Believe me: I base my sense of identity and purpose on far nobler principles and on relationships with far better people than the word-turds Republicans pitch my way.
But I think we can all derive some satisfaction and motivation from the fact that the South Dakota Republican Party would launch a whole PR campaign against little ol’ me and my little People Power Petition (now available! Call me! Come sign! Come circulate!). When Pat Powers heard my petition to restore the rights to petition that Republicans have taken away from you, he got so het up he put up two whole blog posts lying about this initiative, one from him, the other from his party bosses screaming “Don’t Sign on the Line!“… because we know Republicans hate it when dare take the reins of democracy into your own hands instead of letting them make all the decisions for you.
I’m one guy. As Republicans love to remind us, I can’t even win a local election. But I take out a ballot question petition, and their hair catches fire. It’s nice to know we can still make Republicans pay attention to the people.
Let’s dispense with the Republican lies about this People Power Petition right now.
1. Powers: “…it’s a sinister measure that is designed to set aside ballot and petition signature collection reforms…” Here Powers falsely co-opts the word “reform.” Initiative and referendum, the people’s constitutional right to put laws and constitutional amendments to a vote, was working fine for decades. But Republicans started getting annoyed that We the People would up and pass policies that they, the elite Club members in Pierre, didn’t want. So they starting making initiative and referendum harder: setting the petition deadline a whole year before the election, adding more delays to the process of launching a petition, piling bureaucracy onto citizens trying to exercise their right to petition…. Those measures aren’t reforms; they are sabotage.
2. Powers: the measure is designed “…to hide information from the voters.”
Rot. The People Power Petition hides no information. Anything you can find out now about a ballot measure, you can find out under this proposal.
The Attorney General’s explanation remains a public document, and petitioners are still required to have that explanation right on the front page of the petition they’re asking you to sign.
The Legislative Research Council’s fiscal note remains a public document. Circulators still are required to make it available to you. If they fail to do that, either in paper form or in some functional electronic form, they will be breaking the law and potentially voiding the signatures they collect.
In fact, the People Power Petition gives you more information than the current system. Section 7 repeals the 50-word limit on that fiscal note. Republicans say they want you to have more information about ballot measures, but they passed this senseless word limit in 2017 (SB 77) because they don’t want you to get a full explanation of the potential fiscal pluses and minuses of each ballot measure. The People Power Petition repeals the Republican effort to hide full fiscal analysis and helps you make more informed decisions.
3. Powers: “Confusing 30-page omnibus measures, which petition reforms did away with? They would return….”
There were no 30-page omnibus measures on the ballot, at least none that I can recall and none that voters have passed.
Powers refers here to the “single-subject” statute which Section 10 of the People Power Petition repeals. For 120 years, South Dakotans petitioned and voted on initiatives just fine without any single-subject rule in statute. The single-subject restriction, if not already enforced by the state constitution, is enforced by voters’ common sense: if they see a petition that tries to ban gay marriage and legalize pot and expand the Governor’s slush fund and raise the sales tax and do 26 other things, they’re probably going to say, No way, José!
The single-subject rule that the Republican Legislature passed last year in its ongoing heartburn over 2016’s lengthy Initiated Measure 22 actually doesn’t stop lengthy measures from going to the ballot. The People Power Petition itself, while only three pages (not counting signature lines) is somewhat long, in part because it has to include so much existing statutory language just to dig out the traps that Republicans have inserted into statute to sabotage initiative and referendum. Initiated Measure 22 could come back to the ballot: it did many things, but it dealt with the single subject of corruption in government.
Besides, the single-subject rule doesn’t stop the Legislature from passing 30-page omnibus bills. Recall Governor Dennis Daugaard’s 2013 criminal justice reform bill, Senate Bill 70: 33 pages in PDF format, dealing with parole, probation, drug laws, county funding, and ballot initiatives. Pat and the Republicans appear to be saying that legislators are smart enough to deal with complicated measures but you voters are not.
4. Powers: “…the bad guys like secrets. And they like hiring out-of-staters to do their dirty work.”
- I’m not a bad guy. A pain in the ass sometimes, yes, but not a bad guy.
- I don’t like secrets. The People Power Petition protects no secrets.
- I will not hire any out-of-staters to circulate my petitions. I don’t like the mercenary out-of-state circulators who have been deployed by real bad dudes like the payday lenders to fight real grassroots South Dakota initiatives. The People Power Petition leaves in place the ban on out-of-state circulators… although that prohibition is probably unconstitutional, so the courts will someday probably repeal it for us, without an initiative.
- Circulating petitions is not dirty work. Offering citizens a chance to vote is not dirty. It is democracy. I’m proud to do it, and I encourage others to do it.
5. Powers: Heidelberger and his backers are “out to bring back the bad ol’ days.”
The way ballot questions ran from their inception in the 1890s by Catholic priest Father Robert Haire were not bad old days. The petition process ran smoothly, without grave consequences for the Republic, for over a century. For Pat and the GOP, the “bad old days” are when people had more voice in their government. The “good new days” are when people sit down, shut up, and let the Republicans in The Club make all the decisions.
With the Republican lies out of the way, let’s get to work. Sign the People Power Petition. Circulate the People Power Petition. And keep no secrets: tell your neighbors exactly what the People Power Petition does, exactly why the Republicans hate this threat to their power so much, and exactly why we need to reclaim the rights we enjoyed and exercised intelligently and responsibly for over a century without big-government interference.