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Weiland Promotes Reform Trifecta to Transform South Dakota Politics

Rick Weiland spoke to the Brown County Democratic Forum this noon about the ballot measures his organization,, is promoting. If these three initiatives make the ballot (still no word from Secretary Krebs on any petitions!), Weiland says South Dakota voters will “have an opportunity to completely transform politics in South Dakota.”

Rick Weiland, speaking in Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2015.12.11.
Rick Weiland, speaking in Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2015.12.11.

Weiland emerged from his defeat in last year’s Senate campaign against Mike Rounds more convinced than ever that big money has ruined American politics. When both parties spend billions of dollars to destroy each other’s brand and polarize the electorate, democracy cannot function. That’s fine, says Weiland, if you’re a member of what FDR called the “economic royalists”: the rich like the gridlock that results from polarization. They like the status quo, which lets them accumulate wealth and power unchecked.

To put voters back in the driver’s seat of democracy, Weiland is advocating a “trifecta” of initiatives, two that his organization wrote, and one on which Farmers Union has taken the lead.

The Farmers Union measure is the proposal to create a non-partisan redistricting commission to end gerrymandering. Weiland knows about the impact of redistricting firsthand. He lives in District 13 in Sioux Falls. Before 2011, his district had 400 more Republicans than Democrats, but it elected Democratic leaders like Scott Heidepriem, Susy Blake, Bill Thompson, and, in the preceding decade, Jack Billion. After the Republicans redrew the legislative map in 2011, District 13 had 4,000 more Republicans than Democrats, and all Republicans have won there since.

At the state level, gerrymandering reinforces the one-party rule that leads to rampant corruption (more on that in a moment). At the federal level, Weiland says gerrymandering creates gridlock. Congress can’t function when “people are rewarded for being extreme,” when “people are rewarded for not looking for compromise… we have to fix that!” Putting redistricting in the hands of a non-partisan commission would check South Dakota’s one-party rule. If the idea spreads to other states (Iowa and Arizona already do it, and if the anti-gerrymandering initiative works here, Weiland has his eye on 22 other states that have some sort of initiative process), non-partisan redistricting could make Congressional elections competitive and break the federal gridlock.

The second part of the reform trifecta is non-partisan elections. Weiland says Nebraska elects its unicameral legislature on a non-partisan ballot—i.e., no party labels, and all candidates on the same primary ballot, with the two top vote-getters advancing to the general—and gets good legislative results. Even though Nebraska, like South Dakota, has more Republicans than Democrats, Nebraska legislators elect several Democrats to committee chairships and even the speakership. Weiland also says the Nebraska legislature has produced more progressive policies, like repealing the death penalty, implementing corporate and personal income taxes, and paying teachers more.

On this side of the border, Weiland points to Ritchie Nordstrom, a Rapid City alderman who happens to be a good Democrat. Nordstrom votes on an unabashed set of Democratic and labor values, but he has won multiple municipal elections. When Nordstrom ran for District 32 House in 2014, he lost to two Republicans. Weiland says Democrats hold a higher portion of seats in municipal governments than they do in the Capitol. Weiland contends that a big part of the difference is that municipal elections are non-partisan.

Weiland recognizes that a number of his fellow Democrats oppose the non-partisan primary. They tell him that a non-partisan primary takes away an opportunity to build the party brand. Weiland responds that he’s “not throwing in the towel” on the Democratic Party; he’s just saying that both sides need to look past party labels and vote on values and policy. Democrats should relish that opportunity because, as Weiland says, when citizens have a chance to vote directly on policy on ballot initiatives, they more often vote in ways that reflect Democratic values. Advance our values, get the job done, and the brand of the party that aligns with those values will advance itself.

The third leg of the trifecta is the South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption ActWeiland and allies campaigned hard on the GOED/EB-5 scandal in 2014, but even he did not anticipate that the GOED scandal would resurge with such force this fall. Add GEAR UP and Gant and South Dakota’s latest F for risk of corruption, and Weiland says he couldn’t have picked a better time and topic for the Anti-Corruption Act.

“There’s a connection between money in politics and wealth inequality,” says Weiland. Tackling the disequalizing, anti-democratic influence of money in politics requires a three pronged attack: stronger campaign finance and lobbying rules, a statewide ethics commission to enforce those rules and watch for corruption, and public campaign financing.

