Governor Dennis Daugaard yesterday appointed former House Majority Leader David Lust to the District 34 House seat left vacant by Rep. Dan Dryden’s death last month. Now-Representative Lust is unlikely to take any formal action in this lame-duck appointment, but Governor Daugaard says he plans to re-appoint Lust to a full two-year term if voters mark Dryden’s name in sufficient numbers on the November ballot. (Remember, Dryden died four weeks after the deadline for removing a candidate’s name from the ballot, so District 34 voters will see Dryden’s name alongside the very much living Steve Stenson and Sen. Craig Tieszen on their House ballot.)
Lust is a logical, experienced, and unsurprising choice for Dryden’s seat. But Bob Mercer says the appointment signals Governor Daugaard’s determination to achieve one last major policy legacy—Medicaid expansion:
The significance of the governor choosing Rep. Lust, and of the governor making clear he would appoint Lust to the Dryden seat for the full 2017-2018 term as well… is that Lust was an early proponent behind the scenes for Medicaid expansion by the Legislature. It seemed unlikely that Rep. Gosch would ever vote in favor of Medicaid expansion, if the governor had pushed for a vote this year. It’s no guarantee that Rep. Lust would vote in the end for Medicaid expansion. But there is a sense in the Capitol that Medicaid expansion could be the final big issue on the governor’s agenda in 2017 as he starts his final two years in the office. Bringing David Lust back to the House seems like an important advantage for the governor [Bob Mercer, “The Returns of the Medical Tax and Rep. Lust,” Pure Pierre Politics, 2016.09.27].
Current House Majority Leader and Medicaid/ACA resistor Brian Gosch is leaving the Legislature. Lust may fill that vacuum with the same openness to Medicaid expansion with which he unnerved ultra-conservatives in 2014. Lust may be insulating himself from the wrath of cranky conservatives by emphasizing that, if voters pick Dryden/him, he will serve only one term:
Lust says if Dryden is re-elected he will serve in the same composed and relaxed style as the late representative. He says he had no previous plans of returning to politics…
“I’m not, will not be running again for the legislature,” Lust says. “This is an opportunity to serve for two years in unusual circumstances. I discussed with my family and my partners here at the law firm and I think it’s something I can do for the next two years and be able to manage it in a reasonable manner” [Lee Strubinger, “Lust to Fill Dryden’s Legislative Seat by Governor Appointment,” SDPB Radio, 2016.09.26].
With that one-term vow, Lust signals that whatever policies he may push in his brief return to the Legislature, he won’t be worried about primary challengers backed by Koch brother money. He’ll owe his seat to no one but the Governor, and if he and the Governor both want to expand Medicaid, he’ll have no reason to back away from that sensible policy.