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?

46 comments

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.

24 comments

Last I checked, South Dakota Progress is looking to play very, very nicely with the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Maybe they shouldn't. Bill Curry, a former Clinton White House advisor who has batted .333 in his own election efforts, says the Democratic Party got beat up nationwide this election year because, since the late 1970's, it has sold out to Wall Street and shut out its problem-solving progressive voices. Curry recommends liberals take charge, go their own way, and dare Democrats to follow:

They can do it but they’ll have to take a time-out from electoral politics. They must declare their independence from the Democratic Party, its ineffectual politics and its current, clueless leaders....

Democrats in Congress seem bent on mass suicide. After their landslide loss they reelected all their leaders without challenge. After the Senate confirmed two utterly unqualified Obama donors as foreign ambassadors, they caved on a budget that opened more sluices for the rich to pour money into politics and hollowed out Dodd/Frank to let Wall Street cover its bad bets with depositors’ money. In 2013 Obama said he wouldn’t “pay ransom” to pass a budget. In 2014 he did just that.

A Progressive Declaration of Independence is a risk, but it’s safer than idling about on deck as the Democrats’ ship goes down... [Bill Curry, "Let's Abandon the Democrats: Stop Blaming Fox News and Stop Hoping Elizabeth Warren Will Save Us," Salon, 2014.12.23].

Curry sounds much like William Greider, who wrote in November that the national Democratic Party has lost its soul and called for a "rump formation of dissenters" to break the spell corporate power has cast on Democrats.

Rick Weiland tried to flex independence from national Democrats and from Big Money in his Senate campaign this year. That didn't go so well, but he is still preaching that same message to South Dakota Democrats. I continue to think that's the right message for South Dakota Democrats and for anyone willing to help them.

I do not think Curry's analysis ports neatly from the national level to South Dakota. Our state Dems are not in Washington collaborating with Republicans to gild Wall Street's throne. Our state Dems aren't in Washington, period, now that Tim Johnson is out. Unlike national Democrats, South Dakota Dems responded to the midterm election by electing new leadership. South Dakota Democrats may be in as good a position to break with Washington and sound Curry's progressive populist bugle as a separate progressive group like South Dakota Progress.

But the question remains, for South Dakota Progress as well as for anyone else hoping to restore progressive fortunes in South Dakota: do we work within the machine, or do we build a new one?

Related Reading: WaPo Fix blogger Philip Bump wonders what would happen if both Republicans and Democrats cleaved into two parties.

90 comments

Speaking of right-wing misrepresentation of reality, I find Pat Powers is out twisting truth again. Sensing a threat, Powers turns his slime gun on South Dakota Progress, the new group forming to support Democratic candidates at the local level. Ignoring most of the facts in Seth Tupper's report on the group's swift evolution, Powers digs for one little hint of change and explodes it into a portent of doom. Writes Tupper:

The woman who distributed the initial news release and who was identified in that release as the chairwoman of the group’s steering committee, Tasiyagnunpa Livermont, has already left the group. She and [SD Progress member David] Hubbard both said she underestimated the time commitment and was pulled away by other matters [Seth Tupper, "New Democratic Organization Trains Candidates for Local Offices," Rapid City Journal, 2014.12.22].

Writes Powers:

...it looks like one group formed to improve their electoral showing is already starting to dribble off members....

...Was that about 30 days, and people are already leaving? [Pat Powers, "Group Formed to Improve Dem Electoral Fortunes Already Fragmenting. And They Just Don’t Get It," Dakota War College, 2014.12.23]

Members, plural? People, plural? Tupper reports on one change, one person who participated in two meetings, accepted a leadership role, but then quickly stepped aside when she realized that this activist outlet wouldn't fit in her schedule. The situation doesn't sound much different from when I've directed plays and had one student-actor decide after a couple days that 6:30 a.m. rehearsals would not be good for her GPA. That's not mass defection or fragmentation; that's an individual making a choice that's healthy for herself and for the group. No story here.

But like a big round snowball, get Pat rolling, and he can't stop. He then takes a gratuitous and false swipe at resigning state Dems exec Zach Crago:

Interesting thing in the story about the Dem’s recent bad fortunes is that we’re not hearing about the biggest part of the South Dakota Democrat party’s problem, as illustrated by Zach Crago’s letter to activists as he quietly slipped out the door [Powers, 2014.12.22].

Never mind that Tupper's story is about the formation of a new group, not the fortunes of the state Democratic Party as a whole. (Tupper sensibly tackled that separate issue in a separate article.) Quietly slipping out the door insinuates something sneaky or shamefaced in Crago's resignation. Crago's departure was no more sneaky than SDGOP chairman Craig Lawrence's resignation announced last week. There's no sign he was punished or pushed out. Rather than quietly slipping out, he volunteers a public resignation letter, in which he says pretty much what you'd expect a good departing executive to say: our organization has had setbacks, but we've made great progress and we look ahead to a great future.

Pat, Pat, Pat, you're hearing things. Those echoes in your head are so noisy that you're missing what could be the big news in Tupper's report on South Dakota Progress. As I understood it, SD Progress originally declared its mission to include the recruitment, support, and election of Democrats in local and legislative races. Tupper downplays the legislative effort and reports the impression, held at least by our new Democratic leaders, that SD Progress will focus on local elections:

Neither the initial news release nor Hubbard, in his interview with the Journal, spoke of focusing exclusively on any particular level of politics. But there have been indications the group will keep its focus on local-level candidate recruiting and assistance.

