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In Translation: Corey Brown Shuts out Debate, Calls South Dakotans Mean & Stupid

Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) does not lose gracefully. His Senate Bill 166 was a spiteful and crassly political ploy to weaken voters' right to legislate via initiative and referendum. The press blasted him, a variety of citizens and groups rose against SB 166, and numerous opponents trekked to Pierre yesterday to testify against this destructive bill yesterday.

A bigger man would have responded with a simple apology: I'm sorry. You're right. Senate Bill 166 is a bad idea. I withdraw the bill.

Senator Brown is a bigger something else. When Senate State Affairs finally reached SB 166, after opponents had waited through more than three hours of testimony and discussion in on other issues, Senator Brown took the mic, dismissed "the vast majority" of the opposition as thoughtless and impolite, and craftily tabled—not withdrew, but tabled—his bill before patient, thoughtful citizens had any chance to put their opposition on the record.

Senator Brown also misportrayed Senate Bill 166 as a sincere defense of the state constitution and continued his war against the initiative and referendum by threatening to take petitioners to court.

Here is Senator Brown's complete statement, for the record. All blockquotes are Brown's words, in my transcription. My translations, corrections, and commentary are inserted between blockquotes. This portion of the hearing begins at 3:12:36 on the SDPB audio.

You know, when we are elected, I think most of us take that very seriously and we come here to pierre with the idea that we're going to address problems and issues. Most of the colleagues that I've met here in the Legislature have a true interest in trying to find better ways forward or to take care of things that are deemed incorrect. We also take pretty seriously the oath to defend and support the constitution of the state [Senator Corey Brown, remarks on Senate Bill 166, Senate State Affairs Committee, 2015.02.06].

Translation: I'm awesome. I'm brave and noble. I would never propose a bill just to take away a democratic tool that citizens have used to challenge my party's political agenda and undo the things ALEC tells me to do. Never.

I realize that Senate Bill 166 has generated a lot of discussion.

Translation: I'm awesome for introducing such a thought-provoking bill.

Unfortunately I'd say the vast majority of that discussion has not been nearly as thoughtful as I would have hoped that it would have been.

Translation: People criticizing my awesome idea are clearly idiots.

Essentially we have an issue or at least I believe we do, and a lot of you have heard me speak to this, but I think South Dakota, as you know, was one of the first—it was the first state to allow for initiatied measures and referendums. And in the constitution, there was language that was put in there to talk about qualified electors, and that's what the petitions are supposed to be based off of. You can also turn to section... Article 7 in the constitution which talks about the definition of an elector. When you marry those two things up, I think we run into a third problem, and one of the pieces that really hasn't been discussed in this entire conversation has been the Supreme Court Case in 1994, which was Poppen v. Walker. Now that case didn't have anything to do with initiated measures or referendums. What it dealt with basically the gaming industry.

Poppen v. Walker found in 1994 that video lottery as then constituted was unconstitutional because the Legislature had created a gambling mechanism that did not conform to the court's constructed definition of the "lottery" authorized by popular vote in 1986.

Senator Brown commits supreme irony in turning for legal support to a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had violated a constitutional provision that had been approved by the people.

However, there was a major finding in that case that I think is critical to this discussion today. And I'll just read it to you. Basically the Supreme Court came back and said, "It is the duty of the Supreme Court not the Legislature to determine the meaning of constitutional terms."

Unfortunately, if you look at our state statute, the Legislature at one point adopted code very early in our statehood that tried to define what an elector was, and basically they said you needed to go back and take a look at the last election for Governor, and it will be based off a percentage of that.

Correction: the statute in question, SDCL 2-1-5, was enacted in 1939, fifty years after statehood, and amended in 1976. Neither date qualifies as "very early in our statehood."

The problem is we as a Legislature defined what those electors were, kind of contrary to what the constitution indicates.

Correction: The problem is that not one word of current statute is contrary to language in either of the constitutional provisions Senator Brown cites. Stay tuned: I'm working up a separate post dedicated to that topic.

As we go forward, and I should point out that... I don't know the exact reasoning for why that was put into place way back when, but I think, as it's been pointed out to me, when that was adopted, we were at a point in our state's history where when you registered to vote. you did it every two years. You had to come back in and re-register when the county would call that together, and unfortunately, I don't think the tracking mechanisms were very good.

