Women and tribal members reach new highs in solidly Republican SD Legislature

The 2022 general election is in the books, and voters have once again elected Republican supermajorities to the South Dakota State Legislature.

With all the results in, Republicans maintained their hold on 94 of the 105 legislative seats, maintaining the strongest level of Republican control since 1953. (In 1953, Republicans controlled the State Senate 35-0 and the State House 73-2.)

The 2023 Legislature will have 31 women as members. That’s the most in state history, topping by one the current record held by the 2021-22 Legislature. Eight of the 31 women will be serving in the legislature for the first time.

Twenty-three women will serve in the 70-member House, the most ever. Eight women will serve in the 35-member Senate – there were 9 in 2021-22 and 11 in 1991-92. Female senators will include Jean Hunhoff, who was reelected to the Senate and will extend her record as the longest-serving female legislator in state history. Twenty-five of the female legislators will be Republican, and six will be Democrats. For the first time in legislative history, a party caucus will be a majority female, as House Democrats will include four women and three men.

At the bottom of this post is a chart showing the number of women serving in previous legislative sessions.

Republicans will have a 31-4 advantage in the State Senate, where Democrats gained one seat. Newcomer Liz Larson of Sioux Falls defeated incumbent Senator Maggie Sutton in District 10; the district was significantly changed in redistricting and is now the most Democratic in Sioux Falls.

The four Democratic senators all represent Democratic strongholds. In addition to Larson, they are: Reynold Nesiba from District 15, the central Sioux Falls “cathedral district,” Shawn Bordeaux from District 26, which includes the Rosebud Reservation, and Red Dawn Foster from District 27, which includes the Pine Ridge Reservation.

In the House, Republicans will have a 63-7 advantage; the 63-member House Republican Caucus will be the largest since the House was set at its current size of 70 members in 1973. Republicans achieved a net gain of one seat, picking up three seats and losing two:

  • In District 1, a House seat previously held by Democrat Jennifer Keintz, who was Jamie Smith’s running mate, was won by Republican Joe Donnell.
  • Democrats gained two House seats in District 10, as retiring Republicans Doug Barthel and Steve Haugaard are replaced by incumbent Rep. Erin Healy (who was moved from District 14 in redistricting) and newcomer Kameron Nelson (who media reports indicate is the first openly gay legislator in state history).
  • Republican Tyler Tordsen won Healy’s former District 14 seat, representing a gain for Republicans.
  • Newcomer Julie Auch, a Republican, defeated incumbent Democrat Ryan Cwach in District 18, which is Yankton and a portion of Clay County.

As in the Senate, all seven House Democrats represent Democratic strongholds: three each from District 10 and District 15 in Sioux Falls, and one each from District 26 (the Rosebud Reservation), District 27 (the Pine Ridge Reservation), and District 28A (the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations).

Eight tribal members will serve in the 2023 State Legislature, the most ever, and they will be evenly split between the Republican and Democratic parties. Republicans are Reps. Tamara St. John and Joe Donnell of Sisseton, Rep. Tyler Tordsen of Sioux Falls, and Rep. Will Mortenson of Pierre, while the Democrats are Sen. Red Dawn Foster of Pine Ridge, Sen. Shawn Bordeaux of Mission, Rep. Eric Emery of Rosebud, and Rep. Peri Pourier of Wanblee.

The State Legislature also has one African-American member, Rep. Tony Randolph of Rapid City. He is the second African-American state legislator in state history.

Overall, only two incumbent legislators lost reelection on Tuesday: Sen. Maggie Sutton in District 10, and Rep. Ryan Cwach in District 18.

The new Senate will include 24 returning members, 6 representatives moving to the Senate, and 5 first-time legislators. The House will include 39 returning members, 1 senator moving to the House, 2 former legislators returning to Pierre, and 28 first-time legislators. Overall, 33 legislators – nearly one third – will be serving in the State Legislature for the first time (including this blogger).

Now that the legislative elections are over, the focus will turn to leadership elections with each party caucus. All four caucuses are selecting new majority leaders – Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack was term-limited and was elected to the House, Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert and House Majority leader Kent Peterson were both term-limited and did not seek office this year, and House Minority Leader Jamie Smith forewent a fourth term to make a failed bid for governor.

In the term limits era (since 2000), the only majority or minority leader to serve for more than four years is Bernie Hunhoff, who was House Minority Leader for six years from 2009-14.

Other leadership roles to be filled include Speaker of the House, Speaker Pro Tem, President Pro Tem of the Senate, and assistant leaders and whips in both houses. Once that is done, new committee assignments will be made.

Women in the State Legislature, by legislative session