Mark Mickelson, the South Dakota lawyer and state representative from District 13 (Sioux Falls and surroundings) doesn't think much of non-lawyers trying to amend the state Constitution. He thinks they're "knotheads," complaining that he's "sick and tired of reading about some knothead ... that doesn't have a law degree presupposing he knows constitutional law" using the initiative process to amend our state's Constitution.
So what's the "sick and tired" lawmaker doing to change the situation? Something so blatantly against the American way of doing things that Mickelson's efforts are proof positive that lawyers can be knotheads, too.
Mickelson, in his quest to expunge "knothead-ism" from the electoral process, wants the state Legislature to fix things to his liking. How? By restricting the ability of South Dakota voters to amend their own Constitution.
He submitted House Joint Resolution 1007 to the House State Affairs Committee last week. It's a resolution that leaves it up to the Legislature (by majority votes in each house) to decide on constitutional amendments that can be presented to voters. The existing initiative process, which lets voters decide on amendment proposals through the petitioning process, would no longer exist. Only lawmakers — not ordinary citizens — will be permitted to place amendments on the ballot.
This is not only arrogant and presumptive — it exposes Mickelson's tin ear. Why? Because if it clears the legislative and executive hurdles in Pierre, his HJR 1007 will be decided on by voters next November — and only a knothead would think that voters will compliantly agree to a restriction of their own rights at the ballot box.
Consider the dynamics of Initiated Measure 22 and its aftermath: IM 22, the government-and-finance-reform initiative, passed by a 53 percent majority in 2016. It was then emasculated by the legislative and executive branches before it even got its final test in the courts.
So outraged were many South Dakotans that a similar effort (Constitutional Amendment W, which I support) with self-preservation smartly built into it will be on November's ballot. It has as good, if not a better, chance of passing than IM 22.
Neither of these initiatives would have come into existence if Mickelson's brave new world of restricted ballot access was in place. Both measures express a clear yearning by South Dakota voters to retain control of their Constitution. I doubt that most of our state's voters will look kindly on an attempt to cede that control to the government.
And if that isn't enough for a thumbs down on this democracy-constricting endeavor, consider the larger U.S. constitutional issue at play here. In knothead-digestible terms, it restrains free speech. In its podcast on Mickelson's efforts, the Rapid City Journal last October quoted a Common Cause spokesman who said the initiative's chance of passing constitutional muster is between "slim and none." Mickelson is undeterred, telling the Journal "it's likely to be challenged. I think we win."
Whoopee. Who can't relish the thought of the state of South Dakota arguing for its authority to deny state residents the right to initiate amendments to their Constitution? Well, for one, I can't. Has Mickelson forgotten that in South Dakota, "Under God, The People Rule?"