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Mickelson Tees Off on Italian New Jerseyites and Direct Democracy

Senator Jim Bolin presented the Initiative and Referendum Task Force’s mostly bad reforms to the Legislature’s Executive Board Monday. Speaker and E-Board chairman G. Mark Mickelson hurried Bolin through the pile of bureaucratic complications designed by Republicans to further restrain citizens from exercising their right to make and repeal laws directly.

Speaker Mickelson did lock his torpedoes on one measure, Draft #99, the proposal to take the actual text of an initiated measure off the petition but explode the paperwork requirement for circulators by forcing them to print out and provide to all signers copies of the initiative:

As a guy that collected a fair amount of signatures—no one takes the handouts, but they will flip over and read the back of what they are signing, and there is so much lying, cheating, and stealing out there that you’re just making it that much easier [my transcription; Rep. G. Mark Mickelson, comments from the chair, Executive Board meeting, Pierre, SD, 2017.11.13].

Speaker Mickelson deemed most of the I&R Task Force’s proposals “excellent work.” Specifically, Mickelson encouraged Bolin “to be even more bold” with his measure raising the vote threshold required to amend the constitution and shoot for an even higher threshold than 55%. Mickelson justified that call with this remarkably twisted, inaccurate, insulting discourse:

We were developed by the railroads. That’s the reasons there [are] two Dakotas. That’s the reason we’re laid out east to west. Our populist farmers were worried that the East Coast railroad money would develop too much influence in Pierre in our state government, so they wanted the ability to bypass state government because of their concerns about the out-of-state money’s influence….

From 1898 to 1972, you could not initiate a constitutional amendment, you could only initiate a statutory change. In 1972 we gave the citizens the right to initiate a constitutional amendment by majority vote subject to the ratification of the Legislature. In 1989 we took away the Legislature’s ratification of initiated constitutional amendments, and we now allow the equivalent of a foreign government to come in and spend unlimited advertising to amend our constitution by popular vote and don’t allow ourselves to spend a nickel against it. New Jersey—it’s part of Italy.

It’s no way to amend a constitution. I would expect there will be some legislation that will either take away the ability of an initiated constitutional amendment completely or, at a minimum, have the legislature ratify that [Mickelson, 2017.11.13].

Mickelson’s view of New Jersey’s ethnicity seems rather narrow and outdated. 16.8% of New Jerseyans claim Italian in their ancestry, but 15.0% claim Irish and 11.4% claim German. 23.6% of New Jersey’s population is foreign-born, but the countries making up the largest portions of that immigrant population are India, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Philippines, Ecuador, Colombia, Korea, China, Peru, and Poland. But whatever the statistics, I haven’t encountered many initiative petition circulators or sponsors from New Jersey or Italy, and to claim that Americans from New Jersey are really Italian smells a bit like saying our Catholic Senator Mike Rounds really works for the Pope.

I am intrigued that Mickelson would equate fellow Americans and corporations with foreign governments. Citibank came from New York in the 1980s, driving changes to our banking laws and education system, yet I’ve never heard Mickelson complain about that invasion. Pols fall all over themselves cheering Citibank’s latest expansion in Sioux Falls. Bob Mercer reports that corporate honchos from fourteen states and five foreign nations came courting favors from state government at the buffalo round-up and Governor’s hunt this fall. Outsiders with money, we don’t mind, but outsiders with ideas—ave Maria! Prega per noi!

I am complete puzzled by Mickelson’s claim that we “don’t allow ourselves to spend a nickel against” whatever bogeyman infiltrators he imagines are petitioning us into an Italian dominion. Campaign finance law sets almost no limits on spending on ballot questions, and those laws apply equally (per the Fourteenth Amendment) to all Americans, including South Dakotans. Speaker Mickelson can raise and spend all the money he wants on his tobacco tax and out-of-state money ban initiatives; his rich friends in downtown Sioux Falls and at GOP headquarters can raise and spend all the money they want telling us to Vote No on Everything.

Mitch Richter, the very much South Dakotan sponsor of the Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment that Mickelson would have us believe is a foreign invasion, takes strong exception to Mickelson’s denigration of direct democracy:

The public is appalled that the politicians continue this disrespect of South Dakota voters…. They need to respect our vote and the people’s initiative process and stop trying to take power away from the people. The proposals floated today by the legislature would destroy the people’s initiative process taking away our voice and our choice. South Dakotans want to return power to the people.

