Editor's note: As 2019 begins, we look at four stories expected to make headlines in the next year.
Governor Noem's first year
Members of the more conservative wing of South Dakota’s Republican Party expect to have a partner this year in Gov.-elect Kristi Noem.
Whether and to what extent she steers the state in a more conservative ideological direction could be one of the major South Dakota stories of 2019.
Noem, who is finishing her final term in the U.S. House, will be inaugurated as South Dakota’s first female governor on Jan. 5. The 2019 legislative session will begin on Jan. 8.
Noem will succeed Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who is perceived as more ideologically moderate. While governor, Daugaard vetoed bills that would have regulated bathroom use by transgender students, would have allowed concealed guns in the Capitol building, and would have allowed the carrying of concealed weapons without permits.
Noem said during her campaign that she would sign a transgender bathroom bill, but the bill’s past sponsor, state Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, said recently that he does not plan to introduce it this year because he doesn't see the urgency under President Donald Trump. Deutsch told The Associated Press he proposed the bill in 2016 to resist federal overreach under former President Barack Obama.
The gun bills are expected to be back.
In December, South Dakota Gun Owners issued a news release urging Noem to “stand firm in her support” of allowing concealed weapons without permits, and state House Majority Leader Lee Qualm told The Associated Press that he plans to propose a bill similar to a past measure that would have allowed concealed handguns in the Capitol.
Noem is widely expected to sign the gun bills if they end up on her desk, but her slim margin of victory in the general election — by 3 percentage points, 51-48, over Democrat Billie Sutton — indicates she could face a political risk from signing divisive legislation.
Despite persistent criticism from arch-conservatives about Daugaard, he won his two elections for governor by gaping margins of 24 and 45 percentage points, and the Morning Consult research firm ranked him in October as the fifth most popular governor in the nation.
The future of Sioux San
Management of the Sioux San Hospital in Rapid City is expected to stay in the hands of the Indian Health Services, after all.
The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board — an organization that represents the 18 tribal communities of the Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa — was expected to take over administration of hospital from the IHS, a federal agency, on Feb. 17, 2019.
But those plans were thwarted when the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council voted Dec. 18 to rescind a previously approved resolution authorizing the health board to enter into agreements with IHS on the tribe’s behalf, the IHS said in a Dec. 20 press release.
In April, the Oglala, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux tribes passed separate but near-identical resolutions authorizing the board to contract with IHS to become the hospital’s managing entity. IHS would have continued to fund the hospital.
Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Tribe, did not respond for a comment about why the council rescinded its resolution.
The health board had hoped to use $117 million in funding secured for the renovation of Sioux San Hospital to instead build a new health care facility in east Rapid City on a 25-acre lot donated by a local developer. IHS officials confirmed last week they will instead stick with its original plan to demolish some of the existing buildings on the Sioux San campus and renovate others.
Critics of the health board's attempt to gain control over Sioux San said the Native community in Rapid City had not been consulted and worried about potential corruption if the tribes began receiving massive amounts of IHS funding for administration.
Supporters of the health board's plan pointed to IHS's poor track record at Sioux San, and said the move would allow for greater tribal self-governance.
Civic Center construction
By this time next year, Mayor Steve Allender expects steel beams to rise from the grounds of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, etching the future of big-time Rapid City entertainment into the city’s expansive horizon.
It appears 2019 will be a year of endings and beginnings for the construction of the civic center’s new arena. Contracts, agreements and final designs should be completed by mid-year. An official groundbreaking at the construction site just northwest of the Barnett Arena should occur sometime in mid to late summer. If all goes according to plan, the building’s exterior could be finished by late 2019, enabling crews to begin constructing the arena’s interior through the winter.
“By all accounts…things seem to be on schedule and going as expected,” Allender said in a mid-December Journal interview. In previous interviews, Allender has pegged late summer or early fall 2021 as a hopeful date for the grand opening of the arena, with construction expected to take 22 months.
While there have yet to be any delays, tariffs have the potential to effect the project’s bottom line and final product. As the city works with its owner’s representative and construction-manager-at-risk to decide on a guaranteed maximum price for the project — the construction-manager-at-risk is liable for any costs over the maximum price once a figure is agreed upon — conversations and decisions about certain design elements are sometimes dictated by the possibility of tariffs making things too costly. But for now, Allender said, the impact has yet to be truly felt.
