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Upcoming legislative leadership roles take shape

Katie Hunhoff - South Dakota Magazine

Senate leadership roles are forming for the incoming South Dakota legislative session.

Republicans lost a seat in the state Senate, but still retain a super majority in the chamber.

Republican Senator Casey Crabtree has served three years in the Senate and is already majority leader.

The Madison Senator said he’s spent the last three years listening to the caucus and understanding each member’s priorities.

“What I’m about is us working together as a team,” Crabtree said. “I know that when people work together we have the best opportunity to succeed. That position that I was running for—which is Senate Majority Leader—is really about serving our group of Republican Senators and trying to do what’s best to ensure South Dakota is the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.”

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem appointed Crabtree in the summer of 2020.

Watertown Republican State Senator Lee Schoenbeck was reelected as Senate president pro tempore. That position determines what bills get heard in which committee.

Longtime appropriations member Democrat Reynold Nesiba will take the roll of minority leader. Democrats now have four seats in the state Senate, which is up from three.

Nesiba said Senate Democrats will keep their priorities the same.

“Trying to create a South Dakota that works for everyone,” Nesiba said. “So, our focus, again, is on education, access to health care and making sure we have a fair and equitable tax system.”

Nesiba, who is from Sioux Falls, has been working since 2004 to remove the state sales tax on groceries. That’s a policy proposal Noem promised on the 2022 campaign trail.

A West River Democrat will lead the minority caucus in the House.

Oren Lesmeister is a rancher from Parade, which is in the northwest part of the state.

The former assistant minority leader said his caucus will focus on voter-approved ideas like Medicaid expansion.

“Medical marijuana is still another issue that we got to help facilitate and work on,” Lesmeister said. “Just help the people of South Dakota, doing a better job than what we’re doing now.”

House Republicans will retain their supermajority control. Democrats lost a seat in last week’s election. They now have seven members, which is ten percent of that chamber.

Lesmeister said the caucus will continue to leverage their numbers for outcomes on bills that split House Republicans.

House Republicans convene on Saturday to choose their leadership.

Many expect taxes and abortion to take up much of the upcoming session. Lawmakers convene for legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

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.