Weiland knows the public campaign financing plank of his Anti-Corruption Act is the easiest piñata (one fair observer calls it a poison pill) for the entrenched powers to whack. Some interested parties are already kicking up online dust to the Anti-Corruption Act’s provision of $100 in “Democracy Credits” for all voters to give to the candidates of their choice who agree to follow strict campaign finance rules. Weiland says public campaign financing dilutes the impact of the big check writers “who can curry favor with a thousand bucks.” As for the sticky question of directing tax dollars to candidates, Weiland asks, “How often do you get to tell Pierre how to spend your tax dollars? It makes for better government. It makes for better public policy. It makes politicians less beholden to the big money.”

One-party rule is bad. “Look at Illinois,” says Democrat Weiland. “Wherever there aren’t enough checks and balances, it’s like gravity:” corruption follows. Non-partisan redistricting, non-partisan elections, and the Anti-Corruption Act together give South Dakotans a “golden opportunity” to challenge one-party rule.”We’ve loaded the bases” with these three ballot measures, says Weiland; now voters just need to come to the plate and hit the home run.


Following his discussion of the potential political reform trifecta of 2016, Weiland took questions and commented on Presidential politics. He said nominating Donald Trump “could be the death of the Republican Party.” Weiland suspects a majority of Republicans recognize that danger and hopes they will eventually circle the wagons (perhaps at a brokered convention), because, in Weiland’s words, to “put a joke like [Trump] on the ticket… demeans our democracy.”


  1. grudznick 2015-12-11 22:26

    Mr. Weiland is the poster child for the repeated libbie failures in the Great State of South Dakota. That the libbies keep trotting him out as their poster boy really tells a tale, much as does Mr. kurtz being the biggest mouth-piece for the Democrat party here in South Dakota.

    Bob, your party is about to become number 2.

  2. Jane 2015-12-12 00:57

    Reason corruption persists because people take a passive position by complaining about it or look to others to fix it. Or they politicize the problem, and party blame. Who cares which party! It should be about Truth, Justice and the American way!

  3. Lanny V Stricherz 2015-12-12 06:10

    Grudz, your party already is number two in SD, as in “I have to go number 2”. Clean it up so that we can respect it again. Is there any chance that you are so implicated that when the hammer comes down from the feds, that you will be going to prison too?

  4. Just some guy 2015-12-12 06:27

    Rick needs to just accept that he’ll never be elected to an office by the people of South Dakota. He can try to take the “D” off the ballot, but his ideas are just no welcomed here by the people who vote. Simple as that.

  5. larry kurtz 2015-12-12 07:12

    How is Weiland bleeding a patient on life support a good thing?

  6. Lanny V Stricherz 2015-12-12 07:25

    larry, I won’t live long enough to see it, but I long for the day when both of the major political parties wither up and die. And at the rate they are going, that may be sooner than later.

  7. larry kurtz 2015-12-12 07:32

    Lanny, this is where Montana bloggers bring up the ghost of Bob Kelleher, a perennial Jeffersonian candidate who wanted to rewrite the US Constitution and add a parliamentary system that included many political parties.

    Rick Weiland is no Bob Kelleher.

  8. Porter Lansing 2015-12-12 09:05

    One party rule is bad. CO passed an amendment requiring a tri-party redistricting commission which is being formed, currently but not without blowback from R’s and D’s.
    Mr. Weiland shows excellent judgement. A three tiered reform package allows for bargaining and compromise; something the SD majority party isn’t yet comfortable with. In politics and union negotiations, you always ask for more and bargain from there.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-12 09:16

    JSG, your comment ignores two facts.

    1. Weiland isn’t running for office. He’s promoting ballot initiatives to help a wider array of South Dakotans to run for office.

    2. South Dakotans don’t reject the ideas Weiland stands for. As he pointed out in his speech and as a review of electoral history will make clear, South Dakotans welcome the ideas Weiland and Democrats stand for more often than they reject them when they vote on ballot measures. How do you explain that disconnect between our votes on candidates and ballot issues?

