Jeff Barth, the man to rebuild the South Dakota Democratic Party?

Jeff Barth, the man to rebuild the South Dakota Democratic Party?

Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth is the only Democrat so far to say he wants the job of state party chair. Barth isn't waiting for Rick Weiland to decide whether the chair would suit him; Barth has issued a hefty press release listing his qualifications and plans for the job.

I yield the floor to Barth's pitch for the job:

Jeff Barth a Democrat for State Chair

The position of State Party Chair has never been done perfectly. It has been done successfully. In seeking the position I plan for and expect success.

I bring to the position a number of important qualities.

Working for 31 years at the “Bell” telephone company climbing poles and digging holes I served my fellow workers as a steward, an officer and then as President of the Sioux Falls Trades & Labor Assembly.

As a faithful Democrat I have stuffed envelopes, made phone calls, gone door to door, collected signatures, run for public office and served in multiple Party positions. Twice I attended our State Convention as Minnehaha Chair, both times with a full slate of Delegates and Alternates.

  • Elected three times I am one offew Democrats to win in the 2010 and 2014, Republican Wave years.
  • I was the leading Democratic vote getter in Minnehaha County in 2014. Obama won Minnehaha in 2008 and our statewide candidates need to do well in Minnehaha to be elected.
  • The first candidate to appear on YouTube (in my 2006 campaign).

  • The first South Dakota candidate to have a campaign video to go viral.

  • I was the first statewide Democratic candidate to support gender equality in marriage and am a longtime supporter of Choice.

As a County Commissioner for eight years I have shared responsibility for administrating a $70M+ budget with a staff of over 500. Working as the only Democrat on the Board I have fought hard and been a sensible voice for all the people of my county. Pipelines, criminal justice, drainage, CAFOs, Ag property taxes, an aggressive “Big City” Mayor along with rapid growth are among the issues regularly addressed.

Of me David Montgomery with the Argus leader says “Barth is notably outspoken. In just recent months, he filed a lawsuit against Mike Rounds and others about EB-5 and has excoriated the county auditor for vote-counting delays.”

As your State Party Chair I will work with Staff to:

  • Continue the fight for Party funding within the State and elsewhere. I have already reached out to the DNC and others.
  • Travelacross the State building local parties and recruiting activists, young and old. From personal contact to Farmer Union meetings to Union Halls, from conferences to conventions from Pow Wows to Rodeos, I’ll go to where the people are. And, I will make it a priority for the Party staff to spend most of its time helping County parties do their job.  We can't have a healthy State party without well organized and robust County parties.
  • Engage minorities into leadership and as candidates for election. Our Party is too White.
  • Engage young people into leadership and as candidates and continue the Yell program. Our party is too old.
  • Hold regular Party meetings and clean up wording in our Constitution.

In asking for your vote I would remind everyone that, “Individuals can’t win. Factions don’t win. Teams win”.  I can do the job. Join the team.

Thank you,

Jeff Barth [e-mail, 2014.11.25]

South Dakota Democrats, is that the man and the plan for you?


Following Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth's announcement that he'd like to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party, the Meade County Democrats are spending money to promote a different candidate:

Meade County Democrats, sponsored Facebook post promoting Rick Weiland for SDDP chair, screen cap 2014.11.24

Meade County Democrats, sponsored Facebook post, screen cap 2014.11.23

A lot of People for Rick Weiland want him to be the next Chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, and we want it too. D.C. Democrats let us down in 2014, not SD Dems. Rick is the best person to present our populist message over the next few years... and to help prevent the Keystone XL pipeline from crossing Meade County! [Meade County Democrats, sponsored Facebook post, downloaded 2014.11.23]

I see no official report that Weiland is seeking to chair the SDDP. The State Central Committee will elect a new chair at its next meeting on December 13.


Iowa Democrats didn't get beat up as badly as South Dakota Democrats in the midterms. Iowa Democrats lost some but not all statewide races, and they still hold a slim majority in their State Senate. But they are talking seriously about going into "rebuilding mode." What are they focusing on? Des Moines reporter Kathie Obradovich talks to Iowa Dems and summarizes the rebuilding plan thus:

That's a lot to pack in the Democrats' Acme Kit for Party Revival: Unifying leadership, a stronger message and a 99-county organization — plus the ability to raise lots of money and fast [Kathie Obradovich, "Democrats Need Inspiration, Message, Cash," Des Moines Register, 2014.11.22].

More easily said than done, I know, but South Dakota Democrats, take notes! If you're running for party chair (Jeff Barth for sure, maybe Rick Weiland? Ann Tornberg? others?), be ready to tell us how you'll build bridges with factions within the party and friends without, sharpen the Democratic message into effective rallying cries, and engaging grassroots activists in every county?


