As one of the primary architects behind Initiated Measure 22, Rick Weiland has seen his measure come under attack by many members of the South Dakota government, including from Gov. Dennis Daugaard and many opponents in the Legislature.
Calling the measure “unconstitutional” and saying that the nearly 52 percent of voters were “hoodwinked” into voting for the measure last November, the Legislature has put forward House Bill 1069 to repeal the measure — termed an anti-corruption one by IM 22 supporters — in its entirety and immediately under the state of emergency clause.
The measure is currently blocked by a temporary court injunction granted last month.
The bill passed the House of Representatives last week 54-13. If the repeal successfully goes through the Senate and Daugaard signs it, the bill’s state of emergency clause would not allow South Dakota voters to refer it at the ballot box nor would the bill be eligible to a court challenge, according to Weiland.
Taking a break from writing a guest column for The New York Times Friday afternoon in Sioux Falls, Weiland spoke extensively with the Public Opinion denouncing HB 1069 and the process behind it.
“It’s really a poke in the eye to the 180,580 voters that voted for IM 22’s passage,” Weiland said. “It’s over the line and a flagrant abuse of power.”
Weiland also took issue with common arguments made by IM 22’s opponents to each provision of the sweeping measure.
Perhaps the most notable provision that may have gained the attention of the voters was the measure’s call to implement an ethics commission. Critics have charged that an ethics commission would create a fourth branch of government, thereby going against the state government. Weiland countered that the commission would be similar in its standing to other public boards such as the Board of Regents and Board of Elections, two independent boards who have members appointed by the governor.
Weiland said the ethics commission’s powers could help the state avoid the high-profile scandals that have dogged it the last few years.
“Having an independent ethics commission with subpoena power and investigatory authority could prevent future problems and scandals like EB-5 and GEAR UP, both of which have cost the state and private investors 10s of millions of dollars,” Weiland said. “Corruption is an expensive activity. Prevention, not so much.”
With the state having been rocked by the EB-5 and Gear Up scandals over the past few years, questions and criticism have been leveled at the state government on the alleged lack of oversight of the programs.
Government officials, including the three District 5 legislators, have maintained that since the two programs were funded by federal grants, the proposed ethics commission would have had no oversight of the programs, leaving the commission unable to catch wind of the wrongdoings before they happened. When presented with the officials’ claim, Weiland said, “They’re wrong. Absolutely wrong.”
According to Weiland, the commission would have power over those types of investigations since the state is responsible for distributing that grant money to those programs.
As it is, without an ethics commission, Weiland said that plays a significant role in South Dakota’s “F” grade and 47th place ranking for state integrity in a 2015 report by the Center for Public Integrity.
“We’re one of 10 states that doesn’t have an ethics commission,” Weiland said. “We tried to do it in the Legislature. Nothing ever gets to the floor for a vote. I think that’s one of the reasons it was part of IM 22 because it solves a public problem.”
Perhaps the provision that draws the most ire from state officials is the measure’s call to set up a public financing system for campaigns through two $50 democracy credits per voter. According to Weiland, contrary to the opposing perception that everyone would be required to participate in that provision, it is entirely voluntary.
“You could take $100 of your tax dollars back and contribute it to candidates. You don’t have to, but you could if you wanted to,” Weiland said. “These ideas that it’s going to force us to stop fixing our roads, repairing our bridges and we’ll never be able to build another school are just scare tactics.”
Despite the efforts against that provision and other aspects of IM 22, Weiland said the voters who voted in favor were not hoodwinked into doing so.
“People still went in knowing full well there was a public financing provision in there and they passed it,” Weiland said. “They passed it because of EB-5, because of GEAR UP, because we don’t have an ethics commission, and because they feel lobbyists are unrestricted to our elected officials.”
Weiland himself faced criticism for not showing up at a recent hearing to defend the measure. Weiland countered that was because of the accelerated process the Legislature has moved the potential repeal along. HB 1069 was introduced on Friday, Jan. 20 and the hearing happened the following Monday, Jan. 23.
“They didn’t give anybody, unless they lived in Pierre, a real opportunity to be able to plan for something like that,” Weiland said. “I think it was done by design to rush this thing through and limit the public comment. My schedule is pretty tight week-to-week. It’s just really difficult to try to accommodate something like this. If there is an opportunity going forward with an advance notice, I’d be more than willing to appear.”
With the Senate voting last Thursday to delay the hearing on HB 1069 until perhaps Wednesday at the earliest, Weiland expressed hope that people would make their voices heard to their legislators.
After all, if the repeal passes with the state of emergency clause, the voters won’t be able to make those voices heard at the ballot box in 2018.
“The Legislature is basically trying to repeal this thing in its entirety and not let us refer it to a vote,” Weiland said. “It just smells corrupt in what they’re trying to do.”
Despite his differences with many legislators, Weiland respects those who take the job.
“I don’t fault any one individual,” he said. “For the most part, we got really good people doing the best job that they can.”
- South Dakota
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