Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lowe-Wismer Differences More Than Style; Whither the SD Democratic Party?

Last updated on 2014.05.29

... and please note, I did NOT say "Wither the SD Democratic Party?"

With the June 3 primary election now less than a week away, several media outlets—both in the blogosphere and in more mainstream corners—have looked at the multiple joint appearances by Democratic gubernatorial candidates Joe Lowe and Susan Wismer and noted the same differences I highlighted here last week.

Most chalk up the differences to ones of style between candidates Wismer (described by words such as reserved, taciturn, measured, analytical, and ambivalent) and Lowe (described by words such as tenacious, decisive, aggressive, and dynamic).

However, I wonder if there's a bigger distinction for those of us casting a ballot in the Democratic primary on Tuesday. Might Lowe and Wismer represent not just different campaign approaches, but different underlying philosophies about the direction of the Democratic party in this state—a state that both candidates say gives too much control to a single political party?

Wismer's commentary on the Republican party's dominance in South Dakota's state politics seems to be fatalistic, bordering on defeatist. While Wismer's chief selling point as a candidate (and her likely reason for party fanfare over her candidacy) seems to be her experience in the state legislature, she seems forced to spend time as an apologist for Democratic ineffectiveness in the face of Republican majorities. We hear a lot from Rep. Wismer (D-Britton) about how hard it is for Democrats to get heard in Pierre when they represent a clear minority.

This kind of attitude means a lot of Wismer's future-looking involves a vague commitment to "changing the narrative" in Pierre or giving Democrats a voice they haven't seemed able to find any time in the last 30-plus years. The plans we do get sound (to use a word from the adjective list above) quite measured. Wismer's Democratic Party seems to be a party of status quo.

Lowe doesn't seem nearly as hesitant about finding his voice as the loyal opposition to the Republican gubernatorial dynasty. As far back as December, Lowe was paraphrasing the cliché definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results) to criticize Daugaard's approach to education spending. Might some of that critique also apply to the tactics of the statewide Democratic Party?

Lowe hasn't yet faced firsthand the bureaucratic realities of South Dakota's executive-legislative branch relationships (though he was the state's top wildland fire suppression specialist under the past three governors and spent time in Pierre during this winter's legislative session). Perhaps, for some, this makes his list of specific initiatives unrealistic or naïve instead of insightful or visionary. I'm not sure, though, that Lowe cares about what adjectives observers tag him with, as long as they're not getting in the way of his attempts to get things done. Lowe's Democratic Party seems to be a party of active challenge.

It's no secret where this blog's support lies on Tuesday. But I'm curious, readers, do you think this race between candidates also a race about conflicting party philosophy? Or am I, within the echo chamber of South Dakota political reporting, falsely ascribing a deeper meaning to a race that truly is about personal style and policy substance?

Either way, we'll have more to talk about a week from now when we know which candidate will campaign to become the first Democrat elected governor in Kristi Noem's Dusty Johnson's lifetime!


****Bonus intra-state, intra-party rabble-rousing: State Sen. Jason Frerichs (D-Wilmot) theorizes that Wismer has the support of rural Democrats, while Lowe's backing is strong among urban (as much as one can use that word in South Dakota) Dems. Wismer herself picks up that mantle, differentiating her "rural Democratic tradition" from "the Sioux Falls Democratic tradition." Lowe responds with this video on YouTube:


  1. larry kurtz 2014.05.28

    What part of Daugaard sleaze escapes South Dakota's electorate?

  2. Kurt Evans 2014.05.28

    Toby Uecker wrote:
    >"Either way, we'll have more to talk about a week from now when we know which candidate will campaign to become the first Democrat elected governor in Kristi Noem's lifetime!"

    I enjoyed the post, Toby, but I'm pretty sure Dick Kneip was elected twice in Kristi's lifetime (1972, 1974).

  3. JeniW 2014.05.29

    I like features about both candidates so it is going to be tough to chose.

    I don't think SD is open to having a female governor at this point as evidenced by so few female legislators. There were woman who campaigned to be legislators, but most were not elected.

    The majority of the current legislators are Republican and are members of the "Good Old Boys" Club, so even if Wismer were to be elected governor, I doubt that she would get much support from the legislators who seem to automatically defeat any bill proposal submitted by a Democrat. Bill proposals submitted by Democrats rarely make it out of the committee.

    Lowe would face similar challenges, but because he is a male with a stronger voice (both literally and figurally,) he might have an edge that Wismer does not have as strong of.

    So who to vote for will be a challenge.

