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Referred Laws 19 and 20 Show Democrat Strength and Path to Victory in 2016

(I know, I know, I’ve been writing a lot the last couple days about our successful referendum petition drives. But now we have an election to win.)

As I took petitions door to door around Aberdeen, I didn’t make a big deal about the partisan implications of Senate Bills 69 and 177. Most of my neighbors aren’t interested in party politics; they just want the chance to vote and to have their votes matter. Turning 69 into Referred Law 19 and 177 into Referred Law 20 gives them that chance. That’s good for every voter and good for democracy.

Democratic Kicking Donkey LogoBut Democrats—yes, you Democrats, the folks who take your name from that word, democracy—you should be celebrating these successful referrals more than anyone else in South Dakota. These successful referrals show you that your party can get things done, and they give your party the chance to win more battles in 2016.

First, the South Dakota Democratic Party played an indispensable role in completing these petitions. When I took out these referendum petitions on March 26, I didn’t know who would come help. I just wanted to make sure the petitions were out and available as early as possible so that whoever chose to help would have as much time as possible to climb the twin peaks of getting 13,871 signatures for each petition. Less than two weeks later, the South Dakota Democratic Party and the Teamsters Local 120* stepped forward to help. The SDDP dispatched circulators East River and West River. Those circulators collected the majority of the signatures on both petitions. They collected signatures with relatively low error rates compared to recent historical averages for South Dakota ballot measure petitions.

Perhaps most remarkably, those Democratic circulators gathered signatures on two petitions simultaneously. The two petitions challenged two very different bills: on face, SB 69 is arcane election law, while SB 177 is economic policy. SB 69 required all sorts of explaining—seriously, how many citizens interact with the finer legal points of nominating petitions? how many voters immediately grasp the implication of basing a 1% signature requirement on the number of registered voters rather than the number of votes cast in the previous election? and how many dig such minutiae enough to sign a petition about them? SB 177 wasn’t necessarily simple, either: folks would get mixed up as to whether this petition was trying to raise or lower the minimum wage, and we’d have to explain, “This petition stops the state from cutting the minimum wage for kids today, then lets us vote on whether we want to make that cut next year.”

Usually petitioners have their hands full circulating just one petition and explaining all of its ins and outs to signers. The SDDP’s persuasive and well-trained circulators, like the helpers I recruited, tackled two petitions. The SDDP took on an unusually difficult political task and succeeded.

South Dakota Democrats can get things done. Now what can they do with these referenda?

Recall that increasing South Dakota’s minimum wage by ballot initiative was one of the South Dakota Democratic Party’s few bright spots in last year’s mostly dismal mid-term election. Recall that I said the morning after that election that one of the big things South Dakota Democrats need to work on in 2016 is ballot measure synergy, getting voters to translate their clear support for Democratic policies on ballot measures into support for Democratic candidates. South Dakota voters have had difficulty making that connection. 2016 is the Democrats’ big chance to make that connection.

Referred Law 19 and Referred Law 20 were both Republican-sponsored measures. In Referred Law 19, we saw GOP Senate now-Majority Leader Corey Brown and other Republican legislators grab a measure intended to reform petitions and turn it into a measure that protected their political interests by making it harder for candidates to make the ballot. In Referred Law 20, we saw GOP Senator David Novstrup and other Republican legislators ignore the will of the voters expressed just two months before and change the minimum wage that voters thought they had decided at the polls.

Both of these laws are bad. Both of these laws came from Republicans. If we want fewer bad laws, we need to elect fewer Republicans, or at least not re-elect the specific Republicans who thought Referred Law 19 and Referred Law 20 were good ideas.

Read that last paragraph. Read it again. Every Democrat running for office in 2016 needs to read that paragraph out loud to their constituents at every campaign event they attend. Every Democrat needs to tell voters that they should vote no on these bad laws and vote no on the legislators who brought them to us.

Democrats, we can frame the entire 2016 election with these two referred laws (and maybe on whatever disaster comes out of the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel—stay tuned!). We can turn to all the teenagers who turn 18 between now and Election Day and say, “You know who kept you from taking a dollar-an-hour pay cut? Democrats.” We can turn to the 151,000 South Dakotans who voted to raise the minimum wage and say, “You know who stood up for your vote? Democrats.” We can turn to the 109,000 registered Independents in this state and say, “You know who protected your right to run for office? Democrats.” We can turn to every voter in this state and say, “You know who wants to hear your voice at the polls? Democrats.”

That’s how ballot measure synergy works.

There are very good non-partisan reasons to vote down Referred Law 19 and Referred Law 20. But Democrats, defeating these two laws can do some very good things for our partisan interests as well (because, surprise, surprise, friends, sometimes the interests of state and party coincide!).

Democrats grabbed these petitions and placed these measures on the ballot. Now Democrats need to grab these winning issues and run hard with them in 2016. No on 19, No on 20, No on the Republicans who brought us 19 and 20.

*Correction 17:05 CDT: The original version of this post mistakenly attributed material support for these petition drives to the AFL-CIO. I regret the misattribution of support and thank my friends in labor for their help!


