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Minnehaha GOP Prefers Long Legislator Answers to Lots of Constituent Questions

What the SDGOP spin blog calls “more substantive,” I call running scared to the echo chamber.

This weekend, instead of helping sponsor the traditional Chamber of Commerce legislative coffee, the Minnehaha County Republican Party hosted a separate forum for its District 11 legislators. At the Chamber forum, a Chamber moderator reads questions submitted by the audience, and legislators get 90 seconds to respond. At the GOP show, legislators get to speak to each question for as long as they wish.

Republican Senator Jim Stalzer tells the press he prefers the GOP format, because, “Some issues you just can’t handle it in 90 seconds.” So has said every high school and college debater, candidate, and member of the House of Representatives who labors under time limits. I’m sure every citizen who has come to Pierre testify on an important bill at the Legislature feels the same when a Republican committee chair allows only 15 minutes for each side to air its views. But being able to boil a point down in 90 seconds is often a sign that one has thought through an issue enough to recognize the most important points and to know how to explain them concisely, without rambling.

The point of the time limits at the Chamber functions is to allow more citizens to air their questions and maximize the number of bills and subjects on which the public receives some information straight from their legislators. If there really is an issue that a legislator can’t encapsulate in 90 seconds, that legislator has unlimited time after the forum to talk one-on-one with the questioner and any other constituents who really want more than a 90-second Yea/Nay and nutshell-why. Legislators desiring unlimited time can also follow up after the forum on their social media channels.

The District 11 legislators seem to be forgetting that our coffees and crackerbarrels exist to serve not them but the public. Legislators have lots of media through which to transmit substance; we the people have very few opportunities to hold them publicly accountable. The more questions we can pose on the record, where everyone can see and hear brief, concise responses limited the same for all participants of all parties, the more issues we can inform our neighbors about to mobilize supporters and opponents alike. Plus, the more questions we pose, the more we learn about where our legislators stand, how well they’ve thought through the issues, which ones need convincing, and which ones need replacing.

The Minnehaha GOP is also forgetting a key rule for effective campaigning and governing: talk less, listen more.

p.s.: When Republicans think even the business-über-alles Chamber of Commerce doesn’t offer them a fair forum, Republicans have really gone off the echo-chamber deep end.


  1. Michael L. Wyland 2018-02-12 11:16

    Having attended many Sioux Falls legislative coffees, including both held so far this year, I think Cory could have been a little more even-handed in his descriptions.

    While the SF Chamber is the primary sponsor, the League of Women Voters provides the moderator and the volunteers who collect and vet the written questions. The rules of the event further dictate that questions pertaining to specific bills are asked, that bills not yet voted on take precedence over bills already voted on, and questions to specific legislators are explicitly not allowed.

    Two-minute opening and closing remarks are allowed, along with 90-second answers to questions. No rebuttals or follow-up statements by legislators are allowed. Finally, no audible audience reactions are permitted.

    These rules result in a rather antiseptic meeting with the moderator sounding a lot like a Bingo caller. Legislators use their tablets to call up a bill on their screens, sometimes causing a delay before answers start. On a few occasions, it was obvious no legislator really had a comment on the bill in question. However, it’s apparently considered rude to not comment on a bill, even if no one has a real opinion on it.

    Since so many legislators call Sioux Falls home, it’s not possible to put them all on stage at once. Each legislator gets precisely one opportunity per year to sit on the stage, since each legislative district gets one chance to appear.

    There is room in Sioux Falls for multiple crackerbarrel opportunities with varying formats without affecting the SF Chamber-organized event.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-02-12 13:20

    I will agree, Michael, that the ban on audience reactions is bonkers. Audience feedback matters!

    The Aberdeen Chamber encourages audience members to direct questions to specific legislators, and lately our District 2/3 legislators have been o.k. about not feeling like they have to get up and me-too every question/bill. At the last two two-hour forums, they’ve forgone closing statements and allowed all of the ending time for questions, which are better than prepared remarks. I’m pretty happy with Aberdeen’s format… which includes our chamber director holding up time cards.

    The SF chamber could solve the crowding problem by holding more events. Do Districts 10 & 11 in the morning, Districts 12 & 13 in the afternoon. Next weekend: D 6+9 a.m., 15+25 p.m., or some other such combo, and keep alternating to give legislators multiple appearances.

    Is there any problem with legislators looking up bills and reviewing text before answering?

  3. Darin Larson 2018-02-13 08:22

    I have not experienced the new Republican style forum with legislators, but I can tell you that I am no fan of the Chamber cracker barrel format. Never have so few wasted the time of so many for so long as I have experienced at the Chamber forum.

    The Chamber event is a mile wide and an inch deep. The most important questions of our day in South Dakota are given the same short shrift as the least important. This is because the moderator only allows one or, at most, a few questions on a certain subject no matter the depth of the subject or the interest level of the citizens at the forum. As an example, 90% of the citizens at the forum could be interested in the subject of school funding and instead of allowing each citizen willing to speak to ask a question pertinent to that subject, the moderator decides what question to ask from a pool of written questions. The moderator might have 20 questions on school funding, but he or she allows one or two questions of her choosing and moves on to a new subject.

    Moreover, the patronizing way that questions are funneled to legislators or disallowed via the moderator is unacceptable in a representative democracy. The League of Women voters should understand this better than almost any one.

    Instead of allowing direct citizen participation in understanding the position of our legislators and giving input on important subjects, the Chamber and the League of Women Voters have reduced citizen participation to hearing short sound bites with no followup questions. As tens of thousands of citizens are represented by one state senator or representative, we rarely get the opportunity to speak to our representatives and give input on legislation. In an orderly and civil fashion, citizens should be allowed to ask their own questions and they alone should decide the subject of the question based upon the relative importance of the issue to them. They should also be allowed to convey their own views on subjects directly to the legislators.

    The Chamber event has unnecessarily watered down citizen participation in these cracker barrels to such an extent that they have lost much of their primary function. Cracker barrels should not be simply citizens asking questions through a moderator who chooses and cleanses the questions to be asked followed by legislators lecturing for a ninety second snippet of time. Cracker barrels and forums should be an exchange of important ideas and arguments related to the important questions of our day in our state. Citizens should be able to ask these important questions themselves and give their views of subjects. After all, the citizens are the ones that these laws directly affect. How else do we give import to our credo that “Under God, the people rule?”

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-02-14 09:36

    I’m with Darin on minimal moderation. Letting a Chamber moderator pick questions is an unnecessary filter. Here in Aberdeen, the moderator has allowed every question, live from each volunteering audience member. If an audience member is not clear or just takes the podium to pontificate, the moderator interrupts to ask if the speaker has an actual question. But when we get multiple questions on the same topic (like the food tax, a hot item up here), the moderator lets it ride, and it’s up to legislators to respond as they see fit. If legislators feel a question is repetitive, they can just say, “Asked and answered” (which was part of a Brock Greenfield response last Saturday).

    Other than that, moderation should consist simply of making sure fighting words don’t break out. Give citizens has much opportunity as possible to ask questions.

  5. Michael L. Wyland 2018-02-14 09:41


    Since I haven’t been to a legislative meeting in Aberdeen, could you estimate the audience size?

    Also, do they have a police officer in the room? Sioux Falls has one on duty in the room during our legislative coffees.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-02-15 11:49

    A cop?! Really? Where do you live, 1938 Berlin?

    I haven’t noticed cops at the Aberdeen crackerbarrels… except, of course for Rep. Dan Kaiser, who is also a city cop. Attendance Feb 3 was around 60; attendance Feb 10 was around 75.

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