Fellow Democrat and Madison Bulldog Debate alumnus Rick Weiland has been advocating independent redistricting, open nonpartisan primaries, and his Anti-Corruption Act as a “trifecta of reforms” since before those policies made it onto our 2016 ballot as Amendment T, Amendment V, and Initiated Measure 22. In this guest column, Weiland maintains that T, V, and 22 will work together to take back South Dakota politics from big money and partisanship.
This November, South Dakota has an opportunity to lead the nation by passing three ballots measures that will dramatically reform our politics and send a message to Washington and the rest of the country.
In 1898, South Dakota became the first state in the Union to allow the voters to petition their government by using ballot measures to shape public policy. Now, 24 states have some form of an initiated measure process where the citizens can legislate when they feel their elected officials will not [Rick Weiland, press release, 2016.09.09].
(Thanks for South Dakota’s groundbreaking direct democracy go to Father Robert Haire, from right here in Aberdeen!)
After years of inaction, both in Washington and in Pierre, the people of South Dakota overwhelming passed a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage $1.25, from $7.25 to $8.50, with a cost of living allowance – end-running a state legislature too beholden to special interests and their lobbyists. Contrary to the propaganda at the time, the sky didn’t fall, unemployment didn’t escalate and businesses didn’t close their doors. Unemployment in South Dakota remains among the lowest in the nation [Weiland, 2016.09.09].
Weiland and his TakeItBack.org initiative group haven’t spoken out on Referred Law 20, the youth sub-minimum wage, but I appreciate his nod here toward the fundamental empirical argument against the effort to undo the minimum wage increase that voters approved: the Legislature had no evidence that increasing the minimum wage was hurting South Dakota’s economy when they passed the youth minimum wage cut, and they have no hard evidence now, a year and a half later, that the voters committed a grave error.
When our state consistently ranks in the top five of states most at risk of corruption; when scandals like EB-5 and Gear-Up destroy confidence in our elected leaders and government by squandering hundreds of millions of dollars; when sweetheart government contracts, suicides, murders, lawsuits and felony charges dominate our daily news and coffee talk, then it is time for reform [Weiland, 2016.09.09].
Seriously, people have died because of South Dakota’s corruption. South Dakota voters grousing about how Hillary Clinton handled e-mail, with no evidence of any harm from that handling, ought to be marching with pitchforks over real, documented loss of tax dollars and lives right here in their own political backyard.
Recently, in a New York Times article entitled, “Can the States Save Democracy?” South Dakota was singled out as the “hotbed of political reform” citing three ballot measure efforts on “gerrymander reform, clean money and a proposed nonpartisan primary.” Like 1898, South Dakota in 2016 can show the rest of the nation the way forward by passing a “trifecta of reform” and starting a political reform movement to take our country back from the ‘big money” special interests and the hyper-partisanship that is destroying it [Weiland, 2016.09.09].
Now Weiland gets to the particulars of each initiative:
South Dakota’s chance to lead and save our democracy starts by voting yes and passing Amendments T – V – and Initiated Measure 22.
Amendment T establishes an independent redistricting commission where the legislative districts will be drawn by honest brokers, not partisan politicians. The voters should get to choose their office holders, not the other way around. The gerrymandering that has occurred as a result of partisan politics has contributed to the government dysfunction and gridlock we are experiencing today – and it is threatening our democracy [Weiland, 2016.09.09].
The only argument I have heard in favor of allowing legislators to continue to draw their own district boundaries is that voters choose legislators and can thus hold legislators accountable for bad boundaries. But voters displeased with gerrymandering can’t vote out the gerrymanderers if displeased voters are gerrymandered out of the gerrymanderers’ districts.
Amendment V establishes nonpartisan elections for all offices, with the exception of President, where the voters get to vote for the person, not the party. Just like we do for mayor, city council and school board elections, the election becomes more of a contest of ideas then a meaningless debate of political party propaganda. Registered Independents make up 40% of the registered voters in the country, more then either the Democrats or Republicans, and yet they can’t vote in most primary elections. We have 113,000 registered Independents, 21% of the registered voters who can’t fully participate in the South Dakota June Primary. No one should have to pledge allegiance to a political party to exercise their right to vote – period! [Weiland, 2016.09.09]
I’m with Weiland on partisanship: we get better discussions of policy at the local level without having school board elections become proxy votes on Presidential politics. I’m also with Weiland on participation: the more opportunities citizens have to vote, the better. If Republicans want to keep their nomination process closed to non-party members, they can arrange their own pre-primary caucus or convention to select a single candidate for the primary.
Initiated Measure 22 fights government corruption, restores accountability and reforms campaign finance laws; it shines a bright light on the special interests and their lobbyists; it establishes an ethics commission with subpoena powers and authority to investigate, and it creates a voluntary incentive for voters to contribute up to $100 of their own tax dollars to qualifying candidates. That amounts to about .1% of the annual state budget. Let’s be honest – there are no checks and balances in our state government. One party rule has lead to government corruption, lost taxpayer money, tragedy and a loss of confidence [Weiland, 2016.09.09].
The checks and balances Weiland offers in IM 22 are as much about checking government power as about allowing far more numerous small donors to check the power of a small group of big donors in the political process. IM 22’s small-donor public campaign financing isn’t a big check: as Weiland notes, it’s a small fraction of the budget, and it’s completely voluntary. Candidates may choose not to participate in the “Democracy Credit” program, and registered voters may choose not to give any of their Democracy Candidates to any candidate. But it offers candidates and voters that extra opportunity to stand against big-money influence in elections right along with the new campaign finance limits and transparency requirements that are the real reason the Koch Brothers are working so hard to kill IM 22.
Don’t let the special interests win another election by convincing you the sky is falling and the end of the world is at hand. It is time to join a growing coalition of Republicans, Democrats and Independents dedicated to reforming our politics and taking our country back! The November election presents a real opportunity to tell Pierre, Washington and the rest of the country that we have had enough of partisan gridlock and special interest government. Vote yes on T – V – 22! [Weiland, 2016.09.09]
Amendment T offers fairer election maps, drawn by objective rules rather than any legislator’s self-interest. Amendment V offers more voters more chances to choose among more candidates. Initiated Measure 22 offers more government accountability. All three measures work together to shift the balance of power away from partisan politicians and special interests and toward the voters.