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: