It was good this week to see Gov. Harvey Wollman at the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park. Gov. Wollman was kind enough to introduce himself to my son, Henry, who is named after my grandfather, State Sen. Henry Poppen. Grandpa Poppen and Harvey Wollman sat across the aisle from each other in the State Senate in the 1970s.
Harvey Wollman is already SD’s only living Democratic governor or lieutenant governor. This week, Wollman also became the only living Democrat to have served as the SD Senate Majority Leader, due to the sad passing of Roger McKellips of Alcester last month, and of Homer Kandaras of Rapid City this week.
McKellips had been Senate Majority Leader when the Democrats controlled the State Senate in 1993-94. Kandaras was Senate Majority Leader in 1975-76; he followed Wollman as Majority Leader after Wollman was elected lieutenant governor.
Like Wollman, there is only one living Democrat who has served as House Majority Leader, Larry Piersol of Sioux Falls. Piersol is now a federal judge on senior status. There is also only one living Democrat to have served as House Speaker, Gene Lebrun of Rapid City. Piersol and Lebrun both held their leadership positions in 1973-74. The House was split 35-35 for those two sessions, and House rules dictated that the Democrats, as the party of the sitting governor, were deemed to be the “majority” party.
Democratic majority leaders are rare in South Dakota because Democratic control of a legislative chamber is rare. Since statehood:
1891: A coalition of Democrats and populist “Independents” controlled the State House. There were 20 Democrats and 44 populists in the coalition, and 58 Republicans in the minority.
1897: The Populist/Democratic “fusion” ticket elected Andrew E. Lee as governor, and also won narrow control of both legislative houses. The Senate had 20 Populists, 2 Democrats, and 21 Republicans for a 1-seat majority. The House had 35 Populists, 10 Democrats, and 39 Republicans for a 6-seat margin.
1933-37: The first time Democrats won control with a Populist coalition was during the Great Depression. In 1932, Tom Berry was elected governor and Democrats won control of both houses. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate in 1933 and 1935. (In this era, the Legislature only met every other year.) After the 1936 election, Republicans won back control of the House, but Democrats retained control of the 1937 Senate by a 1-seat martin.
1959: Ralph Herseth was elected governor in 1958, and on his coattails Democrats won control of the Senate 20-15. Herseth had been the first Democrat to be considered “Senate Minority Leader,” and his successor Art Jones was the first Democrat to be the Senate Majority Leader. The House remained Republican and the House Speaker, Archie Gubbrud, defeated Herseth for reelection in 1960 as Republicans retook both houses.
1973-76: Dick Kneip was elected governor in 1970, and in 1972 voters rewarded him with a Democratic legislature by the narrowest possible margin. Democrats held the Senate 18-17, with Harvey Wollman as Majority Leader. As noted above, the House was a 35-35 tie and Democrats won the “tie-breaker” of a Democratic governor. Larry Piersol was Majority Leader and Gene Lebrun was House Speaker. In 1974, Kneip was reelected, but Republicans won two House seats to take a 37-33 majority. Democrats picked up a Senate seat, expanding their narrow margin to 19-16. Wollman had been elected lieutenant governor and Homer Kandaras became Majority Leader. Republicans retook control of the House in 1976, and have held it ever since.
1993-94: Democrats won a State Senate majority of 20-15 in 1992, with Lars Herseth becoming President Pro Tempore and Roger McKellips becoming Majority Leader. Gov. George S. Mickelson was in the final two years of his term; he died in 1993 and Walter Dale Miller served as governor during the 1994 session. Republicans retook Senate control in 1994, as Bill Janklow returned as governor, and have held it ever since.
In recent years, Democrats made gains in 2006 and 2008. They peaked in the Senate in 2007-08, with the Republican majority narrowed to 20-15. Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepriem, who had led the expanded Democratic caucus, ran for governor in 2010, but was defeated by Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard as Republicans retook strong legislative majorities: 30-5 in the Senate and 50-19 in the House. In the time since, Republican supermajorities have strengthened, most recently 29-6 in the Senate and 60-10 in the House.
It appears that 2018 will see Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton, a Democrat from Burke, attempt against long odds to win the Governor’s Office and to increase Democrat influence in the legislature.
