In all of Middle America, South Dakota stands out as the reddest of the red states. The Democratic Party in the state recently announced it was closing its Rapid City and Sioux Falls offices – the only two Democratic Party offices in the state.
South Dakota is the state of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. George McGovern. It is the state of former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. It is the state of Democratic Gov. Richard Kneip, former Sens. James Abourezk and Tim Johnson, It is the state of former Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin. Today, with less $4,000 in the bank, Democrats wishing to volunteer for their party have no place to go.
In South Dakota’s state government, Democrats hold five of the 35 seats in the House and 11 of the 70 seats in the Senate. All other elected political offices are occupied by Republicans.
For the most part, the South Dakota Democratic Party’s wounds are self-inflicted. Outside of the clear mismanagement of what little funds the party had, some of the problem can be traced to the 2013 Senate race to replace the retiring Tim Johnson.
Then-Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid wanted former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to be the anointed candidate to run against former Gov. Mike Rounds. Daschle, who preceded Reid as leader, wanted his buddy and former aide Rick Weiland to be the candidate. People in the eastern part of the state may have known of Weiland. Herseth Sandlin was a well-respected Blue Dog Democrat with a lot of name recognition and a record moderate Republicans could embrace.
Daschle won the day. Rounds won the seat, beating Weiland handily.
In an Associated Press story, Paula Hawks, state Democratic Party chair says the current problems that resulted in the office closures are temporary and that rent for the two offices are the party’s biggest expense. In a Sioux Falls Argus-Leader story Hawks said the closures were due to “extreme mismanagement and lack of oversight.”
Republicans in the state have played the politics game well. They have quite literally buried their competition. With the closing of the two Democratic Party offices in the state one expects them to be dancing in the end zone. Game over.
Thinking people – including Republicans – are not celebrating the Democratic Party’s recent or past failures no matter the reasons for them. Nineteenth century British politician, historian and moralist Lord Acton had it right when he professed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Republicans in South Dakota have absolute power. That should concern every citizen, regardless of party. Powerful people in the state can now put forward those candidates who will do their bidding without regard to what is best for its citizens. It is not unusual for state Republicans to run for office unopposed. And voters are left without a choice.
Add to this hell-brew a healthy shot of the insanity Americans are now witnessing among the Democrats currently vying for their party’s nomination for president, and you have a recipe for continued ultra-right-wing rule. If Democrats are to heal their self-inflected wounds they must return to the Blue Dog sensibilities of a Herseth Sandlin.
The problem was not created in a single election cycle and cannot be solved in one. It is time for Democrats in South Dakota to take inventory of their principles and their leadership and then begin the process of separating from their loony national party brethren, if they are ever to regain a morsel of their past influence.
Michael Sanborn writes from Rapid City.
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