In trivial pursuits, SDGOP spin blogger Pat Powers decides to accuse “Dems” of historical amnesia by citing a statement by one Democrat, former state secretary of tribal relations and now Avera Health tribal relations director J.R. LaPlante:
“I believe that we will have equality in the state of South Dakota when white people elect a person of color to state office, and not just a district position, but an at-large position, at statewide election,” LaPlante said [Evan Hendershot, “Democratic Town Hall Meeting Sets the Stage for Possible Campaign Announcement,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2017.07.07].
Ben Reifel! shouts Pat Powers. Ben Reifel!
LaPlante seems to be suffering selective political amnesia in the case of Congressman Ben Reifel, a Republican who was elected as the first Lakota to serve in the House of Representatives. He served five terms as a Republican United States Congressman from the First District [Pat Powers, “Heinert Posturing for US House, Dems Suffering Ben Reifel Amnesia,” Dakota War College, 2017.07.08].
In his enthusiasm to overtag a story (again mistaking singular for plural, one Democrat for the whole group), Powers failed to recognize that LaPlante’s carefully chosen words reflected history better than Pat’s shouting.
Ben Reifel sure enough was Lakota, born on the Rosebud. He bounced around (funny Pat didn’t use the word carpetbagger) to Brookings, Mission, Pine Ridge, Pierre, Fort Berthold (North Dakota), and then Aberdeen, from where he launched his successful bid to represent South Dakota’s First Congressional District in 1960.
First Congressional District? Yeah, as in alongside South Dakota’s Second Congressional District. South Dakota had two Congressional Districts throughout Reifel’s five terms, from 1961 to 1971. When he won his first election, First was East River, Second was West. Redistricting in the ’60s moved that boundary east to include 21 eastern counties:
Look again what LaPlante said: “…elect a person of color to state office, and not just a district position, but an at-large position, at statewide election….” Reifel was a person of color, but he was elected to a district position, not a statewide position. He stood for election on ballots in eastern counties, but never on a statewide ballot. We didn’t have a single, at-large Congressional district until 1981. Powers knows this… but sometimes Powers’s enthusiasm for taking a cheap shot overrides his attention to historical fact.
I disagree with the overall position LaPlante takes: South Dakota will not achieve equality when we elect a Lakota Governor or member of Congress on a statewide ballot any more than America achieved equality when we elected Barack Obama President (twice!). But LaPlante’s carefully chosen words about “district” and “at-large” elections indicate LaPlante is perfectly aware of Ben Reifel’s service to this state and the fact that Reifel’s wins in eastern South Dakota were not statewide electoral victories.