Neal Gabler writes that the most successful lie that chronically myth-making Republicans have foisted upon us is that liberals are unwelcome deviants from America’s conservative rule:
It is a brilliant bit of propaganda. The only problem is that it isn’t factually true, at least for those who still believe in facts. While there are more self-described conservatives than liberals, in large part, I think, because of the conservatives’ success at conflating their brand with Americanism itself, the gap has been narrowing. And in any case, party identification is just about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. What is more important: Most Americans reject conservative policy positions. Again and again, on issue after issue, the majority of Americans seem to tilt to the left: on immigration, including Trump’s border wall; on Obamacare repeal; on leaving the Paris climate accord; and on gay marriage [Neal Gabler, “America Held Hostage,” BillMoyers.com, 2017.09.28].
Even South Dakota, where official party registration figures skew strongly Republican, we aren’t as conservative as Republicans want us to think. As Sioux Falls Republican De Knudson contended in our interview Saturday, South Dakotans are largely moderates who are ill-represented by the extremists who dominate our Legislature. (Knudson appealed to a false equivalency of both parties fielding extremist candidates, but anyone who sees Billie Sutton and Tim Bjorkman as radical partisan leftists isn’t paying attention.) The South Dakota electorate’s record on ballot measures shows a strong liberal tendency fighting to break free of Republican partisanship. In the past six election cycles, we have rejected two abortion bans, repealed a conservative education reform bill, raised the minimum wage, rejected a Republican effort to take that higher minimum wage away from young workers, and capped payday loan interest rates at 36%. It’s no wonder South Dakota Republicans are as eager to hamstring initiative and referendum as Republicans nationwide are to rig election maps and make it harder for people to vote.
Gabler contends that gerrymandering and voter suppression are key components of the Republican effort to maintain their misrepresentative dominance in elected office. It is thus interesting that, just as South Dakota ballot measures provide evidence that we aren’t as conservative as Republicans say we are, multiple ballot measures circulating in South Dakota right now would help us unravel that false narrative and get more representative government:
- Open primaries: Gabler says that Tea Party/alt-right control of Republican primaries drives Republicans toward bad policies, like the persistent Republican effort to take health insurance away from tens of millions of Americans. The South Dakota example would be wingnuts like Neal Tapio vowing to hurt business by fighting for unconstitutional restrictions on immigration into South Dakota. Knudson said Saturday that putting all candidates on one primary ballot and allowing everyone to vote would help us elect more moderate candidates and get a Legislature that better represents our real interests.
- Independent redistricting: Republicans nationwide are committing big money to keep redistricting rigged in their favor in 2020. Redistricting isn’t the only reason Democrats struggle to win elections in South Dakota, but it is one of the reasons. More importantly, redistricting should be a fair and independent process, carried out without regard to partisan advantage.
- Vote by mail: Gabler says Republicans have found all sorts of ways to make it harder for minorities, low-income workers, young people, and others who would boost Democratic fortunes to vote. Drey Samuelson’s proposal to allow South Dakotans to vote by mail would, as seen in Oregon, help voters get around those obstacles and participate more easily in their democracy.
Conservative Republicans have manipulated our election laws to make our national and state governments less representative of the general public’s liberal views. South Dakotans have three initiative petitions before them that would help them assert, as they have in the past, their truer liberal bent.