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Whack-a-Doodles Resist: Schoenbeck Purge Doesn’t Produce Big Results

Lee Schoenbeck didn’t have a great Primary Day. The Senate President Pro-Tempore’s Amendment C went down in flames on his home Watertown turf and across the state (voters were confused, cries Schoenbeck). His son Jake lost his bid for a House seat in District 2, the new district Lee carved especially for Jake out of southeastern Minnehaha County. His super-smart lawyer daughter Erin Schoenbeck Byre lost her bid for Pennington County Precinct 3-5 committeewoman on a 67%–33% vote for Jill Mills. And the results of the whack-a-doodle purge that he and Governor Kristi Noem orchestrated were at best mixed.

Senator Schoenbeck poured over $38,000 this spring into the campaigns of 36 Republican candidates who faced primaries. 20 of Schoenbeck’s preferred candidates won their primaries; 16 lost. 55% of Schoenbeck’s money went toward winners.

In Senate races, Schoenbeck got 7 of the 13 Republicans in whom he invested:

  • Sen. Michael Rohl (R-1/Aberdeen) beat pious wingnut Joe Donnell.
  • Steve Kolbeck (R-2/Sioux Falls) beat Spencer Wrightsman.
  • Rep. Tim Reed (R-7/Brookings) beat Julie Erickson.
  • Sen. Bryan Breitling (R-23/Miller) beat Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham)
  • Rep. Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) beat John Carley and Beka Zerbst.
  • Randy Deibert (R/31-Spearfish) beat wingnut Ron Moeller.
  • Sen. David Johnson (R-33/Hisega) beat wingnut Janet Jensen.

Five of those winners are sitting legislators. Kolbeck is an old political hand. Deibert is a sitting Lawrence County commissioner with a familiarity advantage over Black Hills newcomer and wingnut Ron Moeller.

Schoenbeck lost six Senate battles, including two battles* against loyal Republican water carriers that seemed to be prompted more by pique over resistance to his redistricting plan last November than any real ideological disagreement:

  • Rachel Dix lost to Sen. Al Novstrup* (R-3/Aberdeen).
  • Rep. Mark Willadsen (R-9/Sioux Falls) lost to Brent Hoffman.
  • Former legislator Nancy Rasmussen lost to Sen. Jim Bolin* (R-16/Canton).
  • Sen. Mary Duvall (R-24/Pierre) lost to Jim Mehlhaff.
  • Lisa Rave lost to Rep. Tom Pischke (R-25/Dell Rapids).
  • Rep. Tim Goodwin (R-30/Sheridan Lake) lost to Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (R-30/Rapid City).

Schoenbeck’s efforts thus didn’t change the Senate much in his favor. He failed to remove Frye-Mueller, one of the staunchest right-wing whack-a-doodles in the Senate. He lost loyal moderate Mary Duvall in District 24, and he may have alienated Novstrup and Bolin.

Things didn’t go any better for Rep. Scott Odenbach (R-30/Spearfish), a Spearfish lawyer who pushed back against Schoenbeck’s purge by pouring PAC money of his own into 39 Republican primary candidates, many of whom faced opponents funded by Schoenbeck. 19 of Odenbach’s candidates won on Tuesday; 20 lost. Only 48% of Odenbach’s money went to primary winners. Where Odenbach’s money went head to head with Schoenbeck’s, Schoenbeck’s picks beat out Odenbach’s in 9 contests (Senate Districts 2, 7, 23, 31, 33; House Districts 12, 14, 24, 28B) while Odenbach’s picks beat out Schoenbeck’s in 9 contests (Senate Districts 3, 9, 24, 25, 30; House Districts 2, 13, 20, 35).

Several Schoenbeck/Odenbach cash clashes produced unclear results. In the District 3 House race, Richard Rylance got Schoenbeck money while Rep. Kaleb Weis got Odenbach money, and both lost to Rep. Carl Perry and Brandei Schaefbauer (though, worth noting: Lee’s pal Rick has never held office, yet he still beat District 2 incumbent Weis, demonstrating how much Kaleb’s previous two election wins depended on having an R in front of his name in easy and far-flung District 2 rather than having to convince his actual Aberdeen neighbors that he’s a competent legislator). In House Districts 4 and 19, Schoenbeck and Odenbach each backed one winning candidate and one losing candidate. In House Districts 11 and 33, Schoenbeck and Odenbach each gave to one of the winners and wasted no money on losers.

Schoenbeck and Odenbach both funded each other’s opponents in their home districts, to no avail. Odenbach gave $1,000 to Schoenbeck’s District 5 Senate challenger Colin Paulsen, who lost to Schoenbeck 59% to 41%. Schoenbeck funneled $3,200 to Odenbach and fellow District 31 incumbent Mary Fitzgerald’s lone primary challenger Mistie Caldwell. Votes in District 31 went 41% for Odenbach, 36% for Fitzgerald, and 24% for Caldwell.

Schoenbeck’s success rate—and, for that matter, Odenbach’s—outperformed Governor Kristi Noem, whose endorsement-success rate is down to 33% in Legislative races. But for all his efforts, Schoenbeck seems to done no better than fight his way to a primary draw against Odenbach and other whack-a-doodles. So not only does Lee not face the happy prospect of legislating with his son Jake on the other side of the Capitol, but he does not get to rule with an iron fist over a Senate and House of his choosing.


