Though a lifelong registered Republican, I did pay enough attention in my History studies to know that our country's two-party system has been as practical a division of ideologies and mindsets as could be produced in a modern society. When I look at countries with a myriad of political parties that require both exquisite and cumbersome coalition-building in order to create governments I shudder to think about how paralyzing that must be when it comes to managing a country. Even worse, of course, are those societies that labor under a one-party system, where limits on political, personal and economic freedom are inherent and self-evident. The American way, with two major parties and plenty of room for splinter parties to raise issues and consciousness, has plenty of flaws, but over the past few generations has kept the country moving--even if in fits and starts--and continues to make the United States the country of choice for those who seek the best in what modern, multi-faceted societies can offer.
I think the same holds true at the state level, and this is why I'm concerned with the stranglehold on South Dakota that Republicans have these days. That Governor Daugaard this year embarked on a series of "workforce summits" in order to address the state's chronic labor shortage speaks for itself as the dilemma our state faces: we can't attract enough people to keep up with the needs of natural economic growth, a fact that Daugaard himself addressed during the legislative session last Winter. A culture of complacency seems to have set into the GOP-dominated statehouse and legislature, resulting in an economy-stifling paralysis that has led to the end result of too many people shunning South Dakota as a place to make their careers and raise their families. Some healthy, two-party debate is needed to address issues like education, infrastructure maintenance and improved wages. So far the Republicans have failed to get off the dime on these issues and the whole state is paying the price.
Unfortunately, South Dakota's Democratic Party has been floundering in the face of this need for a dynamic counter-party. Scanning the list of Democratic candidates running for statewide and federal representation, I'm plenty chagrined at its paucity of strong and well-financed candidates. The level of money and excitement that Dems have raised during this election cycle are barely perceptible. They're likely to lose, big time, and on this front I hold the party's lack of leadership responsible for the coming train wreck. South Dakota's Dems have some highly regarded figures that for their own reasons have taken to the sidelines, much to the loss of the current generation of party office-holders and -seekers. I find their lack of responsibility and commitment to their home party's sad state of affairs appalling. Where, for example, is Tom Daschle these days? South Dakotans made him who he is, but Daschle's blow-off of the state and his party's need for some leadership is regrettable and classless. Would it kill you, Senator Daschle, to come home and make a few pro forma appearances at party events with some of the Democratic candidates desperately fighting the odds this year? Corinna Robinson's Congressional campaign is starving for money. Meantime, U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland looks to be running himself ragged going around the state on a shoestring of a budget against the lavishly-financed Mike Rounds. Why should South Dakota's Democrats be excited about these candidates when you, Senator Tom Daschle, appear to be indifferent and apathetic? I pose the same question to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, bearer of one of South Dakota's legendary political names and a former South Dakota Representative to Congress. Do you even care, Ms. Sandlin about how your party's fortunes are faring in South Dakota state races, the same South Dakota that your dad served as a state legislator and your grand-dad once governed? Sheesh. Come out here and show your face once in a while.
Even that great old liberal warhorse former Senator Jim Abourezk (a fantastic individual who once made it possible for me to visit Syria) could be out there helping out the party, if only within the confines of Sioux Falls as a concession to his age. Leaving all this to retiring U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, as steady a hand as South Dakota Dems have ever had, is probably asking too much of the aphasia-saddled Senator. As a groundswell of excitement over Democratic fortunes this year isn't likely to materialize, the party's leadership vacuum is getting more conspicuous than ever. South Dakota Democrats need some serious help, and those most able to give it just don't seem very interested.