Greg Belfrage went to town on Represent South Dakota and their proposed Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment on his KELO Radio show this morning. Belfrage doesn’t seem to have an argument with the actual content of VPAC—Belfrage doesn’t cite, let alone criticize, any specific provision from the draft amendment. Instead, he focuses his morning criticism on VPAC’s lineage—its descent from Initiated Measure 22, which Belfrage loathes; and its sponsorship by Represent South Dakota, which Belfrage denigrates.
In small ball, Belfrage laments that VPAC, like last year’s Initiated Measure 22, is “pages long.” Pages?! Egads!
For the record, in its current form, VPAC runs 3,401 words across six pages of the PDF I received. IM22 ran over 15,000 words. Except for Section 3, which amends current constitutional language on initiative and referendum, VPAC is written without overstrikes and insertions; instead, it is straightforward language, relatively easy to read, added to the constitution. IM22 was riddled with technical amending language, making it difficult for lay readers to decipher. VPAC is far shorter and simpler than IM22.
Branding VPAC as the spawn of IM22, Belfrage exaggerated the flaws of IM22, calling it “horribly conceived, horribly drafted.” He said he’s not convinced that Represent South Dakota wouldn’t serve up another constitutional mess like IM22.
I would simply point out that since VPAC is a constitutional amendment, it cannot be judged unconstitutional by any of the state constitutional arguments that Judge Barnett reached for in his December injunction against IM22.
Belfrage asks if there is a need for a ballot measure on ethics reform after the Legislature “took extensive action” in the 2017 Session and is promising to do more in 2018. Sure, the Legislature could do more in 2018, but (a) the Legislature can’t put any reforms into the constitution as VPAC proposes, and (b) concerned citizens can’t wait for 2018 to do a ballot measure. State law requires that we submit initiative petitions one full year before the general election—that deadline is November 6, 2017. If we wait to see what the 2018 Legislature does, we can’t put the things the Legislature misses up for a public vote until 2020. (Hey, Greg! How about this reform: move the deadline for submitting initiative petitions back to July 15 before the general election?)
Belfrage adopted a trope frequently cited by legislators fending off crackerbarrel criticism for their repeal of IM22: legislators, said Belfrage, are “part-time” lawmakers and “everyday South Dakotans.” They aren’t “meddling” in the process; they are our elected representatives, said Belfrage, not Represent South Dakota.
I would remind Belfrage that no matter how “everyday” legislators may act when they are back home, they think of themselves as a pretty elite “club” in Pierre, entitled to all that free food and booze from lobbyists.
Belfrage expresses a clear distrust of democracy. He says we don’t need continued end-runs around the Legislature (but we should express no outrage at Legislative end-runs around a vote of the people? That’s thin ice, Greg!). “Our system by design is not pure democracy,” says Belfrage. “It’s a representative republic…. Pure democracies do not work.”
I would ask Belfrage to offer an example of a pure democracy. I reject the notion that Represent South Dakota or any other initiative sponsor has asked for pure democracy. Citizens using the initiative and referendum process placed nine measures on the ballot in the 2016 election cycle. Compare that to the Legislature, which in 2015 and 2016 proposed 848 bills. One ballot measure for every 94 Legislative proposals falls far short of pure democracy supplanting representative republicanism.
Belfrage says our “Land of Nice” attitude leads a lot of people to sign petitions just because they feel obligated to do so. Funny—that’s not the attitude I’ve encountered with any petition I’ve circulated.
Belfrage urges people not to sign any petition for a ballot measure they don’t understand. I agree completely: read the petition, read the proposal, get information from the circulator. If you sense any evasiveness from the circulator, do not sign (but do take a picture, or a video, so we can keep track of which circulators are trying fill us full of bull).
But don’t discourage people from signing the VPAC petition just because you don’t like the organization sponsoring it or the ballot measure that preceded. Study the Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Act. Decide whether the policy works on balance or not. Then argue, advocate, and sign as you see fit.