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Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Duane Sutton's aborted run as a Democrat

The story is out. I can now give an expanded version.

Duane Sutton lost his District 3 seat in the South Dakota Senate by 17 votes in the primary. He was beat out by Isaac Latterell who became a challenger because Sutton voted against the abortion ban.

In Brown County, Latterell launched a sign campaign. His supporters put his signs up almost invariably next to those green "Vote Pro-life" signs. Signs were about all the campaigning that was done. But Brown County preferred Sutton by 47 votes. Sutton received 530 votes to Latterell's 483. Sutton received some support from Democrats in Brown County.

The "pro-life" label is beginning to wear thin in Brown County. As one Sutton supporter put it, "Who in the hell are they implying is pro-death?" The anti-abortion forces are being identified as such, and their angry accusations and constant use of the term "baby-killer" against those who do not believe as they do contradicts their claims as guardians of humanity and life. However, that tactic still works in McPherson C0unty, which a campaigner from the last election says is a hotbed of intolerance and repression. Latterell won the election by 64 votes in McPherson County, getting 130 votes to Sutton's 66. A slightly better voter turnout in Brown County would probably have swung the election in Sutton's favor.

Duane Sutton called up the head of the Brown County Democrats and inquired about switching parties and running as a Democrat. This would require one of the candidates running for the legislature this fall to withdraw, and a reorganized ballot to be submittted to the Secretary of State by the county executive committee by the last Tuesday in August.

Sutton's inquiry sent pro-choice people from both parties to buzzing like crazy. Many assumed his Democratic candidacy was a done deal, and were already celebrating his defection. He is a popular candidate in District 3 and is a member of the Mainstream Coalition that has bunched up the panties of so many Republicans. His partisanship is temperate and he has expressed discomfort with the hardline tactics that take place in Pierre. He had support from Democrats and Republicans who think that the abortion issue is a diversion away from the many issues that confront the state. If there is a bi-partsan element in Brown County, it is based upon recognizing the many issues that are ignored while so many people fret and rage over abortion and kuchen. Sutton could have been a contender.

Clearly, Sutton felt betrayed by the Republican Party, which mounted a single-issue candidate and appeared to ignore how Sutton represented it in the past.

However, before he had a scheduled meeting with the Brown County Democratic Central Committee, Sutton called and said he had changed his mind. While he had the serious consideration of members of the Central Committee and the Democrat state delegation from District 2, his candidacy would not have been a slam dunk. Sutton did meet with the Central Committee to review the recruiting of new candidates in light of the changed circumstance for the general election.

The labor factor in the party has serious reservations about Sutton's position on wages, collective bargaining, and workplace issues. When the possibility of his candidacy became known, veterans expressed fierce opposition. Some educators do not think he has a realistic grasp on educational funding and teacher pay.

Had Sutton run as a Democrat, he would have risked alienating the 52 percent of Republicans in Brown County who voted for him. A few may have voted for him, but the hard political fact in South Dakota is that party label means one hell of a lot more than stance on issues or legislative competence. Many would resent the party switch.

There is an element of irony. District 3 is one of the most grotesque gerry-manders in the nation. It would do Tom Delay proud. In the redistricting squabble, an amendment sponsored by Duane Sutton is what put a slice of McPherson County in the District.

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