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Lawrence: SD Dems Need to Synergize with Ballot Measures

With the House’s close vote Tuesday to place sports betting in Deadwood on the November ballot, we now have three ballot measures to spice up the general election. Tom Lawrence says Democrats once again have an opportunity to build their brand by getting behind these arguably popular and practical ballot measures:

These are real political issues. The Democrats, who have been in disarray for the last few years, even more so than usual, have not seized the high ground, both in the case of legal pot and now sports betting.

Instead, they shuffle along, making as little noise as possible, afraid to irritate their Republican brethren, who have become used to lording over their political rivals.

What if the Democrats fully embraced these issues? What if they endorsed recreational and medical marijuana and had a plan for how to, um, roll it out?

How about crafting a plan for legalizing sports gambling and dedicating a chunk of the state’s share for schools, roads, assisted living facilities in small towns or other pressing matters?

How about trying to seize the lead, to taking a firm stand on something? If you don’t stand for something, you will continue to fall at the polls [Tom Lawrence, “South Dakota Democrats, There’s a Glimmer of Hope: Own the Ballot Issues That Voters Agree with and Improve Your Odds,” South Dakota Standard, 2020.03.05].

Even David Owen says South Dakotans like ballot measures. They offer an opportunity to get South Dakotans thinking outside the party labels and personality politics on which the Republican Party relies and into the instructive and helpful policy discussions that bring to the surface moderate, practical, and hence (in South Dakota, for sure) Democratic thinking.


  1. Mark 2020-03-06 07:59

    Thinking outside the box…..
    As stated in a previous comment on
    a similar subject, Since 2014 Colorado has generated 1 Billion, that’s Billion with a B , 1000 million
    in revenue from adult purchased and
    recreationally used cannabis products.
    Hello , hello … ????

  2. Bob Newland 2020-03-06 09:30

    Beginning in 1997, and continuing for about 15 years, I sponsored about seven ballot issues and ran for office at least four times on pro-cannabis platforms. All during that time, the Democrats refused to endorse any of my initiatives or planks.

    Finally, in a stunning reversal of their usual stupidity, the Republicans decided they had to do it. And the Democrats are still lukewarm.

    Shake my head.

  3. Donald Pay 2020-03-06 10:30

    Meh. I’m coming at this from a different perspective, one of having brought initiatives with bipartisan support from grassroots individuals who often were at odds with some or all of the big shots in both parties . We never thought any political party support was important for the success or failure of our initiatives. I mean, sure, the advocates of these measures will seek support from both parties, and each party can decide what they support and don’t support. We addressed the platform committees, but we never thought it was critical to our efforts to get any parties’ support. We looked at it as a way to educate people on our issue.

    When we brought our initiatives, we had support from individuals in both parties, but we also had opposition from individuals in both parties. A position on specific measures is often different from identifying with a particular political ideology or party.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-06 17:52

    I appreciate the non-partisan nature of ballot measures, Donald, but I also appreciate that Democrats can play to the crowd on ballot measures in general, showing that they are the party of the people, supporting their right to vote on issues, while the Republican Party works to take that right away. Specific ballot measures aren’t partisan, but the process itself seems to fall now along partisan lines: Democrats want democracy, Republicans don’t.

  5. Debbo 2020-03-06 20:41

    “How about trying to seize the lead, to taking a firm stand on something?”

    This is what I was saying last election. Democrats, be Democrats! South Dakotans favor Democratic policies so lead with those policies.

    Don’t be afraid of being pro cannabis. You might be astonished at the number of old people who want weed to soothe their aches, pains and anxieties.

    Don’t be afraid to be pro choice, pro women. SD has voted down two anti choice, anti women laws. Perhaps Sutton’s lack of support for women led to a lack of support for him, enough to cost him the election?

    Don’t be afraid to be pro schools. Don’t be afraid to be DEMOCRATS. Dem. O. Crats. Stop with the SDGOP Lite crap. It’s a loser over and over again. Be Democrats. Take on some of these issues people are passionate about.

  6. Donald Pay 2020-03-06 22:08

    I’m not aware that there is that much difference between the parties on gambling issues. I know I would vote no on sports betting. On pot, I would expect there is a bit more of a difference between the parties. However, most people don’t have pot as one of their top ten issues, so I’m not sure what you gain. I suppose you might gain a bit in certain demographics, and it might drive some folks to the polls who might not otherwise vote.

