South Dakota Democratic Party ousts state chair who was accused of creating hostile work environment

19 August 2023

FORT PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Democratic Party ousted Jennifer Slaight-Hansen as state chair on Saturday amid accusations that she violated party rules and created a hostile work environment for staff.

The party’s State Central Committee voted 57-0, with two abstentions, to remove Slaight-Hansen. She can appeal. If her appeal is rejected, a new election for chair will be held Sept. 16 in Rapid City.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported that Slaight-Hansen did not attend the meeting in Fort Pierre. She did not respond to the newspaper’s requests for comment on whether she would challenge the recall vote.

Since Slaight-Hansen became chair in May, office-holders and party activists accused her of not properly communicating with the 11 lawmakers who make up the Democratic caucus in the statehouse, improperly hiring and firing staff, and creating a new job position without notifying the executive board. Some also objected to how the state party joined the Biden Victory Fund, which was not included in the party’s budget or approved by the board. Several donors threatened to withhold contributions.

Former state Sen. Susan Wismer, of Britton, called Slaight-Hansen a dedicated member of the party but said she believed the allegations stemmed from “the fact that she stepped on a lot of toes.”

Democrats are a distinct minority in South Dakota. Republicans hold all statewide offices, including the state’s two U.S. Senate and one House seat, and overwhelmingly control both chambers of the Legislature, 94-11 overall. No Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state since President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Shane Merrill, who was vice chair, will serve as interim chair until the election in September.

“This has been a long difficult process for all of us,” Merrill said. “(My) phone’s been ringing off the hook every day, but I do have reason to be hopeful.”

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