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Photo by Katie Hunhoff.
Photo by Katie Hunhoff.

Less Democracy in S.D.?

Jan 23, 2013


While I try to promote democracy, South Dakota's Legislature tries to hamstring it.

Exhibit 1: Senate Joint Resolution 1 would change the terms and term limits of South Dakota's state senators. Right now, senators are elected every two years, just like members of the House. SJR 1 would create a mickey-mouse system under which we would elect senators for four-year terms in years ending in 2 and 6 and two-year terms in years ending in 0. The only apparent reason SJR 1 keeps that one short term is to avoid the complication of keeping senators in office if we redraw their district boundaries during the decennial redistricting.

SJR 1 removes two out of five opportunities we have each decade to fire senators whom we feel aren't serving our needs. In that regard, SJR 1 is undemocratic.

Exhibit 2: Senate Joint Resolution 2 would make it harder to impose new taxes in South Dakota. Our state constitution already requires a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate to pass a new tax (an amendment minted in 1978, when Proposition 13 did the same thing in California). However, if we the people want to raise some revenue, we can put a tax increase on the ballot by initiative and pass it with a simple majority.

SJR 2 extends the two-thirds rule to tax initiatives. SJR 2 would thus make it harder for a democratic majority to work its will. SJR 2 is thus undemocratic.

Exhibit 3: Surprise! Senate Bill 70, the Governor's corrections reform bill, has enough sponsors to pass it today in both houses. It also has Sections 71 through 75 to make it harder for voters to monkey with the Governor's reform plans via later initiatives. Section 71 requires that any initiative affecting prison populations, like a bill that defines a new crime and proposes jail time as a penalty, must include a financial impact statement.

That seems harmless enough: knowing what a new law could cost isn't a bad idea, and state agencies will do that number-crunching for initiative activists.

But here's the rub: the Attorney General must include that fiscal note in the paperwork the Secretary of State must approve before the initiative's backers can circulate petitions to put the measure on the ballot. Now it may take our diligent bureaucrats in Pierre just a couple weeks to put together a fiscal note, but a couple weeks is valuable petitioning time. SB 70 thus makes it harder to place an initiative on the ballot. These five sections of SB 70 are thus undemocratic.

There may be other reasons to pass these bills, and I invite discussion of those reasons below. But if you dig democracy, you likely shouldn't dig SJR 1, SJR 2, and at least part of SB 70.


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 every other Monday 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 is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.


07:19 am - Thu, January 24 2013
dave tunge said:
Definition: Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.Unless I'm missing something, it appears that South Dakota ( by accepted definition) has a democracy. Now, we may not like everything our elected representatives propose but the majority of South Dakotan's put these folks in Pierre. That's democratic.Would it not be more fitting to say that you are advocating against democracy and that your article is just the opinion of the author?
05:05 pm - Thu, January 24 2013
Nope. Citizens have the right to elect their reps, but the South Dakota Constitution also preserves to us the authority to legislate directly. That's our direct democracy. SJR2 and SB70 take some of that legislative authority away from the people. That's a step away from direct democracy.

Your "equal say" definition is flawed. Suppose the Governor dissolved the Legislature and declared himself king for life. Suppose every five years he allowed people to vote on a handful of symbolic issues that didn't threaten his autocratic power. The people would all have an equal say, but they'd have darn little say. That's not democracy. Democracy means we have equal and frequent say. SJR1 makes our opportunity to have a say less frequent. SJR1 thus weakens democracy.
06:04 am - Fri, January 25 2013
Ed Goss said:
Guess I don't know much about the legislature but is a resolution a law. Please post the codified law that tells me what a Senate resolution does.
05:46 am - Sat, January 26 2013
Ed, there are resolutions, and then there are resolutions. :-) I don't have the statute handy, but here's the main difference:

Concurrent resolutions are the toothless pieces of fluff the legislators use to declare their opinions on issues they can't really do anything about, such as saying we like Israel or telling the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe V. Wade.

Joint resolutions are used to put constitutional amendments on the ballot. The Legislature can't amend the state constitution itself, but it can submit amendments for the approval of the electorate.

SJR1 and SJR2 are joint amendments. They wouldn't make these changes happen, but they would give us the chance to make these changes happen. They express the Legislature's desire to weaken democracy... but they give us a democratic chance to vote on them.
08:32 am - Sun, January 27 2013
Jon said:
The democracy means if you do not like the resolutions vote these guys out in their next election. Or maybe they should have all legislative activity voted on by all, could we do that monthly????

I think South Dakota is still one of the best run States. Sit back and watch the Californias, Illinois, Michigan and others who have done it with mirrors for years and the mirrors are broken.

All States would benefit from SD term limits, even as adjusted... I wish the federal government would be the same as South Dakota - we would be a lot better off.

Believe me I know, I am now a Minnesotan.
10:58 am - Sun, January 27 2013
But again, SJR 1 reduces our opportunities to vote the bums out. SJR 2 and SB 70 further reduce our ability to change the law without throwing our favorite reps out (which is something South Dakotans like doing, given that we voted down two referred laws last year while re-electing a lot of the honyockers who voted for them in Pierre).
11:33 am - Thu, January 31 2013
ron fuchs said:
Witness the Nebraska story battle over initiatives, because of the continous battles with corporate agriculture: to qualify a ballot issue means getting the necessary percentages in all counties. Meanwhile back at the farm in Dakota we've had the percentage of increased to qualify a measure- all we have to do is petition in bigger areas to get our numbers.There was a measure sometime ago from a Mitchell rep that would have done just exactly that requiring that signators be from a larger area representing Dakota- it failed- let's keep an eye on that initiative process and not loose it !!
06:37 pm - Thu, January 31 2013
dave tunge said:
Hey CA..........
South Dakotan's already voted out most of the bums and reflected in our legislative majority.
06:02 am - Fri, February 1 2013
Ed Goss said:
Dave I never thought of it that way but by golly you are right. But lets keep at least one good guy on Cody's side. I can understand Bernie, But!
12:09 pm - Sun, February 3 2013
The fact that a majority of people vote for something... or someone... does not make it right. Therein lies the great challenge of democracy.
03:07 pm - Sun, February 3 2013
dave tunge said:
As witnessed by our last presidential election, eh?
06:59 pm - Wed, February 6 2013
Sure, Dave, the majority can be wrong. You and I appear to disagree on whether they were wrong in the last election (though even there, we could probably agree that majority made some good picks and some bad picks), but that's not the issue here. The big-picture question is whom we will entrust to make decisions that they will occasionally foul up: all citizens in democratic votes, a small committee of selected leaders, or a single autocrat.

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