Letter to the Editor about Initiatives

I wrote this letter to the Argus, because there seems to be this impression by parents, teachers and elected officials that the I & R process is somehow harmful to the democratic process, couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a check an balance against our elected officials when they make bad decisions.

I had to edit the letter that printed in the paper, so I am posting the pre-edited version here;

Part of South Dakota’s proud history is the initiative and referendum process. South Dakota, the first state to adopt initiative and referendum on a statewide level, did so in 1898. In fact, South Dakota was the only state to originate the idea in the actual state. In the last decade, South Dakotans have approved initiatives regarding term limits, tax reform, freedom of choice (abortion) and gaming. The renewed use of the initiative process in the late 70’s can be attributed to Governor William Janklow. Janklow was a strong supporter of the initiative process and advocated its use.

I have been involved with many petition drives for initiatives and referendums. I have either carried a petition, OR helped behind the scenes for the cause. It is truly an example of democracy at work on a grassroots level.

Recently I have seen many letters to the editor complaining about this very process when it came to the school start date. I scratch my head about how little our supposed educators know about the process and how it works. I kind of wonder what kind of civics lessons our children are getting in school, but that is whole other topic.

I will explain the process very simply; our elected officials are human and fallible, just like you and me. They are not perfect, and they make mistakes, sometimes these mistakes are made in their elected capacity. The I & R process is there to correct these mistakes, not to scold the elected, teach them a lesson or embarrass them.

I pose a great example of this in recent history in our city government. In the first term of Sioux Falls City Councilor Kermit Staggers, he often offered an amendment to the budget suggesting the testing of snow gates. His fellow councilors would vote it down, each time he offered it. When Dr. Staggers was running for mayor, he once again brought up the topic of snow gates, his main opponent, Mayor Huether quickly learned that snow gates was a popular topic with constituents, and essentially stole the idea from the Staggers camp (amongst many other great ideas). But to Huether’s credit, once he became mayor, he authorized testing the devices. The city council, once again, was not happy about the expenditure. Huether was determined to get them in full swing. The city council did not approve.

In comes citizen advocate Theresa Stehly with a very successful petition drive to get snow gates on the ballot. Ironically a petition that Huether refused to sign (but councilors Staggers, Jamison and Anderson did sign). The council was so against the petition drive and snow gates, that after the petition was certified for the ballot, the first attempt by the petitioners to get it on a shared school election ballot was voted down by the city council. In fact the petitioners testimony was limited and censored by the mayor and city councilor Michelle Erpenbach.

Fast forward to the last city election. Snow gates passed with over 70% of the vote, and unlike Walmart spending over $20 a vote for their cause, the snow gate petitioners spent practically nothing and had a nonexistent campaign. They didn’t need to, PEOPLE WANTED SNOW GATES!

Like the August school start date decision by the school board, the city councilors opposed to snow gates were simply making a misguided decision, and the I & R process helped constituents to correct their mistakes. No harm, no foul, just democracy at work.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 The Daily Spin on 05.15.15 at 12:06 pm

Good, factual and well presented. A little lengthy but the subject deserves it. Did the Argus print it? Probably not. They often side step city issues.