Senate panel backs Adelstein’s plan for primariesProposal would use early elections to replace nominating conventions for state offices.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — A state lawmaker from Pennington County asked Friday that South Dakota’s political parties hold primary elections for all statewide offices, rather than solely for governor and Congress.
Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, wants the primaries to replace the nominations decided at the political parties’ state conventions.
He found strong support, at least for the time being.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-1 to send it to the full Senate for debate next week.
“This is a game-changer. I really do think it may be ahead of its time,” Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth said.
He added that the average person could be able to better understand what is occurring in primaries rather than the convention process.
Democratic Sen. Larry Lucas of Mission said it would help rejuvenate the primary process. He said some counties don’t have Democratic organizations and, therefore, aren’t directly included in his party’s nomination process.
“I’m intrigued by the idea,” Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said. He wanted to spend time over the weekend thinking about it.
“It certainly is worthy of discussion and I appreciate the senator bringing this forward,” Brown said.
Adelstein “makes a good choice for changing times,” Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said, because communications and transportation are better now.
“I think this is an appropriate change. I think the costs are minimal,” Tieszen said. “It just merely adds candidates to a process we already have.”
Adelstein’s plan would affect the offices of secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer, lands commissioner and public utilities commissioners.
Candidates for those offices would run in the June primary elections for their parties’ nominations, rather than be selected at the summer state-party conventions.
No one other than Adelstein spoke on the bill.
Brown, prior to voting to move the bill to the full Senate, suggested the secretary of state would have additional costs for conducting more primary elections if the change was made.
The secretary of state is South Dakota’s top election official.
Adelstein said he couldn’t think of any additional expenses other than having more names on the ballots.
Brown responded there could be more costs for verifying candidates’ petitions. “I don’t know if it is substantial or not. I was curious whether you looked at that,” he said.
Adelstein’s original legislation, SB 82, called for secretary of state to be converted to a non-partisan office, similar to state judicial elections. But on Friday, he asked for the change to primary elections instead.
The senator called last year for the Legislature to impeach Secretary of State Jason Gant, a Republican, over his management of the office.
A formal investigation by state Attorney General Marty Jackley last summer found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Gant’s top aide, Pat Powers, resigned amid the investigation.
Powers operated a political materials and consulting business while on Gant’s staff. One of his clients was then-Rep. Val Rausch, R-Big Stone City.
Rausch couldn’t seek a fifth consecutive term in the House because of the state constitutional limit of four consecutive terms in the same chamber. Rausch challenged Sen. Tim Begalka of Clear Lake in a primary for the Republican Senate nomination.
Gant wrote a public letter endorsing Rausch. Begalka won.
After the Powers’ resignation and the announcement of the Jackley investigation’s findings, Gant hired former First Lady Pat Miller as his top administrative aide.
Gant also contracted with retired Minnehaha County Auditor Sue Roust, a Democrat, to take over election responsibilities through the November elections.
Adelstein had been a frequent target of derogatory comments on a political blog Powers founded, Dakota War College.
Powers took a break from writing under his name on the blog while he was on the secretary of state staff. He returned to operating the blog after his resignation.
Adelstein had also proposed a second piece of legislation related to the scandals. SB 81 sought to prohibit political activities in the secretary of state office. The Senate committee rejected that bill Jan. 25.
He found a better reception Friday with his new idea to hold the primary elections for all statewide candidates for executive offices.
“We want every candidate to be chosen by all the members of his party,” Adelstein said. “It simply returns us to a fair primary election for everyone.”
Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said he wondered the same thing about “whether or not we have the right system in place” after attending state conventions that were poorly attended.
Rhoden described himself as a traditionalist and suggested maybe more emphasis needs to be first placed on more involvement at the conventions.
“The world is run by the people who show up,” Rhoden said.
He was the only nay vote but he expressed appreciation for Adelstein’s effort. “I don’t know if this is ready for prime time,” he said.