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Republican Legislator Shows Contempt for Volunteer Civic Engagement

There are more Republicans than Democrats in South Dakota, and even more elected Republicans than elected Democrats, so it’s perfectly statistically predictable that I would talk with more notable Republicans than Democrats at the South Dakota State Fair.

One Republican legislator paused at the SD Voice booth, where I was busy petitioning for the People Power Petition, an initiative that harkens back entirely to my own erstwhile conservatism, repealing unnecessary and ineffective laws that only overregulate the initiative process and depress citizen participation in petition drives.

“We aren’t depressing anything,” said this Republican legislator, in straight-faced defense of increased government regulation.

Thinking this Republican legislator may not understand the nature of grassroots democracy and the practical impact of the laws he and his party have passed (see 2018 HB 1177 and 2018 HB 1196), I tried educating him:

Suppose, I said, you decided you wanted to help circulate my petition. (I rolled my eyes heavenward to acknowledge the utter fancy of the suggestion.) You say, “Hey, I don’t have a lot of time to circulate, but I could take a petition or two back to camp, get my family and my RV neighbors to sign, and bring you back 10–15 signatures before the Fair closes.” For most of the 120+ years that the initiative process has existed in South Dakota and even as recently as two years ago, I could respond to such fresh volunteerism with a hearty, “No problem! Here’s a petition, here are some A.G. explanations, follow the instructions, then bring it back to my notary, and she’ll square you away. Thanks!” Boom—easy peasy! That’s how grassroots campaigns should work: helping lots of citizens each do a little bit to support democracy.

But under the new laws you’ve passed, I said, I have to tell you, “Hey, great! But first, I need you to give me your name, e-mail address, and phone number. I need to send that to Pierre. When the Secretary of State gets to the office on Tuesday, he’ll approve you to circulate. Then you have to write your info down on each one of these handouts, give one to each signer, then fill out this affidavit, tell me the last three places you’ve lived, attach your hunting license or library card or some other document with your current address, and send all of that to me. Thanks!

Even if you’re still willing to participate in the petition drive after all that rigamarole, you still can’t do what you offered to do, which is collect a few signatures from your camping buddies here at the Fair, because the Secretary of State won’t approve anyone until after the Fair is done. To be unable to recruit on-the-spot circulators at the highest-traffic event in the state on Labor Day weekend totally depresses volunteer participation.

“Well, you just need to plan ahead,” said the Republican legislator.

Plan ahead? Hmm… I wonder how this Republican legislator would feel if we told him that, in order to recruit fairgoers to volunteer to advertise “Trump 2020” and “Team Rounds” around the fairgrounds, his party had to “plan ahead” and require all potential cap- and backpack-wearers to sign up before they got to the fair?

Grassroots democracy depends on volunteers, and a lot of volunteers don’t plan ahead. Even if a grassroots campaign had the money to advertise prodigiously on every channel, it would still get a lot of its volunteers from unplanned face-to-face meetings at events, where we meet and educate people who had no idea the petition drive was happening, who learn the merits of what it’s about, and decide on the spot that they’d like to be a small part of the effort to help their community. To depress that kind of participation, the ability to move a citizen from zero to civics in two minutes, is truly depressing.

But such, it seems, is this Republican legislator’s view of the electorate. He and his party discourage citizens from civic engagement. We petitioners invite such engagement.

A democracy views the people with respect; a republic views the people as suspect.


  1. Donald Pay 2019-09-02 09:05

    Interesting. I agree with both of you.

    Democracy depends on grassroots organizing, which takes planning ahead. But, really, the ridiculous petitioning and deadline requirements and have nothing to do with planning ahead. All this new and unnecessary bureaucracy are tactics used by the corrupt elite that is meant to stifle petitioning for redress of grievances. That way they get to control the agenda, which, of course, means they get to continue their corruption.

    The behavior of the elites doesn’t have much to do with party. It has to do with elitism, patronage and corruption, and the use of governmental powers to further corruption. The elite in either party seemed most opposed to our efforts from the late 70s to the late 1990s. Chem-Nuclear had many powerful Democrats in leadership positions pushing their nuclear dump, including Chuck Kornmann, Gene Lebrun, Bill Dougherty, and Cheryl Kandaras. And they had many Republicans from the Governor on down. That fight was the bi-partisan elitists versus the bi-partisan grassroots. And the grassroots won.

    The reality is that the Republican Party has dominated the levers of political power for decades, so the corruption has become more partisan over the years. Corruption gravitates to the power centers. In other states, it’s the Democrats who control power, and graft. That’s why you need a vigilant and active citizenry willing to work across party lines to affect change. And that’s why the state adopted the Constitutional amendments bringing the initiative and referendum into existence.

