The battle for Republican Leadership is less of a battle at this point, as much as nudging and elbowing as people position themselves in line. Who are the names that you should keep an eye on as we roll past November 8, and Republican legislators plan to get together amongst themselves to decide who will be leading the Class of 2023?
Coming off previous sessions in the House, which many outside observers rate the running of the State House from poor (under Steve Haugaard) to dysfunctional (under Spencer Gosch), at least on the surface, there seems to be an appetite for a change. Now, that’s not a guarantee that the House and Senate are going to get along and agree on everything, but there’s the possibility that a Republican House would spend more time governing than attacking the Republican Governor.
Who are the players to keep an eye on in the various contests for leadership? Things can develop quickly, and a lot of how races come out will depend on which Republicans are sent to Pierre in the fall.
Speaker of the House:
This is the big contest. In the House, the Speaker has the authority to decide committee assignments, seating, and a host of other official duties. The buck stops with them, for better or worse. And we’ve had a lot of worse over the past couple of years.
The current word in the Speaker race is that several are in the contest. State Representative Hugh Bartels from Watertown is the first name at the top of many lists, followed by State Representatives Greg Jamison of Sioux Falls and Jess Olson of Rapid City. Current Speaker Pro Tempore Jon Hansen of Dell Rapids is also said to be running, but given that he was the chief lieutenant under Gosch, conventional wisdom is that legislators may step forward and break with tradition.
House Speaker Pro Tempore:
This internal caucus race is kind of quiet at the moment, but the name that I hear is Mike Stevens of Yankton. Stevens, an attorney by trade, is an experienced hand in his second run of being in the legislature and would be viewed by most as a respected, steady hand at the wheel.
Republican House Majority Leader:
Here’s where some of the jockeying has been going on recently. Long-time politico and Pierre-area attorney Will Mortenson is said to be leading the chase for Majority Leader after Mike Derby was said to have stepped back from the race, throwing his support to Mortenson. Current Majority Whip Rebecca Reimer of Chamberlain is also said to be campaigning for the spot, as well as Representative Scott Odenbach from Spearfish.
Assistant Republican Majority Leader:
This office has had those holding it move on to bigger and better things, such as Kristi Noem, current Governor, former Congresswoman, and former Assistant Majority Leader for the 2009-2010. And you never know, as Sioux Falls State Representative Taylor Rehfeldt campaigns as hard as the Governor did back in the day.
Rehfeldt is probably the most visible of the names that has popped up for the contest, with State Representatives Randy Gross of Flandreau, and Representative Kirk Chaffee of Whitewood also said to be running for the position among their colleagues.
The Senate is not thought to be looking wholesale change in the coming term, or at least there are no thoughts of it based on who we anticipate will be elected.
Compared to the House, it might even be said to be a little boring, but boring is good for what has worked over the last two years.
President Pro Tempore:
Senator Lee Schoenbeck of Watertown who has led the Senate through all of the rocky waters over the past 2 years of his tenure, including leading on redistricting, and being the voice of sanity during 2 years of impeachment investigations and proceedings is not facing any challenge at the moment. During the past few years, Lee has been an effective leader in building coalitions and steering the Senate at a time when the House had been divided and struggled.
Senate Republican Majority Leader:
With Current Majority Leader Senator Gary Cammack termed out, Senator Casey Crabtree of Madison is fully in the driver seat for Senate Majority Leader contest, and has taken a lead on efforts including helping Senators to get re-elected. He should win this contest handily, and no opponents are out there.
Senate Republican Assistant Majority Leader:
Senator Mike Diedrich of Rapid City is definitively in the contest, but there are rumors that another Senator is looking at a run. We’ll see how they develop, as it’s still early for this chamber. The sense of urgency for the internal Senate caucus campaigns are not as urgent as the House’s, just because of fewer numbers and a less disparate group.
Senate Majority Whips:
I’m told that we can expect Senators Duhamel, Wheeler, Tobin, Schoenfish, Bolin and others will be running for whip positions, with most current whips attempting to return to their positions.
That’s what I know at the end of September, with more fierce campaigning for these internal positions on both sides of the Capitol Building to come after the election on November 8.