Politics is a strange animal in South Dakota. Unlike adjacent Minnesota and Iowa on our eastern border, there’s simply very little doubt in the vast majority of elections in the state. If you’re a Republican and you’re running in South Dakota, you’ve got a hell of good chance to win by a wide margin. Even as pitiful as Republican presidential candidates have been for, oh, the last 25 years or so, there’s been absolutely no doubt that the Republican would carry South Dakota.
Despite the state being very “red”, we’ve remarkably had at least one Democratic Senator for most of the last 50 years. George McGovern held a seat for 3 terms, from 1962 to 1980. Tom Daschle held a seat for 3 terms, from 1986 to 2004. Tim Johnson served simultaneously with Daschle from 1996 to 2004 and continues to serve today, remarkably giving conservative South Dakota TWO Democratic Senators for a number of years.
Tim Johnson recently announced he is retiring at the end of his third term. Three terms seems to be a magic number for South Dakota Senators. South Dakotans in general are a little slow on the draw, and I think it takes them 15 years or so to realize their “mistake” in electing a Senator who isn’t a conservative nutjob. Hence, South Dakota choosing to boot out Tom Daschle in 2004, despite Daschle giving South Dakota more power than it’s ever had as Senate Majority leader for years.
We’ve had the pleasure of meeting multiple times with both of our current Senators, Tim Johnson as well as Republican John Thune. Well, let me rephrase. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Johnson. I wouldn’t call meeting with John Thune a very pleasurable experience. Our young son was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes near his first birthday, and we’ve met with both Senators multiple times to discuss health care issues. Senator Johnson was always very receptive, and very AWARE of the issues. Senator Thune? The first time we met with him, we talked about a stem-cell research bill that was up for a vote. After we talked about it for 15 minutes or so, including the potential long-term benefits for children like our son, it was ABUNDANTLY clear that Senator Thune knew very little about the bill he was about to vote on. It was ABUNDANTLY clear that Senator Thune knew practically nothing about stem cell research, other than the same old misguided Republican talking points that persist to this day. What was MOST telling was Thune’s initial response when we were done talking. He didn’t ask questions about our son. He didn’t ask questions about the bill or embryonic stem cell research. Instead, his first comment was, “Well, I can’t be expected to vote for that…I’m a REPUBLICAN!”.
That pretty much sums up Senator Thune, and South Dakota Republicans in general…following the party line no matter what, independent thinking (or even basic KNOWLEDGE of an issue) be damned. If there’s one thing that drives me absolutely nuts about politics today, it’s the polarization between Dems and Republicans, where there’s simply very little chance that any Republican would support ANYTHING Obama or the Dems support. Democrats are almost as equally guilty, although it’s damned hard to top the pig-headedness of today’s Republican party. What happened to independent thinking? What happened to thinking about what’s best for your constituents or the country as a whole?
Senator Johnson is making headlines recently for being one of the rare independent politicians, bucking the party line. Unfortunately, it’s not in a good way. As momentum continues to build for equal rights and gay marriage, what was recently 9 Democratic Senator holdouts for supporting gay marriage is as of today down to 6. Senator Johnson remains one of the 6 holdouts in the Democratic Senate, refusing to publicly support gay marriage.
I’m disappointed. Senator Johnson has been a wonderful, understated voice for South Dakotans. Unfortunately, he’s now letting the conservative views of South Dakota taint his views. He’s taking the easy way out, avoiding backlash from South Dakotans for supporting something that definitely doesn’t jive with the very conservative culture here.
Senator Johnson, as you serve out the last year and half of your 18-year career, here’s hoping you decide to do what’s RIGHT, decide that it IS important to treat all Americans equally. You’ll never have to again face the wrath of South Dakota’s conservative electorate. Here’s hoping you worry less about your legacy within the state of South Dakota, and pay more attention to doing what’s RIGHT.