Did Tuesday night’s election deliver a message?
That is, did the demolition of South Dakota’s Amendment C by a 2-1 margin teach a lesson to those officials who appear to take the will of the people for granted?
Amendment C was a proposed constitutional amendment — placed on the June primary ballot instead of the November general election ballot — that would have required “any initiated measure, proposed constitutional amendment or referred measure obligating the state to appropriate $10 million or more in any of the first five fiscal years (to) obtain three-fifths of the votes cast to be approved,” according to the Ballotpedia website.
What was so wrong with Amendment C?
Well, let’s start here: As I wrote in an editorial last month, it undercut the concept of majority rule, declaring that the minority knew better than the majority on certain, to-be-determined issues. That would SEEM to imply the minority of voters, but perhaps it meant something else — like a select minority of residents who are lawmakers.
Amendment C was conceived as a preemptive strike against Constitutional Amendment D, which calls for the expansion of Medicaid. It’s on the fall ballot, but if Amendment C had passed Tuesday, Amendment D would have needed 60% of the vote to pass instead of just 50%. And that was a clearly stated goal of the Amendment C campaign.
This leads to another nagging issue: Had Amendment C passed, how would its guidelines have been applied? There were worries, for instance, that the recreational marijuana measure that’s just qualified for the November ballot might come under this oversight. Frankly, a $10 million expenditure isn’t an enormous investment in the scheme of a $6.7 billion annual budget, so Amendment C could have potentially been interpreted many different ways to put voter-initiated measures at a disadvantage.
That’s the way many people saw what we can now officially say was a very unpopular idea. During the run-up to Tuesday’s election, I encountered a lot of skepticism about Amendment C from Republicans, Democrats and independents. In particular, its lack of popularity among GOP voters may have been something the authors of this proposal didn’t foresee. They likely figured the primary, which would draw mostly Republican voters given the lack of statewide Democratic races, was the best way to push Amendment C through and set up a big roadblock for this fall’s Medicaid battle. Meanwhile, Gov. Kristi Noem said last week she voted for the amendment (but she did not publicly advocate for it), and Rep. Dusty Johnson and his primary opponent, Taffy Howard, both endorsed it in TV commercials. Even so, the voters decisively thought otherwise.
So, did Amendment C’s crash and burn send a message of disapproval, not only about the proposed legislation but also about the way lawmakers are treating their constituents?
Remember, this is a state in which voters approved an ethics measure (Amendment A) for lawmakers in 2018, and those lawmakers wasted no time in going to court to scuttle it.
This is a state where legislators thought they had approved industrial hemp in 2019, only to discover that, because the bill charged a licensing fee, the measure was abruptly reclassified and needed a two-thirds vote to pass (which the Legislature requires). Hemp was finally legalized in 2020, but that delay cost the state a year of development.
This is a state that passed medicinal marijuana with 70% of the vote in 2020, but reluctant lawmakers did very little about it the following session. They finally ramped it up last winter, but we still don’t have all the finer points worked out.
This is a state that also OK’d recreational marijuana with 54% approval in 2020, but it was then challenged in court because of the wording of the bill (which the secretary of state had approved) meant it involved more than one topic, thus violating the constitution. That’s why it’s back on the ballot again this fall.
However, those were all reactive situations in which lawmakers responded to a measure or an idea they opposed.
Amendment C was, in a way, proactive. It tried to make it harder for voters to pass an upcoming ballot measure, and it would have made it more difficult for the public to initiate laws in general in the future.
And that idea got spanked.
So, this ought to be a lesson for lawmakers. This should stand as a message about listening to the public and honoring their intentions instead of aiming to hinder and derail them.
Yeah, this ought to serve as a big signal that should be heeded …
But I don’t know anyone who is betting on it.
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