Special Legislative Sessions in South Dakota

Earlier today, Governor Dennis Daugaard called a special legislative session for Monday, June 12, 2017, to address recreational access on non-meandered waters.  

Photo Oct 14, 1 10 51 PMMonday’s special session will be the 26th in South Dakota history, each of which was called by the governor at the time.  (Although a 1990 constitutional amendment created a process whereby the legislature can call itself into session, this mechanism has never been used.  As a practical matter, it is much easier for the governor to call the session, meaning that the legislative mechanism would only be used if a governor refused to cooperate.)

Prior to 1963, the State Legislature only met every other year, in the odd-numbered years following a general election.  Particularly during the activist Progressive era, this led to a few special “general sessions” – sessions called in the off-year to handle numerous legislative topics.

Here is a list of the past special sessions, with a brief description of the topics covered:

October 15-17, 1889 – Just days prior to South Dakota statehood on November 2, 1889, the first State Legislature met in special session to organize and elect officers.

February 8-11, 1916 – Gov. Frank Byrne called a special session to pass an amended primary election law, and to propose a constitutional amendment relating to state rural credit loans, a state coal mine, and state road construction.

Peter Norbeck

March 18-23, 1918 – Gov. Peter Norbeck called a general session amidst U.S. entry into World War I.  Legislators ratified the federal 18th Amendment enacting the prohibition of alcohol, provided for women’s suffrage and for voting by soldiers deployed overseas, abolished the right of resident aliens to vote in state elections, banned the teaching of foreign languages in public schools (an anti-German measure), and passed a constitutional amendment to fix defects in previous state-owned enterprise amendments.

December 2-4, 1919 – Gov. Norbeck called a special session to ratify the federal 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s suffrage.

June 21, 1920 – Gov. Norbeck called another general session to increase state spending and consider his proposals for state-owned enterprises.

June 22 – July 1, 1927 – Gov. W. J. Bulow, a Democrat, had vetoed the Republican legislature’s budget, which he believed overspent and was not properly balanced.  The State Legislature failed to pass a budget before it adjourned, and challenged Bulow’s right to veto the General Appropriations Act.  After the Supreme Court upheld Bulow’s veto, he called the legislature back into session to pass a state budget, successfully insisting on spending cuts.

July 31 – August 5, 1933 – With the federal repeal of the prohibition of alcohol, Gov. Tom Berry called a special session to legalize 3.2 beer and to tax its sale as a new revenue source during the depths of the Great Depression.

14 Berry
Tom Berry

December 21-24, 1936 – Gov. Berry, a lame duck who had been defeated by Leslie Jensen in the November 1936 general election, called a special session to enact state legislation related to the implementation of the federal Social Security Act.

The session was overshadowed by U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck’s death on December 20, and by speculation about how Berry would fill Norbeck’s seat.  Berry was widely known to have ambitions to serve in the U.S. Senate himself, and hoped to resign as Governor so that Lt. Governor Robert Peterson could succeed Berry as Governor and then appoint Berry to the Senate.  The plan was derailed, however, when Peterson was arrested for embezzling from his Centerville bank.  Instead, Berry appointed Herbert Hitchcock, a 69-year old former state senator, with the understanding that Hitchcock would step aside in Berry’s favor at the next election.  Hitchcock ran for reelection in 1938, however, and Berry had to run in the Democratic primary against his own appointee.  Although Berry defeated Hitchcock, he lost the general election to Yankton businessman Chan Gurney, a Republican.

June 10-12, 1944 – Gov. M. Q. Sharpe called a special session to enact legislation allowed deployed soldiers to vote in the 1944 election.

February 6-16, 1950 – Gov. George T. Mickelson called a special session to create public power districts and to authorize additional funds for highway construction.

May 18, 1981 – After 31 years with out a special session, Gov. Bill Janklow called three.  The first authorized a state subsidy for the first year of operations of the new state-owned rail lines.

27 Janklow
Bill Janklow

September 23-24, 1981 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to approve his plan to sell Missouri River water to Energy Transportation Systems Inc. (ETSI), to be used in a coal slurry pipeline from Wyoming.  The pipeline was ultimately never built, but the state received over $5 million in payments before it was canceled.

May 2-3, 1984 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to abolish the state’s nine water conservancy subdistricts and replace them with six water development districts.  The State Legislature had rejected a similar plan during the 1984 legislative session, but adopted the plan in the special session.

