Journalist and political reform activist Hedrick Smith boosted South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 22 earlier this year. He returns with a blog post celebrating Rick Weiland and Drey Samuelson’s ability to beat the Koch Brothers’ dark money and win voters’ approval of the sprawling campaign finance reform, lobbying reform, and government ethics measure.
Unfortunately, Smith doesn’t address my puzzlement (and I’m not the only one) that big, complicated IM 22 could pass while its simpler “trifecta of reform” co-measures Amendment T (eliminating gerrymandering) and Amendment V (creating an open nonpartisan primary) failed. Smith contends that door-to-door campaigning and social media were essential to the success of Weiland and Samuelson’s TakeItBack.org campaign:
Like its opposition, TakeItBack.Org ran a modest TD and radio ad campaign and won newspaper endorsements for reform. But its hallmark was an unusual commitment to shoe-leather, retail politics. A team of college and graduate students went door to door in major cities like Sioux Falls and Rapid City while Weiland drove out to small and medium-sized towns, stopping in cafes and diners and going down Main Street, store to store, generating coverage in local newspapers and interviews on local radio.
…For a low-budget campaign, social media was critical. One Facebook post that reached 68,000 viewers showed 28-year-old Army veteran Justin Otoski telling how he came back from duty in Afghanistan and was disgusted by the nasty partisan warfare in U.S. politics. He decided to take a term off from college and volunteered to work full-time in the reform campaign.
…Another Facebook posting revealed that Samuelson, a career public servant, had personally donated $50,000 to the reform campaign from the sale of his late mother’s home. “I’m not a rich guy but money just isn’t that important to me and this is important to me,” Samuelson explained. “And I felt that was the best way to honor her and honor the way that I was raised” [Hedrick Smith, “How Reformers Beat Koch Bros. in South Dakota,” Reclaim the American Dream, 2016.11.16].
I respect Pulitzer Prize-winning Smith, but I’m surprised Smith misapplies his examples. Sure, Otoski and others knocked on lots of doors and earned free media, and Otoski’s Facebook video got 68,000 views, but those efforts were for Amendment V, which lost. Ditto Samuelson’s story: he donated that inheritance to the V campaign, not IM 22.
I agree that shoe leather and electrons are critical elements of campaigns, but TakeItBack.org’s deployment of both for Amendment V do not explain the success of Initiated Measure 22.
Also causing me dismay is Smith’s report on Weiland’s next focus, springboarding from IM 22 to push reform in other states:
With the landscape of power in South Dakota destined to be altered as the reform package gets put into practice, I asked Weiland what this might mean for other states: “Is there a ripple effect?”
“Absolutely.I believe that this victory sends a message to the rest of the country that they don’t have to put up with the business-as-usual crowd. They can take matters into their own hands,” Weiland asserted. “We have a real opportunity to take what we’ve done here and show it to other states — putting these ideas on your ballot in 2018, 2020 and ’22” [Smith, 2016.11.16].
Other states? We haven’t finished Taking South Dakota Back yet!
I won’t begrudge a guy for having broader horizons. But Rick, Drey, if you can keep some TakeItBack.org mojo focused on South Dakota even as you spread the reform gospel beyond our borders, we can still use your help here on a ballot measure or two in 2018 in our continuing quest for that elusive synergy between reform measures and reform candidates.