State Dems elect Nesselhuf as new party chair

The new head of the South Dakota Democratic Party promised Saturday to be more visible and forceful than his predecessors.

Ben Nesselhuf, a former lawmaker and secretary of state candidate, was chosen to be the Democrats’ new state chairman Saturday at a meeting of the party’s State Central Committee in Chamberlain.

Nesselhuf said the Democratic Party will focus on fundraising and its message under his leadership.

“We’re going to be more vocal,” Nesselhuf said. “Everything that happens in Pierre, for good or bad, is going to be laid at the Republicans’ feet. We need to remind people, when they’re upset about something that happened, that it wasn’t our party that made the decision.”

In the past, the South Dakota Democratic Party has had two leaders — a chairman elected by party members and a hired executive director. Under Nesselhuf, the party will eliminate the executive director position in favor of a full-time, salaried chairman.

Nesselhuf said his salary has yet to be determined. He will work out of the party’s Sioux Falls headquarters.

Current executive director Erin McCarrick will leave once her post is abolished, Nesselhuf said.

In recent elections, Democrats have focused their efforts on Sioux Falls and the eastern part of the state. Nesselhuf said the state’s more heavily populated East River areas will still be the party’s priority, but Rapid City will get more attention, as well.

“We absolutely need to spend time in Rapid City and West River. We absolutely need to get out there and lay out our message,” he said.

Also at Saturday’s meeting, Democrats elected three other officers.

The party’s vice chairwoman will be Deb Knecht of Houghton, who has served in that role in the past.

Current party treasurer Bill Nibbelink of Flandreau will continue in his office. The new party secretary will be Julie Bartling of Burke, a former legislator and candidate for state auditor.

State legislator Mitch Fargen of Flandreau also ran for the state chairman position. The previous chairwoman, Cheryl Chapman, did not seek another term.

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