Republican infighting spills into proposal to defang convention delegates
Resolution to put constitutional offices on primary ballot fails first legislative hurdle
PIERRE – One of the Legislature's few Democrats delivered a knock-out punch in an intra-party Republican skirmish Wednesday.
That skirmish started with Rep. Tyler Tordsen’s HJR 5001, which proposed asking voters in the 2024 General Election to add the offices of attorney general, secretary of state, public utilities commissioners, auditor, treasurer and school and public lands commissioner to the group of offices that are decided on a primary ballot every June.
Currently, those offices – along with the lieutenant governor – are decided separately in partisan conventions shortly after the primary elections.
Those favoring the resolution argued that the convention process puts “walls” around the democratic process in the Rushmore State, running contrary to the state’s “Under God the people rule” motto.
“These positions are too important to let a couple hundred people decide,” Tordsen, a Sioux Falls Republican, told the House State Affairs Committee.
But even the bill's Republican supporters admitted that they were up against a wall of grassroots opposition in their own party. Sen. John Wiik, who serves as the state Republican Party chair, spoke against the bill, arguing in part that political parties should decide amongst themselves how they nominate candidates.
“This isn’t necessary,” said Wiik. “The system we have has given rise to some of the giants in South Dakota politics.”
A resurrection of a similar, unsuccessful effort in 2023, this year’s legislation stems largely from a contentious 2022 Republican convention. There, an insurgent bid by Steve Haugaard – who was soundly defeated by Gov. Kristi Noem in a bid for the Governor’s Office weeks earlier – nearly knocked out Larry Rhoden in the lieutenant governor’s race, Noem’s candidate of choice. Just prior, current Secretary of State Monae Johnson knocked off Steve Barnett in a dark horse bid for the office.
But that, said House Democratic Leader Oren Lesmeister, was not his party’s problem.