Mailer campaign kicks off tense GOP primary election season

GOP infighting in Pierre has never been a secret, but heading into this year’s primary election, its as prevalent as ever.
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 9:27 AM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - With voting for primary elections underway in South Dakota, many voters are on the receiving end of a mailer campaign targeted at certain Republican state lawmakers.

Those flyers are being sent out at the behest of Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown), who says that he is interested in preventing certain state lawmakers from returning to Pierre next year.

“I think that we get better representation if the voters out there know something about the candidates,” Schoenbeck said.

The mailer campaign is being funded by Schoenbeck’s PAC “South Dakota Strong” that he formed in 2021. It is not the first time the veteran Senator has engaged in such campaigns, Schoenbeck targeted several incumbent state lawmakers during the 2020 election cycle as well.

In part, the mailers ask voters to “Drain the Swamp,” and to “vote tax and spend swamp dwellers out!”

So far, four state lawmakers have confirmed that the fliers have gone out in their districts against them: Rep. Bethany Soye (R-Hartford), Rep. Tony Randolph (R-Rapid City), Rep. Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham), and Rep. Tom Pischke (R-Dell Rapids). Gosch and Pischke are both looking to make the jump to the Senate this election cycle.

State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) is behind a mailer campaign targeting certain...
State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) is behind a mailer campaign targeting certain Republican lawmakers for a vote they took during the 2022 legislative session to allow counties to increase taxes. However, those lawmakers say that mailers are disingenuous at best.(Submitted DNN/KOTA)
State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) is behind a mailer campaign targeting certain...
State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) is behind a mailer campaign targeting certain Republican lawmakers for a vote they took during the 2022 legislative session to allow counties to increase taxes. However, those lawmakers say that mailers are disingenuous at best.(Submitted DNN/KOTA)

The flier brings specific attention to HB 1053, which would have allowed counties to raise their sales tax rate by .5% under certain circumstances. All of the targeted lawmakers voted to pass that bill, which was defeated in the Senate.

However, the targeted representatives say that single vote does not tell the whole story. All four voted in favor of reducing the sales tax from 4.5% to 4%. Schoenbeck was the main proponent for raising the sales tax originally in 2016, and voted against lowering it this session. Additionally, all four lawmakers who have been targeted voted to remove the grocery tax, which Schoenbeck and a majority of the Senate also opposed.

The targeted Representatives all said voters should look at their voting records historically, and how they score with certain conservative scorecards like Americans for Prosperity, before coming to any judgements.

“The desire is to have more control of the legislature,” said Randolph. “I would say that it is the biggest agenda of Schoenbeck, is to have more control.”

Schoenbeck says that it’s ironic the House sent over a bill cutting the sales tax, and another allowing counties to raise it in the same week.

“I think that public officials have a duty to get out, when you have these strange people running for office, public officials have a duty to campaign against them,” Schoenbeck explained. “You can’t be back here complaining when someone like Pischke, who is as strange as they come, gets elected to the legislature and you didn’t do anything to tell his voters about him.”

“The liberal leader of the Senate, Lee Schoenbeck, is really worried about losing his power over the entire Senate,” Pischke responded. “He knows I am not someone he can control, he knows that I am not someone who is going to follow his liberal ways. He’s worried about me getting elected to the Senate in District 25.”

Early voting has already started across South Dakota, the final day to vote in the primaries is June 7th.

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