Why did the song “Your Cheatin’ Heart” immediately jump to mind? Lucas Lentch, executive director for the South Dakota Republican Party, just issued a statement announcing that state Rep. Eldon Nygaard of Vermillion has decided to switch his political allegiance. Nygaard has left the Democratic ranks and joined the Republicans. First, this proves Eldon can count. He was going to be one of six Democrats in the Senate come the 2011 session. Now he’ll be one of 30 Republicans. Nygaard expressed faith in the ability of Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, and said he’ll continue to reach across the political aisle as he has in the past. Except now it will be from the other side. A key part of Nygaard’s statement says, “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.” Here’s the kicker: Eldon serves District 17 and succeeds Democratic Ben Nesselhuf of Vermillion in the Senate; Ben is now running to be the South Dakota Democratic Party’s chairman. This party-switching in the Senate isn’t new, although Eldon’s crossover is a significant message from a serious legislator. During the past two years the Senate saw Sen. Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge, a Democrat traditionally, serve as a Republican and then switch back last session to a Democrat, while Sen. Ryan Maher of Isabel was elected two years ago as a Democrat but switched to a Republican last session in a move that coincided with Bradford’s change of allegiance back to Democrat.
The last time the Democrats had less than six senators was the 1953 session when they had zero. For the five sets of sessions from 1939 through 1947 they had five, four, four, zero and zero. It’s fair to say that, at least from a historical perspective, the Democrats aren’t in a good place right now in the South Dakota Senate.