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GOP Legislators’ Former Status as Dems Gets Press; Substance of Voting Records Ignored

Yesterday South Dakota Citizens for Liberty released a new Legislative scorecard attempting to quantify the conservatism of South Dakota’s legislators. The scorecard also includes the claim that twelve Republican legislators are former Democrats. The SDGOP establishment spin blog predictably pitched a fit and accused them of making things up.

Citizens for Liberty responds this morning with a copy of an e-mail they say they sent to Senator Jim White (R-22/Huron) while researching their scorecard, asking him to share his conversion story:

Honorable Jim White,

SD Citizens for Liberty, Inc. has been doing extensive background research in conjunction with our voting record scorecard for this year’s legislature which is scheduled to be released soon.  That research indicates you and numerous other Republican legislators have a history of membership in the Democrat Party prior to holding office as a Republican in the South Dakota Legislature.

Winston Churchill is credited with saying:  “If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you aren’t a middle-aged conservative, you have no head.”

That is why we are interested in your conversion story.

We would like to include your responses to the following questions as relevant background information in the final report.

  • What inspired you to change your registration from “Democrat” to “Republican”?
  • What planks of the National Republican Party platform are most important to you?
  • Which planks of the South Dakota Republican Party Platform are most important to you?
  • Are there any planks of either platform with which you disagree
  • How would you describe your current governing philosophy?

Thank you for your time and service.

Mrs. Tonchi Weaver
SD Citizens for Liberty, Inc.

Citizens for Liberty says Senator White ignored their inquiry:

The above email was sent to Senator White’s personal and legislative email addresses twice, once on August 22, and the second on September 19th.  He opened it repeatedly and did not correct our understanding that he was in fact previously registered as a Democrat.  We took it as a tacit confirmation [SD Citizens for Liberty, press release, 2017.10.10].

Voter registration record, Jean Hunhoff, signed 1992.07.28.
Voter registration record, Jean Hunhoff, signed 1992.07.28.

Citizens for Liberty then explains that it has the voter registration records to support its claims, to question Senator White’s statement to that Sioux Falls paper that “I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I was raised as a Republican and I’ve always run as a Republican” (which carefully avoids mentioning voter registration status), and to directly refute Rep. Jean Hunhoff’s (R-19/Yankton) statement that, “I’ve never registered as a Democrat. I’ve always been a Republican.” Citizens for Liberty claims that finding those voter registration records was made more difficult by SDGOP spinster Pat Powers himself and his former boss Jason Gant, who as Secretary of State allegedly ordered the destruction of voter registration information archived in Pierre that documented changes of voter registration as people moved from county to county:

Our requests to the Yankton and Brown County auditors specifically about Representative Hunhoff and Senator Novstrup elicited the attached voter registration cards.  Our efforts to research our elected officials were made difficult due to the multiple decades worth of voter registration information expunged by SOS Gant & Mr. Powers [SDCFL, 2017.10.10].

Citizens for Liberty then returns to the salient point: whereas the SDGOP establishment has responded to the fringe issue of who was registered what when, the Republicans chapped by the scorecard have not responded to the real substance of their voting records and what Citizens for Liberty deems their failure to uphold the Republican Party platform:

We reject Mr. Powers claims that we are attacking the Republicans on the scorecard.  We have simply pointed out their official voting records & previous registration. If their records are “attacking them,” then the only people to blame for such are the legislators themselves.  Voter registration changes are relevant as voters deserve to be able to determine if it was a political ideology change or a matter of convenience.  There are several of these politicians who were life-long Democrats who changed parties right before running for office in heavy Republican majority districts. Some of them within days of running. Many of these former Democrats continue to vote more often with the Democratic legislators than with Republican principles [SDCFL, 2017.10.10].

I myself have switched party affiliation (though in a more positive, progressive direction than White, Hunhoff, and other now-Republican legislators). That’s the minor story. The issue CFL should push and that legislators should explain is how the Republican slogans many of them run on in November don’t translate into consistent conservative votes in January, February, and March. Honesty about principles would help voters get beyond party labels and focus more on real policy in their political discourse.


  1. Rorschach 2017-10-10 10:25

    The Spanish Inquisition has issued an Edict of Grace. Sen. Jim White. Step forward to admit your heresy. If we’re satisfied that your repentance is real, the Inquisition will spare you the torture and burning at the stake. Step forward now. Right now! To receive your … grace.

