PIERRE | Patrick Kane was a Democrat from Sioux Falls who in the 1990 legislative session was in year four of the six he served in the South Dakota House of Representatives.
That winter he was prime sponsor of HB 1121, a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
For a while, Democrats appeared to have outfoxed Republicans; Democrats brought to the Capitol a half-black and half-Indian rodeo man named Lynn Hart.
Republicans controlled the Legislature, as they had throughout most of the century of statehood.
Kane’s bill didn’t seem to have a chance. Yet, Hart came to talk about it and told a difficult truth to the lawmakers on the House State Affairs Committee.
Some cowboys on the rodeo circuit wouldn’t come to South Dakota, Hart said, because they considered the state racist. Democrats knew they had Republicans in a box. Republicans knew it, too.
That’s when some Republicans came up with a different idea. They introduced HB 1308, sponsored by House Republican leader Rep. Jerry Lammers of Madison.
His bill designated the second Monday of October as Native Americans’ Day and the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and made them official legal holidays.
One part of the legislation said: “Native Americans’ Day is dedicated to the remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of our state.”
The legislation also repealed a sentence that had been in state law: “In recognition of the American work ethic common to all of our citizens, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is not a holiday from work and all offices of state and local governments and public schools and institutions shall remain open.”
House members approved the Lammers plan 49-16. All nays came from Republicans and nearly all of them from western districts. Senators passed it 24-8. Only Republicans cast nays.
The result nonetheless was state-level one-upmanship.
But it worked. Republicans and Democrats recognized two causes, capped when Gov. George Speaker Mickelson, a Republican, signed it into law Feb. 20, 1990.
And yet King Day and Native Americans’ Day still divide many parts of South Dakota.
This past Monday as MLK Day came and went, many businesses in the state continued to open their doors to customers. On Native Americans’ Day, many people still go to their jobs as though it were almost any other Monday. Those facts haven’t changed.
Mickelson’s administration marked 1990 as the year of reconciliation for South Dakota.
Twenty-eight years later his oldest son, George Mark Mickelson, is House speaker. Recently, the Legislature gathered in the House for the third annual State of the Tribes address.
Of 105 state lawmakers this year, three are Native Americans. In 1990, there was one. In 128 years, one black legislator has served. None holds a state office this term.
History so often takes so long to get onto a different path.