“[The effect] is still largely unpredictable because we haven’t ordered steel yet or anything like that,” Allender said, adding that the contractors seem to be the least concerned of anyone involved given their experience dealing with past tariffs. “It’s nothing like we’re going to be paying double for the building. What’s important is that we stay on budget and that we get the same building that we believe is the right building to be successful.”
The city recently completed bonding out for $103 million, about $7 million less than the amount Allender predicted during his presentations in early 2018. The increased cost of borrowing caused the city to bond out less, Allender said, as did the ever growing amount of cash on hand, now at $27 million, from the city’s Vision Fund. Together, the $130 million is expected to pay for the cost of the building, excluding interest.
While much of the project’s design and nuts and bolts will be decided in 2019, don’t expect the Rapid City Council to play much of a role, Allender said.
“When we have a requirement to get council approval, we’ll get it,” he said. “Otherwise, we know the scope of the project, we know it’s been approved and we’ll move forward with that.”
Construction or more delays for Keystone XL
Will 2019 finally be the year TransCanada begins construction of its Keystone XL pipeline?
Or will court challenges and protests continue to stall the $8 billion project, first proposed by TransCanada more than a decade ago to move crude oil from Alberta, Canada, through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it will merge with existing pipelines to take oil to refineries in Texas.
Plans call for South Dakota’s 250-mile pipeline segment to enter the state from Montana, angling to the southeast though Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp counties before crossing into Nebraska.
But that’s when—and if—the pipeline is built.
Preliminary construction on Keystone XL was already underway when a federal judge ordered a fresh environmental review in November of 2018, potentially halting the project for another year.
And if the pipeline construction ever does begin, counties along the route may face high law enforcement costs, perhaps in the millions of dollars, to handle any protests cropping up.
According to South Dakota News Watch, counties would have allocate significant funds for security costs before any help could come from the state of South Dakota.
“It will bankrupt some counties if it happens,” Kathy Glines, Harding County emergency management officer told South Dakota News Watch, “There’s a lot of counties that don’t have this kind of money sitting around, especially if it (a protest) is a long-term issue.”
Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, whose district includes three counties on the pipeline path, said current threshold of local spending on disasters is too high.
Brunner said he would sponsor legislation from the South Dakota Association of County Officials to reduce the monetary burden on counties.
Feet of snow, howling winds and bone-chilling cold. Seventy years ago on Wednesday, Jan. 2, a blizzard of epic proportions walloped western South Dakota.
The winter blast hammered the region on and off for several weeks and left a permanent mark on those caught in its wake.
Some snow drifts reached 35 feet and stretched for thousands of feet, state records say. Trains were snowed in; roads were closed for weeks and some buildings were buried under snow that reached their roofs.
State records show that the entire state of South Dakota and a large part of Nebraska were affected by the storm. In the Black Hills 12 to 50 inches of snow was reported for the month of January, winds gusted to 73 mph and temperatures routinely dropped to minus-8. In Chadron, Neb. at least 61 inches of snow fell in January of that year at the Airport.
Jim LeMar of Rapid City remembers that the worst elements of the 1949 storm were the drifting and its longevity.
He recalled during a 2013 interview the entire region being was locked into place because so many roads and rail lines were blocked for weeks.
"We'd no sooner get dug out of one storm and another would hit," LeMar said. He remembers workers from the Homestake mine using dynamite to bust open a snow pile that had stopped up Whitewood Creek.
During breaks in the storm residents would venture out to clear paths and gather supplies. Some buildings were buried under roof-high snow forcing with occupants to climb out of windows to leave their homes.
The length of the storm and its aftermath led federal and state authorities to use planes to drop hay to stranded cattle and packets of yeast onto city streets so people could make bread. Food and clothes were also dropped from planes to people trapped in their cars for days. Dynamite was used to clear railroad lines packed in by several feet of snow.
The new U.S. Congress will feature a record number of women in both the House and Senate. South Dakota will have its first female governor when Kristi Noem takes office in January.
