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Tornberg and Lowe Bring Strong Leadership to SD Democratic Party

Ann Tornberg, SDDP Chair

Habemus sellam... et subsellam! The Central Committee of the South Dakota Democratic Party yesterday elected Beresford farm gal, former debate coach, and former Sioux Falls teachers' union president Ann Tornberg as statewide party chair. Tornberg may have sealed the deal by inviting former state fire chief and Democratic gubernatorial primary challenger Joe Lowe to run for the Vice-Chair position. Lowe ran unopposed for and won that second slot.

If Lowe did indeed tip the scales, Tornberg had an unfair advantage. Barth could not offer Lowe the vice-chair position: as I understand it, the state party requires that chair and vice-chair be of opposite sex... although a review of the party constitution finds an opposite-sex preference stated for county and legislative district chairs and vice-chairs but no similar language for the top two state officers. (The SDGOP explicitly requires that gender equity of its state chair and vice-chair in its bylaws, Section 1, Clause 4.)

My comment section lights up with discontent. John Tsitrian (just a Republican provocateur, right?) hears grumbling from a Central Committee member that the vote was pre-ordained (like how Republicans pick their chair). Another party observer says the Tornberg-Lowe team represents "more of the same" keeping the "current clique... in control of the state party."

Democratic candidate for South Dakota Governor Joe Lowe
Joe Lowe, SDDP Vice-Chair

We should not be surprised if internal party affairs are scripted events rather than genuinely exciting and open contests of ideas and strategies. But I would like to take issue with the notion that selecting Joe Lowe as a party official represents an embrace of insiders and a failed status quo. A year ago, Lowe rattled Democratic insiders with his surprise bid for governor. He jumped in before the party's preferred candidate, Rep. Susan Wismer, could make her announcement. He ran a more aggressive, ambitious, and inspiring primary campaign and lost only because Wismer (whom Tornberg supported) could rely on an old-guard network. Anyone who thinks Joe Lowe would accept a figure-subhead position to bolster a mostly powerless clique has probably not spoken to Joe Lowe or reviewed his record.

Instead of reading deep machinations into the situation, let's look at the two new party leaders we have. Tornberg and Lowe are both fighters and effective managers. Tornberg's experience with the Sioux Falls Education Association should reinforce the party's commitment to labor. Lowe brings the West River voice to the head table. Lowe can organize Dems in the Black Hills. He can connect with the nascent Rapid-City based South Dakota Progress, increasing the chances that the two organizations will communicate and synergize rather than drifting off to work at cross-purposes. Tornberg and Lowe both strike me as leaders who can help the party learn from failure and fight for success.

P.S.: For those of you thinking Tornberg's election hinged on her not-quite-pro-choice politics, remember that Joe Lowe was the Democrat last spring explicitly calling for repeal of South Dakota's 72-hour waiting period and state-mandated anti-abortion propaganda sessions.


  1. Tim 2014.12.14

    "We have made great progress over the last 4 years"

    Good thing we didn't just get our asses handed to us in the election. I'll wait and see what happens.

  2. Tim 2014.12.14

    "genuinely exciting and open contests of ideas and strategies."

    What a novel idea, maybe we should try it for a change.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.14

    Tim, I understand your reality-based skepticism. I, too, scratch my head at the claim that the SDDP has made "great progress" and await the plan and the action that will reverse our dismal fortunes. Having Joe Lowe involved increases the chances of getting a real plan and real action.

  4. Tim 2014.12.14

    Cory, if the two rolls were reversed and Lowe was chair I would agree, unfortunately I'm not feeling the enthusiasm at this point. As I said on the other thread, we all know what Lowe stands for, just not feeling it for Tornberg.

