ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans retake commanding supermajorities in both legislative chambers

The number of uncontested seats prior to Election Day had left little doubt around the expected Republican supermajorities in each chamber. However, final tabulations showed slight movement in each chamber, as well as the beginning of trends to watch in the coming decade after the first election under the new legislative maps.

1334097+120314.N.DR_.GOVERNORBUDGET9.jpg
Assuming vote counts do not change in potential recounts, Republicans will have gained one seat in the House.
Matt Gade / Republic
We are part of The Trust Project.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Though overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the state legislature were a foregone conclusion well before polls closed on Tuesday, Nov. 8, the near-final results show a Republican party expanding their House caucus in the coming session while losing one seat in the Senate.

Including only the decided races, the House count currently sits at 62 Republicans and five Democrats.

According to the secretary of state’s website, as of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, three races sat near the margin that could potentially allow a recount under state law.

In District 15 in downtown Sioux Falls, Democrat Kadyn Wittman leads Republican Joni Tschetter by 97 votes; in District 18 in Yankton, Republican Julie Auch leads incumbent Democrat Ryan Cwach by 155 votes; and in District 28A in rural West River, incumbent Democrat Oren Lesmeister leads Republican Ralph Lyon by 43 votes.

If, as is likely, these nominal leads hold after a recount, the partisan split in the House would read 63 Republicans and seven Democrats, meaning the GOP would have retained their House supermajority and gained one seat compared to the last legislative session.

ADVERTISEMENT

Screen Shot 2022-11-09 at 3.07.09 PM.png
Becky Drury, one of the Republican representatives from District 32 in Rapid City.
Contributed / South Dakota Legislature

“The candidates I visited with across the state, they were working for the vote,” Becky Drury, a Republican representative from Rapid City, said of the party’s performance in the House. “I don't think they sat around and just expected to win, they all went out and worked for it.”

On the other side, every Senate seat has been called, showing a Democratic caucus expanding their membership by one seat with a pickup in Sioux Falls, though Republicans still retain their overwhelming numbers in that chamber with 31 Republicans to four Democrats.

One widely-watched Senate seat was District 26, whose election was turned on its head just days before Nov. 8 by child abuse charges stemming from molestation allegations against Republican candidate Joel Koskan. After votes were tabulated, Democrat Shawn Bordeaux won the contest over Koskan with 58% of the electorate.

The seat was previously held by retiring Democrat Troy Heinert.

“At the legislative level, Democrats held their own,” Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat who won re-election in District 15 in Sioux Falls, said. “We picked up one seat in the Senate, and we lost one seat in the House. So we're basically where we've been for the last two years.”

One interesting race that, while not close enough for a recount, shows potential for competitive elections over the next decade under the new legislative map is District 32 in the northern part of Rapid City. Democrat Christine Stephenson, a school board member in the city, lost to Drury by just over 130 votes.

“I do think that is a place where we can we win in the future. And I hope Christine Stephenson runs again two years from now,” Nesiba said.

DSC_2195.JPG
District 1 Senate candidate Susan Wismer speaks at an event in Britton, S.D. on Oct. 2. Despite a potentially favorable redistricting, Wismer lost her bid to incumbent Michael Rohl.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

Despite that ray of hope in Rapid, Republicans appeared to fortify their strongholds in the rural swaths of the state. In District 1, a relatively competitive district in terms of the partisan split, Democratic veteran Susan Wismer, who served in the Senate and made a run for governor in 2014, lost her race to Senator Mike Rohl 59% - 41%.

ADVERTISEMENT

One potential reason for the erosion of competitiveness in rural South Dakota floated by candidates across the aisle is the social messaging of national Democrats. Lesmeister, who squeaked by in a rural district pending the potential of a recount, said one part of his victory was emphasizing his understanding of rural issues as someone with deep roots in the area.

lesmeister_2019.jpg
Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade.
JOHNNY SUNDBY

"I didn't separate myself totally from the D.C. Democrats, but I don't fully align with their platform, either. And that's just a rural way of life, I guess," Lesmeister said. "So when I talk to a lot of my constituents out here in the district, our views align even though we're Democrat or Republican."

In District 18, the only flipped House seat for Republicans, Auch credited her win to a national and state party out of touch with the needs of South Dakotans.

“We are a conservative state and we don't like the wokeism attitudes,” Auch said. “We are not interested in the Green New Deal. We understand that you have to have electricity and fuel to farm. We're an agricultural state.”

MORE BY JASON HARWARD
On Tuesday, Dec. 6, Gov. Kristi Noem will kick off her second term and unofficially begin the 2023 legislative session with her budget address. Here are five things to watch as she unveils her budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
What to read next
Jason Shields, 38, of Wagner, was arrested and charged after the lives of both Noem and Judge Donna Bucher were threatened via email and fax.
Following an executive order on Nov. 29, TikTok, a wildly popular and controversial social media app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, will no longer be legally accessible on state-owned and state-leased devices. In the order, Gov. Kristi Noem referenced the potential for data collected by ByteDance to be handed over to Chinese authorities.