South Dakota legislative leadership push change to State-Tribal Relations committee

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 11:29 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A number of key South Dakota state lawmakers are at odds over a decision to change leadership on the State-Tribal Relations committee.

Speaker Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) and Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) sent a letter to all members of the committee, letting them know that their membership had been rescinded.

The decision to do so came as outgoing committee chair, State Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D-Mission) was planning a meeting for the committee.

“We have a lot of irons in the fire, that we started,” Bordeaux said about the committee. “We just want to follow up, and get any of that stuff done, so when the next crew takes over they don’t have stuff hanging over their head.”

Bordeaux had planned for a variety of testimonies to take place, before being informed by staff on the Legislative Research Council (LRC) that the meeting would no longer be happening, at the behest of legislative leadership.

Bordeaux argues that his term as chair does not end until July, Speaker Spencer Gosch argues that it ended in January of this year. According to South Dakota Codified Law 2-6-21, “The members of the State-Tribal Relations Committee shall be appointed biennially for terms expiring on January first of each succeeding odd-numbered year and shall serve until their respective successors are appointed and qualified.” The incoming chairs of the committee, State Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) and State Rep. Tamara St. John (R-Sisseton) were informed they would become that chairs in March, after being selected by leadership.

The committee has seen its fair share of controversies over the course of the past few years, often times serving as a battlefield for disagreements over policy proposals from Governor Kristi Noem. State-Tribal Relations Secretary Dave Flute, along with other Noem Administration officials, have been boycotting hearings by the committee, due to the treatment they say they received from committee members. Both Bordeaux and Gosch shared details of an incident during a December 2019 committee hearing, in which Flute was racially disparaged by a tribal chairman testifying before the committee. Flute’s decision to not attend the meetings led Bordeaux to bring a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would have given the committee subpoena powers.

Bordeaux says that leaderships move to shut down his planned meeting was due to systemic racism.

“I take offense when they act like this isn’t somehow a systemic thing they are building in, like racism isn’t a part of this,” Bordeaux said. “They wouldn’t be able to pull off all the bull**** they did, if they didn’t have some systemic, racism, institutionalized bull**** that is part of this whole system.”

Gosch pushed back on that assessment, saying that the committee has become less capable during Bordeaux’s two years as chair.

“This proves our point of divisiveness, are we looking for a way forward to get over these scenarios, or are we trying to dwell on them to move forward another agenda?” Gosch asked. “The rest of the committee wants to move on and do great things for the tribes in the state.”

“Look how much of a debacle this committee has been the last two years under Shawn Bordeaux,” Gosch added. “These changes have everything to do with his incompetence and nothing to do with race.”

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