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Tribal members increase in Legislature

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The South Dakota Legislature will find four tribal members in its midst when it next convenes in 2001.

The newcomer to the ranks is Tom VanNorman, attorney for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He will serve District 28A in the state legislature. This district was split for the second time by a directive of the courts.

District 28 was split six years ago to accommodate the diverse population from the reservation that was in the majority in parts of the district. However, non-tribal members always were elected from that district. The split was challenged and Mark VanNorman, Tom's brother, won the 28A primary in 1994, but was defeated by Eric Bogue. One of Bogue's first moves when in the Legislature was to introduce legislation to change the split district.

A 2000 court ruling said the Legislature acted improperly and then allowed the split.

"We're very, very pleased that Tom VanNorman, a member of our tribe, was elected. He along with Dick Hagen and Paul Valandra will do a good job for us," said Gregg Bourland, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Van Norman, a Democrat, with 1,314 votes, out-polled Republican Don Hollenbeck with 1,251 and Independent candidate Richard Zacher who had 392.

"I am feeling honored and appreciate the great participation by all the voters. They experienced a winter storm and made it to the polls and exercised the right of the democratic process when they vote and send voice in the strongest possible way to officers that will represent them in different legislatures," VanNorman said.

He said the main issues he will focus on are health, education, the economy and agriculture.

"The people that I represent live in some of the poorest counties in America. For example, Ziebach County is the seventh poorest, Dewey is the 29th poorest.

"I am going to bring peoples' concerns and issues to the capital and try and include an awareness of the issues, then bring back some solutions and approaches to address the issues."

Former state Rep. Ron Volesky, D-Huron, switched houses and ran successfully for the Senate seat held by Democrat Charlie Flowers. Volesky defeated Republican Willard Broucek 72 percent to 28 percent of the vote.

Flowers reached the term limit. Volesky served seven terms in the House. He also ran up against the term limit on his House seat.

Volesky first served from 1981 to 1986 as a Republican. He lost his bid for the house seat in 1986, but returned to the House in 1993 as a Democrat.

Volesky, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has hinted at a run for the governor's office in 2002.

Long-time District 27 state Rep. Dick Hagen, Oglala, from Pine Ridge reservation, was reelected to his seat. His challenger, Larry Wright drew only 879 votes to Hagen's 2,883.

Paul Valandra, Democrat from Rosebud, the perennial senator from District 27 won his bid for reelection against three challengers. Valandra took 36 percent of the vote to James Bradford's 30 percent. Vashti Apostol-Hurst, the Independent candidate, had 22 percent and Harold White Man, a usual candidate from the Republican party, gathered 12 percent.

"I don't see any dramatic changes for us, but I think it does send the message that there are Indian candidates now and always will be," said William Kindle, chairman of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

"Certainly the legislators are realizing that the tribes are something they have to deal with. On the whole I think most of the legislators want to work with the tribes. I think if we show some initiative and meet them halfway, we can get some things accomplished. I certainly want to work with the legislature and the governor's office on any matter we can. I'm open to them and I hope they would receive me the same way," he said.

Other American Indian candidates didn't fare too well. Rosalie Little Thunder, who ran in the District 33 house race received the least votes of three other candidates.

Gary Loudner, District 34 House candidate, was soundly beaten by former U.S. West executive Royal "Mac" McCracken.

Former Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Steven Cournoyer Jr. of Wagner received 25 percent of the vote in his challenge to Democratic candidate James Hutmacker of Chamberlain in the District 25 Senate race.

Higher gambling limits

The city of Deadwood, the only city in South Dakota with legalized casino-style gambling was successful in upping the bet limit from $5 to $100. Proponents said the higher bet limit was necessary in order to compete with surrounding states and with Indian casinos.

"I think that will help the tribal casinos. It has to be done with discretion. I'm excited about that. The only casino that is going to feel the pinch is the Yankton Sioux Tribe's casino because they already had a $100 bet limit on their blackjack," Bourland said.

Kindle said that raising the bet limit will allow tribes to raise theirs as well.

"It will certainly raise the stakes in Deadwood. I would think the state will have to apply that to Indian casinos as well." He added that he wasn't surprised the state voters elected to keep video lottery gambling. It was a hotly contested issue.

Voter turnout in South Dakota was brisk even though the weather in some areas was less than favorable. The Secretary of State's office shows that turnout was in the high 60 and low 70 percentiles.

The exceptions are the counties of Shannon with 38 percent; Todd, 39 percent; Ziebach, 49 percent; Dewey, 43 percent, and Corson 55 percent.

Those counties are on large reservations in the state with large American Indian populations.

In North Dakota, tribal officials said the turnout was high because of the work by the Dakota Native Vote project. That get-out-the-vote project educated voters and helped find ways to get people the polls.