Senator Jim Bolin presented the Initiative and Referendum Task Force’s mostly bad reforms to the Legislature’s Executive Board Monday. Speaker and E-Board chairman G. Mark Mickelson hurried Bolin through the pile of bureaucratic complications designed by Republicans to further restrain citizens from exercising their right to make and repeal laws directly.
Speaker Mickelson did lock his torpedoes on one measure, Draft #99, the proposal to take the actual text of an initiated measure off the petition but explode the paperwork requirement for circulators by forcing them to print out and provide to all signers copies of the initiative:
As a guy that collected a fair amount of signatures—no one takes the handouts, but they will flip over and read the back of what they are signing, and there is so much lying, cheating, and stealing out there that you’re just making it that much easier [my transcription; Rep. G. Mark Mickelson, comments from the chair, Executive Board meeting, Pierre, SD, 2017.11.13].
Speaker Mickelson deemed most of the I&R Task Force’s proposals “excellent work.” Specifically, Mickelson encouraged Bolin “to be even more bold” with his measure raising the vote threshold required to amend the constitution and shoot for an even higher threshold than 55%. Mickelson justified that call with this remarkably twisted, inaccurate, insulting discourse:
We were developed by the railroads. That’s the reasons there [are] two Dakotas. That’s the reason we’re laid out east to west. Our populist farmers were worried that the East Coast railroad money would develop too much influence in Pierre in our state government, so they wanted the ability to bypass state government because of their concerns about the out-of-state money’s influence….
From 1898 to 1972, you could not initiate a constitutional amendment, you could only initiate a statutory change. In 1972 we gave the citizens the right to initiate a constitutional amendment by majority vote subject to the ratification of the Legislature. In 1989 we took away the Legislature’s ratification of initiated constitutional amendments, and we now allow the equivalent of a foreign government to come in and spend unlimited advertising to amend our constitution by popular vote and don’t allow ourselves to spend a nickel against it. New Jersey—it’s part of Italy.
It’s no way to amend a constitution. I would expect there will be some legislation that will either take away the ability of an initiated constitutional amendment completely or, at a minimum, have the legislature ratify that [Mickelson, 2017.11.13].
Mickelson’s view of New Jersey’s ethnicity seems rather narrow and outdated. 16.8% of New Jerseyans claim Italian in their ancestry, but 15.0% claim Irish and 11.4% claim German. 23.6% of New Jersey’s population is foreign-born, but the countries making up the largest portions of that immigrant population are India, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Philippines, Ecuador, Colombia, Korea, China, Peru, and Poland. But whatever the statistics, I haven’t encountered many initiative petition circulators or sponsors from New Jersey or Italy, and to claim that Americans from New Jersey are really Italian smells a bit like saying our Catholic Senator Mike Rounds really works for the Pope.
I am intrigued that Mickelson would equate fellow Americans and corporations with foreign governments. Citibank came from New York in the 1980s, driving changes to our banking laws and education system, yet I’ve never heard Mickelson complain about that invasion. Pols fall all over themselves cheering Citibank’s latest expansion in Sioux Falls. Bob Mercer reports that corporate honchos from fourteen states and five foreign nations came courting favors from state government at the buffalo round-up and Governor’s hunt this fall. Outsiders with money, we don’t mind, but outsiders with ideas—ave Maria! Prega per noi!
I am complete puzzled by Mickelson’s claim that we “don’t allow ourselves to spend a nickel against” whatever bogeyman infiltrators he imagines are petitioning us into an Italian dominion. Campaign finance law sets almost no limits on spending on ballot questions, and those laws apply equally (per the Fourteenth Amendment) to all Americans, including South Dakotans. Speaker Mickelson can raise and spend all the money he wants on his tobacco tax and out-of-state money ban initiatives; his rich friends in downtown Sioux Falls and at GOP headquarters can raise and spend all the money they want telling us to Vote No on Everything.
Mitch Richter, the very much South Dakotan sponsor of the Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment that Mickelson would have us believe is a foreign invasion, takes strong exception to Mickelson’s denigration of direct democracy:
The public is appalled that the politicians continue this disrespect of South Dakota voters…. They need to respect our vote and the people’s initiative process and stop trying to take power away from the people. The proposals floated today by the legislature would destroy the people’s initiative process taking away our voice and our choice. South Dakotans want to return power to the people.
That’s why more than 50,000 South Dakota voters signed the Anti- corruption Voter Protection Amendment. The legislature needs to stop the attacks on voters and just let the people vote [Mitch Richter, Represent South Dakota, press release, 2017.11.13].
Richter sees more clearly the intent of Mickelson’s remarks: Mickelson and his Republican colleagues want to take away we the people’s right to amend our own Constitution. Mickelson and the Republicans want to reassert the Legislature’s total control over the laws of our land. Mickelson doesn’t want us, the people for whom he works, spoiling their elitist fun. For Mickelson, Bolin, and other Republicans, government is an exclusive club, and they don’t want us in it.