  1. larry kurtz 2015-07-01

    At your service, Cory: whatever it takes.

  2. Lynn 2015-07-01

    ” Now Democrats need to grab these winning issues and run hard with them in 2016″

    Unfortunately according to SDAP the Democratic candidate running in district 13 is supporting legalization of marijuana so it looks like I’ll be sending money to the candidates who don’t which happen to be Republican. It’s a redline issue for me.

    Any other Dems supporting legalization for recreational pot or the Medical version what is being pushed by Melissa Mentele ? Please let us know. They could of chosen Minnesota’s version but didn’t.

  3. MC 2015-07-01

    Democrats? No! This is a WIN for DEMOCRACY!

    Most people could care less about politics or political parties. on occasion there will be an issue that transcends the political infighting that goes on, within and between the parties.

    Let the facts be known. let the people make up their own minds and cast their own vote.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-01

    MC, I said it’s a victory for democracy. It also happens to be a victory for Democrats. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    MC, I said most people aren’t interested in partisan politics. That’s fine. But I don’t think we are being excessively partisan if we let the facts be known about who keeps throwing bad legislation like this at the voters and ask voters to consider getting rid of the producers of these bad laws right along with the laws themselves. If the neighbor kid keeps throwing rocks at the house, you don’t just keep picking up the rocks. You go talk to the neighbor and tell them not to let the kid throw rocks anymore.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-01

    Lynn, any Democrat who tries to ride the medical marijuana initiative to Election Day success instead of these two referred laws is making a significant tactical mistake. Medical marijuana will not have the coattails that these two bills offer.

  6. bearcreekbat 2015-07-01

    Cory, what we apparently need for 2017 is an initiative on the Medicaid expansion. That would be an incredible benefit to low income people in SD!

  7. larry kurtz 2015-07-01

    South Dakota’s GOP mouthpiece is stuffed with food and Annette: need we really say any more about how Dick Wadhams bought an election. Just move on, Cory.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-01

    BCB, I wouldn’t mind seeing an initiative for Medicaid expansion. However, if anyone were going to bring such a measure, I’d want them to have that language in to the AG by now. The 60-day review period puts launch date for any new initiative at this point just before Labor Day. Any later, and circulators miss the State Fair and have just two months to make magic happen.

    How about this: we focus on synergy with the ballot measures we have, add in some Bernie Sanders coattails, elect 18 Democratic State Senators, and force Medicaid expansion first thing 2017 Session?

  9. Les 2015-07-01

    Aah, but a win for unity, Cory. Call it democracy if you will. Obviously there are some who call our referral process something else.

  10. Rorschach 2015-07-01

    The demoralized SD Democratic Party has no strength and no path to victory in 2016. It spent all of its resources on these ballot initiatives and has nothing left to support candidates. It won’t recruit strong candidates in significant enough numbers to get back to 1/3 of the legislature in 2016, and will be lucky to hold the few seats it has. It won’t run anyone against John Thune – again. The golden boy on whom the SDDP is pinning all of its hope for the future will not run for anything in 2016, and probably won’t even write the party a decent check. The party has no vision, no plan, no money, no morale, and no hope of winning in a year when the GOP will use its vastly superior organization, fundraising, and motivation to turn out its supporters in a Presidential year. The SD GOP will turn out at least 15% more of is registered voters than will the SDDP, and the GOP has far more to start with. I hope the SDDP proves me wrong, but I’m a realist.

  11. Rorschach 2015-07-01

    Even the donkey in this post is facing right and kicking anything to its left. Total disarray.

  12. Jeff Barth 2015-07-01

    Rorschach is most likely correct. There is little hope for the State Democratic Party. There is hope for a few Democrats.

  13. leslie 2015-07-02

    SDP just elected exec board, committee chairs, meeting brown county end of month, goal: filling every legislative candidate position ect..

  14. rwb 2015-07-02

    I think Rorschach is right. BUT – if the party has to use resources to pass laws by way of petitioning the citizens, so be it. A law passed is a law passed. There is no way that Democrats would ever get anything like this passed in the current legislature.

    Obviously, there are a lot of registered Republicans who vote like Democrats when it comes to some issues. I say use whatever resources you have in your toolkit.

    Like Gunny Highway says, “Adapt. Improvise.”

    So while the party looks like it is disarray, there are plenty of people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work for the common good. And that’s where real power in a democracy comes from!

  15. Lynn 2015-07-02

    Looks like Gaddy had the wrong district for this Dem supporting legalization of Marijuana and asking SDAP to support this candidate. It’s District 12.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-02

    Yes, Les, the SDGOP will call our referendum something other than democracy. They also call Referred Law 19 an effort to prevent petition fraud, when in reality, as Jonathan Ellis said on SDPB yesterday, it is an effort to “preserve their power” and “eliminate competition.” Funny how the SDGOP is so bad at describing reality.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-02

    Rorschach, have you ever heard of the principle, “You’ve got to spend money to make money?” The Democratic Party needs to post successes to convince people to invest. These petition drives are successes. The Party can get things done. Invest.

