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Stehly Win, Anti-Discrimination Protection for Gays Signal Hope for Sioux Falls Democrats

If I stretch, I can find two hopeful signs for Sioux Falls-area Democrats in Tuesday’s non-partisan municipal election.

First, long-time agitator Theresa Stehly won a City Council seat. She beat big money with smart, grassroots campaigning. Her opponents spent $35K and $25K; she spent $7K, campaigned smarter, and capitalized on her outsider, anti-establishment status. The fact that outgoing long-time councilman Kermit Staggers endorsed her helped a lot, too, and signals Stehly’s win is no perfect template for Democrat aspirants to other offices. But Stehly’s win shows that Democrats can get traction in Sioux Falls by emphasizing that they represent change from a stale, corrupt status quo.

Second, Amendment F, which adds “sexual orientation” to the classes protected from discrimination in Sioux Falls city jobs and appointed offices, passed big on Tuesday, winning 75.86% approval. It won a majority in all 67 precincts. The smallest majorities were in Precinct 114 (55.56%) and Precinct 116 (56.86%), both of which are in right wingnut Senator Ernie Otten’s District 6. Seven precincts passed Amendment F with majorities in the 60s. Nine precincts gave F 80% or more Ayes, including two other Otten precincts, 213 and 215.

If there was furor over this little notch in the gay-rights belt, I didn’t hear it, and voters didn’t respond to it.

One could argue that a municipal election with a meager 11.32% turnout doesn’t tell us much about what may happen when five, six, or seven times that many voters show up, but consider this: turnout in the 67 precincts ranged between 1.6% and 25.4%, and I find a small but statistically significant correlation between turnout and Ayes on F. In English, bring more Sioux Falls voters to the polls, and you get more support for a progressive measure like protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination.

That tells me that if Sioux Falls Democrats speak up against the establishment, advocate progressive values like LGB(and T?) rights, offer the voters the opposite of David Omdahl’s dinosaur politics (no wonder he’s quitting!), and get out the vote (which a good Presidential year with a sane, humane Democratic nominee over the fascist and the weaselly theocrat left atop the GOP ticket, ought not be hard), they can win elections in South Dakota’s biggest metro.

(Bonus Hope: While Mayor Mike Huether tries to spin the low turnout as a sign that most voters think he’s doing a great job, the election of an anti-establishment candidate like Stehly suggests more dissatisfaction with the Huether regime and a desire to elect people like Stehly to carry on Staggers’s tradition of checking executive authority than Huether wants to admit. It might also suggest that Steve Hildebrand is right about Huether’s not being a good choice for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2018.)


  1. Steve Sibson 2016-04-14 09:46

    Theresa Stehly a Democrat? How about Huether?

  2. JudyJudyJudy 2016-04-14 10:03

    Cory, if you check, I think you will find that Theresa Stehly is a Republican, at least she was the last I looked. I don’t see how electing a Republican to office is a step forward for Democrats.

  3. Troy 2016-04-14 10:04


    I was disappointed it took you an extra day to “interpret” our election. In my mind, we elected people who will do a real good job and disappointed a few who also would have done a real good job.

  4. MC 2016-04-14 10:04

    You sure do enjoy labeling. He is Republican, she is a Democrat, that cat is a Republican, all rats are Democrats.

    Can we say Theresa Stehly won by running a more effective campaign, and not because she is a Democrat?

    One thing South Dakota is known for is voting for the person who they believe will best do the job, and not the letter following their name.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-14 10:10

    I don’t claim Stehly is a Democrat. I know full well she’s not. I’m saying the way she won, the combination of rousing the anti-establishment vote and winning on less money and more organizing, is a path Democrats should follow and can follow more easily and consistently than establishment Republicans.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-14 10:11

    Steve, I’m not sure what your question means, but for the record, I don’t think Huether is really a Democrat.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-14 10:37

    Troy, patience! Do you know how long it takes to convert the city’s text printout to a sortable spreadsheet to make sure I’m lining up turnout and Aye votes on F with the right precincts? :-)

  8. mike from iowa 2016-04-14 10:40

    One thing South Dakota is known for is voting for the person who they believe will best do the job, and not the letter following their name

    MC-are you on drugs?

