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Seth Tupper

TUPPER: Anti-progressive voters could challenge Tracy

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Kudos to Ken Tracy for his victory last week in the six-way race for mayor of Mitchell.

The voters probably made a good choice with Tracy, who clearly had the most experience in city government. I also thought he had the top showing at the public forum, where he did the best job of delivering clear and concise opinions on an array of topics.

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As the excitement of the election fades, Tracy, a longtime Mitchell city councilman, should know as well as anybody that leaving his mark on the city won't be easy.

I've written before about the anti-progressive opposition that has dogged so many council efforts in recent years, including some efforts that Tracy supported.

Last Tuesday's 63 percent rejection of the council's effort to switch three one-way streets to two-way traffic was just the latest example. Over the past seven years, it was the seventh time the council was on the losing side of a ballot issue.

Last June, 66 percent of voters rejected the addition of a city manager to city government; in 2010, 56 percent of voters rejected a proposal to allow Sunday off-sale liquor; in 2007, 69 percent of voters rejected a property tax increase for a proposed arena, and 51 percent of voters rejected a repeal of the malt-beverage license cap; and in 2005, 53 percent of voters rejected a public funding package for a proposed convention center.

Even a ballot issue approved by voters was an example of how the public has consistently rejected controversial council actions. That was the initiative passed by 53 percent of voters in 2010 to designate all the publicly owned land around Lake Mitchell as park land, which arose in opposition to a council attempt to trade away some of that land.

The council had a role in getting all seven of the above issues to the ballot -- some were placed on the ballot by the council, others were council decisions that petitioners referred to the ballot, and one was an initiative provoked by council action.

A combined 28,542 votes were cast by Mitchell residents on those seven ballot issues. Fifty-eight percent of the votes went against council actions, and 42 percent of the votes were favorable to the council's position.

That's not to say the council's modern record is entirely bad. There have been notable progressive achievements, including the construction of a Missouri River pipeline, an outdoor aquatic center, a conference center and a soccer complex.

Still, it's clear Tracy is saddled with a significant number of constituents who like the status quo and stand ready to swat down progressive ideas.

He also slides into office with only 32 percent support from voters, though his support was watered down by an unusually large field of opponents. Still, when one considers that 68 percent of voters wanted somebody else to be mayor, and then also considers the habitual way in which voters have turned down ideas from city government in recent years, it becomes clear that Tracy faces a challenge if he wants to push the city forward.

At his Election Night party, Mayor-elect Tracy mentioned goals including the improvement of the Corn Palace and its surrounding area, expanding the Recreation Center and building another ice rink.

They're all progressive goals that, based on recent history, would seem to be doomed if they end up on a ballot.

Maybe Ken Tracy will be the kind of mayor who builds consensus and get things done without the need for an election, whenever that's possible. Or, maybe he'll convince voters to break the crust of anti-progressivism that has such a hold on the city.

He's only guaranteed one three-year term, so he'd better get busy.

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