PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Legislation that would change six nomination contests to statewide primary elections and let governor nominees choose their running mates has narrowly cleared the South Dakota Senate.
Senators voted 18-16 on Wednesday to send SB-40 across the Capitol to the House of Representatives.
Senate Republican leader Casey Crabtree said the House Republican leadership has agreed to hold the legislation so that Sen. John Wiik, in his new role as South Dakota Republican Party chairman, can try to find another solution.
Currently, South Dakota holds Republican and Democrat primary elections for nominees for U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and governor. Contests for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, auditor, lands commissioner and utilities commissioners are decided by delegates to the two parties’ statewide conventions.
Republican Sen. David Johnson brought the legislation. He said it was similar to what he proposed five years ago while he was in the House. He tabled that version. But he pressed forward with the current one and disagreed with portrayals that it was related to the 2022 Republican convention, where challenger Monae Johnson rode a wave of discontent and toppled incumbent Steve Barnett for the GOP secretary of state nomination.
“This has nothing to do with a convention we had recently and everything to do with grassroots,” Johnson said. Nonetheless, he referred to 10 counties that he said had no representation at the 2022 convention. “Vote for your grassroots. Vote for your citizens,” he urged.
Wiik noted that Republicans now hold 90% of the 105 legislative seats and have held 100% of statewide offices since 2014. The results, he said, are intraparty factions where a Republican often has to run against another Republican. Passage of the bill would encourage candidates to more intensely focus their efforts on urban areas at the expense of rural ones, he predicted.
“We have challenges we can work on together. There’s a lot of work to be done, and senators, I believe we can do it,” Wiik said in opposition to the bill. “There is room for reform in both parties. We can do it from within.”
Crabtree spoke in appreciation of what Wiik is trying to accomplish as Republican chair but said the change would enfranchise voters. “You can’t find an idea more conservative than that, to allow every Republican choose who their leader is going to be,” Crabtree said.