• Tag Archives Ernie Otten
  • Reed/Otten Proposal Bad for Initiatives

    Responding to the revision error in the currently circulating recreational-marijuana petition, Rep. Tim Reed (R-7/Brookings) said on August 1 that he and fellow interim initiative and referendum task force member Senator Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea) “are proposing a review commission… that would help avoid issues like this.”

    The Reed/Otten proposal is out, and it’s a turkey. Draft #107 (one of twenty draft bills on the committee’s online docket) would create a commission to hold hearings on citizen initiatives and produce a “ballot measure education brochure” to replace the current ballot question summary prepared by the Secretary of State.

    Error #1 in the Reed/Otten proposal is its failure to follow the spirit of the independent citizen review panel that Rob Timm of the Chiesman Center for Democracy described for Rep. Reed and the I&R task force at its first public hearing in JuneIndependent citizen, as in made up of regular citizens who are independent of the Legislature that initiatives exist to check. Reed and Otten propose a commission that consists of no citizens outside of state government; instead, Reed and Otten would subject initiatives to review by the Secretary of State, four members of the Board of Elections, the Legislative Research Council director, and two sitting, non-freshman legislators. Appointing legislators as gatekeepers to initiatives that challenge legislative power weakens citizens’ initiative power.

    Error #2 in the Reed/Otten proposal is its imposition of review commission hearings prior to circulation of initiative petitions. Requiring a new state commission with members from around the state to assemble for hearings takes more time away from petition circulators. The Reed/Otten proposal sets no deadline for the review commission to take action. Currently, both of the required delays imposed on initiative circulators have set timeframes: LRC must respond to a submitted initiative draft within fifteen days; the Attorney General must respond with his official explanation within sixty days. Initiative sponsors thus know that they must include 75 days of possible wait time between the time they draft their initiative and the time they can hit the streets with petitions.

    The Reed/Otten proposal denies initiative sponsors the timeframe certainty that Reed and Otten themselves enjoy in Pierre, where the Legislature sets clear deadlines for its committees to take up bills. Instead, the Reed/Otten proposal creates a black hole in which citizen initiatives could disappear until it is practically impossible for circulators to collect the signatures they need to put their measures on the ballot.

    Error #3 in the Reed/Otten proposal is its incomplete campaign finance disclosure requirements. Section 5 of Draft #107 would require the review commission to mail to every South Dakota voter a “ballot measure education brochure” that includes…

    …the name of the petition sponsor and any organization or committee that participated in any effort to draft the language of the measure or amendment, circulate petitions or campaign on behalf of the measure or amendment; followed by a statement of the total contributions received by the ballot measure committee and the name of any person or organization that donated to the committee [I&R Task Force, Draft #107, posted August 2017].

    Reed and Otten are willing to spend six figures on postage to tell every voter who’s spending money to pass a ballot measure, but Reed and Otten don’t think they should make a similar effort to tell every voter who’s spending money to defeat a ballot measure. If it’s important to know that G. Mark Mickelson is spending big money to pass a new campaign finance restriction, isn’t it important to know that the Koch brothers are working hard to defeat that measure?

    There are other minor flaws in the Reed/Otten proposal, like lack of clarity on referred laws (does the ballot measure education brochure have to include the names of legislators who drafted the law that got referred?) and the requirement to report the names of small donors (currently, donations of $100 or less are not itemized). However, the above three flaws are major reasons to vote down the Reed/Otten proposal.

    With changes—empanel independent citizens, not legislators and state officials; set a deadline for hearings, extend the circulation deadline, or move the hearings to take place after circulation; and expand the campaign finance disclosure requirements—the Reed/Otten proposal might serve a useful purpose. However, as written, the Reed/Otten proposal fits the Republican pattern of complicating, delaying, and weakening the initiative process and reducing the power it gives to citizens to check an unresponsive Legislature.



  • Ernie Otten Wants to Punish Independents, Take Away GOP/Dem Rights

    Yesterday I noted that SDPB’s Lee Strubinger wasn’t able to find any proponents to speak on Referred Law 19, the Incumbent Protection Plan. This morning I discover that SDPB has updated that story, replacing the audio of Senator Corey Brown’s January 2015 testimony in favor of making it harder for independents to run for office with Senator Ernie Otten’s more current defense of taking away voters’ rights:

    “So, if you’re tired of the Republicans for what they’re doing or if you’re tired of the Democrats, being an Independent… I get that end of it,” Otten says. “But having said that, when one rejects either party, what then gives them the right to think that they are aloof from everybody else? If you’ve rejected to be a Republican and you’ve rejected to be a Democrat, then why do you think you should be able to go back to those individuals and get those signatures?” [Lee Strubinger, “Referred Law 19’s Intent Is to Clarify Election Petitioning Process,” SDPB Radio, updated 2016.08.15].

    I can’t figure out what Senator Otten means with his “aloof” comment. But he speaks as if independents deserve punishment. He also ignores that RL 19 doesn’t just take rights away from the independent candidates whom he finds so damnable; it also takes away the rights of every Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Constitutionist in this state—almost 418,000 South Dakotans right now—to sign petitions for independent candidates.

