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Seven Rapid City legislators will host an invite-only event with dozens of community leaders this evening that one legislator described as a “reverse cracker-barrel.”

“Cracker-barrel” is the phrase traditionally used for the wintertime forums held in legislative districts throughout the state, where legislators update their constituents on happenings at the Capitol in Pierre and take questions from the audience. 

Tonight’s event, which is being called a Legislative Roundtable, will feature a reverse format with community leaders doing the talking and legislators doing the listening.

“Too often our community’s political gatherings are for the purpose of hearing from legislators,” said the invites for the event. “For this occasion we want to flip the script. We want to listen.”

One of the event organizers is state Rep. David Johnson, R-Rapid City. In an interview with the Journal, he said the “reverse cracker-barrel” concept arose from a desire for calm and nonpartisan discussions of issues, rather than heated political arguments.

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“Our purpose is to get ideas from community leaders and business leaders in the Rapid City area,” Johnson said. “It’s not to debate social issues or hot-button issues or firecracker issues. We want to talk about things like economic and community development.”

Johnson said he and the other legislators will be under strict orders to let the invited guests do most of the talking. He said the moderator, Michael Diedrich, an executive at Regional Health, will be free to tell the legislators to “sit down and shut up.”

The other six legislators who are participating in the event are also Republicans from Rapid City: Reps. Sean McPherson, Craig Tieszen and Kristin Conzet, and Sens. Alan Solano, Terri Haverly and Jeff Partridge.

Johnson said 107 invites were distributed, and 40 RSVPs had been received by Thursday morning. The event is at 6 p.m. today at the Black Hills Business Development Center on the campus of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

If the concept is well received, Johnson said, it could become a recurring event.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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