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Feb 19, 2014
By Cory Allen Heidelberger
In my last column I got hot and bothered about Senate Bills 67 and 128, bills that sought to protect discrimination against homosexuals as religious free expression. Neither bill has survived, and I'm hoping House State Affairs rejects a similar bill this afternoon (February 19).
While the Legislature is showing some good sense in foiling the proposals of its less temperate members, I'm hearing some cognitive dissonance on how the values of some South Dakotans stack up against our desire for economic development.
First, consider the gay-discrimination bills. In Senate Judiciary testimony on February 18, Sen. Mark Kirkeby (R-35/Rapid City) asked if SB 128 would allow a religious pharmacist in a small, one-pharmacy town to refuse to fill a prescription for a gay customer. SB 128 advocate Mark Chase said he didn't think SB 128 would apply to pharmacies and restaurants. SB 128 refers pretty clearly to "private businesses," and pharmacies and restaurants are private businesses. One can conclude, then, that backers of SB 128 were encouraging pharmacists and other South Dakota businesspeople to stop doing business with gay customers.
Business owners, help me out here: how many of you doing business on Main Street Yankton, Sisseton or Lemmon can tell one in 23 of your customers to take a hike? I could be wrong, but I'm willing to speculate that South Dakota pharmacists and bakers with too many customers are few and far between.
I didn't hear economic development discussed much among legislators on SB 128 and similar anti-gay bills. But economic development was a primary reason House State Affairs killed HB 1176 today (February 19). Rep. Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) brought his bill to block South Dakota's use of the EB-5 visa investment program. Rep. Nelson presented documents suggesting EB-5 investment poses national security risks by placing U.S. economic assets under Chinese Communist control. Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) responded that not using EB-5 would put South Dakota at a disadvantage to every other state that uses EB-5 for economic development, and down went HB 1176. Mention economic development, and other concerns disappear.
We find a similar attitude down the road from Pierre in Winner. Mayor Jess Keesis says the Keystone XL pipeline will be great for his town. Mayor Keesis laments that Winner's strip clubs have had to shut down. Keesis says TransCanada's planned nearby workers' camp will bring business back to town, at least for a couple years. Never mind the predictable man-camp crime, wear on roads, and increased energy costs Keystone XL will bring; Keesis says South Dakotans can't pass up any economic development opportunity:
Out here on the prairie, you know, we're a tough people …. We deal with drought and 8-foot blizzards and all kinds of stuff all the time, so anytime we can get something like this to give us a shot, it's a good thing. [quoted in Rob Hotakainen, "American Indians Versus the Pipeline," Governing, 2014.02.18].
In one breath, South Dakotans are tough! In the next, we're too weak to oppose any chance to make a buck, no matter how risky. That's cognitive dissonance.
The conservative proponents of anti-gay legislation in South Dakota seem oblivious to the economic consequences of discrimination. Yet on other issues, South Dakota politicians of many stripes reach a little too quickly for "economic development" as the justification for their actions without considering the full impact of programs and projects on South Dakota's interests.
Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard on this site.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.