Roger McKellips’ death last week was the latest signal of the passing of a by-gone era. Most of the longtime leaders of the South Dakota State Legislature from the 1980s and early 1990s have passed away. That era began to fade away with the passage of legislative term limits in 1992 (which passed, ironically, as an afterthought to an attempt to limit the terms of members of Congress, which was later ruled unconstitutional).
By 1993, nine of these fifteen “old bulls” had left the legislature, and that year the Democrats controlled of the Senate for the first time since the 1970s. April 19, 1993 brought the tragic death of Governor Mickelson. The late 1990s saw the emergence of a new generation of leaders, such as Mike Rounds, Larry Gabriel, Steve Cutler, and Bernie Hunhoff, and term limits brought greater turnover in these positions that continues to the present day.
Any list like this is subjective, but here are some of the “Old Bulls” of that pre-term limits era, listed alphabetically. Of the fifteen legislators listed, only three are still with us, and six of them have died since 2012. They are all remembered fondly for their statesmanship:
Joseph H. Barnett (R-Aberdeen). “Papa Joe” Barnett, an Aberdeen attorney, was a legendary House leader; it was said he was held in such high regard that legislators of both parties would pass legislation solely on his word. Barnett served for 19 years, entering the House in 1967 and serving until his sudden death in 1985, at the age of only 53. Barnett was speaker pro temper in 1971-72, house minority leader in 1973-74 (during the session in which the House was split 35-35 and Democrats were considered the “majority” because of their control of the Governor’s Office), speaker of the house 1976-76, and house majority leader from 1979 until his death in 1985. Barnett’s grandson, Steve Barnett, is the state auditor and is a candidate in 2018 for secretary of state.
Jim Dunn (R-Lead). Jim Dunn entered the State House in 1971 and, after one term, entered the Senate in 1973, where he served for twenty-eight years. Dunn worked for the Homestake Mining Company, and he represented the unique interests of his Black Hills district and its major employer. Dunn was assistant senate majority leader from 1989-92, serving alongside Majority Leader Jerry Lammers. When Democrats won control of the Senate in 1993, Dunn became assistant minority leader. He returned as assistant majority leader from 1995-98. In 1999 and 2000, Republicans gave Dunn the special title of “senior assistant majority leader.” Both Dunn and Majority Leader Mike Rounds were set to be term-limited in 2000, and this special title allowed Dunn to remain in his leadership role while Barb Everist of Sioux Falls was groomed to replace Rounds as majority leader in 2001. Dunn left the Senate in 2000, and his thirty years of service makes him the longest-serving legislator in state history. He died in 2016.
Robert Duxbury (D-Wessington). Bob Duxbury, a Hand County farmer, was secretary of agriculture in the Kneip and Wollman administrations, and ran for the legislature after Wollman left office in 1979. Duxbury was a senator in 1981-2, served in the House 1985-98, and was house minority leader from 1987-94. He moved to the Senate in 1999, probably anticipating the effect of term limits, and served there until 2004. Of all the “old bulls” featured on this list, Duxbury was the last to leave the legislature, and this blogger fondly remembers from my 2001 service as a Senate page that Sen. Duxbury’s reputation as a gentleman was well-earned. He passed away last summer, in June 2016.
Harold W. Halverson (R-Twin Brooks). Harold Halverson, an insurance executive and farmer, spent one term in the House, from 1971-72, before becoming an institution in the Senate, serving from 1977-2000. Halverson was the Senate’s president pro tempore from 1990-92, and after Democrats took control of the chamber in 1992 he served as Minority Leader in 1993-94. Republicans regained control in 1994, and Halverson, conscious of the effect that term limits would have on legislative leadership, made a fateful and forward-looking decision. Rather than serve as senate majority leader himself, he returned to the position of president pro tempore, and supported 40-year-old Mike Rounds to be majority leader. Halverson was among the first legislators forced to out by term limits in 2000; he retired rather than run for the House. Halverson died in 2002.
Homer Harding (R-Pierre). Homer Harding, an automobile dealer, represented Pierre in the Senate for 18 years, from 1971-88. He was senate minority leader in 1975-76, and became majority leader when Republican retook the Senate, serving from 1977-88. Harding was defeated for reelection in 1988 by Democrat Jacqueline Kelley. Two years later, in 1990, Harding was elected state treasurer as newcomer Mike Rounds defeated Kelley for state senator. Harding remains in good health and lives in Pierre, where his son, Steve Harding, recently became mayor.
