HURON — Rocked by financial woes and leadership resignations, the South Dakota Democratic Party is on the mend and will emerge stronger than ever, a long-time party leader and current Democratic national committeewoman said Thursday.
“Obviously, I am very resilient and I am a die-hard Democrat,” Deb Knecht of Houghton said. “It’s not easy being a Democrat in South Dakota as we all know.”
In remarks at the District 22 Democratic Forum, she outlined what the party is doing to rebound after the Sioux Falls and Rapid City offices were closed, the chair and executive director resigned and details came to light on the mishandling of party finances and it’s founder’s club.
Knecht is assuring the party faithful that the future looks bright as the next election approaches. A number of events are being planned for 2020, she said.
Although nothing criminal was involved, negligence led to a financial situation that many in the party were unaware of, she said.
Because things were not done correctly, the Federal Elections Commission has levied a $5,000 fine against the party. In the past, the FEC typically gives the party time to correct the problems, but that didn’t happen and so the fine must be paid.
The party is also in debt by about $27,000.
“Let me tell you folks, the state party has been in a lot more debt than we are right now,” Knecht said.
“We’re going to be OK, and I believe that we’re going to be stronger than we have ever been when we come out of this,” she said.
Vice chair Randy Seiler is acting chair and plans to run for the position in December. An attorney who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general a year ago, Seiler has found a number of the mistakes that were made, she said.
Working committees, including one for finance and fund raising, have been appointed and the party is moving forward on re-establishing its founder’s club. Many people dropped off the list of contributors when they weren’t called to renew their monthly donations. A glitch meant that others were also dropped from the list.
Knecht said the party is planning a McGovern Day weekend in May, and the presidential primary is set for June 2. Leaders are trying to attract one of the presidential candidates to speak.
The plan is to have an executive director and another staff member hired after the holidays. While the party doesn’t have offices now, space will be donated after the December election, she said.
Many of the functions of the party are historically done by party staff. But that’s being done by others.
“We have a lot of people right now and that has not always been the case,” Knecht said. “Right now I think the state is the state party staff. I think that’s really going to make us a lot stronger and I think people are going to care a little more and be a little more aware,” she said.
The party is also still receiving $10,000 a month from the Democratic National Committee. The committee typically wants the money to be used to pay employees, but for now it is letting the state party to use it as it sees fit.
Knecht said she is confident the Democratic Party will bounce back and once again be the force that has historically helped people.
“We like the challenge and we like what we stand for and we feel like we’re right and we keep fighting for those that can’t fight for themselves,” she said.