The president pro tempore is the highest-ranking member of the State Senate. Although the lieutenant governor presides over floor sessions and makes procedural rulings in his role as president of the senate, the president pro tempore appoints committees and assigns bills to committee.
Nominally elected by the entire Senate on the first day of session, by tradition the president pro tempore is nominated by a majority vote of the majority caucus. The president pro tempore is third in line to the governorship, after the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house.
See the overview of legislative leadership for other leadership positions in the State Legislature.
The role of the president pro tempore goes back to statehood, but it has evolved over time. Originally, the lieutenant governor, as president of the senate, held powers similar to that of the speaker of the house and, even though the lieutenant governor was not a member of the senate, as president he appointed committees and assigned bills to committee. The president pro tempore’s only formal role was to preside in the president’s absence, but in the days before the position of majority leader, the role was also an informal political leader within the Senate. That’s why the only three presidents pro tempore to go on to be elected governor – Robert S. Vessey, Frank M. Byrne, and Carl Gunderson – all served in the early days of statehood.
The president pro tempore gained power when state senators changed the rules to shift power from the lieutenant governor to the president pro tempore, so that decisions about committee appointments and the assignment of bills would be made by the Senate’s senior elected leader, rather than by the lieutenant governor.
The longest serving presidents pro tempore are C. S. Amsden and Mary McClure. Amsden served in the State Legislature for thirty years over a thirty-eight year period. He was president pro tempore for seven legislative sessions over fourteen years, during the era when the State Legislature met every other year. Mary McClure, the first woman to serve as president pro tempore, served for eleven legislative sessions over eleven years, before she resigned in 1989 to accept a position working for Debra Anderson, South Dakota’s first female speaker of the house, who had been appointed White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs by President George Bush.
Watertown can claim three presidents pro tempore, including the current incumbent, Sen. Lee Schoenbeck. Only Deadwood can likewise claim three, while two other cities – Rapid City and Milbank – have two each. Even Sioux Falls, which can claim nine speakers of the house, has produced only a single president pro tempore of the senate.
One president pro tempore, Jim Abdnor of Kennebec, went on to serve as lieutenant governor, and in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.
|#||PRESIDENT PRO TEM||PARTY||SESSIONS||CITY|
|3||Stephen E. Wilson||R||1895||Hot Springs|
|4||Louis Napoleon Crill||D1||1897||Richland|
|6||James M. Lawson||R||1901||Aberdeen|
|7||John H. Williamson||R||1903||Madison|
|8||Henry T. Cooper||R||1905||Whitewood|
|9||Robert S. Vessey||R||1907||Wessington Springs|
|10||Frank M. Byrne||R||1909||Faulkton|
|11||Andrew J. Lockhart||R||1911||Clear Lake|
|12||William Hoese Jr.||R||1913||Spencer|
|13||C. S. Amsden||R||1915–1927||Milbank|
|14||Leonard M. Simons||R||1929–1931||Belle Fourche|
|15||Lewis J. Larson||D||1933||Plankinton|
|16||Mancel W. Peterson||D||1935||Waubay|
|17||Leonard M. Simons||R2||1937||Belle Fourche|
|18||Archie W. Odell||R||1939||Montrose|
|19||David J. Tiede||R||1941–1943||Parkston|
|20||Charles S. Reed||R||1945||Rapid City|
|21||E. L. Stavig||R||1947||Rosholt|
|22||Albert D. Risty||R||1949||Corson|
|24||Alfred D. Roesler||R||1953||Deadwood|
|26||Art Anderson||R||1957||Sioux Falls|
|27||Henry J. Oster||D||1959||Ethan|
|30||E. James Abdnor||R||1965–1966||Kennebec|
|32||G. Robert Bartron||R||1969–1970||Watertown|
|33||L. L. “Roy” Johnson||R||1971–1972||Milbank|
|34||Charles E. Donnelly||D||1973–1974||Rapid City|
|38||Harold Halverson||R||1990–1992||Twin Brooks|
|39||R. Lars Herseth||D||1993–1994||Houghton|
|40||Harold Halverson||R||1995–2000||Twin Brooks|
|41||Arnold M. Brown||R||2001–2004||Brookings|
|42||Lee A. Schoenbeck||R||2005–2006||Watertown|
|43||Robert C. Gray||R||2007–2012||Pierre|
|44||Corey W. Brown||R||2013–2015||Gettysburg|
|45||Gary L. Cammack||R||2016||Union Center|
|46||Brock L. Greenfield||R||2017–2020||Clark|
|47||Lee A. Schoenbeck||R||2021–||Watertown|
- The 1897 Senate was organized by a coalition of Populist and Democratic legislators.
- Although Democrats controlled the 1937 Senate by one seat, Simons, a Republican, was elected president pro tempore.
- Beginning in 1963, the State Legislature held annual, rather than biennial, sessions.
- McClure was the first woman to serve as president pro tempore.