PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota Democrats lost big in November, but Roxanne Weber celebrated a surprise victory when her favorite ballot measure narrowly passed. Now, she’s questioning her vote’s value as Republican lawmakers discuss dismantling the government ethics initiative just months later.
The 48-year-old Pierre resident went from handing out informational packets on the initiative this summer to freezing outside a Capitol rally last week urging lawmakers not to repeal it. It’s part of a broader campaign aimed at saving the measure by pressuring lawmakers not to overturn the voters’ will.
The same afternoon, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in his State of the State address he will support efforts to repeal and replace the initiative, which instituted a public campaign finance system, tightened campaign finance and lobbying laws and created an ethics commission.
Top Republican lawmakers have taken aim in the Statehouse and in state court, which put the initiative on hold while the challenge from two dozen GOP legislators and others moves forward. The governor has criticized the campaign to pass the measure as deceptive and said voters were “hoodwinked.”
A little over 51 percent of voters supported the initiative.
“For the Legislature to turn around and say, ‘Well, you weren’t a smart enough voter to vote for this measure, but you were smart enough to vote me in office,’ that’s just hypocritical,” said Weber, a software engineer. “That’s not representing us. That’s doing whatever they want.”
Work to save the law, named Initiated Measure 22, is ramping up. South Dakotans for Integrity, which supported the proposal, hired a lobbyist and have said they’re prepared to fight for it at the Capitol and again at the ballot box if needed.
A different pro-initiative group organized the rally of roughly a dozen people on the legislative session’s opening day. Volunteers plan to attend events in certain districts to speak with lawmakers, said Doug Kronaizl, spokesman for Represent South Dakota.
The group is a local chapter of Represent.Us. The Massachusetts-based organization works to reduce the influence of money in politics and pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the South Dakota ballot measure campaign.
Represent.Us didn’t say how much money it’s willing to put up to rescue the law.
The group has spent roughly $15,000 so far in January. Their efforts include newspaper advertisements critical of several Republican lawmakers, mail pieces and telephone calls and a video targeting two Senate Republicans who are part of the lawsuit against the initiative, according to secretary of state’s office records.
“The ads are meant make people notice, hold opponents of anti-corruption reform accountable and stop them from overturning the election results,” Kronaizl said.
Republican Sen. Deb Peters, who was featured in online video and newspaper ads intended to shame her for being part of the lawsuit challenging the initiative, said the measure supporters are “trying to protect a political investment.”
The GOP lawsuit argues that provisions in the law run afoul of the state or federal constitutions - or both.
The pro-initiative group also ran a full-page ad in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and sent mailers urging Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd to release emails about contracts between the state and Sioux Falls Specialty Hospital, of which Curd is an owner. They charge that Curd is now suing to destroy the law created to “combat this kind of questionable activity.” Curd has said he wasn’t involved in contract negotiations.
“This attempt at pressure from an external entity doesn’t have any real basis here in South Dakota, (and) doesn’t change my opinion that this is a constitutional violation in its current form,” said Curd, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
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