28 Mickelson
George S. Mickelson

July 16, 1987 – Gov. George S. Mickelson called a special session to finalize South Dakota’s bid to host the Superconducting Super Collider, a massive proposed particle accelerator complex.  The project was ultimately awarded to Texas but was cancelled in 1993.

October 3, 1991 – Gov. Mickelson called a special session to allow the state legislature to pass a redistricting plan in response to the 1990 census.  This was the first time that a special session was called to pass a redistricting plan.

November 26, 1991 – After a few errors were discovered in the redistricting plan passed by the October 3 special session, Gov. Mickelson called a brief special session in conjunction with the Governor’s Budget Address to fix the errors.

29 Miller
Walter Dale Miller

May 25, 1993 – Gov. Walter Dale Miller called a special session in the wake of the death of Gov. Mickelson in the state plane crash.  The State Legislature unanimously confirmed Miller’s appointment of Sioux Falls businessman Steve Kirby as lieutenant governor and appropriated funds for a new state airplane and for construction of the Fighting Stallions Memorial.  Miler also used the special session to request funds for prison security in the wake of a riot at the state penetentiary.

July 11-12, 1994 – In response to a Supreme Court ruling that held video lottery to be unconstitutional, Gov. Miller called a special session to place a constitutional amendment on the 1994 general election ballot authorizing video lottery.

September 9, 1994 – Gov. Miller called another special session to authorize budget cuts and the use of reserve funds, due to the loss of video lottery revenue.  Legislators rejected a proposal from Miller for a temporary one-cent sales tax to help address the shortfall.

The budget adjustments had not been made at the July special session because a pending appeal sought to allow video lottery until the election, but by September the Supreme Court had rejected that appeal.

April 14, 1997 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to impose a temporary gasoline tax to fund emergency road repairs as a consequence of massive flooding in northeastern South Dakota.

December 28-29, 2000 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to authorize the sale of the state cement plant and to create a trust fund with the proceeds of the sale.

October 23-24, 2001 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to allow for legislative redistricting.

31 Rounds.png
Mike Rounds

June 26-27, 2003 – Gov. Mike Rounds called a special session to create a health insurance high risk pool.  The risk pool replaced an earlier system called “guaranteed issue,” whereby health insurance companies were each required to accept a share of high-risk insureds.  Several health insurance providers had left the South Dakota market rather than continue to accept high-risk insureds, and the new risk pool was allowed more health insurers to operate in South Dakota.

October 14, 2005 – Gov. Rounds called a special session to appropriate $19 million to the Science and Technology Authority for construction of a laboratory facility at the former Homestake Mine in Lead.

October 24, 2011 – Gov. Dennis Daugaard called a special session to allow for legislative redistricting.

June 12, 2017 – Gov. Daugaard has called a special session in order to consider recommendations from an interim legislative committee on the authorization of recreational uses of non-meandered waters.  The longstanding issue gained urgency after a Supreme Court opinion prohibited state game, fish, and parks officials from facilitating access to these waters.

Daugaard had in fact called another special session, to be held on June 22, 2013, to appropriate $10 million to complete construction of a new veterans’ home in Hot Springs.  The special session was canceled after the federal Veterans Administration gave the state more time to use federal funding, which allowed for the project design to be modified in a way that reduced costs.  This is the only time that a special session has been called, but canceled before it was held.

Lt. Gov. Matt Michels reaches milestone

Governor Dennis Daugaard opened his 2017 State of the State Address by recognizing a milestone reached by Lt. Governor Matt Michels:

Today is the beginning of Lt. Governor Matt Michels’ seventh regular session as president of the senate, and prior to that, he presided for four sessions as speaker of the house. Those 11 sessions make Matt Michels the longest-serving presiding officer in the history of the South Dakota State Legislature. Let’s recognize and thank him for that service.

Presumably, Michels will continue to serve for the remainder of his term, achieving an 8th legislative session as president of the senate, making it 12 sessions presiding over a legislative chamber. (In South Dakota, as in many other states, the lieutenant governor serves as president of the senate.)