  10. M Lindley 2015-12-12 10:08

    Non-partisan elections will *not* threaten Ds building a party brand. How can I be so sure? History from Young Dems back to about 1948, and the D party in general; my dad was central to many efforts through 1971. 60-plus years later and the Ds arent a true contributor in SD, even though they’ve had good people, worked hard(er), With often great ideas. Nebraska is a good example that, not perfectly, but it works. The open primary worked beautifully in Alaska, until the hardline Rs closed it; as Rs became disenfranchised to the gerrymongering and growing corruption, break off parties became more prevalent, yet the “Moderate Republicans”, even though they agreed with the basic tenets of the R party, could *not* vote in the R primary, but had to vote the “all other choices”. I worked the polls and saw a lot of angry voters. Open primaries allowed people to select the right candidate based on issue and ideas for effecting a program, instead of people who said one thing to be elected but then had to toe the inside party line. Much better bipartisanship. And an ethics commission? When I first returned to SD from Alaska in 2007, I was stunned when one legislator on the radio said “We don’t need an ethics law, we know right from wrong.” And the media didn’t hold their feet to the fire. Now? I’m glad for Keloland News and Angele Kenneke, as well as the newspapers that have broken from the decades-long affinity with anything and anyone with an “R” behind their name. People are good and bad, a letter shouldn’t be the rationale for a choice; or another one that astounds me, “My family has always been….” as if that is proof of patriotism or good governance? My father taught me to educate myself and then select a stance, even when it differed from his. Good Disagreement makes us stronger; it’s when we stick with the status quo out of lethargy, apathy, fear or ignorance that things go south. Change is never easy, but it’s inevitable; and resisting change creates change in itself. Mark Twain said one has to know when to let the river take you and when to steer. Even if these matters fail (they appear, on the surface, well thought out), we can gain through the discussion. But I’m disappointed that the present system consists of those in charge avoiding a full discussion of anything they’ve done wrong, should change or don’t like, or don’t want to change. Accountability. Nowadays we know the whole family needs to be involved in family discussions. Time and again, society is finding that when nobody says something after seeing something, everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

  11. Porter Lansing 2015-12-12 11:05

    Hear, hear Mr. or Ms. Lindley. “My family has always been….” and the fact that nationally it really doesn’t matter a hill of frijoles how SoDak votes.

  12. Porter Lansing 2015-12-12 11:19

    To Clarify: Republicans are the party of the negative. Democrats are the party of the positive. When it really doesn’t matter nationally how the state’s 3 electoral votes are cast it’s easier to just take the way of lazy thinking. Psychologists assert that it takes more brain cell activity to figure out a way to make things work, to make things better than it takes to just say, “That won’t work. Things are good enough.” This is partially why SoDak citizens are usually on the right side of history on elected issues yet still vote in negative leaning legislators.

  13. Don Coyote 2015-12-12 11:56

    It seems to me having a non-partisan primary negates the need for a non-partisan redistricting commission especially in South Dakota with it’s at large Congressional district.

  14. Les 2015-12-12 12:10

    It takes fewer muscles to smile than frown, Porter. It takes more effort and brains to steal our state blind than to do the right thing and build it. It takes more guts than almost all members of both parties in Pierre have, to stand up to the corruption.

    It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a states voting population to correct our issues. It takes more than republicans to sort the chaff from the wheat with less than 50% of our voters registered GOP.

    I’m with you in part though, almost anyone would be better than what we have now with all the unanswered questions.

  15. Lynn 2015-12-12 12:21


    This will be an interesting experiment regarding legislating to this degree via ballot initiatives. I’m looking forward to see how many voters vote on them with so many this upcoming election cycle. Will they take the time to be educated and prepared before pulling that curtain in the voting booth in regards to this sponsored by Mr. Weiland? Will they skip them to vote on candidates or will they just not show up to vote?

  16. Porter Lansing 2015-12-12 12:33

    Thank you, DonCoyote and Lynn for exampling my point. e.g. “That won’t work. Things are good enough”. You two exemplify lazy thinking.
    Lynn … I don’t know that it takes a village but it surely helps to have a concerned parent or adult to direct a child. Some have said, a parent in South Dakota is negligent if they don’t advise their kid, that wants to make a positive difference in life, that they need to leave the state. The negativity bias of the Conservative politics makes that positive difference hardly worth it in a outlay/reward model.