Independent-Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is awfully popular among progressives. He may run for President in 2016. Our modern Eugene V. Debs tells NPR that Democrats could get their traction back by rediscovering the working class:

...people look out and they say, "Gee, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well." And where are the Democrats? Do people see the Democratic Party standing up to Wall Street? Any of these guys going to jail? Not really. The average person is working longer hours, lower wages, and they do not see any political party standing up and fighting for their rights. What they see is a Republican Party becoming extremely right wing, controlled by folks like the Koch brothers. But they do not see a party representing the working class of this country [Bernie Sanders, interview with Steve Inskeep, "Sen. Bernie Sanders on How Democrats Lost White Votes," NPR: It's All Politics, 2014.11.19].

Senator Sanders sounds an awful lot like our own Rick Weiland. Does that make Weiland a socialist... or just the right man to lead the South Dakota Democratic Party back to its mission and electoral success?

Senator Sanders recommends the sort of socialism that South Dakotans of both parties love—big federal investment in infrastructure:

...whether you're white or black or Hispanic or Asian, if you are in the working class, you are struggling to keep your heads above water. You're worried about your kids. What should the Democratic Party be talking about, Steve? What they should be talking about is a massive federal jobs program. There was once a time when our nation's infrastructure — roads, bridges, water systems, rail — were the envy of the world. Today that's no longer the case [Sanders, 2014.11.19].

Roads, bridges, water systems—we could be building real public goods that would put millions of Americans to work and serve the national interest, but a majority of Senators in the pocket of Big Oil think it's more important to authorize a private foreign oil pipeline that would hurt the U.S. economy and the working class.

Senator Sanders likely won't derail the Clinton nomination. But his exhortation to working-class politics could point Rick Weiland and South Dakota Democrats the route toward votes in 2016.


Can we all just get along?

Sixteen people (fourteen in the room, two on the phone) met in Rapid City Saturday to talk about how to elect more Democrats. These citizens discussed how to organize a quadfecta of political action committees that will recruit and support local and legislative candidates. The discussants included Pennington County Democrats, a former legislator, tribal members, a registered Independent, and LGBT advocates. Tentatively calling themselves South Dakota Progress, the group agreed enough to endorse a mission statement:

To elect Democratic Candidates to public office in South Dakota by drafting, implementing and following a cohesive plan that will support and facilitate the election of candidates for local offices up to the state legislative level.

They also agreed enough to schedule a second meeting for December 6 in Rapid City. The ball is rolling.

Friend of the blog Tasiyagnunpa Livermont is acting as steering committee chair for SD Progress. Livermont says she got involved with this project because she feels "disenfranchised" by the existing party mechanism. She saw great organization and outreach from Rick Weiland's Senate campaign, and she found a place for her desire to help in Robin Page's District 33 State Senate campaign, but she didn't see the SDDP making a similar effort to engage new, young volunteers across the state.

Echoing that sentiment is MRC Miller, a metallurgical student at School of Mines, LGBT activist, and former Page volunteer:

I'm involved out of anger.... Republicans didn't win 2014, Democrats didn't fight. Half the time there wasn't one on the ballot. What few candidates could be found were generally weak, because they were unsupported by what passed for a party [MRC Miller, South Dakota Progress, press release, 2014.11.19].

Some Democratic candidates and organizers may take Miller's and Livermont's criticism personally, making it difficult for SD Progress to live up the intention Livermont states of working in parallel with the South Dakota Democratic Party. But Bajun Mavalwalla, who helped build the Page campaign convened and advised Saturday's meeting, says the group assembled Saturday consists of "professionals who will lay down hard feelings and use their passion to further mobilize their constituents in a precise, organized way." In a sign that Democratic Party members can do the same, Pennington County Dems invited SD Progress participants to their regular meeting Tuesday night to further discuss how the groups can work together. Rapid City Police received no reports of shots fired.

Prior to Saturday's meeting, SDDP exec Zach Crago cautiously welcomed the new group's effort:

“Our state party welcomes input from any Democrat or others from across the state,” Crago said. “These kind of discussions with folks like Bajun are healthy for the party.”

But he defended the SDDP’s work raising money and recruiting candidates for local races — even if it hasn’t borne much fruit in elections the past few years [David Montgomery, "South Dakota Democrats: An Idea to Rebuild," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.14].

Former SDDP chair/exec Ben Nesselhuf dismisses the group as unnecessary:

“Everything that he’s suggesting there is (already) being done through the state party,” said Ben Nesselhuf, the former chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party, after reviewing Mavalwalla’s proposal. “I think Democrats would be much better served by putting their time and energy into the state party structure than dividing up their resources with competing organizations” [Montgomery, 2014.11.14].

There seems to be a difference of opinion as to just how much support the state party is offering to local and legislative candidates. We'll let Crago address that in his speech tomorrow at Democratic Forum.

There should not be a difference of opinion about what to do with South Dakota Progress. Democrats, a group of over a dozen activists want to help us win elections. Our immediate response should be, "Yes, please!" Party leaders should have open, thoughtful conversations to help South Dakota Progress develop a plan that is truly complementary to and not wastefully redundant with existing party efforts. But as long SD Progress does nothing that hinders the SD Democratic Party's efforts to raise money and recruit volunteers and candidates, we should welcome the help.