    I’m simply laying out a logical strategy, a way to capitalize on this success and turn it into the bigger victory of electing legislators. Whether the SDDP can follow through (whether our new exec-in-waiting is reading this and has the good sense to act on it) is an open question.

  18. Troy 2015-07-02


    Idea for your next initiative effort: move initiatives to the top of the ballot. Until then, the assertion the last thing on the ballot will have coat tails is ludicrous.

  19. Troy 2015-07-02

    P.S. Rorschach is one who has been around the block, been there when Democrats were actually relevant in State politics.

    But if you are on a Proust-ian quest to become wise yourself and not take advantage of the wisdom and experience of those who have already walked the path, who am I to suggest you not go where you are heading. Just don’t blame conservatives/Republicans when it doesn’t produce the fruits you expect. :)

  20. Lynn 2015-07-02


    Do you think the Dems will be able to finally get the keys to the store by running for pot legalization with Colorado and Washington as our state policy models? Will it win the youth over to the Dems in a revolution?

  21. Troy 2015-07-02


    I think good government and good policies are what ultimately attracts voters. I think pot legalization is a long-term bad policy and thus does not enhance the prospects of the Democrat Party if they expend resources for its passage.

  22. Lynn 2015-07-02

    I agree but we have a few constantly pushing it to satisfy their selfish addiction needs.

  23. bearcreekbat 2015-07-02

    Troy, can you elaborate on why you believe “pot legalization is a long-term bad policy”? Is it because of the negative affect that legalization will have on the industrial prison and jail industry?

  24. troy 2015-07-02


    1) We have spent billions trying to get tobacco addicts to stop smoking. I’m at a loss why we would legalize a different smoking vehicle to become addicted to.

    2) It creates a host of workplace and driving safety risks, the body doesn’t expel it as quickly as it does alcohol, and under ADA it can decrease the productivity of American workers and thus diminish our capacity to provide vital services or allow people to procure them on their own.

    3) Too high a percentage of pot smokers I know personally developed addiction and other issues as compared to alcohol. Anecdotal to my experience I know but a component of my thoughts.

    4) The proponents too often mislead their agenda is really recreational use by using/abusing medical arguments, proven to me they resist alternatives of pharmacueticals based on THC, etc., prescribed by Doctors and only sold through licensed pharmacies.

  25. larry kurtz 2015-07-02


  26. larry kurtz 2015-07-02

    the hypocrisy of the most correct never ceases to bamboozle.

  27. Lynn 2015-07-02

    Troy is spot on regarding in his comments regarding the misguided efforts to legalize marijuana here in South Dakota. Excellent points made!

    This could be a great opportunity for us to find common ground if Cory is interested with Dakota Free Press, Pat from South Dakota War College and the new non-partisan group forming to oppose marijuana legalization here in South Dakota to work together on this very important issue.

    We need to find an alternative solution rather than have South Dakota’s marijuana laws resemble Colorado’s where they have had issues with abuse and disturbing trends develop which reveal the true social costs with legalization

  28. larry kurtz 2015-07-02

    Only a tiny percentage of people in Colorado became new smokers after that state legalized and they’re not regular customers. Keep in mind that South Dakota is losing big time to out of state growers who bring cannabis into my home state.

    Troy’s ridiculous notion that highways will become less safe is far removed from reality. I have logged over 1.2 million miles driving and half of those were with the aid of cannabis. I haven’t had a moving violation since 1988 after a long period when i had to quit smoking for a stupid corporate job.

    Wake up and smell the kind bud, people.

  29. Rorschach 2015-07-02

    My words were meant to be a challenge to the SD Democratic Party – a harsh dismissal hitting a little too close to home designed to arouse its fighting spirit. The party’s destiny for 2016 is not written in stone. But … time to shake things up is short.

  30. bearcreekbat 2015-07-02

    Thanks for your thoughts on this Troy. I wonder how our spending to catch and incarcerate marijuana smokers, possessors, growers and sellers has compared to the funds we spent in anti-cigarette campaigns? One report estimates that our state and local government spends about $20 billion a year enforcing anti-marijuana laws.

    The “addiction” argument seems to have two sides, with very little actual scientific evidence of marijuana being “addicting” when compared to drugs that actually cause severe withdrawal symptoms, such as opiates, tobacco, and alcohol. For example, “Former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders characterized marijuana succinctly on CNN recently, while declaring her support for legalization: “Marijuana is not addictive, not physically addictive anyway.”

    I agree that our personal anecdotal experiences can color our thinking on the issue, and as you seem to recognize such experiences may not be the best evidence for developing a policy that criminalizes the behavior of an estimated 18.9 million Americans who use marijuana regularly.

    I am not sure I understand your 4th point? It doesn’t seem to make sense to deny medical marijuana to a sick child merely because we fear that some other person will use marijuana to get high? As I noted before, we don’t deny opiate prescriptions to sick people merely because some folks abuse opiates.

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