  5. John Tsitrian 2014.12.14

    C&P'd from the wrong thread: Provacateur shmovacateur--I'm a Republican who is so unequivocally pro-choice and pro-two-party system that it disturbs me when I see you Dems doing stuff that is dumb and self-defeating, e.g., last Winter's red-carpet rollout that Susan Wismer got with barely an offhanded acknowledgement that Joe Lowe even existed. What happens at Party Central if an abortion-rights flare-up occurs in the legislative session this year? Tornberg will weaken Dem hands when the anti-choicers call attention to the fact that even the Democratic Party Chairwoman is avowedly ant-choice.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.14

    I guess I'm the one doing the provoking this morning, right, John? :-)

    Mr. Duffy offers a remarkable response on the relevance of the Dem chair's abortion politics: as long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, the abortion litmus test is irrelevant and destructive for Democrats. I do agree that where there is room for fight on the issue, we could use more Dems who are willing to stand for that constitutional right rather than caving to the Republican narrative... but is Duffy right that we don't need to exert ourselves? Can we afford not to exert ourselves under the Roberts Court?

    John, how do we now square the party's spurning of Lowe in the spring with its invitation of him to leadership now? Are Dems admitting an error? Or is Lowe becoming an Establishment guy?

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.14

    It will be interesting to see if Lowe actually wields his authority more like a co-chair in West River than a vice-chair. He doesn't strike me as a number-two kind of guy.

  8. larry kurtz 2014.12.14

    Cory, how do we now square the party's spurning of Lowe in the spring with its invitation of him to leadership now? Are Dems admitting an error? Or is Lowe becoming an Establishment guy?

  9. larry kurtz 2014.12.14

    Earth hater Tsitrian on Democrats, next: Cheney on peace.

  10. Bill Fleming 2014.12.14

    Kurtz, how do we now square the party's spurning of Lowe in the spring with its invitation of him to leadership now? Are Dems admitting an error? Or is Lowe becoming an Establishment guy?

  11. Tim 2014.12.14

    State Dems admitting an error, never (part of the problem), tossing Lowe a bone to keep him happy, more likely. I'm not convinced vice-chair has any authority at all, we all know what East River politicians think of us folks out here, irrelevant, both parties. To Repubs we are taken for granted, Dems just don't pay much attention. Pennington County is the second largest in the state, East River has to do something to keep them quiet, toss them a meaningless title and move on with business, and West River is sucker enough to accept every time. Wonder what would happen if an ass like me showed up at the next meeting assuming I can even find out when the next meeting is, they tend to keep that stuff to themselves.

  12. larry kurtz 2014.12.14

    Bill, this is what happens when a party is hamstrung by a lack of money, negative focus and carelessness for unity.

  13. larry kurtz 2014.12.14

    When there are Democratic party chairs in Harding, Butte, Ziebach, Corson, Clark, Douglas, Faulk, Haakon, Hutchinson, Jackson, Jones, Potter, Sully, and Todd Counties i will think about sending another freaking cent to a South Dakota Democrat.

  14. grudznick 2014.12.14

    Nobody else ran. That's how Mr. Lowe won.
    But really how many people even knew there was an assistant party chair? I really doubt Mr. Lowe will create earthshaking changes, he will just keep your 4 years of improvements rolling along.

  15. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.14

    Joe Lowe is a seasoned politician that can and will bring a west river voice to the party and hopefully provide advice on how to sidestep their many "errors".
    Every Democrat should print Patrick Duffy's Roe vs Wade comment and present it to the opposition every time the abortion issue comes up, including within the party.
    Why Tornburg allowed the pro-choice discussion to even occur is unbelievable and is a demonstration of the party's lack of planning and strategizing and as a result we play right into the hands of Republicans as John Tristan says. The abortion or pro-choice debate is not going to make our state a better place for all its citizens, it only provides a meaningless distraction.
    Let the SDGOP have that debate and when they do hand them Patrick Duffy's critique.

  16. grudznick 2014.12.14

    Joe Lowe is a seasoned California politician.

  17. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.14

    What does it matter where Joe Lowe comes from? Right now he is and has been a South Dakota resident with voting rights and ran an honest campaign for governor as well as serving in state government

  18. Bill Fleming 2014.12.14

    LOL, as far as Roger's concerned, all of us non-tribals are carpetbaggers. And he's right of course. What we need is a good leader. Who cares where s/he comes from. Thanks for sticking up for us 'imports' brother Roger.

  19. Winston 2014.12.14

    It's a stunt. Let us not forget how the leadership of the South Dakota Democratic Party tried to run a registered Republican for Lt. Governor in 2010 until then Sec. of State Chris Nelson said, "…No you don't."

