Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Split for decades, some push for a north Rapid legislative district

Lee Strubinger
On the other side of this rail line three state legislative districts converge in north Rapid City

There’s an intersection in Rapid City that appears innocuous. But it’s where three legislative districts converge, splitting up a neighborhood.

Kellen Returns From Scout stands at the corner of East Boulevard and North Street.

The dividing point is between a residential neighborhood and a busy commercial corridor. There’s an open field and rail line nearby.

“Here is kind of an interesting display of how the legislature has strategically—in my opinion—diluted the voting power of the people here in north Rapid," Returns From Scout said. "Not just in this last period, in 2010, but for the last thirty years—at least in my recollection.”

Returns From Scout grew up and attended school in north Rapid City. He was born and raised in Lakota Homes – an affordable housing community. He now works for the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association - and was a South Dakota delegate for the Democratic National Convention.

One legislative district runs from this intersection in Rapid City west in the Black Hills to the Pactola Reservoir 20 miles away.

“We’ve had such a divided—legislatively district-wise—neighborhood and part of town where it has become nearly impossible to find a representative who actually resides here,” Returns From Scout said.

He said the way legislative districts currently stand, residents from the city’s north side have not had a chance at mounting a successful candidate for office. 

Returns From Scout does not live in north Rapid City currently. He says redistricting should correct what he calls a wrong against the neighborhood and community.

“Representation matters because we have communities who need advocates, who need authentic voices who represent them in this political process in our government," Returns From Scout said. "In order for our government to work, it has to be reflective of the people who are governed.”

Generally, every legislative district has two House members and one Senator. Returns From Scout is proposing a one-member House district for north Rapid City. There are similar districts in the northwestern part of the state —which encompasses the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock reservations—and in the district that encompasses the Rosebud Reservation. Those are court-ordered districts.

Even with such a district, Returns From Scout says the legislative district would be a challenge for a Native American or a Democratic candidate. He estimates that registered Republicans would make up 53 percent of registered voters. Native Americans would make up 44 percent of the population.

“It still makes it a little competitive,” Returns From Scout adds.

From the late 1800s to the 1960s there were three waves of Native American migration to Rapid City. Many moved to the west side of the city to be near the boarding school to be near family.

As Rapid City’s non-native population expanded into west Rapid, political pressure built to relocate Native Americans living in the area.

Through a series of city and federal land transfers, property in west Rapid was given to the school district and the city began moving Native American families to the Sioux Addition, located in north Rapid.

Pamela Carriveau is a political scientist with Black Hills State University. She says dividing the north side of Rapid City between three districts means representation is being manipulated.

“I think it’s curious when you look at the districts that intersect in north Rapid. One, in particular, includes areas of north rapid, west rapid, and south rapid. That’s a curious map," Carriveau said. "Why would you cover a geographic area in such a way that ultimately divides north Rapid.”


Carriveau does not anticipate that redistricting will make much difference this time. She says a shortened time frame to redraw legislative boundaries because of the census delay will likely mean the maps stay much the same.

Republican state Senator Mary Duvall is chair of the redistricting committee. She says if legislators designate one House member for North Rapid, minorities need to make up the majority of that district. She says Returns From Scout's proposed map doesn't quite have that. But she'd like to see a map that does.

“If there is a map that someone can bring forward—that's part of a larger map—that makes sense and doesn’t split north Rapid into three districts bring it forward, let’s take a look at it,” Duvall said.

Splitting up north Rapid City was also front of mind for those who testified on redistricting ten years ago.

The late State Senator Jim Bradford was a Democrat who sat on that redistricting committee. At the time, he said most of the people who showed up to speak were concerned about representation for the north side of the city.

“I would like to have seen some kind of map that would have north Rapid consolidated,” Bradford said. “Not that it was going to have any effect. It’s purely a gesture.”

But it’s not just state legislative boundaries that get redrawn following the census.

Gary Drewes is Chairman of the Pennington County Commissioners. He attended a recent redistricting meeting in Rapid City saying the county will take on a similar process.

“Because of our growth. We’ve had nearly a 10,000 or 8,500 population growth in the county,” Drewes said. “We will need to be looking at redrawing our lines also during this process.”

That’s why, for Kellen Returns From Scout, it’s about more than just the statehouse.

“Because of the drawing of districts, it has hindered our ability to be represented on the school board, the county commission, the city council,” Returns from Scout said. “Those omissions reverberate onto other facets of the community.”

The legislative redistricting committee has less than two months to draw 35 legislative boundaries. Lawmakers are scheduled to meet on November 8 to vote on those new districts.

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.