Susan Wismer

Susan Wismer, preferred gubernatorial candidate of the South Dakota Democratic Party

Democrats, it appears we are receiving our marching orders from Party Central: Vote for Susan Wismer.

Rep. Susan Wismer (D-1/Britton) announced yesterday that she is challenging Joe Lowe for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) introduced her at her Capitol press conference. Most of the Democrats in the Legislature stood beside her to show their support.

And South Dakota Democratic Party chairwoman Deb Knecht immediately shouted "BREAKING" and issued this endorsement (should I bother with ironic quote marks?):

South Dakota is home to the smartest kids, hardest workers, and close-knit families in the entire country. It’s time South Dakota had a Governor who invested in these things that make South Dakota great.

Governor Dennis Daugaard has hurt our workforce development with huge cuts to education. He’s jeopardized the health of 48,000 South Dakotans by refusing to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. And he won’t even take a stand on raising the minimum wage for 62,000 South Dakotans.

A small town businesswoman and senior appropriations member, Rep. Susan Wismer understands that the governor’s budget is a moral document with real impacts across the state. She’ll see to it that our state’s policies reflect our values of opportunity, equality, and community.

We look forward to a spirited primary between Joe Lowe and Rep. Susan Wismer with all attention on the future of our state [Deb Knecht, chairwoman, South Dakota Democratic Party, press release, 2014.01.28].

Knecht trumpets Wismer's credentials, which I whole-heartedly recognize would make Wismer a great governor (certainly better than the current governor, who can read minds but not financial reports). Last year Rep. Wismer issued a brilliant and blistering critique of Dennis Daugaard's fiscal irresponsibility that by itself explains exactly why all South Dakotans need to vote Democratic this year. As an accountant and a member of the Appropriations committeee, she understands the heck out of state fiscal policy. I like Wismer a lot (and I like Britton a lot!), and I'm glad to have her running.

Democratic candidate for South Dakota Governor Joe Lowe

Democratic candidate for South Dakota Governor Joe Lowe

But I also like Joe Lowe a lot. I'm glad to have him running, but the Party's tone suggests they'll only be glad to have him running away. When Lowe announced his candidacy on November 30, the SDDP issued no press release. Chairwoman Knecht issued no statement on Lowe's behalf.

It wouldn't be hard for Knecht to compose a comparably clapping commentary on Lowe's go for gov. Wismer has great experience, but Lowe can at least match Wismer's six years of legislative experience with his ten years in the South Dakota executive branch, which happens to be the branch for which they are now competing. Lowe is as aware as Wismer of the moral and political failings of the Republican administration in which he worked. Lowe is a businessman just like Wismer. He brings at least as much experience and fight to the table as Wismer. Lowe and Wismer together can lead a rollicking conversation about the direction of our fair state.

But the leading lights of the South Dakota Democratic Party have a tendency to pick their favorite. In 2012, the party machine sent clear signals that Matt Varilek was their chosen candidate for U.S. House over Jeff Barth. Varilek proceeded to roll up the campaign contributions and crush Barth in the primary.

Wismer sounds like she's ready to do some crushing. On day one of her campaign, she lays out the attacks she'll use to make sure Dems don't pick the other guy:

She said Lowe is a credible candidate but she is a life-long resident of South Dakota and a business owner with six years of experience in the Legislature.

Wismer comes from a strong Democratic tradition in Marshall County. Her grandfather was state Sen. Art Jones and her uncle was state Sen. Curt Jones.

She said extremists have come to dominate politics and “common-sense Democrats” are “forfeiting the game” when they don’t participate. Unless moderates get involved in her campaign, she expects to have a difficult time.

“I’m a centrist,” Wismer said. “I don’t have to be very far to the left of the group in power because the pendulum has swung so far to the right” [Bob Mercer, "Wismer to Run for Governor," Rapid City Journal, 2014.01.29].

Lifelong South Dakotan versus not one of us (that sounds familiar). Common-sense centrist vs. extremist party-wrecker. There's the primary fundraising pitch in a nutshell, one that bears the faint xenophobic whiff of the attacks Kristi Noem used to beat Matt Varilek. But hey, whatever works, right?

Wismer will have her hands full for another six weeks with the Legislative session. She tells Bob Mercer she won't kick into high gear until April 15, after she gets done doing folks' taxes back at the Britton office. Candidate Lowe thus has a brief advantage that he can use to work the crowds and the donors in person while candidate Wismer is tied up. He can use this time to make the case to the rank and file and party leaders that he can take the fight to Daugaard better than Wismer can and bring more voters to the polls in November.

But Lowe's passing advantage is thin. Wismer appears to have the backing of the Party, whose insiders will likely mobilize on her behalf to lock up signatures and contributions. Climb that hill, Joe! Bring us the spirited primary that Chairwoman Knecht says she wants.