Politics: An Ally in South Dakota
South Dakota is not known for being the most politically liberal state in the union. The state legislature is overwhelmingly made up of Republicans and even the Democratic members of the state’s congressional representation have been endorsed by groups like the National Rifle Association. So when a young straight woman with an extensive resume of LGBT activism stands a good chance of being elected to the State Senate, it’s worth taking notice.
Angie Buhl is running for the South Dakota State Senate from District 15 in Sioux Falls against incumbent Senator Kathy Miles. Though she just graduated from the University of South Dakota in 2007, Buhl has been a political organizer for a number of years, having worked with South Dakotans Against Discrimination, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Stonewall Democrats. Most recently she’s served as the development associate at NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota. She took a break from campaigning this past weekend to answer a few questions about the race and the state of Progressive politics in South Dakota.
The New Gay: What’s your professional background and why did you decide to run for State Senate?
Angie Buhl: I am a native South Dakotan, although I’ve done some LGBT work in Los Angeles and Chicago as well. My background is in LGBT causes and doing some Choice work and general progressive, feel-good stuff.
I really love South Dakota. I find myself talking about it non-stop when I leave and I think it’s a really great place. The district that I’m in is in Sioux Falls, which is our biggest city. It’s downtown, the central part Sioux Falls, so it ends up being pretty Democratic and Progressive. The district had always been represented by people who are not Progressive, however, even though they’re Democrats, and they’ve sort of been able to pass that off by saying the district doesn’t support that. Luckily we know that the district is very progressive, and ultimately no one else has been willing to call out the incumbent on some of these issues and the fact that she hasn’t represented her constituents, and I’m excited to do that.
TNG: For our readers who might not be familiar, what is the political climate like in South Dakota?
AB: It’s been historically thought of as a conservative state, but I like to think of it like a mixed bag. For a couple of years all three of our Federal representatives were Democrats and currently two out of the three are. So it’s not a terrible place for Democrats to be and for Progressives as well. But we have a habit of sending Democrats to Washington and Republicans to Pierre. We also have defeated two abortion bans in the last couple of cycles and almost defeated our marriage amendment in 2006, which I was working to defeat – we actually came closer to defeating ours than California did to defeating Prop. 8. So people are usually pretty surprised to hear that, since South Dakota is not always where you think of first when you think of places where Progressive politics would gain traction.
TNG: Can you tell us a little bit about your platform and what issues you’re running on?
AB: My two biggest issues are affordable housing and wind energy. About 59% of my district is renters, which is a pretty big portion. Driving around my district, you can tell that it’s something a lot of people struggle with. And we know that a lot of people in our district spend about 40% of their income on their housing, so they end up being one bill away from being homeless. Also, in terms of energy, we don’t have windmills in South Dakota, unlike most Midwestern states. That’s something I know a lot of people would like to see here.
TNG: You’ve been on the Board of Equality South Dakota and have championed many LGBT issues. You yourself do not identify as queer, correct?
AB: No, I’m an ally.
AB: Well, I get asked this question a lot because of the work I’ve done. And there’s not an easy answer – I can’t say it’s because I have a gay brother or two dads, because I don’t actually have any openly gay family members.
I remember watching election night in 2004 when John Kerry lost and I saw all of these same-sex marriage bans pass in Southern states by huge margins and I remember just being dumbfounded. In 2005, our legislature voted to put it on our ballot and it appeared in 2006. At the time, I had just began hanging out with some friends in the gay-straight alliance on the campus of the college I attended and they happened to have the Midwestern LGBT conference in Sioux Falls that year. So I went and I hung out and there was a keynote speaker who was speaking about the marriage amendment coming up and offered summer jobs and internships in the field and I needed a job.
And I just became really passionate about doing progressive work in my home state, in a red state. We really didn’t have an infrastructure for LGBT activism in South Dakota before 2006, so we were able to start Equality South Dakota and we’ve made a lot of progress since then.
TNG: You seem to wear your Progressive causes on your sleeve. Some might argue that it might have been better to downplay your Progressive leanings in order to win the election and then work from the inside. Did you ever consider that strategy?
AB: It’s been suggested to me by a few people and there are a couple of reasons why I didn’t feel that I need to do that. Number one, looking at the layout of my district and its voting history, I really didn’t think that was necessary. Additionally, I mean, I’ve been working in gay politics for four years and have worked for NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota for awhile too, so if anyone Googled me, they would find that, so there’s no use in hiding it. I think people here have good BS-meters.
TNG: You’re going to be in DC for a fundraiser on Thursday. For anyone considering coming out to the event, what should they expect? Are there other ways for people to get involved if they can’t make it?
AB: It’s going to be a chance for me to get to know people in DC and sort of preach the Progressive gospel, so to speak, and explain what’s going on in South Dakota and why they should support Progressive politics there. I think there are also a lot of people feeling it’s not a winnable race, that it’s nice that some Progressive chick is running for State Senate in South Dakota, but it’s not worth spending their money on if she’s not going to win anyway. So I think it’s a good opportunity for me to meet people and have that conversation and get people excited about the work that’s happening here.
If anyone can’t make it for whatever reason, there is an Act Blue page where people can make contributions. Also, people can help by just having the conversation and spreading awareness that there are exciting things happening in places like South Dakota.
TNG: Anything else you think our readers should know?
AB: I just want people to know that this is a quick fight for the primary. There’s not even a Republican running in the general election, so it’s an opportunity to pick up a Democratic seat and hold it for a long time, which helps us move things along like the anti-discrimination bill we’re working on. This race really does have implications for the greater Progressive movement.
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