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Cunningham Seeks SD Dem Chair, Offers Recruitment/Budget Objectives

John Cunningham
John Cunningham

Speaking of intraparty opposition, Ann Tornberg faces a challenger in her bid to remain boss of the South Dakota Democratic Party. John Cunningham of Sioux Falls told the party Friday that he intends to run for chair at the party’s March 23 election.

Like me and like our lieutenant governor candidate in 2018, Cunningham used to be a Republican. Now a retired government finance official and global consultant with a Harvard master’s degree in public administration, Cunningham lays out his plan to get other South Dakotans to see the light, join the right party, and reverse the South Dakota Democratic Party’s long decline:

John Cunningham has announced he has submitted his application to be chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party. He grew up on a farm near Parker, attended a one-room country school and graduated from the University of South Dakota and has a master of public administration (MPA) from Harvard University and is a recognized expert in total quality management (TQM), customer service, and tax policy. His career was in local government finance with consulting assignments in Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. He was a long-time Republican who has converted to progressive ideas. He grew up Catholic and now understands why people said “converts are more Catholic than the Pope”. He has worked for several years creating Young Democrat clubs and doubled the number in the state. For the past decade, Republicans have out-registered Democrats by (four?) to one. As a result, the Democratic Party is at its lowest point in history. This cannot continue. To reverse this trend, he plans a series of changes to the party operations.

  1. Establish a plan. The party currently has no plan. It has the very beginnings of a plan with a mission statement. However, the party has no goals, no objectives and no action plan to accomplish the (missing) objectives. Every successful business has a plan. Without a plan including goals and objectives to meet, an organization cannot be successful, and the current state of the Democratic Party in South Dakota is an example of what results from a lack of planning. His plan has four goals to support the mission and the objectives to meet them.
    1. Goal 1. Increase the number of Democratic elected officials in South Dakota. This goal supports the mission.
      1. Objective 1. Increase the number of Democratic legislators by two each election.
      2. Objective 2. Increase the number of local elected Democratic officials by two each election.
    2. Goal 2. Halt the decrease in Democratic registrations and reverse the downward trend.
      1. Objective 3. By the 2020 general election ensure that we have at least 160,000 registered Democrats in South Dakota
      2. Objective 4. Increase the number of registered Democrats by 5,000 each general election thereafter.
    3. Goal 3. Increase the number of voters who vote Democrat (including Republicans and Independents)
      1. Objective 5. Increase the average votes per legislator to 3,500 for general election 2020 (currently 3,305) and to 3,800 by general election 2022.
    4. Goal 4. Increase funding for party operations to support the above objectives.
      1. Objective 6. Raise an additional $15,000 per year dedicated to a marketing campaign (see action plan).
      2. Objective 7. Increase Founders Club contributions by $10,000 per year.

Action Plan to accomplish the objectives.

For objectives 1-5, create a marketing plan designed to create a favorable impression of the Democratic Party in the minds of potential new voters (mostly young people). Currently they are taught that “Government is bad and Democrats are the party of big government; taxes are bad and Democrats are the party of high taxes; abortion and gun control are bad and for these reasons you should have nothing to do with that evil party”. The registration statistics show that this has been highly effective in getting new voters to avoid registering Democrat. We must aggressively counter this with an advertising campaign of our own. This plan will be called “Spread the Word”.

For objectives 6 and 7, the plan itself will support these objectives. With no plan for how to spend the money, prosperous Democrats have avoided contributing sizable amounts to the party. Currently there are only six donors to the Founders Club with more than $100 per month (out of 411). With an actual plan, it will be possible to approach those people to contribute to a fund for the Spread the Word plan and to support the party’s Founders Club for administering the plan.

Change the headquarters’ orientation, making it much more customer service oriented and transparent. Its mission, and the mission of the chair, must be to SUPPORT the party, not DIRECT it.

Change the budget process to a planning/performance budget. The budget will provide the Central Committee with costs and expected measurable objectives for each program or project. That way the Committee can assign performance expectations and annually determine if the progress toward those objectives is acceptable. We recently approved a half million dollar budget that did not identify any positive outcomes. No one on the committee can state what they actually purchased for a half million dollars except to keep the doors open. That is why donors are skeptical of making substantial contributions. The one program is a tribal organizer but the Committee was not told the cost, nor the expected outcome (500 votes? 5,000 votes, 15,000 votes?). By failing to establish objectives for success, the headquarters avoided failure for not meeting those objectives. Anything can be called success, or the subject avoided altogether. This is a common situation among failed organizations [John Cunningham, statement, received by Dakota Free Press 2019.01.06].

Cunningham ran for Minnehaha County Commission last fall, placing last among six candidates for three seats. Cunningham traveled to Pierre last Session to testify against Neal Tapio’s racist and unconstitutional refugee ban. Cunningham also confronted Tapio in January when the former Watertown Senator and U.S. House candidate disrupted the Interfaith event in the Rotunda with his anti-Islam propaganda.


  1. Porter Lansing 2019-01-07

    Good luck, Mr. Cunningham.

  2. Debbo 2019-01-07

    He’s absolutely right about needing a specific plan, rather than merely hoping things get better. If there is a detailed current plan, does anyone know what it is?

  3. JW 2019-01-07

    Having struggled mightily with legitimate planning processes, reviewing the listed partial plan certainly seems to follow the critical elements of both strategic and operational planning. Time sensitive, measurable and reasonably achievable objectives.. If this is what it takes to neuter the outrageous right’s control of every facet of government and peoples lives in this state, then I’m all in even though I’m an independent.

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