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Democrat Leaders Anticipate More Work With Less Members This Session

Melissa Hamersma Sievers

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.

The Democrat from Mission says these next two years could be difficult.

“Especially when your numbers are small,” Heinert says. “We have to be a voice for a lot of people that just aren’t in the majority party. There’s some more responsibilities. I’m always optimistic each session, but with COVID we still don’t’ even know what it looks like. We’re just going to have to be ready to adapt and still try to do the best job we can.”

Senator Red Dawn Foster is Assistant Minority Leader. She’s the first Lakota woman to hold a leadership position in Pierre. 

Over in the House, Sioux Falls Democratic Representative Jamie Smith retains his seat as the caucus leader. House Democrats lost two of their ten seats in that chamber. Smith says the next two years will be an uphill battle.

“We work to build alliances with those that we can. We want the people of South Dakota to know they have a voice through us, and to reach out to use, if they feel like their voice isn’t being heard,” Smith says. “We’re going to Pierre to work hard for the people of South Dakota. We’ve got a great team within my caucus to do that.”

Smith says Democrats work especially hard during session because they have fewer members.

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.