Lt. Governor Matt Michels

It is a confluence of several factors that have allowed Michels to reach this milestone:

Michels has served as both speaker of the house and as president of the senate

Michels is one of only five people to have presided over both legislative chambers.  The others are A. C. Miller, Nils Boe, and Lowell C. Hanson II, and Walter Dale Miller.

The move to annual legislative sessions

Prior to 1963, the State Legislature only met every other year.  This means that a Speaker serving a two-year term presided over only one session.  Beginning in 1963, the State Legislature moved to annual sessions, which means a speaker typically presides over two sessions.

Michels served two terms as speaker of the house

By tradition, after each election, the State House elects a new speaker for a two-year term.  Only six speakers have been elected to a second two year term:  Albert Somers (1899-1902), John L. Browne (1903-06), Morris Chaney (1907-10), A. C. Miller (1937-40), Nils Boe (1955-58) and Matt Michels (2003-06).

In Michels’ case, he was elected to a second term as speaker because outgoing Speaker Pro Tempore Christopher Madsen, who traditionally would have succeeded Michels, did not return to the State House.  With no heir apparent in place, Michels’ peers elected him to serve again.

Michels is the only speaker to serve two terms as speaker since the change to annual sessions in 1963, and is therefore the only speaker to serve for more than four sessions.

The move to four-year terms for constitutional officers, including the lieutenant governor

Prior to 1974, the governor, lieutenant governor, and other constitutional officers served two-year terms.  Beginning in 1974, these officials are all elected to four-year terms.  This change, combined with annual legislative sessions, means that a lieutenant governor now presides over four Senate sessions in one term.

Michels has served two terms as lieutenant governor

Assuming he completes his second term, Michels will be the fourth lieutenant governor to complete two four-year terms, and therefore preside over eight sessions as lieutenant governor.  The others are Lowell C. Hansen II (1979-87), Carole Hillard (1995-2003), and Dennis Daugaard (2003-11).

The ‘stache

Really that’s the only reason.  It couldn’t have happened without the ‘stache.

Below is a list of every presiding officer, with the number of regular legislative sessions served a President of the Senate and as Speaker of the House:

Michels, Matthew 8 4 12
Hansen, Lowell C. II 8 2 10
Miller, Walter Dale 7 2 9
Hillard, Carole 8 8
Daugaard, Dennis 8 8
Miller, A. C. 2 2 4
Boe, Nils 2 2 4
Overpeck, Lem 4 4
Dougherty, William 4 4
Wollman, Harvey 4 4
Terry, Rex 3 3
Herreid, Charles N. 2 2
Snow, George W. 2 2
Shober, Howard C. 2 2
McMaster, William H. 2 2
Gunderson, Carl 2 2
McMurchie, Donald 2 2
Grigsby, Sioux 2 2
Houck, L. R. “Roy” 2 2
Abdnor, E. James 2 2
Somers, Albert 2 2
Browne, John L. 2 2
Chaney, Morris 2 2
Brown, Paul E. 2 2
Droz, Charles 2 2
Jelbert, James 2 2
Gunderson, Dexter 2 2
Oscheim, Donald 2 2
Lebrun, Gene 2 2
Barnett, Joseph 2 2
Mickelson, George S. 2 2
Lammers, Jerome 2 2
Ham, Donald 2 2
Anderson, Debra 2 2
Wood, R. J. “Bud” 2 2
Hood, James 2 2
Cutler, Steve 2 2
Krautschun, Harvey 2 2
Hagg, Rexford 2 2
Hunt, Roger 2 2
Eccarius, Scott 2 2
Deadrick, Thomas 2 2
Rave, Tim 2 2
Rausch, Val 2 2
Gosch, Brian 2 2
Wink, Dean 2 2
Mickelson, G. Mark 2 2
Fletcher, James H. 1 1
Hoffman, George H. 1 1
Hindman, Daniel T. 1 1
Kean, John T. 1 1
McDougall, John E. 1 1
Byrne, Frank M. 1 1
Abel, Edward L. 1 1
Norbeck, Peter 1 1
Forney, A. Clark 1 1
Covey, Hyatt E. 1 1
Coyne, Clarence E. 1 1
Whitney, Odell K. 1 1
Ustrud, Hans 1 1
Peterson, Robert 1 1
Lindley, John F. 1 1
Bottum, Joseph H. 1 1
Kirby, Steven T. 1 1
Young, Sutton E. 1 1
Seward, Charles X. 1 1
Lawson, James M. 1 1
Howard, Charles T. 1 1
Colvin, John 1 1
Morris, Charles J. 1 1
Tscharner, Peter J. 1 1
Christopherson, C. A. 1 1
Roberts, A. C. 1 1
Benson, Lewis 1 1
Berdahl, Christian 1 1
Frescoln, Emmet O. 1 1
McDonald, Charles S. 1 1
Williamson, Ray F. 1 1
Loucks, Daniel K. 1 1
McVeigh, B. W. 1 1
Abild, George 1 1
Eggert, W. J. 1 1
Mickelson, George T. 1 1
Hove, O. H. 1 1
Halls, Anton 1 1
Mills, George W. 1 1
Munck, Arthur E. 1 1
Stokes, Hugh 1 1
Gates, Hobart H. 1 1
Gubbrud, Archie 1 1
Burgess, Carl 1 1

