The attendees of the 2011 South Dakota Girls State had a firsthand view of party politics in the state Legislature � namely, the differences and similarities involved in serving with the majority or minority party.
The Girls Staters were visited Wednesday, June 1, by the two District 18 members of the state House, Republican Nick Moser and Democrat Bernie Hunhoff, both of Yankton.
Moser said that while there are benefits to being a member of the majority, the issue isn�t as one-sided as it may seem.
�It means a lot of things, but at the same time, it doesn�t mean that much, because there�s no such thing as an ideal Republican,� he said. �In South Dakota, our elected officials within the Republican Party differ substantially on a number of important issues � taxes, health care, education. So, for me, the big battle in Pierre isn�t between myself and the minority party. It generally is with myself and members of my caucus of other Republicans.�
Hunhoff said the difference in Pierre isn�t so much between Republicans and Democrats as it is between the legislative and executive branches of government.
�When the executive branch and the legislative branch are run by the same party � and basically the same people � too often, it�s just one big machine. And that�s a weakness, I think, for South Dakota,� he said.
While the process of governing runs smoothly, he said, �(It) would work even better if everybody truly had a say, and if there was really an equal balance. The problem with the process in South Dakota is that the Democratic Party, throughout our state�s history, has been a minority party.�
Republicans currently hold more than 80 of South Dakota�s 105 legislative seats. Although Democrats have been in the majority several times, Hunhoff said the last such instance was in the 1970s.
Hunhoff said a good example of the problem with South Dakota�s system relates to Gov. Dennis Daugaard�s budget.
He said that when the budget was presented, Daugaard stressed, �This is just a budget, not the budget.�
�That�s what he said, but at the end, after 35 days, after all sorts of people weighed in, we ended up with his budget,� Hunhoff said.
Moser said the Republicans do their best to ensure separation from the governor when it comes to planning.
�When we come in and put out our strategy for what we think public policy should be in South Dakota, we make it a point not to invite the governor,� he said.
The Republican caucus goes through �a lot of heated battles� before it gets to the finished piece of legislation.
Hunhoff said that while this may be true, the meetings of the caucus are closed, and by the time that legislation comes to the floor of the House or the Senate, the majority of the party has agreed on it.
�You have no chance to even hear what the discussions are,� he said. �A one-party system is hurting us, and it�s hurting us because too many decisions are being made in private discussions.�
Some of those disagreements and discussions do make their way to the floor, Moser said. He cited as an example the fact that during the 2011 session, some members of the Republican caucus wanted to make a rule that anyone who receives money under the Department of Social Services should be subjected to a drug test.
�There was a big group of members from my caucus who were pushing for this,� Moser said. �The Democrats pretty much unanimously opposed it. Most of the Republicans supported it. �
�Sometimes you just have to break away, and I ended up getting up and giving a speech on the floor of the House that killed this bill,� he said. �Members of my party wouldn�t talk to me for a week afterwards, but at the end of the day, it�s my vote and I represent the people of Yankton and not the South Dakota Republican Party.�
Both candidates encouraged the Girls State attendees to get involved, no matter which party.
�We�ve got a lot of work to do in South Dakota � but I think young people are up to the task,� Hunhoff said.
Moser agreed, adding, �Be involved. We need you. Not just in the future, but today.