Scott Ehrisman is documenting and responded to South Dakota Democratic Party’s “How do we fix it?” meeting in Sioux Falls Saturday. I attended the Aberdeen installment of the SDDP tour last night with eighteen of my neighbors. Here are the most important things I heard:
- SDDP chair Ann Tornberg said she and her staff are planning more listening stops after this week’s Sioux Falls–Brookings–Aberdeen–Rapid City tour. They’ll hold a similar meeting with Clay County Democrats on Wednesday, December 14, at the Vermillion Public Library at noon. Another meeting is planned in Hughes County (I’m checking on date and time). It sounds like party leadership is open to invitations for more dates.
- Everybody is talking about message, but former SDDP chair Deb Knecht, striking a pessimistic Newquistian tone, wondered “if it matters what we say.” She cited District 8 Democratic Senator Scott Parsley, who sounds nothing like the “New York liberals” that her husband Randy said can’t win in South Dakota, and Senator Parsley still got beat by a rookie twenty-something whose only advantage of Parsley is the “R” in front of his name. Deb Knecht also cited the President-Elect, who has shown that one can win the most powerful elected position in the world despite the foul words spewing from one’s mouth.
- Responding to calls from attendees to go negative hard and early, high school debater and former Heidelberger campaign intern Briggs Tople said we should focus our negative campaigning on the Republican voting record of burdensome taxes, wasteful spending, and other dollar-figurable decisions.
- Brown County Democratic Party chair Jennifer Slaight-Hansen observed that economic issues can be a harder sell in South Dakota because our economy and state budget are relatively more stable, allowing GOP-favoring culture-war issues like guns and abortion to resonate more among voters.
- High school debater and Democratic activist Sulaiman Jamal said the fear of bullying keeps some of his fellow students from getting involved in Democratic politics. Tople added that it’s hard for his fellow students to join the losing side and find it easier to just graduate and leave South Dakota.
- In one of the few discussions of practical party activity, Tople suggested opening field offices in Aberdeen, Pierre, and Rapid City to support local organizing. Among other benefits, Tople noted that field offices would provide local groups with a regular meeting space. I added that the state party could divide its current staff among those offices and use them as regional headquarters for integrated off-year party-building activities including ballot measure petition drives and voter registration. The former and current chairs noted that physical offices have a lot of overhead.
My summary here is subjective and non-exhaustive. I invite other attendees to submit their observations on the meeting; I invite non-attendees, even “New York liberals”, to contribute their thoughts on how South Dakota Democrats can win in 2018.