The Brown County Democrats hosted a forum for candidates for South Dakota Democratic Party chair last night at the beautiful K.O. Lee Public Library in downtown Aberdeen. My 2,800+ words’ worth of notes provide fodder for multiple blog posts and perhaps cogitation by the several dozen voting members of the SDDP State Central Committee who will show up in Oacoma Saturday to elect their next chair.
I would like to focus here on one claim made by chair candidate Allison Renville, of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. A centerpiece of Renville’s campaign for chair is that the South Dakota Democratic Party needs to address South Dakota’s racism and prejudice by electing leaders more representative of Indians, young people, non-aligned progressives, and others who could provide vital support to Democratic goals.
Last night Renville said evidence of South Dakota’s racism lies in the fact that 50,000 South Dakotans who voted for Billie Sutton for Governor in 2018 couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the two Native American candidates standing with Sutton on the statewide ballot.
Renville’s claim overstates the evidence of racism in the 2018 election returns.
Sutton was indeed the most popular Democratic candidate for Governor in this century, and his opponent, Kristi Noem, was the least popular. However, Sutton’s relatively effective (read: not as big a failure as his predecessors’) campaign failed to spill over and boost any Democrat, Indian, white, or otherwise.
|2018 statewide candidate||votes for||total vote||votes against||vote %|
|avg white non-Sutton||122,718||319,394||196,676||38.42%|
Alexandra and Wayne Frederick certainly suffered the greatest drop-off from Sutton’s total, 48,570 and 52,431, respectively.
However, the average drop-off from Sutton’s total for all seven non-Sutton statewide Democratic candidates was 41,895. The only statewide Democratic candidate who did not lose more than 40,000 Sutton voters was Randy Seiler, who campaigned at least as hard as Tim Bjorkman, faced an idiot for an opponent, and lost only 15,952 Sutton voters. On average, 22,080 voters who cast gubernatorial votes did not bother to vote for any statewide candidate below that line.
From this evidence, no one can assert that 50,000 Sutton voters were too racist to vote for Indian candidates on the same ballot. The vast majority of that drop-of is explained by relative effectiveness of campaigns of Democrats and their opponents, the dominance of the Republican brand, and the inattention of voters to second-tier races (quick question: how many voters even knew what the candidates for Secretary of State and Public Utilities Commission looked like?).
There is most certainly racism in South Dakota. Alexandra and Wayne Frederick experienced that racism on the campaign trail. Racism likely cost the Fredericks votes that some of their white Democratic ticketmates won. But the fact that four out of five Sutton voters who snubbed the Lakota Fredericks also rebuffed their white Democratic ticketmates indicates that much of the Sutton drop-off is more simply and logically explained by electoral factors other than racism.
Related Stats: Alexandra Frederick won 48,570 fewer votes than Sutton. Tom Cool won 47,753 fewer votes than Sutton. Frederick and Cool are running as a team for SDDP vice-chair and chair.