FORT PIERRE – The South Dakota Democratic Party’s central committee voted without a single dissenter Saturday to remove party Chairwoman Jennifer Slaight-Hansen just over four months into her tenure.
The embattled state party chairwoman has faced allegations of violating the state party’s constitution and creating a hostile work environment.
Other than a couple of party members who abstained, more than 50 delegates both online and in person voted unanimously to remove the Aberdeen woman.
Slaight-Hansen had previously indicated that she intended to challenge the results of the recall, if removed. Under rules adopted, she’ll have seven days to do so.
She did not respond to a request made this week from The Aberdeen Insider for comment.
Merrill named South Dakota Democratic Party interim chairman
Shane Merrill was named the party’s interim chairman at the Saturday meeting. He said he is still deciding whether he will seek permanent election to the post next month.
Merrill, a farmer from Parker, has been an active Democrat since he was 18. He got his start working on the Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin campaign. When he was 22, he was elected to the Parker City Council.
“This has been a long, difficult process“ Merrill said. “But I am feeling hopeful and rejuvenated moving forward.”
Annie Bachand, Pennington County party chairwoman, spoke first in favor of removing Slaight-Hansen.
“This is not a personal matter, this is a leadership matter,” Bachand said, noting that she voted in favor of moving Slaight-Hansen from the vice chairwoman to top position in February.
‘No way forward’ for Slaight-Hansen
Party leadership and state lawmakers appear to be particularly bristled by the way Slaight-Hansen is alleged to have treated both interns and others active in the party. She was accused of having used one of the party’s interns as a personal driver without consent or permission from the party’s executive board.
“What seems important to me is the executive board has lost faith,” said state Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls. “She can’t appoint staff or spend any money… She can’t even set an agenda at meetings. There is no way forward (for her) as the chair.”
Slaight-Hansen and an individual she identified as her attorney were not at the meeting.
While proponents of the recall managed to use all of a 10-minute period devoted to allowing each side to make their arguments, only a few opponents rose to speak, raising questions specifically about the process and previous party management.
“(I think) there has been staff ineffectiveness that Jennifer was trying to change,” said former gubernatorial candidate Susan Wismer.
She later voted to remove Slaight-Hansen.
“The meeting (Saturday) was called correctly, there were steps taken to make sure this was handled appropriately,” said Minnehaha County Party Chairman Erik Muckey.
Scott Waltman of The Aberdeen Insider contributed to this report.