History made in 2016

Every general election makes history, in some way.  Here are a few historical notes on the 2016 election in South Dakota.  (This post has been updated with the final canvassed election results):

Chris Nelson notches biggest win of all-time, with John Thune #6 all-time

Nelson’s 75.4% is the highest ever for a candidate in a statewide, partisan election in which both major parties fielded candidates.  He exceeded the previous record of 75.1%, set by then-Congressman John Thune in his 1998 reelection.  That entire list is posted here.

Nelson’s 268,948 votes was also the most all-time in a contested election.  Only Senator Thune’s uncontested reelection in 2010 earned more votes – 277,903.  In a contested election, the previous record was held by Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who won 255,971 votes against challenger Chris Lien in 2008.

John Thune’s record was broken, but he can take consolation in the fact that he is the only person to appear on the Top Ten list more than once – and in fact, he holds 3 of the top 6 spots on the list.

Kristi Noem won the most votes in her career

In her 2016 reelection over challenger Paula Hawks, Congressman Noem won 237,163 votes and 64.1% of the vote.  Her vote total is a career high, and her share of 64.1% is just short of the 66.5% she won in 2014 against Corinna Robinson.

Donald Trump wins South Dakota handily

The Trump/Pence ticket continued a streak of Republican presidential wins in South Dakota that now goes back more than 50 years – the last time South Dakota voted Democratic was in 1964, when it supported President Lyndon Johnson over Senator Barry Goldwater.  A prior post looked at South Dakota’s history in presidential elections.

Polling and projections before the election understated Trump’s support in South Dakota, just as they did nationally.  Polling indicated that Trump would win South Dakota with between 50% and 55%.

In fact, he won 61.5% of the vote.  Although this lagged Thune, Noem and Nelson, this is the third best finish for a Republican presidential ticket in the state’s history – following only the 69.3% won by the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket in 1952, and the 63.0% won by the Reagan/Bush reelection in 1984.

State Legislature gets even more Republican

A prior post looked at the history of control of the South Dakota State Legislature.  Several of the milestones mentioned in that post will be exceeded by the newly-elected legislature:

  • The 2017-18 legislature will have 89 Republicans and 16 Democrats.  This is now the most Republicans in the legislature since its current size of 105 was set in 1973; the 2015-16 legislature had held that modern record with 85 Republicans.
  • 89 Republicans out of 105 seats makes out to 84.8% of the total – that is the most since the all-time record in 1953, when the legislature had 108 Republicans and 2 Democrats (98.2%).
  • The earlier post had noted that the six-year average of legislative control during the Daugaard Administration was 78.1%, the most since the Farrar Administration (78.2%).  The 2016 results increase the Daugaard Administration average to 79.8%, which is now the highest average since the Sigurd Anderson Administration, which included the aforementioned 1953 legislature that was 108-2 and had a two-term average of 92.3% Republican control.

2016 Election Preview: South Dakota State Legislature

This is the fifth of several posts previewing the Tuesday election through a historical lens.  The first part was an introductionthe second part looked at South Dakota’s history of supporting Republican presidential ticketsthe 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 so 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.

photo-sep-20-12-18-35-pm-1The 2015-16 had, between the two houses, 85 Republicans and only 20 Democrat.  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.


