Speaking at the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute’s candidate recruitment event in Sioux Falls Saturday, Brookings city councilman and deputy mayor Nick Wendell provided evidence that smart candidates who deliver practical results can beat the partisan squawking of South Dakota’s dominant right-wingers:
Wendell pointed out that at the local government level, he’s learned that focusing on common ground and returning results can solidify support as a candidate.
He’s lucky, he said, to serve in a nonpartisan position on a city council whose decisions impact residents’ daily lives. His sexuality and Democratic Party affiliation never came up during his first city council run in 2016, he said, but his 2021 campaign encountered pushback.
On election day, he said, “those voices were shut out.”
“I won by the widest margin I ever had,” Wendell said [John Hult, “LGBTQ+ Candidate Recruitment Event Draws Dozens to Downtown Sioux Falls,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.05.20].
Wendell’s experience and success in politics shows why South Dakota Republicans are keen on politicizing non-partisan races. They know their strength is their brand, not their actual capabilities to govern. Local non-partisan races give voters who often say, “I vote for the person, not the party,” the chance to put their money where their mouth is and elect decent public servants who may happen to be Democrats but who are more interested in delivering results for their neighbors (as Democrats are wont to do) rather than shouting empty slogans at them (as Republicans are wont to do). Once those public servants build a record of practical local accomplishments, it’s harder to make stick the generic partisan labels that Republicans cut and paste from their national right-wing propaganda outlets.
That’s why a key part of building the South Dakota Democratic Party (new SDDP exec Dan Ahlers, you’re reading and nodding, right?) is recruiting candidates to fill local ballots and do good work on city councils, school boards, and other public positions where they can prove, as Wendell does in Brookings, that Democrats are really about public service, not the fabulist propaganda that Republicans throw at them.