Now that the state redistricting committee has adopted a proposed map of South Dakota’s new legislative districts, allegations of gerrymandering, packing and undue complaining have surfaced from pundits and both sides of the political aisle. American News columnist Bob Mercer in a recent article went so far as to imply that Democrats are “whining.”
Exaggerating a perceived battle of Republicans versus Democrats in the redistricting process ignores the real losers in the current process: South Dakota’s citizens and their right to fair representation.
A simple look at the redistricting proposal adopted on party lines by the redistricting committee clearly shows attempts to needlessly divide communities and further diminish the power their constituents hold in the state legislature.
For example, District One in the northeast was stretched over 100 miles east to west — splitting Brown County and cutting out the historically connected Day County entirely — for no other reason than to force several elected democratic legislators into the same district. Bon Homme County in District 19 was egregiously split so the county’s eastern border containing Rep. Frank Kloucek’s (D-Scotland) hometown was connected by a mere sliver to the new district containing Charles Mix and West River counties Tripp and Gregory.
Such nonsensical proposals were not lost on residents in those areas. “There’s a lot of head scratching going on here in Brown County,” said one development leader about the redistricting proposal. South Dakota citizens urged legislators to “keep counties whole” again and again in public testimony lasting over three hours.
Their concerns are not partisan. Splitting counties up not only divides historically connected communities with similar geographic and cultural characteristics, it has the added effect of destroying their power in the state legislature. For instance, north Rapid City contains a large percentage of Native Americans. Despite calls from both the public and the press to keep north Rapid together, the Republican map divides it into thirds. Now instead of being a consequential 30 percent of one legislative district whose needs legislators must address, they become a negligible 10 percent of three different districts that legislators can dismiss entirely. South Dakota citizens lose when their communities are given shortchange for partisan gain.
Bob Mercer was right about one thing in his column. Real Democrats fight for what is right — not just for Democrats but for all South Dakotans. That’s why I applaud the efforts of Rep. Mitch Fargen (D-Flandreau), Rep. Susan Wismer (D-Britton) and Sen. Jim Bradford (D-Pine Ridge), who all amended the proposed map to keep Day County whole in District 1 and restore Rep. Frank Kloucek to the district his constituents — far more Republican than Democrat — keep electing him in.
Redistricting is about ensuring fair representation for all South Dakotans. I’m glad there are still folks who haven’t forgotten that.