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Photo by Katie Hunhoff.
Photo by Katie Hunhoff.

Small-D Democracy and Crafting Education Policy

Mar 7, 2012

I'm a Democrat. I'm also a democrat.

Big-D Democrat means I vote for nice folks like Mitch Fargen, Tim Johnson, and Barack Obama, then bust their chops every now and then for compromising so much with Republicans. 

Small-d democrat means I'm less interested in helping specific politicians gain power and more interested in helping the demos be the crats. I want the people to rule. I want every citizen, from downtown Sioux Falls to twenty miles west of Wanblee, to have an equal say in their government, and as much say as possible.

One key element of good small-d democracy is making the people's participation in their government transparent. The legitimacy of democracy depends on our knowing that lots of our fellow citizens are participating, that their voices are being heard, and that those voices effect real change in policy.

If we take Governor Dennis Daugaard at his word, this year's House Bill 1234 was democracy at its finest:

This year, the Legislature began with my education proposal, and took input from hundreds of people to address concerns and make it a better plan. In my 16 years as a legislator, Lieutenant Governor, and now as Governor, I have never seen the Legislature receive and incorporate so much constituent input on a single bill [Gov. Dennis Daugaard, “Governor's Column,” March 5, 2012].

I've never seen so much constituent input incorporated in legislation, either... not even on HB 1234. An ad hoc committee of six legislators met to write and revise the bill. A working group of school administrators met to field public input and distill it into recommendations for that committee. But these meetings were held behind closed doors. They produced no public minutes, no record of proposals, rebuttals, or decisions. We don't know who the “hundreds” of inputters were, let alone what their input was. 

We do have on the record two online petitions that drew signatures from thousands of South Dakotans opposing HB 1234. We have on record news reports from crackerbarrels around the state where nearly everyone who spoke up said HB 1234 was a bad idea. We have legislators both for and against the bill saying they heard the same prevailing sentiment in their calls and e-mails.

The record says that the South Dakota Legislature ignored a lot of constitutent input. Not exactly an inspiring example of democracy.


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.


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