Mavalwalla, in an interview with the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last month, said he’s proposing to focus on school board and city council candidates to create a bench of future county and state candidates.

Following a meeting of State Democratic Party officials with South Dakota Progress founders earlier this month, newly elected state Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann Tornberg said her understanding is that South Dakota Progress will recruit candidates for local-level positions like school boards and township boards. Joe Lowe, the state party’s newly elected vice chairman, expressed a similar view that South Dakota Progress will focus on city council and other local races [Tupper, 2014.12.22].

To be clear, here's how David Montgomery wrote the November comment to which Tupper refers:

The plan’s focus isn’t on winning high-profile races for governor or U.S. Senate. Instead, he’s proposing to recruit, train and fund Democrats running for school boards and city councils, creating a bench of elected Democrats who can then run for county offices and the state Legislature [David Montgomery, "South Dakota Democrats: An Idea to Rebuild," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.14].

If Tupper's reporting is correct, SD Progress is staying out of direct involvement in legislative races, simply building the bench from which the state Dems can recruit legislative candidates. But as an outsider's outsider, I would suggest that limiting its mission to school board and city council races will make SD Progress's fundraising mission much more difficult. I understand the logic—build up local candidates now, field more experienced candidates for Legislature and beyond later—and some donors will, too. But some big money is going to want a big return right now, and that big return in the eyes of some eager donors will include immediate legislative wins.

South Dakota Progress is not fragmenting. Zach Crago is not sneaking away from the South Dakota Democratic Party. But the real news (i.e., actual events evidenced by actual things Tupper actually writes) may be that SD Progress and the Dems are signaling their modus accommodandi: the new group will focus on the local races where the party traditionally picks no horses, while the party will keep its jurisdiction over races for the Legislature.

15 comments

Unlike Pat Powers, who gave us nothing but press releases yesterday, I will indulge in one press release from newcomers South Dakota Progress, as it contains some real news. Specifically, SD Progress answers a key question we've had on this blog: will the South Dakota Democratic Party recognize SD Progress as a useful ally in the war on Republican ignorance and one-party rule?

So far, the answer is yes. SD Progress reports that new party chair Ann Tornberg and influential Democrats Nick Nemec and Mary Perpich are giving the new candidate support group thumbs up. Here's SD Progress's report on its first contact with the state Dems at last Saturday's Central Committee meeting in Oacoma:

OACOMA, SD - December 12-13, 2014 - During the SD Democratic Central Committee Meeting in Chamberlain, SD, the South Dakota Democratic Party (SDDP) and South Dakota Progress (SDP) began measures to coordinate efforts.

Newly elected Chair, Ann Tornberg, stated, "We welcome the endeavors of South Dakota Progress, the enthusiastic group working to recruit candidates at the grass roots level. National politics are based on division; local politics need to be based on inclusion."

After a presentation on the potential of SDP to become active in 2015 local elections by Acting Steering Committee Chair, Katrina Wilke, DNC Committeeman, Nick Nemec said, "I think that's a place where this organization can make real progress; finding progressive people to fill non partisan races, because that's the pool for legislators. Their candidates will have a step up in legislative races."

Brookings County Democrats Chairperson, Mary Perpich, "There is new blood with members of South Dakota Progress joining forces with the state party to recruit candidates and help them get elected. We are fired up and ready to go."

SDP will hold its next meeting in Sioux Falls on January 10, 2014. Persons interested in attending should contact SDprogressUS@gmail.com for more information [South Dakota Progress, press release, 2014.12.16].

South Dakota Progress members are also planning to attend Democratic Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW on Friday, January 9. East River folks interested in learning more about the group and signing up to help win local and legislative races are welcome to attend.

31 comments

Dear readers, would you agree that the new chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party, Ann Tornberg, is a party insider, and that her new vice-chair, Joe Lowe, is a party outsider? If Lowe is an outsider, does becoming state vice-chair now make him a full-bird insider?

Would you also agree that the new South Dakota Progress organization, which I hear was well received at last weekend's SDDP Central Committee meeting, is an interesting mix of party outsiders and (former?) party insiders?

Would you further agree that this blog is more a conversation of party outsiders than party insiders?Whatever your assessment of our inside-outside quotients, who's better positioned to effect real change, insiders or outsiders?As you contemplate those questions, consider this Washington Post column on Senator Elizabeth Warren's insider-outsider balancing act. Zachary A. Goldfarb opens with this quote from Senator Warrne's new book, in which she recounts advice offered her in April 2009 by Larry Summers:

I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule. They don’t criticize other insiders [Elizabeth Warren, A Fighting Chance, New York: Henry Holt, p. 106].

They don't criticize other insiders—well, what fun is that?Goldfarb says Warren has gained clout by ignoring that warning:

...if the past few weeks are any indication, she can operate as an insider without giving her up outsider credentials. She’s remained outspoken, but has become even more influential. She hasn't stopped throwing bombs at the rich and powerful — and causing trouble for the White House — but she's won a spot in Senate leadership, changed the shape of congressional debates over financial regulation and continued to draw widespread attention as a potential presidential candidate.

It all helps to explain why – for the 300 former Obama campaign officials who last week urged her to run in 2016 – she is the one they’ve been waiting for [Zachary A. Goldfarb, "Elizabeth Warren Was Told to Stay Quiet, but She Didn’t – and It’s Paying Off," Washington Post: Wonkblog, 2014.12.14].

Where do you want to be, Joe, SD Progress, blog friends, outside or in?

67 comments

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