South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R)
South Dakota voters in 2016 passed Measure 22, a ballot initiative that implemented a package of ethics and campaign finance reforms. Almost immediately afterward, the Republicans who dominate South Dakota’s state government plotted to nullify the statute. On Monday, Republicans are set to begin passing House Bill 1069, which would effectively eviscerate the voter-approved ethics reform law. Especially galling is how lawmakers are using a mechanism reserved for declaring literal states of emergency so that the repeal measure would take effect immediately.
Measure 22 had placed strict limits on lobbying, created an ethics commission, and established a first-in-the-nation public campaign finance system that gives each voter a voucher to donate to their preferred candidates. These reforms passed by a 52-48 margin even as Donald Trump won a 62-32 landslide, indicating that they have bipartisan support from the voters. Nonetheless, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard claims voters were “hoodwinked” into passing the initiative, and he pledged to sign a repeal bill.
This Republican effort to nullify a voter-approved reform law is nothing short of an attack on democracy itself. Sadly, this is part of a pattern of Republicans in state after state refusing to adhere to laws and norms that limit their power. There’s a lesson here for reformers: If you’re going to use ballot measures to circumvent hostile legislators, make sure your reform doesn’t merely add new statutes to the books—which can easily be overturned—but instead amends the state constitution if possible.