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Rhoden Registered Democrat for 20 Years: Say Three Hail Ronnies and Carry On

Last updated on 2013.10.04

If I run for partisan office someday, I run the risk (a small risk in South Dakota) that some party diehard will primary me and beat me up for being a DINO—Democrat In Name Only. "Heidelberger's no liberal!" my fellow Dem will shout. "He used to be a Republican!" Indeed, out will come my old voter registration card and my own narrative of M. Michael Rounds's success in converting me from my youthful abstractions to pragmatic liberalism. My opponent will get friend of the blog Joseph Thompson to repeat his argument that I'm still a conservative, just waiting to come back to my senses, and thud!—I'll be knocked out by some Democratic upstart who wore a McGovern t-shirt in her crib.

I'm not in the 2014 primary, and I'm not a conservative (Joseph, I mean it!). I'd like to be able to say I'm a lifelong liberal, but I can't.

State Senator Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center) is in the 2014 primary. He is a conservative... but he's catching the grief I imagine above from State Representative Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton), because Larry, like me, decided he erred in his youth and signed up for the wrong party:

Larry R Rhoden, Meade County, South Dakota, voter registration cards from 1978 (top) and 1998 (bottom).

At the top you see Larry Rhoden's first voter registration card, available at the Meade County Courthouse. On April 17, 1978, at the eager age of 19, Larry R. Rhoden registered to vote as a Democrat. He thus had the chance to vote in the 1978 Democratic primary, which offered a choice between Don Barnett and Ken Stofferahn for U.S. Senate; among William Walsh, Bob Samuelson, and Charles J. Bellman for U.S. House District 2; and among John Bohr, Roger McKellips, and Harvey Wollman for Governor (Dems! What fun! Primaries across the ballot!).

At least on paper, Larry labored under the delusions of Democratism even after the defeat of Jimmy Carter and the dawning of the Age of Reagan. Whether he engaged in any nefarious liberal doings during this dark period is anyone's guess. But he performed official repentance on November 25, 1998, when he asked the Meade County Auditor to change his party to Republican.

Larry's Meade County neighbors quickly forgave him this transgression: they graced him with overwhelming wins in the 2000 primary and general elections for District 29 House. He has served that district in Pierre steadily and Republicanly since then.

We were young and stupid when we were young and stupid. I got out of my youthful stupor around age 32; Larry emerged from his just shy of age 40. Do either my or Larry's original party affiliations have any relevance to our current pursuits? Or do we get a little extra credit for choosing our political baptisms as older, wiser adults?


  1. Winston 2013.10.04

    As long as your policy positions change with the change in your party affiliation, then I don't think it should matter so much. It is when people, and especially politically aspiring individuals, do it for merely opportunistic reasons and they appear to struggle with their new party's philosophy that the issue should be raised. But then who is to judge it? It becomes a subjective standard for each individual voter to beware of, that is to the degree that the voter is not so cynical to think that there is no difference between the two major political parties to begin with....

    If a high profile individual does it, especially someone who is already serving in elected public office or has in the past, then I am going to suggest that questions need to be asked of that party-switcher. Heidepriem's switch in 2003, or his running mate's midnight switch during a state political convention, are examples of party-switching which need further scrutiny.
    Especially, when you consider that that particular Democratic gubernatorial ticket bragged about having a 100% voting record with the Chamber - an organization which is often at odds with Democratic Party positions, like the current move by the SDDP to increase the SD minimum wage (Are not the politics of 2010 and 2013 contemporaneous to each other, I ask?)

    But let us not forget that Reagan was once a Democrat and Pressler too. In fact, Pressler almost ran for Congress in 1968 as a Democrat in the old SD 1st Congressional District. McGovern, who was raised in a Republican household, attended the 1948 Progressive Party Convention as a delegate and opposed the re-election of Harry S. Truman that same year. Eisenhower was a man of no party prior to 1952 and some Democrats even tried to nominate Ike for Prez in 1948 instead of Harry.... And there are others that come to mind like, Ron Volesky, Mayor John Lindsey, Senators Ben Nighthorse, Richard Shelby, and Jim Jeffords to name a few. The precedent has already been set, even in South Dakota, long before Rhoden came along.

    Test their ideology. If they have a past voting record, then analyze it and watch their next move. A politician who fakes their philosophy by voting the party line is actually a better party leader than one who registers with one party and votes the opposite way. Well, that is as long as they stay in the legislative branch. If they become a Governor or President you had better watch out. They can become like a Supreme Court Justice who over time has a completely different agenda than the President who nominated them, like John Paul Stevens and David Souter as examples.

  2. Bob Mercer 2013.10.04

    Well written, Sir Winston. Well researched, Cory.