R. Lars Herseth (D-Houghton). Herseth is the son of Ralph E. Herseth, the state’s 21st governor, and Lorna Herseth, who was secretary of state from 1973-79. Like his father, he farmed near Houghton and represented the area in the legislature. Lars Herseth entered the House in 1975 and became minority leader in 1979. He served until 1986, when he forewent reelection to run for governor. Herseth won an upset victory over former Governor Dick Kneip in the Democratic primary, and narrowly lost the general election to George S. Mickelson, another son of a former governor. Following his defeat, Herseth returned to the legislature, winning a seat in the Senate in 1988. He served there until 1996, where he was president pro tempore during Democrats’ rare period of control in 1993-94, and then minority leader in 1995-96. Herseth is still alive and engaged in Democratic Party politics; his daughter, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, served in the U.S. House from 2004-11 and recently became president of Augustana University.
Jerome B. Lammers (R-Madison). Lammers was an attorney from Madison and a former Lake County State’s Attorney, and he served in the House from 1977-92. He was speaker pro tempore 1981-82, house speaker 1983-84, and majority leader 1987-92. Lammers was nominated to serve on the Board of Regents after he left the legislature, but the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected his nomination. He continues to live in Madison, where he continues to practice law.
Mary McClure (R-Miller). Mary McClure was a teacher who first entered the Senate in 1975. She was the first woman to serve in a major leadership position in the legislature, serving as president pro tempore from 1979-89. McClure was a leader of the George Bush for President campaign in South Dakota in 1988, and following his victory, she joined fellow legislator Debra Anderson, a former house speaker, in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. After her first husband passed away, McClure married another former senator, John Bibby of Brookings, and thereafter was known as “Mary McClure Bibby.” She passed away in July 2016.
Roger McKellips (D-Alcester). This blog wrote about McKellips after he passed away last week. McKellips was a banker whose father, Ernest, had sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1954. Roger McKellips served one term in the Senate from 1977-78, then ran for governor himself in 1978. He upset Lt. Governor Harvey Wollman in the Democratic primary, but lost a competitive general election to Attorney General Bill Janklow. McKellips returned to the Senate, where he served from 1981-94. He immediately became assistant minority leader in 1981-82, was minority leader 1983-92, and was majority leader when the Democrats won control of the senate in 1993-94. McKellips retired as majority leader in 1994, as Republicans retook control that year.
Walter Dale Miller (R-New Underwood). Miller, a Meade County rancher, entered the House in 1967 and served there until 1986. He was assistant majority leader in 1972, majority leader from 1975-78, speaker pro tempore 1979-80, speaker of the house 1981-82, and returned as majority leader in 1986 after the death of Joe Barnett. In 1986, George S. Mickelson selected Miller as his running mate, and Miller became the state’s first full-time lieutenant governor in 1987. When Governor Mickelson died in the state plane crash in 1993, Miller became governor. At 67, he was the oldest new governor in state history and, with 27 years of experience in Pierre, the most experienced. Miller served during tumultuous times: the aftermath of Mickelson’s death, massive flooding, a prison riot, and the shutdown of video lottery. Seeking a full term in 1994, he lost a close primary to former Governor Bill Janklow. Miller died in September 2015.
Henry A. Poppen (R-De Smet). Henry Poppen farmed in the Spirit Lake community, north of De Smet, and he is this blogger’s maternal grandfather. Poppen entered the State Senate in 1967, and served 13 terms, retiring after 26 years in 1992. For most of his tenure, he served on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chaired from 1981-92. Longtime reporter Terry Woster wrote a very kind reminisce of Poppen when he died in 2005.
George Shanard (R-Mitchell). Shanard, who owned and operated a number of grain elevators, represented Mitchell in the Senate from 1975-92. He was assistant majority leader, alongside majority leader Homer Harding, from 1977-88, and then majority leader himself from 1989-92. Shanard passed away in 2012.
Harold Sieh (R-Herrick). Sieh, a Gregory County farmer, served in the State House from 1971-86, and chaired the House Appropriations Committee from 1981-86. He died in office in 1986, and his widow, Edna, was appointed to complete his term.
