Maybe I should have had the beef....

I had lunch today at the China Buffet in Pierre with our State Auditor, the Honorable Richard L. Sattgast. (I don't call him that, but then again, I've been friends with him since 1988 when we were legislative interns together.) We were also joined by Senator Brock Greenfield of Clark, South Dakota. Brock has been in the limelight lately as the dinosaur-bill killer (and soon to be slayer of the fry bread-bill).

The occasion? We were meeting with our long time friend Lance Russell, the states attorney for Fall River County. One of the toughest prosecutors around, and in my mind, a future republican attorney general. Lance is the legal affairs person for a coalition of grassland interests, and was in town to lobby in favor of legislation on Prairie Dog Buffer Zones.

For lack of knowledge, I'm not big on the subject personally. But I can understand and appreciate landowners and renters not wanting the fields they graze their livestock in to look like the surface of the moon.

As we were eating, we were joined by several of the South Dakota Stockgrowers. Realizing I'd gotten the Jalapeno Chicken, General Tso's Chicken, Chicken on Bamboo Skewers and Crab Rangoon, I was glad I'd finished my meal before they sat down. (I promise I'll have something beef tonight.)

Regardless, Lance proceeded to discuss with them some of their lobbying strategy, and how their bill was tough getting out of committee.

At that moment it struck me; If they lose thier battles in the legislature, are they to going to give the initiative or referendum process a go?

If you can come up with the signatures, our initiated Law and Referendum process is a marvel of modern democracy. Can't get your bill through the legislature? Put it straight to the people. Amendment E was a perfect example. It was anti-large farm, terribly written, and if I recall, against the Interstate Commerce Clause. And plenty of people knew it was bad law to begin with. But when it passed, it was with a crushing 59% advantage.

Since then, it's really set the agenda for how South Dakotan's view large farming operations. I believe these ripples are continuing with the I-29ers and the Anti-Dairy Farm movement we are seeing in the easternmost part of the state. Would there be as much protest as there is now, if we hadn't had Amendment E, or if it died with a whimper? I doubt it.

It really empowered these groups to set the agenda, and that anti-large farm agenda has perpetuated to this day.

Our initiative and referendum process isn't available in all states. In almost half the states (24) they can access it. In some states, such as California, it's absolutely out of control. But in South Dakota, it's fairly sedate. The most I can ever recall seeing are about 9 or 10 at once, and I can live with that.

I'm suprised it's not used more in this state. Abortion, prairie dogs, state dinosaurs, education, etc. Why put these issues in the hands of legislators who complain they are not able to set the agenda? Put it up yourself. Valid law or not, if you can win at the ballot box, that's half the battle.


Anonymous said…
The Chinese Restaurant downtown is fantastic. Try it next time. I used to eat there about once a day. The dine in food was splendid. Much better than the china buffet. I'm presuming you're referring to the one on the corner of Sioux and Poplar.

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