Dennert Felt Duped by Crime Victims Bill of Rights, Advises We Question Ballot Question Petitioners

Rep. Drew Dennert
Rep. Drew Dennert

One of my District 3 legislators, Republican Drew Dennert, uses a guest spot on the SDGOP spin blog to encourage people to approach ballot measure petitions with what I’m willing to call healthy skepticism. Rep. Dennert doesn’t mention any of this year’s ballot measures specifically (and he needs to be careful, since his Speaker of the House G. Mark Mickelson is running around promoting two of them, and maybe a third soon), but he does mention the crime victims’ bill of rights that we passed last year as an example of a ballot measure pushed by shady out-of-staters who didn’t tell Dennert the whole story when they lured him into signing their petition. (We’ll let Drew work that out with Jason Glodt, the South Dakota front man for that ballot measure who is now working for Republican Marty Jackley’s campaign for governor.)

What does Rep. Dennert say we voters should do when approached by petition circulators? Slow down and ask questions:

A great question is to ask whether the measure’s sponsor is from South Dakota or not….

…it’s worth asking the petition circulator whether they are being paid or are a volunteer – it’s the difference between doing a job or believing in a cause.

…And finally ask to read the Attorney General’s explanation of the measure, which is on the back of every petition in its entirety [Rep. Drew Dennert, “Guest Column: Uncovering The Real Agenda Behind Ballot Measures,” Dakota War College, 2017.08.14].

One may cynically view Dennert’s advice as predictable Republican discouragement of ballot measures. But I’m feeling generous today. Neither of the questions Dennert recommends are out of line. I go further and ask the circulators themselves where they are from. (If they sound dodgy, I might try to trick them into pronouncing the name of our state capital.) Heck, ask petitioners why they are petitioning. If they’re getting a check, ask them who writes their checks, an actual South Dakotan or an out-of-state petition firm. Ask whatever else you want about circulators’ bona fides as concerned fellow South Dakotans. Any petitioner who won’t answer your questions doesn’t deserve your name, address, and signature.

I hesitate at Dennert’s advice to read the Attorney General’s explanations. A.G. Marty Jackley’s summaries of the ballot questions so far this year haven’t been atrociously biased, but they generally leave out lots the detail, context, and rationale that help people understand why a ballot measure is circulating. And all too often, A.G. Jackley sandbags ballot questions with warnings that they may be unconstitutional or conflict with federal law without giving any explanation of the grounds for such warnings.

Of course, if you want to read the A.G.’s explanation, you shouldn’t have to ask for it or for the circulator’s paid/volunteer status; state law requires that circulators provide that information in written form to every signer. (Plus, the A.G.’s explanation should be on the front of every petition.) Technically, I suppose circulators could contend that the law doesn’t require handing out that information to potential signers, but that’s perfectly reasonable information for anyone to request, and if circulators balk even the slightest at handing it over, turn your back and walk away.

Drew Dennert is right: we should take our time when signing petitions to make sure we are backing ballot measures that are in South Dakota’s best interest. But keep an eye on Representative Dennert, and make sure his reasonable advice doesn’t slide into a legislator’s effort to protect his power by hoodwinking voters into thinking all ballot measures are bad.

11 Responses to Dennert Felt Duped by Crime Victims Bill of Rights, Advises We Question Ballot Question Petitioners

  1. Mary Perpich

    These comments from Drew have made petition signers more cynical. Brookings Dems are circulating petitions that have the AG’s explaination on the back, giving signers a copy of the explanation and telling signers we are volunteers and are not getting paid. We still meet some resistance because signers are reminding us of the phony 18 percent rate cap petitions two years ago. And those had full GOP support. If Drew was duped it was his own fault. South Dakota voters are not dumb. They know what they are voting for. And their voices should be heard and respected.

  2. Drew must not be the sharpest knife in the drawer so he fits right in with the rest of the klan

  3. AG’s explanation on the back? Which petition is laid out like that, Mary?

  4. Mary Perpich

    The petitions for an anti-corruption amendment, campaign finance revision and changing some initiative and referendum provisions.

    Another petition for a constitutional amendment to protect the initiated measure and referendum process for voters.

    Represent SD is sponsoring both.

  5. Wait—Represent SD is sponsoring two petitions? I thought they had only one, the redo of IM22 as a constitutional amendment with changes to I&R. The petition strictly with I&R is Roxanne and Nicholas, isn’t it?

  6. As posted on the SOS ballot question page, both of the questions Mary mentions are laid out with the A.G. explanation on the front, at the beginning. Given its large layout, depending on how it is folded, the Represent SD petition might look like the A.G.’s explanation is on the back, but both it and the Weber/Rasmussen petition follow the form prescribed by SDAR 05:08:02:09. Any petition sheet is a different format is not a legitimate petition sheet.