  3. TG 2013.10.04

    Couldn't agree more, Bob. Good and objective analysis by Winston and Corey just put it out there objectively. I especially love this "choosing our political baptisms as older, wiser adults". That would be a smart move but we all get pretty set in younger years and don't think for ourselves later. Thanks for that perspective.

  4. Troy 2013.10.04

    Whether it be in politics or religion, more often than not you see greater fervor in their new home after conversion as later in life decisions usually are done with greater contemplation and information. Decisions made in early life are often done from a perspective of tradition and personal loyalties.

    I know several Democrats and Republicans who haven't voted with their party for years but they don't change parties because of what their parents will think.

    The focus on this element of Larry Rhoden's life is probably the biggest "boomerang" strategy I've ever seen. I'll bet it doesn't cost Larry 10 votes he would otherwise get. And, if he gets 10% of the Republicans who have switched in their life, it will be worth thousands.

    P.S. There is a person who has attended our church for @ least 30 years who has yet to convert. He says he will when his dad dies because that is when his dad will understand.

  5. interested party 2013.10.04

    Whistling in the graveyard is the GOP catholic way.

  6. TG 2013.10.04

    Another good perspective Troy. Another good statement that is oh so true "greater fervor ... after conversion as later in life decisions usually are done with greater contemplation and information"

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.04

    Good historical examples, Winston, especially Reagan.

    On opportunism: in South Dakota, don't folks who switch from Dem to GOP automatically warrant a higher level of suspicion than folks switching the other way? Can Heidepriem's switch really be considered opportunism? Perhaps there are some legislative districts (like Heidepriem's 13th) where being a Dem is an advantage, but not statewide.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.04

    Troy, on that "greater fervor"... could it be we're just making up for lost time... or guilt?

    I'm not sure the family tradition thing applies here. My parents were never overtly political in any direction, though my dad isn't terribly fond of that Obama character.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.04

    Oh, and Winston, it is interesting to note that Sen. Rhoden discourages us from analyzing that voting record, instead urging us to look at his "accomplishments." Can we separate votes and accomplishments in the Legislature?

  10. Rick 2013.10.04

    Rhoden is a West River Democrat from Union Center who wrapped himself up to look like a Republican so he could get elected in Meade County. That was the buzz on him when he swapped out parties and ran back then, and his record as Rounds' lead mule to pass his record sized budgets year after year makes it ridiculous to indicate Larry is any kind of fiscal conservative. Taking a phony Tea Party pledge is more of the same wrapping up as in 1998 to make him more appealing to the radical base that runs the GOP these days.

    Once a phony, always a phony.

  11. Mark 2013.10.04

    People change party affiliation as they evolve, but I suspect it's just as often due to how their party of original registration evolves. Were he alive today, I'd put even money that Ronald Reagan would consider being an independent. He'd certainly be a disaffected GOP member, who would have a tremendous battle getting nominated today.

    For my friends of either party reluctant to change affiliation out of parental concern, it seems just as many don't share that concern, some even to the point of a mark of independence. Most don't even particularly care about their parents' registration.
    I support the idea of two party system, appreciating and enduring the best and the worst of each.
    Lately, that's being a real challenge given the latter.

  12. Winston 2013.10.04

    Cory, as far as the Heidepriem example is concerned. I will give Scott credit for taking the chance by running for the State Senate in District 13 as a Democrat before he ran for Governor as a Democrat. His State Senate bid could have failed and he did challenge a Republican incumbent, Dick Kelley, but he also ran in a Democratic year with a strong pro-choice GOTV drive to his advantage as well as the growing anti-Bush war fatigue movement working to the advantage of any Democrat that year (2006).

    The brilliance of his strategy was that defeat would have allowed him to move-on in life without the embarrassment of an opportunistic sole gubernatorial run from day one, where as victory at the State Senate level was design to legitimize him to the greater South Dakota people (especially his new party) as a credible gubernatorial candidate in the future, and in the short-run that appearance seemed to work.

    You are right that candidates in South Dakota who switch from Democrat to Republican should be held to a higher level of suspicion, but if a Republican switches to the Democratic Party and does it in South Dakota, and they are pro-choice (like Heidepriem), then that candidate should be held to as high of a level of suspicion as any "New" Republican candidate.

    To answer Rhoden's distinct between his voting record and his accomplish-ments, it just does not seem very logical. How can you take credit for something that you did not vote for? Does association warrant credit? I like many Americans was proud when we landed a man on the moon, but should I and many other Americans take credit for it? Heck, I was only eight in '69.

