Familiar faces chosen by local voters Tuesday

The National Guard Armory in Vermillion, which doubled as a polling place for Tuesday's general election, saw a steady stream of foot traffic after 5 p.m. on Election Day as last minute voters cast their ballots. Voter turnout in Clay County was nearly 64 percent, trailing the statewide average which topped 69 percent. (Photo by David Lias)

By David Lias


Voters in Clay County decided Tuesday to return some familiar faces to county and legislative offices, while adding some new people to the mix.

In the two-person race for District 17 state senator, former State Rep. Tom Jones  defeated challenger John S. Chicoine. Jones received 3,563 votes, and Jorgenson received 3,477.

In the race for two District 17 House seats, Republican Nancy Rasmussen and Democrat Ray Ring were elected with  3,576 votes and 3,226 votes respectively. Marion Sorlien received 3,052 votes.

In a five-person race for two Clay County Commission seats, incumbents Leo Powell and Raymond (Dusty) Passick  and newcomer Travis Mockler garnered the most votes, with 2,123, 1,883 and 1,759 respectively to win.

They were the top vote-getters, defeating Ruth Bremer, who received 1,683 votes and Stanley Peterson, who received 705.

Republicans sweep state elections.

South Dakota Democrats started this year's campaign with high hopes, recruited seemingly strong candidates and ran hard-fought campaigns. But when the votes were finally counted, Republicans once again had swept the state's elections.

Republican Rep. Kristi Noem won the election Tuesday to a second term as South Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House, turning back an aggressive challenge from Democrat Matt Varilek. Two GOP candidates held onto their seats on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, and Republicans kept their strong majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

And Mitt Romney won South Dakota's three electoral votes, defeating President Barack Obama to continue the GOP's domination of presidential politics in the heavily Republican state. Obama, however, won the national election.

Top officials in both parties said Romney's win with 58 percent of the votes played a big role in the Republican successes in races further down the ballot.

"It makes it tough for the down-ballot candidates to have to outperform the top of the ticket by that much," South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf said.

South Dakota Republican Party Chairman Tim Rave said Republicans who were motivated to vote by their dislike of Obama also helped elect GOP candidates in other races.

Republicans Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen won new terms on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, meaning the GOP will continue to hold all three seats on the panel that regulates grain warehouses and natural gas, electric and telephone utilities. Nelson, a 48-year-old former secretary of state, defeated Democrat Nick Nemec, 53, a farmer and former state lawmaker. Fiegen defeated Democratic challenger Matt McGovern, 40, a Sioux Falls lawyer and grandson of former Sen. George McGovern.

Voters also rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard's plan to give merit pay to teachers and a proposal to boost the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent, with the extra money split between schools and Medicaid.

Voters reject sales tax hike

South Dakota voters have rejected a proposal to raise the state sales tax to provide more money for schools and the Medicaid program that provides health care to low-income people.

A teachers union and a health care organization collected signatures to put the proposal on the ballot after Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the Republican-dominated Legislature cut state funding last year for school districts and medical facilities that serve Medicaid patients.

The measure would have raised the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent and was expected to raise an estimated $180 million a year. Half would have gone to school districts and half to Medicaid.

Opponents say such funding decisions should be left to the governor and the Legislature.

Incentive grant plan fails

South Dakota voters also rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard's plan to give incentive grants to large construction projects.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill last year at the governor's urging to provide grants to companies to get them to expand or relocate to South Dakota.

The state Democratic party, however, said the estimated $16 million a year in grants would be better used to help fund schools. It gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot for a public vote.

The grants would have been paid for with 22 percent of the receipts from the contractor's excise tax.

South Dakota for years has had a program that refunds construction taxes for large industrial projects, but it expires at the end of this year.

Governor's ed reform measure rejected

South Dakota voters have rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard's plan to give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs.

The Legislature approved the Republican governor's proposal earlier this year, but the state's main teachers union, the South Dakota Education Association, collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot for a public vote.

Daugaard argues the measure will improve student achievement. But opponents contend it could hurt the quality of education because teachers might stop collaborating to help students as they compete for bonus money.

The plan would have given annual $5,000 bonuses to the top 20 percent of teachers in each school district and provided scholarships and bonuses to recruit teachers in critical fields.

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