PIERRE — Republican and Democratic legislative leaders differed Thursday in their views on what should happen to former colleagues who took a state-sponsored trip to Hawaii during the last years of their terms.
The leaders made the comments to editors and publishers during Newspaper Day at the Legislature on January 26.
At issue was the attendance at a legislative conference in Hawaii last December by former House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Glenham Republican, and Jamie Smith, a former leader of House Democrats. Both men were in the last year of their legislative terms before their term limits. Smith went on to be the Democratic nominee for governor.
When asked if his participation in the trip was appropriate, Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, briefly responded: “No. That was inappropriate.”
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Michael Diedrich, R-Rapid City, noted that lawmakers can bring useful ideas from conferences like the one in Hawaii, but agreed with Crabtree that lame lawmakers’ participation was inappropriate.
Asked whether the former lawmakers should reimburse the state for the trip, House Majority Leader Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, said they were following existing rules when they applied to go on the trip.
“It would be hard for me to tell someone they owe money for following the rules,” Mortenson said.
Crabtree did not directly respond to the question, but said: “I think what they did was wrong.” He pointed out that his efforts are dedicated to working for the future of South Dakota. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about his trip.”
When asked about the Hawaii trip, Democrats seemed to have a more forgiving nature.
“I don’t think lame legislators should be allowed to travel unless there is a specific reason,” said Assistant Minority Leader Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls.
Healy opposed having up to nine lame legislators participate in summer studies, noting that the issues discussed in those studies should be brought to the entire Legislature. “I think that’s even more important to see.”
Senate Minority Leader Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, said the problem was similar to the use of state planes for personal travel. He said he has been following the issue since 2005 when Gov. Mike Rounds was using state planes to fly people to basketball games.
“I hope Spencer Gosch and Jamie Smith, they’re still young, I hope they come back and serve in state government again at some point,” Nesiba said.
House Minority Leader Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, said he was on the Hawaii trip and could attest that Gosch and Smith attended all the meetings. He said there were some rumors that the two used the trip as a vacation paid for by the state. “That is totally false.”
Lesmeister, who is in his final term before his term is limited, said the dispute over travel by dumb lawmakers has him worried about his own legislation-related travel. “I hesitate to even look at it.”