Essentially, at that point in the state's history, the only way you could really go back and figure out how many people were there was you had to go back and look at the last election and see how many people voted for governor

So I think there was a practical reason to put that in there at one point, and obviously it's remained there for a long time.

However, I think society, technology have got ahead and caught us up to a point where we can go on the secretary of state's website and know how many registered voters there are today. And that's, those are the words that were put in the constitution.

Having said all of that, I'm quite surprised that a lot of folks are willing to not engage in an intellectual conversation.

More irony: A South Dakota Republican legislator complains that citizens are not sufficiently intellectual.

And there was something that occurred last night that made me realize that this has really become too big of a distraction for this Legislature to deal with. I had a call from the page advisor. Opponents are calling the Capitol using swear words and curse words at our high school pages. That is absolutely pathetic. I cannot believe that we would reach that level.

Big translation: Political discourse is over in South Dakota. If activists want to kill a bill, all they need to do is call the Capitol, get on the phone with a high school page, and say, "That bill sucks, dagnabit!"

I find such discourse unintellectual and immoral. But if we're being practical (and I want you to think about the moral compass of various special interest groups), what's cheaper:

  1. Running a candidate to unseat Corey Brown?
  2. Hiring a lobbyist?
  3. Mounting a petition drive to refer Senator Brown's bad laws? or,
  4. Cussing out a page?

Senator Brown is obviously blowing smoke. If I were a legislator, and if some frail blossom of youth on my page staff came weeping to me that some mean citizen had burned her ears with foul language over a bill I cared about, I'd console her, assure her we'd keep her safe, but I'd also take the teachable moment, "Dear girl, some people are nasty, and they will try to distract us from doing what's right. But this bill matters, and we aren't going to let the bullies win."

The shorter translation: Corey Brown has no spine, and he's teaching kids to cave to bullies.

And so in the interest of allowing this Legislature—as you saw by our agenda today, we have many bigger fish to fry and there are a lot of things that we have to discuss and maybe ultimately we just need to let the courts deal with this—I'm going to ask that the committee table this bill so we can move on to the other issues that we have before us.

Translation: With opponents gathered to roast this bill, let's put it on the table. I'm not withdrawing it, and once these people leave, maybe I'll bring it back. Or maybe I'll just sue anyone who dares bring an initiative or referendum this year. Who knows? I'm determined to undermine the initiative and referendum, and if I can't get this bill passed, I'm going to at least create as much uncertainty as I can for all those citizens who think they are better than I am at making laws.

At that point, after allowing Senator Brown his grandstanding and insults, without allowing any opponents to speak, Senate State Affairs did indeed table Senate Bill 166. If SB 166 stays dead, we will at least be spared a bad bill. But sore loser Senator Corey Brown remains unapologetically committed to insulting the people of South Dakota and their constitutional right to legislate.


  1. Curt 2015.02.07

    It's good to know we have such a scholar of our state constitution leading the Senate. It would warm my heart if Sen Brown and some of his legislative colleagues would take seriously Article 8, Sec 1 of the same constitution. It states in part, "it shall be the DUTY (emphasis added) of the legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools ... and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education."
    Legislators, please do your duty.

  2. Tim 2015.02.07

    The RCJ says the law is dead, how convenient, what's the chance they cram this in someplace else at the end of session and call it an emergency? We seem to have a lot of emergencies this session.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.07

    Tim, I'm not sure dead means dead. Technically, a tabled bill can be taken off the table. For it to be dead dead, Brown would have to withdraw it, or the committee would have to defer it to the 41st day. But we could still see a hoghouse elsewhere, or Brown could try to insert it as another anti-democratic amendment to Senate Bill 69, the petition-reform bill that passed the Senate Wednesday and awaits hearing in House State Affairs.

  4. Donald Pay 2015.02.07

    My goodness, what a snit!!! You have to wonder whether the real power behind this bill, the people who put Sen. Brown up to introducing this thing, pulled the plug. Sen. Brown might want to think a little bit about whether he wants to represent the special interests who pushed this bill or the people.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.07

    Curt, I crave that sort of constitutional consistency. But Senator Brown has made clear that principles are simply tools of convenience to serve his party's power agenda.

