Sen. Arthur Rusch is currently attending his last South Dakota legislative session. He has hit his term limit and is set to retire as the senator for District 17.
Rusch retired from his position as Presiding Judge of the First Judicial Circuit in 2011. Prior to being a judge, Rusch was the Clay County State’s Attorney and was the President of South Dakota State’s Attorneys Association. For 22 years, Rusch was a partner for Bogue, Weeks & Rusch Law Firm. Rusch also served as an adjunct law professor at USD.
“I was a judge for 18 years and the chief judge for all of Southeast South Dakota for 17 of those years, primarily in Vermillion and Yankton but I had an area that included Mitchell and Chamberlain and more,” Rusch said. “I had to travel periodically but the difference between being a judge and a legislator is that as a judge, you listen to the evidence, and then you alone make a decision about what that evidence shows and what’s the right thing to do. There’s 35 members of the Senate and I have to persuade 17 others to go along with what I think on any decision and that’s actually a lot harder to do than when I was making the decision as a judge.”
Rusch said he’s very passionate about legislation pertaining to the death penalty in South Dakota, along with other issues including transgender rights.
“I’m the first legislator in the history of South Dakota who has personally sentenced somebody to death in a death penalty case. That’s made me very passionate about trying to do away with the death penalty in South Dakota,” Rusch said.
Rusch said most of the bills he’s worked on have had to do with criminal justice and reform. Along with the death penalty and transgender rights, critical race theory (CRT) in the public education system and anti-mask ideology have both come up in this legislative session.
“We’ve spent so much time this year talking about transgender legislation. We just got done talking about CRT legislation,” Rusch said. “I’m Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and we’ve spent so much time talking about anti-vax, anti-mask legislation as well. I talked about how other states have been sued (regarding these issues). The courts have held that that’s unconstitutional, and they’ve had to pay substantial fees and that didn’t make much difference to the bulk of the legislators. And that’s always discouraging.”
Along with being the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rusch is also on the Health and Human Services Committee. Rusch has worked on legislation to further define new child support guidelines and to uphold the voters’ decision on Amendment A, the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana.
Rusch started his political career at USD as the SGA president from 1967-1968.
“I started out as a student body president at USD, you know, and so I’ve been involved in politics ever since then. USD has been an important part to me. I’m hoping we can get these bills through the legislature this year that provide funding for USD,” Rusch said
Rusch has represented Vermillion for most of his career.
“I’m pleased I’ve been able to represent the Vermillion area. I’ve gone through four elections there. I hope that reflects that the people in Vermillion have confidence in me. As I said, I started out as my first elected position as a student body president of USD and then I was elected as State’s Attorney in Vermillion four times, and then as a judge for 18 years so I’ve tried to represent the people and I’ve tried to be a good public servant,” Rusch said.