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Voters block out-of-state money on ballot questions

November 7, 2018
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FILE - This combination of Oct. 23, 2018, file photos shows South Dakota gubernatorial candidates in the November 2018 election from left, Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, and Democratic state Sen . Billie Sutton. (Briana Sanchez/The Argus Leader via AP, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota approved ballot questions Tuesday to stop out-of-state money flooding citizens’ initiative campaigns and to simplify future changes to the state constitution.

Meanwhile, the state’s voters rejected a pair of other measures to dramatically reshape the state’s ballot question system. They also tossed aside a tobacco tax hike that sparked major opposition spending from the tobacco industry.

Republican Dusty Johnson was elected South Dakota’s next U.S. representative, not to mention Republicans keeping control of every statewide office.

Here’s a look at races of interest beyond the governor’s race won by Republican Kristi Noem:

BALLOT QUESTION CHANGES

South Dakota, the first state to let citizens propose and pass laws way back in 1898, handed a win to those frustrated over money from outside the state’s borders influencing voter measures. Citizens also backed the Legislature’s plan to require constitutional amendments to stick to a single subject.

They were a pair of victories for House Speaker Mark Mickelson, who spearheaded both proposals after the 2016 election season brought 10 questions and millions of dollars from out-of-state groups.

Republican Dick Kelly, a 77-year-old former state lawmaker and local government official, voted for the outside funding ban, saying South Dakota has become a testing ground for people with a lot of money.

“I don’t think there should be that much influence by outside corporations or individuals with an agenda to come in and influence how we live in South Dakota,” Kelly said. “We don’t live the same way they live in California or New York, and I don’t want to live that way. I want to live our way.”

Despite anger among some over lawmakers’ repeal of a 2016 voter-approved ethics measure, voters panned a citizen-backed constitutional amendment that would have prevented the Legislature from changing initiatives — or the ballot question system — without a public vote. The amendment would have imposed stricter lobbying and campaign finance rules and created a new government ethics watchdog.

Voters also decided to leave the current simple majority threshold required for constitutional amendments as is, rather than raise it to 55 percent.

TOBACCO TAX FOR TECH SCHOOLS

Smokers won’t be paying to make state technical schools more affordable. Voters dispatched a ballot question to increase taxes on different tobacco products after the tobacco industry dumped millions into the state to oppose it.

Proceeds would have gone to lowering tuition and fees, offering scholarships and providing financial support for the state’s four technical institutes. South Dakota hasn’t raised its tobacco tax since 2006.

Andy Middlen, a registered Democrat from Sioux Falls, cast an absentee vote Monday against it because he said he didn’t believe the revenues raised would go where politicians said they would.

U.S. HOUSE

Republican Dusty Johnson beat Democrat Tim Bjorkman to succeed Rep. Noem as the state’s lone representative. Johnson was the favorite throughout the race. The former public utilities commissioner and past gubernatorial chief of staff ran an energetic and well-funded campaign as a traditional conservative. He said his top priority in Washington is getting a farm bill done.

“We feel great,” Johnson said. “This was a job interview and tonight the people of South Dakota have hired us. I’m not going to disappoint them.”

Bjorkman said he gave South Dakotans an issue-based campaign free of rancor and harsh rhetoric that’s all too common in politics.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Republican lawyer and Army Reserve officer Jason Ravnsborg will be the latest in a long line of Republicans to be the state’s chief lawyer and law enforcement officer. He overcame former U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler, who touted his prosecutorial experience.

Ravnsborg, a partner at a Yankton law firm, campaigned as the candidate favored by the law enforcement community. He’s proposed expanding programs allowing lower-level prisoners to work and establishing a meth-specific prison and mental health facility in the central or western part of the state.

The high-profile office takes on the state’s top legal cases and has served as a frequent springboard for gubernatorial hopefuls.

OTHER STATEWIDE OFFICES & LEGISLATURE

Voters also favored Republicans for a slew of other statewide offices, choosing Steve Barnett as secretary of state; Kristie Fiegen as public utilities commissioner; Rich Sattgast as state auditor; Josh Haeder as state treasurer; and Ryan Brunner as school and public lands commissioner. All 105 seats of the Legislature — 70 in the House and 35 in the Senate — were also on the ballot.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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