I've written up Senator Stanford Adelstein's case for Senate Bill 82, his proposal to put all statewide offices on the primary ballot and to change the election for secretary of state. In a nutshell, the bill recognizes that the Web and online press make more direct democracy possible.
Now let's talk about three key aspects of this bill: the money involved in primary races, the error in SB 82's signature requirements, and a neat trick played by Sen. Adelstein to put a larger spotlight on secretary of state elections.
Money in Politics: Worse at Polls or Convention?
Republican blogger Pat Powers frets that making candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, PUC, and other statewide offices will increase the influence of big money in our elections. Reread that: Pat Powers, who resigned from the secretary of state's office after violating basic ethics by selling his for-profit political campaign services while working in the state office that perhaps most requires non-partisan ethical behavior, who works for country-club Republican Dan Lederman, frets that Stan Adelstein may be jiggering state law to give his own money more sway in our elections. Wow—Powers's personal grudge against Adelstein is clearly impacting his already minimal ability to make a coherent argument.
It is true that requiring statewide candidates to run the primary gauntlet will raise the price of campaigning. At the very least, candidates will have to spend more time and money to gather petition signatures statewide than they now spend hobnobbing for votes at convention (more on petitions in a moment). But isn't it just as likely that big-money candidates can sway their fellow convention-goers as they can sway an entire electorate? The money disadvantage is not unique to SB 82.
Signatures: Twice as Hard for AG, SOS as for SHS
What is unique is the signature requirement SB 82 imposes on the statewide candidates it addresses. Right now, candidates for Governor and Congress must gather a number of signatures equal to one percent of the general election vote total of their party's last gubernatorial candidate. For Republicans right now, that number is 1,950; for Dems, 1,220.
SB 82 appears to set a different standard for candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, commissioner of school and public lands, and public utilities commissioner. Section 6 of the bill says that to make the primary ballot, these candidates must file petitions "signed by a number of registered voters not less than one percent of the total combined vote cast for Governor at the most recent certified gubernatorial election." Total combined vote. If I'm reading this right, that means that someone running for the nearly invisible school and public lands seat in 2014 will have to gather 3,170 signatures, 2.6 times as many signatures as Stephanie Herseth Sandlin will need to gather for whichever more monumental office she runs for (please, Stephanie? pretty please?). SB 82's signature requirement should be brought in line with the primary requirements for Governor and Congress.
Kroll 2016: Moving SOS Vote to Presidential Year
The fun in SB 82 lies in the changes it makes to the election of secretary of state. Remember, SB 82 as originally written was part of Senator Adelstein's response to the corruption and incompetence of Secretary of State Jason Gant. Gant accomplice Pat Powers pooped his pants over another Adelstein proposal along those lines, and Senate Stae Affairs canned that other proposal. Senator Adelstein originally wanted SB 82 to make secretary of state a non-partisan office, elected by run-off between the top two vote-getters in an open-to-all primary, regardless of political affiliation.
Senator Adelstein amended those juicy bits out of SB 82 Friday, but he kept one bit of special treatment for the secretary of state. While South Dakota elects its governor and most statewide officials in non-presidential election years, Section 1 of SB 82 throws the secretary of state's election into presidential election years, starting in 2016. That clause means that when we draft former Brookings debate coach Judy Kroll to kick Jason Gant out of office in 2014, she'll have to run again in 2016. That clause also would deprive secretary of state candidates of gubernatorial coattails. It might mean that the secretary of state's race would be able to grab a bigger chunk of local press coverage, especially if South Dakota's red-Whitopian presidential vote remains a foregone conclusion.
The Senate needs to fix SB 82's inequitable signature requirements to pass muster. We could also stand to hear more about the cost impacts it will have, not so much on the state as on the campaign finance needs of candidates seeking those second-tier state offices. Moving the secretary of state's election year and giving Pat Powers indigestion are just gravy. The aim of increasing democratic participation in selecting our statewide candidates overcomes my fear of agreeing with Russ Olson and makes me offer a qualified Aye to Senate Bill 82. 10 comments