You wouldn’t think much about South Dakota, which is a state squarely in flyover country and fated to be close by – but not the center of – several economic, cultural, political, and geographic phenomena. It lies just off the booming North Dakota oil fields, dosen’t have a major league pro sports team like neighboring Minnesota does, misses the campaign excitement of Iowa just across the Big Sioux River, and is one state east of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.
Yet South Dakota has one neighbor that it’s trying to emulate, and the impetus behind that is, in part, from a candidate who’s been destroyed electorally in that state by running as a populist liberal, Rick Weiland. He’s a guy I’ve quoted, featured, and snickered at on occasion here, but give him credit for not giving up. At least he’s not tossed me off the mailing list – perhaps bad press really is better than no press at all.
After having his doors blown off in the midterm Senate run last year, he put his energy into a website called TakeItBack.org, which has lent itself to an initiative called South Dakotans for a Non-Partisan Democracy. Its goal is to scrap partisan elections in the state via a referendum on next year’s ballot in order to match its neighbor to the south, Nebraska. Not only is Nebraska the only state to have a unicameral legislature, but they elect all of its members on a non-partisan basis with the top two finishers in the primary advancing to the general election regardless of party.
Given that South Dakota has Republican domination, certainly the cynic can easily argue Weiland is just trying to fool the voters, albeit with the backing of a popular local talk radio host. Yesterday they announced the initiative had more than enough signatures to make the ballot for 2016 – South Dakota is a state which allows citizen-driven referenda without a corresponding act from the legislature.
I’m sure this is a rhetorical exercise because Maryland doesn’t allow citizen initiatives, but it makes me wonder how the Maryland conservative movement would fare under such a system if it were introduced here? Obviously there are thousands upon thousands who almost reflexively vote for the first Democrat they see on the ballot, but what if that security blanket were taken away? The Justice Department didn’t want to find out in one city, but eventually relented.
We didn’t have a primary in the recent Salisbury election, but if we had (as was the case in previous elections) the lone white candidate would have been eliminated in District 1 (a majority-minority district), one minority candidate would have moved on in District 2 (also a majority-minority district), and a minority candidate would have been eliminated in District 3. Racial minority hopefuls ran in three districts but won just one seat in these non-partisan elections.
But Salisbury scrapped its partisan primaries some years ago, allowing candidates who are unaffiliated to run on an even playing field with those having partisan backing. Arguably this may have helped Muir Boda, although he was successful in far greater measure based on the work he put in. We’ll never know if not being specifically identified as a Republican would have helped or hurt his cause, although having a slew of statewide Republicans helping him may have yielded a clue to the discerning voter.
Unlike South Dakota, which doesn’t have a Congressional gerrymandering issue because there’s only one House member from the state (it’s less populated than Delaware), Maryland Denocrats stand in the way of non-partisan solutions because they run the show. They even complain about the Hogan redistricting commission because (gasp!) drawing boundaries in a way that makes geographical sense could make the Congressional delegation 5-3 Democrat – never mind it’s a closer proportion to voter registration than the result of the current scheme Martin O’Malley put in place. While the House of Delegates comes relatively closer in proportion to registration numbers, the districts there were still drawn in such a fashion that safe GOP districts on average have more population than safe Democrat ones.
If my home state can do a redistricting reform, so can Maryland. If going to non-partisan elections is a worthy goal – and I suspect some of my unaffiliated friends may agree – the first step should be getting the districts in order.