My friend and newshound Dave Baumeister is circulating an editorial column called Nobody Asked Me. In his most recent column, Baumeister rebuts Rep. Jon Hansen’s assertion that my petition drive to refer Hansen’s House Bill 1094, the onerous and unconstitutional petition circulator registry and badge plan, is really just a plot on behalf of the “out-of-state liberal allies” whom Hansen imagines I have. Baumeister notes that big-money groups, liberal, conservative, or otherwise, “have the money and logistical support to circumvent… HB 1094, but the local grassroots in-state petitioners will not.” Baumeister also contends that Hansen’s plan to stifle ballot measures is meant to prevent any check on conservative groups’ influence on Hansen and the Legislature:
There are just as many conservative groups that want their agenda in the state, but all they have to do now is throw their attentions and/or payola the way of the supermajority of Republicans, like Hansen, in the state legislature [Dave Baumeister, “HB 1094 Tries to Undo 111 Years of SD History,” Nobody Asked Me, 2019.06.18].
As Judge Kornmann noted in overturning Initiated Measure 24 last month, ballot measures provide a vital tool to members of the political minority to check the overreach of a supermajority party that has captured all three branches of state government. The frequent progressive outcomes of ballot question votes (rejecting abortion bans, protecting labor rights for teachers, raising and protecting the minimum wage, capping payday loan rates at 36%) show that when we get South Dakotans away from the effective if empty partisan branding of the SDGOP, they tend to vote more liberally than the ideological make-up of the Legislature would suggest they would. Ballot measures thus provide representation to widespread grassroots South Dakota beliefs and priorities that don’t get much of a hearing in Pierre.
But Hansen ignores the fact that I want to protect access to ballot measures for all South Dakotans, not just people who agree with my political priorities. Hansen ignores the fact that ten years from now, when I’m in my second term as Governor and my supermajority Democratic Legislature is sending me all sorts of good bills to sign—expanding Medicaid as a public option to all South Dakotans, taxing oil pipelines and trusts, creating a South Dakota version of PACER to make all court documents available on the Web, redirecting all Future Fund grants to K-12 education—Hansen and his woeful conservative pals will be moaning and crying for some sort of check on my imperial power. I’ll contact my conservative friends who helped me in my 2019 petition drive (yes, there are several) and tell them to remind Jon Hansen that he can take out initiative and referendum petitions and seek support for all the conservative checks on my power he wants.
And since I’ll have effectively repealed the circulator registry, Hansen won’t have to worry that I’ll intercept his conservative circulators’ applications to the state registry and have my staff DM them on Instagram to warn them away from doing something that might make the powerful Governor unhappy. Hansen and his fellow conservatives will find it just as easy to circulate ballot measure petitions to check a liberal Governor and Legislature as I want it to be for South Dakota’s liberals, moderates, and honest Libertarians to check the opportunist RINOs and hypocritical theocrats who hold power in Pierre right now.
See? The effort to refer Jon Hansen’s circulator registry and badging program is an equal-opportunity petition drive, offering all South Dakotans, regardless of their political stripes, the chance to protect their rights and make their voices heard at the ballot. I don’t care what burr is under your political saddle: if you want to put something to a vote, you should be able to circulate a petition without waiting for Jon Hansen’s or any other government flunky’s permission.
The conservative dominance of the Legislature that Baumeister notes isn’t guaranteed to last forever, Jon. You need to govern not for the moment and not for your own agenda, Representative Hansen, but from behind the veil of ignorance, from the assumption that at any time, you could fall from the comfortable majority into the minority you currently think you can safely oppress.
The misperception that the initiative and referendum is a tool of out-of-state liberals comes about because of changes in the initiative process made in the last twenty years, and the near total dominance of the Republican Party over that same period. The misperception is unfortunate, because over most of its history, the initiative has been used in a non-political or multi-ideological way.
I’m most familiar with initiative efforts in the 1980s and 1990s. Initiative organizing efforts then centered around the lessons learned by the opponents of the Oahe Irrigation Project. Those opponents came from all political directions. Subsequent efforts on other issues had the benefit of knowing how to organize a broad coalition effort on issues of concern to everyone. In most of the initiative efforts of the 80s and 90s there was a concerted effort to bring together liberals and conservatives on issues of concern. From the uranium mining ban in 1980 to the mining and corporate farming issues in the 1990s, broad coalitions working on initiative campaigns united people with various political ideologies. And there were other efforts during that period which united races. The Cowboy and Indian Alliance was one such effort.
Most of the issues involved coalitions of the politically most conservative with the politically most liberal against the middle. We could have never have beaten the Chem-Nuclear dump without strong support of several conservatives, including Ray Lautenschlauger and Ruth Kern. Ray brought forward the idea of conservative’s 10th Amendment concerns and he worked tirelessly to bring forward an alternative to the Janklow administration approach. That was key in how we approached the issue. Working is such coalitions allows people to understand and appreciate the points of view of others.
The surface mining issue was probably the broadest coalition of all. It had the whole spectrum of political views involved. It wasn’t just the conservative and liberal wings against the center. The center was probably the most concerned with insufficiently regulated mining as it would affect water quality and property values. Many in the center did not want to be out-front on the issue, though, especially not initially. Many were business folks who feared retribution. They were content to let us rabble rousers carry the water for them. That was one reason why I initially didn’t get involved in the mining issue.
In the local initiative that Hughes County voters brought to deny water to the National Farms giant hog farm I was approached by a member of the Mickelson cabinet who told me we had more support in the government than we knew. In that case we had supporters within the administration that was pushing the project.
The initiative process provides a check on a government that thinks it doesn’t need to listen to the wisdom of its citizens. I think Governor Mickelson got it. Even though we lost three surface mining initiatives he would go on to address many of the problems we brought up, and he accepted the results of the solid waste initiative. The initiative did what it was supposed to do, make government responsive to its citizens on issues of broad concern. It can do that even if the initiative loses.
On SDPB this noon, I believe it was Noel Hamiel who said he doesn’t think the intent of the Legislature in passing restrictions on initiative and referendum is to shut South Dakotans out of the process. He’s obviously not paying attention to the actual effect of the laws.
Great examples, Donald! I find it interesting that every petition I’ve sponsored has clear cross-partisan appeal. Initiative and referendum isn’t just a check on the Legislature and one-party rule; it’s a check on partisan thinking. When initiative and referendum are done right, we get past party labels and engage voters in real policy analysis. That aspect of I&R goes back to my fundamental position that ballot measures are about respecting the dignity of voters: South Dakotans are better than partisan politics. We are smarter than labels and slogans. We want and deserve the chance to discuss real policies and real impacts on real life rather than having elections become just one more sports match or “reality” TV contest.
What the SDGOP has done is make it more difficult for Any South Dakotan to refer or initiate Anything. They’ve made it just as difficult for an extreme, far right, wingnut, wacko as for anyone who is liberal.
For the SDGOP it’s all about keeping the people in the dark so they can do whatever they want in Pierre. They want citizens to butt the hell out of government.
For the SDGOP it’s all and entirely about POWER.
Didnt hear sdbp program but diluted public radio carries water for republics much of the time.