Mobridge meeting finds folks want to preserve rural orientation in S.D. legislative redistricting

Capitol News Bureau
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MOBRIDGE, S.D. (KELO) — A map proposed by Representative Drew Dennert drew positive comments from some of the citizens who testified Tuesday morning during a stop in Mobridge by members of the Legislature’s redistricting committees.

State lawmakers are scheduled to meet November 8 in a special session to consider approving a map with different boundaries for most of South Dakota’s 35 legislative election districts.

The House and Senate committees are on a statewide listening tour. They held public meetings Monday at Black Hills State University-Rapid City and at the Rosebud Sioux casino. They’re traveling today from Mobridge to Aberdeen to Watertown. They finish Wednesday with two meetings at Community College for Sioux Falls.

Known as the Grouse map, Dennert’s proposal would put together a bloc of rural counties on the east side of the Missouri River in northcentral South Dakota in what would be District 23.

Grouse map

Those counties starting from the North Dakota border are Campbell, McPherson, Walworth, Edmunds, Faulk, Hand and Jerauld, and parts of Potter and Beadle.

Walworth County Commission member Rick Cain said Dennert’s suggestion reflects the “gut” feeling of rural life and fits the area’s desires and morals better than several other proposals under consideration.

Long-time Mobridge grocery businessman Benj Stoick warned that District 23 could lose its say in Pierre if drawn incorrectly. “We would never have a voice,” Stoick said.

Mobridge Mayor Gene Cox favored the Dennert plan, too. “Mobridge depends heavily on agricultural traffic as well as west river traffic as well as tourism traffic,” Cox said.

Representative Oren Lesmeister asked that District 28 on the west side of the Missouri River stay the same. The area currently includes Butte, Corson, Dewey, Harding, Perkins and Ziebach counties.

“County lines are the hard boundaries,” Lesmeister said. “Everybody understands them. Everybody knows them.”

District 28 is one of two that have individual House seats, in sub-districts A and B, rather than two at-large House seats.

Shane Penfield of Lemmon, a rancher and lawyer, agreed with Lesmeister. “I think it’s important those counties remain whole,” Penfield said.

Penfield said it’s been his position since 2000 that it was “grossly unfair” that only districts 26 and 28 have single-member House sub-districts. He suggested “sub-districts for everyone” statewide.

Representative Charlie Hoffman recalled the history of how the Legislature decade by decade re-aligned his home area of McPherson County, ranging from a rural orientation in the 1980s, added to Brown County’s more-urban District 3 in the 1990s, split in the 2000s, and brought back together — “thank goodness” — in the current District 23.

He said rural-thinking voters in southern Potter County might be disappointed if they’re split from District 23 and pulled into District 24 under the Dennert proposal.

Several tribal members who live in the Wakpala area in District 28 agreed with Bret Healy of Four Directions that Native Americans in central and western South Dakota shouldn’t have their voting power diluted.

Tribal members comprise 11% of South Dakota’s population and have five of the Legislature’s 105 seats.

Healy noted that South Dakota has faced more than 20 lawsuits alleging voting-rights violations and state government pays the cost for losses.

The committees are considering four proposals altogether. The three others are:

Blackbird, from Senator Casey Crabtree;

Falcon, from Senator Jim Bolin; and

Eagle, from Senator Troy Heinert.

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