When you think of South Dakota, progressive politics and champions for LGBT equality are probably not the first things that pop to mind. Rick Weiland, the Democrat candidate for Senate, is out to change your mind.
Why should you care? For a straight man, Weiland is the queerest candidate in a bunch of stodgy conservative sourpusses and he’s not afraid to tell anyone about his liberal plan to change the country. Weiland is tapped into what makes the LGBT community such a potent political force — the ability to be a little campy while fighting for justice for all people.
While Weiland is more than happy to talk about LGBT rights, he has zeroed in on the role of big money in politics and the damage it’s doing to our government — a common refrain now from progressive politicians. Weiland, however, does it with such campy style that even the cynical find themselves falling under his spell.
"Politicians today have to raise millions of dollars to get elected or reelected. Where do they go to get that money? Small dollar donors have to be a part of it but it is really hard to raise nine million dollars — let alone the billion dollars that is now required to be elected president — nine dollars at a time,” he says. "The easiest way to raise nine million dollars is from big money special interests. Where is the big money? It is at the ideological extremes — on the right and the left. If the donor base is at the political extreme, that is where the politicians are going to go because that is how they get reelected.”
South Dakota only has 311 incorporated towns and Weiland has stopped in each one over the past few months to talk to the locals, get their campaign support, and chat about the problems facing Washington. He serves pie at each campaign stop and never stops exhorting listeners to belly up to the counter for a slice.
Once the candidate had visited every town, he did what every quirky politician would do. He rewrote the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s hit song, “I’ve Been Everywhere,” and recorded a video of himself singing it on stage with a band while photos from his travels to each town flash across the screen. In the days of selfies and parody videos, Weiland has found his groove.
Weiland’s outspoken advocacy for LGBT rights also helps him stand out from the pack. He thinks transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military, supports marriage equality, and, would co-sponsor a bill to provide employment, housing, and public accommodations protections for LGBT people.
When South Dakota’s state legislature considered a bill that would give businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT customers, Weiland did something unusual. While candidates for federal office usually stay out of local and state politics, Weiland couldn’t stand idly by and made a blistering statement denouncing the discriminatory bill and its backers.
"It made me so angry I had to say something. I said that legislation was reminiscent of the old Jim Crow laws from the Deep South. It was just a flat out awful bill that would have legalized discrimination,” he said. “The last decade has been revolutionary for LGBT rights and just like many other states, South Dakota has made a lot of progress but more work needs to be done.”
Interestingly enough, Weiland’s niece, a senior in high school, went to a community meeting hosted by the proposed bill’s author the same day and gave the legislator enough gruff that it made news.
"She didn’t know I’d made a statement and I had no idea she would speak to him about it. I didn’t learn about it until the day after. That’s pretty gutsy for a 17-year-old girl to stand up and take on a state legislator like she did. That’s my family. We’ve given that to our kids. Witnessing my niece do the same thing, shows me that we’re passing it on. It’s who we are. We’re accepting of differences and we want to make things better for everyone.”
Donating to Weiland’s campaign can make a dramatic difference. The cost of television advertising in South Dakota is incredibly low and reaches 85 percent of voters. $500 will blanket a campaign ad throughout primetime. You can donate to the campaign at http://rickweiland.com/.