Thursday, April 11, 2013

Are South Dakota's Republicans Broken?

In Salon, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein contends the "emphasis on partisan polarization is misplaced" because "[t]here’s nothing about strong partisanship that makes effective government in the U.S. impossible." Bernstein then concludes the Republican Party is dysfunctional and lists the following reasons:
  • An aversion to normal bargaining and compromise
  • An inability to banish fringe people and views from the mainstream of the party
  • An almost comical lack of interest in substantive policy formation
  • A willingness to ignore established norms and play “Constitutional hardball”
  • A belief that when out of office, the best play is always all-out obstruction
From an armchair perspective, I'm not sure that these criteria apply to South Dakota's Republicans.

The first and last criterion obviously don't apply to South Dakota at all. The Republicans haven't had to compromise recently because they have had total control of both chambers. They haven't been out of power in decades

The third criterion has only a small application to South Dakota On the policy side, they seem a bit to willing to introduce ALEC designed legislation to follow what Republican governors and legislators are doing nationally, but if one follows Bernstein's link, it's clear they are not as easily "distracted" as Pennsylvania's Representative Mike Hill who didn't write green energy legislation he was assigned to write. Heck, the state legislature hasn't been distracted by desserts for at least two sessions.

As for the fourth criterion, they seem a bit to willing to play legislative games by "hoghousing' bills or writing placeholder legislation, but they don't seem to play the dangerous constitutional games their national counterparts do. Again, they don't have to. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they were challenged legislatively

As for the third criterion, I'm not sure what constitutes fringe any longer. I thought William F. Buckley had exposed the the John Birch Society as a fringe group, but Gordon Howie wants everyone to believe they are good for America.

Quite frankly, South Dakota's Republicans seem to treat their far right members like bad school children or the Soviet Union. In the legislature, Stace Nelson was given assigned seating near the teacher's Speaker's desk. For others, the party seems to be practicing a policy similar to containment; let Howie, Ellis, Sibby et al rattle their political sabers but don't let them fire their political nukes. They also seem to use the right wing as political cover: "Our base wants to cut all funding for X but we're going to compromise and cut 60%.

In short, the South Dakota's Republicans haven't had any competition. No one is going to know how functional they are until the Democrats can provide some.

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