    If Lowe wins the primary, perhaps Wismer could be the Lt. Governor, or vice versa?

  4. John Tsitrian 2014.05.29

    In my piece that you link to above, I contrast their backgrounds and experience as the basis for my contention that their crucial differences are stylistic, not substantive. Wismer is an accountant, Lowe is an executive. Their respective skillsets and backgrounds favor Lowe when it comes to running a government.

  5. John Tsitrian 2014.05.29

    Also, there's an A.A. Milne-esque quality to the difference between Lowe and Wismer: This is Tigger, the boundlessly energetic, forward-looking optimist vs. Eeyore, who sees a world full of irresolvable problems through the lens of a pessimist. On education, Tigger/Lowe has a clear plan for raising more money while Eeyore/Wismer complains "I can't work miracles." The contrast seems vivid and clear to me--Lowe really needs to win this primary if Dems are to have a chance at winning the general.

  6. Tasi Livermont 2014.05.29

    This progressive absolutely agrees. Something I failed to mention in my blog post about the fumbling about Lowe and I did during the meeting and greetings portions of the Brookings Q&A is that he might have put his foot in his mouth, but he didn't give up till we found some sort of commonality. Susan? She didn't have much to say at all though pretty gracious. I guess I better write more about that. I think the choice is clear.

  7. caheidelberger 2014.05.29

    You see an interesting metaphor, Tasi: Indian–white conversations in general will involve a lot of fumbling and will require a lot of patience to not give up until we find commonality, workable policy solutions, and culture change.

    John, I always vote for Tigger.

    JeniW, if the only major reason not to nominate Wismer were the female-electability issue, I'd nominate Wismer. If someone said, "She's the best candidate, but South Dakota isn't ready to elect a woman," the proper response from the candidate and the party would be, "South Dakota, get ready. We're going to make you ready. Our awesome female candidate is going to make you ready."

    Recall that Lora Hubbel says she didn't think South Dakotans were ready to elect a female governor, but that her conversations with conservatives have made her more inclined to believe it could happen. We don't elect many female legislators, but we have elected some. And remember that in 2008, our state was unique in the region in giving Hillary Clinton a big primary win.

  8. caheidelberger 2014.05.29

    Style reflecting personality and philosophy—interesting question, Toby! I cringe at the thought of a party of defeatists... or a party of Eeyores.

  9. JeniW 2014.05.29

    Interesting points Corey.

    There was a time when there were more female legislators, but since then the numbers have declined mostly because of the Republican/Conservative candidates receiving more support. There were women who are Republicans who campaigned to be legislators, but they were not elected either.

    IMO, as long as the ACA, federal debt, and the "anti-women" attitude are hot topics, I don't think there is much chance, though not impossible, for the number of female legislators to increase.

  10. JeniW 2014.05.29

    I am going to back-pedal a bit. It is when the Tea Party emerged is when the number of female legislators decreased.

  11. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.29

    John, While I agree with you on your points in the past, about Wismer's stance on Dewey Burdock, at the same time I think that it may possibly cloud your perception of her as the candidate of choice. East River will not be as concerned about that as they will be about the railroad issues, which only get worse as the oil situation in ND gets bigger and bigger.

    Cory, you liked John's Tigger and Eyore analogy. Which one was Heidipriem? I would say Tigger and if ever there was a reason to elect a Democrat to the governorship in my lifetime, the crap that we had seen in the previous 8 years as well as (my) perceived weakness of the Republican candidate, 2010 was the year and it was not even close.

    Don't give DD ammunition for after the primary, if in fact Susan should happen to win. It is imperative that we end the monopoly of the crony capitalists on the governorship. 12 years is enough of this crap and it is time to elect a governor who will invest in education, and work for all the people of this State, not just the privileged few.

  12. Rorschach 2014.05.29

    I disagree, JeniW, with your assertion that South Dakota is not ready for a female governor. If Stephanie Herseth Sandlin had run this year, Dennis Daugaard would be in the fight of his life. For an open seat in 2018 she would be the frontrunner. Other strong women could win the governorship as well if they ran. Nancy Turbak Berry for one. As much as I like Susan Wismer and appreciate her service as a legislator, she's not the right candidate for governor. You just can't plug anybody into any race.

  13. Chris S. 2014.05.29

    Bonus points for proper use and spelling of "whither."

  14. twuecker Post author | 2014.05.29

    Kurt Evans, you're right. My error was in only considering Kneip's initial election in 1970 and not his subsequent relections, of which your comment reminds us. I updated the sentence with a new Republican pol who I believe makes the timeline more accurate.

