Amendment V will work for small town South Dakota

In case you missed it… Brian Hanson, Senior Policy Associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, penned the following Op-Ed on the importance of South Dakota’s Amendment V vote.

Remember, next Tuesday (Nov. 8) is Election Day - as if you could have forgotten.

Get out to the voting booth and express your preference for less divisive and more responsive government on Nov. 8. South Dakota has the opportunity to lead the nation in a better direction by reducing the influence of political party organizations on its politics through Amendment V. Your vote, especially on Amendment V, matters.


Amendment V will work for small town South Dakota

By Brian Hanson, Center for Rural Affairs

No party has a monopoly on good ideas. However, the dominant party in any partisan legislative body tends to seek to impose a monopoly on the ideas that can even be considered. Partisanship encourages legislators and citizens alike to partake in both lazy thinking and lazy voting. Rather than choosing one’s representative based upon the value of their qualifications and the vision of their ideas, most voters tend to stick with a regular preferred brand. Legislators tend to behave in the same way. When it comes time to vote on a bill, they often look to their respective party leaders for how to vote, or more likely, they are told by party leaders how to vote. This can lead to gridlock as legislators tend to toe the party line rather than work together to solve the problems of the people and the state.

At the Center for Rural Affairs, we work for the betterment of rural residents and their communities in Nebraska and other states in the region. We have found that Nebraska’s nonpartisan legislature and legislative elections have aided our efforts. The absence of party labels and leadership in the legislature makes the body more responsive and efficient. When an issue that affects rural communities arises, building a coalition to respond in Nebraska is much easier than other states. Senators can look at the issue as a rural or a small town issue rather than a Democratic or Republican issue.

Efforts to build bipartisan support on a legislative bill are unnecessary in a nonpartisan legislature because that is not an ever-present hurdle to legislative action in Nebraska. Legislators can simply work together without worrying about party labels and leaders. Let’s face it, legislatures are becoming more urban-centric as cities are coming to represent greater proportions of our states’ populations. Rural districts are more likely to elect Republicans, while urban districts are more likely to choose Democrats. It is helpful for rural and urban legislators to be able to work together on issues in the best interests of their constituents and the state without the hindrance of political party preempting any productive conversation.  

Nebraska’s nonpartisan legislature frees its state senators from their respective parties’ platforms to better represent both their districts and their consciences, encouraging more thoughtful governance. A nonpartisan legislature is not controlled by a party hierarchy, in which party bosses seek to corral their members to vote along party lines. The chief architect of Nebraska’s nonpartisan legislature, U.S. Senator George Norris, argued that removing partisanship would leave legislators better able to attend to the business at hand when not encumbered with the squabbles and particular issue positions of the national political parties.

The removal of party labels and structures from the statehouse would help to bring opposing sides together in the South Dakota legislature. Party divisions can inhibit cooperation within a legislature. State legislators may still personally identify as Republicans and Democrats, but without party leadership and caucuses built into the structure of the legislative body, they are more likely working together for the benefit of the state. In Nebraska’s nonpartisan legislature, committee members elect chairs who they simply see as best qualified for the job of shaping good policy - not because they have an “R” or a “D” after their name. It is often observed in Nebraska that conversations between senators are more like conversations you would have with your neighbor than any of the rancorous debate seen in Washington.

Without party organization, legislators are more equal and do not have to gain seniority, or seek party leader approval, before introducing legislation. Legislators in other states are often surprised to hear new members can introduce legislation in Nebraska without first acquiring seniority. Why should new members with ideas have to wait to address the issues of the state until they appease the party bosses first?

Removing partisanship would help South Dakota’s leaders to be more responsive to voters in their district and to the needs of the state. Lobbyists could not simply buy off party leadership and then get whatever they want by having leaders whip the rank and file members into line. Elected leaders would also face greater pressure to appeal to more voters, a small section of their party’s base. In other words, legislators would have greater ability to think for themselves, cooperate with those who may hold opposing views, and govern in pragmatic ways that work for South Dakota, not their party.

Amendment V provides a great opportunity for the South Dakotans to bring more responsive and thoughtful government to their state. It will help elected leaders to better cooperate by moving beyond party platforms to address issues and build a vibrant future for the state.