  2. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-09-02 09:51

    That legislature is just stupid enough to actually believe the restrictions are an improvement. One could reasonably label him/her/it a “knucklehead.”

  3. bearcreekbat 2019-09-02 09:57

    This seems to reflect the tactics of most Trumpist Republican arguments I hear and read these days (along with a few others here on DFP) – make an incorrect assertion and when called out on the falsity of the assertion, dodge and weave by trying to change the argument altogether:

    “We aren’t depressing anything,”

    As soon as Cory explained why such a statement was factually incorrect, the Republican legislator dodged and weaved:

    “Well, you just need to plan ahead,”

    Apparently, no acknowledgement that the first claim was false and insufficient to justify the objected to behavior, just an attempt to redirect. How can anyone have a rational policy discussion with someone who makes incorrect factual claims to justify a policy and then changes horses in mid stream rather than reconsidering the policy when he learns that his initial claim is in fact mistaken?

  4. Donald Pay 2019-09-02 10:31

    The lesson, I think, is don’t bother trying to convince corrupt legislators with rational argument. It’s a waste of time and effort. They understand power only, and the best power is people power. They know that, which is why they come up with unconstitutional ways to interfere with people petitioning to redress grievances. Just keep collecting signatures and let the corrupt politicians yammer on about “planning.”

  5. Porter Lansing 2019-09-02 11:21

    “I give up.”
    One could explain the analysis of why SD is the way it is but Republicans don’t want to hear it and Democrats don’t need to hear it. The state is exactly the way the majority wants it to be. As the long time lobbyist grudznick says, “In Pierre, if it needs to get done, it gets done. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
    I’m not leaving, but my path is now nonviolent resistance. No predictions and no more advice.

  6. Gideon Oakes 2019-09-02 11:26

    Ronald Reagan once famously said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

    Now the SDGOP is essentially saying, “We’re from the government, so we’ll do the thinking for you.”

    This is all part of a predictable, orchestrated effort by a party that has a supermajority in both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose when people get directly involved with their government.

    Make no mistake, this is literally a battle of Power vs. the People.

  7. Paul harens 2019-09-02 18:05

    Does this new law include petitioners for public office?

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 18:57

    Of course not, Paul. We can trust our legislators. It’s only those folks trying to change the law directly who are to be viewed with suspicion and contempt.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-02 18:57

    Well put, Gideon! You should be in charge of a political movement!

  10. Debbo 2019-09-02 21:39

    “Make no mistake, this is literally a battle of Power vs. the People.”

    Gideon is exactly right. The legislator was a bloviating bozo.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-03 06:57

    Donald is right that we do have to plan. A grassroots campaign can’t be all random, waiting for the sun to shine. However, we should be able to plan to take advantage of newly educated volunteers who offer to help on the spot. No amount of planning will allow us to capture that sort of spontaneous volunteer response under the current rules.

  12. Ken 2019-09-03 09:02

    Always remember one thing. Republicans everywhere will lie, cheat and obfuscate endlessly in oder to stay in office. We’re in the most gerrymandered state in the nation, the proof being that SD goes in no direction but backwards. When you threaten the existence of the thieves in Pierre in any way, they’ll move heaven and earth to block your path, and rest assured, they aren’t done doing so yet. Not by a long shot. We’re always 20 years behind any progressive state you can name, and yes, you’ll hear people complain about that, but every time an election rolls around, these red-voting Neanderthals just keep putting the same liars and thieves right back in power again and again.

    When I came here in 1974, there was a dozen of us all from the same area that did the same thing. All of them left within an 8 year time span. I was the only idiot that thought this place would someday embrace change and progress. Let me tell you, the ones who left this place shrinking in their rear view mirrors were the smart ones. When you can still find people living here that have never crossed a border of this state in their lives and still flatly refuse to do so, progress seems like it’s about 3 generations away from happening.

  13. Moses6 2019-09-03 09:58

    Keep up the good fight those republicans , want one rule Government.They want you to be quiet.

  14. Steve Pearson 2019-09-03 11:29

    Ken, it would be great if you left. Because your stupidity and mindless statements are asinine.

  15. Steve Pearson 2019-09-03 11:44

    I swear, by reading all of your comments or watching MSM about the state of the country as a whole, the out of state person or foreigner would think that driving down the street of Sioux Falls, or walking in a park, eating at a restaurant in SD would be the most hellish, angry, racist and miserable experience in the world. That govt is collapsed and destroying everything….yet we have a solid fiscal state. You’d think that minorities are strung up, or attacked, hated and/or their lifes are worse than anything imaginable. Yet, the streets are calm. People go to work and come home after. Kids are in school. Sports activities are everywhere. Shopping areas are bustling. Unemployment really non-existent. Places like Sioux Falls have a wide range of ethnicities and NO hate crimes. Crazy.