  17. larry kurtz 2015-12-12 12:55

    Anyone who believes Weiland’s initiative will take root is delusional. If South Dakota wanted to embrace ethics reform it would have happened by now.

  18. Don Coyote 2015-12-12 13:04

    @Porter: You exemplify overthinking a process. Typical Lib. My thinking exemplifies the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. In non-partisan elections the only concerns in drawing districts should be approximately equal populations and keeping the distance to polling stations minimal. Also consider that a non-partisan election should be electing a non-partisan legislature which removes the need to remove that power from them. Why have a duplicate non-partisan entity?

  19. Porter Lansing 2015-12-12 13:07

    The concern should be equal representation of both parties and an unaffiliated group in the drawing of the district lines.
    What was that Jim Carrey movie? “LAZY and LAZIER”? (for The Lynn … lol)

  20. Bill Fleming 2015-12-12 14:28

    Porter, the Coyote is right if I’m following him correctly. What I read him saying is that if SD goes Unicameral, that would elminate the need for anti-gerrymandering legislation, mostly because such legislation would be moot point. Seems like a reasonable assertion, and I can’t think of a good argument against it. Can you?

  21. Porter Lansing 2015-12-12 14:33

    No, I can’t. Should it go unicameral.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-12 14:34

    Interesting thought, Don Coyote. I understand the idea that we might get enough non-partisan advantages from one measure to make the other measure unnecessary. However, I’d say the two measures are far from redundant. Why in any governmental situation should elected officials draw their own election boundaries? The nonpartisan Aberdeen city council appoints an independent commission to draw its city council districts; none of the commission members can be city employees or elected city officials.

    Even in non-partisan elections, elected officials still have interests, constituencies, and allies whom they can advantage with gerrymandering. We have only one Congressional district, so the stakes aren’t as high here as in Iowa or other bigger states, but we have Legislative districts, legislators who will claw for every advantage they can get, and a Legislature that functions less in the interest of the general welfare because of that gerrymandering.

    At worst, we’re holding up the pants of democracy with belt and suspenders. At best, we’re recognizing that corruption does not come from a single source, and we don’t solve corruption with a single bill.

  23. Porter Lansing 2015-12-12 14:57

    Lynn and Coyote … I apologize for characterizing your thinking on this issue as lazy.

  24. grudznick 2015-12-12 17:39

    Scorecards, schmorecards. Those “risk of corruption” scorecards aren’t worth anymore than Mr. Nelson’s old “who’s a better Republican” scorecards. My scorecard says the organization that put out that scorecard is corrupt.

  25. leslie 2015-12-12 17:56

    grudz-try marco rubio’s “risk corridors” under the ACA for more republican subversion and sabotage and corruption and fraud. :) if you dare

  26. grudznick 2015-12-12 20:03

    The ACA is fraught with corruption and fraud.

  27. jerry 2015-12-12 20:21

    You may be thinking of the auto club Mr. Grudznick, sorry for the confusion on those A’s. As far as the ACA goes, prove it.

  28. Don Coyote 2015-12-13 21:40

    @cah: “Why in any governmental situation should elected officials draw their own election boundaries”

    Alexander Hamilton argues in Federalist #59 for the Legislative branch’s power “to regulate, in the last resort, the election of its own members.” and “every government ought to contain within itself the means of its own preservation.” With a commission we give a non-elective body power over an an elected body. At the very least, the Legislature should have the power of approval/refusal of the commission’s work such as in Iowa.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-14 21:52

    (1) Alexander Hamilton may have gotten this matter wrong.

    (2) Independent redistricting does not pose a threat to the preservation of the Legislature. It poses a threat to the preservation of certain incumbents’ safe seats. I don’t think Hamilton was concerned about the latter.

    (3) Aberdeen doesn’t seem to be any worse for wear in having a non-elected body set the district boundaries for the elected body.

    (4) The power we are giving a non-elected body over an elected body is limited to the drawing of a map by criteria that are meant to ensure optimal representation of all citizens and have nothing to do with strengthening or weakening the Legislative branch vis-à-vis the other branches. On what legitimate grounds should the Legislature be able to refuse the independent commission’s map? In what way does the decennial redistricting (plus the special 2017 redistricting we get if the voters pass the initiated amendment) hinder the power of the Legislature to exercise all of its other constitutional powers and duties?

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