The Daily Brew: A brief history of President’s Day

Welcome to the Monday, Feb. 15, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. The history of President’s Day
  2. Previewing the Wisconsin spring primaries
  3. South Dakota 2020 marijuana measure was unconstitutional, state judge rules

On Saturday, the U.S. Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump (R) on one article of impeachment. The vote was 57-43. All 50 Democrats and seven Republicans voted guilty; 43 Republicans voted to acquit. Two-thirds of Senators (67) were required to vote guilty in order to convict.  The House of Representatives had impeached Trump for incitement of insurrection, 232-197, on Jan. 13, following the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol. 

The history of President’s Day

Today, Feb. 15, is President’s Day. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the history of the holiday. In brushing up on the subject, we turned to Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day edition last year. Here’s an excerpt from last year’s edition.

  • President’s Day began informally on Feb. 22, 1800, to celebrate the birthday of George Washington. The nation’s first president had passed away the year before. It took another 85 years before Washington’s birthday became an official national holiday. Over time, many states began to also celebrate both formally and informally the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (February 12).
  • In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. That plan was designed to give workers more three-day weekends by celebrating holidays on Mondays. Technically, the law listed only Washington’s birthday as a holiday. However, since the third Monday of February always falls between the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, many saw it as a joint celebration.
  • Building on this cultural attitude, marketers began promoting Presidents’ Day (plural). By the 1980s, many states had changed the name to Presidents’ Day on their calendar. reports that “Presidents’ Day is now popularly seen as a day to recognize the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives.”
  • In addition to Washington and Lincoln, presidents William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan have their birthdays in February. However, no presidents actually have their birthday on Presidents’ Day.
  • Despite the change in understanding the holiday, the federal government still officially considers it to be a holiday honoring George Washington’s birthday.

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Previewing the Wisconsin spring primaries

The first statewide primary elections of 2021 are here, with Wisconsin holding its primaries tomorrow, Feb. 16.

The Badger State’s spring elections feature nonpartisan offices, while the fall elections feature partisan offices. However, this year, two partisan state legislative special elections are on the otherwise-nonpartisan ballot. 

  • Wisconsin State Senate District 13 became vacant on Jan. 1 after Scott Fitzgerald (R) was elected to the U.S. House. 
  • State Assembly District 89 became vacant on Dec. 2, 2020, after John Nygren (R) resigned his seat to work in the private sector.

Candidates are also running in nonpartisan elections for one superintendent of public instruction seat. Governor Tony Evers (D) served in this office from 2009 to 2019.

Ballotpedia is also covering local primaries for some school boards and county offices

Wisconsin is one of 14 states that cancel their primaries if two or fewer candidates file for each seat on the ballot. In these cases, candidates will automatically advance to the general election on April 6. Eleven of the 20 school board primaries (55%) and 40 of the 43 municipal primaries (93%) in our coverage scope were canceled due to a lack of opposition this year.

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South Dakota 2020 marijuana measure was unconstitutional, state judge rules

Here’s something you may have missed last week. On Feb. 8, Hughes County Circuit Judge Christina Klinger overturned South Dakota’s 2020 marijuana legalization initiative. Klinger ruled that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule. Klinger also ruled that the measure constituted a revision of the constitution rather than an amendment. 

South Dakota voters approved Amendment A 54% to 46% on Nov. 3. The measure was designed to: 

  • legalize the recreational use of marijuana for individuals 21 years old and older, allowing individuals to possess or distribute up to one ounce of marijuana;
  • require the legislature to create a medical marijuana program pass laws allowing the sale of hemp;
  • tax marijuana sales at 15%; 
  • allocate tax revenue to public schools and the state’s general fund; and 
  • enact other regulations, including over home grow, marijuana business licenses, local control, and civil penalties for violations.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller filed a lawsuit in Hughes County Circuit Court seeking to block Amendment A from taking effect. Plaintiffs alleged that the measure comprises more than one subject and that the measure does not amend the constitution but revises the constitution and could only be put before voters by a constitutional convention.

Defendants argued that all the provisions were essentially related. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, which backed Amendment A, said they would file an appeal with the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Governor Kristi Noem (R) said, “Today’s decision protects and safeguards our constitution. I’m confident that South Dakota Supreme Court, if asked to weigh in as well, will come to the same conclusion.” Noem said in January, “I directed [petitioners] to commence the Amendment A litigation on my behalf.” This is the first time a state’s governor led an effort to overturn a voter-approved marijuana legalization measure.

All citizen initiatives in South Dakota—both initiated constitutional amendments and initiated state statutes—must concern only one subject. South Dakota did not have a single-subject rule for ballot measures until 2018, when voters approved Constitutional Amendment Z. Sixteen of the 26 states with a statewide initiative or veto referendum process have a single-subject rule.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. The map below details the legal status of recreational marijuana by state as of November 2020. States shaded in dark green had fully legalized recreational marijuana usage. In states shaded in light green, recreational marijuana usage was illegal, but decriminalized. The remaining states shaded in light gray had not legalized recreational marijuana.

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