It’s bad enough that the Legislature isn’t willing to cross the Governor and require that her Tribal Affairs Secretary occasionally report to the Legislature’s State-Tribal Relations Committee. Even worse, Senate President Pro-Tem Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) wants to make that statutory committee more partisan and less responsive to the voices of the tribal people that the committee was founded to amplify.
Schoenbeck’s Senate Bill 97 takes two whacks at the bipartisan responsiveness of the State-Tribal Relations Committee. First, it raises the cap on partisan membership from 60% to 80%. Schoenbeck can argue, as he did when excluding rare Democrats from Judiciary, Taxation, and Veterans Affairs, that allowing the minority party at least one member from each chamber on the ten-member committee still grants the current Democratic caucus representation disproportionate to its meager numbers: cutting Democrats from their current four seats back to two still beats the proportion they’d get if President Pro-Tem Schoenbeck could whittle them down to the single seat their combined 10% of all Legislative seats would entitle them to in a system of pure proportional representation. But SB 97 will still cut the number of minority party voices on State-Tribal Relations by half… and concomitantly, since the four of the five tribal members on the committee are Democrats, cut the number of tribal voices on the committee by 40%.
Senate Bill 97 takes a second, arguably bigger whack at bipartisan checks and balances by changing who picks the chair and vice-chair of the committee. Currently, the committee elects its own leadership, and Democratic Representative Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission) and Senator Red Dawn Foster (D-27/Pine Ridge) have been able to win those posts. Schoenbeck says no way to that sort of bipartisan cooperation putting Democrats in charge of a statutorily independent committee’s agenda; SB 97 would put the power of picking State-Tribal Relations’ leaders back in the hands of the Speaker of the House and the President Pro-Tem.
Having too many Native voices and Native leaders on State-Tribal Relations constitutes an emergency in Schoenbeck’s mind: SB 97 comes with an emergency clause to give him and Speaker Spencer Gosch the chance to kick troublemakers Bordeaux and Senator Troy Heinert off State-Tribal Relations and replace them with more compliant Republicans immediately.
Former State-Tribal Relations chairman (and long-standing financial friend of this blog) Stanford Adelstein writes from Rapid City that Senate Bill 97 “would destroy the effectiveness of the State-Tribal Relations Committee”:
…[SB 97] would not only diminish the effectiveness of the committee’s activities, but represent a terrible example of strengthening antagonistic partisanship.
…Should SB 97 pass, the committee’s leadership would be selected politically, rather than from the membership by the membership. The current process of allowing the committee to select its own leadership helps to create an environment that fosters recognizing each other’s interests and an honest recognition of problems. [SB 97 is a] plan to deliberately destroy 28 years of success that recognized the true needs and problems of nearly 9% of the population of our state.
Having had the opportunity to have served on the State-Tribal Relations Committee for four terms, two terms as chairman, our effectiveness resulted from a willingness to ignore party differences. We did not always agree, but communication was open and public.
From my decades of South Dakota political experience, it is clear that the only purpose of this piece of legislation, the first amendment in 28 years, is to reduce honest public expression and examination of the needs and problems of the poorest and most stressed of our neighbors [Stanford Adelstein, press release, received by DFP 2021.02.12].
The Republican caucus already has more power than it knows what to do with. The occasionally independent expressions of the minority leadership of the State-Tribal Relations Committee pose no real threat to the one-party monolith’s ongoing electoral domination; they simply serve as a minor megaphone for voices that otherwise would go ignored in state government. SB 97 does not serve the interests of state-tribal relations or give more voice to those who need more voice; it only serves the single-minded dedication of South Dakota Republicans to the complete eradication of any locus of dissent in state government.