When pressed on the repeal of Initiated Measure 22 at Aberdeen’s crackerbarrel yesterday, our District 2 and 3 legislators often resorted to painting the protestors against repeal vehicle House Bill 1069 as bad people.
Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) said the protestors came from out of state, that a Harvard professor (hey! it’s Lawrence Lessig!) paid for the plane that towed a protest banner over the Capitol, that protestors had planned to throw fake money at legislators from the gallery. “The circus came to town,” he complained, planning civil disobedience. He said protestors were emotional, but the “cooler heads” of the legislators prevailed. He thanked Democratic leaders for tamping down protest “that could have gotten ugly.”
Remember that things didn’t get ugly. No arrests occurred in connection with the Legislature’s rush to overturn the will of the people (although the Constitution Party thinks impeachment is in order for certain legislators). No one appears to have acted outside the bounds of the First Amendment. And even if civil disobedience or lesser violations of gallery decorum had taken place, such outbursts, however offensive to our legislators’ sensibilities, would not have affected the merits of House Bill 1069 one bit. The fact that a protestor is emotional or teaches at Harvard or makes Al Novstrup cry by calling him corrupt does not change the fact that HB 1069 overturns the will of the voters and violates the Constitution by addressing multiple subjects and by invoking a fiscal emergency clause when no fiscal emergency exists.
In other words, crackerbarrel attendees yesterday were saying, HB 1069 sucks! and Senator Greenfield and his fellow legislators were saying, No, you suck!
One woman challenged this ad hominem attack directly. She took the mic to tell Senator Greenfield that she attended the HB 1069 protest in Pierre. She sat in the gallery. She said that she and many of the people with her were South Dakotans. She said she heard none of the dire plots for civil disobedience that Senator Greenfield alleged. She asked Senator Greenfield where he got his information.
So challenged on his illogic and disrespect, Senator Greenfield spun hard, trying to apologize without walking back any of his errors other than saying he shouldn’t have said, “The circus came to town” (I don’t think he was saying he didn’t mean it; I think he was acknowledging the line was not politic).
Senator Greenfield admitted some of what he alleged was hearsay. He then said with some caution that some protestors had contacted a Pierre law office to retain legal counsel in case they were arrested for civil disobedience. He mumbled something about attorney-client privilege, then said that staff had relayed the information about the protestors’ request, apparently to the Legislature.
I think we could use some clarification here. Citizens went to a Pierre law office, seeking legal counsel. Someone at that law office shared information about those conversations between citizens and the attorneys they sought to hire with other people.
Senator Al Novstrup said again yesterday that there is no corruption in Pierre. (We’re all scum, but legislators are sterling seems to be Novstrup’s view of himself and the world beneath him.) But the fact that I can’t seek legal counsel in Pierre without worrying that my lawyer or his staff will run to political leaders at the Capitol with details of our conversation seems to be a first-class example of corruption.
I have contacted Senator Greenfield and asked him to clarify his statement. I have also asked him to indicate whether he has reported this possible breach of attorney-client privilege to the state bar association.
Alleged misconduct by a Pierre law firm has as little to do with the merits of HB 1069 as do alleged misconduct and out-of-state origins of HB 1069 opponents. But protestors, if you’re heading to Pierre and are worried about the Legislature over-exerting its authority to quash your First Amendment activities, Senator Greenfield is signaling that you might need to engage lawyers from out of town, since at least one Pierre law firm reports directly to the Legislature.