  6. Donald Pay 2015.02.07

    A dead, tabled bill is a hoghouse vehicle. Technically, it's not dead, but I doubt Sen. Brown's little speech will do much to revive it, and without a strong showing by the special interests to move this bill, I think it's as dead as anything ever is in Pierre.

  7. mike from iowa 2015.02.07

    Wingnuts is certainly de-evolving into bawl baby poopy Johns. Here baby Brown,wanna a little titty for nappy time? Wah wah wah,Boo hoo hoo.

  8. Les 2015.02.07

    It appears that something got into some body's craw they fear might be initiated. Did I hear someone speak about a cannabis petition? Brown didn't just lose, he is acting like a loser. Darn sure no Governor Brown with this hickie forever tattooed to his forehead.

  9. Rich 2015.02.07

    This is a silly question but does anyone know if Senator Brown is the person who comments frequently on SDWC as 'Jammer'? Jammer has made it clear he/she dislikes the referendum process and loves to insult voters. Because Jammer thinks he/she is much smarter than everyone. Brown fits that persona.

  10. Roger Cornelius 2015.02.07

    Tim's link to the Rapid City Journal article says the author of the bill pulled the SB166, is pulling a bill the same as tabling it?

  11. Nick Nemec 2015.02.07

    Senator Brown has long thought he's the smartest person in every room he has ever graced with his presence. Now we have a better handle on his arrogance. To schedule a bill for a hearing, and place it at the end of a long committee calendar knowing that the hearing room is packed with people who want to speak on the issue, and knowing you are going to move to table the bill as soon as it comes up, without taking testimony, is the height of arrogance. Many of those citizens took a day off work and traveled half way across the state to have a chance to speak their mind on this proposal.

    Senator Brown could have pulled his bill the day before or could have at least made his cowardly tabling motion at the beginning of the committee meeting and spared those citizens from having to sit till the end of a long meeting for no reason. But then Senator Brown doesn't care about the people only his own grandstanding.

  12. Nick Nemec 2015.02.07

    Now the question remains, why did Senator Brown bring this bill? Is this some sort of private crusade or does he have backers behind the scenes pulling the strings in an attempt to head off a vote on some issue?

    There is talk of a medical marihuana initiated measure on the ballot in 2016. I have no idea where Brown stands on this issue but I don't think this is an issue with enough organized big money opposition to purchase a high ranking Senator in an effort to head off a vote.

    Another group is planning to bring an initiated measure to limit the interest rate payday loan centers can charge on payday loans. The opposition to that measure would include not only the payday loan lenders but all the credit card banks located in the state. They have the both the will and means to buy off a Senator in an effort to restrict South Dakota citizen's rights.

    I don't expect Senator Brown to ever explain his motivation. We'll see if his threatened court case ever materializes, and who the attorneys who argue the case are, at that time it will become clearer who his backers are.

  13. Bob Newland 2015.02.07

    Nick, most likely the triggering event was the minimum wage issue that was put to the voters and passed last fall.

  14. Bob Newland 2015.02.07

    Jeez, Brown, shut up. You're making the SoDak Republican Party look like a bunch of inquisitorial assholes, and lord knows they need no help in that quest.

  15. Tim 2015.02.07

    I agree with Nick, until we know who paid for Sen Brown, no way of knowing his motives.

  16. Nick Nemec 2015.02.07

    I'm sure that irritated them Bob, but the minimum wage is now law, they are shutting the barn door after the horses have left. They have some future agenda in mind.

    Unless they are as you suggest a bunch of inquisitorial assholes. Which I must admit is also a valid possibility.

  17. Nick Nemec 2015.02.07

    Would some group pay to challenge the minimum wage law based on an argument that the initiated measure was not valid because it didn't have enough signatures? That really seems like sour grapes but not above some business groups in SD.

  18. Tim 2015.02.07

    Is a challenge in court to the wage law coming as a way to get rid of it without committing political suicide? We all know the reaction they get if they try to repeal it the first session after the election. That's why I think this was preliminary to an attempt to repeal next session, soften up the rules you have to play against before the main assault.

  19. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.07

    I agree with Don and Nick regarding Brown's mean spirited and childish behavior. It appears that he is angry with SD citizens who disagree with him and considers those them an imposition.

