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GOP, Mercer Attack HB 1172; Kooiker Calls for Quorum Consistency

The GOP spin machine and reporter Bob Mercer are in full rebuttal mode against Rep. Stace Nelson's latest open-government legislation. The Fulton Fulminator's House Bill 1172 would require any meeting at which a majority of legislators discuss legislation to be open to the public. GOP sycophant Pat Powers declares the measure political "showboating" and collaboration with Democrats that unfairly targets Republicans.

Follow the logic here: Powers is saying that Nelson is befriending Democrats and undermining Republicans to win publicity and votes in a Republican primary. It must be a zen thing.

Mercer piles on to say HB 1172 won't work because it doesn't affect the minority party and because party leaders can get around it with whip meetings and the committee process.

Neither Powers nor Mercer gets the real point of the bill. Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker does:

I think HB1172 to implement simple quorum rules for the Legislature makes perfect sense. Some legislators will probably oppose it because Stace Nelson is a sponsor and other legislators will oppose it because they see it as "grandstanding by Democrats" in an election year. I hope people will look past the perceived personal motives, and instead look at this bill for what it is: a simple, logical and long overdue rule to require the legislature to abide by the same rules that all local governments do.

How fair is it for the Legislature to be able to have a quorum talking about serious policy issues, when local governments do not have the same ability? If the Legislature is serious about consistent open government, they would support his bill wholeheartedly regarding of personal dislike of who the sponsors might be [Sam Kooiker, comment, Madville Times, 2014.01.31].

The quorum rule always affects the majority party differently from the minority party. At the local level, the quorum rule stops the Republicans on the Lake County Commission from having secret meetings, but it currently doesn't affect any Democrats. Such is the price of victory.

The quorum rule always has workarounds. If the Lake County commissioners want to get around the quorum rule, Scott could chat with Kelli, and then Kelli could chat with Dan, and then Dan with Ron, Ron with Roger, Roger with Scott. But we don't throw in the towel and make off-the-record collusion among scheming commissioners easy.

Mayor Kooiker expressed his support for HB 1172 at the Rapid City crackerbarrel yesterday. House Majority Leader David Lust (R-34/Rapid City) said everyone else is doing closed caucuses, so why can't we? He said HB 1172 would just drive secret strategy meetings underground into smaller groups, which I suspect would make it harder for the majority leader to impose his schemes on his colleagues... which is exactly the point of the quorum rule.

Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) wants to address Lust's and Mercer's concern about workarounds by taking HB 1172 even further:

Although I'm not a co-sponsor of the bill, having looked at it. The only thing I would suggest that we add to it is that if a majority of a committee that's listening to legislation meets, those meetings should also be open to the public. What I mean by that is sometimes there are meetings of a committee's majority that are secret and they discuss how a bill is going to be disposed of before listening to testimony. That decision shouldn't be made before testimony by people who may have driven four or five hours to get there. I agree with the premise. What's good for the goose is good for the gander [Rep. Lance Russell, in Scott Feldman, "Crackerbarrel: In Their Own Words," Rapid City Journal, 2014.02.02].

Forget who's sponsoring the bill. Forget which party happens to be affected at this particular moment in history. Address the general principle: should a quorum of an elected body be able to meet in secret to discuss public policy? South Dakota has answered that question in the negative for almost every elected body in the state. The Legislature is the exception to the quorum rule. Nelson, Kooiker, Russell, and I see the wisdom in ending that exception and following that rule.


  1. Drew 2014.02.02


  2. Jaka 2014.02.02

    One could only 'hope' that those in power at any one point in time would have to be responsive to the same rules laid down by them to everyone else to follow???????!!!!! Think, "Repubs", isn't that what we hear you saying re: the Feds from whom you expect the $$$$ to keep coming into SD from?

  3. Rep. Stace Nelson 2014.02.02

    This is a bill that I have mulled over with LRC, SDNPA, other legislators, other elected officials, prominent Republicans as well as grass roots Republicans. The consensus is that the current closed meetings may violate SD open govt laws; however, they do in fact violate SDGOP platform planks on Republicans belief in an open government process for the people.

    I provided correspondence and bill drafts to our host that confirm that I was working on this LONG before folks talked me into obliging my civic duty to run in the US Senate race, and show that the draft I wanted imposed FULL SD open govt law compliance on the full legislature.

    Supporters of this much needed open govt measure felt that it was the proper goal, but a bridge too far. Grudgingly, I agreed to bring this simpler version in an effort to get the peoples' foot in the door to what is going on in their govt.

    I would appreciate any with an interest to show in Pierre to testify in committee in support of this effort on your behalf. God bless.

