This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The PAC Taffy Howard has been working with and has attacked Dusty Johnson is called Drain the DC Swamp.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As the primary election nears, there’s one word being used in many political advertisements – liberal. 

Both Republican Congressman Dusty Johnson and his challenger Taffy Howard are being tagged as liberals in television ads funded through out-of-state political action committees. 

Long time political science Professor Mike Card said the word liberal has changed into a very negative thing, especially in more conservative states. 

“That word is very toxic in South Dakota,” Card said. “We hear our governor talking about the left, the liberals. It’s become what I would call a code phrase that seems to mean a lot to other people.” 

When asked to show any examples of a South Dakota liberal, Card didn’t provide any names and added it’s hard to call anyone from South Dakota a liberal. 

“Most of our people work in agriculture. They’re gambling all the time and it’s hard to call them liberals,” Card said. “We hear Dusty Johnson being called a liberal. We hear John Thune being called a liberal. You can look that one up in the dictionary and you won’t find their picture there.” 

A Google search defines a liberal as “a supporter of policies that are socially progressive and promote social welfare.” 

Johnson told KELOLAND News Republican voters don’t elect liberals. 

“South Dakota Republicans want to be represented by somebody who is conservative,” Johnson said. “When I go to the ballot box and when I vote in primaries, I want people who are going to be effective and who are going to be conservative.” 

Howard told KELOLAND News she laughs when she hears the label “liberal” being used against her. She challenged anyone to ask people who have worked with or know her to say if that would be a description used.  

“Absolutely not. Absolutely not,” Howard said. “I will say for my opponent, I think it is an apt description. I would challenge everyone to look at our voting records as well.”  

To be clear, Johnson himself has not called Howard a “liberal” but a Super PAC called “Defending Main Street.” Defending Main Street describes itself as a Super PAC that “defends key incumbent Republican seats and identifies new candidates who are ready to work across the aisle to get things done.”  

The PAC attacking Johnson is called Drain the DC Swamp. Howard said people should look at the PACs themselves.

“There is one coming in from the outside trying to help me called Drain the DC Swamp,” she said. “Well, I like the name right there, I mean I’m all for draining the DC swamp.”

Card called Super PACs nonprofit corporations that typically have educational purposes. He said the education purpose also allows the money to be tax-deductible and in South Dakota names of individual donors can be protected. 

“We don’t know who’s trying to influence us,” Card said. “That’s the real sin of our politics today.” 

Got mail? 

Along with the negative tone in TV ads, many South Dakotans’ mail boxes have been stuffed with political mail. 

Card compared political mail to a cottonwood tree sending out thousands of seeds but only a few may find an environment to sprout.  

“With bulk mailing, these can go out pretty cheaply,” Card said. 

When people receive political ads in the mail, Card said most voters who don’t recognize the candidates’ names or understand the issue, like Amendment C, they tend not to vote.  

“Mailers do work at great efficiency when they talk about how to vote, how to register to vote, where to vote and then have a candidate’s name on them because that helps educate the voters,” Card said. 

KELOLAND Media Group has experienced an uptick in paid televised political advertisements.

“As Election Day approaches, more and more political speech is to be expected,” Vice President & General Manager Mari Ossenfort said. “Our newsroom will also be working to keep viewers informed before they vote.” 

Amendment C 

Some of the biggest pieces of political mail have come from groups either for or against Amendment C. 

The amendment would change the threshold needed for any future initiated measures or constitutional amendments that impose taxes or fees or obligates more than $10 million. Instead of a simple majority of 51%, it would require a three-fifths vote of 60%.   

One “Vote Yes” on Amendment C mailer says the measure “gives you more control” because “60% of voters must agree to pass tax hikes.” 

“I don’t believe it’s entirely correct,” Card said. “Well, it gives more control over your money because it takes only 41% of the people to vote to not spend money. For those 41%, they have a greater amount of control.” 

Card said the other 59% up to 60% would have less control. 

“In that sense, it’s very undemocratic,” Card said. 

One of the “Vote No” on Amendment C mailer says “Amendment C is a ballot initiative bankrolled by out-of-state special interest groups.” 

State legislatures voted in 2021 to put the measure on the June primary ballot. 

Card said South Dakotans typically don’t contribute a lot of money to candidates and ballot measures so groups have to turn to out-of-state money to compete.