  9. Rorschach 2016-04-14 10:52

    “Huether’s a DINO! Huether’s a DINO!” And a pretty good mayor too. So he’s just registered as a Democrat to gain political advantage in liberal South Dakota? The hell you say!

  10. bearcreekbat 2016-04-14 10:59

    mfi – I had the same thought about MC’s comment.

  11. Jenny 2016-04-14 11:15

    Ok Cory, what’s with leaving the T out of LGBT? Are you advocating transgenders form their own group? The LGBs have always welcomed the Ts into their group. It is the anti-LGBT that are trying to cause the infighting.

  12. Darin Larson 2016-04-14 11:27

    Ror- Huether just wanted to get a hold of the Democratic machine in South Dakota! :)

    I for one am willing to give Huether a chance. He might not be all things to all people, but he would have to be better than the previous Republican governors. And Corey, unless you can get Stephanie Herseth Sandlin off the political bench, Huether would have the best chance of getting elected of any Democrat in SD. If you can convince Billy Sutton to run with Huether, you could get some west river votes possibly.

    Let’s first worry about getting a Democrat in the Governor’s office before we apply a litmus test to future candidates.

  13. Steve Sibson 2016-04-14 11:40

    “Steve, I’m not sure what your question means, but for the record, I don’t think Huether is really a Democrat.”

    My point is that it both Democrats and Republicans represent the “establishment”. You can continue to ignore reality, but Huether is a Democrat. It also took Democrats to help pass Daugaard’s two major tax increases the last two years. Come January 2017, it will make little difference if Hillary or Cruz become president. The global liberal corporate capitalists will be in control, just like they would be in South Dakota under a Democratic governor.

  14. happy camper 2016-04-14 11:42

    “The LGBs have always welcomed the Ts into their group.” Not actually. Gay politics are historically not politically correct. Gay men and lesbians often remained separate sometimes with real animosity. Gays were very suspicious of bisexuals who they thought were riding the fence and didn’t believe there were really bisexuals. And there was a sort of looking down on transsexuals by the gay community years ago. Thankfully people have adjusted how they look at sexuality but the truth is they didn’t used to be one big happy group but very splintered. Someone else will have to say just what it’s like today.

  15. Jenny 2016-04-14 11:50

    Okay, thanks HC. Since I’ve lived in MN, I’ve known many LGBT and the majority of them caucus with the DFL. I have never heard of any animosity amongst them lately.
    I don’t know what Cory is trying to imply here.

  16. John Kennedy Claussen 2016-04-14 13:32

    I feel that the election results from Tuesday’s city election in Sioux Falls have more to do with the mood of the country as whole than any reflection upon the Mayor – and all incumbents should heed these results in 2016 as well as their opponents.

    Tip O’Neil is credited with having once said, “That all politics are local,” but in Tuesday’s case the local politics reflected not only a locale but an entire nation. People are not happy. Twenty-five years after winning the Cold War, what do we as a nation have to show for it? Well, we are absent two World Trade Towers, we have become involved in two continuous wars, experienced the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the rise of China, still a communist nation, poised to replace the former Soviet Union and the Cold War, and the continual decline of the American middle class. Combine these realities with any local concerns and you have the perfect chemistry for revolt or at least distain for the status quo and the establishment. These feelings explain the rise of Trump, Cruz, and Sanders – and the successes of many of the anti-establishment candidates at the local level in Sioux Falls this last Tuesday night….. Hawks and Williams should especially heed these local results coming out of Sioux Falls last Tuesday and put them to work to their advantage…..

  17. mike from iowa 2016-04-14 15:12

    JCC- virtually all the problems you listed occurred under a wingnut Potus, one dumbass dubya. Coincidence? Or deliberate?

  18. John Kennedy Claussen 2016-04-14 15:51

    MFI, neither. The rise of China has more to do with the Most-Favored Nation trade status given to it under Clinton and the collapse of the American middle class actually first started to show its initial signs as far back as 1974 under Nixon/Ford. “Dubya” was definitely not any help with these challenges, but he is only a part of the underlying problems, which in some crucial cases existed before his presidency. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a “Dubya” apologists, he definitely is responsible for the 2008 collapse and the continual wars, but the core of our current problems have been bubbling for years and “Dubya’s” policies either ignored these realities and or exacerbated them.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-14 16:03

    Jenny, I hesitate to go the full 4, because, as Don Coyote noted on a previous thread, adding “sexual orientiation” to the city’s anti-discrimination policy clearly encompasses LGB but not necessarily T. As GLAAD says, sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t the same thing. Sexual orientation is about whom you want to sleep with; your gender identity is about the tools you have or want to have to do the job.