That’s why more than 50,000 South Dakota voters signed the Anti- corruption Voter Protection Amendment. The legislature needs to stop the attacks on voters and just let the people vote [Mitch Richter, Represent South Dakota, press release, 2017.11.13].

Richter sees more clearly the intent of Mickelson’s remarks: Mickelson and his Republican colleagues want to take away we the people’s right to amend our own Constitution. Mickelson and the Republicans want to reassert the Legislature’s total control over the laws of our land. Mickelson doesn’t want us, the people for whom he works, spoiling their elitist fun. For Mickelson, Bolin, and other Republicans, government is an exclusive club, and they don’t want us in it.


  1. Donald Pay 2017-11-15 07:05

    The guy should move to New Jersey, where they don’t have the initiative. That, after all, is where his father was going to get the garbage to dump in South Dakota.

  2. LS1 2017-11-15 09:20

    The concentration of power in the legislature and individual legislator’s attempts to strengthen that power is so bizarre to me. I’ve never been one to buy too much into the idea that legislators think of themselves above the people generally (I’m a sucker and idealist at heart, as much as it pains me to admit it) but the last year or two have changed my mind.

    I don’t disagree that it should be difficult to change the state constitution. But it seems that our elected officials are forgetting that the constitution belongs to the people, not government officials. The disdain for the public, for opposition, and for open and honest debate floors me.

  3. Eve Fisher 2017-11-15 10:18

    Well, at least our state legislators are actually being honest – they don’t like democracy, they don’t like the public, they don’t want to hear what we want, and they want to continue milking us like cows. Makes it easy to choose who to vote for. And against.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-11-15 11:30

    LS1, I’m curious: if folks agree that the constitution should be harder to amend, can they justify voting against this particular proposal simply because of the ill intent of Bolin and the Republican sponsors?

  5. Robin 2017-11-15 12:59

    Citibank was at one time American, it still is headquartered in NY but is owned by Russia. That’s warm and fuzzy knowing bailouts went to Russia. It’s also in financial trouble with high defaults . Figures they would land in the state with tax havens.

  6. ken 2017-11-15 14:10

    Going all the way back 1973, CitiBank came here from NY for one reason, and that was to avoid being unionized. This state’s virulently anti-union, along with having the Right To Work For Table Scraps law. The workers in NY were fed up with Corporate’s dirty dealings and voted to form a union. CitiBank promptly slammed the doors and moved here, courtesy of Bill Janklow, who was falling all over himself to get them here. When they opened their doors, they were paying $3.75 an hour as opposed to the $10 per hour they’d have to pay in NY at the time.

    As for the corrupt Republican overlords, nothing here will change, and WILL get much worse over time, unless the electorate stops being STUPID at the ballot box. Republicans have NOTHING to offer but their ability to screw you out of what little you have left.

    They cater ONLY to their billionaire owners and masters. It’s no wonder they’re desperately trying to rid the state of one of the last means to bring them into line. They DO NOT CARE about common people. They want to rule with no possibility of retribution form voters, although they well know people here are too stupid to see how dangerous they really are.

    It’s high time for serious change in this state, but again, you’ve got to have an electorate that isn’t brain dead in order to get that accomplished.

  7. LS1 2017-11-15 14:23

    I think the 55% (or more) threshold question re: amending the state constitution is a difficult one. I understand and respect those who oppose it, and I do feel there is significant merit in the argument that the constitution is already hard to amend and requires a lot of very hard work on the part of folks proposing constitutional amendments. However, on the merits of the idea alone, I think I would probably vote for a 55% threshold if I had a say.

    Now, that hypothetical doesn’t take into account the important context in which this discussion is happening. To your point, I do think that even those who think the state constitution should be harder to amend may justifiably vote against such a measure given the context and climate in which it is being proposed. Adding to that is the entire IM 22 debacle, which indicates that even when the people vote for a statutory change the legislature doesn’t feel bound to respect that vote. In that regard, it’s very understandable that citizens who deeply want change feel no choice but to go the constitutional amendment route.

  8. mike from iowa 2017-11-15 17:07

    Ken sounds like that crazy mike from iowa. Oh, wait. That’s me. Good job, Ken. I agree with you about wingnuts.

  9. grudznick 2017-11-15 18:05

    I disagree that Mr. Bolin, who I agree does sport one of the best haircuts in the legislatures, has ill intent.

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