SD GOPers stir pot with new legislator rankingsThe site — www.sdrepublican.org — is presented as a “snapshot” of how legislators voted on some issues, compared with the planks of the state Republican Party platform.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
District 25 Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, denies that he posted a website with the results of a survey rating the voting records of state lawmakers, but he admits he helped an anonymous group of Republicans in the creation of the “Republican Platform Voting Scorecard.”
The site — www.sdrepublican.org — is presented as a “snapshot” of how legislators voted on some issues, compared with the planks of the state Republican Party platform.
“It’s not mine but I did aid and abet these people in putting it together,” said Nelson with a laugh. “I did help the people get it up and running. It is not my report. I was consulted on it, as were a half-dozen other legislators.”
The controversial website has been the buzz of the South Dakota War College and Madville Times blogs in recent days.
Nelson’s connection to the new site was noted recently on the War College blog, which posted website source codes that pointed to Nelson’s possible involvement with the new site.
Nelson, who described himself as a former “webmaster” during the late 1990s, said Wednesday that he allowed the website owners to use a domain name he still owned.
Local blogger Steve Sibson said he also acted as a consultant for the new site, but his involvement was not extensive.
He would not disclose the names of the people he spoke with. He said the state GOP has a history of being vindictive.
“They don’t want to be identified and I can understand why they don’t want to be exposed. They’ve got jobs they want to keep,” Sibson said.
Sibson said the voting record disclosed on the new website confirms what he has known all along — namely, that the GOP leans left in the Senate and the state House of Representatives is more conservative.
Neither would Nelson identify the people he helped, but he said the members of the group are all Republicans and the membership includes county GOP chairpeople and committee members. He said the group numbers about 20 people statewide.
He said the website was under construction prior to his recent removal from the House Agriculture Committee and the voting scorecard was not posted by him in retaliation.
A self-described “burr under the saddle” of GOP leadership, Nelson wasn’t contrite about his involvement in the website’s creation.
“The Republican establishment is not happy with the fact that I helped these people get the website up and get this information out,” he said, “but it wasn’t me who put it together.”
Nelson said the Republican scorecard is similar in tone to the South Dakota Freedom Index published online by the John Birch Society. Nelson said the GOP scorecard is more objective and less opinionated than the JBS website. A John Birch Society representative denied his group built the new site but applauded the concept.
Nelson received the highest rating on the new scorecard, tying with Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City. Both received 95 percent ratings, which means their votes align with the party’s values and positions 95 percent of the time, according to the rankings.
No GOP senator scored higher than a 60 percent on the survey, whereas some House members voted the GOP party line 80 percent of the time.
Ironically, Rep. Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland, received a rating of 60, which was higher than many Republicans. Democrat Ed Iron Cloud, of Porcupine, registered a 55 percent.
Mitchell’s three Republican lawmakers all received lower scores. Sen. Mike Vehle got 36 percent; Rep. Tona Rozum, 50 percent; and Rep. Lance Carson, 28 percent.
Nelson appears to be reveling in his maverick role.
He said he recently took leadership to task behind closed doors about gerrymandering in the redistricting process. He believes the survey performs a valuable service by disclosing the voting records of officials.
He said the news shouldn’t be about who constructed and posted the website, but the voting record of the legislators listed on the survey.
Tony Post, executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, said he hasn’t had time to study the site, but he’s not worried about it.
Post said the site shows the energy of the state GOP, a quality he says is lacking on the Democratic side of the aisle. Republicans are fired up and want make sure their legislators are following the party line, he said.
“Here’s the dichotomy,” he said. “We have an organic movement of Republicans and conservatives who are doing what they feel is right. On the other side of the fence, you have apathy and a ‘Draft Matt Varilek’ movement that’s as organic as a corndog.”
Varilek, who last week announced a candidacy for the U.S. House, is a former staffer of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, DS.D.
Post dismissed any possibility that there will be retaliation for those who put the website together.
“This kind of stuff pops up periodically. It shows that people are fired up. It’s nothing I’m worried about.”