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."
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.