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Primary Lessons

Jun 11, 2014

South Dakota Democrats had the least to vote on in last week's primary, but they had the most interesting race. Most folks knew that incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Nine-Million-Dollar Man Mike Rounds would have a relatively easy time securing the Republican nominations for Governor and U.S. Senator, respectively. But in the Democratic tussle for the gubernatorial nomination, it was anyone's guess who would win, Rep. Susan Wismer from Britton or Joe Lowe from Piedmont. Would Wismer's direct mail trump Lowe's TV and newspaper ads? Would Wismer be able to make up for campaign time she lost due to her job preparing taxes for her Britton neighbors? Would Wismer's accountantly reserve withstand Lowe's direct, personable and passionate style?

Wismer appears to have stamped a yes on all three questions with her 11-point victory over Lowe last Tuesday. Then again, all three of those points may have given Lowe genuine advantages; they may simply not have been enough to overcome Wismer's biggest advantage: her status as a Democratic Party veteran, able to activate a built-in network of donors, volunteers and influential get-out-the-vote callers.

Lowe voters (I know whereof I speak; I am one!) had a sense that Lowe represented more of a break from the status quo, both from a South Dakota Democratic Party whose caution hasn't posted many wins in the last two elections and from a Republican regime that Lowe says has bred a “culture of corruption.” Our Lowe-as-change-agent has two strong ironies. If we are concerned about a one-party good-old-boys' club, no one disrupts that paradigm more iconically than only the second woman ever nominated for South Dakota governor. (The first: Alice Daly, Nonpartisan League, 1922.) And Lowe himself worked for three of the Republican administrations as state fire chief. Some would say he benefited from the corrupt regime he would now overturn; Lowe would say he simply had a front-row seat to witness that corruption every day during over a decade of honorable service to South Dakota. And hey — Democrats nominated a former Republican state senator for governor and a guy who was registered Republican until the week of the convention for his lieutenant in 2010, so who are we Dems to hold a guy's past Republican associations against him?

If Lowe did represent change, his 11-point primary loss reminds us that Democrats must work hard to upset the established order in their own party. And even if we can unite behind Wismer as our change agent, the broader primary results remind us that changing South Dakota will be even harder. 12,283 Democrats and Independents came out to vote for Lowe in a competitive race. 15,311 voted for Wismer. 60,017 Republicans voted for Dennis Daugaard in an in-the-bag primary. Put Lowe and Wismer together (Wowe! I mean, Whoa!), and last Tuesday, Daugaard still would have beaten them. Twice. (Maybe I mean Woe!)

Electing a Democrat of any flavor, Wismer or Lowe, to the governor's office would represent a major change. But electing a Democrat statewide in South Dakota will require an enthusiasm for change that is found in neither the Democratic or Republican primary results.

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.


07:06 am - Thu, June 12 2014
Ed said:
Cory, I have never meant either demo candidate. I had watched Lowe on TV many times as fire chief but never have seen Wismer in any activity. But in watching the debate on TV between those two, I told my coffee friends. If you vote democrat that lady from NE South Dakota should get your vote she knows way more about what this state needs the he did. Looks to me like Cory was so engrossed in who could slam the other party that he missed the good parts in his candidates.
08:25 am - Thu, June 12 2014
dave tunge said:
What am I missing here? Change for South Dakota? We live in one of the best states in the nation........well run and on budget. One only has to look at the financial woes, corruption, and crime sprees that are prevalent in nearly all the major cities that are under Democrat control.
I don't think one has to be a Democrat to be progressive ( and I mean progressive in a positive sense).
The nice thing about South Dakota that I love is that basically we are all South Dakotans first.......Republicans and Democrats second. That keeps our state in the solid, healthy condition it is.
03:22 pm - Thu, June 12 2014
larry kurtz said:
Under Rounds/Daugaard/Jackley South Dakota leads the US in teen binge drinking, the highest spike in violent crime rates, incarceration rates for nonviolent offenses and in income inequality: what's not to like?
03:28 pm - Thu, June 12 2014
larry kurtz said:
Oh yeah: the only state less corrupt than South Dakota is New Jersey.

2. South Dakota
> Overall grade: (50%)
> Public access to information: D+
> Legislative accountability: F
> Political financing: F
> Ethics enforcement agencies: F
05:29 pm - Fri, June 13 2014
Dave, seriously? South Dakota's corruption is simply better hidden by a monolithic one-party control.
05:35 pm - Fri, June 13 2014
Ed, I do not doubt the knowledge and experience of either candidate. Wismer has learned much, I am sure, about state operations in her six years in the Legislature, just as Lowe did in his 12 years working for the executive branch. Do you recall the specifics, Ed, that gave you the impression that Wismer was the more knowledgeable of the two candidates?
06:14 am - Sat, June 14 2014
Ed said:
There was nothing specific, it was the overall debate. Joe just couldn't get off west river, black hills, fire or what ever. It seemed clear to me that Joe didn't seem to know that at one time Minnehaha county could out vote all of west river except Pennington and Lawrence county in the state legislature. We happen to have a renter who was a county commissioner in Marshall county at one time and he is not a registered democrat. Seem to think she would do well and she did. Joe just plain lost the debate in my opinion. I could live with Wismer as governor but it would be a Lowe blow if Joe was, but I think he is a nice guy, don't get me wrong.
10:47 am - Sat, June 14 2014
dave tunge said:
Cory, seriously? There will always be issues that one party doesn't like about how the other party handles things. We all get to vote to see which party best reflects the pulse of our state. It just happens to be Republicans now.
Your statement about corruption being hidden by a monolithic one-party control
applies to both parties.
The needs of South Dakota would best be served if "R's" and "D's" did not exist.
06:29 am - Sun, June 15 2014
Ed said:
So how many consecutive years has South Dakota sent one or more democrats to the US congress???I come up with 56 is this correct or was there a year or two I missed let me know.
09:41 am - Sun, June 15 2014
"Everybody does it" isn't an excuse, Dave. I'm for rooting out whatever corruption exists, regardless of the aprty affiliations of the corrupt. Ed, the ability of Democrats to send folks to Congress has little to do with how things are run in Pierre.
09:44 am - Sun, June 15 2014
I am open to Dave's suggestion of doing away with party labels. Unicameral non-partisan legislature? Why not!

But consider: if we got rid of the Republicans and Democrats, it's likely (inevitable?) that new parties would coalesce around certain candidates and issues. Getting elected and staying elected works better when you have some sort of ongoing organization. Folks looking to pass legislation and keep Pierre on their desired track aren't going to forego that advantage. Could politics function without some sort of ongoing party structure?
08:04 am - Tue, June 24 2014
Robert X said:
"Nine-Million-Dollar Man Mike Rounds"

What exactly is the basis of your hate and vendetta against Mike Rounds?

Can anyone point out any similar hate coming from the magazine's other political commentator, Mr. Blanchard?

Recently, you claimed Mr. Rounds was lying about Obamacare, but you failed and refused to provide any factual basis when challenged.

So, why did you choose to take the cheap shot at Mr. Rounds in this column, when supposedly, the column was about the challenges of the Democrats in SD?

Does anyone at SD magazine read this author's personal drivel before posting it?

I don't see how this column (and the majority of this author's works here) reflects well on political discourse in SD.
04:40 pm - Tue, June 24 2014
larry kurtz said:
Get deleted at Madville because you violate the rules so harangue Cory here, Professor Shiers? You really should seek some medical help.
05:10 am - Wed, June 25 2014
ED said:
U 2 LARRY!!!

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