Art Rusch

November 8 was the special session of the South Dakota Legislature called to accomplish the legislative redistricting or setting new boundaries for the legislative districts. This is required by our constitution to be done by Dec. 1.

If not done by then, the South Dakota Supreme Court is charged with doing the redistricting.

This redistricting is some of the longest lasting legislation we pass as it lasts for the next 10 years. Redistricting is a difficult process.

The districts are required to have similar populations and, since South Dakota did not grow the same everywhere, there must be changes in the district boundaries throughout the state. It is like fitting a jig saw puzzle together, each piece of which are required to have the same weight but not necessarily be the same size.

Every piece that is changed requires changes in many other pieces of the puzzle. I have heard significant objections to the Senate’s proposed boundary changes, but some changes are inevitable. There are always objections and hard feelings about the results because people would rather not see changes. Earlier this summer the House and the Senate each appointed committees to determine what the redistricting maps should look like.

Senator Mary Duvall of Pierre, who was the chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, told us early on that she recognized in taking on that job that many people would be angry at her as a result.

The first House plan nicknamed “Grouse,” proposed to divide Clay County and the town of Vermillion into three different legislative districts.

All the legislators from District 17 objected to that plan and it was ultimately shelved by “Grouse 2.0” which no longer divided Vermillion into three districts but put it in a district which went all the way north to include Turner County and even to include the area around Freeman in Hutchinson County.

That plan also divided Hutchinson County into three different districts and expanded District 18 (which had just been Yankton County) all the way to the north Hutchinson County line. It also left District 16 (Union and Lincoln counties) in a long narrow district which went from Dakota Dunes to Canton.

None of those districts appeared to me to comply with our constitutional requirement that districts be “compact, continuous” districts.

My view was that it also did not comply with the requirement that we have communities of common interest in similar districts. My biggest concern with Grouse 2.0 would be that the Vermillion area would no longer have much influence in District 17.

The plan proposed by the Senate redistricting committee, which was nicknamed “Blackbird,” proposed to remove Turner County from District 17 and include southern Union County in the district.

Historically, southern Union County was part of District 17 but that was changed 20 or 30 years ago. There were some objections heard by the redistricting committee about Blackbird but most of them had to deal with boundaries in the Native American reservations, in Rapid City and in Sioux Falls.

I know that several Turner County residents appeared and objected to Blackbird, but I also know that the redistricting committee received several written letters of support for the plan. I understand why residents of Turner County had no objection to joining Freeman into the district as they are adjacent to Freeman, but Freeman is 75 miles from Vermillion, and I saw no reason to have a district of that size here in southeast South Dakota.

There are districts much larger than that in other parts of the state, but they are more sparsely populated areas.

The special session for redistricting started at 10 a.m. on Nov. 8 and after defeating an effort to amend it, the Blackbird plan passed the Senate.

The House passed the Grouse plan and the Senate voted amend it, so that it was the same as the Senate plan. The way the procedure is supposed to work is that a conference committee then meets to work out the differences.

However, there was then difficulties in getting the two conference committees to agree to meet so nothing further happened on Nov. 8 to reach any kind of compromise agreement.

November 9 was the beginning of the second special session which was called to consider the impeachment of Attorney General Jason Ravensburg.

However, even if the House decides to impeach him, there is a required delay of 20 days before the Senate can consider that issue so there is nothing further the Senate could do until we find out what the House does. As a result, the Senate adjourned from the second special session until sometime in December or January.

November 9 was also a very special and solemn day as it marked the formal memorial service celebrating the life of former Gov. Frank Farrar. Gov. Farrar’s casket was placed in the Capitol Rotunda on the evening of Nov. 8 and remained there overnight under the guard of members of South Dakota Highway Patrol and National Guard.

At 1 p.m. on Nov. 9, the memorial service was held in the presence of large crowd of dignitaries and other well-wishers.

After the memorial service, the Legislature went back to the first special session to continue to work on the redistricting. Unfortunately, throughout the afternoon and early evening of Nov. 9, there was still difficulty in coming to some sort of compromise agreement. Finally, just when an agreement was apparently worked out, one of the House leaders collapsed as a result a medical emergency and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

The House was unwilling to continue to work on the redistricting so the legislature recessed overnight.

On the morning of Nov. 10 (the third day of a one-day session) the conference committee finally met to try and finally get the redistricting plan done. Obviously, there are some members of the House who are not willing to abide by the agreement that was worked out yesterday. As of noon on the 10th, they are still trying to work out an agreement.

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