“A blatant attack on South Dakota Citizens’ right to fair representation.”
That’s how Ben Nesselhuf, Chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, characterized the lead legislative redistricting proposal made public last friday. Offered by the co-chairs of the legislative redistricting committee, Rep Val Rausch (R-Big Stone City) and Senator Russel Olson (R-Madison), the proposal comes after Chair Rausch set as his goal to keep most districts as similar as possible to current districts.
For several Democratic Districts, however, Chair Rausch didn’t feel the need to meet his own standards.
District One in the northeast and District 19 in the south, historical communities are torn apart unnecessarily with the effect of isolating Democratic legislators in the far ends of their new districts.
District One in particular was stretched over 100 miles east to west in order to match up term-limited Rep. Paul Dennert (D-Columbia) and Sen. Jason Frerichs (D-Wilmot) together. The district of Rep. Frank Kloucek’s (D-Scotland) has been shifted to include three completely new West River Counties – Tripp, Gregory, and Charles Mix – entirely. The redistricting committee continues the practice of “packing” Democrats into District 15 of Sioux Falls. And the committee still insists on diluting Native American representation in North Rapid City between all Rapid City districts.
Splitting counties up unnecessarily has the added effect of destroying their power in the state legislature as well, Nesselhuf says.
Amazingly, Nesselhuf pointed out, despite a very high number of Republican incumbents, there are hardly any districts in which new lines will create any primary challenges for Republicans. “Chair Rausch promised that redistricting should make representation fair for all. Well, for Rausch, representation for Republicans is just more fair than it is for Democrats,” Nesselhuf said.
It’s not a coincidence, Nesselhuf added, that the chairs delayed the release of their proposal at least three days past the date agreed upon by the committee. Releasing controversial proposals over the weekend reduces publicity and gives the public less time to understand and react to the redistricting proposals before the redistricting commission meets this Tuesday.
Less partisan proposals exist, Nesselhuf said, but unless the public speaks out, the redistricting committee will just rubber stamp another partisan redistricting plan in October. “Redistricting is supposed to ensure fair representation. With Chairs Rausch and Olson leading the committee, South Dakota citizens may have to wait for fair representation for another 10 years,” Nesselhuf concluded.