A plan to redraw South Dakota’s legislative boundaries that would split up Bon Homme County has Democrats charging that purely political motivations are involved.
The state’s redistricting process occurs every 10 years based on new Census data. Legislative boundaries are drawn so that each of South Dakota’s 35 districts has roughly the same population.
Lawmakers on the Legislature’s interim redistricting committee will meet today (Tuesday) to consider three options that were made public late last week. The committee’s final recommendation will be presented to the full Legislature, presumably during a special session that is planned for Oct. 24.
“It’s clearly a ‘get Kloucek’ redistricting move, and it’s going to backfire on them,” said District 19 Rep. Frank Kloucek, a Democrat. “I would think the people of Bon Homme County would want to stay intact. It’s raw politics at its worst.”
Under what is considered the leading plan, which was proposed by House Speaker Val Rausch (R-Big Stone City) and Senate Majority Leader Russell (R-Wentworth), the southern half of Bon Homme County would be part of a new district that includes Charles Mix, Gregory and Tripp counties. Kloucek, should he be re-elected, would be in that new district.
The northern portion of the county would go with Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson and McCook counties.
Currently, Bon Homme County is in a district that includes Douglas, Hutchinson and a small portion of Turner counties.
“I’m more concerned about the county than myself,” Kloucek said. “It’s not going to hurt me as much personally as they think it will. Instead, it’s going to hurt Bon Homme County. They’re actually punishing the people of Bon Homme County (for supporting me). That’s wrong.”
A message left by the Press & Dakotan for Rausch Monday afternoon was not returned by press time.
However, Republican Sen. J.E. “Jim” Putnam of Armour, and a representative of the current District 19 with Kloucek, said he does not believe politics was a motivating factor. He is not a part of the redistricting committee but knows that it is a complicated process.
“Whatever is drawn has to comply with the law,” he said. “I suppose if I was on the wrong side of a pencil mark, I wouldn’t feel good about it, either — of if my county was split in half. But I don’t know how else we’d do it. You have to get the population. That’s getting more difficult because of declining population in rural areas.”
Putnam said that for decades Douglas was split in half, as well. It became whole again in 1990.
Ben Nesselhuf, chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, told the Press & Dakotan he believes the proposed map is unfairly targeting Rep. Frank Kloucek.
“They’re trying to pull him into a new district, and really they’re sacrificing the entire county,” he said. “They couldn’t beat him at the ballot box, so they’re trying to draw him out.”
Nesselhuf said the real victims of the proposed boundaries would be the voters in Bon Homme County.
“They’re sacrificing the entire county’s representation in order to try and basically draw Rep. Kloucek out of a district,” he said. “These are going to be maps we’re going to have to deal with for the next 10 years. They need to make sense outside of just the personalities involved. They need to make sense to the voters.”
Nesselhuf said a map proposed by Rep. Mitch Fargen (D-Flandreau) does a much better job of keeping counties whole, one of the stated goals of the redistricting process.
“Rep. Fargen didn’t consult with me or anyone at the party when he came up with this map, but it seems to at least be a map where you look at it and think, ‘There’s a map that seems reasonable and fair, just based on the county lines,’” he said.
Nesselhuf encouraged individuals concerned about the Rausch/Olson proposal to speak out.
“I think they need to contact the Republicans on the committee, and probably call the Legislative Research Council,” he said. “The people in Bon Homme County particularly should be up in arms over this because they’re going to be split off into two different districts in a way that doesn’t make any sense. It’s one thing if they’re cutting it in half, but this stairstep that they created — which pulls the eastern half of the county over with some western counties — it’s totally illogical.”