My Voice: Heed ‘pressure’ to improve state politics
On Nov. 8, South Dakota voters faced 10 ballot measures. They said “yes” on four of them. I hoped they might also approve Amendment T, independent redistricting, and Amendment V, non-partisan open primaries. Those two promised improvements in our broken system for selecting our representatives.
Nevertheless, I think public awareness has increased on some of the fundamental problems with our election system in S.D. I am interested to see what our legislative leaders might do in the upcoming legislative session with that information. If nothing changes, I suspect citizens may decide they want a second look at improving state government themselves in 2018.
I was fortunate to work on Amendment V with a group of fellow Republicans, along with Democrats and independents, all of whom were motivated to try to improve the fairness of our elections and the quality of our government. I hope to continue to work with them. Many of us, and many in the public learned some important lessons about our state government in the process. We learned that:
First, most S.D. legislators are not truly “elected.” Very few face a competitive general election to get into office. And legislators who don’t face a general election contest tend to be answerable to their party, not the electorate.
Second, Republicans in S.D. are a minority of the state’s registered voters, but the party holds all the cards. While only 46 percent of the registered voters in the state are Republican, all taxpayers get to pay for their primary, which has become the most important election in the state. Republican’s hold 85 percent of the seats in the legislature.
Third, most South Dakotans are underrepresented in our state legislature. Democrats are 31 percent of the registered voters in the state and independents are 22 percent. Together they represent 53 percent of our electorate. Democrats hold only 15 percent of the legislative seats. Independents are completely unrepresented in the legislature. Something is obviously wrong with that.
Fourth, a one-party legislature is inherently weak. For those of us who appreciate the checks and balances provided by the two-party system, this comes as no surprise. Just look at the recent EB-5 scandal/tragedy, and the Gear Up scandal/tragedy. The legislature wanted to look the other way on both. A vocal minority party can play an essential role when government screws up.
Fifth, open primaries offer a better way to select public officials who will represent all the people. On Nov. 8, Colorado voters decided to join Nebraska, Washington and California with an open primary system. They went with a more fair and inclusive election system, and hope for increased voter participation.
Finally, the S.D. Republican party establishment strongly resists changing this unfair system. Some Democrats, too. Republican officials financed the campaign against Amendment V.
Now that these shortcomings of our state government have been raised during the election, I am hopeful those in power will address some of the inequities and weaknesses. S.D. will likely always be a red state, but I hope my fellow Republicans will rise above partisanship to be fair and inclusive in our approach to elections. The pressure for establishing a better system is increasing and I suspect it will not go away.
Joe Kirby, a registered Republican, is a retired businessman and fourth-generation South Dakotan. He was involved in the Yes on V campaign, promoting open primaries in South Dakota. My Voice columns should be 500 to 700 words. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships.
- South Dakota
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