The South Dakota House of Representatives held is own contested vote for Speaker of the House this week. The vote differed significantly from the McCarthy/monkeywrencher drama in Washington, D.C., last week. Republican party favorite Representative Hugh Bartels (R-5/Watertown) needed only one vote to win the Speakership. The vote was not close—53–14. The 14 feckless radicals who supported misogynist anti-democracy lawyer Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) appear not to have secured any sort of rule changes, committee assignments, or extra twinkle in the Twitterverse for their mugwumpery.
And, depressingly, all six Democrats present voted for Republican Bartels for Speaker.
In Washington, the minority caucus stuck to its guns and voted unanimously for its new leader, Congressman Hakeen Jeffries. The Democrats in Congress flexed their minority muscle to help Republicans trip all over themselves on their way into their two-year majority term.
But in Pierre, the minority caucus said, sure, Hugh Bartels will be a fine Speaker, better than anyone we could offer. Democrats in Pierre did not rally around their own leader, Representative Oren Lesmeister (D-28A/Parade).
The same is true in the Senate, where all four Democrats ignored a meager Freedom Caucus leadership challenge and endorsed another two years of Republican Senator Lee Schoenbeck’s (R-5/Watertown) iron-fisted reign as President Pro-Tempore.
South Dakota’s Democrats appear to remain mired in the false belief that if they just play nice with the Republicans and don’t make any trouble, they can get the Republicans to negotiate with them and come their way on Democratic policies. There is no sign this strategy of accommodating the Republican majority has produced any good results for policy or for the Democratic Party. And even if there are some gains to be made via compromise, voting for their own Democratic leaders for Speaker and President Pro-Tem isn’t exactly a radical expression of political warfare that should blow up comity and deal-making; it’s a simple expression of political identity: sure, Hugh and Lee have the votes, but we’re still Democrats, and we still believe Democrats would be the best leaders for this Legislature.
When Democrats will forgo this basic declaration of identity in the false hope of fair play from the Republican supermajority, they make voters wonder what difference a vote for Democrats will make. If Democrats go to Pierre and vote for Republican leaders, why shouldn’t voters back home do the same?