HURON – Frustrated South Dakotans who worked to get a government ethics initiated measure - Initiated Measure 22 - passed last fall only to see it repealed a few months later by legislators are taking another stab at it with a proposed constitutional amendment.
“You need some force that can be that extra set of eyes that’s not beholden to one branch of the government or not beholden to a specific individual,” said Doug Kronaizl of Vermillion, a volunteer with the organization Represent South Dakota.
Called the Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment, it will go on the 2018 ballot if about 28,000 valid signatures of registered voters are submitted to the secretary of state by this November.
Kronaizl said the organization has a goal of 34,000 signatures.
He led a skills training workshop for amendment supporters Thursday evening in Huron, one of a number of sessions being held around the state in advance of the petition drive that will begin in late June.
“Represent South Dakota came into existence when it became pretty clear that the Legislature was going to take some pretty serious swipes not just at IM 22, but at the process in general,” Kronaizl said in an interview.
“And that really became apparent when they filed that lawsuit back in November,” he said.
After repealing IM 22, legislators replaced some of its provisions, but he said they didn’t go far enough.
In the accountability board that lawmakers approved, the governor appoints all four members, for example, he said.
Represent South Dakota wants to spread that around so there’s more of a balance in who makes the appointments, he said.
Also, the accountability board as created only oversees the executive branch, and not the legislative branch, he said.
Kronaizl is a substitute high school chemistry teacher in his hometown of Vermillion.
He volunteered to circulate petitions that put IM 22 on the ballot, and he joined Represent South Dakota when it was formed after the election.
He moved into an organizing role at the beginning of the legislative session in January.
“As far as my background on things like this amendment, back in 2015, after the Legislature amended the minimum wage initiated measure, I came up with my own language to sort of protect the initiated measure process,” Kronaizl said.
But only a handful of people worked on it and they didn’t gather enough signatures in time.
After this year’s legislative session, South Dakotans who had pushed for IM 22’s passage were asked what they liked and disliked about the measure. They were asked what they thought about what happened in the Legislature.
But Kronaizl said the most important question they were asked was what the next move should be.
Many said they wanted to focus on the task force that will meet this summer on the initiated measure process.
“But then, apart from that, a lot of folks really wanted to go back to the ballot to respond to where the Legislature failed in the replacement provisions in our supporters’ views, and then also to protect the initiated measure process itself,” he said.
“At best, I’ve heard people say that what the Legislature did was a step in the right direction, but, I mean, a step isn’t a replacement,” Kronaizl said. “They promised to respect the will of the voters and replace IM 22.”
Instead, he said they lifted the ban on corporate and labor union donations to candidate campaigns “which we felt was a jolt in the opposite direction.”
Amendment supporters want to make sure that what legislators did to IM 22 can’t be done in the future, that they can’t repeal a law that the voters passed without the voters having the final say.
The constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber to repeal or amend ballot initiatives for seven years.
Putting the ethics commission in the Constitution would give it a lot more oversight, Kronaizl said. It’s what a number of other states have done, he said.
The democracy credits provision in IM 22 is not included in the new proposal.
“If anything, that’s something that should be statute, not constitutional language, he said.
He rejects the notion that IM 22 was too complicated and that many voters didn’t understand it. The attorney general’s explanation covered provisions such as an ethics commission, campaign finance and democracy credits, he said.
“Calling the voters hoodwinked was pretty shocking,” Kronaizl said. “If you’re saying that the voters were hoodwinked, you’re presupposing that the voters lacked the ability to know what they’re voting for.”