PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Democratic Party — hoping to grow its meager representation in the Statehouse and re-gain a statewide seat — has named a former Billie Sutton campaign staffer as its new executive director.
Berk Ehrmantraut, a former aide to the 2018 Sutton gubernatorial run that almost pulled off a decades-defying upset of Republican Kristi Noem, will start in the job on Monday, June 28, following the annual McGovern Day events.
"I look forward to making a difference in the lives of South Dakotans by working hard every day to elect Democrats up and down the ballot," Ehrmantraut said in a statement.
While the Democratic Party eyes running a slate of statewide candidates in 2022, including opponents to Sen. John Thune and Rep. Dusty Johnson, as well as Noem, party officials also say they will seek to grow from their low-water mark in the Statehouse, where they currently hold fewer than a dozen seats in the 105-legislator body.
"Democrats in rural states have an unprecedented opportunity to connect with voters and build back better through federal investments in infrastructure, pandemic recovery, support for working families and increasing the resilience of our communities," South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Randy Seiler said in a statement.
While Ehrmantraut, a Beresford, S.D., native, will have his work cut out for him in a state that went nearly 62% to Donald Trump in the last election, he may have friends in the initiative-and-referendum process assisting.
In 2022, voters in South Dakota will likely see multiple ballot measures to expand Medicaid to the state — a longtime goal for progressives in the state. Voters will also cast ballots on a nonpartisan redistricting commission that — if approved — could lead to greater representation by Democrats in Pierre.
As of June 1, according to registration totals at the South Dakota Secretary of State website, Democrats comprise roughly 1 out of 4 of the state's registered 588,000 voters. Republicans make-up just below 48% of the state's voters.
"Berk is just the person South Dakota needs to create a functioning two-party system where voters have clear choices on Election Day," said Rep. Ryan Cwach, a Yankton Democrat.
The party's last director, Pam Cole, left the position at the end of February. Ehrmantraut will be the third party leader in as many years.