In her speech to the Democratic convention Friday, Michelle Lavallee said she switched her lifelong Republican registration to Democratic this month because she realized how “unbalanced” Pierre is. She said state government is stuck in a “stale and complacent culture” (complacent—that’s Sutton messaging) with no healthy back and forth among people of all perspectives.
For a speech to a convention of Democrats, Lavallee’s address was remarkably light on direct attacks on the party she belonged to until Democratic gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton offered her a gig. I got the impression that Lavallee wasn’t really speaking to the Democrats in the hall; she was speaking to the general electorate, not building the brand of the Democratic Party but assuring voters that “I share all of your values” and “we’re all more alike than we are different.”
Emphasizing our common interests is one part of doing the sole job of the lieutenant governor nominee, specifically, to help the gubernatorial nominee get elected. But in a roomful of Democrats, many of whom are skeptical of the lieutenant governor nominee’s Democratic bona fides, another part of doing the LG nominee’s job is to make the case for Democrats, for the Democratic Party, and for the Democratic platform*.
Lavallee has a great opportunity to make that case. Changing one’s lifelong voter registration could be viewed as a big deal. Lavallee could talk about how the complacency and unhealthily one-sided Republican discourse has led to such bad outcomes that she could not in good conscience remain a Republican. She could talk about the dysfunction she sees in the Republican party—a party choosing the least qualified out of seventeen applicants for the job of President in 2016; a party choosing a do-nothing beauty-queen Congresswoman instead of an experienced prosecutor with statewide executive management experience to run for Governor in 2018; a party pushing Democrats, third parties, Independents, and the people of South Dakota off the ballot. She could talk about the real harm her old Republican Party is doing to the state and the nation—tearing apart vital American alliances, flattering dictators, threatening South Dakota farmers with tariffs and trade wars, denying South Dakota workers and health care providers the proven benefits of Medicaid expansion, supporting anti-immigrant hate rallies that foment destructive racist attitudes and undermine our economic development.
Lavallee could then explain that the Democratic Party actively counters that dysfunction. The Democratic Party nominates the best and brightest, people who can actually do the job of governing rather than running government and civil institutions down. The Democratic Party defends the basic American interest in supporting our allies and calling out our enemies for their violations of human rights and global norms. The Democratic Party puts farmers and workers first, making trade policies based on careful study and negotiation rather than the impulse to grab headlines and prove how long our neckties are. The Democratic Party passes beneficial and humane policies like Medicaid expansion. And the Democratic Party stands against racism and prejudice, stands for the Constitutional principles that say all people in our nation are to be treated equally under the law, and recognizes the practical reality that immigrants have made our country great all along.
Republicans are harming America and South Dakota; Democrats will undo that harm and make our nation and our state better.
That story would certainly resonate with the Democratic base. It would also resonate with the independents and recovering Republicans at whom Lavallee directed her convention speech:
She seems like a great pick from every angle I can think of. No doubt a lot our state’s Dems are muttering a bit about the fact that Lavallee has up until recently been a registered Republican, but having ditched my GOP registration last fall to register as an Independent because I couldn’t identify with the party of Trump anymore, I find common cause with any former Republican who in recent months did the same thing. I hope the brilliant and highly accomplished Lavallee ends up sending the same message to our erstwhile party-mates as I did: You Pubs have gone off the deep end [John Tsitrian, “South Dakota’s Democratic Gubernatorial Ticket Just Got Interesting,” The Constant Commoner, 2018.06.14].
See, Michelle? It’s o.k. to swing the bat. Criticizing Republicans, calling them out for their clear errors, is not deadly to the Sutton–Lavallee ticket’s election chances. It’s actually what many people outside the party, like Tsitrian, are thinking.
You Pubs have gone off the deep end. That’s why John Tsitrian could no longer be a Republican. That’s why Michelle Lavallee could no longer be a Republican. That’s why Michelle Lavallee has joined the Democratic Party and will campaign passionately for Democrats up and down the ticket to fix the Republican mess… right, Michelle?
*We can excuse Lavallee and other nominees at last weekend’s convention for not addressing the platform, since we didn’t technically have a platform. We handled nominations Friday afternoon; we approved the 2018 platform Saturday afternoon.