SD lawmakers hope to avoid partisan fights
By Chet Brokaw PIERRE -- When South Dakota's legislative leaders unveiled a new economic development program near the end of last year's session, Republicans and Democrats went out of their way to brag that they had cooperated to avoid the kind o...
By Chet Brokaw
PIERRE - When South Dakota’s legislative leaders unveiled a new economic development program near the end of last year’s session, Republicans and Democrats went out of their way to brag that they had cooperated to avoid the kind of partisan fighting that caused gridlock in Congress.
Leaders from both parties now hope they can again avoid, or at least limit, bitter partisan fights in the legislative session that opens Tuesday.
The two parties often disagree on issues, particularly funding for education, but the 2013 session was known for cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on the economic development plan and a measure that revamped South Dakota’s criminal justice system.
“People have seen the dysfunctional atmosphere in Washington, and I really believe legislators in South Dakota come to Pierre thinking we’re not going to be like that,” said House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton. “I think there’s a very conscious effort to be not like Washington.”
House Republican Leader David Lust of Rapid City said he wishes Congress could learn a lesson from the way the South Dakota Legislature operates.
Lust also notes that because Republicans hold sizable majorities in both the House and Senate, they could ram bills through the Legislature without consulting Democrats.
“I just don’t think that’s good government,” Lust said.
Republicans hold a 28-7 advantage over Democrats in the Senate and a 53-17 edge in the House.
Senate Democratic Leader Jason Frerichs said members of the two parties cooperated and respected each other last year, and he sees signs that will continue this year. However, Republicans and Democrats may wind up at odds over changes in the management of legislative staff and investigations into the failure of a beef packing plant that received state money, he said.
Senate Republican Leader Tim Rave of Baltic said current lawmakers seek to avoid the bitter remarks that characterized some past sessions.
“There are certainly are issues we won’t agree on, but that’s OK. That’s part of the process,” Rave said.
Neither party has a lock on good ideas, Rave said.
“Together, I think good ideas come out of some good disagreement sometimes,” Rave said.
Hunhoff said he remembers years ago when lawmakers used four-letter words in debate, and he believes term limits that took effect more than a decade ago have improved civility in the House and Senate.
Some leaders who had been in the Legislature for decades before term limits were accomplished at partisan fighting, he said.
“Personal attacks are just about a thing of the past now,” Hunhoff said.
“It’s not the wild frontier it was. It was maybe a little more fun, but it wasn’t as productive.”