    The Sioux Falls anti-discrimination policy already had the word “gender” in it; does that mean transgender workers were already protected from discrimination?

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-14 16:09

    Darin, I’d rather convince Sutton to run straight up than run with Huether. How about Huether be Sutton’s lieutenant?

    I would have much more fun fighting for Herseth Sandlin or for Sutton than I would for Huether. Run Huether for Governor, and Steve will be closer to correct than he is on most other issues: Huether vs. Jackley/Mickelson/Noem/Michels/Krebs would most certainly be a battle of establishment vs. establishment.

  21. Darin Larson 2016-04-14 16:37

    Cory, what “establishment” of Democrats are you referring to? There is hardly enough to be considered establishment. Huether could open the door for Democratic initiatives. He could pull the curtains back and let the sunshine and fresh air of freedom and transparency back into our state. That would be an accomplishment all by itself.

  22. John Kennedy Claussen 2016-04-14 16:43

    Cory, I would agree that Huether versus any of the potential Republican nominees for governor in ’18 is “establishment vs. establishment,” but like 1992 with Bill Clinton, it is more about retaking the White House or the Governor’s mansion after a long Democratic drought. We may not get all we want sometimes, but I am personally glad we had a Clinton presidency back in the 1990s and not a second Bush41 term, or a Perot or Dole presidency…. I agree with Darin’s thinking….

    As far as Sandlin is concerned, I think she is better poised to take on Rounds in ’20 than a Republican gubernatorial candidate in ’18. Sutton would be a good candidate, but he does not have the name ID of a Huether or Sandlin, however, and such things matter, because what we are really talking about is winning in ’18 for the first time in 44 years…..And what did the Thune folks tell all of us back in ’04?….Oh yah, “It’s Time!”

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-14 17:38

    (How do my p.s.’s get take over my conversations? :-) )

    Darin, as establishment not of Democrats, but of crony-capitalist business-über-alles thinking that has ruled the state at least since Janklow made Huether’s wealth possible by repealing our usury laws.

    I await Huether’s announcement so I can see what Democratic initiatives he would advocate.

    John KC, I agree with the Rolling Stones that we can’t always get what we want, but sometimes we get what we need. Huether is that compromise position. But as with this year’s teacher pay bill, I don’t think we should come out of the gate offering compromise. Let’s see what happens in the 2016 election. Let’s see how our larger Democratic caucus distinguishes itself and what policies and leaders emerge. Let’s see what happens to Republicans post-Trump, what factions arise, and what the competition looks like on January 1, 2018. Let’s see which Democrats have the guts to throw in, and whether Huether joins them on the primary ballot. I stand ready to help almost any Democrat (other than Sibby in sheep’s clothing and a Chad Haber professing rehabilitation) fight Huether in that primary. And if Huether wins that argument in June 2018, then I’ll accept him as a compromise candidate.

    But I say that looking out across two years of murky speculation and unknown spectacular events. Right now, we have a municipal election in our biggest city pointing to an anti-establishment sentiment and support for decency toward our LGBT neighbors that Democrats seeking office this year should heed.

  24. mike from iowa 2016-04-14 18:23

    JKC-my point was the two unending wars and the recession and the shipping of jobs overseas happened under his watch or were rilly,rilly exacerbated by dubya. Not to mention ignoring North Korea and allowing them to get nukes. And cutting taxes and running enormous debt. And he expanded the gubmint workforce tremendously.

  25. Troy 2016-04-14 18:51


    I just want to make sure I understand what you mean by this: “we have a municipal election in our biggest city pointing to an anti-establishment sentiment.”

    You are taking solace that the election of Stehly is a harbinger of future electoral success for Democrats?

    That certainly wouldn’t be conventional wisdom among very many Sioux Falls Democrats but I guess you got rationalize something.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-14 21:14

    Troy, I’m saying there’s a horse Democrats can ride if they choose.

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