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Bill Van Gerpen: No on T, Because Legislators Smarter Than Voters

SDPB’s Lee Strubinger chose well in traveling to District 19 to explain gerrymandering and Amendment T, the independent redistricting proposal intended to stop that nefarious practice. We know darn well that District 19 was deliberately drawn by Republican leaders to chop Bon Homme County in half and pull Democrat Frank Kloucek’s half of Bon Homme away from his old, reliable constituency and into more solid Republican country.

But Republican Senator Bill Van Gerpen, the Kloucek-ousting beneficiary of that gerrymandering, continues the game of his Republican colleagues and pretends there’s no gerrymandering in his district. But worse than playing dumb, Senator Van Gerpen plays smart… as in smarter than everyone else:

He says he’s not convinced that Amendment T will improve redistricting. He says lawmakers have more insight into what’s happening with the state.

“And if you bring on an outside group to redistrict, there’s probably issues there that they’re not aware of. I think the legislators are probably more enlightened as to the issues in the state and how they might affect being fair to everyone in the state,” VanGerpen says [Lee Strubinger, “Indepth [sic] Look at Amendment T,” SDPB: Dakota Midday, 2016.10.05].

Legislators more enlightened than the people? If Senator Van Gerpen thinks that’s a good way to argue against Amendment T, I welcome him to continue. He’s really just exposing the elitism that underpins the South Dakota Republican Party’s general distaste for us voters… which is why they are fighting Amendment T so hard: they want to pick their voters rather than being subjected to the indignity of voters picking their own legislators.


  1. Rorschach 2016-10-07 07:41

    Some people don’t think before they speak.

  2. Darin Larson 2016-10-07 08:52

    Wow! I hope Van Gerpen keeps talking. That would be good for Democrats.

    Van Gerpen says “And if you bring on an outside group to redistrict, there’s probably issues there that they’re not aware of.”

    He’s right about what he said in this quote. The new redistricting commission won’t be aware of who the Republican establishment would like to gerrymander out of the legislature. The new redistricting commission won’t be aware of who they are supposed to be favoring and who they are supposed to be impeding. They are going to be blissfully unaware of the political retribution that the legislature likes to dole out. The new commission is going to be unaware of so many things that the current powers that be in the Republican leadership use to draw the current legislative boundaries.

    So far we have heard from Jim Bolin that there is no gerrymandering and now from Van Gerpen that the legislature knows best on how to gerrymander. Van Gerpen is a lot more correct than Bolin.

    Van Gerpen should just come out and say that Republicans would rather continue to draw the districts in ways that favor them rather than claim that legislators are smarter than voters and the new redistricting commission.

    This is another example of why one party rule is detrimental to democracy. What kind of arrogance does it take to claim that the legislature knows best and we should let them choose their own boundaries? Van Gerpen has apparently forgotten who he was supposed to be working for. It is a common affliction in Pierre.

  3. JLB 2016-10-07 09:16

    To be fair, Senator Van Gerpen did not say that the Legislature is smarter than the people. He said they would be more in touch with the state than the board that is set up under Amendment T. Whether or not you agree with Amendment T, that is a substantially different statement.

    Quite frankly, the argument he is making is that he thinks the people are smarter than the unelected appointed board set up by Amendment T, i.e that Legislators are accountable to the people, whereas the unelected board set up by Amendment T are not. In the current system the voters are in charge, as if Legislators play games with redistricting, you can “throw the bums out of office.” You cannot do that with an unelected board.

    I am a believer that South Dakota does not have a Gerrymandering issue. There are states that do on both sides of the isle. I understand the arguments in favor Amendment T. It’s a good policy debate. I just think it is unfair to characterize Senator VanGerpen’s comments as they are depicted here.

  4. Curt 2016-10-07 09:31

    JLB: Seriously? You believe SD has no gerrymandering issue? Forget for a moment that it exists elsewhere on either side of the “isle”, but examine the way RC districts are drawn, noting how the North Rapid area is split into 4 different districts (‘cuz Dems are rumored to reside there). Look particularly at Dist 33. Tell me what the voters who live around Ellsworth AFB, Box Elder, Lakota Homes, and Black Hawk have in common with owners of the $1M homes located in the wooded areas surrounding RC along Nemo Road, Rimrock Hwy, and Sheridan Lake Road. I believe you will experience what Mr Strubinger did when he interviewed former Sen Kloucek in that small East River community – wait for it – Epiphany.

  5. Darin Larson 2016-10-07 09:45

    Please, JLB, spare us the mincing of words. He claimed the legislature was more “enlightened.” Bull pucky! This isn’t about enlightenment. This is about maintaining Republican control to make sure that Tim Rave and Deb Peters didn’t have to run against each other, or gerrymandering Frank Kloucek out of the legislature, or concentrating Democrats in District 15 in Sioux Falls so that all the other surrounding districts have solid Republican majorities, or meting out punishment or the threat of punishment to individual legislators. This is naked ambition for unchecked power and it makes me mad as heck!

