Lee Strubinger

Politics and Public Policy Reporter

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Melissa Hamersma Sievers / SDPB

Democrats in the South Dakota Legislature have chosen leadership for the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions.

For the second time in a row, Senate Democrats make history with their decision.

Troy Heinert was the first Lakota to hold a leadership position of any party in the South Dakota statehouse. He’s been re-elected to the position. He’s one of three democrats to serve in the South Dakota Senate this year. That’s out of a 35 member Senate. Democrats lost two seats this last election.


State House Republicans are choosing legislative leadership.

Communication between the House and Senate has dissolved in recent years. The new House majority leader says the lines of communication  are open.

Kent Peterson is the majority leader for House Republicans, which hold a super majority in that chamber.

The Republican from Salem was assistant majority leader in 2017 and 2018, but hasn’t held a leadership position since.


South Dakota is one of three states in the upper Midwest without some form of a statewide mask mandate.
Some local governments have already issued their own mask mandates, but that number is growing as COVID spreads through the state.
On Monday night, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation that requires anyone over the age of two to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.


 State Senate Republicans are choosing chamber leadership.  One leader says he’s focused on making sure the will of the caucus is communicated clearly to the House, the Executive Branch and the public. 

Lee Schoenbeck is the Republican nominee for Senate President Pro Tempore. If confirmed in January, the Watertown Republican will set committee assignments and choose where bills get heard.


Republicans further solidified their majority in the South Dakota statehouse.

One Republican and one Democrat are offering differing assessments on how state Democrats can pick up the pieces following Tuesday’s general election.

The State legislature hasn’t been this Republican since 1953.

Of the 105 member legislature, Democrats are down to eight representatives from 10, and down to three senators, from five. That means some Senate committees next session will be all Republican.

Marijuana remains illegal in South Dakota and anyone who uses it puts themselves at risk of facing charges.
That’s what one county states attorney says when asked how they’ll handle marijuana charges over the next few months. Voters approved two marijuana measures in Tuesday’s election. Those don’t go into effect until July first of 2021.
Each county may have a different approach to small amount marijuana convictions.

National cannabis advocates say South Dakota’s vote legalizing medical and recreation pot could affect cannabis reform at the federal level.

South Dakota is one of four state legalizing marijuana for adult consumption. New Jersey, Arizona and Montana are also legalizing pot for recreational use.

South Dakota and Mississippi also legalized marijuana for medical use.

New Approach out of Washington DC is a national cannabis organization and pumped in $925 thousand into the South Dakota race.

Both incumbent Congressional candidates in South Dakota will return to Washington DC next year.

Both candidates won by wide margins, according to unofficial election results from the Secretary of State.

It was an unconventional campaign for US Senate this year. Most of the campaign existed virtually and on the airwaves. The two candidates also never debated in person. 

Senator Rounds says that’s in part due to his wife Jean’s cancer diagnosis and his schedule in the Senate.


In the state’s second largest county absentee voting has been extremely heavy this year. Pennington County received more than 37,000 absentee ballots, nearly double that from 2016.

Given that influx an absentee ballot board has been at work since 7 am, opening ballots and putting an official stamp on them and getting them ready to run through the tabulators.

The ballots won’t get tallied until after the polls close, which is 7 pm local time.

Peggy Seljeskog is an absentee ballot supervisor. She’s been working as an election official for 25 years.


Over 215,000 absentee ballots are filed with county auditors across South Dakota.

That’s nearly 95 percent of absentee ballots requested. And teams assembled by county auditors are sorting those ballots.

In the state’s second largest county  absentee voting has been extremely heavy this year. Pennington County received more than 37,000 absentee ballots, nearly double that from 2016.

Given that influx an absentee ballot board has been at work since 7 am, opening ballots and putting an official stamp on them and getting them ready to run through the tabulators.

Department of Public Safety

Officials say Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was distracted when he struck and killed a Highmore resident on the night of September 12th.

They declined to say how he was distracted, but are releasing the crash report and a photo of Ravnsborg’s car.

The report says Ravsnborg was travelling westbound and entered the north shoulder where he struck and killed Joseph Boever, who was walking on the north shoulder.

If South Dakota voters approve either ballot questions that greenlight some form of marijuana, it could complicate firearm transactions, legally.

When a gun is purchased from a licensed dealer, a form from the federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms asks if the purchaser is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or other controlled substance. It warns the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under federal law regardless of state law.

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

South Dakota’s Secretary of State says nine out of ten of absentee ballots requested have reached county auditors ahead of Tuesday’s general election.  
South Dakotans are on track to file nearly double the amount of absentee ballots filed in the 2016 presidential election. 
Of the 204,535 absentee ballots requested, 184,379 have been returned.
Secretary Steve Barnett says there’s a good chance that number keeps climbing into the weekend and could reach 200,000.

Katrina Raysby

South Dakota remains a COVID hot spot, and has been for weeks.  

Governor Kristi Noem’s policy response to the pandemic has remained largely the same, even as the number of positive COVID 19 cases has set new daily records.  

Kathy James’ family has been careful, they’ve taken precautions. Despite that, her son-in-law, Doug  Raysby, died of COVID-19.

“Doug is… Doug was… Doug was everything that Trina and I are not,” James said. “He’s quiet and passive and easy going. Doesn’t ruffle feathers.”

