PIERRE | At least 16 of the state Senate’s 35 seats will have new people in them for the 2017 legislative session, and the chamber’s Republican leadership could also be in line for big changes as a result of Tuesday's primary election.
Those changes could lead to an interesting and potentially contentious relationship between many of the Republican senators and Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard during his final two years in the office. And the hottest debates from the 2016 legislative session may get even hotter in 2017 as a result.
The shifting dynamics result from the political character of many of the Republicans who have already won Senate seats, or who became their party’s uncontested Senate nominees, or who won Senate nominations in Tuesday’s primary elections and now face Democrats in the fall.
One debate likely to get heated is a renewed battle over restrictions on transgender people's use of bathrooms in public schools, a measure passed by the Legislature but then vetoed by Daugaard this year. A proposed expansion of Medicaid also could become much tougher under the new Senate roster.
There could even be an attempt to roll back the sales-tax increase that passed in the House with nary a vote to spare after the governor’s plan fell short by one aye on the first attempt.
Republican legislators and some party leaders who opposed the tax increase for teacher salaries and property-tax relief said they could raise teacher pay without a higher tax. But they never presented a formal plan that was complete in detail.
The tax increase took effect June 1. The rate rose to 4.5 percent from 4 percent, where it had stood since 1969.
A combination of Republicans and Democrats coalesced to get the two-thirds majorities needed for the tax increase. Repealing it would require a standard majority. Adjusting state government’s budget internally also would require only a standard majority.
Some GOP lawmakers who backed the sales-tax hike did not fare well in Tuesday's primary, including such West River lawmakers as Rep. Jacqueline Sly and Sen. Bruce Rampelberg, who both lost their elections.
Daugaard also likely wouldn’t have enough Republican support in the 2017 Senate to approve expansion of Medicaid to cover the working poor. If he pursues that plan, he likely needs to do it before Labor Day and would need a special session.
The deepening split among Republicans in the Senate can be traced to resignations by Senate Republican leader Tim Rave of Baltic and assistant leader Dan Lederman after the 2015 session.
The governor’s decisions to appoint Scott Fiegen of Dell Rapids and Bill Shorma of Dakota Dunes rather than others interested in the seats, left the Senate Republican caucus in a climate of suspicion and distrust.
Term-limited Sen. Corey Brown of Gettysburg moved from the president pro tem chair to Senate Republican leader. In the closed-door Senate Republican caucus, Gary Cammack of Union Center edged Ried Holien of Watertown for pro tem, while Jim White of Huron defeated Brock Greenfield of Clark for assistant leader.
Senate Republicans on the losing sides of those two internal battles believed that Daugaard swung the caucus elections in favor of Cammack and White through votes by Fiegen and Shorma.
That wasn’t true, according to Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s chief of staff. But the denial didn’t change the perception.
The perception showed in the formal vote on the 2016 session’s opening afternoon when four Senate Republicans voted publicly against Cammack for pro tem.
That set the tone for the tax battle and for the transgender veto. The transgender bathroom restrictions, brought by Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, likely had enough votes for the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto in the House.
But Deutsch publicly said there wasn’t enough support in the Senate for an override and asked House members to let the veto stand. Many still voted to override the veto, but not enough to actually get the bill back to the Senate.
Daugaard issued the veto just minutes after the Senate gave final approval to the tax increase. That further fueled anger among many Republicans who opposed the tax and supported the transgender restrictions.
The disgruntled climate undercut Holien’s interest in continuing to serve in the Senate. He decided against seeking re-election and now plans to run for the post of South Dakota committeeman on the Republican National Committee.
The current national committeeman for South Dakota, Dana Randall of Aberdeen, isn’t running again. The committeeman decision will be made at the South Dakota Republican state convention this summer.
The tax fight split Codington County’s legislators. Holien opposed it, while Rep. Lee Schoenbeck of Watertown jumped into the middle of the fight, serving behind the scenes as a political organizer on Daugaard’s behalf.
The House Republican leadership stood against the tax increase. Schoenbeck lost an attempt after the 2014 elections to become House Republican assistant leader. During the key weekend of the tax fight, Schoenbeck publicly criticized, repeatedly, House Republican leader Brian Gosch of Rapid City and assistant leader Steve Westra of Sioux Falls.
Gosch and other members of the House Republican leadership team then blocked Schoenbeck’s further participation in the House Republican caucus meetings. Schoenbeck initially said he would resign, then finished out the session anyway, sitting alone at his House desk during the lunch hours while Republicans and Democrats held their caucuses.
The key vote in the House passage of the tax increase came down, in many ways, to Rep. Roger Solum of Watertown, the third Republican in the county’s delegation.
Some House Republicans tried to get Solum to excuse himself and not vote, essentially becoming a nay, because some of the proceeds from the tax increase would be used for pay increases to technical institute instructors, including Solum.
Those attempts to sideline Solum coincided with Schoenbeck’s eruptions toward the House Republican leadership.
