SD GOP leadership wants convention process significantly altered

Changes to the South Dakota Republican Party’s bylaws would significantly limit the influence that local activists across the state have on selecting nominees for higher office.
Changes to the SD GOP’s bylaws would significantly limit the influence that local activists across the state have on selecting nominees for higher office.
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 3:39 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - Major changes could be coming to the way that elections are ran and coordinated in South Dakota, particularly within the state’s Republican Party.

A proposal by the South Dakota GOP’s Bylaw Committee would prevent the precinct people from voting at the state convention every four years, based on the argument that too many only want to vote at the convention, and are shirking on other responsibilities.

Precinct committee people are lower-level elected officials, tasked with connecting election districts and voters to a political party.

“I am adamantly against any bylaw changes,” said Tom Brunner, a former state lawmakers running to be chair of the SD GOP. “I don’t think we need to change everything just because we aren’t happy with some races and how they turned out at the convention. By and large, I am really for the grassroots people.”

The issue in it’s entirety has further split establishment leadership within the GOP and more conservative, grassroots activists. County Republican parties across the state have been at odds about who to send to Pierre Saturday to vote on the changes, and who should be elected to statewide leadership positions within the party.

GOP Chair candidate John Wiik, also currently serving as a State Senator, says the proposal by the Bylaw Committee is likely to fail.

“A precinct committee person should know their neighborhood, should be involved there and should be a positive influence on what our ideas can do,” Wiik said. “And htat is what this is all about, it is about sharing ideas.”

But its not the only idea that has come up looking to further handicap some of the party’s most faithful. Legislation has also been filed in the state legislature to allow the Governor to appoint the Lieutenant Governor, and have the races for Secretary of State and Attorney General be decided on a state primary ballot. The legislation would apply to both the Republican and Democratic nominees.

The push came about as a result of establishment frustrations with the results of the 2022 South Dakota Republican Party convention. Many in upper level leadership have expressed disappointment in former Secretary of State Steve Barnett’s loss, and the narrow wins Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden and Attorney General Marty Jackley pulled off.

Both Wiik and Brunner say they are opposed to the idea, but Wiik has suggested he has a different piece of legislation drafted that would only move the Lieutenant Governor out of the convention, and keep everything else the same.

“I think it is ill advised to alter the convention like that, especially at this time,” Wiik said. “We have a lot of opportunities to make sure our convention is the best it can be moving forward, and I would like to do that within the South Dakota Republican Party.”

“That is the heart of our state, the precinct people that are out working,” Brunner said. “To try and shut them up and out is wrong. We need to celebrate that process, and not try and limit it.”

Republican county leaders from across the state will converge on Pierre Saturday to vote on the proposed rule changes, and on who the next leaders of the state party should be.