The Pro and Con statements on Amendment R, the measure to clarify governance of our vo-tech schools, show a battle between the two wings of the South Dakota Republican Party.
In a rather puffy statement that evades the actual text of the amendment, Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) touts R as a way to “strengthen the ability of the four technical institutes to meet the work-force shortages in a number of critical industries….” Yet Mickelson errs in his Pro statement saying R “passed the legislature overwhelmingly” and “there were no opponents.”
Technically, Amendment R itself did not pass the Legislature; the Legislature passed 2015 House Joint Resolution 1003 to put Amendment R to a public vote. Legislators can oppose an amendment yet favor putting it to a public vote.
Rep. Mickelson also forgets that there was an opponent: Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle). How Rep. Mickelson forgets opposition from the legislator who sits right behind him escapes me, but he has his forgetful spells in Pierre. Rep. May refreshes her colleague’s memory by penning the Con statement on Amendment R. Rep. May slightly overstates what Rep. Mickelson completely understates about the immediate, practical impact of R:
Constitutional Amendment R would change the South Dakota Constitution to authorize the Legislature to establish a new, unelected and tax-funded governing board which would help the State shift the cost of technical schools from the State budget to the budgets of already overburdened counties, cities and school boards [Rep. Elizabeth May, Con statement on Amendment R, 2016 Ballot Question Pamphlet, Secretary of State’s Office, issued August 2016].
Rep. Mickelson says nothing about R’s authorization of new vo-tech governance; he just says R lets the vo-techs “consider evolving” from part of the K-12 system “toward a dedicated and independent system.” Rep. May reminds voters that evolution means another board that costs money and that, unlike the current K-12 school boards that govern the vo-techs, would not answer directly to local voters.
Rep. May chooses her words carefully to offer a worst-case scenario. Let’s review the key clause that Amendment R would add to our constitution:
Postsecondary technical education institutes that offer career and technical associate of applied science degrees and certificates or their successor equivalents and that are funded wholly or in part by the state shall be separately governed as determined by the Legislature.
That clause authorizes but does not require the Legislature to create a new vo-tech governing board. Post-R, the Legislature could leave vo-tech governance in the hands of the K-12 schools (although Rep. Mickelson’s Pro statement makes clear that’s not his vision.) But rejecting R would leave hanging the question of whether the current K-12 governance of vo-techs is constitutional or whether the Regents could step in and assert their authority (although has anyone seen the Regents chomping at the bit to do so?).
Greg Von Wald, former Mitchell Technical Institute president and now leader of the committee promoting R, rebuts Rep. May with a clearer case than Rep. Mickelson makes:
The legislature can determine that governance. But right now they’re already governed, okay? This constitutional amendment doesn’t change that. It puts the authority in the hands of the legislature, instead of having to get into some sort of a tug of war between the regents and tech schools. It says “Hey, Regents, you do this, tech schools, you do this, and if there’s any governance issues the legislature will determine it.” That’s what it is. It does not create another government structure [Greg Von Wald, in Lee Strubinger, “Amendment R Opponent Disagrees with Proponents on Cost,” SDPB Radio, 2016.08.25].
If there’s any governance issues—while ungrammatical (if there are, plural), Von Wald more aptly describes the exact legal impact of Amendment R itself than either Rep. Mickelson or Rep. May. Yet the Pro and Con statements represent the two main flavors of rhetoric offered by the South Dakota Republican Party. Rep. Mickelson’s Pro on R represents the mainstream Chamber of Commerce wing, which justifies every policy by shouting “workforce!” and “business needs!” Rep. May’s Con on R represents the arch-conservative wing, which justifies every vote by shouting, “Less government, less taxes!” It’s fun to see these two wings flapping in opposite directions on the least important of this year’s ten ballot questions.