Jim Stoick (R-Mobridge). Stoick, a grocer, served in the House from 1975-78 and the Senate from 1979-92. He served as the Senate Appropriations Committee’s vice chair, alongside chairman Henry Poppen, until the two both retired in 1992. Stoick died in 2004. His grandson, Jordan Stoick, served as Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s chief of staff from 2011 until earlier this year.
Royal “Bud” Wood (R-Warner). Bud Wood, a farmer, entered the House in 1967, beginning his legislative service the same year as Joe Barnett, Walter Dale Miller and Henry Poppen. He left the legislature in 1992 after a 26-year legislative career. Wood was assistant minority leader 1975-76, speaker pro tempore 1987-88, and house speaker 1989-90. He died in 2009.
All pictures are taken from the 1985 Legislative Manual, or “Blue Book,” as all fifteen legislators listed served during that session. It is also among the only Blue Books that included color pictures.
Yet, over the years, several books have been written about South Dakota’s governors. This post is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of those biographies. Not included are shorter articles or biographical sketches, general histories of the state, or books that compile sketches of every governor (such as Lynwood Oyos’ Over a Century of Leadership, or this blogger’s own humble efforts).
One clear takeaway from this list is that there is room for more work in this area. Many South Dakota governors would be good subjects. Of particular urgency are biographies of Richard F. Kneip and William J. Janklow, both major figures for whom first-hand sources are still living.
(If a reader is aware of a biography that has been overlooked, please let me know on this blog’s contact page.)
Peter Norbeck and George Norbeck, The Norbecks of South Dakota (1938). (This is a history of Norbeck’s ancestors, written by Gov. Norbeck and his brother, although it also includes some information about Gov. Norbeck’s early life.)
Lydia Norbeck and Nancy Tystad Koupal (ed.), “Recollections of the Years,” South Dakota Department of History Report and Historical Collections, Vol. XXXIX, pp. 1-147 (State Publishing Co., 1979). (As with the Crawford biography above, this was technically an article in the SD State Historical Society’s annual journal, but at 147 pages is comparable in length to the books on this list. Nancy Tystad Koupal of SDSHS edited Mrs. Norbeck’s recollections and added some explanatory materials.)
Walter Simmons, Joe Foss: Flying Marine (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1943). (This book was first published during World War II, before Foss’ political career, and therefore focuses entirely on his war record.)
The Argus Leader reports that Roger D. McKellips passed away on Friday, August 18. McKellips, 94, was an Alcester banker and a longtime state legislator. McKellips served in the State Senate from his Union County district from 1977-79 and 1981-95.
In 1978, following his first term in the Senate, McKellips sought the Democratic nomination for Governor. His opponent was Lt. Governor Harvey Wollman. Early in 1978, incumbent Governor Dick Kneip had announced that he would resign to accept an appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore. As a consequence, at the time of the June primary, Lt. Governor Wollman was “governor-in-waiting.”
Despite that, McKellips narrowly defeated Wollman in that primary, with Pierre farmer John Bohr running a distant third. In fact, the Associated Press initially declared Wollman the winner, only to withdraw its call due to a tabulation error. Wollman subsequently served five months as governor, after Kneip left office that summer.
In the 1978 general election, McKellips was joined on the ticket by Gregory County rancher Billie H. Sutton, a fellow state senator. Sutton’s grandson, also Billie H. Sutton, is currently the senate minority leader and a 2018 Democratic candidate for governor. The younger Sutton’s campaign treasurer is Gary McKellips, son of Roger.
The McKellips/Sutton ticket lost to the Republicans, Attorney General Bill Janklow and House Speaker Lowell Hansen. Janklow/Hansen won 56.6% and McKellips/Sutton won 43.4%. It is the first of 10 straight gubernatorial wins by Republicans, which the younger Sutton hopes to end in 2018.
After losing in 1978, McKellips returned to the Senate in the 1980 general election and served from 1981-95. He immediately joined the caucus leadership, serving as assistant minority leader in 1981-82, minority leader from 1983-92, and majority leader in 1993 and 1994 when the Democrats won control of the Senate. As the Argus Leader noted, McKellips was the most recent Democrat to lead a majority caucus in either legislative chamber.
