HURON – South Dakotans angered over the Legislature’s repeal of an initiated measure passed by voters in 2016 to address campaign finance and election-related issues have mobilized in a bipartisan way to bring Constitutional Amendment W to the November ballot.
“It really doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican, a Democrat or you’re an independent, having a government that functions out in the open and in an accountable manner is something that benefits all of us equally,” Represent South Dakota Field Director Doug Kronaizl of Vermillion said Thursday.
Amendment W would amend campaign finance and lobbying laws, establish a government accountability board and protect the initiative process.
Initiated Measure 22 was approved by voters in November 2016, but repealed by legislators two months later. In February 2017, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the bill, saying voters had been “hoodwinked.”
“It struck me as arrogant, condescending,” Kronaizl said of the argument that the voters didn’t understand what they were voting for.
Legislators promised to replace provisions in IM 22. In one, they replaced a measure to create an independent accountability board to make sure laws are being followed with one that exempted themselves from oversight, he said.
“It goes to show that if you look at where we were before we voted on IM 22 and where we are today, it’s not very different,” he said at the District 22 Democratic Forum.
Instead, the replaced provision “put us inches ahead,” he said.
Kronaizl said it’s unlikely any more changes in ethics laws will come out of Pierre. Lawmakers feel they accomplished what the voters wanted in IM 22, he said.
“Obviously, 50,000 South Dakotans didn’t think that way or else they wouldn’t have signed petitions to put a new measure on the ballot,” he said.
A “W is Wrong” coalition has come out in opposition to the proposed amendment.
This week, Americans for Prosperity said in a news release that it is joining the coalition. It said the government accountability board the amendment would create would, in fact, be an unaccountable fourth branch of government.
Kronaizl said the seven-member board would be independent, nonpartisan and unbiased. South Dakota is one of seven states without such an independent board, he said. “We are that far in the minority,” he said.
Two members of the proposed board would be former judges, one Democrat and one Republican. The House majority and minority speakers would each nominate three members. The governor would pick a name from each list.
The other three members would be citizens who apply to join. Their selection would be an effort to remove the balance of power from Pierre and spread it across the state, he said.
Such a board would mean people could report corruption and campaign finance and lobbying violations anonymously without fear of retaliation.
Also, he said anything the board did would be subject to judicial review.
While IM 22 banned lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators, lawmakers approved a gift ban in a replacement measure that exempted food, alcohol and entertainment.
South Dakota has no clear laws delineating the relationship between lobbyists and legislators, Kronaizl said.
“That means that lobbying can veer into the area of undue influence rather than just focusing on information,” he said.
“In South Dakota, there are over two times as many paid lobbyists as there are legislators in Pierre,” he said.
He said “lobbyist influence is something that’s been drowning out voters in South Dakota.”
Absent from Amendment W is the democracy credits provision in IM 22 that dealt with publicly financed elections.
A new provision addresses voter protection.
In 1898, South Dakota became the first state to establish the initiated measure process, which Kronaizl said is direct democracy when people feel lawmakers are ignoring their concerns.
The provision will make it more difficult for lawmakers to change a law that voters approved at the ballot box, he said.
If legislators want to repeal an initiated measure passed by voters, they can propose that but first must send it back for voters to decide, he said.
For example, he said if lawmakers want to increase the number of signatures needed to put a measure on the ballot or decrease the amount of time signatures can be gathered it must be approved by voters.
“While we’ve seen the ethics proposals from Pierre go down over these past two years, we’ve only seen the proposals to hamper the initiative process ramp up,” Kronaizl said.
“I don’t think it will stop here,” he said. “With trajectory as our guide, I do think that the process is more of a death by a thousand cuts, getting rid of the initiative process, not outright but over a period of time.
“Amendment W would hopefully put voters at the table in that respect,” he said.
PHOTO BY ROGER LARSEN/PLAINSMAN
Doug Kronaizl, the S.D. Field Director for Represent South Dakota, discusses proposed Constitutional Amendment W with District 22 Democrats on Thursday.