PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota's Legislature approved new political boundaries that are likely to shake up the Statehouse after moderate Senate Republicans championed the proposal.
The state’s population has shifted towards urban areas in the last decade, and the map’s proponents argued that new legislative districts had to reflect that change. House lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed a map that would have kept legislative lines similar to their current positions.
The proposal cleared the House by a handful of votes with a conservative group of Republicans opposing the redistricting proposal. It easily passed the Senate.
Under the new boundaries, legislators said they would be working to win votes in unfamiliar territory, and several could be pitted against each other in next year's primaries.
With the new political map in the hands of lawmakers, the once-in-a-decade process is inherently laden with self-interest. In previous years, the Republican-dominated House and Senate have moved as one to quickly approve new districts, but the process this year was marked by GOP infighting, laying bare a rift between moderate Republicans and their more conservative colleagues.
A process that was first scheduled for a single day dragged into three days. Negotiations, which happened behind closed doors, left lawmakers fuming in the halls of the Capitol.
“We have been bullied by the other chamber the entire time,” said Republican Rep. Taffy Howard, who was part of the right-wing group that opposed the map.
Republican Rep. Chris Johnson likened the new map to “a political meteor” hitting his hometown of Rapid City and causing a shake-up.
Senators who pushed the map described it as a compromise that had to be made to reflect shifts in the state's population over the last ten years. Lawmakers also had to ensure that the voting rights of Native American voters were protected to keep with federal law.
“I would hope as legislators we would work hard to do what is right for all of South Dakota,” said Republican Sen. Mary Duvall, who chaired the Senate's redistricting committee.
In a crucial win for Native American representation, the northern area of Rapid City — which contains much of the Native American community — was included in a single legislative district with the eastern part of the city.
Democratic Sen. Red Dawn Foster said that move could give the community “the chance to have a voice and to have collective representation.”
Other districts that covered American Indian reservations were improved to ensure voting rights, said Brett Healy, who was lobbying for Four Directions Vote, a voting rights advocacy group.
Democrats predicted the new map would make legislative races more competitive. Their ranks in the Statehouse have shrunk to the smallest in over 60 years.
But Democratic Rep. Ryan Cwach said the closed-door negotiating process showed lawmakers should not be drawing their own political districts.
“The whole fact that politicians are involved in this process of redistricting brings transparency questions," he said. "My only conclusion from this whole thing, besides I’m thankful we got to a pretty competitive map, is that this should be the last time politicians draw the lines."