Toward the end of our conversation on KSOO's Viewpoint University yesterday, Dan Peters and Todd Epp asked me what big news stories we should watch for in 2015. You have my dreamy wishlist; now let me cast a partisan eye at my crystal ball and point toward some developing stories that offer smart Democrats some opportunities for organizing and recruiting allies this year for the 2016 election.
The Public Utilities Commission certification hearings on Keystone XL are arousing serious activism among cowboys and Indians. The state Democratic Party should be talking to those activists. Among the Indian opponents, the Democrats may find tribal leaders (and candidates?) who can help activate Indian volunteers and voters on other issues. Among the cowboy opponents, the Dems may find new, unexpected allies who are open to questioning their ingrained West River Republican assumptions and seeking common ground with Dems on other issues. I'm betting the pipeline issue will be resolved this year; Dems should strike now while that iron is hot to invite anti-pipeline activists to turn their energy to other important issues in 2016.
Another issue likely to get some resolution this year will be same-sex marriage. The record in other states and the failure of the Marty Jackley's arguments so far tell me Judge Karen Schreier will throw out South Dakota's gay marriage ban this year. LGBT activists and other lovers of equality and lifelong commitment will celebrate; then they'll want to turn their energy to other equality issues. LGBT activists are holding a summit this month; Democratic Party organizers should be at the summit listening for for ideas on what we can collaborate on in 2016.
South Dakota Democrats should build on one of their only visible areas of success, their ballot measures. Dems in 2014 won the biggest raise in the nation for minimum wage workers, which by itself is a great feather in the cap. We now need to keep tickling Republicans with that feather. We should monitor wage and employment data over the coming year, and when we see economic stimulus from workers with more wages and, as in Minnesota, no sign that increasing the minimum wage hurts job growth, we should loudly and unabashedly remind voters that we were right and the Republican corporate overlords were wrong.
Democrats need to build on that policy momentum, pick another issue (or two?), and get it on the ballot by the November 8, 2015 deadline. They need to march petitions all summer, not just to get a measure on the ballot, but to recruit and mobilize volunteers. They also ned to prepare a full-tilt marketing campaign behind a killer issue on which the party and its candidates can boldly hang their brand.
Democrats won't be alone on the petition trail this year. Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey and Steve Hildebrand have announced their intention to place a payday-lender-killing interest rate cap on the ballot. Daugaardian logic would say, "Don't crowd the ballot; too many issues make voters tired and stupid." But we're not Daugaard; we're Democrats! The more opportunities for people to practice democracy, the more boxes they can mark on a ballot, the better. Dems should think about issues that can synergize with the interest rate cap, and they should keep their radar on for other groups who might be working on initiatives, just in case we need to avoid duplication or cross-purposes, but they should not be afraid to forge their path with the policy initiative they think best serves the interest of the state and the party.
Along with possible issue synergy, the interest rate cap initiative may offer South Dakota Democrats a valuable lesson in coalition-building. Hickey and Hildebrand have already made national headlines with their unlikely political union. Hickey is an evangelical pastor and Republican legislator. Hildebrand helped Barack Obama become President. By any twist of conventional wisdom, a Hickey-Hildebrand collaboration should as unlikely as Stace Nelson and Cory Heidelberger running as a gubernatorial ticket in 2018. But there they are, Steve and Steve, putting aside political opposition to forge a working relationship and solve problems.
Any candidate for SDDP exec who cannot recognize, verbalize, and actualize the lesson in that paragraph should be summarily booted from the interview.
These suggestions apply as much to the state Democratic Party as it does to South Dakota Progress, the new group forming to recruit and support local Democratic candidates. SDP and SDDP (yes, this will be confusing) both need to find new workers, new candidates, new allies, and new dollars. Both groups can find useful conversations and lessons in all of the areas of activism mentioned above. And heck, if SD Progress can grow from mid-term frustration and one good idea into an effective organization, they may offer the South Dakota Democratic Party some lessons as well.