PIERRE | Some things he witnessed while seeking signatures for several ballot measures sparked changes that state Rep. Mark Mickelson sought this year.
Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, said Friday it was “disheartening” to watch other campaigns employ circulators who seemed to be from outside South Dakota.
One result: The Legislature approved a bill from Mickelson and Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, requiring ballot measure sponsors file proof each petition circulator is a state resident.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed HB 1192. The new law takes effect July 1.
As a lawmaker who worked sidewalks getting registered voters to sign their names, Mickelson was a rarity.
He gathered sufficient signatures to put two proposed laws on the Nov. 6 ballot.
One would raise tobacco taxes to reduce tuition and provide support for technical institutes.
The other would restrict financial contributions from people and groups outside South Dakota to ballot campaigns.
He also used the legislative process to put two constitutional amendments on ballots.
The first was Amendment R, which gave the Legislature authority to create the new Board of Technical Education. It passed by a slim margin in 2016.
The latest is Amendment Y. It is on the June ballot. It would repair some excesses that were part of the victim rights amendment approved in 2016.
Mickelson said he learned some things:
“It is more rewarding to talk about a plan than yourself.”
“It is a lot of work. A lot.”
“Most ballot measures are brought by groups or people with an unstated self-interested agenda separate from the measure they are pushing.”
He said some citizens asked why he was doing gathering signatures but “surprisingly” not many.
“The initiative process is not that well understood by most, and so many assumed it was part of my service,” he said.
He also wasn’t too aware companies would get signatures for a price.
He found out why.
“It was hard to recruit volunteers. You end up petitioning in the same places as everyone else,” Mickelson said.
He also noticed many people circulating petitions didn’t know details of what they had.
He heard “a lot of embellishment and inaccuracies used by circulators” as well, including about some legislators and, second hand, even him.
He also saw many people didn’t read the attorney general’s explanations, even though state law requires circulators have them available.
The abuses led to the legislation seeking proof of residency.
“That’s probably the best thing I thought I could do,” Mickelson said.
A group representing pharmaceutical companies is challenging the residency of circulators for IM 26. It would cap prices state government pays for prescription drugs.
As for Mickelson, he said the signature gathering was “fun. I learned a lot.”
And, he said, “I don’t ever intend to do it again.”