South Dakota has two tracks for nominating candidates for statewide office. Folks who want to be governor or go to Congress go through the normal primary process, circulating petitions and subjecting themselves to public vote in the spring to win their party's nomination to be on the November general election ballot. But folks who want to be secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer, commissioner of school and public lands, or public utilities commissioner don't face a primary. They go to their party's convention in the summer and compete for delegate votes.
Senator Stan Adelstein (R-32/Rapid City) wants to erase that second track and make every statewide candidate go through the primary process. Senator Adelstein presented Senate Bill 82 to Senate State Affairs on Friday to make this change. He noted that the convention system served politics better in the 1960s, when he first got involved in politics, when we had no Internet, limited TV, expensive long-distance phone service, no conference calls, and cumbersome document copying technology. The party apparati performed vital services in organizing and informing voters.
But even then, even when the party bosses selected him for party offices, Senator Adelstein testified he didn't like that concentration of power. He spoke of the 1962 convention when he and other young Republicans favored 31-year-old Frank Farrar for Attorney General. The GOP old guard wanted the much older Sterling Clark from Butte County, whom Sen. Adelstein in his Friday testimony called a "bigot" and an "SOB". (Well, you don't hear that in committee every day.) Adelstein and his young Republicans had to work hard to swing delegates away from the party leadership to favor their man Frank.
Now, says Senator Adelstein, the convention selection system for statewide candidates is obsolete. We can get our information from all-pervasive information technology (including robocalls, which Adelstein mentioned in a hilariously parenthetical mutter in front of terrorized State Affairs Vice-Chair Russell Olson). He thus prefers that we allow all party members, not just convention delegates, select all of our statewide candidates.
And Senate State Affairs said o.k. Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) expressed concerns about the added cost of certifying more nominating petitions and placing more names on the primary ballot but said he's "intrigued by the idea" and wants to keep it alive for more discussion. Senator Craig Tieszen (R-34/Rapid City) said he thinks the costs will be "minimal" and that changing times warrant changing the political process. Even robocalled Senators Olson (R-8/Wentworth) and Tim Rave (R-25/Baltic) voted for SB 82. The only nay came from Senator Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center), who cited his fondness for tradition and said maybe the parties should turn first to increasing turnout at convention before overhauling the statewide election system.
I'll have some analysis of the changes and commentary coming up today. But expect fast action on SB 82 and a bunch of other bills: Wednesday is "crossover day," when
all male senators raid Shantel Krebs's closet and wear high heels to the Capitol all bills must clear their chamber of origin to stay alive.