PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — One of the reasons his attempt last weekend to become the governor’s running mate surprised so many was that Representative Steven Haugaard once had wanted to take away that very route.

Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, in 2019 supported changing South Dakota laws on who controls the nomination of candidates for lieutenant governor.

He co-sponsored legislation that would have made candidates for governor solely responsible for deciding who would run with them for lieutenant governor. The legislation would have removed delegates at the political party’s convention from the decision process.

But the bill eventually died, leaving open a door that Haugaard chose to go through four years later, when he challenged Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden for nomination at the South Dakota Republican convention.

Haugaard nearly succeeded against Rhoden, helped by a record number of delegates participating and by strong support from the Minnehaha County delegation.

Governor Kristi Noem had defeated Haugaard in a landslide just a few weeks earlier to win the Republican primary election for governor. But with Rhoden possibly in danger, Noem took the unusual step Saturday afternoon at the convention of being the first to nominate Rhoden to continue as her running mate.

Rhoden went on to win the nomination 56% to 44%.

KELOLAND News asked Haugaard about why he chose to take a path that he had once wanted to shut down. He hasn’t responded.

Haugaard was serving as House speaker in 2019. He wound up voting twice for the legislation, HB 1091, first in the House committee hearing, then on the House floor.

The bill, sponsored by Lee Qualm of Platte, who was the House Republican leader at the time, roared out of the House chamber on a vote of 48-16.

Qualm told the House State Affairs Committee at the 2019 hearing that South Dakota was one of four states — Indiana, Iowa and Michigan were the others — where voters choose the nominee for governor in a primary election but the governor’s choice of lieutenant governor is, in the end, a decision left up to the party’s convention delegates.

The unusual system was part of South Dakota voters’ decision in 1972 to change to four-year terms for state officials who are elected statewide.

Stace Nelson of Fulton, who was a state senator at the time, had tried to take advantage of that system, when he challenged Rhoden at the 2018 South Dakota Republican convention, even though Noem had already made clear her preference for Rhoden as her running mate.

Nelson’s run against Rhoden led Qualm to sponsor HB 1091 in the 2019 legislative session.

“I don’t feel the convention should pick someone different,” Qualm testified. “The two people need to work hand in hand.”

Senator Jim Bolin, a Republican from Canton, was the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate chamber. “I think this is a very reasonable proposal,” Bolin told the House committee.

No one else spoke for the change, but, just as importantly, no one came forward to testify against it. Representative Spencer Gosch, a Republican from Glenham, called for the committee’s endorsement. “It really clarifies a lot of things,” Gosch said.

But another committee member, Representative Drew Dennert, a Republican from Aberdeen, warned that he was likely to vote no. He said that keeping the law in place would allow someone to announce a candidacy for lieutenant governor and make a pitch straight to the delegates.

“I do think this is a good safeguard to have in place,” Dennert said. He added that getting the delegates’ “seal of approval” was good for the process. 

Haugaard didn’t say anything. But he was part of the majority on the committee that voted 12-1 to send it to the House floor for debate. He voted for it a second time when the bill was debated on the House floor.

Representative Carl Perry, an Aberdeen Republican, said during the House debate that he felt “empowered” as a convention delegate by being allowed to vote on nominations for attorney general and lieutenant governor. “If it’s not broke, we probably don’t need to fix it,” Perry said.

Representative Kaleb Weis, an Aberdeen Republican, spoke against against making the change, too: “It gives us an opportunity to say, Is this who we want?”

Haugaard was presiding as speaker, so he didn’t join the debate, but he was one of the 48 who voted to send it to the Senate.

Representative Tom Pischke, a Dell Rapids Republican, testified against the bill in the Senate State Affairs Committee. He gave names of other legislators from Minnehaha County who had served as delegates at the 2018 Republican convention. “I’m asking this committee, don’t take away their power, don’t take their choice,” Pischke said.

Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican, called on the rest of the committee to stop the bill. He recalled how Republican delegates in 1998 had changed the mind of Governor Bill Janklow, who was thinking about dropping Carole Hillard as lieutenant governor for someone else. Greenfield said Janklow “chose to not turn his back on his running mate.”

The Senate panel would eventually vote 6-1 to defeat it, with only Bolin disagreeing.

“The system we have is fine. It is not broken,” Greenfield said.