If you like clash in a debate, you’ll love Inside KELOLand‘s segment on Referred Law 19, the petition reform bill, featuring Rep. Jim Bolin on the affirmative and me on the negative. We are the first segment on last night’s episode, starting about one minute in:
I’ve spoken several times (a few thousand times, if you count my door-to-door and sidewalk pitches while circulating the referral petition last year!) on Referred Law 19. This debate with Rep. Bolin, even with the trash talk he slipped into his arguments on camera and after the show, was easily the most challenging and enjoyable, simply because there was an articulate and crafty opponent right there beside me.
This great television almost didn’t happen. Like other media outlets, KELO TV struggled to find one out of the dozens of Republican legislators who voted for RL 19 when it was mere Senate Bill 69 in the 2015 Session. Rep. Bolin at first didn’t want to do this show, either. He changed his mind when they told him I would be on the show. As you can see, Rep. Bolin clearly enjoyed the chance to debate me.
Our main policy argument is over the intent and practical impact of the bill. Rep. Bolin says RL 19 addresses the problem of illegal petition activity by giving citizens more time to review and challenge petitions. I contend that the only measure of RL 19 does that, the earlier petition deadline, is not worth the cost to candidates, who lose the warmer, sunnier, longer days of March to collect signatures to get on the ballot. The other main provisions of RL 19—increasing signature requirements for Republicans and Democrats while taking away party members’ right to sign petitions for independents—do nothing to prevent or catch bogus signatures and only make it harder to get on the ballot.
Rep. Bolin tells independent candidates to “man up” (I invite your feminist critique—I think I also used the phrase “cowboy up”) and get signatures from “their own people.” I respond that independents’ “own people” are all voters, regardless of party label.
Rep. Bolin’s arguments only get worse as the debate goes on. He pivots from a question about constituent reponses to RL 19 (note that while we agree that not a lot of people are talking about or know about RL 19, I note that when I explain the bill, I get universally negative responses; I suspect that absence of public support is why Rep. Bolin pivots here) to his prepared point about RL 19 being “bipartisan.” Rep. Bolin here tries to abandon his majority leader Rep. Brian Gosch’s baldly partisan pitch for RL 19—”Republicans drafted this bill, Republican Legislators passed it, and a Republican Governor signed it.” But Rep. Bolin exaggerates: there was exactly one Democrat, Senator Jim Bradford from Pine Ridge, who voted changed from a Nay in the first Senate vote on RL 19 to an Aye on the voting on the conference committee bill over a month later. Every other Democrat in Pierre resisted this bill.
I’ll simply say that Senator Bradford’s wrong vote doesn’t make this bill truly bipartisan or useful.
To my long-standing argument that the “independents only for independents” rule is unconstitutional, Rep. Bolin offered the most specious argument of the show:
I know Mr. Heidelberger he claims all of these legal things and stuff like that…. For his claim that this is obviously unconstitutional, from my political science classes, Mr. Heidelberger, one thing I learned is that any law that is passed by a legislature and signed by a governor is inherently considered constitutional until challenged. So this bill, this law that is now before the public, if the public approves it, it will be considered constitutional unless a federal court would strike it down [Rep. Jim Bolin, on Inside KELOLand, 2016.10.30].
Rep. Bolin here argues a technicality to avoid talking about the real principles involved. His dodge here is like saying the Legislature could pass and the Governor could sign a law putting journalists in jail for criticizing elected officials. Everybody but Donald Trump recognizes that such a law would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The fact that we have to wait for a court to enjoin such tyranny does not change the fact that such a law is unconstitutional tyranny. I won’t call RL 19 tyranny, but I will note that neither Rep. Bolin nor any other Republican has explained why taking away party members’ right to sign petitions for independent candidates does not raise an unconstitutional barrier to independent ballot access.
Thus beaten down, Rep. Bolin ultimately has to appeal to authority. He asks viewers to “confirm the decision of the South Dakota Legislature and Governor Daugaard who signed this law.” Again, he’s not talking the merits of the law; he’s just saying that legislators and the Governor know what they’re doing, so don’t question them—just do what they say.
The Legislature has veto power because sometimes the Governor screws up. We the people have referendum power because sometimes the Governor and the Legislature screw up. Rep. Bolin’s inability to stick to the merits of the law itself and his resort to stretched definitions of “bipartisan” and “constitutional” show that Referred Law 19 is one of those screw-ups.