Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) does not lose gracefully. His Senate Bill 166 was a spiteful and crassly political ploy to weaken voters' right to legislate via initiative and referendum. The press blasted him, a variety of citizens and groups rose against SB 166, and numerous opponents trekked to Pierre yesterday to testify against this destructive bill yesterday.
A bigger man would have responded with a simple apology: I'm sorry. You're right. Senate Bill 166 is a bad idea. I withdraw the bill.
Senator Brown is a bigger something else. When Senate State Affairs finally reached SB 166, after opponents had waited through more than three hours of testimony and discussion in on other issues, Senator Brown took the mic, dismissed "the vast majority" of the opposition as thoughtless and impolite, and craftily tabled—not withdrew, but tabled—his bill before patient, thoughtful citizens had any chance to put their opposition on the record.
Senator Brown also misportrayed Senate Bill 166 as a sincere defense of the state constitution and continued his war against the initiative and referendum by threatening to take petitioners to court.
Here is Senator Brown's complete statement, for the record. All blockquotes are Brown's words, in my transcription. My translations, corrections, and commentary are inserted between blockquotes. This portion of the hearing begins at 3:12:36 on the SDPB audio.
You know, when we are elected, I think most of us take that very seriously and we come here to pierre with the idea that we're going to address problems and issues. Most of the colleagues that I've met here in the Legislature have a true interest in trying to find better ways forward or to take care of things that are deemed incorrect. We also take pretty seriously the oath to defend and support the constitution of the state [Senator Corey Brown, remarks on Senate Bill 166, Senate State Affairs Committee, 2015.02.06].
Translation: I'm awesome. I'm brave and noble. I would never propose a bill just to take away a democratic tool that citizens have used to challenge my party's political agenda and undo the things ALEC tells me to do. Never.
I realize that Senate Bill 166 has generated a lot of discussion.
Translation: I'm awesome for introducing such a thought-provoking bill.
Unfortunately I'd say the vast majority of that discussion has not been nearly as thoughtful as I would have hoped that it would have been.
Translation: People criticizing my awesome idea are clearly idiots.
Essentially we have an issue or at least I believe we do, and a lot of you have heard me speak to this, but I think South Dakota, as you know, was one of the first—it was the first state to allow for initiatied measures and referendums. And in the constitution, there was language that was put in there to talk about qualified electors, and that's what the petitions are supposed to be based off of. You can also turn to section... Article 7 in the constitution which talks about the definition of an elector. When you marry those two things up, I think we run into a third problem, and one of the pieces that really hasn't been discussed in this entire conversation has been the Supreme Court Case in 1994, which was Poppen v. Walker. Now that case didn't have anything to do with initiated measures or referendums. What it dealt with basically the gaming industry.
Poppen v. Walker found in 1994 that video lottery as then constituted was unconstitutional because the Legislature had created a gambling mechanism that did not conform to the court's constructed definition of the "lottery" authorized by popular vote in 1986.
Senator Brown commits supreme irony in turning for legal support to a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had violated a constitutional provision that had been approved by the people.
However, there was a major finding in that case that I think is critical to this discussion today. And I'll just read it to you. Basically the Supreme Court came back and said, "It is the duty of the Supreme Court not the Legislature to determine the meaning of constitutional terms."
Unfortunately, if you look at our state statute, the Legislature at one point adopted code very early in our statehood that tried to define what an elector was, and basically they said you needed to go back and take a look at the last election for Governor, and it will be based off a percentage of that.
Correction: the statute in question, SDCL 2-1-5, was enacted in 1939, fifty years after statehood, and amended in 1976. Neither date qualifies as "very early in our statehood."
The problem is we as a Legislature defined what those electors were, kind of contrary to what the constitution indicates.
Correction: The problem is that not one word of current statute is contrary to language in either of the constitutional provisions Senator Brown cites. Stay tuned: I'm working up a separate post dedicated to that topic.
As we go forward, and I should point out that... I don't know the exact reasoning for why that was put into place way back when, but I think, as it's been pointed out to me, when that was adopted, we were at a point in our state's history where when you registered to vote. you did it every two years. You had to come back in and re-register when the county would call that together, and unfortunately, I don't think the tracking mechanisms were very good.
Essentially, at that point in the state's history, the only way you could really go back and figure out how many people were there was you had to go back and look at the last election and see how many people voted for governor
So I think there was a practical reason to put that in there at one point, and obviously it's remained there for a long time.
However, I think society, technology have got ahead and caught us up to a point where we can go on the secretary of state's website and know how many registered voters there are today. And that's, those are the words that were put in the constitution.
Having said all of that, I'm quite surprised that a lot of folks are willing to not engage in an intellectual conversation.
More irony: A South Dakota Republican legislator complains that citizens are not sufficiently intellectual.
And there was something that occurred last night that made me realize that this has really become too big of a distraction for this Legislature to deal with. I had a call from the page advisor. Opponents are calling the Capitol using swear words and curse words at our high school pages. That is absolutely pathetic. I cannot believe that we would reach that level.
Big translation: Political discourse is over in South Dakota. If activists want to kill a bill, all they need to do is call the Capitol, get on the phone with a high school page, and say, "That bill sucks, dagnabit!"
I find such discourse unintellectual and immoral. But if we're being practical (and I want you to think about the moral compass of various special interest groups), what's cheaper:
- Running a candidate to unseat Corey Brown?
- Hiring a lobbyist?
- Mounting a petition drive to refer Senator Brown's bad laws? or,
- Cussing out a page?
Senator Brown is obviously blowing smoke. If I were a legislator, and if some frail blossom of youth on my page staff came weeping to me that some mean citizen had burned her ears with foul language over a bill I cared about, I'd console her, assure her we'd keep her safe, but I'd also take the teachable moment, "Dear girl, some people are nasty, and they will try to distract us from doing what's right. But this bill matters, and we aren't going to let the bullies win."
The shorter translation: Corey Brown has no spine, and he's teaching kids to cave to bullies.
And so in the interest of allowing this Legislature—as you saw by our agenda today, we have many bigger fish to fry and there are a lot of things that we have to discuss and maybe ultimately we just need to let the courts deal with this—I'm going to ask that the committee table this bill so we can move on to the other issues that we have before us.
Translation: With opponents gathered to roast this bill, let's put it on the table. I'm not withdrawing it, and once these people leave, maybe I'll bring it back. Or maybe I'll just sue anyone who dares bring an initiative or referendum this year. Who knows? I'm determined to undermine the initiative and referendum, and if I can't get this bill passed, I'm going to at least create as much uncertainty as I can for all those citizens who think they are better than I am at making laws.
At that point, after allowing Senator Brown his grandstanding and insults, without allowing any opponents to speak, Senate State Affairs did indeed table Senate Bill 166. If SB 166 stays dead, we will at least be spared a bad bill. But sore loser Senator Corey Brown remains unapologetically committed to insulting the people of South Dakota and their constitutional right to legislate.