Thursday, November 9, 2006

A Morning-After Pill for Referred Law 6

Election Opinion Piece from Sam Kephart via the email inbox:

The people of South Dakota have spoken. Referred Law 6 (aka HB1215) has gone down to defeat 56% to 44%. The final statewide vote tally was 185,948 vs. 148,666 *, a decisive victory for the ‘No’s’. However, if we parse the results a little more closely, something else becomes very clear. The moderates, who are as a group, a non-entity in South Dakota, decided this particular election. Voters cast 334,614 total votes regarding Referred Law 6. I think we can safely say at least 50,192 (15%) of those voters are independents or moderates from either major party. Had just 20,000 of those citizens said “Yes”, Referred Law 6 would have passed, albeit with a small margin. So, what was missing?

First, despite the extensive efforts of Representative Larry Rhoden, Speaker of the State House, and the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion (I wonder how many moderates were on that panel), HB 1215, was not well drafted, unless you are an arch-conservative Christian Republican or Democrat. Supporters adamantly insisted the law already had sufficient language to provide relief for instances of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. Obviously the folks in the middle disagreed. Over the last three months, I’ve received dozens of e-mails and have had many conversations with moderates of all flavors across the state. Many told me they were “pro-life”, yet they perceived the new law as being too restrictive and not inclusive of enough clearly stated, as opposed to imputed, “trap doors” for the exceptions already mentioned.

Second, whether true or not, there were a significant number of people I spoke with who perceived the Yes on 6 campaign to be an attempt at a moral cram down on South Dakota. Since most of reality is perception, this was also very damaging and likely gave pause to soft R’s and Independent voters.

Third, some of the tactics used by certain supporters of Yes on 6, like parking a truck, with billboard images of aborted fetuses, in the quadrangle of Black Hills State University on the day of their on-campus absentee vote, just don’t make sense. They hark back to the aggressive politics of Operation Rescue and just plain create a lot of ill will and voter blow-back. Definitely not a smart way to court moderates (or anyone with a sense of taste or public comportment), but I doubt that was even a consideration.

Fourth, it is extremely curious to me that Governor Mike Rounds received 207,000 votes, 58,334 more than Yes on 6. Here’s the man who proudly signed HB1215 into law, with the hopes that it would precipitate a major test of Roe v. Wade at the U.S. Supreme Court, beating his own endorsed legislation by a 39% margin. What’s that about? Obviously, there was a major disconnect with the voters somewhere. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that the Republican Party publicly and emphatically put down any possible outreach to moderates in the platform and resolutions it adopted during last June’s state convention.

On the evening of the day that occurred, Friday, June 23rd, I had a private moment with our Governor. He had heard about the party’s refusal to adopt any moderating language into their resolution endorsing HB1215... and he winced just a little when I told him how harshly and vehemently the matter had been treated on the floor. He told me he was sorry that that had occurred and that he thought it was a mistake. He went on to say that he felt moderates needed to be brought into the political dialogue on this subject. Obviously, that message never got to the Yes on 6 leaders in any meaningful way.

Last, it is interesting to note that all of the Mike Rounds’ campaign ads that I viewed on TV were upbeat, positive, reflective, and expectant. I must admit they left me with a warm fuzzy feeling for our Governor and his stated accomplishments. I wish I could say the same about the commercials for Yes on 6. They left me feeling carpet bombed and emotionally shell-shocked.

* All election data came from the South Dakota Secretary of State’s official election results.

Sam Kephart is CEO of Virtual Acumen Corp., a Spearfish-based creative agency specializing in digital media and marketing.

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