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Sutton Rises, Novstrup Falls on 2018 Conservative Scorecard

…and I’m a centrist!

Just in time for the primary (though not for all of the early voters), Citizens for Liberty releases its 2018 Conservative Scorecard for our legislators. The Rapid City-based right-wing group scores the Senate on 25 bills and one resolution and the House on 22 bills and one resolution selected from 535 bills and 50 resolutions. This scorecard thus reflects legislators’ positions on less than 5% of the business that came before them in 2018.

The most conservative Senator in 2018 is Sen. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs). Top-con in the House was Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea). However, CfL appeared to grade harder this year than last, as scores dropped for most legislators. 2017’s higher scores thus prevail in the full-term averages, meaning that, as was the case with CfL’s 2017 scorecard, the top conservative in the House for the past two terms is Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller (R-30/Rapid City), wife of CfL president Mike Mueller. (Remind me to start a Sensible Theology Scorecard so I can name my wife top theologian among South Dakota clergy.) Senator Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) holds his title as top Senate conservative over the past two terms.*

Billie Sutton in church
Playing to the conservative audience…

Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) must have decided the 40.6% he scored on CfL’s 2017 Scorecard wasn’t good enough for his race for governor. In 2018, he boosted his score to 58.3%, raising his rank from 23rd to 7th most conservative in the Senate and nearly tying arch-conservative Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre). Think of that, Democrats: by the CfL scorecard, our party’s gubernatorial nominee is almost indistinguishable from Jeff Monroe.

Al Novstrup clap clap
Not clapping loudly enough…

Running in the opposite direction was Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen). Evidently sensing the tide shifting from his crony-faux-Republicanism to the evidence-based policy of his strong liberal competitor in the District 3 Senate race, Novstrup cast more liberal votes, dropping his score from 59.4% in 2017 to 40.9% this Session. Novstrup’s rank drops from 11th most conservative in the Senate in 2017 to a tie for 14th this Session with Senator Ryan Maher (R-28/Isabel) and Senator John Wiik (R-4/Big Stone City).

For what it’s worth, I would have scored 34.6% on the 2018 Senate scorecard, ranking 18th, right in the middle of the 35-member body, four points below Senator Kevin Killer (D-27/Pine Ridge) and one point above Senator Justin Cronin (R-23/Gettysburg).

18 Republican incumbents are in primary battles. Expect the CfL scorecard to show up against Sen. Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls), Sen. Gary Cammack (R-29/Union Center), and Sen. Kris Langer (R-25/Dell Rapids), whose low scores (all under 40% for the 2017–2018 term averages) provide easy fodder for their more conservative primary challengers.

*Correction 2018.05.22 06:12 CDT: Senator Nelson pointed out that my original post looked only at the full-term average and not at the 2018 column. I have corrected this regrettable error.


  1. Stace Nelson 2018-05-21

    @CAH You are really slipping.. Correction, Senator Russell was the top conservative in the Senate this year, and Representative Taffy Howard was the top conservative in the House. As the email that legislators alone appeared to have received indicated, these folks had to hand tabulate these reviews because former long-time Democrat turned Republican Senator Al Novstrup and others don’t want their complete voting records made available to the public so that such groups can do comprehensive reviews: While I didn’t agree with a couple of their positions on a couple bills, they have listed some key bills with significant Republican positions that “Republicans” voted more often with the Democrats on, than with their own GOP platforms.

  2. grudznick 2018-05-21

    This scorecard consistently scores the worst on the scorecard of scorecards, and those listed near the top of it are invariably the least effective in the legislatures. Voters with common sense should vote for any primary challengers.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-22

    You are correct, Stace; I slipped and looked at the term average rather than to 2018 column. I’ll correct that above.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-05-22

    Check that: Latterell outscored Howard and her four-way tie with Dennert, Frye-Mueller, and Livermont.There was also general slippage in conservative scores. Either CfL is grading harder, or, like me, the Legislature gets more liberal with age (we can only hope it’s the latter).

  5. Stace Nelson 2018-05-22

    @CAH Good catch. At the end of session I discussed with Senator Maher about the visible shift by so many. He said that he and Senator Curd intentionally moved to the Left to appease the majority Left leaning ‘Republicans” in the caucus. Senator Larry Tidemann was proud of his CFL scores and readily admitted that it was correct and that is how his liberal district likes him to vote. The CFL scorecard is supported by others that go into less depth like Family Heritage’s But the political prostitutes over at the war toilet avoid highlighting that scorecard or contesting their similar conclusions because it is not as widely circulated and they can’t afford to take on those associated with it. The RINO propagandist over at the war toilet simply try and distract from the bills that were highlighted by screaming and shooting at the messengers. We have a life-long Iowa Democrat illegally involved with the GOP, paying a disgraced former SOS employee to attack conservative Republicans.

    CFL highlighted significant issues of concern for conservative Republicans across the state and how their elected legislators officially voted on those issues. None of those “Republican” legislators are denying their records or CFL’s notes on how the bills should be viewed as Republicans with an eye towards the Constitutions and Republican platforms.

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