PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Not once but twice on Wednesday the South Dakota House of Representatives fell one vote short of approving legislation that sought to establish a Center for American Exceptionalism at Black Hills State University.

HB-1070 sponsored by Republican Rep. Scott Odenbach called for $150,000 to get the center started at the Spearfish campus. Because it was a request for a special appropriation, the bill needed a two-thirds majority of at least 47 yes votes from the 70 representatives.

It instead got 46 on its first try. Odenbach had the bill reconsidered. A few hours later, on the second try, it again received 46.

Two Republicans switched from no to yes: Brian Mulder and Taylor Rehfeldt. But those gains were offset by the loss of Republicans Dennis Krull and David Kull, who switched from yes to no.

The legislation would have had BHSU President Laurie Nichols appoint an advisory board to help set the center’s direction and report annually to the Legislature’s committees that oversee education. The center’s purpose was to make the state’s public universities “contributing, meaningful, and relevant partners in civics and social studies education” for K-12 schools.

But Governor Kristi Noem didn’t recommend such a center as part of her budget request to the Legislature in December, and the governor-appointed state Board of Regents, whose members oversee the six public universities, didn’t ask for it, either. Nor did President Nichols.

Odenbach was asked about that.

“In the Legislature as we all know, if it’s not on the list that the Board of Regents comes out with each year, the employees thereof are somewhat restrained in coming out to testify,” he answered. “This wasn’t on their approved list from the beginning. It’s something new, so that somewhat explains that.”

The center was to work with classroom teachers familiar with development of social studies and civics curriculum to “create, distribute and annually update” a K-12 curriculum that was to be available to all public school districts.

The curriculum, according to the bill, was to focus on “American history and exceptionalism, explain why America rose to greatness and how to keep it that way,” teach students to “balance critical thinking with love of country”; and include a South Dakota history and American Indian tribes component that focuses on “the proud history of the indigenous peoples of this state.”

The center also was to develop two courses that would be taught at South Dakota’s public colleges and universities. One course was to compare “communist and socialist countries to Western-style democratic countries throughout history.” The other course was to compare “command-style socialist economies to free-market capitalist economies throughout history.”

Republican Rep. Becky Drury voted for the bill on the first try. She questioned Odenbach — and herself — during the debate before the second vote.

“This is going to be housed at Black Hills State college. I’d feel more comfortable if we had some assurance that’s going to be handled through them in a pro-active manner, and I’m not sure we actually have that assurance, or that we have the assurance from the Board of Regents that they’re on board with it, because that’s the first couple lines of the whole bill,” Drury said.

She continued, “I voted for it” — she raised her hands in a gesture of admission — “first round. I did.” She shook her head. “Now I have some questions.”

Drury wound up voting for it again. So did Republican Rep. Tamara St. John, a historian for the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. St. John commented about how the history of tribal people would be portrayed.

“There is a continued feeling that tribes are not consulted when it comes to the telling of their stories. I do want to say that I recognize that, and I support this bill,” St. John said. “I support any new, innovative way to continue this conversation. And, as I just stated to another on this subject, I will be there and I will be beating down the door to bring the voices of those Native American educators forward in this effort.”

The refusal to spend $150,000 just flat-bugged Republican Rep. Kevin Jensen.

“This isn’t funding an ongoing program. This is an exploratory idea. Give it a year. We’ll see where it goes,” Jensen said. He sighed. “This is a frustrating debate. This isn’t — we’re not taking testimony from people all over the country to decide what we get to do here in this state. It’s simply a bill to get an idea started.”

Odenbach delivered the closing remarks.

“Well, I have full confidence that Black Hills State University will do a great job with it. This debate has been — it has been interesting. It’s a lesson, I think. We can try something new, try something outside of the box — you better get ready for a lot of opposition. But I’m really just relying on the members of this to, let’s put this idea forward and start having some constructive solutions for higher ed and K-12.”