1889 Mellette REP 37 7 1 106 13 5
1891 Mellette REP 22 8 13 58 20 44
1893 Sheldon REP 35 4 4 69 4 10
1895 Sheldon REP 35 3 5 69 2 13
1897 Lee POP 21 2 20 39 10 35
1899 Lee POP 31 4 10 61 9 17
1901 Herreid REP 39 1 5 79 5 3
1903 Herreid REP 41 3 1 76 6 5
1905 Elrod REP 41 2 2 87 2
1907 Crawford REP 38 7 80 9
1909 Vessey REP 39 6 95 9
1911 Vessey REP 33 11 1 99 4 1
1913 Byrne REP 33 11 1 88 14 1
1915 Byrne REP 35 10 85 18
1917 Norbeck REP 35 10 91 12
1919 Norbeck REP 43 2 90 10 3
1921 McMaster REP 44 1 94 4 5
1923 McMaster REP 34 9 2 84 10 9
1925 Gunderson REP 34 10 1 85 11 7
1927 Bulow DEM 29 16 81 21 1
1929 Bulow DEM 33 12 83 20
1931 Green REP 31 14 79 24
1933 Berry DEM 16 29 33 70
1935 Berry DEM 14 31 40 63
1937 Jensen REP 22 23 66 37
1939 Bushfield REP 30 5 62 13
1941 Bushfield REP 31 4 65 10
1943 Sharpe REP 31 4 69 6
1945 Sharpe REP 35 0 72 3
1947 Mickelson REP 35 0 71 4
1949 Mickelson REP 27 8 64 11
1951 Anderson REP 29 6 66 9
1953 Anderson REP 35 0 73 2
1955 Foss REP 29 6 57 18
1957 Foss REP 18 17 48 27
1959 Herseth DEM 15 20 43 32
1961 Gubbrud REP 23 12 57 18
1963-64 Gubbrud REP 26 9 58 17
1965-66 Boe REP 18 16 1 45 30
1967-68 Boe REP 29 6 64 11
1969-70 Farrar REP 27 8 59 16
1971-72 Kneip DEM 24 11 46 29
1973-74 Kneip DEM 17 18 35 35*
1975-76 Kneip DEM 16 19 37 33
1977-78 Kneip DEM 24 11 48 22
1979-80 Janklow REP 24 11 48 22
1981-82 Janklow REP 25 10 49 21
1983-84 Janklow REP 26 9 54 16
1985-86 Janklow REP 25 10 57 13
1987-88 Mickelson REP 24 11 48 22
1989-90 Mickelson REP 20 15 46 24
1991-92 Mickelson REP 18 17 45 25
1993-94 Mickelson-Miller REP 15 20 41 29
1995-96 Janklow REP 19 16 46 24
1997-98 Janklow REP 22 13 48 22
1999-00 Janklow REP 22 13 51 19
2001-02 Janklow REP 24 11 50 20
2003-04 Rounds REP 26 9 49 21
2005-06 Rounds REP 25 10 51 19
2007-08 Rounds REP 20 15 50 20
2009-10 Rounds REP 21 14 45 25
2011-12 Daugaard REP 30 5 50 19 1
2013-14 Daugaard REP 28 7 53 17
2015-16 Daugaard REP 27 8 58 12
2017-18 Daugaard REP  ? ? ?  ?

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.

2016 Election Preview: GOP winning streak may continue, but it’s nowhere close to historic highs.

This is the fourth of several posts previewing the Tuesday election through a historical lens.  The first part was an introductionthe second part looked at South Dakota’s history of supporting Republican presidential tickets; and the third part looked at the six U.S. Senators from South Dakota  who have been elected three times.

The last few years have brought talk in South Dakota about the resurgence of the Republican Party.  In 2014, for the first time since 1962, the Republicans won control of the state’s entire congressional delegation, electing Senator Mike Rounds to serve alongside Senator John Thune and Representative Kristi Noem.

The Democrats have not won a statewide election in South Dakota since 2008, when Senator Tim Johnson and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin were both reelected.  The Republican winning streak appears likely to continue tomorrow night, with the Trump presidential ticket, Thune, Noem, and Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson all favored to carry South Dakota.

Although the Republican’s winning streak is unusual to the modern observer, there have been several longer multi-year winning streaks in South Dakota’s history, all achieved by the Republican Party.  (These streaks include statewide elections for President, federal offices, and state offices.  They also include U.S. House elections that were conducted by district, at the time when South Dakota had more than one U.S. House seat).

