The SDGOP establishment is working hard to rein in its crackpots and troublemakers. Mainstreamers crushed the whack-a-doodles in the House GOP leadership elections. The party powers are rallying around Governor Kristi Noem’s chosen candidate for party chair, Senator John Wiik, who faces a challenge from feckless mugwump Representative Kevin Jensen.
And now to prevent extremist insurgents from hijacking their convention and nominating nimrods over experienced party favorites, as happened with Jason Ravnsborg in 2018 and Monae Johnson in 2022, SDGOP insiders are proposing to strip precinct committeepeople of their convention voting privileges.
In a report shared by SDGOP spinster Pat Powers, the SDGOP Bylaws Committee identifies a disjunction between how precinct committeepeople are recruited and elected and the duties they are supposed to carry out for the party beyond the convention:
The crux of the issue is that the current delegate structure motivates convention candidates for public office to recruit people to run for precinct committeewoman or committeeman and then get them to the convention for the sole purpose of voting there. It is the experience of many county party leaders that these recruits then rarely, if ever, participate further in their county central committee. According to Section III.5.F of our party bylaws, the duties of the precinct committeemen and committeewomen are
- Under the supervision of the county chairman, they have the complete responsibility to conduct the political campaign in their precinct, such as compiling and updating voters lists; contacting voters; registering non-voters; and general voter contact activities.
- Serve as voting members of the County Central Committee.
The Bylaws Committee finds that these duties are substantially neglected. Because the duties of the position are not aligned with the primary means of their recruitment, the Committee determined that it is best to return precinct committeewomen or committeemen to their original function of being primarily members of the county central committee and to remove them from the state convention delegation [SDGOP Bylaws Committee, report, 2022.12.30].
These Republicans are actually making a reasonable argument. A political party needs reliable volunteers in every precinct to do all sorts of grunt work right up until election day. But the current precinct committeeperson selection process is not producing such reliable election-season volunteers; it is producing partisans committed to one candidate, or a few candidates, seeking nomination at the Republican convention. If their candidate wins the nomination, the partisans figure their work is done, because the Democrats won’t field any viable opposition in the general election. If their candidate loses the nomination, the partisans go home and sulk. Either way, these partisans aren’t doing the work the party needs from its precinct committeepeople. The party thus has good reason to change how it selects precinct committeepeople.
The SDGOP Bylaws Committee thus proposes to take convention voting privileges away from committeepeople. The committee proposes to continue electing three at-large delegates from each county and, taking a cue from the South Dakota Democratic Party (see SDDP Constitution Article 9 Section 2), allow more at-large delegates from counties with the most Republican voters: 20 from Minnehaha, 14 from Pennington, 8 from Lincoln, and 4 each from Brown, Codington, Lawrence, and Meade. Finally, the committee proposes granting convention voting privileges to Republican legislators and Republican county officials.
Last summer, 682 Republican delegates cast votes on the Attorney General nomination. Disenfranchising precinct committeepeople convention votes would knock out hundreds of convention voters. However, the proposed amendment to the SDGOP bylaws would add 37 more at-large delegate slots for which partisans in the largest counties could compete at the primary. Granting convention voting privileges to Republican legislators and county officials could theoretically add over 700 voting delegates. Of course, a lot of those elected officials are already coming to convention to vote as county party committee members or precinct committeepeople. The proposal will thus likely result in a net decrease of voting delegates at the SDGOP convention.
Of course, this reasonable reform just happens to break entirely in favor of establishment Republicans. The mugwump wing of the SDGOP has shown generally bad organizing skills. Monae Johnson was able to rally enough radicals to win precinct committee spots in a number of really small contests (the average turnout for the 56 committeeperson contests in the June primary in Minnehaha County was less than 200), but rando-radicals, particularly the sort of lazy one-offers about whom the Bylaws Committee frets in its report, are less likely to have the skills, resources, and ambition to mount successful countywide campaigns for at-large delegate seats. And the Republicans who win Legislative and county races are more likely to be beholden to the party leadership, more likely back their fellow mainstream incumbents, and less likely to support any sort of upheaval.
South Dakota Republicans don’t like anyone who upsets their apple cart. When we voters upset their policies by passing ballot measures, Republicans try to quash the ballot measure process. When their own convention delegates vote for candidates who are not the establishment favorites, South Dakota Republicans try to close their convention to those troublemakers. The SDGOP Bylaws Committee’s proposal to end convention voting by precinct committeepeople looks like a reasonable remedy to a failure of the party’s volunteer recruitment process, but its true motivation is the desire of the Republicans in power to stay in power and to quash all dissent, especially within their own party.