  2. Thomas 2017-10-10 19:25

    I’ll begin by stating that I’ve never been a member of or associated with the SDCL and I do not personally know Mrs. Weaver. However, I have read many of her social media posts and find myself agreeing with her most of the time….as I do in this instance. The republican party has been co-opted by democrats and progressives. They may have changed the “D” after their name to an “R”, but never changed their leftist views on issues. The South Dakota legislature has been nearly fatally infected by the leftist disease as is evidenced by the voting records of many so-called republicans in the Senate and House. Of course, as they say, the fish stinks from the head down and the head progressive in our state government is the governor….a protégé of the last progressive governor who now “represents” SD in Washington. His conservative voting record is barely above 50%. The SDCL is drawing attention to the fact that many of the republicans in our legislature are former democrats and only asking that we review their voting records before giving them our vote. Is that really too much to ask? Why would the republican establishment denounce that as an attack on republicans? Shouldn’t we KNOW the people who espouse having republican values, which, should reliably be expected to result in a Conservative voting record? Is it possible that the very foundation of the republican party has been co-opted by progressives and they are simply defending their fellow progressives within the party? These are all questions that I’d love to see answered.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-11 05:44

    What?! Misquoting Churchill?! Well, there goes the reliability of the scorecard. ;-)

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-12 04:42

    I should also point out that the SDCFL/Nelson/Hubbel narrative that Thomas promotes above, the notion that “The republican party has been co-opted by democrats and progressives,” is mostly crap. White, Soholt, Rhoden, Lederman, et al. do no favors for the South Dakota Democratic Party. They are not left, alt-left, or anything else “progressive”. They are opportunists, interested less in political principle than power.

    The RINOs in question gave up being Democrats when they re-registered. To try painting them with the same brush as the SDGOP paints Sutton, Tornberg, me, and other SD Dems is lazy, one-track thinking. The SDGOP opportunists don’t fit into the Fox News/shouting-at-the-TV/lingering-Obama-paranoia paradigm; they are enemies along a different axis running perpendicular to the Left-Right/Dem-GOP spectrum.

  5. Thomas 2017-10-13 20:21

    You may call it crap all you like, but you have but to look at the voting records of those legislators who call themselves Republicans to see that they vote more like democrats. And since they don’t have a “D” by their names they probably aren’t true democrats, but are certainly progressives as their voting record reveals. Progressives interested in power, if not the democrat political principles…like breaking the back of conservatism.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-14 11:47

    The narrative is still specious. If these RINOs were Democrats, they’d be working with Democrats. They are doing nothing to support the principles and political fortunes of the Democratic Party in South Dakota. They are not “progressives” in any literal sense of the word: they are not working to help us make progress in liberty, justice, equality, or opportunity; rather, they are working to preserve the status quo that gives them power. So let’s use words accurately, focus on the specific ills these fake Republicans are committing, and not conflate it with any pre-existing and convenient political-complaint paradigm. These RINOs are not part of the Obama scourge, the Marxist-Muslim axis, Agenda 21, or the South Dakota Democratic Party. They are their own unique club of opportunists, who need to be rooted out of government and replaced with more honest public servants (preferably from the Democratic Party, but I’ll take a mix of Dems and geunine Republicans for stimulating debate and practical compromise).

  7. Thomas 2017-10-14 11:59

    You color it any way that makes you feel better, but by not fully supporting the Republican principles, they are, in fact, supporting democrat principles. The word progressive was adopted by the democrats because the word liberal had become toxic. YOUR people took the word, not republicans. And there is no such thing as a “more honest public servant” with a “D” by their name. You all want bigger government, more intrusive government, mandatory union participation, welfare for all, single payer health insurance, open borders, abortions at any stage of development, rewrite the 1st amendment to add outlawing “hate speech” if it comes from a Conservative and gun confiscation. If I omitted anything, please feel free to add it.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-14 12:16

    You keep trying to cast my analysis as simply an expression of feelings, but this is about words and accurate meanings. The RINOs aren’t supporting any principles, only their own power. The kerfuffle about Lederman, Soholt, and other opportunists in the SDGOP is not about “my” people. It’s not about criticizing the Democratic Party. Lederman and the other opportunists are not part of a Democratic, liberal, or any other recognized group plot. Their opportunism does not fit with any other pre-programmed talking point. It is a thing unto itself that needs to be solved… and which won’t be solved as long as people keep trying to portray it as something it isn’t.

  9. Robin 2017-10-16 13:58

    Wow the comments read like Hitler and Stalin’s loyalty pledges. We need to repeal the Uniform Congressional Districts act and return to Multi Seat Congressional Districts. But then life would be peaceful and everyone would have their voice heard . Heaven forbid that we move away from the two party dysfunctional chaos.

  10. o 2017-10-16 15:14

    I suppose it will always be troubling when inconsistent (yet absolute) party philosophy results in inconsistent member votes. When “personal accountability,” or “pro-life,” or “personal freedom,” or “the Constitution,” or “law and order,” are applied in a context outside the narrow GOP platform and/or unwanted by the GOP, we have the philosophical dissonance of the RINO.

  11. grudznick 2017-10-16 19:38

    Vote with the Conservatives with Common Sense.
    And for measures initiated, #VNOE

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-18 05:25

    O—interesting suggestion, that there may be no way for Republicans to vote consistently in tune with an inherently inconsistent platform. Given that philosophical sickness, perhaps the scorecarders should simply form a new party dedicated to their own absolutist interpretation of the Republican platform and see how many votes and seats they can win.

    Robin—multi-seat districts sound like fun to me. But do two-seat House districts produce a more representative lower chamber in the South Dakota Legislature?

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