    Now, we are going to try to pass ourselves off as Pro-life….. to fool the electorate once again into voting for us in 2016 and 2018 just as it worked out so well back in 2010.

    I am sorry my fellow Democrats, but I don't buy it - and I defer to the advice of the late great Democrat Harry S Truman:

    "The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat…"

  20. John Tsitrian 2014.12.14

    lol, Cory, you should be thanking me . . . Party Dems aren't so much collectively admitting an error for having been so indifferent to Lowe last Winter as waking up to the fact that they have a seasoned and knowledgeable pro in thier midst. In my perfect world, Tornberg will come to realize that she's such a lightning rod that she'll step aside and let Lowe take the party's reins. My hope is that Joe Lowe--who I've met and couldn't regard more highly--will become such a force in the party that the '16 race will feature him as the Dem candidate with solid backing from the party and all the rank and file.

  21. Bill Fleming 2014.12.14

    Winston, I'm pro-life. So are you I bet. I think it's time we stopped letting a handful of Republican political organizers decide for everybody else what words mean. Especially important ones. Like 'life.' Clearly, you didn't get the 'Take it Back' message. It starts with language. (See George Lakoff for essential reading on 'framing.')

  22. Tim 2014.12.14

    Ding ding ding, Winston has it! What are we ashamed of? We run on who we are and what we believe or change to Repub and get out.

  23. Tim 2014.12.14

    John, you are right, and I do thank you! You would make a great Democrat, any chance that happens some day? ;-)

  24. grudznick 2014.12.14

    Mr. C, it matters to me because besides not really have the same way of thinking as those of us born in South Dakota, Mr. Lowe has a lot of machinations he learned as a mayor on the left coast where he crushed the spirit of his town.

  25. grudznick 2014.12.14

    But, as I said, I have never heard of this position so the best it can probably do is keep the SDDP on their same 4 year track of improvements. Mostly harmless.

  26. Winston 2014.12.14

    I dare you to tell a woman who is pregnant, not by her choice, that "It starts with language."

    Abortion, like gay rights, civil rights, and economic justice is one of the fundamental issues of the Democratic Party. That does not mean there cannot be a minority viewpoint on each of these issues within the Party, but when they are allowed flippantly to become the leadership then one needs to begin to ask if we are a Party of philosophy or merely one of political manipulation.

    In 2010, we ran a capable former Republican for governor as a Democrat, because primarily in my opinion his pro-choice positions offered him no future in the South Dakota Republican Party, but his abortion views were then welcomed in the South Dakota Democratic Party. That same year we ran no one against pro-lifer John Thune for the US Senate because we were told by Party leadership that a challenge against him would not be practical and a waste of finite Party resources (So much for Party philosophy).

    Now, four years later we pushed aside Sandlin (who was polling close to Rounds in 2013) for philosophical reasons in favor of a more left of center US Senate candidate (philosophy matters now(?)), and then now, we allow a pro-life Democrat to lead the South Dakota Democratic Party in its darkest hours.

    This is a Party which has lost its soul!…. And is being manipulate by a few at a great cost to the many.

    Whether it be religious quotes on government snowplows or born-again (no pun intended) pro-life leadership within the SD Democratic Party the playbook here is obvious, embarrassing, and disgusting.

  27. Douglas Wiken 2014.12.14

    Herseth-Sandlin abandoned her early supporters. Her blue-dogs didn't hunt.

  28. Bill Fleming 2014.12.14

    I would tell anyone and everyone that the word "life" doesn't belong to the Republican party, Winston, because it's the truth. Better yet, you should tell them.

  29. Winston 2014.12.14

    We need not enter into a world of syntax debate (nor should we), when a woman's reproductive rights are placed in peril or indifference by a Party leadership.

  30. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.14

    You may object to Joe Lowe's residency, but he is a Democrat and you are a Republican, you'll never vote for him anyway.
    "it matters to me because not really have the same way of thinking of those of us born in South Dakota", it is your kind of thinking grudz that has kept South Dakota in the higher ranks of state corruption. Or, are you talking about the Mike Rounds faux "South Dakota Common Sense", that only proves Republicans will vote for a felon before a Democrat.

