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Voters show discontent in GOP legislative primaries

todayJune 5, 2024 4

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Fourteen Republican legislators lost races Tuesday in South Dakota’s primary elections against candidates who in most cases weren’t very well known outside their local areas.

Low turnout was also part of the story in some districts, and that amplified a wave of anti-incumbent dissatisfaction among many of the voters who did go to the polls.

The highest-profile defeat was Sen. Jean Hunhoff, the Legislature’s current longest-serving member, who fell to Lauren Nelson.

Another veteran lawmaker, Sen. Ryan Maher, lost when he tried to move back to the House of Representatives.

Sen. Erin Tobin and Rep. James “JD” Wangsness, two mid-level Republican leaders who stood in support of Governor Kristi Noem, also met defeat. So did the mother-and-son tandem of Rep. Tamara St. John and Rep. Tyler Tordsen, as well as Rep. Byron Callies.

One thing they had in common was voting yes on SB201, the 2024 session’s most controversial piece of legislation.

Called a landowners’ bill of rights, the measure placed some restrictions on carbon-dioxide pipelines but severely weakened local governments’ ability to keep the lines out.

Meanwhile legislators who strongly opposed CO2 pipelines, such as Rep. Carl Perry, Rep. Karla Lems, Rep. Kevin Jensen, Rep. John Sjaarda, Rep. Scott Moore and Rep. Julie Auch, did as well or better than expected in winning their primary elections Tuesday.

Especially impressive was the victory by Joy Hohn, an anti-pipeline activist who lives in rural Hartford, who easily beat former Rep. Mark Willadsen for the Republican nomination in Senate District 9 — and thereby won the Senate seat outright, because no other candidate had filed.

All this came as a citizen group continued attempting to keep SB201 from taking effect on July 1.

Opponents are trying to gather at least 17,508 valid signatures of registered South Dakota voters and get them to the Secretary of State office by 5 p.m. on June 25. That would force a statewide referral vote in the November general election on whether SB201 should become law.

Mykala Voita of rural Bonesteel defeated Tobin for the Republican nomination in Senate District 21. Contacted by KELOLAND News about what was her key to victory, Voita stated, “When God called, I answered. Standing firm on my moral convictions and my faith, which means understanding government is there to defend our rights, not pick winners and losers, and not to try to legislate in favor of large corporations. South Dakota isn’t for sale, and under God the people rule.”

South Dakota Primary Election Day: Low turnout, incumbent losses

Tuesday’s legislative results also saw a lot of big spending by political action committees in support of the pro-pipeline bloc of candidates, and much of that money went to waste in unsuccessfully attempting to persuade people who for whatever reason didn’t vote.

One of the PACs’ biggest targets was Sen. Tom Pischke, who voted against SB201, but he brushed aside a challenge from former Sen. Jordan Youngberg. According to Pischke, “many things” contributed to his win.

“The biggest factor is that I’ve knocked on so many of these Republican voters’ doors over the past eight years. Many of them know me personally and they know that I vote conservatively for them in Pierre,” Pischke said.

In western South Dakota, several incumbents were trailing or had lost — Rep. Kirk Chaffee, Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, Sen. David Johnson, Rep. Becky Drury, Rep. Gary Cammack and Sen. Mike Walsh — as this story was being written. How much SB201 affected their races wasn’t clear; Chaffee and Frye-Mueller voted against it, while Johnson, Drury, Cammack and Walsh voted for it.

Hand count ballot measures lose in 3 South Dakota counties

An exception where a legislator who voted for SB201 defeated a legislator who voted against SB201 came in the Senate District 4 Republican primary, where Rep. Stephanie Sauder edged Rep. Fred Deutsch 1,868-1,804.

SB201 was an issue in their race.

“The ethanol (and) carbon industries heavily advertised that I am anti-ethanol. That is not true,” Deutsch said, stating that he was “threatened by email” by the CEO of an ethanol plant, and that the company official sent letters to ethanol shareholders asking them to vote against Deutsch.

Asked if he planned to seek a recount, Deutsch replied, “Yes.”

For a full list of unofficial results from the Tuesday primary elections, visit the Secretary of State’s special website.

Written by: The Dam Rock Station

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