This is the fifth of several posts previewing the Tuesday election through a historical lens. The first part was an introduction; the second part looked at South Dakota’s history of supporting Republican presidential tickets; the third part looked at the six U.S. Senators from South Dakota who have been elected three times; and the fourth part compared the Republican Party’s current winning streak in statewide races to other winning streaks in state history.
Among the other items on the ballot, South Dakota voters will elect today the 105 state legislators who will represent them for the next two years. With a total lack of polling in legislative races, one cannot say with certainty how the elections will turnout, but there is very little doubt that Republicans will continue to control both houses of the legislature. And, even if the Republicans margins slip, they are still likely to hold legislative margins that exceed any in the past fifty years.
The 2015-16 had, between the two houses, 85 Republicans and only 20 Democrats. This is the most Republicans to serve in the State Legislature since the legislature’s current size of 105 (30 senators and 70 representatives) was set in 1973.
The current total of 85 Republican members equates to 81% of the legislative seats, the highest since the 1967-68 legislature, which had 93 Republicans and 17 Democrats (84.5% Republican).
Looking at gubernatorial administrations, the Republicans during the first six years of the Daugaard Administration have held, on average, 82/105 seats (78.1% of the total). That administration average is the highest since the Farrar Administration, when Republicans controlled 86/110 seats, or 78.2%.
The most Republican legislature in state history was elected in 1952 – Republicans controlled the Senate 35-0 and the House 73-2, for a cumulate percentage of 98.2%.
The most Democratic legislature in state history was elected in 1932, the year of the FDR landslide. Democrats controlled the Senate 29-16 and the House 70-33, holding 66.9% of the seats. (At that time, the Senate had 45 seats and the House had 103; they were reduced to 35 and 75 in 1939).
There are a few other instances where the Republicans did not hold control of the legislature:
- In 1891, the State House had 58 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 44 Independents, who were a populist party. The Democrats and Independents joined together to organize the House.
- Likewise in 1897, a Democrat/Populist coalition controlled both houses. The Senate was 21 R, 2 D, 20 Populist; and the House was 39 R, 10 D, and 35 P.
- Democrats next took control in the aforementioned FDR landslide of 1932. They controlled both houses in 1933 and 1935. In the 1937 session, Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans retook the House. (Note that, prior to 1963-64, the legislature only met in odd-numbered years.)
- In 1958, Democrats took the Senate 20-15 as Democrat Ralph Herseth won the governor’s office. Republicans retained control of the House, and in 1960 House Speaker Archie Gubbrud defeated Herseth for reelection.
- In 1973-4, during the Kneip Administration, Democrats controlled the legislature by the narrowest of margins: An 18-17 margin in the Senate, and a 35-35 tie in the House. Under House rules, in the case of a tie, the Governor’s party organizes the House. In 1975-6, Democrats retained control of the Senate, 19-16, but lost the House.
- Finally, in 1993-94, the Democrats won control of the Senate, 20-15, during the final two years of the Mickelson/Miller Administration.
Below are two line graphs, visualizing partisan control of the Senate and House since statehood. Following those graphs is a chart of partisan control, listed by year and with the governor who was in office for each two-year legislative term.
The party or coalition controlling each house is designated in bold. In 1973-74, the State House was evenly divided at 35-35, and by rule the governor’s party, the Democrats, organized the chamber.