Friday, March 16, 2018

Can A Pro-Life Democrat Win In South Dakota? Billie Sutton Wants To Know

     Can a "pro-life" Democrat succeed in South Dakota politics?  We'll find out in November.  Much as the Republican stranglehold on South Dakota state politics has resulted in a state with the calcified political and economic environment that I've often discussed and documented here, the Democratic Party's self-contradictory plan to upend the status quo seems more like a dream than a hope.  Why self-contradictory?  Because the party's "white knight" is Senator Billie Sutton, who will be the Democratic nominee for Governor in the coming election.  Sutton has a great biography and plenty of experience, but his "pro-life" voting record while in the legislature stands in defiance of one of the Democratic Party's articles of faith, that women should have the right to abortions.  The Party's 2016 platform states that "we believe unequivocally that every woman should have access to quality reproductive healthcare services including access to safe and legal abortions."
Howdy, Ma'am
Now About That Uterus Of Yours

     Sutton has shown over the years that he rejects that tenet of his party's core beliefs.  In 2013, he voted for a House resolution urging the United States Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade and "overturn its decision."  In 2016 he voted for an "informed consent" law requiring abortion providers to give patients information that South Dakota's chapter of the pro-choice organization NARAL calls "biased counseling."  Cory Heidelberger's Aberdeen-based blog Dakota Free Press has created a table of Sutton's votes that gives the nominee an 80% pro-life voting record during the period 2011-2017.  South Dakota Right To Life was so impressed by Sutton's consistency that in 2016 they rated him 100 and gave him an "A" for his work in support of its agenda.
     Counter-intuitively, these numbers must sit pretty well with South Dakota's establishment Democrats.  Indeed, state party Chairwoman Ann Tornberg has advertised herself as pro-life, though  I've never known her to make reproductive rights an issue in dealing with party business.  Obviously, within party ranks it isn't a make-or-break issue.  There's probably even some sub-surface hope that on the basis of Sutton's pro-life agenda a fair number of Republicans seeking some political reform might feel comfortable voting for him.  That could well materialize, but I think it will come at some significant cost to Democrats in November because most social issues-driven younger voters will be turned off by Sutton's anti-choice agenda.  I haven't found South Dakota-specific numbers, but on a national scale, Pew Research has found that young adults (18-39), by a 2-to-1 margin believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The next older group (30-49) agrees by a margin of about 3-to-2.
     If these results are close to how South Dakota's younger voters feel, Sutton probably has a problem. Question is, will this attitude be expressed with enough intensity to make a difference at the polls?  Maybe, maybe not.  My experience tells me that among a fair number of passionately committed young voters, it will be.  I doubt that a large contingent of Dems would reject him outright, but believe that many will respond to him with a collective "meh."  Given the party registration gap between Democrats and Republicans (30% vs. 46%), on the enthusiasm front Sutton needs more, much more.


  1. I have been pro-choice since I was, if you will, knee high to a quart bottle of beer. Nonetheless, I will vote for Mr. Sutton until Hell freezes over, and then stand upon the ice proclaiming my support for his candidacy.

    I will do so, in part, because the SD Republican Party's support for life is exclusive to the period from conception to birth. That does not appear to be the case with Mr. Sutton, irrespective of any report card from the anti-choice side of the argument.

    I submit, voters who support freedom of choice will conclude that the gubernatorial contest is not betwixt an apple and a rutabaga. Forsooth it involves, on the one hand an apple, on the other, regardless of the primary victor, a fetid, rotting pile of dead fish.

    Once again, John, you pose a question that deserves consideration. Thank you for that.

  2. The rise of abortion as an issue in the 1970s and ‘80s was a crucial factor in the decline of the Democratic Party in South Dakota. I knew several longtime D’s who voted R and gradually joined the GOP over that issue. Their sons and daughters stuck to the Republican fold. The R’s saw the effectiveness of social issues and have used it like a club ever since. It’s worth noting that Democrat Conor Lamb, who just won the special election in Pennsylvania, says he is personally pro-life, but will not seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Sutton goes a step farther. Is this a ticket to victory for Democrats in conservative districts?

  3. Sutton has a much better chance winning the Governorship with his pro-life stance. He is going to get a lot of Republican support.

  4. “Pro-life” is simply code for white people breeding. Sutton has no chance of beating Marty Jackey unless a well-known arch-conservative gets in the race. Both Tim Bjorkman and Randy Seiler have better chances.

  5. I have known a lot Dems who are pro life. I blame the Catholic Church for letting this become the be all and end all of South Dakota politics. It is amazing to me that the Church will not come out as anti war, nor until recently be against the death penalty and then still not 100% but will claim to be pro life.