  15. twuecker Post author | 2014.05.29

    John Tsitrian, I don't discount your well-reasoned case that the differences in the candidates are stylistic; my attempt in this post was to ask whether there's a deeper significance to the sylistic differences. Are Wismer and Lowe's differences in style representative of differences in Democratic Party voters? I'm not sure; it's just something I'd been thinking about and something that could be worth a little reflection on the part of the SDDP if we're going to have a significant and lasting impact on the political dialogue in the state.

  16. Steve Sibson 2014.05.29

    Cory, Wismer's defeatist position is based on the Democrat's Neo-Marxist worldview that says women, colored, gays, and the working class are oppressed. The real problem for Democrats is that these so-called oppressed groups don't have the money to fund campaigns, and the GOP's Chamber of Commerce special interests has loads of money as they take advantage of big government's power.

  17. larry kurtz 2014.05.29

    The bulk of South Dakota's 'colored' Democrats live under apartheid, Sibby: subjugated and repressed by the state's GOP machine for many decades while the middle class fled to blue states.

  18. larry kurtz 2014.05.29

    Neo-Marxism is a meaningless term for the indigenous of the Western Hemisphere who have been communitarians for eons before Jesus of Nazareth began practicing it.

  19. JeniW 2014.05.29

    I agree that SD might be ready for a female governor, but at this point in time, it is unlikely that a female would be elected.

    There are a lot of people who are so focused on the "hot" topics that candidates' merits and stances get lost. It seems like the ACA is the only issue at hand.

    But even if a female governor, particularly a Democrat, were in governor's office, the current legislators will put up strong resistance to anything "she," is even Stephanie, and/or reject anything proposed. She then might be considered a poor performing governor. I like Stephanie, and would love for her to campaign for office. I also like Nancy and would love for her to campaign for office. All I am saying is that at this particular point in time, a female Democrat is not likely to be elected.

    I went to the Auditor's Office this morning to vote. Early voting has been "very, very slow." Early voters tend to reflect what the voter turn-out will be on election day.

    My message to all those who decide not to vote: When you make the decision not to vote, you leave the decision making to those who do vote. How those who do vote may result in who and what you don't like. That has happen often. In that case you own it.

  20. Shirley Harrington-Moore 2014.05.29

    If you choose the status quo vote Wismer. If you want to move the party ahead with dynamic leadership vote Joe. The choice is yours. Don't pass up the opportunity to have your voice heard. Watch the videos of the question and answer sessions between the candidates. There IS a telling difference. Wismer is the pessimist; Lowe is the optimist.

  21. Kal Lis 2014.05.29

    Just watched the Lowe YouTube bid at bottom of post. I don't recall too many candidates using roadhouse blues to set their own tone. It seems to project a bit of confidence in this war of dueling styles.

    As for the substance of the East River/West River and rural/urban divide in SD, I have to yawn because the issue has been hashed out in every bar/cafe/coffee shop since statehood

  22. Roger Cornelius 2014.05.29

    In 2008 the Democrats had two excellent candidates in Hillary and Barack, the question then was are we ready for a black president, or are we ready for a woman president. Both questions, when you examine them, are extremely patronizing. America has always been ready for both just as South Dakota has always been ready for a woman governor. Somewhere in our political process we have allowed the political hierarchy to dictate candidate qualifications while ignoring the basic requirements stated in the U.S. Constitution and the state's constitution.
    If South Dakota isn't ready to have a woman governor now, when will it be? Who makes that "when" determination and worse yet, who abides by it?
    Susan is not my candidate for governor for a host of reasons, but should she defeat Lowe she will have my unbridled support. Hell, even Lora is better than Daugaard!

  23. Douglas Wiken 2014.05.29

    Having one house of the legislature elected with something similar to a parliamentary system with a slate could make a big difference if party organization would agree to alternate male and female on the slate. Slate number elected from any party would depend on party's percentage of vote. This would more closely reflect the actual ideological makeup of the state than does current mostly single-member districts where one vote difference can totally change the make up of the existing chambers.

  24. Roger Cornelius 2014.05.29

    Steve Sibson,
    What color are you referring to with the use of the word "colored". Colored is archaic as your perpetual argument and fear of Marxism or Neo-Marxism. There was a time when motels and hotels advertised "colored tv", they too weren't specific about the color.

  25. mike from iowa 2014.05.30

    My thoughts are that SD Dem party has already withered.

  26. larry kurtz 2014.05.30

    easy mike: kick me but don't kick my dog.

Comments are closed.