Tuesday’s general election delivered Republicans a 63-7 majority in the State House of Representatives – a gain of one seat and the largest margin since the House was set at 70 members in 1973. Last weekend, Senate Republicans and Democrats in both houses selected their leaders for the next two years. House Republicans followed suit this weekend. (See an overview of legislative leadership positions at the SoDakGovs Online Almanac.)
Leading the House Republicans as majority leader will be Rep. Will Mortenson of Pierre. He succeeds Rep. Kent Peterson in the role; Peterson served the past two years and was term-limited.
Mortenson, a Pierre attorney and cow hand, is entering his second term in the State House. A member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, he is the first tribal member in state history to serve as majority leader in either house, or to lead a Republican caucus. He is also the youngest Republican caucus leader in state history. Mortenson is the third party floor leader to come from Pierre, following Homer Harding, who was the longest serving floor leader in state history, serving as senate minority leader in 1975-76 and majority leader from 1977-88; and Mike Rounds, who was senate majority leader from 1995-2000. Pierre joins Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, and Madison as cities producing at least three party floor leaders.
Joining Mortenson on the house leadership team will be Rep. Hugh Bartels, a Watertown banker, who Republicans nominated to serve as speaker of the house. (The speaker is elected by the entire house, but by tradition the majority caucus nominates the candidate.) Bartels has served in the State House since 2017. His election is notable in that Bartels did not serve in the past session as speaker pro tempore, the office that typically moves into the speaker’s chair. Bartels will be the fourth speaker from Watertown, tying Aberdeen. Only Sioux Falls and Rapid City have produced more. Bartels will be assisted by Rep. Mike Stevens of Yankton, who was nominated for speaker pro tempore.
Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt of Sioux Falls was elected assistant majority leader; she is only the second woman to hold that role in the State House, following Kristi Noem. Rounding out the leadership team are majority whips Reps. Rocky Blare of Ideal, Gary Cammack of Union Center, Kirk Chafee of Whitewood, Becky Drury of Rapid City, and J. D. Wangsness of Miller. Cammack served the past two years as senate majority leader.