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MERCER: Republican 'outsiders' gained clout at Capitol

PIERRE — This legislative session has a different feel. Republican 'outsiders' are moving into power.

Some of their themes:

Even-tighter spending by state government, less government regulation and more transparency.

You can see it easiest in the Senate. Republicans won 29 seats in the 2016 elections. Democrats took six.

The Republican imbalance also produced factions.

Sen. Brock Greenfield, from Clark, won president pro tem in the Republican caucus election. The president pro tem sets Senate committees, chooses committee chairs and assigns to a committee each piece of legislation introduced in the Senate.

Greenfield defeated Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, for the post. Greenfield then distributed committee leaderships to a somewhat different group than Cammack had.

Here's an example of what's happening.

Sen. Jack Kolbeck and Rep. Sue Peterson challenged the state Board of Regents over disparity in college entrance-exam test scores for state-funded scholarships.

The Senate agreed with the two first-term Republicans from Sioux Falls and put home-schooled students at the same level as students from public and private schools.

The "outsider" trend is becoming more visible in the House of Representatives this session. Republicans hold 60 House seats. Democrats have 10.

The House voted 63-5 on Tuesday to require all state and county candidates for election file pre-primary campaign finance reports, no matter whether they have primaries.

That idea came from Rep. Drew Dennert, a first-term Republican from Aberdeen.

The House voted 41-27 on Monday for a proposal to change the design of South Dakota motor-vehicle license plates every 10 years. Current law calls for re-design every five. That idea came from Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller, a first-term Republican from Rapid City.

In the Joint Committee on Appropriations, Rep. Taffy Howard is raising hard questions to state government officials about their budgets almost every day. She is a first-term Republican from Rapid City.

The House Transportation Committee voted 7-6 on Tuesday morning to eliminate the annual $25 surcharge for renewing personalized license plates. That idea came from Rep. Tom Pischke, a first-term Republican from Dell Rapids.

The House voted 60-8 on Tuesday to require all state and local government bodies to offer a public-comment period at every public meeting. That idea came from Rep. Liz May of Kyle.

She too flies into the wind: May is a Republican elected three times from a legislative district where most registered voters are Democrats.

Some people explain this legislative independence by pointing to the trend in voter registration that's now 10 years old.

Democrats in South Dakota peaked in 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama competed for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Since then, Democrats have steadily fallen back, while Republicans modestly gain. The big story is the steady surge of voters who register as independent or no party.

Another explanation some offer is legislators feel friskier in the last year of a governor's administration. This is the last year for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican.

Some point to terms limits on legislators. We've had those since 1992.

Whatever the reason: Something is happening.