South Dakota Senator disciplined by House Speaker Hugh Bartels

March 4, 2024

Austin Goss

PIERRE – A South Dakota Senator is receiving disciplinary action after gifting a bottle of syrup to a fellow lawmaker.

Sen. Tom Pischke of Dell Rapids has been barred from both the chambers of the state House of Representatives and the lobby behind the chamber by Speaker Hugh Bartels of Watertown, for allegedly violating Legislative code of conduct standards Monday.

“It has come to my attention that you placed a bottle of syrup on a Representative’s desk,” Bartels wrote in a letter to Pischke, citing ethics standards outlined in the Legislature’s joint rules book. “Therefore, I am removing your privilege of coming on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Bartels told South Dakota Broadcasters Association that a member in the state House “did not appreciate” the gesture, which comes after Rep. Kristin Conzet blocked a legislative commemoration co-authored by Pischke and Rep. Phil Jensen for Nancy Green, a former female slave who was one of the first black models hired to promote a corporate trademark, like the Aunt Jemima breakfast brand.

The company was rebranded in 2021 amid criticisms that continued use of “Aunt Jemima” was racially insensitive, while conservatives have decried the decision by PepsiCo. to discontinue the brand as overly politically correct.

Conzet did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment Monday evening.

In a text message, Pischke admitted to leaving a bottle of syrup – Mrs. Butterworth’s brand – on Conzet’s desk inside of the state House, but did not anticipate the blow back. He’s since issued an apology to Conzet.

“I was expecting her (Conzet) to be filled with gratitude,” Pischke said. “I’m wondering if the Speaker is jealous that he didn’t receive a bottle too and that’s his justification for this.”

Commemorations are ceremonial measures that any lawmaker can introduce. They do not carry the weight of law, and opposition by a single member of the Legislature is enough to block a commemoration from being read on the floor of the House or Senate.