Okay, so the polls have yet to close and I'm premature, but it sure seems obvious that the South Dakota Democratic Party is about to get a drubbing in all the statewide races. Weiland might yet come through and prove the exception, but even if he pulls it off, his D.C. orientation won't give the party itself the benefit of much influence via elected and appointed officials creating little spheres of influence around Pierre and the rest of the state. From out here in west river it looks especially bleak. I attended a Rapid City Area Chamber Of Commerce-sponsored symposium a few weeks back at which ballot issues in today's election were being discussed. Much to my chagrin and even disgust, the Chamber's emcee announced that the local Democratic organization (Pennington County, I assumed) had been asked to send a representative to speak in favor of IM 18, the cost-of-living increase item on the ballot today, and nobody even freakin' showed up!
As a long-time Republican, I suppose I should have reacted with a smirk, as I'm sure many of my fellow Pubs did. But I was more angered by the local Dems' indifferent reaction to the invitation and somewhat embarrassed for them to boot. This made the state's "loyal opposition" party look plenty bad, and I think it ruined the event's purpose, which was to make us local folks better-informed about an important, contentious, and far-reaching issue, both in scope and persistence, given its built-in cost-of-living-increase component. Democrats love this issue and have been pushing it relentlessly. Why their local organization in South Dakota's second largest metro area couldn't muster up one person to come and speak in favor of it at a high-profile venue (there were plenty of local print and broadcast media on the premises) is a question that state Dems need to ask themselves.
I'm guessing it's because the state's Democratic Party leadership has written off west river and that local Dems feel isolated if not altogether abandoned by their party. This is a huge mistake. Two years ago I helped an Independent candidate run against Phil Jensen in what most South Dakotans must consider one of the reddest districts in the state. That my candidate got something like 42% of the vote should tell anyone that there's a solid block of voters out here who do not automatically vote Republican.
More tellingly, I saw next to nothing in the way of appearances by Susan Wismer out here. That she barely campaigned is one thing. That she wasn't available to give local Democrats some visible support made her AWOL with respect to her de facto role as party leader. I never did like the way the state's Dems effectively crowned her last Winter, barely giving Rapid City's Joe Lowe a mention, even though he'd been running for months before SDDP gave Wismer its splashy rollout. Meanwhile, I know Joe Lowe well enough to assure every Democrat in this state that he would be a tremendous asset to the party. In addition to presence and gumption, Lowe has a wealth of hands-on experience in South Dakota state government, recently completing a long career after having been wooed by Bill Janklow to come to the state and take over as head fire-fighter. Janklow found Lowe after Joe had already served as mayor of a medium-sized city in Orange County, California. The man knows something about government.
Besides Joe, I know plenty of west river Democrats who could bring talent, energy and money into the party. Dem honchos would be smart to find a way to ingratiate themselves to these folks and start developing something that looks like a base west of the Missouri River.