PIERRE, S.D. — While punting on a contentious decision around Sioux Falls, a legislative committee has decided that the state's largest city in the west, Rapid City, will stretch from the middle of the Black Hills eastward to the Ellsworth Air Force Base, for purposes of legislative redistricting.
The so-called conurbation areas for the cities of Sioux Falls and Rapid City have bogged down a committee tasked with developing legislative districts using new U.S. Census data prior to a Nov. 8 special session.
Sioux Falls has proven a thorny issue for the committee, with the current maps — drawn up in 2010 — including all of northern Minnehaha County and large swaths of rural Lincoln County surrounding Sioux Falls.
During public testimony on Thursday, Sept. 9, Amy Scott-Stoltz with the League of Women Voters decried an unfair conurbation district in the state's eastern city hub that encompasses vast tranches of rural farmland.
"There are two distinct populations in Minnehaha and Lincoln County ... that's rural and urban," said Scott-Stoltz. "To include the entire area as a conurbation district makes no sense."
After debate among the committee members, including many whose legislative longevities could well be affected by narrow boundaries around Sioux Falls, the committee turned its attention to Rapid City, making quick work to approve a conurbation area proposed earlier in the meeting by Sen. Helene Duhamel, R-Rapid City.
The new area largely resembles the current area, but would also extend to encompass more of Ellsworth Air Force Base in Box Elder, South Dakota. The new area would also push parts of the Rapid Valley region of southwestern Rapid City out into another, non-urban district outside the conurbation areas.
The committees did not divide individual district lines within Rapid City, merely sectioning off which parts of the metropolitan area will be grouped together in order to begin making maps in the non-urban areas of the state.
Following the adoption of the Rapid City zone, the committee unanimously approved Lawrence County, covering the Northern Black Hills towns of Lead and Deadwood — whose population comes close to the 25,000-person goal of each district — as its own district. The lawmakers say they'll seek to stick to county lines where applicable.
"One down, thirty-four more to go," quipped Rep. Mary Duvall, the Pierre Republican who is serving as chair of the bipartisan, bicameral redistricting committee.
The committee agreed to hear public testimony before adopting Sioux Falls' map. Currently, the conurbation zone for the state's largest city encompasses the surrounding towns of Dell Rapids and Tea, as well as Harrisburg and Lennox.
"When you start talking about Sioux Falls and Renner and Tea, that's like talking about Minneapolis and St. Paul, and then talking about St. Peter or Rochester," said John Claussen, a Sioux Falls resident who has frequently testified during public comment periods at the redistricting meetings this year.
But the process is under stress to apportion voters off of U.S. Census numbers — not projections — and honor local "communities of interest." The more Sioux Falls and Rapid City grow, the more legislative districts the population centers gain, causing consternation for lawmakers who may see their rural districts join with others.
"You have divided Perry Township," said Bolin. "What's your logic for dividing a rural township?"
As he explained, Crabtree sought to say aloud what most legislators understand but have been wary to admit.
"One district is going to move to Sioux Falls."