South Dakota GOP Sweep Statewide Midterm Elections

Nov 7, 2018

The South Dakota Republican Party made a clean sweep of statewide races in the 2018 midterm election.

Former Chief-of-staff to Governor Dennis Daugaard and Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson won handily over his Democratic challenger Tim Bjorkman. Johnson took 60 percent of vote.

Dusty Johnson

Johnson says it’s rewarding and gratifying to know the people of South Dakota chose him for the job of representing them in Congress.

“We are not going to disappoint them,” Johnson says. “Frankly, more than anything, we are anxious to get to work. There’s a lot to do, particularly in areas like the farm bill, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves.”

To do that, Johnson has to land himself on the House Agriculture Committee. He says he’ll get on the ag committee or, “die trying.”

“That is incredibly important to our state, this part of the nation, and it matches up real well with my skill set,” Johnson says. “It’s been an area, traditionally, of some bi-partisan agreement. Being on that ag committee is going to give me an opportunity to make sure we get the farm bill right.”

The US House race was called early on election night.

In his concession speech, Democrat Bjorkman says he ran his campaign not on partisan rhetoric but on values. In it he calls for civility in partnership across political divides.

“Those of the other party are not members of a warring tribe. They’re our fellow caretakers in this great American democratic experiment,” Bjorkman says. “So just as iron sharpens iron, we need to let one another sharpen our own views and our own ideas because that’s how we work best as a government and as a people.”

US Representative-elect Johnson is one of 435 members of the House.

No(em) going back

One hundred years—and two days—after South Dakota women’s suffrage began, the state’s voters elected the first female governor.

Republican Congresswoman, and now Governor-elect, Kristi Noem edged out Democratic challenger Billie Sutton by more than 11,000 votes.

Gov. Elect Noem

Noem says being the first female governor of South Dakota is special, but she says she’s focused on what she can do for the state.

“My background, working in the state legislature and at the federal level, was very bi-partisan in bringing people together to get big bills done,” Noem says. “I’m hopeful that even though people didn’t support me in this race, that I’ll be able to sit down and have conversations with them and win their support delivering real results for South Dakota.”

It was the closest governor’s race in recent history. The Noem camp received campaign visits from both

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. She outraised and outspent her opponent, Sutton.

Noem describes the conversation she and Sutton had when he conceded the race.

“We talked about the race, how hard each of us worked, and how grateful we were for our families,” Noem says. “I told him that I would love to work with him in the future and I think that we have a real opportunity to bring everyone together in South Dakota and be a real example to the nation in doing that.”

Noem’s challenger, Democrat Billie Sutton congratulated Kristi Noem during his concession speech. He emphasized unity as a goal for South Dakotans.

Billie Sutton

“I wish Governor-elect Noem all the best as she prepares to take office next year. I spent much of the last year on the campaign trail talking about the need for coming together and working to find common ground… none of that changes because we didn’t win,” Sutton says. “We should still seek to find common ground. To look for ways to work together to find solutions to the challenges our state faces.”

Governor-elect Noem will take over where Governor Dennis Daugaard leaves off. She’ll be handed the reigns to the state’s highest office with a state legislature that has a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

Elections are unofficial until the Secretary of State canvasses the results.

State Representative Julie Bartling lost her bid for Sutton’s seat in the District 21 state senate race.

According to the Secretary of state’s website, seven races are up for possible recount. Most notably, the State Senate District 12 race between Republican Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd and Democratic challenger Kasey Olivier. Right now, Curd has a 27 vote lead in that race.

Another possible recount could occur in the District 14 house race, where Democratic candidate Erin Healy holds a 189-vote lead over incumbent Republican State Representative Tom Holmes.

Voters in District 31 re-elected the late Charles Turbiville, both state representative and mayor of Deadwood. Noem will choose his replacement.

Attorney General race

Republican lawyer and Army Reserve officer Jason Ravnsborg is the latest in a long line of Republicans to be the state's chief lawyer and law enforcement officer. He defeated former U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler with 55 percent of the vote.

Ravnsborg campaigned as the candidate favored by the law enforcement community. He confirmed to supporters his commitment to battle drug dealers.

“And while it’s a good day for South Dakota, it’s a bad day for drug dealers.  As I said in the debate, they had 86 days to reform their lives. I’m telling you now you’ve got 60 left, because we’re going to do everything we can do to keep South Dakota save.

Ravnsborg also proposes expanding programs allowing lower-level prisoners to work and establishing a meth-specific prison and mental health facility in the central or western part of the state.

Ballot Questions

South Dakota voters reject Constitutional Amendment W.  

The proposal created an ethics commission overseeing all three branches of state government.

Amendment W also called for stricter laws on campaign finance and lobbying.

David Owen is President of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry and chaired the W is Wrong committee.

He says Amendment W's ethics board created a 4th branch of government that was too powerful. Owen says it was a team effort to defeat the proposal.

"There was over 40 groups that band together to get the word out to South Dakota voters to raise a modest amount of money,” Owens says. “I think our campaign was outspent two, or three, or maybe four to one. But, we found a way to succinctly express the deficiencies of Amendment W."

The group supporting Amendment W was led by former lawmaker Mitch Richter. He says the plan for the ethics board was fair.

"It would've had a seven-member board that would have been picked by the Supreme Court, the legislature, and the Governor...the executive branch. That was modeled after many of the other states surrounding us that have done this," Richter says.

Richter says voter support of Initiated Measure Twenty-Two in 20-16 and more than 140,000 votes for Amendment W demonstrates that South Dakotans are interested in government accountability and oversight. He says the campaign plans to talk with supporters about the next steps.

Also on Tuesday, voters decided against a plan to raise the threshold needed to pass a constitutional amendment from a simple majority to at least 55 percent.  A plan to raise the tobacco tax to fund the state's technical institutes also failed.

Voters supported an initiated measure to ban contributions to ballot question campaigns from out-of-state political committees, non-residents, and entities not registered with the Secretary of State.

They also backed a proposal requiring all future constitutional amendments to include only one subject.