    As the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  6. Darin Larson 2016-10-07 09:52

    And the notion that voters in an individual district will somehow hold accountable and vote against their own representative who is wielding the power of redistricting which doesn’t affect them directly is asinine. If they were statewide offices there might be a point to be made there. As it is, voters in Sioux Falls are not going to hold their own legislators accountable for gerrymandering Frank Kloucek out of the legislature. We need an independent statewide viewpoint which will be provided by the new redistricting commission.

  7. Mark Remily 2016-10-07 11:22

    No one has a more uphill battle to get elected in his or her district than Cory. The Novstrups and their cronies have made it almost impossible for a democrat to get elected in dist. 3, where they have gerrymandered an entire precinct out of the city of Aberdeen. Precinct 9 was gerrymandered into dist. 2 and alienated 1500 active voters, primarily a democratic district.

  8. JLB 2016-10-07 11:55

    Regardless of your position on redistricting, my point is that his reference isn’t that the Legislature is more enlightened than “the people”. It is that the Legislature is “more enlightened as to the issues in the state” than an unelected board whose members don’t have to go back and answer to the voters; that don’t go do crackerbarrels; that don’t have to walk in parades or go door to door throughout their district, etc. I don’t think that is mincing words.

    Others here are arguing there is that there is a conflict of interest for people drawing their own districts. I understand that argument as well.

    My point is not to be a proponent or opponent to Amendment V in this post, but to at least fairly state the anti-T argument being made. You may disagree, but lets not make straw man arguments.

  9. Douglas Wiken 2016-10-07 12:57

    Too many legislators attend cracker barrels and then ignore every thing their constituents say and support well-funded special interests. Republicans of all stripes are trying to make arguments against this amendment. The GOP would be a better party with independently drawn districts.

    It is not a straw man argument to suggest that the latest GOP BS is self-serving irrelevant nonsense.

  10. Douglas Wiken 2016-10-07 13:00

    Too many years ago..back in Kneip days, I worked in Pierre. The GOP drew a district line that went for miles in a straight line. Then it jogged a mile west, a mile south and back a mile east. Just happened of course that a Democratic legislator happened to live in that square mile.

    SD Gerrymandering is obvious.

  11. Wayne B. 2016-10-07 13:25

    I had the privilege to work on the redistricting process back in 2009-2010. My job was to ensure the lines from the 2001 redistricting process were accurate.

    I do trust Stace Nelson’s testimony that gerrymandering does indeed take place. However, I would also offer that just because a district border is squiggly doesn’t necessarily mean that district was gerrymandered for political purposes. Rapid City’s District 33 / 34 border predominantly follows the official city limits, which is one of the driving criteria for redistricting.

    Then there’s population balance issues. What I think would be quite telling is an examination of the deviation among districts for population vs their “squiggliness”.

    There’s a youtube channel I really like which breaks down democratic issues, voting, and gerrymandering.

    Here’s the gerrymandering video:

  12. Don Coyote 2016-10-07 13:28

    One of the main reasons that I’m voting against T is because it is not representational of South Dakota’s voting population. Based on a proportionality of registration, Republicans are under represented while Independents are over represented.

    The other reason is we are delegating a power that has resided with the elected legislative branch since the founding of the country to an unelected board. There are states that use redistricting commissions only for the planning phase but final approval still resides with the legislature. This would be the best way to approach redistricting instead of the overreach by the self proclaimed reformers in our state.

  13. Curt 2016-10-07 14:32

    Wayne B(S): What are you looking at? The 33/34 lines follow city limits? Are you drunk?

  14. Darin Larson 2016-10-07 16:20

    Van Gerpen said “And if you bring on an outside group to redistrict, there’s probably issues there that they’re not aware of. I think the legislators are probably more enlightened as to the issues in the state and how they might affect being fair to everyone in the state,”

    What “issues” in the state rest on where we draw the lines for legislative districts? What special enlightenment does the legislature have about where districts should be located? What legitimate concerns would the commission not take into account that the current legislature does take into account?

    The only issues that rest on where the lines are drawn for legislative districts are who would be favored in the legislative races based upon party registrations and the residence address of incumbents and their challengers.

    It is a disingenuous crock of crap to argue that legislators have some special knowledge that enables them to draw lines on a map better than an independent commission. The whole reason it needs to be independent is because legislators have a conflict of interest on behalf of themselves and their party. That is the only reason for legislators to have this job and it is the reason they fight so hard to keep it.

    This is got to be the first time I have heard that legislators are “more enlightened” than others in this state. Is that code for they know how to hand out political favors and mete out political punishment and favor their own party over all else? If so, I agree.

  15. grudznick 2016-10-07 17:54

    I’m voting against T because I’m voting NO on Everything. There are too many of these outside interests funneling big out-of-state money from Iowa into South Dakota to meddle with our laws.

    Vote NO on Everything. Lots of people are.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-07 18:06

    JLB, remember, the whole thesis of T is that legislators use redistricting to pick their voters. Voters unhappy with redistricting decisions can’t vote out the legislators responsible for those decisions if those legislators fence those borders off from their own districts.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-07 18:11

    Now, on word games:

    Van Gerpen said he and legislators are “more enlightened” than “an outside group.”

