Democracy now! Not now? OK, how about later?
No one is trying to take away a hunter's right to shoot a badger, bear, beaver, bobcat, brant, coot, coyote, crow, deer, duck, elk, fisher, Florida gallinule, fox, goose, hare, Hungarian partridge, marten, mink, moose, muskrat, opossum, otter, pheasant, quail, rabbit, raccoon, ruffled grouse, sharptailed grouse, skunk, snipe, sora rail, squirrel, weasel, wild turkey, woodchuck, woodcock, or Virginia rail. But if Proposal 3 goes down to defeat, the mourning dove will go scot-free.
Walking out of a marriage on the high plains has never been easier. This ballot initiative would strip judges of the right to make most custody decisions: Joint physical and legal custody would become the default arrangement. The measure elaborates, the "court [would] becom[e] involved only if parents do not agree on a plan." This dictate to resolve custody disputes outside the court system has drawn ridicule. As one activist told Bismarck newspaper columnist Lloyd Olmdahl, "If the parents could cooperate and get along enough to make big decisions like this on their own, then they probably wouldn't get a divorce in the first place."
Are you a hands-off father? A father who doesn't know his child's bedtime? A father who doesn't know his child's name? North Dakota doesn't mind. A parent would enjoy joint custody, the initiative argues, "unless first declared unfit based on clear and convincing evidence." The ballot measure does not enumerate how many bruises that would be.
South Dakota's Amendment E aspires to overturn the rule of law. You heard that right: the rule of law! The Judicial Accountability Initiative Law would empanel a grand jury of citizens, who would be selected at random and financed through a surtax on judges' salaries. This posse--um, jury--would hear appeals against legal decisions and would be authorized to waive judicial immunity. Judges, juries, city councils, and school boards would then be subject to fines and criminal charges. A simple majority of the 13 lay jurists would decide these appeals--and levy indictments--and the burden of proof would be on the judge to defend his contested decision.
The author of Amendment E is a Californian, Ron Branson, who has failed on multiple occasions to squeeze the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law onto that state's ballot. Its local backer, ag equipment manufacturer Bill Stegmeier, is an income tax opponent and a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. (Beyond Stegmeier, most of its funding comes from out of state; according to the J.A.I.L. website, no other South Dakotan has given more than $200 to the cause.) Both Branson and Stegmeier speak contemptuously of extensive corruption in the judiciary. In a crowning punitive act, the amendment would apply retroactively.
Amendment E's brazen populism can't help but appeal to a person's inner anarchist--or his inner mob member. It also seems to appeal to the average South Dakotan: A Zogby poll commissioned by J.A.I.L.'s backers found voters support the measure by a 3 to 1 ratio.
While many educators debate the merits of switching to a year-round school schedule, the Save Our South Dakota Summers movement have had enough of book-learnin'. Specifically, Measure 3 would ban all public schools from opening before August 31. Supporters of the measure cite the benefits of "more family time for vacations, Bible school, 4-H activities and summer recreation"--but make no mention of late-summer keggers, shot-gun toting joy-rides, and animal buggery. Regulating those behaviors may have to wait for the 2008 election.