  13. TG 2013.10.04

    Winston - not understanding this sentence. Can you clarify for me please? Thanks! "To answer Rhoden's distinct between his voting record and his accomplish-ments, it just does not seem very logical"

  14. dale b 2013.10.04

    what makes this worse in my mind is all 4 candidates throw around the label conservative but 3 definitely are not. i think south dakotans have rejected the party affiliation of candidates in federal elections and vote based on how conservative a candidate is. if they are conservative their records or life choices definitely don't reflect that.

  15. TG 2013.10.04

    @ dale b - are you making a distinction between fiscally conservative or socially conservative or both? Do they each carry the same weight in your opinion? And for the latter, just wondering about the "life choices" comment. Wondering if you could elaborate. Thanks!

  16. Winston 2013.10.04

    @TG - Well, as a legislator wouldn't his accomplishments be a by-product of his voting record? Otherwise, what right does he have to the ownership of his alleged accomplishments?

  17. Robert Klein 2013.10.04

    Meade County rancher registers Democrat in a year rancher Bob Samuelson is on the ballot.

    I'd bet two bits there is a high correlation. That, of course, has nothing to do with most of this discussion.

    I was a West River rancher when Bob Samuelson won that primary. He was a very impressive candidate.

  18. Winston 2013.10.04

    @Robert - That's a good point. I know that back in 1978, a lot of Republicans changed their registration to Democratic, especially in Union County (McKellips was a popular banker down there), to help St. Senator Roger McKellips with his primary battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against then Lt. Governor Harvey Wollman.

  19. dale b 2013.10.04

    I would point out that the moderates of the republican party run from most of the so called social conservative positions, except for marriage and pro life stuff. Some of that seems to stem from the Supreme Court of the USA insulating them from any responsibility with those positions. And most claim to be fiscal conservatives but yet they love handing out the federal cash. In my mind there is no separation of fiscal and social conservative, if a person likes to hand out cash or supports federally funded abortions then they aren't conservative. As for life choices... If a person dances around an office with a che' shirt claiming that che is their beacon, well, that is not something a conservative would or should do. I hope you get the general idea of what im saying, and i know this is a fairly liberal site and will catch flack for my remarks and opinion.

  20. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.05

    I grew up with Scott Heidepreim and his family. I know his parents and big sister Nikki. There was a big brother I never knew. He was 6-7 years older than me. I believe I am a year older than Scott, since we did not graduate highschool the same year.

    Scott's family was Republican. I'd describe them as truly compassionate Republicans. They were all very kind and generous, involved in the community in positive ways. I have an older sister with serious mental health problems. Nikki befriended her and the entire family welcomed her. It was very important for her.

    I was always surprised that Scott managed to remain Republican for as long as he did. His sister, 4 years older, switched much sooner. I think she's still living in Washington, working on issues.

    I have no doubt Scott's switch was a conversion from the heart. He's very smart and could definitely make calculations regarding his political interests, but changing his political affiliation was without a doubt, not the result of any calculations.

    I can only sigh when I think about how much better SD would be if Scott had won.

  21. grudznick 2013.10.05

    Mr. Heidepriem and that other fellow that ran Mr. Knudson both switched parties if I am right. And then the Libbies put Mr. Heidepriem up for governor and Mr. Knudson got beat by the more conservative Mr. DD who probably has always been a Republican and then he whomped on Mr. Heidepriem in the elections. I think the reason Mr. H here on this blog does not critical at Mr. Rhoden on this is because of how Heidepriem and that young man from Huron who runs for Attorneys General all the time both switched parties repeatedly.

  22. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.05

    Grud, when did Scott H switch parties 'repeatedly?'

    If the parties greatly change ideologies, shouldn't the individual switch so that his values and political affiliation remain consistent?

  23. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.05

    And Grud, though I can't remember the perennial candidate from Huron either, didn't he also run for legislature and governor? And wasn't he elected to the legis? "Ron" something. Had American Indian blood too.

  24. Robert Klein 2013.10.05

    Ron Volesky was referenced earlier, but that's probably who you are talking about.

  25. grudznick 2013.10.05

    Yes, Ron Volesky. I think he was a Republican before he wasn't a Republican. Thank you Mr. Klein.

  26. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.05

    That's it Robert. Thanks.

  27. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.05

    And Grud, about your "switched parties repeatedly" comment? I'm still looking for your supporting sources. As I said before, Scott and his family were always Republicans when we were young. I'm not sure if any of them in my generation are now.

  28. grudznick 2013.10.05

    Ms. Geelsdottir, I am looking for the repeatedlys but in the meantime just acknowledge that the fine gentleman, Mr. H (not the blog guy but the politician), switched parties. If he did it once or 3 times he's still a fine fellow and smarter than a whip.

  29. Bill Dithmer 2013.10.05

    This is a non issue to me. If someone wants to change their party, why worry about it?

