Sioux Falls braces for yet another legislative redistribution battle, as countryside and city collide

The old rest stop for travelers to the west has disappeared. But the trucks carrying the harvested corn always pass by, while the ducks hover above our heads.

And a reporter looking for the outer limits of the so-called “built-up area” of Sioux Falls, where the city ends and the country begins for voters, watched a rural road by another name.

“I really don’t know if there was any gerrymandering because I wasn’t in the room,” De Knudson, a former Sioux Falls city councilor, said on Monday, September 27, of the last time. that legislators have drawn legislative lines. “I trust our legislators and our state.”

“But …” and she pauses.

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Few people mean the “G” word in South Dakota. It’s a funny word, with an accusing tone. But many people feel the Sioux Falls districts are down, running like a windmill from the urban core to gobble up (and lean on) more conservative rural voters.

“As for going out right now and saying ‘there’s gerrymandering in South Dakota’, it’s probably a bit of a stretch to say yes, it’s happening,” said Chad Skiles, Democratic President. of Lincoln County. “But, my boy, when you look at some of these maps and some of these dividing lines, especially in the Sioux Falls area, you can’t help but ask the question, ‘why did this particular legislative district have was it drawn the way it was? ‘”

When the lawmakers of the electoral redistribution The committee arrives at Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls for a subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, September 28 at 6 p.m., they will revisit a city at the heart of the decade-long redistribution struggle.

When the current cards were approved in a special session in October 2011, all Democrats except one in Pierre opposed the bill. It’s because they didn’t like what they saw in terms of political interference.

There was District 25, which spans rural communities in northern Minnehaha County, tiptoeing around Brandon northeast of Sioux Falls, then crawling to the east side of Sioux Falls, resting a few blocks from I-229 in the center of town.

Another – District 9 – devours all of western Minnehaha County and also retreats east into the city, almost to the airport. There’s also District 10, which starts in northeast Sioux Falls near Washington High School, inexplicably jumping to neighboring Brandon.

State law requires districts to be “compact and contiguous territories” and based on the most recent US Census data. They must also demonstrate “respect for geographic and political boundaries” such as county and city boundaries.

But the lines at Sioux Falls seem to be breaking these rules.

Two districts even stretch out like columns along Sioux Falls, with District 12 stretching from McKennan Park near the city core to the Lincoln County line. Likewise, District 13 begins north of the Sanford USD Medical Center, near the city center, and runs south past the Lincoln County line, encompassing an actual agricultural site owned by Representative Arch Beal.

Senator Jim Bolin, R-Canton, helped lead the redistribution in 2011 and sits on the committee again in 2021 and has defended the process by repeatedly noting: “We have never been sued.”

But Knudson, who is helping lead the Drawn Together voting initiative that will potentially come to voters in 2022, supports removing the redistribution process from lawmakers who have everything to gain (or lose) on its merits.

“I think it would be best if it was done by an independent commission,” Knudson said.

The 2011 lines did not portend an immediate loss for Democrats. In the 2012 elections, the party retained its 24 seats in Pierre (compared to only 11 today). In fact, the party’s biggest losses came two years earlier in the 2010 midterm elections, when they lost a third of their 38 seats.

But what has happened over the past decade has not only been significantly fewer Democrats, but also Republican candidates who have leaned more toward the political right. Political observers say it’s hard to find politically moderate Republicans in Sioux Falls like Dave Knudson, De’s husband, who was the GOP majority leader in the Senate and opposed in 2007 to a statewide ban on abortion.

In their place was a team of ultra-conservative lawmakers, including Rep. Rhonda Milstead and Senator Maggie Sutton, the main sponsors of an anti-transgender bill that was defeated largely in the name of self-interest. from the Sioux Falls business community.

Other Republican lawmakers in Sioux Falls include Reps Bethany Soye, representing District 9, and Jon Hansen, who represents District 25 from his home outside of Dell Rapids. Both have frequently given the chorus to a range of platforms of social conservatism in Pierre.

In January, days before the uprising on the United States Capitol, Representative Steve Haugaard, a former Speaker of the House who represents District 10, appeared at an anti-theft rally in Sioux Falls.

And city voters have noticed. A year ago, De and Dave moved from District 14 on the southwest side of town to Downtown District 15, a pocket of blue voters in the heart of a city.

“I know this is one of the few districts that has the capacity to elect Democratic lawmakers,” said Knudson, who is still a registered Republican and describes herself as “moderate.”

In a growing area like Sioux Falls, it’s common for cornfields to bolster condominiums or combine to share space on the shoulder of a highway with spandex-clad cyclists. But data from the 2020 U.S. Census will exacerbate this rural-urban surge.

Matt Frame, of the Legislative Research Council, said if the city simply maintained the current lines of the Sioux Falls metropolitan area, the number of legislative districts would increase from nine to 10, meaning three more Sioux Falls lawmakers and three representatives. less out of state. .

And what that might do to the cards is guessable.

“What I’m hearing is that similar things are going to happen,” said Skiles, of Lincoln County Democrats. “How they tend to incorporate both rural and urban areas into all of these districts. And that’s a little unsettling.”

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