  31. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.14

    Did South Dakota Democrats push aside Herseth or did she choose not to run? She had a competitive chance against Rounds and did not take it.

  32. grudznick 2014.12.14

    You are right Mr. C that I will probably not vote for Mr. Lowe if he runs for something again, but mainly because of his ego and spending habits, not because he is currently a Democrat.

    I think Mike Rounds was born in South Dakota. East river, but still South Dakota.

  33. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.14

    Brother Bill,
    I suspect grudz's family tree is one that shouldn't be climbed. Any idea where his family was imported from?

  34. Jana 2014.12.14

    Grud, be careful of creating a negative for Lowe...don't forget that Daugaard is a Chicago lawyer trained in Chicago style politics. Pretty sure that his puppeteer/son-in-law has read and practiced Saul Alinsky style politics as well.

  35. Bill Fleming 2014.12.14

    Roger, Grudz's family tree comes from the same place he himself comes from... out of the strokes of his author's fingers on a computer keyboard. LOL.

  36. Bill Fleming 2014.12.14

    Winston, if you're not willing to engage the Republicans in semantics, you can expect never to win a single political and/or ethical argument, much less an election.

  37. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.14

    Way good one Bill.

  38. Bill Fleming 2014.12.14

    (p.s. Winston, it doesn't have anything at all to do with "syntax.")

  39. Tasiyagnunpa Livermont 2014.12.14

    Is it too much to hope for that a chunk of regular Dems were pissed to find out what happened to Joe during the primary, have raised hell to the rank and file, and the party thought to fix the issue?

  40. grudznick 2014.12.14

    Mr. Lowe lost straight up in the primary because young Ms. Wismer out campaigned him. Or else the Democrats just liked her better.

  41. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.14

    Winston, what stunt? I think you are ignoring Lowe's pro-choice position, his background, and his character.

    Tim, what bone is there to throw to Lowe? He doesn't need a party position to do the things he wants to do. He wouldn't take a party position that would require him to be quiet and do what he's told. Frankly, I think it's the other way around: Lowe is doing the Dems a favor by offering his service... as well as the enthusiasm of the thousands of voters who backed him in the primary hoping for a party willing to fight for its principles. If Winston thinks the SDDP has lost its soul (and its performance over the last decade could lead some to that conclusion), Joe Lowe could help them recover that soul.

    Consider John's scenario: if he plays his cards right, Lowe may be able to use this position to build his following as well as the SDDP's and set up another run in 2016 or 2018.

    And you know, as much as we all like to grumble, maybe Tasi's right: maybe the SDDP sees an opportunity to fix a mistake and involve more people by choosing a chair and vice-chair who may indeed have different policy positions but who share the common goal of electing more Democrats.

  42. Winston 2014.12.14

    Roger, you are definitely right. Stephanies could have ran if she wanted to, but she didn't. But then again, I have never claimed her to be a great champion of Party philosophy.... Hell, she was a "Blue-Dog!"

    However, if the Party leaders would have had the same attitude or position in 2014 that they had in 2010 then she would have been in with much favor with them in 2014.

    As far as sematics versus syntax, its tomato versus tamatoe, its really only a hypen which separates us, but for women concerned about reproductive rights its not academic rather its real.

    Let us face it, in a few weeks South Dakota Democrats will no longer have one of theirs in Washington nor in a state wide State office - which means the Party Chair position has acquired a new relevance and when the Party chair does not represent one of the core issues of our Party we have a problem..... unless philosophy doesn't matter for a political party....

  43. leslie 2014.12.14

    winston-my view of sandlin v. weiland was she was not interested. at least her uninspiring mcgovern's day speech indicated so much.