    Reminds me of my 6 years at Fort Mead. There was plenty of documentation required, but interruptions by veterans while we were face first into computers was common. Whenever an irritable urge arose at that moment, it was time to remember the Fort Mead mantra: "The vet's ALWAYS come first. They are the SOLE reason we are here."

    Wouldn't it be nice if all public servants remembered that? "The citizens of the state ALWAYS come first. They are the SOLE reason we are here."

  20. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.07

    How many Madizens believe Brown about the pages being cursed at?

    Not me.

  21. Donald Pay 2015.02.07

    Deb, I have a hard time believing that, too. I suppose one or two folks might get unhinged enough to do that, but I doubt it was very many. It could have been the few supporters of Brown's bill calling in to try to discredit the opponents. Who knows?

  22. Nick Nemec 2015.02.07

    Exactly Don. Or it might have been someone instructing a page to "tell that dumb SOB Brown we hate his idea." I doubt any person went off on a page answering the phone, the vast majority of people know the difference between someone who answers a phone simply to take a message and talking to the actual Senator who might need to be called a few choice words.

  23. drey samuelson 2015.02.07

    I'm not a lawyer, but unless I'm missing something, Brown's threat to litigate future initiatives is totally idle. Here is what the SD Constitution actually says:

    "The legislative power of the state shall be vested in a Legislature which shall consist of a senate and house of representatives. However, the people expressly reserve to themselves the right to propose measures, which shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state, and also the right to require that any laws which the Legislature may have enacted shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state before going into effect, except such laws as may be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, support of the state government and its existing public institutions. Not more than five percent of the qualified electors of the state shall be required to invoke either the initiative or the referendum."

    As I read it, the Constitution doesn't state what the number should be--it seems to leave that to the Legislature to determine--it only says that the number of required signatures shall be "NOT MORE than five percent of the qualified electors," which is a ceiling, not a number. In 1939, the Legislature set the number at 5% of those who had voted in the last gubernatorial election, which then-Attorney General Bill Janklow affirmed in a written opinion in 1975 was the law. Unless I'm missing something, Brown is blowing smoke--"not more than" is not a number, it's a ceiling.

  24. leslie 2015.02.08

    should we read sb69?

    were the pages cursed at like the "Allen 57" and then covered with beer from above?

  25. Nick Nemec 2015.02.08

    Drey, you need to meet Senator Brown sometime. He really is the smartest guy in the room, just ask him.

  26. Jana 2015.02.08

    All roads lead back to the Governor's office and Senator Brown is a good foot soldier and the perfect messenger for the Governor.

    Think back to the painful defeat of 1234 and the Governor's economic development slush fund. I believe the Governor or his son-in-law said that the voters were stupid.

    Add to that, the will of the people voting for the minimum wage against the Governor and his patrons can draw a direct path.

  27. grudznick 2015.02.08

    Mr. Nemec I just bet many of the crazies that call would scream and insanely swear at interns. Not all libbies are as sane as you, sir. Some are insaner than most and that's a fact.

  28. Owen 2015.02.08

    I'm with Deb. I don't believe the interns were cursed at.
    these right wingers are insane enough to make that up

  29. drey samuelson 2015.02.08

    It's obviously unfortunate if interns answering phones--or anyone, for that matter--were cursed at, but it's ridiculous for Brown (sensitive humanitarian that he would like us believe that he is) to assert that it's the actual reason that he tabled his bill. Call me crazy, but my guess is that Brown realized that the opposition was much more vocal than he figured it would be, and spared himself the embarrassment headed his way. Of course, he couldn't say THAT, so he cast himself as the protector of the interns...

  30. Nick Nemec 2015.02.08

    Grudz, maybe you've accidently come across a sure fire way to dispatch any legislation we don't like, call the legislative switchboard and swear like a Marine drill sergeant at whoever answers. Apparently it works better than reasoned argument.

  31. drey samuelson 2015.02.08

    haha--exactly, Nick!

  32. leslie 2015.02.09

    as brown touts "Poppen", it seems obvious someone with agenda gave him this "underinflated ball" to carry. AG, LRC, or lawyer/lobbiest.

  33. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.10

    Blindman, hahahahahahahaha!

Comments are closed.