Speaker G. Mark Mickelson and I get to occupy the same inches in the that Sioux Falls paper. As you would expect, our comments to Dana Ferguson’s April 6 report on the Legislature’s erosion of initiative and referendum show the obvious contrast between the speaker’s baloney and the blogger’s facts. Let’s look at some quotes:
Mickelson: “The goal is if we’re going to ask people to be residents to circulate, we need to make sure enforce that.”
More enforcement of existing petition regulations would be great. When I tried in 2016 to get law enforcement to take up a complaint about notary violations on petitions, I got bounced around among five different offices and got zero follow-up. But none of the bills Mickelson pushed this year increase enforcement efforts of existing petition laws. Mickelson hasn’t directed police or the Secretary of State to investigate petition violations. Instead, Mickelson and his Republican colleagues have shifted the burden of proof from the state to petitioners and created more paperwork and cost to deter grassroots groups from circulating initiative and referendum petitions.
[Ferguson paraphrasing Mickelson]: Mickelson circulated two ballot measures in 2017 and said he frequently witnessed non-residents circulating petitions, which violates state law.
Really, G. Mark? Witnessed? Why didn’t you report what you witnessed? Could it be because you would have run into the same runaround others have when trying to get state and local officials to enforce existing laws? And if we can’t get enforcement of existing laws, what enforcement will we get of the laws you passed?
[Ferguson paraphrasing Mickelson]: He said he wouldn’t have had a problem operating under the new requirements with his teams of dozens of volunteers.
Mickelson paid good money for his circulators, just like almost everyone else in the field in 2017. No grassroots organizations leapt out of the woodwork to circulate Mickelson’s pet projects. Mickelson even paid the cannabis advocates at New Approach South Dakota to carry his petitions.
Mickelson: “We’ve seen many occasions where out-of-state groups, many times liberal groups, use that process to promote ideas that don’t fit our culture.”
Mickelson is pulling several legs here:
- Mickelson is trying to paint non-partisan ballot measures as “liberal” plots in hopes of scaring South Dakotans away from direct democracy. South Dakotans don’t like the word “liberal,” but they tend to vote that way on ballot questions. Republicans hate it when voters escape Republican branding and vote logically, so they have to try applying their facile labels to keep their grip on power.
- “Liberal” groups are no more prevalent in ballot measures than conservative out-of-staters are in pushing Mickelson and the Legislature to vote for culture-war bills. See, for example, the out-of-staters who pushed Neal Tapio’s refugee fearmongering SB 200, Al Novstrup’s attack on Planned Parenthood and the Constitution, and South Dakota’s offensive law allowing adoption agencies to reject parents based on religious objections.
- Henry T. Nicholas isn’t liberal. He promoted Amendment S, the crime victims bill of rights, not from any ideological agenda but just to memorialize his poor dead sister in South Dakota’s constitution.
- The payday lenders aren’t liberal. They pushed Amendment U, the fake payday loan rate cap. Their ideological is predatory anarcho-capitalism.
- Nicholas and the payday lenders used the most alarming and unscrupulous circulating tactics of anyone in the field in 2016. The harm the did stemmed from wealth, not ideology. Yet as the richest players in the field, they are least affected by the bureaucracy Mickelson and the Republicans are layering onto our initiative and referendum process.
- If labeling ballot questions as “liberal” or “conservative” is either possible or relevant, then how do we brand Mickelson’s two initiatives?
- IM 24 bans out-of-staters from giving money to ballot question committees. Expanding government regulation, limiting individual freedom—Mickelson would call that “liberal”, right?
- IM 25 increases tobacco tax to increase state subsidies for vo-tech tuition. Raise taxes, make higher ed cheaper—that’s not just “liberal”; that’s Bernie Sanders liberal!
Fortunately, Ferguson talked to me to wash Mickelson’s bushwah out of readers’ mouths with the refreshing taste of straight talk:
“It’s not that there’s any one bill this year that’s a disaster that will absolutely kill initiatives and referendums,” Cory Heidelberger, a Democratic state Senate candidate and former circulator said. “It’s that there are so many of them that continue to complicate the process and that crowd grassroots organizers out.”
…“This is how the elephant eats us, one bite at a time,” Heidelberger said. “They don’t just kill initiative and referendum because we won’t stand for it, but they do a little thing here, a little thing there, knowing that it’s really hard for the people to do a referendum drive on 12 different bills” [Dana Ferguson, “South Dakota a ‘Standout’ in Limiting Voters’ Ability to Bring Issues to the Ballot,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2018.04.06].
Mickelson is the only circulator Ferguson talks to who says the laws passed year won’t hinder grassroots petition drives. Republican Steve Hickey backs me up. Open primaries advocate Joe Kirby backs me up. And backing us all up is Wendy Underhill of the National Conference of State Legislatures, that really important thing over which Mickelson’s colleague Senator Deb Peters presides:
But all told, the onslaught of bills puts South Dakota in a league of its own in terms of restricting direct democracy.
“South Dakota was a standout,” said Wendy Underhill, an expert in initiative and referendum processes at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “There’s been more action in South Dakota than in other states” [Ferguson, 2018.04.06].
Republicans are waging war on your right to vote on laws. We need comprehensive reforms to repeal all of the restrictions Mickelson and his colleagues have place on initiative and referendum. We also need to replace baloneyfying Mickelson with Kelly Sullivan and every other Republican legislator with a straight-talking Democrat who will stand for democracy and protect those reforms.