O.K., Democrats. We want to retake the Legislature, right? Or we at least want to elect enough sensible legislators to have a fighting shot not just at knocking down the wingnut bills that dominate the conversation in Pierre but also at passing real laws, not summer studies, with real funding to solve real problems.
If we can't find enough Democrats in enough districts for that task, are we willing to back progressive Republicans?
South Dakota Progress is, says SDP chair Katrina Wilke:
The goal is to fill ballots with the names of Democrats or even progressive Republicans.
“We would find them,” she said. “We wouldn’t just wait for them to come to us. We would look for people who are really active in their community.”
Candidates would receive training and seed money to begin their campaigns. The belief is candidates will do better if they are financially supported immediately [Roger Larsen, "S.D. Progress Seeks Dem Candidates for Local Offices: New Group in Early Stages of Formation," Huron Plainsman, 2015.02.21].
That wicket is tricky from all angles. South Dakota Progress will need to convince its donor base that any Republicans it backs are really good sheep in wolves' clothing. SDP will have to be confident and make others confident that "progressive Republicans" receiving SDP support can be counted on to put progressive principles over the diktats of the Republican leadership that stands in the way of progressive legislation. And those progressive Republicans will have to brace for a brutal primary in which the SDGOP will likely declare fatwa on GOP apostates playing ball with a group they will surely brand, no matter what SDP says, as a tool of the South Dakota Democratic Party.
Then again, Wilke may be mapping exactly the strategy that allows South Dakota Progress to distinguish itself from the Democratic Party. It may well be that the best hope for Legislative sanity in some districts may be to find a smart, young, pragmatic candidate who keeps the "R" in front of her name but isn't waving a Bible and packing heat. Maybe South Dakota Progress can become the go-to team for young Independents who want to engage in politics but don't want to get tangled in partisan tomfoolery. There's a mission South Dakota Progress can do that the South Dakota Democratic Party cannot. Working with candidates of any label would give South Dakota Progress more opportunities to prove its practical ability to help candidates win elections and more donors on whose doors they could knock.
Perhaps in a state where being a mere moderate may count as being progressive, South Dakota Progress will follow the example of The Centrist Project, which backed former Republican Larry Pressler as an Independent in our 2014 U.S. Senate race but backed R's and D's in other races.
But will anyone—donors, candidates, or attentive voters—buy that approach? Will the Democratic Party continue to dance with South Dakota Progress if SDP asks for such an open relationship?