Here are the longest winning streaks:

1.  101 Republican election victories, from 1938 to 1954.

Harlan Bushfield

The longest Republican winning streak began as South Dakota emerged from the Great Depression and continued for 9 general elections over 16 years.

In 1932, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt carried South Dakota, as Democrats elected Tom Berry as Governor and won control of the legislature.  Only Republican Senator Peter Norbeck bucked the trend.  Democrats also won every federal and statewide election in 1934.

By 1936, Republicans began to bounce back.  The party ran a vigorous general election campaign, led by State Party Chairman Harlan Bushfield.  Although the Roosevelt presidential ticket still carried South Dakota, Republican Leslie Jensen defeated Governor Tom Berry in his bid for a third term, and Republican Francis Case defeated Democratic incumbent Theodore Werner for the “west river” Second District U.S. House seat.

This solidified in 1938, as Republicans won every federal and statewide election on the ballot.  Bushfield was elected Governor, Chan Gurney was elected to U.S. Senate, and Karl Mundt won the “east river” First District U.S. House seat.

The winning streak continued with the Republicans winning every federal and statewide election in the 1940s, including the election of Governors M. Q. Sharpe and George T. Mickelson, the election of Governor Bushfield to the U.S. Senate, and the election of Karl Mundt to Bushfield’s seat in 1948.  South Dakota also returned to the Republican column in presidential politics, supporting FDR’s Republican opponents – Wendell Willkie in 1940 and Thomas Dewey in 1944 – and Dewey against President Truman in 1948.

The 1952 election was the high-point for the Republicans.  In that year, Eisenhower carried South Dakota with 69%, Governor Sigurd Anderson was reelected with 70%, Congressmen Harold Lovre and E.Y. Berry were both reelected with 69%, and the new state legislature had 108 Republicans and only 2 Democrats.

The end of this winning streak was due to the efforts of George McGovern.  Shortly after the 1952 Republican landslide, McGovern became the Democratic Party’s executive secretary, and began the slow work of rebuilding the party from rock bottom.  His efforts paid off in 1956, when McGovern ended the GOP winning streak by defeating incumbent Congressman Lovre for the First District U.S. House seat.  That same year, Ralph Herseth won 46% in a competitive challenge to incumbent Governor Joe Foss.  Two years later, McGovern held off a challenge from outgoing Governor Foss, and Herseth was elected to succeed Foss as governor.

2.  83 Republican election victories, from 1900 to 1912.

This streak began with the demise of the “fusion” between the Populist and Democratic parties, which had elected Governor Andrew E. Lee and Congressmen Freeman Knowles and John E. Kelley in 1896.  The state legislature elected in 1896 was split between the three parties, with the tenuous Populist/Democratic coalition holding control.  By 1898, the “fusion” coalition was already fraying – Governor Lee was reelected by a margin of 370 votes, but the Republicans won every other federal and statewide election and recaptured legislative control.

The Republican resurgence was completed in 1900, as Republican Charles Herreid was elected Governor.  In 1896, the state had supported Democrat/Populist William Jennings Bryan for president over Republican William McKinley, but in 1900 the state supported McKinley in rematch against Bryan.

Coe Crawford

This streak continued through the early days of the Republican rift between conservatives and progressives, as conservative governors Herreid and Elrod gave way to progressive governors Crawford and Vessey.

It ended in 1914, which was the year of the first direct election for U.S. Senate in South Dakota.  Progressive Coe Crawford, who had been elected to the Senate in 1908, lost in the primary to conservative Congressman Charles Burke.  Many angry progressives abandoned the Republican ticket to support Democrat Edwin S. Johnson, who defeated Burke 48% to 45% with three minor candidates winning the balance.  Democrat Harry Gandy also captured the open Third District U.S. House seat, which at the time covered west river.

3.  48 Republican election victories, from 1889 to 1894.

At the time of statehood, Republicans were the dominant party in South Dakota.  From the time of Dakota Territory’s creation in 1862, Republicans had controlled the White House for all but four years, and this meant that the territorial officials, who were appointed by the President, were all Republican.  Republicans also earned credit for pushing through statehood for North and South Dakota – Democrats had blocked statehood because of the states’ Republican bent.

