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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Rick Weiland ditches damaged Democrat brand, wins progressive causes with ballot measures

Welcome to Team Tuesday!


I learned about Mr. Weiland from a story in the South Dakota Searchlight, via News From the States – an essential aggregrator of state-level political news.

The Plains states are all red on most election maps.  But since 2014, South Dakotans have voted for ideas including a higher minimum wage, stricter anti-corruption laws, and Medicaid expansion. This November, statewide ballots are likely to include measures that would restore abortion rights and repeal the state sales tax on groceries

Weiland is a former aide and state director for Sen. Tom Daschle for 20 years. He ran for office three times in South Dakota, but the tide was turning against Democrats, and he lost each time. 

During his last campaign, there was also a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage, which Weiland actively supported, and which won. 


So he pivoted to the ballot measure as another path for political change.


Democrats:  Winning elections, losing the narrative

Pete Stavrianos worked for Daschle and other prominent South Dakota Democrats, as well as with Weiland.  He makes an important point about how the mindset in South Dakota started to change over the past few decades.  Stavrianos said more rural Americans began blaming the government for the nation’s problems, “rather than powerful corporate interests, like in the Roosevelt era — railroads, mining companies, you know, the people controlling their government, not ‘the government.’” 

When politicians and government are not respected by the public, the people arguing for ‘less government’ do better,” he said. “We were so focused on winning elections, we missed that we were losing the broader narrative.”

This bad image for government is something Democrats and progressives need to find a way to address directly, both by making better government, and better marketing. It is a real obstacle to winning hearts and minds.

Pivot to ballot measures

Weiland’s strategic shift to ballot measures is rooted in his belief that some progressive policies, presented directly to voters, can transcend the Republican vs. Democrat divide.  “When the policy is removed from all that party stigma, people think with their brains,” Weiland said.

He co-founded, the website for a political nonprofit and political action committee, with Drey Samuelson, a former Daschle staffer and former chief of staff for Sen. Johnson. The group organizes ballot measures and ballot question committees.  Samuelson has since stepped back from day-to-day with the organization, but is helping with a ballot initiative this fall for open primaries.

They have accomplished a lot with very little money.  Congratulations to doing so much for the people of South Dakota, and giving hope to others around the country!




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