Woster: Casting my vote for decency and reason and against dishonest political postcards
The interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public affairs show, In the Moment with Lori Walsh.
I normally vote on Election Day.
The real Election Day, or days — that single day designated in each of June and November for voting at familiar polling stations staffed by familiar volunteers.
I like going there, to an old brick hospital building converted to low-income housing, seeing and chatting with the poll workers, old and new.
It’s ritual. Comfortable ritual.
But Monday I voted early at the county courthouse, more than two weeks before the June 7 primary.
I was inspired to vote early by a postcard. It was a political postcard that arrived in my mailbox last Saturday. As I said in a tweet that day, most political mailings exaggerate. And some just lie. That one lied, big time.
The introduction is: “Meet Biden Liberal Dusty Johnson,” which is followed by “Voting Liberal Across the Board.”
“Liberal” is set off in an oblong box with red letters and a red border, just in case a reader might have missed it.
A sad sign of unhealthy times in American politics
I wanted to laugh, except that these things are so disturbing, and such a glaring sign of all that ails politics in America today.
The postcard was sent by Drain the DC Swamp PAC, which is based in Marlton, New Jersey. According to this far-right PAC, Johnson is anti-gun, supports open borders, ignores voter fraud and is a “tax-and-spend liberal.”
To which knowledgeable South Dakotans might respond: “Uh, who’s that again? Because it’s not the Dusty Johnson I know.”
And many of us know him. He’s been here a while. And he gets around. The guy has a lot of energy.
Dusty Johnson is far from a liberal, much less a tax-and-spend liberal. He’s a South Dakota conservative in what I consider to be the traditional Republican mold, meaning he’s also a reasonable human being.
Dusty is way more conservative than I am. As a self-professed moderate, I wish he were more moderate in his political beliefs and votes, more toward the center where I try to live my life. He and I disagree on many points of policy. Sometimes we argue with powerful conviction and emotion.
I think he’s wrong on some things. But I like him. And I respect him as a good-and-decent man who truly has South Dakota’s best interests at heart. He rejects hate speech, believes in facts and science and knows — and is willing to say — that there was no widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
That kind of truth telling, however, is not popular these days in the party of Donald Trump, which used to be the party of Lincoln, of Eisenhower, of Reagan. I’d like to think the core of that party still lives, somewhere deep down below the coarse, unhealthy wrapping of Trumpism.
One small vote in the larger effort to save the GOP
Given the state of the Democratic Party in South Dakota, the Republican primaries often decide who will get and hold a given seat. And given the war within the GOP — between the reasonable and the radical —those primary votes are essential in shaping the kind of government we have.
I register Republican because I want to be relevant. This year my die-hard-Democrat wife, Mary, switched her registration to Republican to make her votes count. She’ll switch back to Democrat soon after the primary.
My vote for Dusty on Monday was also a vote for that Grand Old Party, which is not the party that is being represented by Donald Trump or the one behind deceitful political mailings by malicious out-of-state PACs.
Political postcards filled with half-truths, wild exaggerations and outright lies usually arrive late in a campaign, making it harder for candidates to respond prior to Election Day. The postcards are intended to drive down favorable feelings about a targeted candidate among a targeted group of voters — in this case Republican primary voters, including me.
And the postcard telling lies about Johnson did motivate me. It motivated me to get out and vote two weeks earlier than I normally would.
To vote for Johnson and against his Republican challenger in the U.S. House primary, Taffy Howard.
It also gave me a chance to vote for Brian Mueller, an extraordinarily well qualified candidate for Pennington County sheriff, over Ryan Mechaley; and for long-time Rapid City resident Patrick Roseland for a Ward 5 city council seat, over newcomer J.J. Carrell.
I also voted for John Thune over Bruce Whalen and Mark Mowry, and for Kristi Noem over Steve Haugaard. I have been very critical of Noem on many points during her first term as governor, but she’s a much-better choice than Haugaard.
There were other races, too, including three choices for two GOP nominees for the District 32 House seats, where I chose Becky Drury and Steve Duffy. And there were options for party state delegates and local leaders.
Also on the ballot was Constitutional Amendment C, and I was positively delighted to vote “no” on that.
Let’s have a look at reality
But back to the vote for Johnson, and the postcard.
“Voting liberal across the board.” Seriously?
Johnson has a 90-percent lifetime rating from Heritage Action for America, the sister organization of the conservative Heritage Foundation. The average Republican in the U.S. House has an 88-percent rating.
Anti-gun? Well, Johnson is a hunter and a target shooter who has been endorsed in this election by the National Rifle Association, which has given him an A-plus grade.
Supports open borders? Hardly. Johnson consistently voted with former President Donald Trump and House Republicans on border security measures, and I criticized him on some of those votes. But he voted against Trump when the president wanted to declare an emergency on the southern border to provide additional funding that the House didn’t give him through the regular appropriations process.
Johnson said his vote was about the essential separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.
“An emergency declaration was the wrong approach,” Johnson said at the time. “I spent eight years under President Obama fighting ever-expanding executive authority. I remain committed to that principle.”
Johnson knew when he made that vote it would come up in a campaign, and be distorted. He knew it could cost him some primary votes. He made the vote anyway, because he believed it was the right one.
When principle means more than party or fear of backlash
I liked that. A lot. Sometime principle takes precedence over party and even over reelection bids. It doesn’t mean he’s for open borders. In fact, I wish he was a little more flexible on that subject. Border security is essential, of course. But so is human kindness, the well-established value of immigrants to our society and economy and the American tradition of offering refuge to those who need it.
And the voter-fraud thing? Well, Johnson supports work to make elections more secure. But he didn’t buy into the Big Lie of a stolen election spread by Donald Trump and his most fervent followers.
That Big Lie, by the way, and weeks of promoting it by Trump, inspired hundreds of dangerously wacky Trumpsters to break into the U.S. Capitol, threaten members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence and try to overturn the results of a legal, fair election.
Johnson said, quite accurately, that here was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have changed the election outcome. South Dakota Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune said the same thing. All three conservative South Dakotans voted to do their jobs and certify the election.
Only the looniest members of the loony hard right have an argument with that.
And I assume that’s where this postcard came from.
So in voting early for Dusty, I wasn’t just voting for a candidate I frequently disagree with but always respect. I was voting for decency and reason.
And, boy, could we use some more of that in our politics.