pile of new regulations to help themselves cling to power and discourage us citizens from participating in elections.
Among its several sections, Referred Law 19 makes three harmful changes.
RL 19 moves the deadline for candidate petitions from the end of March to the beginning of March. Candidates for Legislature would have to decide whether to run or not before the Legislative Session ends.
Candidates would lose most of the longer, warmer days of March to circulate petitions. In exchange, RL 19 gives them December, whose short days, cold weather, and holiday busyness make it the worst month for petitioning. These conditions mean fewer candidates will run for office.
RL 19 requires Republican and Democratic candidates to gather more signatures. It’s already hard to recruit neighbors to run for office; making candidates collect more signatures will keep even more candidates off the ballot.
Worst of all, RL 19 takes away the right of Republicans and Democrats to sign petitions for Independent candidates. Right now, Independent candidates can take signatures from any registered voter. RL 19 says Independents could only take signatures from fellow Independents.
Limiting Independent petitions to Independent signers drastically reduces the number of South Dakotans who can sign Independent petitions (from 81% of adults to 17%) and makes it practically impossible for Independents to get on the ballot.
These changes add up to fewer people running for office, fewer choices on our ballots, and fewer incumbents held accountable by challengers.
That’s bad for democracy. If we want to encourage citizens to participate in elections and make their voices heard, let’s vote NO on Referred Law 19 and seek other reforms to improve our petition and election laws [Cory Allen Heidelberger, Con statement on Referred Law 19, 2016 Ballot Question Pamphlet, August 2016].
Instead of Rep. Gosch’s “do it because my party says so,” I explain with three specifics why RL 19 is bad for voters of all affiliations and encourage voters to seek better reforms.
Where RL 19 drew little comment from South Dakota proponents, RL 20 drew none. No South Dakota legislator or activist was willing to write the Pro statement for cutting the minimum wage for workers under 18. Even the original sponsor of the wage cut, quitting Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen), stayed in his shell and shirked his duty to Washington D.C. lobbyist Michael Saltsman, an employee of the Employment Policies Institute, which is a front group for Berman & Co., which “lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.” Hmmm… paid lobbyist from Washington D.C. versus local Sioux Falls professor—who do you think wins that debate at the polls?
Study the 2016 Ballot Questions Pamphlet and compare the Pros and Cons. There will be some stiff debates over the ten ballot measures before us, but the meager partisan blip for 19 and the absence of a South Dakota voice speaking up for 20 suggest the two referred laws on our ballot will go down hard in November.