  1. Jake Schoenbeck 2022-06-09 13:01

    Come on Corey, pandering to Erin by calling her super-smart!? I thought you had better integrity than that!

  2. larry kurtz 2022-06-09 13:31

    Lee Schoenbeck is the Bernie Madoff of Bernard Cardinal Laws: the ends always justify the means.

  3. Erin Schoenbeck Byre, Esq. 2022-06-09 13:42

    Jake, I don’t see any letters behind your name.

  4. O 2022-06-09 16:09

    I propose a more dangerous postulate: Schoenbeck made a critical error in his calculus: he believed that the “whack-a-doodle (a term I saw in national political media for the first time this week unrelated to SD/Schoenbeck)” officials did not represent the Republicans who elected them. I propose the catastrophic conclusion from this election is that they DO. When given a more “traditional” Republican choice, the electorate will reveal itself in its candidate selection. Compound this conclusion with record turnout, and the conclusion one must turn to is that Schoenbeck (and the more rational core of the SD GOP that is willing to focus on governance over exclusively MAGA campaigning social warfare issues) is out of step with the cult of personality that the SD GOP has devolved into.

    Democrats (and Independents et al) may have found a new ally in the MAGA war against education. Perhaps a contributing factor to young candidates doing poorly — too “educated” or “modern” — i.e. “progressive.”

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-06-09 16:55

    Jake, I feel for you. You’d likely be a better legislator than the yahoos the radical fringe backs. I also think Erin would be a more sensible delegate than the right-wing maniacs likely to people the convention hall two weeks from today.

    As for pandering, I only speak the truth. But hey: if Attorney Schoenbeck Brye is on the fast track to an appointment to the federal bench, she might well be hearing one of my voter rights/ballot question lawsuis someday, so it can’t hurt to stay on her good side. ;-)

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-06-09 17:14

    Speaking of right-wing maniacs, O’s more dangerous postulate may not be entirely true, or at least not universal in the SDGOP. Joe Donnell and Ron Moeller both come across as hard-core Trumpist BS artists, and both lost. District 2 may have passed on Jake’s youthful charm and connections with the Senate Pro-Tem, they chose former Democratic PU Commissioner Steve Kolbeck over evidently further right, Odenbach-funded Spencer Wrightsman. Schoenbeck wasn’t able to purge the whack-a-doodles, but the whack-a-doodles weren’t able to organize and take over the Legislature. The whack-a-doodles also made no more progress in statewide races against the establishment candidates than they have in the past several elections. Dusty still cracked 60% (better than the 47% he got in 2018 when the wingnuts threw Tapio at hime and Shantel Krebs tacked right). Outsider whack-a-doodle par excellence Bruce Whalen made no headway against Thune. Haugaard, whose rage at being called whacky prompted Schoenbeck to call him a goofus in 2019 failed to launch against Noem.

    Senator Schoenbeck threw a bunch of money against a big blob of wingnuts who keep getting elected by the local deplorables who are more interested in Fox News and MAGA rally highlights than practical South Dakota governance. Those deplorables lack the intelligence to organize anything greater than a fat rump of House naysayers who still haven’t demonstrated the ability to significantly disrupt Schoenbeck’s and Noem’s agenda. But to uproot these deplorables, Schoenbeck has seen that he has to do more than spend money and send postcards. He has to organize his own movement within the party to really turn out votes in District 2, 3, 9, 16, 25, and 30 to put his people in office.

  7. Arlo Blundt 2022-06-09 17:34

    O is just sooooo right…its a war against the “over educated” by the Party’s lunatic right wing, in this case, guided by Governor Noem. She poses as supporting the “good government” wing of the Party at times but feeds red meat to the lunatics at every opportunity. The younger Schoenbeck and Rylance from Aberdeen had some potential, Rylance especially would have been a thoughtful leader for the Party. But…they get lost in the shuffle and we have Al Novstrup back in the spotlight….he is the Moe Howard of the Legislature.

  8. grudznick 2022-06-09 18:03

    Mr. Novstrup, the elder, and his swell haircut will indeed be back in the legislatures and make for much entertainment for us all, I am sure.

    grudznick, for one, welcomes our soup-bowl coiffed overlords.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-06-09 20:17

    Jake and Erin, do comment more!

    Jake, for instance, could point out that at least he won the election in his jurisdiction for a seat at the SDGOP convention. Jake finished second in a seven person field to win one of three Minnehaha County delegate seats, alongside first-place Deb Peters and third-place Darren Schlechter.

    But Erin still has letters behind her name, and the endorsement of the debatocracy for her next run for public office.

  10. John 2022-06-09 21:39

    Cory, thanks for your take on wingnut Ron Moeller. I missed your take back when.
    Days before the primary wingnut Ron Moeller ran adds proclaiming he had the endorsement of lying “Gen. Michael Flynn”, actually a lieutenant general, and previously charged and convicted, then pardoned (as if a pardon magically changes history). Flynn also urged Trump to invoke martial law. Wingnut Ron Moeller clearly showed morals residing in the gutter.

    The fascists and anti-democracy cabal remain dangerous.

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