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Mercer: Voters Split on Referenda, Reject Partisan Laws

Inspired by our success this week in putting two new laws to a public vote, Bob Mercer looks at the recent history of the referendum in South Dakota and finds that voters have supported the Legislature on four of those votes and reversed the Legislature on five. Mercer notes that in three of those five reversal situations, voters rejected laws that came from Republican partisanship:

Voters rejected two Republican-led laws in 2012. One would have provided tax refunds to large business projects. The other was a sweeping package of changes for K-12 education.

…In 1998, voters rejected the Legislature’s approval of transferring the unclaimed-property office. This was partisan.

Republicans were trying to take responsibility away from the state treasurer, who is elected, and who at the time was a Democrat, Dick Butler.

The law sought to shift the duty to the state Department of Revenue, which is controlled by the governor, who at the time was a Republican, Bill Janklow [Bob Mercer, “Voters Sometimes Rein in Legislators on Partisan Fights,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.07.04].

The two laws heading to the ballot this year were both partisan bills. Senate Bill 69, now Referred Law 19, the petition “reform” power grab, received no Democratic votes in its final form. Senate Bill 177, now Referred Law 20, the youth minimum wage, got just one Democrat’s vote, Rep. Julie Bartling’s.

If South Dakota voters dislike partisanship, they will vote down Referred Laws 19 and 20 in November 2016.

Related: The partisanship of Referred Law 19 is obvious to Jonathan Ellis of that Sioux Falls paper. Speaking on Dakota Midday Wednesday, Ellis put his objective journalist’s finger on what the Republican boosters of Referred Law 19 are really after:

…People involved in this got a little too cute, really, frankly, with regard to the independent candidates and with regard to making new parties, third parties have to jump through different hoops and so they got a little cute in their bid to… preserve their power or try to eliminate competition… and now they’re stuck with this referral. I think that’s what the referral process is for [Jonathan Ellis, discussion with Karl Gehrke, “Political Junkies,” SDPB: Dakota Midday, 2015.07.01].

Preserve their power… eliminate competition… That’s what voters will smell in Referred Law 19. That’s why Referred Law 19 will go down 70–30 at the polls. And that’s why we should watch for Republicans to look for some way to short-circuit the referendum, either by challenging the petition (they have thirty days from the date of our filing, June 29) or by undoing the law in the 2016 Session and passing a whole new package of partisan “reforms.”


  1. Mr. Sol 2015-07-04 14:34

    Although I don’t agree with everything you write, it is good to see democracy in action this Fourth of July!

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-05 07:27

    Thanks, Mr. Sol! As I always say, if I can’t get agreement, I’ll settle for interest. Getting people interested in issues like this makes democracy stronger.

    You grasp exactly the point that should have everyone celebrating these ballot measures.

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