DAKOTA DUNES | Former state Sen. Dan Lederman last month easily won election as chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, knocking off an incumbent chair backed by the state's GOP governor and the entire congressional delegation.
In a rare contest for the post, the state Republican Central Committee voted 73 to 53 to give Lederman a two-year term over Pam Roberts, who had been chairwoman for the past two years. She had the endorsement of Gov. Dennis Daugaard, U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Rep. Kristi Noem.
Lederman, 44, previously served in the state House and Senate. The Dakota Dunes Republican resigned his Senate seat mid-term in March 2015. His family owns a bail bonds business in Sioux City.
Siouxland has produced periodic state party leaders. Ben Nesselhuf, a former lawmaker from Vermillion, was the South Dakota Democratic Party chairman from 2011 to 2013.
Lederman inherits a party in a commanding position in South Dakota. In addition to holding all three congressional seats and the governor's mansion, Republicans hold the largest number of state legislative seats since the 1950s. Statewide, there are 254,000 registered Republicans, compared to about 170,000 Democrats.
Lederman recently spoke with the Journal about his career, the state of the party, and South Dakota politics.
How long have you considered being the state party chair and why did you pursue it in 2017, particularly after resigning your legislative post midway in a term?
I have looked at being the state chair for a few years. It has always been something I have wanted to do for a while now.
What are the two most important things a state party chairman must do?
The main goal that I have is to build and grow our conservative movement, register and persuade new voters, energize the base to volunteer by knocking on doors and calling voters, reaching out to young people, because the Republican Party needs their passion and enthusiasm, and then staying connected with the farmers, ranchers, business owners and professionals, veterans and seniors who are the backbone of the party.
What are the top two electoral goals you want to achieve through the 2018 election cycle?
We want to maintain our supermajorities in the House and Senate and we have big races coming up in the next election cycle, there is an open race for governor and the at-large seat for Congress. In addition to that, all of our statewide executive offices are on the next ballot.
In 2018, South Dakotans will elect a new governor to succeed Dennis Daugaard. Who do you see as some top Republican candidates who will be running against presumed favorite Kristi Noem, or do you think her early candidacy announcement will freeze out top-flight competitors?
We have many qualified, experienced candidates for governor and Congress. We are lucky to have those candidates. Currently, we have in the running that have announced for governor our Congresswoman Kristi Noem and our Attorney General (Marty) Jackley. I will not be surprised if we have others that jump in.
What are the dynamics that have driven the Republican Party to such a stranglehold on elective office in South Dakota?
We have balanced our budget every year. We pass common sense conservative solutions. Our legislators are citizen legislators who go back to their homes and families. They only get paid $6,000 a year, so they don't do it for the money, they do it because they love the state of South Dakota. Our Republican legislators and officeholders do a good job of running the state.
Are there any demographic trends that you fear that could turn into electoral gains for Democrats?
The only trend that I see in South Dakota politics is the rise of the independent-voting segment. Typically, independent voters are more conservative....Demographically, I can't see where the Democrats can go, where they can go up.
Do you have any fear that the state party is currently so high that there is nowhere but down to go, and, if so, you personally could get some blame?
There is still room for improvement in our numbers. There is still 15 percent of the Legislature that is not Republican. I am going to work very hard and I take this position very seriously.
Is President Donald Trump a true conservative who is widely liked in South Dakota or are there still some party regulars who are skeptical of the president two months in?
President Trump is very popular among Republicans across South Dakota. I think President Trump is keeping his promises. He made a lot of bold commitments in his campaign. In the beginning of his presidency, he is following through on those promises, replacing Obamacare, securing our borders, creating jobs.