The South Dakota Legislature’s enhanced Republican supermajority plans to wage more war on democracy. Rep. Don Haggar and Rep. (soon to be Senator) Jim Bolin are already banging the drum to weaken the people’s constitutional power of initiative and referendum:
“I feel like the process has been hijacked by people not from South Dakota,” Republican Rep. Don Haggar said. “I think in light of what’s happened here this past campaign season, in particular, it’s a reason to look at it.”
Haggar said the Legislature will likely examine the issue during the next legislative session, which begins in January. He would support “raising the bar” for South Dakota citizens to propose a change to state law, but said it’s unclear what a bill might look like.
One idea would be to require that signatures are gathered from a wider geographic area of the state, he said.
…Incoming GOP Sen. Jim Bolin, who currently serves in the state House, wants to see more stringent requirements specifically for constitutional amendments. “We have to reform our system — not abolish it — but reform it,” he said [James Nord, “Ease of Ballot-Initiative Placement a Source of Concern for SD Voters,” AP via Pierre Capital Journal, 2016.11.14].
Ah, geographic distribution—Rep. Bolin floated that idea in the 2016 Legislature. That plan and other higher bars to placing measures on the ballot will do nothing to prevent out-of-state money from dominating our initiative and referendum process. Tougher petition requirements will only increase the dominance of big money, which can hire lawyers and professional circulators to overcome any strictures, while crowding out the grassroots South Dakotans who already struggle enough to meet the signature requirements and other rules on ballot measures. (The headline of Nord’s article is misleading: there is no “ease” in placing measures on the ballot, and it’s Republican legislators, not “SD Voters”, who are mislaying these concerns.)
Rep. Haggar’s fears of big-money hijackers are not borne out by the results of this year’s election. Of the five citizen-initiated measures on which sponsors succeeded, only one, Amendment R, the crime victims bill of rights, was a clear hijacking of the initiative process by a California billionaire with no regard for existing statutes… and that hijacking was facilitated by one of the SDGOP’s own consultants. If the Republicans wanted to shut down that big money, they could have.
The other four successful citizen measures all had South Dakota roots. Both referred laws went on the ballot because Aberdeen blogger and Democratic activist Cory Allen Heidelberger (yes, little old me!) took out petitions, got the South Dakota Democratic Party to help, and simply spoke the truth about two bad laws the 2015 Legislature passed. I had almost no budget, and I still got more than 70% of South Dakotans to agree with me and vote down those two bills (which Haggar and Bolin supported—ah! so that’s why they want to squeeze us out of ballot measures!).
Initiated Measure 21, the 36% rate cap on payday loans, came from South Dakota activists Steve Hildebrand, Steve Hickey, and Reynold Nesiba. They had a piddly budget and faced multi-million-dollar opposition from out-of-state payday lenders on 21, but they still won and beat back the payday lenders’ attempt to hijack the constitution with their fake Amendment U.
Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act, had lots of out-of-state money for and against it. But it came from Rick Weiland, a South Dakota guy through and through, and South Dakotans decided by a narrow margin to try out a state ethics commission, lobbying restrictions, and tighter campaign finance limits, and voluntary campaign financing. That’s hardly a hijacking by outsiders.
There’s the point our elitist Republican legislators keep missing. Big money interests don’t get to simply buy an election. Ultimately, South Dakotans decide whether ballot measures become law or not. This year and in past year’s South Dakotans have done a pretty good job of separating good locally grown wheat from outside big-money chaff. I don’t see the need to make it harder to put measures on the ballot, because I trust South Dakotans to read ballot measures and make good decisions. Republicans do not trust South Dakotans, especially when so many of our decisions on ballot measures break against what those Republican power-grabbers want.
Don, Jim, leave initiative and referendum alone. Your party already has far more than its fair share of power; why not let the people have this one, already difficult check on your Legislative overreach, and trust the people to decide for themselves what laws they want to write?