The decision by Holien created an opportunity for Solum to try to continue as a legislator. He was term-limited in the House. He filed candidacy papers for the Senate. So did Neal Tapio of Watertown, who was supported by the Al Koistinen wing of the county Republicans.
Koistinen is a former House member, as was the late Burdette Solum, who is the father of Roger Solum. The Burdette Solum wing of the county party briefly gained control of the county organization roughly a decade ago.
Tapio recently received the public endorsements from Holien and Koistinen. Koistinen has served a political mentor to a variety of more-conservative Republicans in northeastern South Dakota.
Tapio defeated Solum in the primary election Tuesday. Daugaard backed Solum, as did many statewide associations through their political action committees. Tapio showed zero contributions from others in his pre-primary campaign finance report.
Tapio’s win means Codington County will have three new legislators in the 2017 session. He also might contend in 2018 for a Republican nomination for U.S. House if incumbent Kristi Noem doesn’t seek re-election to that seat.
The point of greatest friction in the state Senate in 2017, however, might be the District 19 Senate seat representing all or parts of Bon Homme, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson and McCook counties.
That’s where Daugaard put his name, money and network of political support behind Caleb Finck of Tripp for the Senate Republican nomination.
Instead, former Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton won, despite Daugaard personally making a telephone message that circulated in the campaign’s closing days urging households to support Finck.
Nelson has two terms under his belt and ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2014. Former Gov. Mike Rounds won the five-candidate primary.
Many organizations supported Finck in the primary election Tuesday. Their open opposition to Nelson puts their agendas for the 2017 session on shakier ground.
The victory by Nelson was coupled with a victory by one of his top allies. Term-limited Rep. Lance Russell of Hot Springs defeated Sen. Rampelberg of Rapid City for their district’s Senate nomination Tuesday.
Rampelberg was another of the candidates that Daugaard financially supported in the primary campaigns.
Russell and Nelson still face Democratic opponents in the November general election. They are running in strongly Republican districts, however, making them more likely to win their November contests.
Daugaard also strongly supported term-limited Rep. Jacqueline Sly of Rapid City in a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Phil Jensen of Rapid City. Sly was a leader for the tax increase and higher teacher salaries. Jensen voted against the plan. Jensen beat Sly by a large margin Tuesday and has a Democratic opponent in the November general election.
Five Senate primaries in which Daugaard contributed to candidates broke his way Tuesday. Winning Republican nominations were Sen. Deb Peters of Hartford, Sen. Larry Tidemann of Brookings, Sen. Alan Solano of Rapid City, Sen. Terri Haverly of Rapid City and Rep. Jeff Partridge of Rapid City.
Partridge is seeking the Senate seat now held by Republican Craig Tieszen of Rapid City. Tieszen is term-limited and became a candidate for the House seat that Partridge held.
There is an assortment of House Republicans who are Senate nominees and generally are at least as conservative or more so than the incumbents they seek to replace. Among them are:
• John Wiik of Big Stone City, looking to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Peterson of Revillo;
• Joshua Klumb of Mt. Vernon, running to replace term-limited Republican Sen. Mike Vehle of Mitchell; and
• Al Novstrup of Aberdeen, looking to replace his son, David Novstrup of Aberdeen, who didn’t seek re-election.
The 2015 resignations by Rave and Lederman from the Senate caused a ripple effect that could be seen Tuesday.
In a House Republican primary race, Sen. Bill Shorma appeared to have lost, placing third in a three-candidate contest for two nominations. Shorma was one of the governor’s appointees, replacing Dan Lederman.
In the process, the governor passed over Republican Rep. Jim Bolin of Canton. Term-limited, Bolin is running for the Senate. Rather than face Bolin in a Republican primary, Shorma ran for the House.
Bolin is a champion of transgender restrictions. He led the repeated attempts in the 2014 legislative session that passed in the House but fell in the Senate.
Shorma could seek a recount under state law. He lost by 45 votes to Kevin Jensen of Canton. Placing first in the three-candidate primary was Rep. David Anderson of Hudson. Jensen also ran in 2014, placing third. Daugaard passed him over too, for the Senate appointment that went to Shorma.
The resignation of Tim Rave last year created the second vacancy for Daugaard to fill. The appointment went to Scott Fiegen of Dell Rapids.
Fiegen didn’t run this year, opening the way for one of the governor’s Republican legislative opponents, Rep. Kris Langer of Dell Rapids, to become the Senate Republican nominee this year.
Daugaard appointed Langer to a House vacancy in 2013. She immediately became an ally of House Republican leader Gosch and served in the House Republican leadership for the 2015-2016 term. She supported the transgender restrictions and opposed the tax increase.
All of it points toward the possibility of a very different Senate for 2017, a politically difficult final two years for Daugaard’s second and final term, and a hard-edged environment for the 2018 Republican primaries for not only Legislature, but for governor and possibly for the U.S. House of Representatives.