The Democratic Forum of Sioux Falls (which sponsors this blog—thank you, friends!) hosts what could be a newsworthy program this Friday. Zach Crago, executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, will deliver what I believe will be his first extended public remarks since the midterm election. Crago will discuss the recent election and, according to the Democratic Forum, "what the party needs to do to plan for the future."

Democratic Forum is open to the public, and speakers generally do big Q&A, so let's warm up some questions for Crago! Here are the top five that jump to my mind:

  1. What current SDDP projects are working and should continue?
  2. Closely related to #1: What metrics indicate those projects are working?
  3. How much money does the SDDP need to raise to be competitive with the SDGOP?
  4. What does the SDDP do to overcome disillusionment among donors and reach that competitive level?
  5. How long can we keep you as party exec?

Meanwhile, here are the top five things you won't hear Crago say on Friday:

  1. I'm quitting the SDDP and joining the Libertarians to help them capitalize on their role as South Dakota's true opposition party.
  2. Ssshhhh... we're luring the Republicans into overconfidence.
  3. I'll be bringing a proposal to the State Central Committee at its December 13 meeting to amend the SDDP constitution to choose all nominees for statewide office via online polls on the Madville Times.
  4. Now that South Dakota voters have declared that EB-5 is not a political liability, the South Dakota Democratic Party will raise $140 million by forming its own Regional Center to compete with the state in recruiting and managing EB-5 investments. (Hey, wait a minute—that's not a bad idea!)
  5. And now presenting our next Democratic Party chairman, Larry Pressler!

You can hear what Zach Crago really has to say and pitch your own questions about the future of the South Dakota Democratic Party Friday noon, November 21, at the Sioux Falls VFW, 3601 South Minnesota Ave.


While the next executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party tells me that Democrats need to embrace God and guns, pollster Paul Nielson tells Todd Epp that we Democrats lost the Catholic vote this time out:

“If you’re evangelical Christian, you’ll almost certainly vote Republican,” Nielson said. “A mainline Protestant, probably a little more Republican than Democrat. Roman Catholic has tended to be more Democratic, but actually in this election, they went more Republican, according to our polling, toward the end, which was a really bad sign for Democrat[s]” [Todd Epp, "In South Dakota, Is Religion Electoral Destiny?" Northern Plains News, 2014.11.16].

Who's left for us Dems?

For Democrats, according to Nielson, about the only clear constituencies they won in this month’s election were reservation-based Native Americans and non-religiously affiliated voters [Epp, 2014.11.16].

Atheists and Indians—I think we're still outnumbered, Sundance!


An eager reader insists that I'm leading my Dems astray encouraging a leftward, liberal shift. I maintain that I'm just urging Democrats to be Democrats. I'm telling them to pick for party chair a real progressive populist—a bridge-builder, not a purity-tester, but an unapologetic Democrat who can make the case that our liberal values serve South Dakota better than Republican oligarchy.

If the South Dakota Democratic Party shows some guts and elects a real Wellstonian-Frankenesque progressive as chair (and whom do we have: Rick Weiland? Joe Lowe? Stephanie Herseth Sandlin cured of Blue-Doggery by motherhood and ready to fight tooth and nail for her son's right to grow up in a country kept free, just, and prosperous by true liberalism?), my fellow South Dakota liberals can draw the same inspiration for action that Salon's Elias Isquith sees in Senator Elizabeth Warren's ascent among national Dems:

After many years of kvetching about their paltry influence — and following decade after decade of enviously watching the conservative movement refashion the GOP in its own image — lefty ideologues and organizers now have the chance to turn Warren into a kind of trojan horse for a resurgent politics of economic populism (or, as it used to be called, liberalism). And if they adapt and adhere to the script used many years ago by visionary right-wingers, who famously responded to an electoral drubbing in 1964 by staying the course and propelling a true believer to the White House less than 20 years later, it just might work [Elias Isquith, "It’s Elizabeth Warren’s party now! How to remake it in the liberal heroine’s image," Salon, 2014.11.15].

Isquith recognizes that the Goldwater–Warren analogy, like all historical analogies, is not perfect. He says we shouldn't fuss with hurling Warren against Hillary Clinton in a 2016 primary. Instead, Osquith sees Warren as a rallying point for action closer to home. Isquith recommends...

... building institutional support from the bottom up by creating funding networks and community spaces outside of the Democratic Party’s reach, so lefties can feel personally invested in their cause without having D.C. grandees step in and tell them to be “serious.” That’s what right-wing activists did through churches, think tanks and mailing lists; and the often successful Internet-based organizing from people at Daily Kos and the Blue America PAC has already offered a hint of how those on the left can do it again [Isquith, 2014.11.15].

Funding networks and community spaces outside the party... gee, that sounds familiar....

Give us a leader, Dems! Give us a real Democrat, a real progressive—heck yeah, a real liberal, someone who can inspire the base, work with them, but not get in the way of their enthusiasm and problem-solving.


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