PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Legislature’s presiding officers say they listened to other lawmakers when assigning committees for the 2023 session.

Representative Hugh Bartels is the new House speaker. Senator Lee Schoenbeck returns as Senate president pro tempore. Both are Watertown Republicans.

“My goal was to place representatives on committees where they can best be of service to the state, their districts, and the House,” Bartels told KELOLAND News. “I sought out the advice of the leaders of both parties, the assistant majority leader and the speaker pro tempore. Legislator requests were also considered.”

The House has entirely new people in the top spots, with Will Mortenson, of Pierre, leading the 63 Republicans and Taylor Rehfeldt, of Sioux Falls, as assistant leader, while Oren Lesmeister, of rural Eagle Butte, leads the seven Democrats. Mike Stevens, a Yankton Republican, is speaker pro tem.

Bartels, who won a three-way contest against Jon Hansen, of Dell Rapids, and Jess Olson, of Rapid City, for speaker, said he considered experience in and out of the Legislature, institutional knowledge of the subjects handled by the committee, leadership skills and desire to be a leader, and historical roles on committees.

A handful of House committees will have different leaders when the new term opens January 10. Roger Chase, of Huron, replaces Marty Overweg as Agriculture and Natural Resources chair. Mike Derby, of Rapid City, takes over Appropriations from Chris Karr, of Sioux Falls. Tim Reisch, of Howard, will run Military and Veterans Affairs and replaces Tony Randolph, of Rapid City. Mike Weisgram, of Fort Pierre chairs Commerce and Energy, succeeding Rhonda Milstead, of Sioux Falls.

A few House panels will continue with the same chairs, such as Kevin Jensen, of Canton, on Health and Human Services and Hansen on Judiciary.

Some committees will have new leaders because of turnover. Mortenson will chair State Affairs, which lost eight of its members, including its recent chair, Kent Peterson, of Salem, who was term-limited.

Several other House committees ran into similar situations and likewise needed new chairs. Kirk Chaffee, of Whitewood, steps up for Taxation, Rocky Blare of Ideal for Transportation, Becky Drury, of Rapid City, for Local Government, and Stevens for Education.

In the Senate, Schoenbeck turned back a challenge for the pro tem post from Joshua Klumb, a Mitchell Republican. The Senate will have Casey Crabtree, of Madison, as new leader of the 31 Republicans and Mike Diedrich, of Rapid City, returning as assistant leader, while Reynold Nesiba, of Sioux Falls, will lead the four Democrats.

Schoenbeck said term limits was one of several important considerations in finding the right fit for committee chairs and vice chairs. “Given term limits, every year is an important part of incubating future leaders,” he said.

This marked Schoenbeck’s third time as president pro tem. In 2005, he conferred with the Senate Republican leader at the time, Eric Bogue from Faith, on the committee assignments. Since then, Schoenbeck has expanded his advisors. “The last two times. I put together a group of four or five diverse senators and picked their brains and listened to their comments and critiques,” he said.

Schoenbeck listed these points as part of his latest consideration:

  • Experience and knowledge in the area of the committee’s jurisdiction.
  • Leadership skills, to lead the committee and in the future to be a legislative leader.
  • Bringing in new legislators to chair and vice chair early.
  • Finding the right mentoring roles for late term legislators.
  • Legislator preference, as well as input from other legislators, and historical roles.

The results were somewhat driven by turnover. Many Senate committee chairs from the 2021-2022 term didn’t run at all in the November election. One constant was Jean Hunhoff of Yankton, who will stay as Appropriations chair for 2023.

New Senate chairs include Herman Otten, of Lennox, for Agriculture and Natural Resources, David Wheeler, of Huron, for Commerce and Energy, Kyle Schoenfish, of Scotland, for Education, Dean Wink, of Howes, for Government Operations and Audit, Erin Tobin, of Winner, for Health and Human Services, Helen Duhamel, of Rapid City, for Judiciary, Tim Reed, of Brookings, for Local Government, Jim Stalzer, of Sioux Falls, for Taxation, Klumb for Transportation, and Crabtree for State Affairs.

Take a closer look by going to the committee rosters for 2023 and 2022.