Majority and Minority Leaders in the SD State Legislature

Homer Harding

In Pierre, the day-to-day business of the State Legislature is managed by the party floor leaders. In each house, the majority leader plans the calendar and makes the appropriate motions to keep legislative business moving. Majority leaders and minority leaders manage their caucus meetings and represent their members in negotiations.

(This page is an up-to-date version of a post originally posted here; See the overview of legislative leadership for other leadership positions in the State Legislature.)

The South Dakota State Legislature first designated official party floor leaders in 1955. Six leaders have gone on to become governor: Ralph Herseth, Archie Gubbrud, Richard F. Kneip, Harvey Wollman, Walter Dale Miller, and Mike Rounds.

Bernie Hunhoff

The longest serving party floor leader in state history is Homer Harding. Harding represented Pierre in the State Senate for 18 years, from 1971-88. He led Senate Republicans for a record-setting 14 years, serving as minority leader from 1975-76 and then as majority leader from 1977-88.

The term limits era has brought about more frequent turnover in leadership. Since term limits took effect in 2000, the only legislator to serve more than four years as a floor leader was Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton, who served six years as house minority leader from 2009-14. Hunhoff had previously served two years as senate minority leader, in 1997 and 1998, before unsuccessfully running for governor in 1998.

In addition to Hunhoff, many other floor leaders have been candidates for governor: Elvern Varilek, Roger McKellips, Lars Herseth, Jim Hutmacher, Scott Heidepriem, Dave Knudson, Billie Sutton, and Jamie Smith.

Barbara Everist

Barbara Everist of Sioux Falls served in 2001 and 2002 as the senate majority leader, the first woman to serve as a party floor leader. Kris Langer was the second when she served as senate majority leader in 2019-20. Women have also served in other leadership roles, including speaker of the house and president pro tempore of the senate. Troy Heinert of Mission, the senate minority leader from 2019-22, was the first tribal member to serve as a party floor leader, and Will Mortenson of Pierre is the first tribal member to lead a majority caucus or a Republican caucus.

Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, has been the home to ten party floor leaders, more than any other city: Senate Majority Leaders Barbara Everist, David Knudson, and Blake Curd; Senate Minority Leaders Scott Heidepriem and Reynold Nesiba; House Majority Leaders Elton Johnson, Lawrence Piersol, and Bill Peterson; and House Minority Leaders Dennis McFarland and Jamie Smith.

Troy Heinert

Many other cities have been home to more than one floor leader. These include several of the state’s largest communities, such as four each from Rapid City and Aberdeen, three from Madison and Pierre, and two each from Mitchell, Watertown, Yankton, and Deadwood. Several small towns have also produced more than one, however, including Alcester (Archie Gubbrud and Roger McKellips), Gettysburg (Ralph Nauman and Corey Brown), Houghton (father-and-son Ralph and Lars Herseth), Salem (Richard F. Kneip and Kent Peterson), and Union Center (Larry Rhoden and Gary Cammack).

In addition to the father-son pair of Ralph and Lars Herseth, there is at least one other pair of family members who have served as floor leaders: House Minority Leader Bertram Ellingson of Sisseton and his grandson, Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs of Wilmot.

Below is the list of those who have held the offices of senate majority leader, senate minority leader, house majority leader, and house minority leader. Note that the legislature only met in odd-numbered years until 1963-64, when the state adopted annual legislative sessions.

