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Redistricting costs GOP a veteran in the House

PIERRE -- One of the bright spots Tuesday night was the realization that South Dakota Democrats have Dan Ahlers returning to our state's capitol. One of the low spots was the realization that South Dakota Republicans would be losing Roger Hunt at...

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PIERRE - One of the bright spots Tuesday night was the realization that South Dakota Democrats have Dan Ahlers returning to our state's capitol.

One of the low spots was the realization that South Dakota Republicans would be losing Roger Hunt at our state's capitol.

Ahlers, D-Dell Rapids, was a legislator for four years in the previous decade. He served in the House of Representatives for the 2007-2008 term and in the Senate for the 2009-2010 term. He turns 43 Nov. 14.

Hunt, R-Brandon, is finishing his 20th year as a legislator. The attorney spent all 20 winters in the House of Representatives, spread across three periods.

The first era covered the 1991 through 2000 terms. His fellow representatives chose him as their presiding officer as speaker of the House for 1999-2000. Term-limited, he stepped aside and didn't seek election to the Senate.

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Instead, he returned in 2005 and served through 2012.

Through the years, he was a leading figure in the fight to outlaw abortions in South Dakota as much as possible. That came to a head in 2006.

South Dakota lawmakers approved and then-Gov. Mike Rounds signed legislation sponsored by Hunt and Sen. Julie Bartling, D-Burke, that would have banned most abortions.

Supporters of abortion rights took their fight to the general public. They referred Hunt's legislation to a statewide vote.

Voters rejected HB 1215 in that November's general election, blocking its passage 185,945 to 148,648.

That fight still resonates in South Dakota politics. A large number of current officials had put their names on the 2006 legislation as co-sponsors.

Among them are current or returning legislators such as Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland; Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls; Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton; Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen; Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center; Chuck Turbiville, R-Deadwood; Mark Willadsen, R-Sioux Falls; and Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown.

Other co-sponsors from 2006 were now-Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, R-Yankton; now-Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, R-Sioux Falls; and now-deputy secretary of state Thomas Deadrick, R-Platte.

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In 2008 abortion was back on the ballot through an initiated measure that sought to prohibit abortion in most instances. It failed as well, losing 206,535 to 167,560.

Term-limited again in 2012, Hunt stepped aside a second time rather than seek election to the Senate.

In the 2014 election, Hunt came back to the House again. He was in a differently drawn legislative district this time, however. His local community couldn't vote for him. But no Democrats ran.

Upon his return to Pierre, Hunt again stood as a spokesman for conservative family values.

He passed a resolution in 2015 calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize the effects of abortion from the Roe v. Wade decision.

This year he attempted in several ways to reverse the transgender-participation policy adopted by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

The legislative boundary change caught up with Hunt this time. Ahlers is a Dell Rapids businessman; he runs a video rental store. He knows his way around the district.

Republican Tom Pischke placed first in District 25 with 6,398 votes, followed by Ahlers at 5,432 and Hunt at 5,399. Fourth was the other Democrat at 3,266.

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There will be a political crosshairs on the Ahlers seat come 2018. But until then, barring a recount, Dan Ahlers is one of 10 Democrats still left in the 70-seat House.

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