The Libertarian Party of South Dakota has 1,905 registered voters, 0.348% of the state’s total active voter pool. Thus, Job #1 for South Dakota’s Libertarians is to recruit new members. (That’s Job #1 for any political party, isn’t it?)
What better way to positively raise a party’s profile in an election-off year than to get involved with petition drives and put not one but two initiatives reflecting the party’s values to a statewide vote? Two pro-cannabis campaigns walked into the Secretary of State’s office yesterday with petitions claiming to have enough signatures to place medical marijuana and general legalization of pot and hemp on the 2020 ballot, and Libertarian Party chair Gideon Oakes is saying his party helped those petition drives succeed:
“South Dakotans, by nature, are an independent bunch,” said Gideon Oakes, state chairman of the LPSD. “From firearm ownership to freedom of religion, and to the ingestion of plants, we don’t appreciate government telling us what we can and can’t do in our personal lives.
Members of the LPSD worked alongside New Approach and SDBML in passing petitions, including Devin Saxon, who gathered more than 900 signatures.
Saxon, of Lennox, spent many hours collecting those signatures, fueled by optimism that his efforts could lead not only to legalization of marijuana next year, but perhaps a change in the way the state views hemp, CBD oil and other cannabis-related products.
“South Dakota is a top-tier state in which to reside, and our residents continue to push for the expansion of free markets as well as an end to a costly drug war,” Saxon said [Libertarian Party of South Dakota, press release, 2019.11.04].
Saxon is also the Libertarians’ communications officer. He and Oakes both know how to grab these ballot measures and turn them into advertisements for the values of their party. By citing their consistent support for personal liberty, limited government, and free markets, Oakes and Saxon perfectly distinguish their party’s true conservative values from their main competition for conservative voters, the South Dakota Republican Party, which rabidly opposed and ridiculed the petition drives.
Saxon and Oakes also take this opportunity to portray their party as an opportunity for citizens to engage and change South Dakota politics:
Saxon urged those interested in this topic, as well as other civil liberties, to get involved in the political process and register as a Libertarian.
“Perhaps one day legislators will follow suit. But until that day, get out and vote next November,” Saxon said. “We will be the change we want to see” [LPSD, 2019.11.04].
Readers wishing to play philosophical word games may ask the Libertarians how they can claim to be “conservative” while advocating for “change.” Oakes and Saxon can deftly avoid such persnickets by pointing out that, with these petitions, they are advocating for change away from the restrictions supported by the hypocritical Republican Party and back to a more rational, limited role for government in medicine and the market.
But the prime message here is that Oakes and Saxon show that they understand how to use ballot measures to build their party: latch onto issues that publicize your party’s values, actively circulate petitions to establish yourself as a useful ally of the sponsoring organizations, be seen on the streets as an active and effective advocate for policy change and voters’ rights, and then invite those tens of thousands of people who supported the petition drive to multi-tuple your party’s registration.
Related Reading: Melissa Mentele, sponsor of the medical marijuana initiative, claims to have submitted 35,180 signatures, 107.4% more than the 16,961 required to place a proposed law on the 2020 ballot. Brendan Johnson, sponsor of the broader constitutional amendment to legalize medical and recreational marijuana and industrial hemp, claims to have submitted 53,377 signatures, 57.4% more than the 33,921 required to place a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot.