PIERRE, S.D. (Press Release) – Saturday, the South Dakota House Republicans met to hold leadership elections for the 2023 legislative session, and the results have some claiming the Republican party is going blue, resulting in a major split in the party.
Hugh Bartels was nominated to be the next Speaker of the House, breaking with a tradition that Speaker Pro Tempore, Representative Jon Hansen, would take the position. Following Bartels for Speaker, Representative Mike Stevens was elected as Speaker Pro Tempore, Representative Will Mortensen as the Majority Leader, and Representative Taylor Rehfeldt as Assistant Majority Leader.
Some “conservative” Republicans in South Dakota have said that the party was swinging blue for some time, feeling increasingly excluded from the party, and according to the American Conservative Union, the recently elected Republican leadership are of some of the states lowest rated Republican Representatives , proving the point for conservatives that the party is going blue. The American Conservative Union best known for their annual C-PAC conference held in Washington D.C. the ACU 2021 scorecard rated Bartels at 58%, Mortensen at 70%, Rehfeldt at 78% and Stevens at 65%.
But what has some conservative Republicans worried about the newly elected leadership are their SD Right to Life ratings, with Bartels and Mortensen rated below 80%. That has Republicans like members of the South Dakota Freedom Caucus especially troubled, as Democrat groups like Dakotans for Health are circulating an Initiated Constitutional Amendment petition to make prenatal life termination a Constitutional right in South Dakota, overturning the trigger law that went into effect in South Dakota after the Dobbs decision earlier this year.
Unlike the newly elected House GOP leadership, former Speaker Pro Tempore Republican Rep. Jon Hansen is working to fight back against efforts to make feticide a right in South Dakota, forming the Life Defense Fund and has been actively raising money to combat the efforts of the Democrats.
The divide over these values has some Republican Representatives wondering if they will continue to caucus with the Republican GOP during the upcoming session.
The South Dakota Freedom Caucus said they understand the sentiment being shared by some, claiming that the Republican party is abandoning its principles and is why they formed their caucus in the first place. “Being a Republican isn’t just a name, it’s a set of values,” proclaimed Freedom Caucus Secretary/Treasurer Representative Tina Mulally. And while some Republican Representatives have already reached out to the Freedom Caucus about attending, Freedom Caucus Vice-Chairman Representative Tony Randolph said they’re only taking those Republicans whose voting records align with the Republican platform.
“We expect people to say what they mean, and mean what they say,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Representative Aaron Aylward, “we don’t want people who are lukewarm on their values, you’re either hot or cold.”
The Freedom Caucus hasn’t officially stated whether their members will be attending the House GOP Caucus. However, these elections have been a boost for membership for their caucus, whose membership is anonymous outside of their leadership.
The South Dakota 2023 legislative session starts January 10th.