Indian voting rights is dominant theme in legislative redistrictingPIERRE — The Legislature’s committee on redistricting agreed on plans Tuesday intended to preserve or increase opportunities for American Indian people to be elected as state senators and representatives.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — The Legislature’s committee on redistricting agreed on plans Tuesday intended to preserve or increase opportunities for American Indian people to be elected as state senators and representatives.
The recommendations would reshape three legislative districts that cover six reservations that comprise much of western and south-central South Dakota.
Because of federal voting-rights requirements, the committee is paying special attention to what are called majority-minority districts, which have high concentrations of American Indian people.
The most sweeping change would group the Rosebud, Lower Brule and Crow Creek reservations into the same district.
Realignment also would affect Butte County. That proposal would shift the community of Belle Fourche from District 29 into District 28, while the communities of Newell, Vale and Nisland would move from District 28 into District 29.
Overall voters in some or all of Butte, Corson, Buffalo, Brule, Gregory, Tripp, Lyman, Jones and Pennington counties would be casting ballots in different legislative districts under the plans recommended for re-composing the three majority-minority districts.
The committee, chaired by House Speaker Val Rausch, R-Big Stone City, meets again Sept. 27-28 to finish its statewide plan for all 35 legislative districts. From there the plan advances to the full Legislature for consideration in a special session Oct. 24.
The new lines will govern legislative elections for 2012 through 2020. Legislative district boundaries are redrawn each decade to reflect population changes from the U.S. census.
“We would ask that our approvals today are what the next set of maps be drawn from,” Rausch said. “We’ll have an opportunity to amend, to minute degrees.”
In a new step the committee’s members held six meetings on or near reservations in recent weeks to review the many possible configurations.
Reuben Bezpaletz, a senior lawyer for the Legislative Research Council who arranged the field meeting, said the quality of the testimony overcame attendance that wasn’t strong. “I think every one of the meetings was a success,” he said.
The Lower Brule and Crow Creek reservations would be aligned with the Rosebud reservation under the plan to reconfigure District 26.
The proposed composition would join Mellette and Todd counties with Jones, Lyman, Buffalo and Brule counties.
That alignment also would place Oacoma and Chamberlain into the same district.
The two communities are split by the Missouri River. Residents who attended a meeting last week with legislators at Oacoma expressed a strong desire that the communities be united.
District 26 currently covers Mellette, Todd, Gregory and Tripp counties. The district is represented by Democratic Sen. Billie Sutton of Burke, Democratic Rep. Larry Lucas of Mission and Republican Rep. Kim Vanneman of Ideal.
Lucas and Vanneman are elected from single-member House subdistricts, while the Senate seat covers the full district. Lucas represents Mellette and Todd counties, which has a high percentage of voting-age Native American people. Vanneman represents Gregory and Tripp.
Jones, Lyman, Buffalo and Brule counties along with Charles Mix County currently comprise District 21.
District 21’s legislators are three Republicans: Sen. Cooper Garnos of Presho, who’s resigning effective this fall; Rep. Kent Juhnke of Vivian, who’s been appointed by the governor to fill the coming Senate vacancy; and Rep. James Schaefer of Kennebec.
The redistricting committee would need to decide at the Sept. 27-28 meeting whether Charles Mix, Gregory and Tripp counties should be grouped together as part of a district.
Leaders from the community of Wall and from the counties of Fall River and Haakon testified Tuesday they didn’t want to be grouped into District 27 that covers the Pine Ridge reservation.
Wall and Fall River were left alone, while Haakon County will be part of District 27 again, under the plan.
Haakon County commissioner Ed Briggs said people in his area have felt for the past 10 years they’ve been subject to taxation without representation because they’ve been part of District 27.
“That’s my concern,” Briggs said.
Haakon County voters are primarily white Republicans, while the district typically elects Democrats who usually are American Indian.
Edgemont mayor Jim Turner requested that the committee resist placing part of Fall River County into District 27 as a replacement for Haakon County. “We don’t do much with the counties to the east,” he said.
Haakon County would remain part of, and much of rural eastern Pennington County would be added to, District 27 under the plan recommended Tuesday. The boundaries however would be drawn so Wall isn’t part of the change.
Wall Drug’s Ted Hustead testified that his community is linked in many ways to Rapid City and those ties should be preserved under the political boundaries. “We are the gateway to the west, not to the north, not to the south, not to the east,” Hustead said.