PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — As the 2022 legislative session starts its final week, this has been the longest, weirdest one in the 38 years this reporter has spent at the South Dakota Legislature.

There’s the three-way fight underway in the House of Representatives. One side is Governor Kristi Noem’s Republican backers. Another side has the Republicans aligned behind her primary-election challenger, Representative Steven Haugaard of Sioux Falls, and House Appropriations chair Chris Karr of Sioux Falls. Then there’s the small group of eight Democrats, who suddenly as a bloc have the decisive votes on many issues.

This is perhaps the deepest and widest Republican split, both within a chamber and between the Legislature and the governor, since Republican Frank Farrar was governor in 1970.

That year a fellow Republican, Frank Henderson, challenged Farrar in the primary. Farrar won the nomination, but he came away wounded. When the November general election came, South Dakota voters took the rare step of electing a Democrat. Dick Kneip went on to twice win re-election. Since then, South Dakotans have elected only Republicans.

Farrar’s political difficulties came not only from unpopular rural-electric legislation that he sought, at a time when South Dakota’s rural population was much, much larger than today, but there also was a surge in Democrat voters that was large enough to briefly push their registrations past the Republicans.

Today, Democrats badly lag Republicans in voter registrations, and the independents are quickly catching Democrats. As of March 1, 2022, there were 280,955 Republicans, 152,182 Democrats and 140,429 independents. So Noem’s difficulties aren’t from the opposition’s party but instead reflect something else — actually lots of things — of her own doing.

Noem, who spent eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives leading up to her November 2018 election as governor, has deepened the executive office’s reliance on non-South Dakota senior staff and has twice used outside campaign managers. At the same time, she’s succeeded wildly at national-level fundraising and speechmaking.

And she has been outspoken, in a way that South Dakotans had never seen before from governors, on divisive national issues, such as more abortion restrictions, opposing transgender students in female sports and promoting anti-CRT aka critical race theory in schools.

She’s also openly courted the attention of now-former U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, and attacked his Democrat successor, President Joe Biden, on a weekly and now seemingly daily basis. And she interjected herself into a dispute over a real-estate appraiser upgrade sought by one of her daughters that prompted the state House to consider a resolution criticizing her behavior.

She’s also repeatedly called for embattled state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to resign, after the car he was driving struck and killed a pedestrian at the west edge of Highmore on September 12, 2020. Ravnsborg hasn’t stepped down, and she wants the House to impeach him. The House committee investigating whether to recommend impeachment has focused at times as much on her actions as on Ravnsborg.

Looking ahead, there will be a lot of Republican primary battles for legislative nominations in June that will warrant pre-election coverage, especially after redistricting last fall, which still stings for some House Republicans whose seats were moved into possible primaries.

There’s also the Noem-Haugaard fight for the Republican nomination, which financially looks like a huge mismatch favoring the incumbent. Based on the shots their campaigns have been taking at each other through Twitter, there could be some intense statewide debates if Noem agrees to face Haugaard over a pair of microphones.

Time will tell how much of the Republican polarization now bursting into clear view carries over from the June primaries to the general election in November when House Democrat leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls awaits the Noem-Haugaard winner.

Where does the Senate fit? There’s somewhat of a split among its 32 Republicans, but only at times. Generally, they hang together. The handful of Republicans who sometimes side with the three Democrats tends to be term-limited or won’t be seeking re-election.

The state government budget is another place where the two chambers split. The Joint Committee on Appropriations stopped working together weeks ago. The nine House members have been meeting separately and killing special spending bills, making representatives force the panel to release them. The House committee even took out two of House Republican leader Kent Peterson’s bills that later passed by solid margins.

A clear split between a majority in the Senate and the governor comes on legalizing adult-use marijuana. Noem opposes it, as do most of the House Republicans. However, after 54% of South Dakota voters approved Constitutional Amendment A in the 2020 election to legalize it, Noem’s lawyers convinced the South Dakota Supreme Court to throw out the result.

Noem also campaigned in 2020 to stop IM 26 legalizing medical use of cannabis, saying it first needed approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration. But 70% of voters approved IM 26. Noem now says she supports it, even though it still hasn’t received FDA approval.

Monday is the last day for legislation to clear the second chamber at the South Dakota Capitol. Long lists of bills yet to get their second debates await each chamber. The Senate calendar is two pages. The House of Representatives calendar is three pages.

And both include a commemoration honoring Tom Brady, saying the retiring NFL quarterback “represents so many of the values of every day South Dakotans such as hard work, perseverance, and a strong, competitive spirit” as the sixth-round draft pick overcame roadblocks in school and college.

No, the Brady commemoration won’t be debated, unless some lawmaker objects. But even that has happened this year when a Republican senator blocked one “Celebrating the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community in South Dakota.”

It’s been that kind of year.