The South Dakota Legislature will be home to a near-record number of women, several of whom were elected for the first time this fall. And Noem recently named Kim Vanneman as the state’s first female agriculture secretary.
Among the contingent of women entering lawmaking in South Dakota, there exists a growing esprit de corps and a feeling of excitement that new issues, new voices and a new sense of collaboration will arise in the 2019 session that starts in January.
“Women are feeling like, ‘Hey, things are not where we want them to be, and we have ideas and answers that haven’t been considered,” said Linda Duba, a Representative-elect and first-time lawmaker from Sioux Falls. “So, we said, ‘OK, let’s go get a seat at the table.”
The rise of women in Congress and the state Legislature results in part from concerted efforts to encourage more women to run for elected office. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, groups were formed specifically to provide women with the knowledge, resources and support to run for office.
Based on interviews with several incoming female lawmakers, the influx of women into the Legislature could lead to a greater focus on issues such as improving access to health care, beefing up the state education system especially at the pre-kindergarten level, and creating more jobs and economic opportunities for younger people and the working poor.
Furthermore, the incoming women say they will bring a heightened sense of bipartisanship and collaboration that they say has been missing in state and federal lawmaking.
“I definitely think there will be a louder voice from women than we’ve had in the past,” said Erin Healy, a representative-elect from Sioux Falls. “A few of us are trying to actively figure out a way that we can get all the women together, regardless of political affiliation, to work on specific issues.”
One expert suggests that the surge in female leadership in South Dakota and America is just beginning.
“This has been a great year for women running for office,” said University of South Dakota political science professor Julia Hellwege, who studies the role of gender and race in elections.
“We’re going to see continuous growth because as more women see more other women in office, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I can do that as well.’”
Not yet full representation
Even with more women in the state Legislature in 2019, the state is far from seeing full representation of its female population.
The population of South Dakota is made up 49.5 percent women, yet the incoming class of lawmakers will be only 24 percent female. In all, 25 female lawmakers will travel to Pierre for the session that starts Jan. 8. The 2019 roster of lawmakers has four more women than in 2018 and near the record of 26 who served in the 1991-92 session, according to the South Dakota Legislative Research Council. Still, the new contingent is a far cry from the three women who served in 1971-72 and the 11 who served in 1981-82.
Only two leadership positions will be occupied by women: Republican Sen. Kris Langer of Dell Rapids will serve as majority leader in the Senate, and incoming Democratic Rep. Erin Healy of Sioux Falls was named a minority whip in the House.
According to the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University, South Dakota ranked 34th among the 50 states for women in the state legislature with 21 percent female lawmakers in 2018. With four more women lawmakers in 2019, that ranking could rise but will depend on how many women were elected in other states.
The state is behind the 2018 national average of 26 percent women in state legislatures.
The state saw a record number of women run for the Legislature in 2018, according to CWAP. In total, 61 female candidates sought office — 41 Democrats and 20 Republicans — and 25 were elected, six Democrats and 19 Republicans.
The female newcomers to the statehouse have a wide breadth of life experiences and ages. They range in age from the early 30s to the mid-60s with vocations including bartender, nonprofit executive, archivist, engineer, employment investigator and homemaker.
The number of women who ran for office in 2018 was boosted by the recent formation of groups that encourage women to enter public service and advise them on how to run a successful campaign, Hellwege said. Efforts to recruit more women were bolstered by rise of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and the election of President Donald Trump, who has made off-color and patronizing statements about women, she said.
In South Dakota, the non-partisan Ready to Run group is an offshoot of a national female candidate support effort. Similarly, the Leaders Engaged and Determined group, known as LEAD, was formed by a small group of Sioux Falls women after the 2016 presidential election in which Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.
The groups provide potential candidates with networking opportunities, training on fundraising and campaigning and the moral support to realize they can win elected office, Hellwege said.
Three female Democratic candidates who participated in LEAD were elected this fall: Duba, Healy and Kelly Sullivan, all of Sioux Falls.
While it is unclear if a surge of women in government will cause new or different issues to arise, women have historically been more comfortable to address some topics that aren’t top of mind for men, such as birth control or women’s and children’s health, said Hellwege.
“Children and family issues may be highlighted more, and women who are moms are more likely to prioritize those issues more,” she said.
