There are so few Democrats in the 2021 Legislature—eight Democrats out of 70 House members, three out of 35 Senate members—that they can’t mathematically cover every committee.
Each chamber has fourteen committees, so incoming Speaker Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham) can assign each Democrat to two House committees, per normal rules, and give Dems a lonely voice in each room. But in the Senate, newly elected President Pro-Tem Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) would have to give Senators Tory Heinert (D-26/Mission) and Red Dawn Foster (D-27/Pine Ridge) five committee assignments each and Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) four to ensure a Democratic vote in each meeting. (Reynold would get four, because he works Appropriations, and that’s double the work.) Such assignments would be logistically impossible under normal operating procedure: committees generally meet in two morning rounds during Session to avoid double-booking committee members. A Senator with five assignments would always be running back and forth between meeting rooms, constantly choosing which bills and testimony to hear and which to ignore.
Senator Schoenbeck says that ain’t happening:
…Senate Pro Tempore-elect Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, has chosen to keep Democrats off the Judiciary, Military and Veterans Affairs and Taxation Committees.
Heinert said he’s lobbying Schoenbeck to place a Democrat on the judiciary committee, motivated by that panel’s oversight of bills dealing with the corrections system and potentially legislation related to recent passage by voters of legal marijuana.
But Schoenbeck isn’t budging. He said the Senate Democrats are already over-represented on standing committees based on the number of seats they hold.
To his point, Democrats hold just 8.5% of Senate seats while Schoenbeck is filling 11% of Senate committee seats with minority party members. To compare, 11% of House committee seats are filled by Democrats, an equal proportion to their representation as a whole in that chamber.
“The way to have more slots is to have more South Dakotans think you have good ideas at election time,” Schoenbeck said [Joe Sneve, “Senate Democrats Left off Three Legislative Panels as Minority Party Spread Thin,” that Sioux Falls paper via Aberdeen American News, 2020.12.11].
While I will challenge Schoenbeck’s suggestion that our Legislative elections have much to do with good ideas, I must accede to his primary claim: elections have consequences. If you don’t win the contest, you don’t get the prize. If you only send three Senators to Pierre, you can’t expect to have seats on fourteen committees.