  44. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.14

    While it is true that Democrats lost big in this recent election, that does not translate to we were wrong or lost our soul.
    Even party philosophy should not be a major concern at this point, our philosophy won't deviate that much by the next election cycle, our major emphasis must be organization and strategizing and not allowing the SDGOP to define who we are.
    I haven't met Joe Lowe, but I have had extensive telephone conversations with him. He took it upon himself to call me. Joe is firm in what he says and the positions that he takes, Joe has no fear of Republicans and is willing to spell out Democratic positions to them and the electorate.
    Of course women's reproductive rights are a party issue, but it is a bigger issue to Republicans. Patrick Duffy's eloquent on another thread should put this issue to rest except for Democrats safeguarding Rove vs. Wade.
    I've stated previously that the biggest problem Democrats have is not connecting with low-information Republican voters. Those low-information voters are being used be wealthy Republicans and they don't even realize it.
    Besides the goals of voter registration and education should be the monumental task of educating and recruiting those Republicans that their party does not serve.

  45. Winston 2014.12.15

    This is not about Joe Lowe, but nice try. As far as the "stunt," it is the totality of the aforementioned stunts which I have pointed out in earlier comments which legitimizes my assertion of a stunt in this case. If you
    don't buy this, that is just fine, but then you have only proven the existence of a power vacuum within SD Democratic politics which further enhances the opportunity for stunts and/or my alleged stunt.

    But imagine if today a state Democratic chair in a southern state took Rand Paul's position on the 14th Amendment and civil rights (as he famously elaborated on the Maddow Show back in April of 2010) would not most Democrats be appalled?

    Yet, today as South Dakota Democrats, recognizing that our state was ground zero for the abortion debate in '06 and '08, we are just suppose to sit back and allow our new chairperson to support a position in opposition to a woman's constitutional reproductive rights….. Are you kidding me?

  46. Lynn 2014.12.15

    Winston, I can see what you mean regarding the possibility of this being a "stunt" but if that is true it will most certainly divide the party, causing further damage and again insure defeat?

    Could it be that Anne simply stated her position with the idea of the SDDP being the big tent party, be inclusive yet respect each others differences? Pro-choice is a fundamental stance for the party.

    Afterwards she would utilize her skills, experience and connections to focus on the task of Chair rebuilding the party while respecting the issues that the party stands for with a united focus?

  47. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.15

    The heck it isn't about Joe Lowe, Winston! Put Joe Lowe in a room, and the room will be about Joe. He is a locus of energy and leadership.

    Now, you could be right: there could be some stunt-thinking among some party leaders. They may be thinking, "Oh, that darn Joe, he sure got a lot of people excited. Let's offer him the vice-chair! That'll keep him and his supporters quiet, and we'll be free to carry on with our nefarious plots! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!" If the events of the next several months bear out that plan, by all means, Winston, point that out when it happens, and I will eat crow.

    (We should note that for this to be a stunt, the leadership had to have a plan to push Darrell Raschke out of the vice-chair—a not counterproductive move in itself—and choose not to dragoon anyone else into standing for the post. The leadership also had to assume that Joe Lowe would consider this a favor granted to him rather than a job that he himself chose to apply for an win.)

    If Winston's stunt hypothesis proves true, the stunt itself will prove disastrous for the party. Lowe's campaign style, his previous leadership activities, and his political experience suggest to me that he isn't about to be a mere tool of any clique. If the SDDP doesn't allow him to use his position to do real good for the SDDP, Lowe will call them out and make life hard for any stunters. If Lowe sees the executive board not moving in the right direction, he will kick them around until they move in the right direction or until they kick him out, at which point there will be hell to pay.

  48. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.15

    Lynn, there is every possibility that Tornberg will focus on simply being a good party organizer and administrator and leave the policymaking to candidates, delegates, and voters. You will not see Tornberg direct the SDDP exec to circulate an initiative petition to ban abortion after 20 weeks or extend the waiting period or anything like that.

  49. judy judy 2014.12.15

    Cory, you are delusional about Mr. Lowe. He looks like a Governor and that is his primary qualification for public office. He doesn't mesmerize a crowd. All he talks about publicly and privately is of being a firefighter and of being the former Mayor of a small city in California. It turns out he was a one-term City Council member of a town with a city manager with the title of Mayor shared by its 5 council members in an orderly manner. It is sad that the Democratic Party West River has looked to a leader like Joe. Maybe the SDP will breathe a little life into the local Democratic Parties in the West.

  50. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.15

    Judy, can you share with us the evidence you use to determine that Lowe's work as a firefighter and mayor are somehow substandard and do not provide useful experience on which he can draw as vice-chair?

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