Who showed up to speak in favor of unlimited interest rates for payday lenders last night?
Nobody from the payday lending industry deigned to appear at last night’s Sioux Falls Chamber/League of Women Voters ballot question forum. That’s probably best for Lisa Furlong, Bradley Thuringer, or whatever paid stooge the payday lenders could have sent to attack the real 36% rate cap of Initiated Measure 21 and defend the fake rate cap of their decoy Amendment U. Had they appeared, the payday lenders’ tools would have been dwarfed by the moral magnitude of Steve Hildebrand.
Steve Hildebrand, Sioux Falls businessman, sponsor of IM 21, and former high-powered Democratic political advisor, made no typical political speech last night. Hildebrand did not shade or triangulate his comments for political delicacy. Steve Hildebrand spoke in moral absolutes.
Hildebrand said IM 21 the “long, hard, and frankly very scary battle” that he and former Rep. Steve Hickey are waging to cap payday lending rates is an “effort to rid our state of payday lending.” Asked if IM 21 will drive payday lenders out of business in South Dakota, Hildebrand said, “Boy, I sure hope so.” He said payday loans make low-income borrowers’ lives “pure hell.” Asked about the argument that payday lenders provide necessary loans to people with no other alternatives, Hildebrand said “a lot of poor people shouldn’t get loans.”
Hildebrand said Georgia-based payday lending CEO Rod Aycox “tried to sabotage my restaurant. He hurt my people. He’s a bad man.” He called the Rod Aycox-funded Amendment U “sneaky, underhanded, deceitful, dishonest… exactly the kind of business the payday lenders in this state run. They screw poor people.” He said, “Payday lenders are evil people.” He called the payday-lender stooges trying to undermine IM 21 a “gang of thieves.”
Hildebrand said that, with Amendment U, payday lenders are saying they “believe payday lending should be written into your constitution… that sacred document… so that payday lenders can have protection forever.”
Really? They deserve protection, but low-income families don’t? What they want protected is the millions of dollars they take out of South Dakota…. This isn’t about jobs. That’s what they’re going to tell you. There’s a couple hundred jobs at most of people working in these terrible operations. It’s about their corporate jets and about their big mansions and about their fancy lifestyles in Vegas and Georgia and everywhere else around the country—not in South Dakota… [Steve Hildebrand, remarks on Amendment U, SF Chamber/League of Women Voters ballot question forum, Sioux Falls, SD, 2016.09.15, timestamp 1:30].
Hildebrand said Minnehaha County spends $800,000 on rental assistance, much of which goes to help poor people whose cash the predatory lenders have grabbed. Predatory lenders take money out of our economy that low-income South Dakotans then can’t spend that money at local businesses. The Chamber of Commerce, he said, ought to be supporting IM 21 out of their own interest in keeping money in South Dakota. “We should be supporting South Dakota companies, not some billionaire sitting in Atlanta.” (Again, Republicans who deride out-of-state money behind the ballot questions you don’t like, get consistent!)
Hildebrand said payday lending is part of what Rev. Hickey has called South Dakota’s “poverty industry.” He said payday lending began to thrive here when South Dakota started video lottery as a way to keep our taxes low by preying on poor people. He said once we get done ridding ourselves of predatory lending, we should ban video lottery.
Hildebrand said the payday lenders are “chicken” for not accepting the invitation to speak at last night’s forum or any request from the media to answer questions about their efforts to defeat IM 21. Just as the payday lenders’ decoy amendment represents their willingness to say and do anything, without regard to truth, to trick and trap borrowers, the payday lenders’ absence from last night’s forum shows their utter contempt for the public. They do not believe in honest civic discourse with their opponents. The payday lenders disdain common citizens asking questions and seeking honest information. They hide behind their walls, their stooges, and their lies, and expect never to be held accountable by the communities they rob.
Steve Hildebrand did not present a gentle, nuanced pitch to coax voters into passing a mild financial regulation. He declared a moral crusade to protect the poor from an evil industry that should not be allowed to operate in South Dakota.