State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) won re-election, but he still had a tough election night – The South Dakota Standard
It looks like the big loser in this week’s primary election was the state Senator Lee Schoenbeck. This may seem incongruous, since the veteran Watertown Republican lawmaker was renamed, defeat challenger Colin Paulsen with 58% of the vote, and no Democrat or Independent has had the guts to run against him in this election cycle.
Yes, Schoenbeck (seen above in an image of his Facebook page will be in the state senate for another two years.
It was Schoenbeck who led the push to put Amendment C on the June primary ballot, calculating that an electorate heavily biased in favor of Republicans, who have all contested primary races, would support his plan to cripple many measures. initiated. Amendment C would have required that any election measure raising taxes or creating a tax impact of $10 million would receive 60% of the vote.
South Dakota was the cradle of initiative and referendum, shortly after the establishment of the state. The motto of our state is “Under God the people reign”. In recent times, the measures initiated have accomplished incremental changes that our elected legislators and our governor would not even consider.
We raised our minimum wage above the federal rate, ended predatory payday lending, tried to crack down on corruption in state government (the legislature hastily repealed this one), and voted to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Currently, the Medicaid expansion — which would provide health care coverage to 42,500 South Dakotans who need it — and recreational marijuana, which was struck down by the state Supreme Court, are stakes.
Schoenbeck wasn’t sneaky about his motives. While voters in South Dakota have only seen a proposed constitutional amendment on a primary ballot once before, Schoenbeck acknowledged he was trying to prevent Medicaid expansion here.
Never mind that over 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion is covered by the federal government. Never mind that 38 other states have expanded Medicaid, many by popular vote, and thus have better health outcomes. There would be a tax impact on the state, and Schoenbeck intended to raise the threshold to 60%, just five months before we voted to provide health insurance to low-income workers.
He recruited a high-profile supporter: Congressman Dusty Johnson, who put his name and reputation on the line by signing postcards of Americans for Prosperity (aka: The Koch Brothers) falsely claiming that Amendment C was about stopping tax increases, when it was clear the problem was expanding Medicaid. After all, the majority of our conservative voters in South Dakota probably won’t support a tax hike.
The battle over Amendment C boosted voter turnout, and the proposition lost by a margin of two to one. In Pennington County (Rapid City), there was a 41% turnout of Republican voters (who had contests for Governor, US Senate, and US House) and a turnout of 21% among Democrats and Independents (who largely voted only on Amendment C). Since Pennington also rejected Schoenbeck’s amendment by two to one, it is clear that at least half of Republican voters opposed it, even though Democrats and independents unanimously opposed it.
Meanwhile, Schoenbeck invested thousands of dollars in a faceless PAC called South Dakota Fort, who sent postcards to Republican voters attacking some of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. Along with Sen. Helene Duhamel (R-Rapid City) and other allies, he called some of the most extreme right-wing Republican lawmakers RINO (Republicans in name only) and pleaded with voters to “drain the swamp” (shades of Donald Trump).
Schoenbeck claimed that State Representatives Tina Mulally and Tony Randolph are RINOs who oppose the Second Amendment because they opposed public funding for a shooting sports complex on a ranch outside of Rapid City. . Since voting against the general appropriations bill, he has claimed that they are anti-veterans and need improvements at the State Veterans Home. To drive the point home, the postcard contained a large photo of a rhinoceros. His PAC invested in a similar attack on State Senator Julie Frye-Mueller, who was in a tough primary contest with State Rep. Tim Goodwin.
Schoenbeck is a lawyer and he surely knows that the Second Amendment simply provides a constitutional right to own and bear arms. There is no constitutional right to have a taxpayer funded shooting range within half an hour of your home. And presumably, right-wing lawmakers were opposed to other projects in the state budget, not the facility for elderly veterans.
As Amendment C went up in flames, the attack on right-wing lawmakers appears to have backfired. Randolph and Mulally easily won their main battle against Box Elder Mayor Larry Larson and Pennington County Public Defender Liz Regalado. While Goodwin passed Frye-Mueller, perhaps 10 to one, Frye-Mueller appears to have survived the challenge with just 46 votes. (Goodwin is likely entitled to a recount in this race.)
The day after the election, Frye-Mueller was exuberant about his apparent victory.
“The West River wackadoodles won. Lee Schoenbeck is a problem, and what he has done by splitting the party and promoting so many left-leaning people and trying to sell them as conservative Republicans…is just ridiculous,” she said.
Now that he’s created his own political action committee, Schoenback can continue to wage war on fellow parliamentarians with anonymous postcard campaigns. He likely won’t attempt another attack on the state Constitution or the right of citizens to initiate laws when the legislature fails to act.
Jay Davis is a retired attorney from Rapid City