On Thursday, South Dakota’s Republican-dominated state government literally declared a “state of emergency” to repeal a voter-approved ethics reform law after the electorate passed Measure 22 in 2016, a ballot initiative that established a package of ethics and campaign finance reforms. Particularly infuriating is that lawmakers’ use of an emergency provision means repeal takes effect immediately and is immune to a voter-referendum veto. It would take twice as many signatures to initiate a constitutional amendment to restore the law as it would for a veto referendum.
Measure 22 would have placed strict limits on lobbying, created an independent ethics commission, and implemented a first-in-the-nation public campaign finance system that would have given each voter a voucher to donate to their preferred candidates. These reforms passed by a 52-48 margin even as Donald Trump won a 62-32 landslide, indicating that they had bipartisan support from the voters. Nonetheless, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard insultingly claimed that voters were “hoodwinked” into passing the initiative.
Repealing the voter-approved law in this manner is a slap in the face for voters who are fed up with corruption, but hopefully it will serve as a warning for reformers in the future: If you want to subject lawmakers to restrictions that they personally oppose, you better make sure that your proposals alter the state constitution if possible instead of merely change a statute that lawmakers can repeal.