When South Dakota became a state in 1889 there were approximately four Republicans to every Democrat, but discontented Republicans often turned to third parties as vehicles of dissent. Many discontented farmers and ranchers supported the Populist Party, the result of an agrarian movement that began during the economic depression of the 1870s, when farmers’ income declined sharply. Among other reforms, Populists wanted the free (unlimited) coinage of silver and large amounts of paper currency—both measures that would raise prices for farm products and enable farmers to pay off their debts with inflated currency. In 1896 farmers and ranchers supported the coalition Populist-Democratic candidates for president and governor, Nebraska editor William Jennings Bryan and Andrew E. Lee, respectively.
In 1898 Lee was reelected governor, and Republicans, in control of the legislature, joined Lee to enact two prominent elements of the Populist agenda. They established some state control over railroads and, more importantly, made South Dakota the first state in the West to legalize the process of enacting legislation by means of public petition or a popular vote (initiative) and the practice of submitting an issue to the popular vote (referendum). In general, South Dakotans supported the Republican Party, but they often cast their ballots for Republican candidates who favored government intervention to aid the economy. During the first century of statehood, there were only four Democratic governors and on only three occasions did Democrats have a majority in the state Senate. "South Dakota" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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