  16. Debbo 2019-09-03 11:44

    And Pearson is the perfect illustration of Ken’s comment.

  17. Steve Pearson 2019-09-03 11:45

    Only to your crazy ass. All of you really should get professional mental help.

  18. Steve Pearson 2019-09-03 11:57

    And I’m continually amazed in how it’s “Republicans” that are all liars, corrupt, evil, etc. Demoncrats are perfect, caring, compassionate, speak truth….blah. Get real.

    The creator of this Blog is a known anger crazed lefty. Fired for fighting with a CHILD. Using awful language. Changed the name of his old blog because of who he is and what he’s done so “dakotafreepress” sounds professional….LOL. Attacks the right, attacks Christians but all the while he is the angry, condescending hate Christians leftist who would love to see Republicans strung up and killed. In his heart is hate.

  19. Debbo 2019-09-03 12:31

    Thanks for making my point Stevie. I’ll just leave you to keep it up. 😊

  20. bearcreekbat 2019-09-03 12:34

    It is telling when one person decides he is the only sane person in the room and that every other person needs help; “All of you really should get professional mental help.”

    Here are six indicators that the problem isn’t everyone else, it’s you. . . .

    Everyone else is an idiot. Seriously. How can people be so stupid all the time? . . . They’re all boneheads who don’t know what they want or what’s good for them. You feel like the one intelligent person who was dropped into a land of imbeciles.

    If everyone around you is so dumb you can barely handle it, the problem is likely you.

    . . . maybe you’re not the smartest person in the world. You need to learn to listen and realize that maybe you’re not right about everything.

  21. Donald Pay 2019-09-03 13:11

    Well, Steve’s point is that things could be worse. Yeah, that’s true. If it wasn’t for South Dakota citizens, combined as conservative-liberal alliances using the initiative and referendum, the state would have become the nation’s dumping ground for nuclear and solid waste. The same conservatism that makes the state backwards is also at work against the state’s elite’s plans to use the rural areas as a dumping ground for New Jersey garbage or the nation’s nuclear waste. The elite in this state would have paved every rural acre in pig feces, but thanks to conservative and liberal grassroots citizen approaches, that has been markedly delayed and kept to a minimum thus far.

    I worked with far too many Republicans to think they are corrupt. Some are, most aren’t. Republicans have the burden of being the head of a one party state. As with all such states, whether Democrat-led or Republican-led, the party in power is going to be targeted and captured by one or another special interests, the politicians are going to become arrogant and unresponsive and government is going to become secretive and conspiratorial. It doesn’t take a lot of bad apples to corrupt a state.

  22. Debbo 2019-09-03 13:27

    It just takes a susceptible and willing leadership. The SDGOP qualifies.

  23. mike from iowa 2019-09-03 13:27

    US manufacturing contracted for the first time in three years. Dow was down over 400 points. The only thing Drumpf has any credibility with is making bad things worse.

  24. o 2019-09-03 13:45

    Part of Steve’s particularly unhinged tirade bothers me; the fact that if one calls out one party or side or tribe, the assumption is that that objector must be a member of the opposing party/side/tribe. It is the constant reminder that US politics is all about campaigning and never about governance. It is campaign rhetoric mode ALL the time. Everything has to be the zero-sum argument that gains only when the other party/side/tribe looses.

  25. o 2019-09-03 13:55

    MFI- and as I am reminded after watching season one of Billions (wonderful show), even in economic downturns, the investor class can still make PILES of money off the losses.

    Fueling the .1% and creating the investor class (while destroying the working/middle class) will be the downfall of this nation.

  26. mike from iowa 2019-09-03 14:11

    Cory, John T, David Newqwuist and others mind your topknots. Drumpf’s buddies are pooling millions of dollars to look for dirt on reporters and I am guessing the reporters they are looking at are not Drumpf friendly.

    If you aren’t kissing orange fat arse, you are an enemy of the state, and my heroes.

  27. David Newquist 2019-09-03 17:35

    Mike from Iowa,
    Duly noted. Journalistic groups are keeping members supplied with detailed information so that they can write comprehensive reports on the anti-press activities. At this point, the cronies are focused on reporters from the major media that has reporters in the White House. Their plan seems to be to find reasons to pull White House press credentials.

  28. mike from iowa 2019-09-03 18:09

    Sounds like Nixon redux. I miss the nattering nabobs of negativity I guess were conjured up by Crook Spiro Agnew.

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