1Alfred D. Roesler1R1955–1957Deadwood
2Arthur W. JonesD1959Britton
3Alfred D. RoeslerR1961–19662Deadwood
4Robert HirschR1967–1969Tripp
5Lloyd SchragR1970–1972Marion
6Harvey WollmanD1973–1974Frankfort
7Homer KandarasD1975–1976Rapid City
8G. Homer HardingR1977–1988Pierre
9George ShanardR1989–1992Mitchell
10Roger D. McKellipsD1993–1994Alcester
11M. Michael RoundsR1995–2000Pierre
12Barbara Everist4R2001–2002Sioux Falls
13Eric H. BogueR2003–2006Dupree
14David L. KnudsonR2007–2010Sioux Falls
15Russell D. OlsonR2011–2013Madison
16Timothy A. RaveR2014–2015Baltic
17Corey W. BrownR2016Gettysburg
18R. Blake CurdR2017–2018Sioux Falls
19Kristen K. LangerR2019–2020Dell Rapids
20Gary L. CammackR2021–2022Union Center
21Casey J. CrabtreeR2023–Madison
1Ralph Herseth1D1955Houghton
2Arthur W. JonesD1957Britton
3Alfred D. RoeslerR1959Deadwood
4Arthur W. JonesD1961–19682Britton
5Richard F. KneipD1969–1970Salem
6Harvey WollmanD1971–1972Frankfort
7E. C. PieplowR1973–1974Aberdeen
8G. Homer HardingR1975–1976Pierre
9Eugene MahanD1977–1978Burbank
10Jacob KrullD1979–1982Watertown
11Roger D. McKellipsD1983–1992Alcester
12Harold HalversonR1993–1994Twin Brooks
13R. Lars HersethD1995–1996Houghton
14Bernie HunhoffD1997–1998Yankton
15James K. HutmacherD1999–2002Chamberlain
16Garry A. MooreD2003–2006Yankton
17Scott N. HeidepriemD2007–2010Sioux Falls
18Jason E. FrerichsD2011–2014Wilmot
19Billie H. SuttonD2015–2018Burke
20Troy E. Heinert5D2019–2022Mission
21Reynold F. NesibaD2023–Sioux Falls
1Albro C. Ayres1R1955Deadwood
2Archie GubbrudR1957Alcester
3Carl T. BurgessR1959Rapid City
4Joe R. DunmireR1961Lead
5Carl T. BurgessR1963–19642Rapid City
6Elton F. JohnsonR1965–1966Sioux Falls
7Frank McKenzieR1967–1968Winner
8James L. RothsteinR1969–1972Mobridge
9Lawrence L. PiersolD31973–1974Sioux Falls
10Walter Dale MillerR1975–1978New Underwood
11Jospeh H. BarnettR1979–1986Aberdeen
12Walter Dale MillerR1987New Underwood
13Jerome LammersR1988–1992Madison
14Larry E. GabrielR1993–1998Cottonwood
15Steve K. CutlerR1999–2000Claremont
16William G. PetersonR2001–2004Sioux Falls
17Larry L. RhodenR2005–2008Union Center
18Robert L. FaehnR2009–2010Watertown
19David E. LustR2011–2014Rapid City
20Brian G. GoschR2015–2016Rapid City
21Lee D. QualmR2017–2020Platte
22Kent S. PetersonR2021–2022Salem
23Will D. Mortenson5R2023–Pierre
1Carl H. Furchner1D1955–1957Plankinton
2Robert ChamberlinD1959Hecla
3Ralph A. NaumanD1961Gettysburg
4Elvern VarilekD1963–19702Geddes
5Bernie KopeckyD1971–1972Aberdeen
6Joseph H. BarnettR31973–1974Aberdeen
7Dennis McFarlandD1975–1976Sioux Falls
8Bertum EllingsonD1977–1978Sisseton
9R. Lars HersethD1979–1986Houghton
10Robert N. DuxburyD1987–1994Wessington
11Craig D. SchaunamanD1995–1996Aberdeen
12Patrick E. HaleyD1997–2000Huron
13M. K. “Mel” OlsonD2001–2004Mitchell
14Dale E. HargensD2005–2008Miller
15Bernie HunhoffD2009–2014Yankton
16Spencer L. HawleyD2015–2018Brookings
17J. R. “Jamie” SmithD2019–2022Sioux Falls
18Oren L. LesmeisterD2023–Parade

  1. In 1955, state legislators for the first time formally selected party floor leaders – majority and minority leaders – in each house.
  2. Beginning in 1963, the State Legislature held annual, rather than biennial, sessions.
  3. The 1973–74 House of Representatives was evenly divided and, by state law, was organized by the Democrats as the governor’s party.
  4. Everist was the first woman to serve as a party floor leader. 
  5. Heinert was the first tribal member to serve as a party floor leader. Mortenson was the first tribal member to lead a majority caucus.