SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Stephanie Herseth, the state's new Congresswoman has a
short six months to impress her constituents so she can retain the seat.
Herseth, who originally lost the seat to William Janklow, will have to run
again in November. Her June 1 election victory will allow her to fill the
remainder of Janklow's term.
What came as little surprise was the overwhelming number of votes from
counties with large American Indian populations. In the two counties that
make up the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, the voter turnout was low,
but the percentage of the votes going to Herseth was high.
Herseth defeated Republican Larry Diedrich by 2 percentage points. The race
was reminiscent of the 2002 election when Sen. Tim Johnson and John Thune
were nearly deadlocked in the early morning hours the day after the
election. Once Shannon County votes were reported, Johnson assumed the
This year, Shannon County, which is unincorporated, reported their votes
late which gave Herseth a 4,000 vote margin. That margin was cut sharply to
2,000 and then Todd County boosted her to a 2,600 vote lead, which held.
Shannon County, the home of the Pine Ridge Reservation gave Herseth 94
percent of the vote, Todd County where the Rosebud lies, 84 percent and
Dewey and Ziebach counties on the Cheyenne River Reservation 75 and 69
Bennett County, which lies between the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations
is the seat of voter turnout and registration efforts that spread
throughout the state and the region in 2002. Herseth campaigned in that
region to good results as well. Bennett County, which has a mixed
population, supported Herseth with a 60 percent vote while 62 percent of
the eligible voters cast ballots.
Buffalo County, home of the Crow Creek Reservation turned out 50 percent of
the eligible voters and gave Herseth 81 percent of their support.
Pine Ridge voter turnout was 30 percent; Rosebud 39 percent. Overall voter
turnout in the state was exceptionally high for a primary election cycle.
The special election is credited with bringing our more than 50 percent of
the eligible voters in the state. Usually on reservations voter turnout is
low if there is no tribal election held at the same time.
This year the Republican Party organized a campaign to register eligible
voters and campaign on the reservations. Democratic officials said by
virtue of the voter turnout and support of Herseth, the Republican efforts
Following the election in 2002, Herseth was praised by tribal leaders and
members for coming to the reservations to thank them for support. During
the campaign for the special election she spent large amounts of time on
Herseth did not tie her campaign to the John Kerry run for president and
never mentioned his name on the stump. She did support President George
Bush's handling of the war in Iraq and opposition to same sex marriage.
Those were not the two big issues in the campaign. She also supports a
woman's right to choose, which, according to political observers, helped
her win the women's vote.
Herseth said her campaign proved that a candidate can run a truthful and
positive campaign based on the issues and win. She also said that it was
the South Dakota way and that it should become the way for the entire
Diedrich, her opponent, started out the race last January 29 points behind
in the polls. His problem was name recognition, but he closed that gap
towards the end. He first ran ads introducing himself to the state, and in
the end brought in anti-Herseth ads that challenged her for never holding
Diedrich is a farmer who served in the state legislature. He was supported
by the Republican National Committee. First Lady Laura Bush and Senate
Majority leader Bill Frist visited the state in his support.
When Herseth visited the reservations and spoke to urban Indian populations
she emphasized the need to prioritize funding for education and health
care. She supported the tribes in their opposition to the current trust
fund reform measures, and lobbied for water projects such as the Mni Wiconi
project that will supply water to reservations and rural areas, but is
consistently under funded by the Bush administration.
Both Senators Johnson and Tom Daschle work to keep funding for
infrastructure projects, and Herseth, also a Democrat will join the fight
for full funding for IHS, and the BIA, she said at gatherings. She also
said she would work for full funding of veterans health care, "mandatory
funding, not discretionary," she said.
"Starting this week, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson will have a partner in the
House of Representatives who will work with them day in and day out to
deliver for South Dakota. Larry Diedrich would have used that seat to work
with the Republican leadership and the White House to hurt Tom Daschle and
help John Thune. This would have been bad for South Dakota and bad for Tom
Daschle," a prepared statement from Sen. Daschle's office stated.
Speculation that a Herseth victory would harm Sen. Daschle's chances in
November was circulated throughout the state. South Dakota, a predominantly
Republican state now has three Democrats representing them in Congress.
Democratic officials claim that if John Thune, who is running against
Daschle, uses the three Democrats in Congress as a campaign issue, it could
harm Diedrich's chances against Herseth.
Herseth will be only the second woman to fill a seat in Congress from the
state of South Dakota. The last time was in 1937.
A court case, Boneshirt vs. South Dakota involves the redistricting of
District 27 in South Dakota, which includes the Pine Ridge and Rosebud
reservations. A decision will come in a few weeks, ACLU officials said. A
decision could change the number of people from the reservations that would
be seated in the state legislature. It is not known if the court's decision
will affect the upcoming November election. A positive result could mean
that at least one more potential American Indian could be elected to the
legislature. There are four American Indians in the state legislature at
In the primary for state senate in District 27, Theresa "Huck" Two Bulls
defeated two other democratic candidates. Two Bulls is a former tribal vice
president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and former tribal secretary. She will
run against Republican State Sen. Mike LaPointe who is a member of the
Sicangu Lakota Tribe on the Rosebud Reservation.