SD Democrats elect Shane Merrill as new party chair

RAPID CITY, S.D.(The Dakota Scout) — The South Dakota Democratic Party’s central committee has elected Shane Merrill of Parker to serve as their party chair.

Merrill, 31, has volunteered in a number of capacities within the party since 2010. Most recently, he was interim chair, moving up into the top slot after former chairwoman Jennifer Slaight-Hansen was recalled from the position. 

“There is a lot of excitement,” Merrill said. “We are looking forward to finding candidates, reaching out to moderates and independents that are ready to have a conversation with Democrats again.”

Filling Merrill’s vacancy in the vice-chair position is Jessica Meyers, who most recently ran for the South Dakota State Senate in 2022. A mother of three, Meyers works in the healthcare staffing industry in Sioux Falls.

“We are, no question, in an uphill climb,” Meyers said. “But I’m excited after seeing all the support this weekend.”

The elections occurred at a pre-planned party event in the Black Hills this weekend. Meyers ran unopposed for the vice-chair position, while Merrill easily fended off a challenge from Sioux Fall Democrat John Cunningham, who most recently ran for the same position in February.

The formalization of Merrill’s move to chairman marks the end of a drawn out saga surrounding Slaight-Hansen’s removal from the position. The Dakota Scout first reported in August that former party Executive Director Dan Ahlers had quit just three months into the job, citing allegations that Slaight-Hansen was creating a hostile work environment and mismanaging the party. What would follow was a contentious but unanimous vote to sack the former chair, and an unsuccessful attempt to appeal the recall decision by Slaight-Hansen.

But the new chair says that Democrats are focused now on the tall task of returning to prominence in a state with a political environment dominated by Republicans.

“The party is united and focused on moving forward,” Merrill told The Dakota Scout. “We are ready to usher in the next generation of leadership in the state and blend together all factions of the party as we look ahead to 2024.”