A Look at South Dakota

Posted January 17, 2003 at 5:15pm

The next big thing in South Dakota Democratic politics spent his weekend conducting fishing and hunting seminars at the St. Paul Boat, Travel and Sport Show.

Republican Tony Dean, the host of “Tony Dean Outdoors,” is contemplating a party switch and potential run against Rep. Bill Janklow (R) in 2004, according to a source familiar with Dean’s thinking. [IMGCAP(1)]

“He is serious about running,” said one high-level South Dakota Democrat.

Dean’s popular television show is broadcast in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin; he also does a daily radio show — “Dakota Backroads” — that runs in the same states and in Wyoming.

Despite his Republican registration, Dean weighed in heavily last year on behalf of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) during his tumultuous re-election race against then-Rep. John Thune (R).

Dean appeared in several Johnson ads, including the final spot of the race.

In it, Dean spoke directly to the camera, noting that a vote for Thune was a vote against Sen. Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) as Majority Leader and would take away Johnson’s seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

“Tim always put South Dakota first,” Dean said at the ad’s conclusion.

Dean also chaired a 380-member statewide group called “Sportsmen for Johnson,” and clashed repeatedly with the National Rifle Association, which endorsed Thune.

A resident of Pierre, Dean had his eye on a Senate bid in 2004 until Daschle decided against a presidential bid and announced he would seek re-election (see related story, p. 11).

The most likely race for Dean now would be a run for the state’s at-large House seat, which is currently held by Janklow.

Janklow served as the state’s governor from 1978 to 1986 and again from 1994 to 2002 and is the only Republican member of the state’s Congressional delegation.

Although South Dakota is overwhelmingly Republican — George W. Bush won 60 percent of the vote statewide in 2000 — Johnson and Daschle have continued to successfully swim against the political tides.

“A lot of people wonder why they’re not our seats now,” admitted state Republican Party Executive Director Kenyon Gleason.

“We have made it a priority to win the [Senate] back,” added Gleason. “That is our long-term goal.”

Democratic success on the federal level is starkly contrasted by Republican dominance in statewide contests.

The last Democratic governor in the Mount Rushmore State was Richard Kneip, who won three terms between 1970 and 1978. Republicans hold the state House by 28 seats and the state Senate by 16.

“We like Republicans [in South Dakota] spending the money and Democrats in Washington because they are a lot better at bringing it home,” Gleason explained.

Despite Democratic dominance on the federal stage, a number of Republicans jumped at the chance for the open seat that Thune vacated in his challenge to Johnson in 2002.

State Sen. Larry Diedrich (R), who had bowed out of the 1996 open-seat House race in deference to Thune, as well as former Sioux Falls Mayor Gary Hanson (R), both took a serious look at the race before Janklow began to make his interest in the seat known.

Janklow’s candidacy was spurred by two main factors, according to numerous sources.

First, he carried a long-running distaste for former Sen. Larry Pressler (R), who was running for the Republican nomination.

Second, Janklow was hoping to move quickly into the Senate, figuring Daschle would decide to run for president or retire in 2004.

Now that Pressler has been vanquished (Janklow defeated him 55 percent to 27 percent in the 2002 GOP primary) and Daschle is staying put, speculation has already begun that Janklow, who is 63, will not stick around the House for more than a term or two.

Both Hanson and Diedrich are considered potential candidates if Janklow walks away.

Hanson, who served as mayor from 1993 to 2001, defeated an incumbent Democrat to claim a seat on the Public Utilities Commission, a statewide office, in 2002.

Diedrich, who is a close Thune ally, won re-election to his Senate seat with 68 percent in 2002.

Perhaps the most intriguing GOP name mentioned for a House run, however, is Mike Mickelson (R), son of former Gov. George Mickelson (R), who served from 1986 until his death in a plane crash in April 1993.

“He looks like his dad, he sounds like his dad,” said one South Dakota Republican, who noted that Mickelson is being strongly encouraged to run for office.

Other Republican names mentioned for the House are former state Senate Majority Leader Barb Everist and state House Majority Leader Bill Peterson.

Aside from Dean, Democrats will also look to youthful attorney Stephanie Herseth to carry their banner in future statewide races.

Herseth carries a potent political pedigree in the state, as her father was a legislative leader, her grandfather served as governor and her grandmother was secretary of state.

She also has some campaign experience of her own, having run a surprisingly strong race against Janklow last cycle.

Herseth lost 53 percent to 46 percent, as Janklow’s governmental experience seemed to resonate with voters in the final days of the election.

Herseth, who lived in the Washington, D.C., area in the 1990s, recently took a job heading the South Dakota Farmers Union Legal Foundation, further fueling speculation that she will eventually run for either the House or Senate.