I’ve suggested that the proper response to the South Dakota Democratic Party’s insolvency is to form a new opposition party, an active, inclusive organization which would not have to throw every dollar it raises for the next year into the black hole of past mistakes.
Kevin Woster suggests the opposite: instead of forming a new party, he urges Dems to join South Dakota’s only effective party, the Republicans, and wrangle for change from within the monolith as a new wing of “progressive Republicans”:
If you want to make a difference in South Dakota politics as a Democrat, register Republican. And you can do that by degrees.
You can register Republican just for primaries, and vote for the candidate or candidates you prefer. Then you’ll be part of an intermittent GOP progressive movement. Like an intermittent stream, if will flow only at certain times of the year, most commonly in the spring, around primary season.
Thousands of intermittent Republicans could change the overall flow of politics, and selection of candidates, in certain legislative districts and perhaps statewide. That matters. And it could matter a lot in some instances.
But the real impact would come if thousands — even tens of thousands — of Democrats actually became Republicans and committed themselves to being progressive members of the party. For most that could simply mean voting their conscience and contributing to candidates that reflect it. But for others it could mean getting active in the party structure at the county level and at the state level, and showing up for state conventions to try to shape or at least influence the platform — and to select nominees for certain general-election races [Kevin Woster, “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Would the Chance to Make a Difference Be Worth Leaving the Democratic Party?” SDPB: On the Other Hand, 2019.09.11].
Woster says sacrificing the Democratic label would be “difficult” to “impossible” for strong liberal Democrats like me because our principles wouldn’t let us adopt the R label. I contend it would be impossible for strong liberal Demcorats like me to adopt Woster’s strategy because the Republicans would see me coming and never let a known liberal into any voting position in the county party or at convention.
Woster’s recommendation is also shaky in the examples he offers of “progressive Republicans”: Billie Sutton, Scott Heidepriem, and David Knudson. Woster says Heidepriem and Knudson “were thoughtful lawmakers who operated with reason and without the sharp-edges of extremism,” and I get the sense he’d say the same words about Sutton. But all three failed to win statewide races. Knudson provides a particularly useful example: He appeared to test Woster’s hypothesis by running as a Republican for Governor and came in third in the GOP primary.
“Progressives” may run into a brick wall running under their true Democratic colors in South Dakota, but we won’t get any further running in Republican primaries. Republican leaders will pull out our old blog posts to alert the faithful, they’ll intensify their opposition to letting independents vote in their primaries, and our real base of Democrats will mostly shrug at participating in a GOP primary and keep tuning out and moving away.
Dr. David Newquist says following Woster’s suggestion of infiltrating the SDGOP would only reinforce the failure of open democracy in South Dakota:
However, his idea is an acknowledgement that what is actually dead in the state is democratic rule. His advice to the remnants of the Democratic Party is to submit to the conquerers and make their progressive sallies within the single, ruling party, so that they can be controlled and dismissed internally and never heard in public on a legislative floor. The South Dakota GOP legislature has a record of punishing dissent within its caucus and will not tolerate even minor differences of opinion [David Newquist, “The Democratic Party Didn’t Die. Democracy Did,” Northern Valley Beacon, 2019.09.15].
Under Newquist’s diagnosis, Woster’s prescription promises no better results than the same-old same-old that Woster deems untenable for responsible progressives:
The alternative for Democrats seems to be more of the same — more self-deluded dreams of election upsets that never come true and continued dominance by the Republican super majority, which seems more and more influenced by an ultra-conservative philosophy.
Down that more-of-the-same road lies the madness or repetitious failure for Democrats. But there’s another road, one that could lead Democrats to a meaningful role in shaping the future of this state.
As Republicans [Woster, 2019.09.11].
Far be it from me to keep trying something that doesn’t work and shows no prospect of working. But abandoning one ineffective plan for another is still a bad plan.
If Newquist is right, then there’s no hope. Move to Minneapolis. Woster at least clings to his belief that sensible change is possible; I’m just not convinced his plan for change will work. Republicans will sniff out Ds in R-clothing as quickly as they’ll sniff out Ds in DFL clothing or any other merely rebranded cabal of the same old Democratic Party faithful.
So since we can’t get to breakfast without hope, maybe there’s another route to minor revolution, a route that quietly accommodates Woster’s recipe. Maybe instead of a new second party, advocates of change could form their own loose association of donors, activists, and volunteers who find the status quo of back-scratching, good-old-boy monolithery unhealthy in South Dakota politics. Maybe those do-better-ers can pool their resources and identify candidates of all stripes who promise to buck the in-bred caucus and focus on solving problems. Instead of forming a party with all the trappings of a constitution and platform and conventions and nominated candidates, those change agents remain a political action committee with no partisan affiliation, no beholdenness to any national committee, no striving to attend any national convention, and no effort to take over any party. This PAC would simply save progressive donor dollars from irrelevance and quietly back real changemakers.
There is no easy solution here. Forming and funding a non-aligned PAC to push pragmatic candidates to positions of power in Pierre is probably no easier than playing Woster’s RINO game and hoping the Noem/Lederman clique (not to mention our consciences) doesn’t see it coming. But thinking of a solution is more fun than surrender.