SIOUX FALLS (AP) – South Dakota lawmakers redrawing the state's political boundaries kicked off a three-day tour of public input meetings on Monday amid intra-party Republican bickering and competing proposals for new legislative districts.
The House and Senate committees, both dominated by Republicans, had previously sought accord in the once-in-a-decade process. But as they presented divergent map proposals at a public-input meeting in Box Elder, the schism between the House and Senate was on full display. Each side sought to use the tour – dubbed “the redistricting roadshow” by lawmakers – to gain support for their respective proposals.
The Legislature will convene on Nov. 8 to consider new political boundaries, which must also be approved by Gov. Kristi Noem. If they can't reach a consensus by Dec. 1, redistricting would be determined by the state Supreme Court.
Senate Pro Temp Lee Schoenbeck – one of the most influential Republican lawmakers – accused House members of maintaining “gerrymandered” boundaries in order to preserve current districts that are favorable to their plans for reelection.
“It looks like someone accidentally spilled something on the map,” he said of one district proposed by the House. “They are making a concerted effort to create or protect districts for people.”
Republican Rep. Drew Dennert, who proposed the House's map, acknowledged that his proposal kept boundaries close to their current version – but contended that is a good thing. He was confident that the public meetings would show support for his map, which he said “best represented” the communities of the state.
He charged that Schoenbeck was “a very intelligent political operative,” who had taken to attacking the House proposal because he was losing support.
House Speaker Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican, also accused Schoenbeck of employing “DC political tactics.”
“Baseless and hypocritical accusations are only meant to divide,” he said in a statement. “The rest of the Legislature will continue to work in a fair and open manner to ensure that all South Dakotans are represented.”
Meanwhile, members of Native American communities used the meetings to press for greater representation in the Legislature. At the first meeting on Monday, advocates pushed for compact political boundaries around northern Rapid City – which has a large number of Native Americans – that would allow the community to elect someone who represented their interests. Federal law requires that racial minorities receive adequate representation in legislative boundaries.
Democratic Sen. Troy Heinert argued that a map proposed by the Senate would do that best. He also raised concerns that the U.S. Census Bureau had undercounted the population on American Indian reservations. He saw Monday's second meeting, held on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, as an opportunity to underscore that point.
“My biggest hope is that as the committee members drive through our reservation, they see how vast it is, but also how many housing units there are,” he said. “You have to trust your eyes on this.”
However, the committee chair, Republican Sen. Mary Duvall has consistently pointed out that the process has to be primarily based on census numbers.
The lawmakers will wind their way through the state, making a total of seven stops this week and culminating with two meetings in Sioux Falls on Wednesday. Both sides of the fight said they hoped a consensus would begin to emerge by the time the Legislature meets next month.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having two different maps. The question is, is there a majority of both bodies that are going to support one of them,” Schoenbeck said. “If there isn't, then the Supreme Court is going to look at it.”