The Democrats won only six of the 35 seats in the South Dakota Senate, and one of them defected to the Republican side today. On occasion a party member switches parties out of deep disagreement on policy or on the way a party goes about its business. However, the circumstances of the defection of Eldon Nygaard do not have that context.
Last Saturday when the Democratic caucus filled its leadership positions in preparation for the upcoming legislative session, Nygaard ran for two positions in the Democratic Senate caucus. He won neither. Then, today Nygaard issued a statement announcing his defection:
“For the following reasons and the fact that my philosophy regarding government’s role in society is more in line with the Republican Party, I have changed my party affiliation. In my new role as a member of the Republican State Senate Caucus, I will continue to reach across the aisle to find solutions that work for my district and the people of South Dakota.The statement raises the obvious question: if the Republican Party is more in line with your political philosophy, why did you run as a Democrat?
This election brought a lot of changes across South Dakota and the Nation. Voters sent a message to all elected officials – they want action and they want change. I firmly believe that I can represent my District’s needs in Pierre more effectively as a member of the Republican Party. My past four years in the House have been marked by a bi-partisan approach to working for my district and the people of South Dakota.
I would like to thank my supporters for demonstrating their confidence in me by electing me to the South Dakota Senate this past election. With this victory comes the great responsibility to represent District 17 and the State at a time when we face some tough challenges. I am optimistic that our new Governor is up to the challenges and he needs everyone’s support.”
If the situation were not obvious on its face, Bob Mercer discharged both barrels of his snark gun with his headline for the story:
“Eldon, you’re nothing but a two-timing…”
The South Dakota Democratic Party statement on the defection follows below in its entirety:
Statement on Sen. Nygaard
SIOUX FALLS - Senator Eldon Nygaard lost a leadership election in the Democratic caucus last Saturday, and now the Democrats have lost him to the Republican Party. Still, party leaders say they wish him well and that they'll continue to work with him for the best interests of his district.
Executive Director Erin McCarrick stated, “If Eldon wants to put personal gain above what we are fighting for as Democrats and above his District, then the Republican Party should work out just fine. When you don’t get your way, the answer is not to take your toys to a different sand box and give up”
McCarrick added, “Eldon has let down those who voted for him and those who worked for him, including the College Democrats who spent numerous hours volunteering. That is not the message to send to our youth. I don’t think we’ll have a problem challenging him and winning in 2012.”
"We wish Eldon well, and will continue to work with him as a colleague," said Senator Jason Frerichs, the new Senate Democratic leader. "Eldon's frustration with the Democratic caucus obviously occurred during the leadership elections last week. But we fear that he will be equally frustrated as a Republican in the state legislature, where the majority lawmakers often complain that they must too often follow the governor's lead or the party line when they would prefer to speak their own minds.
"Democratic Legislators believe there is a lot of opportunity in their minority role,” added Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, the House Democratic Leader. "We can work for an agenda that we believe is right for South Dakota, rather than playing a back-up role to the bureaucrats and the executive branch.
Hunhoff said Democrats, despite being outnumbered, have doggedly established the Pierre agenda in recent years on open government, fiscal responsibility, education, spending, wind energy, ethanol and other important issues. “We will do it again and we hop that Senator Nygaard- regardless of his party affiliation – will support us. But we think he will find it more difficult in the majority caucus that is too often beholden to the bureaucracy and the status quo."