  7. Donald Pay

    I’ve got a lot to say. Legislators ought to butt out of the people’s initiative and referendum process. If you’re elected to the Legislature, you have the power to introduce any bill you want, and to vote against bills. If you’re too lazy to do your own work, maybe you should give up your seat before you engage in your initiative. So, my advice to legislators is this: Play in your own play pen.

    Second, all of this bureaucratic nonsense that you guys are fretting about has been added to the initiative process in the last 17 years. All this paperwork, AG opinion, etc., is unnecessary. We got along fine without it before the SD Chamber of Commerce and other long-time opponents of initiative and referendum lobbied for this stuff in an effort to make in more cumbersome to put initiatives on the ballot. It was meant to give them more handles to legally and politically mess with the people’s ballot measures. It may be unconstitutional. Does every legislative bill need and AG opinion? Why not? It would needlessly complicate the legislative process and may constitute executive interference in the Legislative Branch. Separation of powers weighs in favor of getting the AG out of the I & R process.

    Third, all the unnecessary bureaucracy means professionals and politicians, not the people, take over the initiative process. You want to know why initiatives have become longer and more complicated? All the BS bureaucratic nonsense added to get anything on the ballot in the last 17 years has drawn in the political pros. Hey, they’re just copying what they do in the Legislature: huge bills that few read. Want simple, half-page initiatives? Repeal all the bureaucracy.

    Fourth, nobody can be fooled to sign any petition. If you say you got fooled, you are a fool. The language is right there on the petition. You don’t need an AG to tell you squat about it. If I got one of those AG opinions handed to me I’d burn it right there, and gladly pay any fine for burning trash on the sidewalk. I don’t need that fool to tell me anything.

    Fifth, signing an initiative petition simply means you think people should have a right to vote on it. I’ve signed petitions that I have been undecided on, but think it would be valuable to have the public weigh in. I do not sign something that I haven’t read.

    Sixth, I

  8. Porter Lansing

    Hear, hear Mr. Pay. It’s always a pleasure when you have a lot to say.

  9. I’m with Drew in asking circulators questions. I’m with Donald in getting rid of the expensive paperwork requirements that Drew’s party has imposed on the process to discourage ballot questions without really supporting accountability in the process.

    (Donald, did you have a #6?)

  10. Donald Pay

    Yes, Cory, I had to leave, so I posted before I wrote #6.

    Sixth, circulators need to be able to provide correct, non-evasive, non-fraudulent answers to questions about the initiative being petitioned, but they don’t have to be experts. Essentially they need to know enough about the initiative that they would feel comfortable speaking about it for several minutes in front of a group. They don’t need to be experts, but they need to know the basics of what the initiative does. If potential signers want to know more, written material provided by the sponsors of the initiative should suffice. If they want to know even more, offer them a website or an email address. I never believed in arguing fine points with potential signers. Either you’re for it or not. Or, you can sign a petition to get it on the ballot, then figure it out later. I was always honest with people, but I’m not going to have a Lincoln-Douglas debate out on the cold sidewalk, thank you very much. I’ll call you later with answers if you want. The petitioning process is like Legislators co-sponsoring legislation. If the concept of the bill sounds good, legislators will agree to co-sponsor it, even though they may not be experts on everything in the bill.

  11. If anyone comes up to me and invites a Lincoln-Douglas debate right there on the sidewalk, I’ll be late for dinner. :-)

    That said, Donald, I like your comparison to the process of seeking sponsors for bills. We aren’t in persuasion mode at that point; we’re in ally-seeking mode. In the time it takes to win an honest debate over the merits of a ballot measure and persuade that one debater to sign, a circulator can get ten signatures from far less talkative, less resistant, and/or more informed citizens.

    Now if we moved the initiative submission date to July 1 of the election year, far closer to voting time than the current November prior, there might be a little more advantage gained from combining circulation with persuasion.

    Still, while I recognize that a circulator has other people to talk to and it is in a way unfair of me to monopolize the circulator’s time if there are a lot of other people around to talk to, circulators have to be cautious in how they “brush off” a talker or hesitant signer, lest that “brush off” reflect poorly and publicly on the ballot measure. Circulators need to practice presenting themselves as non-evasive, non-fraudulent, knowledgeable and genuinely committed to the issue as efficiently as possible. If I hear get solid, straight-up answers about the measure and the circulator’s interest in it, and if they can say something like, “Hey, I’d love to discuss this more, but I have five possible signers walking up the sidewalk at us, so here, read this copy, and when I get done with these folks, if you have more questions, I’ll be happy to answer them when I get free, or I can call or e-mail you later if you want to share your card,” I can live with that response.