The South Dakota lawmakers charged with redrawing the state’s political boundaries kicked off a three-day tour of public input meetings Monday morning with one on the western side of the state in Box Elder.
The House and Senate redistricting committees, dominated by Republicans, have been preaching accord for the once-in-a-decade process, but intra-party bickering led to competing proposals and maps that put the schism on full display in Box Elder.
Senate President Pro Tem Lee Schoenbeck accused House members of maintaining “gerrymandered” boundaries to preserve current districts that are favorable for incumbents to keep winning reelection, describing as looking “like someone accidentally spilled something on the map.”
Republican Representative Drew Dennert proposed the House map and admitted it keeps boundaries close to their current version, but because they “best represented” the state’s communities – and he’s confident the public meetings will show strong support for his approach.
Dennert blasted Schoenbeck for attacking the House proposal, saying it was because the senator was losing support and calling him “a very intelligent political operative.”
House Speaker Spencer Gosch accused Schoenbeck of employing “DC political tactics,” using “baseless and hypocritical accusations only meant to divide.”
Meanwhile, members of the Native American community are using the meetings to press for greater representation in the Legislature. At the Box Elder meeting, they pushed for compact political boundaries around northern Rapid City.
That area has a large number of Native Americans and smaller districts would allow the Indigenous community to elect someone who represents their interests. Federal law requires that racial minorities receive adequate representation in legislative boundaries.
The South Dakota Legislature will convene Nov. 8 to adopt the new political boundaries, which must also be approved by Gov. Kristi Noem. If lawmakers can’t reach a consensus with Noem by Dec. 1, redistricting will be done by the state Supreme Court.