- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota Republicans have increased their hold on the state Legislature, netting at least four seats to strengthen their supermajorities on Election Day and further diminishing the Democratic Party’s role in shaping policy.

The GOP swept every statewide and congressional office on Tuesday, giving them total rule for the first time in more than 50 years.

Democrats grabbed one state Senate seat, bringing their total to eight of 35, but Republicans picked up at least five seats in the House, leaving Democrats with only 11 legislators the in the 70-seat chamber. One House race in Sioux Falls was still too close to call Wednesday afternoon, with Democratic incumbent Rep. Paula Hawks leading Republican Bob Deelstra by seven votes.

With voters retaining Republicans’ supermajorities - for which Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave said the party is “blessed” - the attention will now turn to issues for the upcoming session, such as teacher pay and improving roads, he noted Wednesday.

Voters voiced their support for increasing teacher salaries this year and gubernatorial candidate Rep. Susan Wismer made the issue a cornerstone of her campaign. Rave, who said he plans to seek the majority leader nomination again, expects the Legislature to figure out “some way at a state level we can help address those challenges.”

Tuesday’s election marks 20 straight years that Republicans have won or kept control of both chambers of the Legislature. Democrats are pretty used to being the minority party by now, House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff said Wednesday.

“We wish we weren’t so experienced at being the loyal opposition,” said Hunhoff, who jumped chambers Tuesday, swapping his House seat for the District 18 Senate seat currently held by Republican sister-in-law, Jean Hunoff.

Bernie Hunhoff said even though his party lacks representation in the Legislature, he still believes most South Dakota residents support its policies, pointing to, among other things, the minimum wage measure passing with more than 55 percent of the vote Tuesday.

“There are various ways to be effective, even if you don’t have the numbers,” he said.

Hunhoff himself said he’s not planning on seeking any leadership roles this session and instead wants to work in a bipartisan fashion on expanding Medicaid, a task he said is easier when you’re not a party leader.

Although he stopped short of naming potential candidates, Hunhoff said the Democrats have a good base of young talent he hopes can lead the party into the future.

“With term limits, we just have to develop new leaders,” he said. “And we’ve got some folks who are more than capable.”

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