Arthur C. Mellette

Therefore, in the first state elections in 1889, Republicans dominated with outgoing territorial governor Arthur Mellette winning the governorship of South Dakota with 69% and Republicans winning every other state office by a like amount.  The first state legislature had 143 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 6 others (the bodies were initially much larger – 45 senators and 124 representatives).

Republicans continued to win against divided opposition in 1890, 1892 and 1894.  The Democratic Party frequently finished third to the candidates of the “Independent Party,” which was a forerunner of the Populists.  In 1890, Mellette’s share of the vote fell to 45%, but his nearest opponent was populist Henry L. Loucks with 32%.  After two terms, Mellette gave way to Governor Charles H. Sheldon, another Republican.

This streak ended in 1896, when the Populists and Democrats finally agreed to unify behind a single “fusion” ticket, as was described in the previous entry.

4.  41 Republican election victories, from 1920 to 1924.

Peter Norbeck

This three-election streak was ushered in by Governor Peter Norbeck, whose broad Republican support ended years of infighting between conservative and progressive Republicans.  In 1918, Norbeck was reelected and Republicans won every federal and statewide election, save one:  Democratic Congressman Harry Gandy was reelected in his west river Third District seat.

In 1920, Norbeck left the governor’s office and ran for U.S. Senate.  The incumbent, Democrat Edwin S. Johnson, opted to retire rather than face the popular governor.  On a ticket led by Norbeck, Republicans retained the governor’s office with Lt. Governor William McMaster, defeated Congressman Gandy with challenger William Williamson, and won every other federal and statewide race.

The streak continued in 1922 and 1924.  In 1922, McMaster was reelected governor.  In 1924, he joined Norbeck in the U.S. Senate, and Lt. Governor Carl Gunderson succeeded McMaster as governor.

It was Gunderson’s election that led to the end of this streak.  Gunderson was a conservative and his election reignited the progressive-conservative rift.  He initiated investigations into alleged “maladministration” during the Norbeck and McMaster governorships, and ended several of their progressive state-run enterprises.

The backlash against Gunderson surfaced in 1926.  That year, Norbeck handily won a second term in the U.S. Senate, winning 60% despite the attacks from his fellow Republican.  Gunderson, on the other hand, lost reelection to the first Democrat elected governor, W. J. Bulow.  Bulow owed his victory to the crossover votes he won from angry progressive Republican supporters of Norbeck and McMaster.

5.  22 Republican election victories, from 2010 to 2014 (and counting).

Following the 2003 special election to replace Bill Janklow in the U.S. House, Democrats briefly held all three seats in Congress with Senator Tom Daschle, Senator Tim Johnson, and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth.  That ended in 2004, when former Congressman John Thune defeated Senator Daschle.  In 2008, both Johnson and Herseth Sandlin were easily reelected.  That same year, Barack Obama was elected President, with his opponent John McCain carrying South Dakota.

Dennis Daugaard

Obama’s election sowed the seeds for the current Republican streak, as he proved unpopular in South Dakota and drove voter registration trends toward the Republicans.  In 2010, John Thune was unopposed in his Senate reelection bid – a first in South Dakota history.  Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard was easily elected governor.  And state legislator Kristi Noem rode the Republican wave to an upset of Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.  Republicans also won every down-ticket statewide election and gained 15 legislative seats.

The streak continued through 2012 and 2014, with Governor Daugaard winning reelection by a record-setting margin in 2014, and Congresswoman Noem being easily reelected in both years.  The Romney/Ryan presidential ticket easily carried the state in 2012, and Democrats failed to field candidates for several down-ticket races in 2014.

Looking forward

The Republican Party is likely to extend the current streak to 26 wins on Tuesday night, but it will be some time before this streak moves up the list.  Barring a special election, Republicans will need to win every federal and statewide election in 2018, 2020 and 2022 to move ahead of the 1920-24 streak into fourth place.  (South Dakota used to elect statewide candidates every two years, which made elections more frequent).  If Republicans hope to surpass the overall record of 101 set from 1938-54, the party will need to win every federal and statewide election until 2042, which would set a record of 108.  That’s certainly possible, but a 32-year streak is unlikely given the cyclical nature of politics, and would be unprecedented in the history of the state.

(There are other ways to measure relative support for one party or the other.  One way, which reporter Bob Mercer has written about extensively, is party registration.  Another is seats held in the State Legislature, which will be the subject of a future post.)