    (1) If I say in a public forum that I am more enlightened than the people listening to me, I will be skewered as an arrogant elitist.

    (2) There is no “outside group.” T’s independent redistricting commission consists of South Dakota voters who don’t hold office and who are interested enough in state politics to serve on a commission to draw legislative district maps.

    Van Gerpen is saying he is smarter than any given sample of non-legislative but politically engaged South Dakota voters. I may be mincing words, too, but my mincing is far less stretched and excuseful than yours. I can say, quite literally, Van Gerpen said he is more enlightened than voters who don’t serve in the Legislature.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-07 18:13

    Mark! “Uphill?” Yes. “Impossible?” No way. Get out and vote, and bring your friends! :-)

  19. grudznick 2016-10-07 18:53

    Perhaps Mr. Van Gerpen is simply right…he is more enlightened than voters not in the legislatures. After all, he served in the legislatures and they didn’t.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-07 20:58

    Curt, no need to affix that S to Wayne’s B. I know he’s no BS-er. He may be wrong, but he offers his wrong in civic spirit equal to anyone here.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-07 21:05

    Coyote, we both believe in checks and balances, right?

    How under checks and balances do we justify giving the Legislature unchecked power to draw its own boundaries? The only “check” on the current redistricting power (beyond the judiciary’s ability to overturn racially discriminatory lines) is the power you impute to the voters to throw out the bums who draw bad lines. But the bums use the bad lines to ensure voters don’t turn them out, so that check doesn’t work. T offers a brilliant check: through T, we empower an independent commission which stands to gain no power through any creative drawing of lines, which in fact can’t even get creative, since it is bound by explicit map-drawing criteria more detailed and strict than anything binding legislators in their redistricting process.

    Now—party representation? You deem T unacceptable because it does not proportionately represent existing political parties? What interest does the state have in ensuring such representation in this process? Is such representation more important than strict adherence to the mapping rules laid out in T? Let’s get back to basic principles: is there anything wrong with T’s mapping rules? If not, then won’t we get fair results no matter who serves on the committee? Isn’t that what we’re really after, a map that we know is drawn according to fair rules, without regard to partisan interest?

  22. Jim Powers 2016-10-07 22:00

    To respond to Don Coyote, the reason I am voting for Amendment T is that it is not representational of South Dakota’s voting population. Based on a proportionality of registration, Republicans are over represented, Democrats are under represented, while Independents are not represented at all.

    SD voter registration on October 4, 2016: 46% Rep. 32% Dem. 21% Ind.
    SD Legislature: 81% Rep. 19% Dem. 0% Ind.

    Minnehaha Co. 41.5% Rep. 33.8% Dem. 24.7% Ind.

    The eight Districts representing parts of Sioux Falls, 42% Rep. 33% Dem. 25% Ind.
    Legislators from those eight Districts: 20 Rep. 83%, 4 Dem. 17%, 0 Ind. 0%.
    3 of the 4 Democrats are clustered in 1 of the 8 districts.

  23. Darin Larson 2016-10-07 22:10

    Thanks Jim for digging out the information for us. That is what I thought. Gerrymandering has inflated Republican power well beyond their proportion of registrations.

  24. Curt 2016-10-08 00:27

    To your point, Jim and Darin – my home county is Pennington. We hold about 4 Cracker Barrel functions annually and are treated to panels featuring the 15 legislators who represent all or part of this county. They are all one variation or another of the Republican flavor. A cursory examination of the electorate and its voting patterns would lead a reasonable person to expect that at least a few Dems would be sprinkled among the lot. Nope. Not lately. I know JSB thinks gerrymandering is some sort of fiction, but I remember when the late Sen Carol Maicki was thrown into a new district with the boundary line drawn around her property line. Yes on T will give us better government. When control of all the levers of power is vested in one party for very long it inevitably leads to problems. Haven’t you seen enough?

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-08 08:23

    Jim makes a good point: if proportional partisan representation really is Coyote’s voting criterion and not just a fake principle adopted for the sake of argument, Amendment T moves us closer to proportional representation than a Legislature dominated by Republicans and including no independents.

  26. bearcreekbat 2016-10-08 10:21

    If I remember correctly, the very intelligent, hardworking and popular Democrat Linda Lea Viken was also gerrymanderd out of office.

  27. Darin Larson 2016-10-08 11:34

    Coyote hoisted with his own petard.

  28. grudznick 2016-10-08 12:29

    BAH. I say put all the legislatures in one big basket and let everybody vote for the top 20 or so. Send the rest home. Jungle primary indeed. But since that doesn’t seem to be an option just vote NO on everything.

  29. Robin Friday 2016-10-08 16:31

    If “SD doesn’t have a gerrymandering issue” then I’d like to know why my neighbors and relatives and I who live seven miles from Aberdeen in Brown County have been gobbled up and fed to an all- Republican district nearer to Watertown. The two counties have entirely different issues. Bah.

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