  4. Bernie 2014.02.02

    In Nebraska, the senators don't caucus at all and somehow they manage to get through their legislative session.

  5. Rick 2014.02.02

    A common provision of open meeting laws is the ability to discuss legal strategies. While a closed caucus is not the same, it's very similar and I think the discussion of process strategy belongs within closed ranks of the caucus. I know the Democrats' caucus is open daily to do the glad-handing and to read and discuss each bill. But when it's time to discuss strategies, votes, etc., the guests are invited to leave and return soon, and the doors get shut.

    The arrogance of the GOP caucus is they keep the door welded shut from start to finish of each caucus. Don't bother even to ask. Frequently, they have department and agency heads in the caucus to feed them information, which gives them an edge in floor and committee actions. But the public (including the busloads of high schoolers who come to see how their state government works) is screwed if they think they can gladhand and sit in on some of the discussion in the super majority party's bid'ness, much less if they can lend an ear to strategic discussions.

    The elitism and snobbery of the Republican caucus is a black eye on the party, but that's different from an actual violation of open meeting laws. Maybe the GOP Central Committee can sprout a spine and slap around the GOP leadership in the Senate and House if they enjoy being shown the door when they come to Pierre. I doubt it. We'll see if they give a damn.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.02.02

    Good point, Bernie! A friend forwards this Politico article on exactly that topic: The Nebraska legislature does without caucus, without partisan elections, and without a whole second chamber.

    Rick, is it possible to cleanly separate strategy sessions from policy talk? Won't strategy often include discussion of policy options that may be taken off or laid on the table? Could those strategy discussion still take place in smaller groups?

  7. Rick 2014.02.02

    Cory - I get the ethical and possible legal point of this, but the practicality of it just isn't there. I don't want to sound like I'm arguing, Their days are usually packed from very early morning until night. They get only one hour to sit and discuss each day, if that. Considering they run through dozens of bills in an afternoon session, it doesn't leave much time to intelligently discuss the legislation plus what kind of monkey business happened earlier that day in committees. I think the Democrats' caucus approach is the most considerate of concerns for transparency, but at some point, there needs to be a full discussion on key bills and what kind of horse-trading needs to be done. I'm at a loss how to effectively manage a caucus on the floor without the full team huddling before the gavel sounds. It's different from a county commission of five people or a city council of around 12 people.

  8. Bob Mercer 2014.02.02

    Laws need to work.

    Kooiker e-mailed me about all of this yesterday. I told him the same things about the legislation's problems. Water finds the cracks. This has huge cracks.

    Further, it doesn't address the situation where no party has a majority. That's happened in the House in South Dakota.

    You can get at some of the problems with this bill by reducing the number to less than a majority. One-third might be the better ceiling, because that covers situations involving spending bills and vetoes.

    This proposed law reminds me of the state laws that set limits on the amounts a person can contribute to a candidate and a political action committee. We've seen those limits are worthless because a person simply sets up more PACs and the PACs give the money to the candidate.

    Laws need to work.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.02.02

    Bob, why does addressing the party situation matter? Why is this not simply a question of the quorum? Even if the Greens surge, take three seats, and leave GOP and Dems each below 50%, is it not still a reasonable precaution to prevent a quorum from assembling out of public scrutiny?

    Do the quorum rules not work at the local level? Should the open-meeting rules under which Kooiker labors be repealed as well?

  10. owen reitzel 2014.02.02

    I pretty disagree with everything Stace stands for, but on this I agree with him and give him kudos.
    Open government is never bad no matter who is in charge and on this I wish Stace the best of luck.

  11. Charlie Johnson 2014.02.02

    Perhaps the end result of this kind of legislation will help legislators to deliberate measures not rubber stamp.

  12. grudznick 2014.02.02

    I am with Mr. Nelson on this one. It has the grudznick stamp of approval. And with this Mr. Russell fellow, I too would make other meetings be open. I suggest that no more than 4 or 5 legislatures should ever be able to talk together outside of a public meeting.

  13. mike from iowa 2014.02.02

    Well,I'd certainly like to help SoDak legislators lighten their daily load and become more effective at solving current problems and not finding solutions to problems that don't exist. So, for a modest fee I,mike from iowa,will happily sift through the bills and discard any that I personally feel are frivolous,redundant,totally unnecessary,personally irresponsible and outright foolish. You have my personal guarantee that I,mike from iowa,cannot be bought by special interests. Since I am essentially an outsider,what possible,ulterior motive could I have? I think that South Dakotans can't afford not to hire me. I think you should do it.

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