Is the Lederman revolution about to begin?
Dan Lederman’s candidacy for Chair of the South Dakota GOP arose several weeks ago after current chair Pam Roberts had provided direct notice that she did not intend to run again, triggering a search for the next chair. In each instance where they had approached people, they were turned down flat.
While this was going on, Lederman, the former Senate Assistant Majority Leader, heard about the vacancy, and had expressed interest in the past in leading the GOP, but was passed over at the time of previous vacancies.
And in the ensuing vacuum that had presented this time, he made a fateful decision. He decided he was going to buck a tradition nearly as old as he was. He was going to run for Chairman of the Party, and return the seat to being selected by the party’s governing body, the Republican State Central Committee. And the phone calls began.
Shortly thereafter, Roberts was convinced to run again, and a letter of endorsement was released from the State’s top elected officials. (And maybe some weren’t quite made aware of a challenger.)
The race was on. And so too was the revolution.
Did Lederman start the revolution that’s currently bubbling amongst the party members? It’s been brewing for a while, but it has been a long time coming, and has become more evident in the past few years.
20-25 years ago, the party’s operations were quite active, with the party operations being comprised of an Executive Director, a Communications Director, a Finance officer who handled FEC reports, and for many years, a legislative campaign person added during election cycles.
From there, the party evolved. Staffing has changed with FEC reporting duties being farmed out due to their ever increasing complexity and a fine that was levied at one time for a mistake arising from that ever increasing complexity. But, it for a long time, it made the effort to have a significant staff presence who worked with candidates and counties.
It had traditionally been based in Pierre, but in recent years, the SDGOP had made efforts to shift focus from the center of the state to a place where 1/3 of the state’s people live, focusing many of their activities in Sioux Falls.
Not a bad move, and arguably one that made sense, given that it represents an area where the GOP has the most challenging aspects of its mission to elect voters, it is where the state’s media is largely based from, and there’s a significant donor base there. But this notion was a constant fight with traditionalists who wanted it back in Pierre.
So, the argument was made that after several successful election cycles was that it was too expensive and not worth the value to maintain in the eyes of some. So, boxes were packed, and offices were moved back to the sleepy little government town from whence it came, back within the protective confines of the city of Pierre.
To save money, the party was largely left in those boxes, even going without a director for a significant amount of time. Shutting the doors in an off year made sense monetarily, as it allowed the party to raise and squirrel away money for the 2016 election year. In February 2016, the party finally hired it’s sole full-time staffer, Executive Director Ryan Budmayr, who has been working hard to meet the challenges of the demands of the party. But he’s still only one person for a party that boasts over 250,000 registered members.
But two years after the office in Sioux Falls was shuttered, one has to wonder if the party’s period of near complete dormancy stoked the flames for the revolution which has Lederman as figurehead?
The party has done a good job of raising money. And starting several cycles before, they have done a great job of electing Republicans. But if those were the only tasks, why not set up a PAC and call it a day? And if those were the only things of importance, why is there this degree of unrest.
This political party stuff might be easy if there wasn’t all those darn people you have to worry about.
Seriously, though, there are many reasons cited by those in the rank and file of the State Republican Party as to why they’re willing to consider upending 40 years of tradition, where the Governor’s selection of Chair is accepted as the word of God.
Ultimately, many of them seem related to a lack of communication, as well as a growing want for self-determination. There are examples, some of which persist today.
As related to me by an attendee at the Yankton forum, from his wheelchair parked in the front row of the audience (as pictured here) Tom Bixler, who is sometimes viewed as a quixotic figure in politics declaring his candidacy for various offices with impossible odds, offered a particularly biting critique.
Bixler asked David Wheeler, who is running for vice chair on a slate with Current Chairwoman Pam Roberts to replace vice-chair Drake Olson who moved out of state, “Why can’t I e-mail the chairman?” Wheeler replied “You can, she has e-mail.” To which Bixler shot back “Then why isn’t it on the website? She’s the head of the party, but her e-mail isn’t on the website!”
Ouch. And that’s only one of the anecdotes I heard from that meeting.
And it doesn’t get any better when you look at other aspects of the SDGOP website, which underline more communication issues. Such as the part where it notes who our elected officials are.
At least, those who were our elected officials in years gone by, as you can see from the roster of Senators, including State Senator Mark Kirkeby. Who hasn’t been a State Senator since 2014.
And looking at the below screen clip of House members, only one is actually in the House of Representatives at this writing. Erickson resigned in May of 2014, and Hickey in 2015, with others falling away since then.
These are not things that illustrate to the party’s rank and file effective communication with the rest of the world, much less the members of the party who volunteer their time, effort and their hard earned dollars towards the cause of electing Republicans to office.
The website is just one example, but among the grassroots, there’s a distinct impression that there’s been a problem with communication for some time, which has resulted in a disconnect.
Calling it a disconnect might be putting it lightly. As I talk to people across the state, I get the feeling that a few of them feel more than a little put out. So put out that people who have been foundational to the SDGOP for years, and in some cases decades, are open to a change in direction – including abandoning a decades old tradition of allowing the Governor to choose the chair – even if it risks the possibility of him withdrawing his support.
The most shocking evidence of this disconnect is the fact that the National Committeeman and National Committeewoman – two of the top people in the party – passed over the current chair, and endorsed Lederman for the office on the basis of his promised change.
What was one of the planks on which they lent him their names? More Communication:
“…a visionary Chairman must be effective with social media. As Assistant Majority Leader in the South Dakota Senate, Dan filmed weekly YouTube videos with his colleagues. He opened Twitter accounts to communicate Republican achievements. He created and maintained websites, raised money through online sources, and generated email updates to voters across the state. He’s tech-savvy and will lead our state party into creating a winning social media platform.
While we support Dan based on his qualifications, we made the commitment to publicly endorse Dan after the current Chair told each of us the week of President Trump’s inauguration that she was not going to run again for the SDGOP chairmanship. Dan enthusiastically wants the job, and he has the experience and passion to lead our party into a successful future.”
If that doesn’t hammer home the reality that the rank and file of the party are dissatisfied with the lack of communication from the party, I’m not sure what does.
Much like in any campaign, there’s evidence that the long knives have come out, with saboteurs and insiders seeking to derail the Lederman effort. And there are those preaching doom and gloom, and sharp words are being exchanged. Ultimately, the Republican Party would be better served if some of the doomsayers would encourage people to vote for the candidate of their choice, or make a convincing case why their person was better as opposed to running the other person down.
The Governor himself is out making phone calls requesting that delegates retain Pam as chair. Others who believe the same or who support Dan should be doing the same before the vote is held.
Regardless whether the “Lederman revolution” succeeds or the insurrection is put down by the palace guard – the fact there is a strong challenge should serve as an extremely loud wake-up call that the people who make up the Republican Party have an expectation that their grievances will be heard, they want a say in how the party is ran, and that the leadership of the party needs to be accessible, vocal, and in the trenches with them.
It’s not enough that they raise money and win. The people who help make that possible also think they should have a seat at the table that’s more than being called to Pierre a couple times a year and dismissed.
Call it a revolution, or call it a renaissance. But no matter who wins tomorrow, the grassroots of the GOP is putting it’s foot down, and issuing a call that it’s a new party.