    What does “fully embrace these issues” really mean? About the most you are going to get is a platform plank or a resolution of support. I’m sure that will not come with money for ads, so you are talking about getting a piece of paper that means just a little bit more than jack sh_t. What party is going to ante up ten thousand dollars for a decent ad buy when they have candidates to support? I suppose the parties could encourage their candidates to speak out on these issues or use them in their campaign literature or radio ads. I know that our initiatives did spur some discussion from candidates, but generally the candidates know their districts and will use what works for them.

    I think parties should invite or at least allow the pro/con presentations before platform committees, but whether they should or will do much more than that is questionable.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-07 07:59

    Donald, I’ll admit that if I were party chair, I wouldn’t invest heavily in pot or gambling campaigns. They aren’t make-or-break policy issues. They aren’t the overarching issue of defending the initiative and referendum process and the fundamental recognition of human dignity inherent in the democratic process that Republicans want to take away.

    But if those issues resonant in the press and polls at the moment, it doesn’t hurt to make more noise. The hemp angle of Amendment A might be particularly useful: one can point to that issue as a glaring example of the Republican Governor’s stubborn resistance to fact, economic sense, science, and the popular will. One can also knock Republican Legislative opponents on their heels on the campaign trail by forcing them to either defend Noem’s veto or go against their chief executive, neither of which helps them win votes.

  8. Donald Pay 2020-03-07 08:59

    Cory says: “…But if those issues resonant in the press and polls at the moment, it doesn’t hurt to make more noise….” Do you want to make more noise, or do you want to get things done? I realize sometimes you have to make noise to get things done, but the objective for the people bringing Amendment A is to get things done. If a party thinks hemp production is a way to improve the agricultural situation for some farmers and Amendment A is a reasonable approach to it, then it makes some sense to support it. I certainly do, but there are problems with any new crop, especially one that most people feel needs a bit more oversight than others. I haven’t paid much attention to the issue in South Dakota, but in Wisconsin the hemp roll out has been rocky, but everyone seems to want it to work. We are going into the third year, and hopefully the kinks are being worked out.

  9. Jon H 2020-03-07 13:25

    A few months ago Deadwood Celebrated 50 years of having casinos. There was a lot of bluster and back-slapping about the good old boys that brought gambling into Deadwood and how good it has been because of these wonderful insiders. There was not one thank you for the people that have made Deadwood successful–the employees that work in the casinos at mostly low paying jobs. If you want the chance of having college sports players from our state manipulated in ways that the public and their families would not want I would urge you not to have sports betting in South Dakota. The South Dakota Gaming Commission needs an outside audit from the top down.

  10. Jon H 2020-03-07 13:50

    To Bob Newland: I feel your frustration Bob and I hope you are well. There have been a number of Republicans in the state for a number of years that call up to Pierre to find out whether the pot bills were going to be passed. I personally heard some of those calls. As you probably know this was not about the legalization of drugs in the state. It was all about being first in line to have the stores and the businesses in the state that sold these products. It’s always about money and the Republicans getting in on the ground floor.

  11. Melissa Mentele 2020-03-08 10:30

    In order to keep these ballot measures nonpartisan & strictly about the issues we have asked all parties to stand down on the endorsements. If people would like to endorse as individuals or as businesses we welcome it. However being stuck with a title that these are “Democratic” issues is the last thing we want. Bob’s history as an advocate & our 6 years of work to bring reform in SD has brought very little party support. Which translates to this. If the Democratic Party was unwilling to throw support, effort or money at our issue when it was desperately needed they sure as hell don’t get to ride the victory tide & take credit for work they did NOT have any part of. SD grassroots, hard work & a little funding made these possible.

    Cannabis reform is a non party issue and will continue to be in SD as long as I sit at the helm.

  12. Debbo 2020-03-08 17:51

    Good points Melissa. Makes sense to me.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-09 07:12

    Oh well. So much for candidates using the opportunity to talk about real issues that matter to voters and are on the ballot. I guess candidates should just shut up and post warm fuzzy pictures of themselves and their families.

  14. Melissa Mentele 2020-03-09 07:23

    There is nothing that prevents candidates from having the discussion on these issues. In fact we hope many of them fill out our survey & return it. Historically cannabis reform has been an issue they avoid addressing so I’m not sure it will be part of the conversation they want to have with voters.

  15. Donald Pay 2020-03-09 09:24

    I agree with Melissa. That’s the way we felt about the initiatives we brought. That’s what the South Dakota Constitution says. It is up to the people, who reserved to themselves the right to propose and pass laws. Candidates are people. Parties aren’t. We went to the parties’ platform committees to present our views and to educate. We didn’t expect or receive endorsements for our particular measures, but it did mean we got another chance to influence people and provide our testimony so parties could modify their platform positions as they saw fit.

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