Editorial: Democracy calls for clear voices
Choose your definition of democracy. All draw vitality from power vested in the people, entrusted with choosing effective leaders to shape laws that govern their lives.
Ideally, elected representatives reflect (or at least respect) the views of the voters, forging a sense of satisfaction in the way governmental affairs are run.
In South Dakota, as another state legislative session comes to a close, that feeling of satisfaction is lacking, and signs of a political awakening – from marches and cracker barrel attendance to an organized “resistance” to our President and his administration – are emerging with regularity.
It would be beneficial to take stock of what has occurred.
When Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed Senate Bill 149, providing “religious protection” for faith-based agencies that deny adoption services to unmarried or same-sex couples, South Dakota was marked as a state willing to enable discrimination.
As with last year’s transgender “bathroom bill” ultimately vetoed by Daugaard, our legislature was viewed as safe harbor by Christian conservative groups seeking revolt against the 2015 Supreme Court ruling upholding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
After promising to replace, did lawmakers deliver on IM22?
Since they were successful this time, South Dakota comes off as intolerant, with San Francisco forbidding city employees to travel here on state or city-subsidized business. Let’s hope the NCAA doesn’t decide to pull away athletic events, as it has done in states such as North Carolina where LGBT discrimination becomes law. Or that skilled young people don’t leave our state and potential outside firms or individuals don’t cast a disparaging eye.
In a political sense, there is much irony surrounding the religious protection agenda and the influence of out-of-state groups. Daugaard and the GOP establishment derided such influence in attacking and ultimately destroying Initiated Measure 22, the anti-corruption initiative they claimed was spurred by liberal special interests.
Never mind that IM 22 was approved by voters last November as a way to address the lack of transparency and accountability that allowed scandals such as EB-5 and Gear Up to fester.
Legislators replaced IM 22’s campaign finance and lobbying restrictions with softer guidelines, using an emergency clause to make sure it wasn’t referred back to voters and ensuring that a legal challenge against the measure went unresolved. That coordinated effort showed a disregard for the will of voters that could be seen as demeaning or dismissive or both.
Where this sense of superiority among state lawmakers comes from is not exactly clear. This is the same group that seriously considered a bill allowing teachers to address "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories addressed in standard classroom curricula, such as evolution and climate change, before learning that stance was unscientific and ruggedly unconstitutional.
Several 2017 state legislators, including four from the Sioux Falls metro area, failed to sponsor a single bill throughout the entire session, leading one to wonder why they entered public service in the first place.
And now, disgruntled citizens can be asked a similarly pointed question: What do you propose to do about it?
A year ago, hot-button issues surrounded transgender treatment and teacher pay spurred large and vocal crowds at cracker barrels across the state.
The ensuing presidential campaign underscored that grassroots politics and populism can still play a large role in American democracy.
A downtown Women’s March in January drew a crowd of more than 3,000 to downtown Sioux Falls, and local advocacy groups such as Indivisible 605 and Represent South Dakota add diversity to political discourse in a predominantly conservative state.
For it to truly mean anything, average voters must know that their voice can be heard.
The best policy moving forward is that if you feel your interests are being ignored, speak up. Let your concerns rise above the din.
One of the primary tenets of representative democracy is that all representatives are temporary, so let them be unnerved by the noise.
- South Dakota
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