Sioux Falls political activist and former city councilwoman Theresa Stehly took the mic during public comment at the Minnehaha County Commission meeting Tuesday to express how happy she is that the federal court threw out the county’s attempt to ban petitioning and other political activity at the main west entrance of the Minnehaha County Administration Building. Stehly said she took advantage of the restoration of the First Amendment that very morning to hand out copies of The Dakota Scout and information about the city council.
But Stehly chastised the county for not doing a good job of enforcing its standing policy requiring civil and nonobstructive behavior… and from Stehly’s account, the troublemakers are not petitioners but the folks trying to deter people from signing petitions:
One of the things on the policy is that you don’t block the doors and you show respect. I was just down there, and that wasn’t happening. One person was on the side talking to a citizen, and another person from the other side came over and started to argue and make comments in front of the door. So I took it upon myself—and Leah, I hope you don’t mind—but I said to them, you need to be standing back, this is the policy, do not block the door.
So I do think it would be good to have some kind of—and maybe it’s up there, I didn’t look—but to reiterate that over and over that… we’re going to be respectful… do not block the door, and… if someone’s talking to a petitioner, you don’t come over and start… harassing or interrupting. Even if you’re passionately against that issue, you need to show respect for both sides [Theresa Stehly, public comment to Minnehaha County Commission, 2023.06.20, timestamp 1:24:30].
The only petitions on the street right now are Dakotans for Health’s initiatives to codify Roe v. Wade and repeal the food tax and SD Open Primaries’ initiative for top-two open primaries. The only petition facing organized opposition is the Roe v. Wade amendment, against which staunch anti-abortionists have organized a committee to station petition blockers wherever they can find petitioners and harass the petitioners and the voters with whom they are conversing. The Leah to whom Stehly refers during her remarks is rookie Minnehaha County Auditor Leah Anderson, a long-standing anti-abortion activist who has contributed campaign cash to those petition blockers. As revealed in testimony to the federal judge who overturned the anti-petitioner policy that Anderson advanced, the Life Defense Fund petition blockers were creating the hostile atmosphere outside the Admin Building that Anderson used as a pretense to propose petition restrictions. Stehly herself is a devout Catholic and opponent of abortion, but in these comments, Stehly seems to be calling out the abortion opponents for continued uncivil behavior. And she is calling out the county for apparently not enforcing against those uncivil petition opponents the sensible portions of its political activity policy that the federal court left intact.
I commend Stehly’s willingness to stand up to a bully on the sidewalk and attempt as a citizen to enforce the county’s political activity policy, even when, it appears, the bully is on her side of the abortion issue. I have to ask why Auditor Anderson is not making the same effort to enforce the county’s expectations of civil, unobstructive behavior that her political allies appear to be violating.