    I would suggest to Senator Otten that leaving a political party to become independent may require surrendering partisan privilege but not losing a basic right. Consider: we’re all born independents. If we had automatic voter registration, we’d assume every voter is an independent unless and until a voter indicates a party preference. In that default position, voters should have the right to nominate any independent candidate for the general election ballot.

    When voters sign on to a political party, they gain an additional privilege: they get permission to participate in the private affairs of their chosen political parties. Registering Republican is like joining Kiwanis: Kiwanians get to vote on their club officers and budget even as they continue to participate fully in other civic affairs. If a Kiwanian leaves the club, there’s no reason that erstwhile Kiwanian can’t ask former colleagues for help, and there’s no reason Kiwanians should be forbidden from helping.

    If Republicans find themselves disappointed with their party’s candidate for a particular office or with their party’s failure to field anyone for that office, Republicans retain their basic right to nominate an independent for that office. Senator Otten is trying to take away that basic right from his fellow Republicans for the sole purpose of quashing independents and cementing his own party’s power.

    Senator Otten only adds bitterness to the clueless justifications he gave for Referred Law 19 (née Senate Bill 69) back in 2015 when he carried the water for his incumbent-protecting amendments to the petition reform bill. Why punish all voters when you’re mad at independent candidates for challenging your partisan orthodoxy and hegemony? Senator Otten’s grouchy proponentry shows that Referred Law 19 is just a power grab for incumbents like him who want as few fair fights in November as possible. Don’t let Senator Otten take away your rights; vote NO on 19.



  • Otten Says SB 69 Is Good Compromise—with Whom?

    The press is just starting to get a grip on the more complicated of the two laws this blog is helping to refer to a public vote. Senate Bill 69 includes 24 sections of niggly little changes in dates and vote counts and percentages affecting the conduct of nominating petitions and petitions for organization of new political parties. You can review my detailed summary of the effects of SB 69 on your voting rights here, but I’m happy to let AP boil the bill down to one sentence:

    Liberal activist Cory Heidelberger filed a petition in late March to begin such a campaign. Heidelberger said he is working with a politically diverse group of South Dakota activists to push back against the legislation, which Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed on March 20.

    “Voters are having their rights taken away,” Heidelberger said [James Nord, “Activists Working to Block Election Law from Taking Effect,” AP via Times-Union, 2015.04.08].

    Independent rights, Republican rights, Democratic rights, Libertarian rights—every voter’s rights.

    Senator Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea), who helped bring the amendments that turned Senate Bill 69, burbles some vague pablum to the AP to demonstrate he either does not understand or dares not admit the harm his amendments do to your voting rights:

    But Republican Sen. Ernie Otten, who worked on the legislation, said that the law changes make sure political parties are treated equally. He said the law is a “good compromise” and could help smaller political parties get out their message and grow.

    “We were pretty sure that it was going to get challenged by them, and I guess the voters can have their say in it,” Otten said [Nord, 2015.04.08].

    Senator Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea), progenitor of bad amendments to Senate Bill 69.
    Senator Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea), progenitor of bad amendments to Senate Bill 69.

    Hang on, Senator Otten: you were pretty sure it was going to get challenged? I wasn’t sure it was going to get challenged until just a couple weeks ago. Whence cometh your certainty?

    In what ways does SB 69 make sure political parties are “treated equally” in any way that they suffer inequality now? I don’t see any inequality in the previous thresholds. SB 69 brings no changes that make the parties more equal. “Treating parties equally” sounds like a red herring that avoids the net negative impacts on all voters.

    And where is this “compromise” that Senator Otten thinks sounds good for the reporters?

    Otten said it’s important to give citizens enough time to challenge nominating petitions. He also said the new petitioning period is balanced because it includes the winter holidays, which means more people will be at home when candidates are knocking on doors.

    “I think that we came up with something pretty middle of the road,” he said [Nord, 2015.04.08].

    The only way in which SB 69 attempts to help citizens challenge petitions is by moving the petition submission deadline date three to four weeks earlier. However, SB 69 also sets an earlier deadline for filing court challenges against nominating petitions, meaning the effective increase in time we have to research and submit challenge affidavits to court really isn’t that much greater than it is now. Plus, SB 69 fails to extend the narrow five-day window citizens have to submit petition challenges to the Secretary of State. Senator Otten and his colleagues did nothing to help citizens gain access to petitions and to the voter registration lists necessary to properly research a challenge; those documents remain cost-prohibitive for many citizens.

    And seriously, Senator Otten: you think allowing petition circulation during the winter holidays—shorter, colder, darker days when people are gathering with family and friends to think about something other than politics—somehow “balances” the loss of warmer, brighter weeks after the Legislative session for talking to voters and getting signatures? Are you thinking through reality, Senator Otten, or are you just making excuses for your chipping away of voting rights?

    Senate Bill 69 is not middle of the road unless you are measuring from Senator Otten’s preferred extreme of shutting down elections and letting the GOP monolith appoint all legislators (which is kind of what happens now that Republican legislators keep quitting).

    I look forward to more press coverage of the complicated Senate Bill 69, since it will draw out more legislators like Senator Otten to say absurd things about their assault on your voting rights.