Dana Ferguson treats us to the family tie of the week in her paper’s first mention on the dust-up at Farmers Union. As you dear readers know, disgruntled Farmers Union members are calling for the resignation of the South Dakota organization’s leadership and a new election to make up for alleged misconduct in the December election. Farmers Union says outside legal counsel has reviewed the December election and found no reason for concern.
Ferguson notes that “outside” may stretch matters a bit:
“We followed all of our bylaws,” Kecia Beranek, a union spokeswoman said. “Our board and an outside lawyer looked at the result and said it’s solid.”
The outside lawyer hired to review the results, Angela Brandt of the St. Paul-based firm Larson King, is the sister-in-law of the board’s spokeswoman [Dana Ferguson, “Farmers Union Feud Could Hinder Redistricting Reform,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.04.14].
All the lawyers in the world, and someone in the Farmers Union office says, “Get your sister-in-law on the phone”? Outside observers may understandably wonder if there’s a conflict of interest in the conclusions of that attorney.
As for Ferguson’s headline (I know, Ferguson probably didn’t write it, some copy editor in Dubuque did), the article offers no supporting analysis of any connection between this leadership spat and Amendment T, the proposal to empanel and independent redistricting commission to end gerrymandering, only one quote from Save Farmers Union Coalition leader Michael O’Connor, followed by an opposing quote from initiative maven Rick Weiland:
Who are they to talk about election reform when they can’t even conduct their own?” Michael O’Connor, a union member leading the charge to force the top officers’ resignation, said. “This insults the integrity of this 100-year-old institution and I can’t believe they allowed this to happen.”
But Rick Weiland, former U.S. Senate candidate, and South Dakota Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann Tornberg said the internal conflict at the union likely won’t affect the constitutional amendment gaining traction at the polls.
“I don’t see that as an issue,” Weiland said. “Those are separate issues, it’s like apples and oranges” [Ferguson, 2016.04.14].
O’Connor is correct that evidence of malfeasance in the conduct of its own election might undermine Farmers Union’s ethos as a spokesgroup for redistricting reform. But Weiland is more correct that this internal spat and Amendment T are separate issues. The alleged malfeasance within Farmers Union has nothing to do with drawing legislative district boundaries. Farmers Union is not seeking the authority to draw those boundaries. No detail of this strife, rooted largely, it seems in perceptions of personalities and office politics, has any bearing on the merits of taking the power to draw legislative districts away from self-interested partisan legislators and assigning that weighty task to an independent commission, as is done in Iowa, Arizona, and elsewhere.
The only practical complication, not addressed in Ferguson’s article, is whether the Farmers Union conflict will paralyze Farmers Union’s other operations and prevent the group from effectively fundraising and campaigning for the ballot measure it is sponsoring. If such paralysis happens, it will simply behoove other defenders of democracy to stand up and explain to voters the merits of Amendment T… which shouldn’t be hard, since I haven’t heard a good argument against making our election map fairer.