Former Brookings mayor Scott Munsterman, who’s hoping to win the Republican nomination for governor in 2010, is the latest to question the Rounds administration’s decision to close 17 driver-examination offices.
Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls and Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem of Sioux Falls came out earlier against the shutdowns, which are scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. Knudson and Heidepriem also are running for governor.
Don’t be surprised if Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, backs off at least some of the closures. Under federal “motor voter” law, people can register to vote at driver license stations. The U.S. Justice Department takes a dim view of any steps which can raise barriers to minority voters. South Dakota already is under restrictions in Indian country that require USDOJ clearance. Closing driver-exam stations very well could fall within the federal government’s scrutiny.
Rounds is strongly supporting the 2010 gubernatorial candidacy of Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard. If the Rounds administration has to backtrack on driver-license stations because of possible voting-rights violations, it can’t be helpful to Daugaard. It also could open a new round of arguments if the Rounds administration proceeds with closures of driver-license stations elsewhere while preserving those that serve Indian country.
Here’s the main text of the Munsterman statement:
“Closing some locations to save the state some money may make a lot of sense at first glance. Drivers licenses need to be renewed only every five years and people often have to travel to larger communities for necessities on a regular basis, so combining a trip to the licensing location with a shopping trip might not be much of an inconvenience in order to save the state some taxpayer money. But that is exactly what is wrong with this decision – taking yet one more reason away from people to do their business in their local community, negatively impacting main street South Dakota.”
“The recent closings of several drivers license examination locations is yet another example of the top-down type of governing that has become all too common in recent years,” Munsterman said. “Just like the state has removed the ability of local communities to determine themselves whether they want to have a school in their town, State Government continues to make it just that much harder to do business outside of the larger cities in our state. Unfortunately, that’s just short sighted, and guarantees that instead of making our state a stronger place to do business as a whole, we’re cutting off markets to people. “
“In the case of our drivers license stations, were the mayors and other local government officials and/or local economic development professionals of the affected communities contacted for advice on how the state could lessen the impact or solve this problem without losing services? The answer is no. It is time to change the way we do business in this state and allow communities to be involved in the decision making process. Involving communities in the process allows the state to find the most common sense solutions that have the best impact on communities, affording people convenient access to needed services.”
Munsterman stated “We can utilize technology and combine existing governmental locations with technology to provide services at a much lower cost and also keep services within the community. There is no doubt in my mind, had our administration sought the advice of local government officials and active civic leaders, that good ideas would have surfaced resulting in creative solutions that would work.”
“All too often in our state we make decisions that slowly erode away at the foundation of our smaller communities. We need to rethink this decision and allow our communities to become active participants in the solution. After all, they are their tax dollars too. And as I can attest from my first hand experience as a mayor, local officials would relish the opportunity to help,“ Munsterman said.
Two other top Democratic legislators, House leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton and Rep. Larry Lucas of Mission, had joined Heidepriem in their statement several weeks ago disagreeing with the governor. One of the first to draw attention to the matter was Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton.
The Rounds administration points out there will still be 56 locations open. The sites scheduled for closure are Britton, Howard, Tyndall, Parkston, Salem, Freeman, Canton, Flandreau, Clark, Clear Lake, De Smet, Deadwood, Platte, Philip, Beresford, Mission and Wagner.