The Minnehaha County Republican Party is setting up its own legislative forums to compete with ones sponsored by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
(UPDATE: Read an expanded report here.)
Upset with what they see as liberal audiences and moderators at the Chamber-sponsored legislative coffees, the Minnehaha County GOP will hold four question-and-answer sessions with legislators in January and February. All of the sessions will be held at the same time as the Chamber’s longstanding forums.
Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, said the county GOP decided to make the move after the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters weren’t responsive to concerns from himself and Minnehaha County Republican Party chair Lora Hubbel.
"It’s fairly obvious that (the League of Women Voters is) a very left-leaning, progressive, liberal group," said Steele. "If there are some Republicans in it, I don’t even know."
He said the audiences at recent Chamber legislative coffees have been “at least four out of five liberals” and said many conservatives complain about their questions not being asked.
In an email to members of the Minnehaha County GOP, Hubbel said “no conservative in the audience has much of a chance of addressing their legislator.”
"They will be blocked out of the process and only progressives will be allowed to badger, ridicule, eye-roll and interrogate our Republican representatives," Hubbel wrote.
The League is “so adamant about having control of everything, we might as well have our own,” Steele said.
He said he had no qualms about scheduling the forums at the same time as the Chamber’s.
"Those who feel they want to go to the other one, they’re certainly free to do so," Steel said.
The central committee of the Minnehaha County Republican Party voted unanimously to hold their own forums.
Bob O’Connell, the public affairs and communications director for the Chamber, said he disagrees with the accusations from Steele and Hubbel.
"The questions aren’t biased against them," O’Connell said. "For the most part, the questions are just asked and the legislators can choose to answer or not answer."
He said the Chamber agreed this year to give lawmakers 90 seconds each to talk about whatever they wanted, in case they topics they care about don’t come up. That was in response to Republican Party concerns raised at planning meetings, he said.
"We do this as a public service for people, so people can address their legislators and have been doing this for many, many, many years," O’Connell said. "I hope that legislators show up for these."
The Minnehaha County Republican Party and the Siouxland Republican Women had proposed giving the Siouxland Republican Women a role in running the forums, which the other sponsors of the forum rejected.
"I would have preferred to be able to coordinate this thing and share the control of it, and have it all together," Steele said. "But this has gone on for so long, it’s finally got to the point that someone is willing to step forward and do something about it."
A message left with the League of Women Voters was not immediately returned.
Darrell Solberg, the chairman of the Minnehaha County Democratic Party, dismissed Republican concerns and suggested Steele and Hubbel didn’t like answering tough questions.
"If legislators are afraid to appear before their constituents and answer questions, then I ask what are they doing as legislators?" Solberg said.
Steele said he’s happy to answer questions from anyone, but feels the Chamber-sponsored forums are unfair.
The Argus Leader will continue to update this story throughout today.
The Chamber’s scheduled legislative coffees are:
- Saturday, Jan. 26, 10 a.m.-noon, Holiday Inn City Centre International Rooms, Districts 6, 11, 12 & 15
- Saturday, Feb. 2, 10-11:30 a.m., Holiday Inn City Centre Starlite Room, Districts 9, 13 & 14
- Saturday, Feb. 9, 10-11:30 a.m., Holiday Inn City Centre Starlite Room, Districts 11, 12 & 15
- Saturday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m.-noon, Holiday Inn City Centre International Rooms, Districts 6, 9, 13 & 14
The Minnehaha County Republican Party’s scheduled legislative forums are:
- Saturday, Jan. 26, 10 a.m.-noon, Ramada Hotel & Suites auditorium
- Saturday, Feb. 2, 10 a.m.-noon, Ramada Hotel & Suites auditorium
- Saturday, Feb. 9, 10 a.m.-noon, Ramada Hotel & Suites auditorium
- Saturday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m.-noon, Ramada Hotel & Suites auditorium