Female lawmakers may also see issues with a different perspective than men, she said, such as considering educational opportunities rather than just fiscal considerations as a critical component of a debate over expanding workforce options.
Focused on legislating
Like Governor-elect Noem, Scyller Borglum of Rapid City has downplayed the impact her gender had on her decision to run, on her election and how she will legislate.
Borglum, 41, is a representative-elect from Rapid City who said she ran first and foremost as a Republican and Christian, then as a scientist and engineer and finally as someone who will work with any other willing lawmaker to improve things for her state and its residents.
“I have not met anybody who’s run for the state Legislature as a woman, where that was their platform,” said Borglum, a graduate of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology who works as a research engineer in the geomechanics lab at Respec, an industrial engineering firm in Rapid City. “I hesitate to emphasize gender because in the end we’re all working on the important issues facing the state.”
Yet Borglum is cognizant that she is part of a wave of women entering the Legislature, and she embraces what she said can be a fresh approach to studying issues in a collaborative, bipartisan way.
During new lawmaker orientation in December, Borglum struck up an immediate friendship with Senator-elect Red Dawn Foster of Pine Ridge, a Democrat. Borglum said the pair share a goal to work hard to improve life for South Dakotans.
Some of their stated priorities differ. Foster promotes Medicaid expansion, backs labor unions and wants improved protection of state land and water resources from abuse by foreign business interests. Borglum, meanwhile, wants to tackle meth addiction, expand mental health treatment options and protect failing nursing homes.
Both incoming lawmakers, however, want to expand economic and employment opportunities for all state residents and share the goal of improving the state education system, particularly for younger students and Pre-K children.
“What you’re seeing are two women, very excited, who are doing this together,” Borglum said. “All of us pushing forward and pushing toward a common goal and recognizing that same thing in our fellow legislators — that’s where this positive energy is coming from.”
Both women also said they hope to serve as an inspiration to others, women in particular, to seek elected office.
“I want the next generation, and for me that next generation is my nieces, to know and remember that when you make up your mind to do something, and have a solid plan and you’re committed, that you have a good chance of being successful in running for office,” Borglum said.
Foster and fellow Pine Ridge lawmaker Peri Pourier will also focus on improving conditions on South Dakota Indian reservations.
The pair hope to continue a historic pattern of strong Native women who take a determined approach to governing in the fight for positive change.
Pourier, a Democratic Representative-elect who is a military veteran, said she wants to help indigenous people by expanding access to health care, eliminating food deserts, and improving safety and security on reservations.
“We’re dealing with survival factors; we’re dealing with survivability,” Pourier said at a recent panel discussion in Rapid City.
Some in the incoming wave of women lawmakers bring up early education, access to health care and finding ways to help the working poor as issues deserving more attention in Pierre
A push for collaboration
Another consistent message among the new crop of female lawmakers is increasing collaboration and reducing the binary partisanship that exists in government.
“I was really sick of the partisanship in Pierre and at the national level,” said Healy, a Democrat who works as an analyst at Midco Communications in Sioux Falls. “When I went around campaigning, that was often the conversation, that people were incredibly sick of issues coming up that were dominated by one party or the other.”
Communication may become more civil — and likely more effective — with more women involved in legislative debates, said Duba.
“Women in general are more gregarious that way; we come at people from a more personal than political approach,” Duba said. “It’s also refreshing when you have both genders in a room because you have more sharing of ideas.”
Duba, 62, is a retired corporate finance executive who now works as an educational assistant at an elementary school and was elected as a Democrat.
Duba said the further she worked her way up the corporate ladder, the more she became a minority as a woman. She said that women leaders tend to be more open than men to considering new ideas and sharing information in order to solve problems.
“It’s more of a collaborative style than a command style, not that men can’t be collaborative,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you that we’re like-minded, but I do find that women are more open to ideas and getting new information.”
Hellwege said any shift that takes place in lawmaking due to stronger influence by women may show up only over time and only if the trend toward greater female involvement continues.
“Things will not change that much until women actually get to the leadership positions, which takes seniority,” she said. “It’s not enough to just get women into office, but they have to get into positions of leadership. We’re getting there, but there’s a long way to go.”