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Friday, November 19, 2010

Nygaard Snit-Fit: Dissent to Rising Dem Youth?

The Democratic caucus is now small enough that I could feasibly take them all out for dinner and remember what they all ordered. District 17 Senator-Elect Eldon Nygaard defected yesterday to the Republicans, thus bringing the GOP majority to 30 and the Dem caucus to 5.

Nygaard dresses his defection in language about the desire expressed by voters nationwide for change. Nygaard seems to be suffering a little Bjorklunditis, a condition marked by parroting pablum from the national media that doesn't really apply to South Dakota politics. If you want change in South Dakota, you don't vote for the majority party that has delivered and defended the status quo for over thirty years.

Nygaard apparently calculates that he can get more done for his district by joining the majority. He miscalculates the size of the majority. With an already overwhelming majority, one more Democrat jumping ship doesn't add much value for the GOP. The party can tease us Dems a little more (though even that advantage already seems maxed out), but Nygaard doesn't win much more political clout by boosting Majority Leader Olson's pack from 83% to 86%.

Now I might understand a candidate switching parties if the home party had been miserly in its support. But I understand from my Clay County friends that Nygaard enjoyed all sorts of Dem support, with folks holding fundraisers and young USD Dems knocking on doors to support him as a Democrat. Nygaard's pre-general campaign finance filing shows the Clay County Democrats gave him $1500, by far his biggest single donation. Nygaard is turning his back on a lot of committed voters who will be strongly inclined to field a challenger in 2012.

Nygaard's turncoatery (or turn of coterie) may signify a warning to the new Democrats. Nygaard evidently was denied two formal positions in a small Senate caucus that elected two twnety-somethings, Jason Frerichs and Angie Buhl, to leadership positions. This is pure speculation, but perhaps Nygaard represents some resistance to whippersnappery. The two men running for state party chairman, Ben Nesselhuf (age 35) and Mitch Fargen (age 27), may face similar dissent from some old-guard party members uncomfortable with the passing of authority to a new generation.

If such resistance does rear its head in some quarters, it is not a reason for Nesselhuf, Fargen, Frerichs, or Buhl to scale back their intentions for the party. The South Dakota Democratic Party's performance in recent elections has indicated that we could use new leaders and new ideas. Youthful leadership, like that provided by George McGovern six decades ago, is as good a bet as anything for rebuilding the party.

The party door remains open to everyone... and it goes both ways. Eldon Nygaard has gone out that door; he is welcome to come back in when he realizes he has made the wrong choice. But we won't stand at the door crying over departures; we have work to do.

Bonus Paradigm Shift: But maybe party identification doesn't matter so much any more. Maybe the dichotomy of Democrat vs. Republican, Left vs. Right, is just a distraction from the real battle lines in America: individuals vs. corporations!

Update 12:48 CST: Interested Vermillion ex-pat Rebecca Terk lodges her own complaint against Senator-Elect Nygaard's betrayal of the Democrats who faithfully helped him win his seat, even after his embarrassing vote, alongside Don Kopp and Kristi Noem, for HCR 1009, the resolution last session that denied climate science in favor of astrology.

Update 2010.11.20 07:21 CST: Former SDGOP honcho Joel Rosenthal sees Nygaard's switch as more reaonable and pragmatic than sticking with the "irrelevant" Democrats, whose tiny caucus will be stretched too thin to know what's going on across all committees.


  1. The Clay Co. Dems also gave Nygaard business, holding their monthly lunch meetings at his winery. The Democratic GOTV effort in Vermillion was also being run out of the winery...until 5 p.m. on election night, when the phone bankers got kicked out so the place could close.

  2. Can't even begin to express my disappointment and outrage. Eldon is in the bluest district in the state, and he has repeatedly failed to represent us as such. Cue: finding a new truly representative voice in Pierre for the next election. And a new business at which to hold fundraisers and GOTV efforts.


  3. I wonder if the folks in district 17 who have been voting against him will now be inclined to vote for him. Turncoats are mostly regarded poorly on both sides of the fence.

  4. Arlen Specter didn't fare so well... and his swich at least represented a crucial gain for the majority party that he joined.

  5. If he had believed he would better serve his district as a Republican as he claims, then he should have run as a Republican. It is hard for me to believe that he came to this decision in the last couple of weeks . Maybe he is being disingenuous about his real reasons.

  6. I love the name "FlyingTomato."

  7. Were you serious over at Dakota War Toilet about a move to a unicameral legislature, Bill? How is the concept received by other SD Dems? Is it the right thing to do?

  8. One of my Vermillion friends who had not heard about Nygaard's political treason, reacted when he did hear it with a string of obscenities.

  9. Larry, that's what it already IS. Well, not really... Unicameral would mean combining the House and the Senate and just have one legislating body.

    But I know quite a few Dems who are seriously thinking about changing their registration, if for no other reason than that they want to participate in the political process.

  10. I think Unicameral makes a lot of sense. And let the Repubs run it. Let the Dems and Indys become the masters of I & R in SD. Nice to remember that we in SD have always had a legal way of "takin' it to the streets."


    (it's a jungle out there...)

  11. There won't be any bottles of Rushmore Red on my Christmas table this year.

  12. In my opinion, you're 2/3 right, Cory. The battle lines exist between individuals and large institutions of all kinds. This situation has not changed fundamentally in over four thousand years.


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