- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The Senate GOP caucus likely will meet in the next month to fill the leadership void left when two top Senate Republicans resigned shortly after the legislative session ended.

Senate President Pro Tempore Corey Brown said Tuesday he would like to hold caucus elections within roughly the next month. The 25-member Republican Senate conference - which could grow if Gov. Dennis Daugaard fills the two vacancies before the caucus elections - will vote to fill the spots that Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave and Assistant Majority Leader Dan Lederman vacated with their midterm departures from the Legislature.

Legislative leaders play a key role in negotiating policy positions. During the 2015 Legislature that meant fighting for the Senate stance on issues such as road and bridge funding hikes and mandating that certain insurance plans cover a costly but effective treatment for children with autism.

Rave left to take a new job at Sanford Health. Lederman said in a blog post that he wants to spend more time with his family but didn’t return a follow-up request for comment.

Republican political observers say a credible bid for either leadership post could come from one of the caucus’ three majority whips or from a rank-and-file member.

Brown said further votes to fill majority whip positions could be necessary if any of the lawmakers holding the lieutenant-style posts successfully secure one of the vacant top leadership spots. Brown said he has heard of interest from members of the caucus, but declined to discuss the names of potential candidates.

“I don’t think there will be a shortage of candidates,” he said.

Brown said he hasn’t decided yet if he will run. The three majority whips are Sens. Ried Holien, Ernie Otten and Deb Soholt.

Holien said he is considering running for majority leader. Otten said he is weighing a bid for the assistant spot. Soholt said in a text message that she’s “considering all options at this point” but said her main concern is the collective strength of the caucus.

Former Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson, who preceded Rave, said the Senate has a “whole room full of leaders.” Like Rave, Olson left the Legislature for a new job: to serve as CEO of Heartland Consumers Power District.

Olson said that’s part of serving in South Dakota’s citizen Legislature.

“Life changes,” Rave said. “People come and people go, but the process moves on, and that’s how it was designed from the beginning.”

Minority Leader Billie Sutton, who leads the eight-member Democratic caucus in the Senate, said he’s sad to see Rave, a friend, leave the Legislature. Sutton said Rave was able to unite the conservative and moderate camps of the Senate Republicans to ensure the body got its work done.

“Moving forward, my concern would be that someone would get elected that isn’t able to bridge that gap,” Sutton said. “That’s pretty important to us being effective as a body, is having leaders that can bring the caucuses together, and I’m hopeful that whoever they elect can do that.”

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