    I am more concerned about people that make one mark to vote a straight ticket, "every time they vote," then someone's party affiliation. Those people show a lack of respect for themselves and their communities. They are in this order

    A sheep
    A robot
    A lapdog
    Or a slave to a party

    They lack common sense and the ability to reason. They are in short, happy to let someone else make that important decision for them, their party.

    When you get right down to it, that is the one thing that is bringing down this country. It doesn't have anything to do with "right or left." It is the straight ticket voters that never take the time to make informed decisions about their votes.

    I have never voted a straight ticket in my life and don't expect to in the near future. My party affiliation means nothing to me. Sometimes it even drags me down like an anchor.

    Lets face it, sometimes the party changes, and sometimes the person changes. It's when these people don't recognize that a change has taken place but still vote a straight ticket, where the problem lies.

    Here is something just for fun. Its a personality test.

    The Blindman

  30. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.05

    I know Scott is a fine gentleman. I'll wait for the rest because I'm interested in accuracy, as you are.

  31. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.05

    Blindman, I scored 43. I'm a damn nice and interesting person. What did you get?

  32. Winston 2013.10.05

    @Deb - Do you know if Scott's wife ever switched parties? You seem to be running with the theme that association yields credibility. According to a 2003 Kranz piece in the Argus Leader, Scott switch to the Democratic Party that year, but a year later in 2004, his wife was featured in a Daschle ad as a "Republican for Daschle."

  33. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.06

    Winston, I don't understand why you mention an 'association' theme. I know Scott personally. I've known him most of his life. My point for Grud is that Scott is not fickle, jumping from party to party on the political winds. He is a man of solid principle.

    As for his wife, I don't know. She was not from Miller. I'm sure she is a smart and independent woman. The Heidepreim women I knew all were, and the men respected them and their decisions.

    (By the way, the oldest Heidepreim boy is named Steve. I remembered.)

  34. Bill Dithmer 2013.10.06

    Deb at the time I took the test at one this afternoon I got a score of 48. I'm starting to question that score as of this writting.

    I just got through throwing my three year old grandsons stuffed ET doll at the TV because I was so pissed off at two boxing matches on HBO. Either nobody wanted to hit the other person or nobody wanted to get hit, I'm not sure which. Either way I'm glad I didnt have to spend money for the previlage of seeing either fight. I think I'm going to stick to rodeo from now on.

    I guess you could say I'm a nice person as long as there arent any stuffed toys around when I'm mad.

    The Blindman

  35. Winston 2013.10.06

    @ Deb - My 'association' theme is not in reference to your relationship with Scott, but rather the logic of your prior comments that some how if family members have changed their party affiliation that it then makes the change in party affiliation for an other member of a given family to some how be legitimate... Anyone has the potential to be an independent thinker, but I find it odd that this conversion in political affiliation, based on your logic, cannot be extend to the wife as well....? But, when you look at it in the context that Scott tried to run with a Republican running-mate in 2010, then the authenticity of his party-switching comes into further question and the wife's consistent Party affiliation begins to make sense.

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.06

    Dale, you won't catch heck for your observation that many Republicans don't act as purely conservative as you want them to. It's clear that no candidate in South Dakota really wants to give back all the support (three dollars for every two that we pay in federal taxes) that the federal government gives to keep South Dakota functioning. That fiscal support insulates South Dakota conservatives from taking responsibility much more than the Supreme Court.

    Frankly, Dale, I'd be more than happy to see the Republican Party own up to the philosophical purity you demand... because then Democrats would win.

  37. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.06

    Still not following you Winston. Here is my assertion in its simplest terms:

    I know Scott Heidepreim personally. He is a person of integrity, not switching political parties due to expediency, but out of conviction. His family is like that too.

    That's it Winston. No more, no less.
    The End.

  38. grudznick 2013.10.06

    There does seem to be proof that Mr. H (not the blog guy, the politician) switched parties. I'm not even saying that's wrong. He clearly belongs in the Demo party. It's OK and best for everybody and I would not encourage him to switch back again.

  39. Bill Dithmer 2013.10.07

    Ip is the research saying that it is possible for a prion to reinvent itself from animal to plant, and then back again?

    Or is it saying that it is possible for that prion to fix itself to the protein base in the plant, and be found in the plant, but haven't so far been able to cause genetic mutations that would cross the animal plant barrier to occur?

    The research is interesting at the least and bothersome if they can prove through generational recovery that it is actually taking place. I'm curious now as to how many generations it would take for both the prion to mutate enough to not only fix itself to the protein, but to cause the plant protein to also mutate enough to infect an animal through absorption when they are consuming the plant.

    I wish you hadn't started me down this road. Now I'll have to spend the rest of the day reading research files. Darn you Larry.

    The Blindman

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