In Dakota politics, abortion and death penalty dominate

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D.–Some unusual battles are taking place in the northern prairies at the ballot box and in the jury box.

South Dakotans will be voting this fall on an antiabortion referendum that is starting to heat up emotions inthe electorate. The outcome is in doubt, say political observers in the state's largest city. But it could stir up more interest than other ballot races that have become ho-hum affairs, with incumbents apparently in no danger in both parties.

The issuegot on the ballot with thebacking of antiabortion legislators and the signature of GOP Gov. Mike Rounds. He seemed to duck full accountability by declaring that the Supreme Court would eventually settle the matter anyway.

The Argus-Leader, the largest paper in the state, took a poll that showed the issue failing because its wording did not allow for any exception to abortion. The newspaper has not taken a stand as yet.

Last week, a car festooned with antiabortion stickers was parked outside the paper. A front-page story the next day complained that it was a serious traffic hazard because gawkers were prone to taking their eyes off the road.

Capital punishment is another issue that is gaining attention in both Dakotas. In South Dakota, which hasn't executed a prisoner since the turn of the century, one felon pleaded guilty to murder and a judge sentenced him to death.

The condemned man is getting some reprieve, since Rounds, who will almost certainly win re-election in November, has delayed the execution until next July, after the type of lethal drugs to be used has been settled by the Legislature in Pierre.

Some 200 miles to the north in Fargo, N.D., a jury is considering death as punishment in another highly publicized trial. As in South Dakota, executions have been nonexistent for a long time in North Dakota.

Opponents of the death penalty in the state are rallying to get the legislature to outlaw it.

At a time when executions are sometimes a weekly event in Texas, it is interesting to observe a pitched fight over one in two states with no recent experience in putting a felon to death.