Speaker vote makes history and reveals extent of Republican rift
Snub of Hansen breaks with 60 years of tradition
The 2023 House floor vote for speaker of the South Dakota House of Representatives. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)
When Jon Hansen was passed over for speaker of the state House of Representatives this week, he made history and revealed a rift of historic proportions in the Republican Party.
Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, was the speaker pro tempore last year. That should have made him a shoe-in for speaker of the House when representatives needed to fill the position this year.
Since 1963, when the tradition of promoting the speaker pro tempore began, there had only been five times when that promotion failed to happen. Twice, it was because control of the chamber flipped from Democrats to Republicans, or vice versa. The other three times, it was because the speaker pro tempore left the Legislature.
Hansen became only the sixth speaker pro tempore in the last 60 years who did not become speaker, and the first in those six decades who failed to gain the job for a reason other than partisan control or a departure from office.
Instead of Hansen, representatives elected Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, as speaker on Tuesday during the first day of the 2023 legislative session at the Capitol in Pierre.
The public vote on the House floor came after a private caucus vote. In the public vote, there were 53 votes in favor of Bartels and 14 against him – including one from Hansen.
“We have maintained a tradition that the speaker pro tempore would become the next speaker of the House,” Hansen said. “And we abandoned that tradition.”
The speaker of the House is the presiding officer. The speaker makes committee appointments, assigns bills to committees, and presides over floor sessions, making procedural rulings as necessary. The speaker is also second in the line of succession to the governorship, behind the lieutenant governor.
The speaker pro tempore, who assists the speaker and presides in the speaker’s absence, is elected in the same manner as the speaker. That position went to Rep. Mike Stevens, R- Yankton, on Tuesday.
Rep. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, said the speaker vote reflects the intra-party split between the people he considers real conservatives, and the more moderate lawmakers he derides as “Republicans in Name Only.”
“The reason Hansen lost is RINOs have taken over the Legislature,” Jensen said.
But that title of “RINOs” means nothing to other Republicans, according to Bartels.
“I think you could use that back the other way towards them as well,” Bartels said.
Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, said the Republican moderates are exerting tighter control over the Legislature.
“It’s indicative of trying to moderate what’s happening in this legislative body and stay more towards the middle and governing, rather than being extremists,” Duba said.
The position of speaker pro tempore was first elected in 1937. In the early days of the position, there was no expectation that the speaker pro tempore would serve as speaker in the next session. Before 1960, only half of the speakers pro tempore went on to become speaker, according to the SoDak Governors blog.
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