MERCER: Rep. Hunt notable for anti-abortion actionsPIERRE — At age 74, Rep. Roger Hunt is leaving the Legislature in the same quiet way that he generally operated as a legislator.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — At age 74, Rep. Roger Hunt is leaving the Legislature in the same quiet way that he generally operated as a legislator.
Hunt, a Republican from Brandon, was speaker of the House in 1999-2000. He didn’t seek re-election that fall because he served five consecutive terms in the House, making him ineligible to run for another under the limit of four consecutive terms that South Dakota voters adopted in our state constitution in 1992.
Instead the man known generally at the Capitol as just “Roger” ran for the Republican nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002. The seat was open because U.S. Rep. John Thune, a Republican, was running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson.
A lot of men got left at the wayside in the subsequent Republican and Democratic primary elections for the House seat.
By the time then-Gov. Bill Janklow made up his mind to enter, the contest had turned into a five-way battle for the Republican nomination.
The Janklow presence sufficiently discouraged state Sen. Larry Diedrich of Elk Point that he didn’t run that time.
Instead, U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler, whom Johnson had defeated in 1996, tried to come back. Besides Janklow, Pressler and Hunt there also were former state Lands Commissioner Tim Amdahl and Bert Tollefson.
Janklow won the Republican nomination with nearly 55 percent of the vote, followed by Pressler at about 27 percent. Not much of the pie was left. Hunt got 7 percent.
On the Democratic side the winner of that four-way primary was a nowfamous candidate running for the first time named Stephanie Herseth, whose grandfather Ralph had been a governor and whose father, Lars, was the 1986 Democratic nominee for governor.
Janklow beat Herseth that fall. The next summer came the crash in which Janklow ran a stop sign and motorcyclist Randy Scott died. Janklow eventually was found guilty of manslaughter and resigned from the U.S. House seat. Herseth won the 2004 June special election, defeating Diedrich.
In that same set of June elections, Hunt began his return to the Legislature. He and Shantel Krebs won a three-way primary for two Republican state House nominations.
Now Herseth Sandlin is a former congresswoman, after losing in 2010 to Republican Kristi Noem. Bill Janklow died earlier this year, and Roger Hunt is quietly departing the Legislature.
Hunt has served a total of 18 years, all in the state House. He never chose to extend his legislative career. He ran for the Senate, thereby going around the constitutional limit of four consecutive terms.
Such crossovers are allowed and often are attempted.
It is accurate to say Hunt left a deeper and possibly longer lasting mark on South Dakota than most legislators through his work and leadership in the anti-abortion cause.
The fate of several major pieces of legislation he sponsored and co-sponsored on abortion during these eight most recent years he spent in the House, including the key issue of recognizing an unborn child as a human being, depends on what the federal courts eventually decide.
Hunt’s work went much further, however. His skills and knowledge were especially valuable in his role as a member of the Legislature’s rules review committee, a six-member panel of senators and representatives who work year-round as the final gatekeepers on the regulations sought by state government agencies, boards and commissions.
Rules review work, however, doesn’t attract a spotlight. His public legacy is his anti-abortion efforts. Hunt became a target and a caricature for some on the side who favor continued protection of legalized abortion.
Twice in the past decade South Dakota voters in statewide elections rejected attempts to generally outlaw abortion. In that respect Hunt was on the wrong side.
Yet restricting abortion is the issue that increasingly defines who gets elected to the Legislature in South Dakota. And in that respect he has very much been on the winning side.
Republicans hold such a significant margin in voter registration that Republicans control the Legislature. Within Republican ranks the anti-abortion activists frequently shape the slates of candidates for legislative seats and the results of primaries.
That fact was quietly on display this year. Look no further than the two pieces of legislation that would impose a 72-hour waiting period and mandatory counseling for women who are considering receiving abortions.
Hunt was prime sponsor of the main piece, House Bill 1217, in the 2011 legislative session. Both the House and the Senate passed it, the governor signed it and it’s now pending before U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier. A second bill was passed this year to clean up some of the legal points identified by the federal judge.
Of the 13 senators who voted against the original bill, 10 are Republicans. Five of those Republicans had primary challenges this year. Three others, none of them term-limited, decided against running.
In the House a mere five Republicans voted against it. And perhaps not by coincidence, two of the four running again this spring had primaries.
Overall, two of those incumbents lost earlier this month. They were Sen. Tom Nelson of Lead and Rep. Tad Perry of Fort Pierre. Perry is hoping to overturn his defeat via a recount. A third, Sen. Deb Peters, of Hartford, squeaked by her challenger, Rep. Lora Hubbel, of Sioux Falls.
The grassroots strength of the antiabortion movement in South Dakota goes far, far, far broader and far, far, far deeper than any one person. But it is not an overstatement to describe Roger Hunt as the most significant public figure in the most significant public-policy issue of recent times in South Dakota.