OUR VIEW: Consider making the secretary of state office less politicalSecretary of State Jason Gant is accused of politicizing his office, crossing an imaginary line and allowing partisanship to sneak into the usually vanilla world of his elected position.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
Secretary of State Jason Gant is accused of politicizing his office, crossing an imaginary line and allowing partisanship to sneak into the usually vanilla world of his elected position.
A report in Wednesday’s Daily Republic outlined the claims by Democrats, including Rep. Mitch Fargen, of Flandreau, and Ben Nesselhuf, director of the state Democratic Party.
Among the Democrats’ complaints: Gant hired prominent conservative blogger Pat Powers as director of operations and also has publicly praised political officeholders for their roles in helping to pass certain legislation.
“By praising a state senator who presumably is running for re-election, Gant put into further question his ability to keep politics out of South Dakota’s voting process,” Fargen said.
Although Gant would not discuss why he chose Powers, of Brookings, to be his director of operations, it’s possible he did it based upon Powers’ strong background with the Internet. Gant long has been a proponent of making state records available to anyone who wants to see them, and part of that effort involves getting those records online.
Too, Gant is a fan of using social media — such as Facebook and Twitter — to discuss the goings-on in his office. Powers, who ran a very popular website and blog before joining Gant’s office, has obvious experience in the social media field.
As for Gant’s praise of candidates, he said he only did so as a way to thank those candidates for their work in pushing bills through the Legislature. He counters the Democrats’ claims by saying it’s only good manners to write a note of thanks, although in these cases those notes generally are being sent to newspaper editors.
Is Gant abusing his power as secretary of state?
We don’t think so.
Was it a good idea for him to publicly praise the elected officials whose elections he is charged with policing?
We’d prefer Gant keep a safe distance from political officeholders of all stripes, in order to avoid any improprieties — or the appearance thereof — related to this state’s elections. That said, we don’t think this state’s election framework will crumble because the state’s top elections official wrote a public thank-you note to a politician.
If Democrats are really serious about removing political influence from the Office of the Secretary of State — which we think is a noble aspiration — perhaps they should investigate the possibility of making that office nonpartisan, in the same way many city-level elected offices are nonpartisan. In other words, perhaps we should change the law so that candidates for secretary of state are not identified as a member of any political party.
Right on the ballot, candidates for secretary of state are listed along with their political affiliation. What’s more political than that?
In the meantime, as long as secretaries of state run as a Republican, Democrat or member of some other party, occasional allegations of political bias will be unavoidable.