A new poll conducted by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and KELO TV shows slim support for a constitutional amendment legalizing pot use for adults.

South Dakota voters overwhelmingly support legalizing medical marijuana.

It’s the first independent poll done on the ballot questions.

Campaign filings for opposing groups on the question of legalizing recreational and medical marijuana  show similar approaches.  
One just has a lot more cash.
Both vote yes and vote no campaigns on Constitutional Amendment A rely heavily on organizational dollars for support.
That amendment would legalize recreational pot use for adults 21 and over.

Governor's Office

A poll out of South Dakota State University finds state Republicans are split on their approval of how President Donald Trump and Governor Kristi Noem are handling the coronavirus pandemic.
The two professors behind the survey sent email invites to 10,000 registered South Dakota voters.

Governor Kristi Noem has tripled her campaign war chest in the last five months.

According to the latest campaign finance filings with the Secretary of State, the Kristi For Governor campaign now has nearly $811,000 on hand.

In May she had about $245,000.

Steve Munsen

The South Dakota Speaker of the House says it’s been three days since he’s had a fever after contracting the coronavirus.

Republican Steve Haugaard says he’s feeling much better.

It was two weeks of non-stop fever. Speaker Haugaard says he tried to manage it with Tylenol and Ibuprophen. But his fever persisted.

“Temperatures seemed to hover anywhere from 100 to 105," Haugaard says.

Haugaard from Sioux Falls says he never lost his sense of taste or smell.

Kent Osborne / SDPB

Monday is the last day South Dakotans can register to vote.

Those who want to participate in the 2020 election have until 5 pm local time on October 19th to do so.

South Dakotans can print off a voter registration form off of the Secretary of State’s website or they can go down to their county auditor’s office and register.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett says while you’re there you might as well vote.

Deadwood, SD

South Dakota voters will decide whether to allow sports betting in Deadwood.

If passed, the constitutional amendment will prompt state lawmakers to pass rules on sports wagering next session.

Twenty three states have legalized sports betting after the US Supreme Court overturned a ban on it in 2018.

Constitutional Amendment B adds wagering on sporting events to the gambling provision in the state constitution.

South Dakota voters will decide in November whether to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21. The constitutional amendment would also allow medical marijuana use and industrial hemp.

If the measure passes, supporters say the industry could raise millions in tax revenue. Opponents say legalization could increase impaired driving.

Since 2017, nearly 3,750 South Dakotans faced charges and convictions for marijuana-related offenses. More than 200 served time in jail or the state penitentiary.

The Department of Public Safety is releasing a toxicology report and audio of the 911 call from the night Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck and killed a Hyde County resident a month ago.

The crash occurred outside of the town of Highmore a half mile west of the US Highway 14 and South Dakota 47 junction on September 12th.

An autopsy determined the cause of Joseph Boever’s death was traumatic injuries due to a pedestrian-motor vehicle crash.

Opponents of a ballot question that would legalize recreational marijuana, say 25 percent of traffic fatalities in Colorado involve marijuana. Pot use is legal there.
However, numbers from the Colorado Department of Transportation show fatal crashes involving pot-impaired drivers is much lower.


Twice, South Dakota Republicans rejected a proposal to include tribal schools in a $500 dollar per student COVID relief package.

In a resolution passed during a special session on Monday, lawmakers approved using some of it’s CARES Act money for public and private school students.

Governor Kristi Noem says the state will direct $75 million dollars in aid for public and private schools as part of how the state will spend the $1.25 billion dollars in federal COVID relief money. That’s in addition to what the federal government has already given public and private schools.


State legislators are directing the spending of the remaining federal coronavirus relief dollars given to South Dakota.

Governor Kristi Noem opened up a special session with a speech about what the state has gone through since lawmakers were last convened in March.

South Dakota averaged 11 cases a day when the legislature met on that Veto Day. Now, the state averages 450 new cases of COVID 19.

Wikimedia Commons

Marijuana is on the ballot this year in South Dakota. In fact there are two initiatives to legalize pot - for different uses.
One ballot measure allows both medical and recreational marijuana. The other initiative, legalizes marijuana for medical use only. That one, has support from more than 70 percent of South Dakota voters. But the state medical association and some in law enforcement oppose it.
At a young age, Rodger and Janice Knutsen’s son Kai started getting seizures.

Both major party candidates for South Dakota US Senate say President Trump should have denounced white supremacy during the debate Tuesday night.

Republican US Senator Mike Rounds says he watched the Yankees-Cleveland game, instead of the debate Tuesday night.

Rounds says he caught the last 15 minutes of the debate, live, and caught up on it the next morning.

Rounds says he didn’t care for the insults and interruptions and America’s kids deserve to see better from both candidates.

A group opposed to a constitutional change that legalizes recreational marijuana, among others, says if approved drug use will proliferate in public places. It also alleges dispensaries will infiltrate downtowns in South Dakota.

Proponents of Amendment A point to the language in the ballot question, which says differently.


State appropriators meet Wednesday to craft a legislative package to spend what’s left of roughly $1.25 billion in coronavirus relief money.

About $750 million remains unspent.

But, the state has put that money to use.

The state received the stimulus money in April. While it waited for the Treasury Department guidance on how to spend it, the money was placed into a cash flow portfolio—it was invested.

Since April, interest from that $1.25 billion has generated $4.7 million in interest for the state.