2018 midterms: Noem, Johnson elected

Campus reacts to ballot measures, local, national elections

South Dakota voters made history Tuesday night by electing Kristi Noem as the state’s first female governor over her Democratic challenger Billie Sutton.

Sutton held a short lead early in the evening, but Noem took over as western precincts began reporting.

Noem was announced the 33rd governor of South Dakota late in the evening after claiming a narrow 3-point win, and she and her lieutenant governor, state Rep. Larry Rhoden, addressed supporters in the Hilton Garden Inn in Sioux Falls.


“We have the opportunity to be the state that leads by example on building strong families and communities together,” Noem said on stage.

If Sutton had won, he would have been the first Democratic governor since Harvey Wollman, who served from 1978 to 1979.

Augustana government professor Emily Wanless said she thinks the election eventually came down to party politics. She said some voters may have seen Sutton as an alternative to Noem early on, but as polls reported a competitive race, more voters may have reverted back to party affiliations.

Wanless said she thought Noem would win with a slight lead and was not surprised the race was close based on state demographics and polling. She said she also wouldn’t be surprised if  Sutton’s loss discourages Democratic voters in future elections.

Wanless said she also thinks Noem’s ad campaigning linking Sutton with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was effective at swaying independent and moderate voters because it boiled state politics down to national party affiliations.

“It just makes it easier for voters,” Wanless said. “I could go to Sutton’s website and read his platform, which would take me 15 minutes, or I could watch a 30-second commercial in which I see he is Bernie Sanders reincarnated.”

Junior Corey Albrecht, president of the Augustana Republicans, said he was surprised with how narrow the race became but does not expect South Dakota to become a swing state for the governorship in the future.

“I knew Kristi would win in the end, but it was closer than I expected,” Albrecht said.

Six hours before polls closed, Billie Sutton made a 30-minute campaign stop on campus and spoke to a crowd of roughly 60 students and faculty in the Morrison Commons.

Governor hopeful Billie Sutton visited the Morrison Commons on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Rebekah Tuchscherer.

Dems last-minute canvass

Sophomore and president of the Augustana Democrats Hunter Lipinski said he helped organize Sutton’s stop and canvassed for an hour on Tuesday morning in neighborhoods near Thunder Road Family Park and cold-called in the afternoon.

Lipinski said Sutton’s loss is disheartening but hopes the race proves that Democrats have a chance to break the Democratic governor dry spell.

“I would say there is a chance in the future if we can appeal to the Republican side,” Lipinski said.

Republican Dusty Johnson defeated Democrat Tim Bjorkman for the state’s lone House of Representatives seat. Dusty Johnson claimed 60 percent of the vote compared to Bjorkman’s 36 percent.

“The more Dusty Johnsons in Congress the better I say,” Albrecht said.

More locally, Republican Jack Kolbeck beat Democrat Melissa Hiatt for the District 13, and Reynold F. Nesiba, the Democratic incumbent for District 15 and an Augustana economics professor, ran uncontested.

Overall, Wanless said turnout was above average than previous midterms, but short of the 2016 presidential election. She said it is typical to see an increase in turnout when state executive positions are on the line.

The Secretary of State’s Office’s website shows that 62.75 percent of registered voters turned out this year.

Minnehaha County recorded 70,669 votes out of a population of 188,616.

Minnehaha recorded 78,263 votes during the 2016 election. Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the poll closest to campus, collected 380 votes.

Senior Sentel Johnson said she voted but is conflicted about her political beliefs. She said her political views have changed since coming to college.

“I’ve been everywhere on the political spectrum,” Sentel Johnson said. “I was never challenged on my beliefs coming from a small town.”

Two ballot measures passed

State voters also passed Amendment Z with 62 percent of the vote and Initiated Measure 24 with 56 percent of the vote. Amendment Z limits proposed amendments to the constitution to a single subject, and IM-24 bans individuals, political action committees and others outside of the state from making contributions to ballot question committees.

Augustana government professor Joel Johnson said he thinks the courts could rule IM-24 unconstitutional because they may interpret the law as infringing on freedom of speech.

Voters did not pass Amendment X, which would have increased the voter threshold needed to authorize future amendments from a simple majority—50 percent plus one vote—to 55 percent.

Wanless chaired the 2017 Initiative and Referendum Task Force which proposed Amendment X. She said voters were acting in their best interest by rejecting it.

“Ultimately, it’s making things harder for voters to act,” Wanless said. “If I’m a rational voter, I don’t want to be told it has to be harder for me to do something.”

Nationally, Democrats claimed 27 House seats to gain the majority, and Republicans extended their lead in the Senate by at least 2 seats. Joel Johnson said he thinks both parties can find something positive in the election, especially President Donald Trump.

Joel Johnson said presidents traditionally lose a lot of seats in their first midterm election. Former President Barack Obama lost 63 House seats and five Senate seats to Republicans during the 2010 midterm elections.

In the 1994 midterm election, former President Bill Clinton lost 54 House seats to Republicans.

Though Trump lost the House, Joel Johnson said it could have been worse.

“It’s a big loss, but it’s not a huge loss,” Joel Johnson said.

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