Roger McKellips was not the first member of his family to run for governor. His father, Ernest F. McKellips, a former mayor of Alcester, sought the governorship in 1954. He lost the Democratic primary to Buffalo County rancher Ed Martin, who lost the fall election to Joe Foss.
Recently, the South Dakota Hall of Honor, which recognizes South Dakotans who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, was relocated to the first floor of the State Capitol. The display had previously been in the Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial Building, where it was not prominent to the public and was not handicapped-accessible.
The new display is worth seeing during a visit to the State Capitol. The display features the complete Medal of Honor citations for each recipient, and they describe truly remarkable acts of heroism and valor. Below is a list of South Dakota’s recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, with a hyperlink to the citation added to each recipient’s name and excerpts from the citations.
Charles D. Roberts – Spanish-American War. “Gallantly assisted in the rescue of the wounded from in front of the lines under heavy fire of the enemy.”
Willibald C. Bianchi – World War II. An excerpt: “When wounded early in the action by 2 bullets through the left hand, he did not stop for first aid but discarded his rifle and began firing a pistol.”
An excerpt from the Foss citation: “Engaging in almost daily combat with the enemy from 9 October to 19 November 1942, Capt. Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese planes and damaged others so severely that their destruction was extremely probable.”
Arlo L. Olson – World War II. An excerpt: “Although 5 German soldiers threw handgrenades at him from a range of 5 yards, Capt. Olson dispatched them all, picked up a machine pistol and continued toward the enemy. Advancing to within 15 yards of the position he shot it out with the foe, killing 9 and seizing the post.”
Herbert A. Littleton – Korean War. An excerpt: “When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he unhesitatingly hurled himself on the deadly missile, absorbing its full, shattering impact in his body.”
Woodrow W. Keeble – Korean War. An excerpt: “With complete disregard for his personal safety, Master Sergeant Keeble dashed forward and joined the pinned-down platoon. Then, hugging the ground, Master Sergeant Keeble crawled forward alone until he was in close proximity to one of the hostile machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring the heavy fire that the crew trained on him, Master Sergeant Keeble activated a grenade and threw it with great accuracy, successfully destroying the position. Continuing his one-man assault, he moved to the second enemy position and destroyed it with another grenade. Despite the fact that the enemy troops were now directing their firepower against him and unleashing a shower of grenades in a frantic attempt to stop his advance, he moved forward against the third hostile emplacement, and skillfully neutralized the remaining enemy position.”
Patrick Henry Brady – Vietnam War. An excerpt: “The friendly ground force, pinned down by enemy fire, had been unable to reach and secure the landing zone. Although his aircraft had been badly damaged and his controls partially shot away during his initial entry into this area, he returned minutes later and rescued the remaining injured. Shortly thereafter, obtaining a replacement aircraft, Maj. Brady was requested to land in an enemy minefield where a platoon of American soldiers was trapped.”
Michael John Fitzmaurice – Vietnam War. The Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home in Hot Springs is named in his honor. An excerpt from his citation: “Realizing the imminent danger to his comrades, and with complete disregard for his personal safety, he hurled 2 of the charges out of the bunker. He then threw his flak vest and himself over the remaining charge. By this courageous act he absorbed the blast and shielded his fellow-soldiers. Although suffering from serious multiple wounds and partial loss of sight, he charged out of the bunker, and engaged the enemy until his rifle was damaged by the blast of an enemy hand grenade.”
Leo K. Thorsness – Vietnam War. Thorsness was a prisoner of war for nearly six years – among his fellow prisoners was future U.S. Senator John McCain. Thorsness ran for U.S. Senate in 1974, losing to incumbent George McGovern, and for U.S. House in 1978, losing the open seat very narrowly to Tom Daschle.
An excerpt from the Thorsness citation: “Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position.”
This week, the Trail of Governors announced its class of 2018. Statues of William H. McMaster, M. Q. Sharpe and Ralph Herseth will be unveiled in June 2018 and thereafter placed on the Trail.
As of today, 15 statues are placed along the Trail, which runs from the Pierre business district to the State Capitol complex. Four more statues – Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss – were unveiled in June 2017 and will be placed this fall, once construction on Capitol Avenue is completed. Once the 2018 statues are placed, the Trail will include 22 statues, with 9 more to be completed by 2021.
Below are brief biographical sketches of McMaster, Sharpe and Herseth, which are adapted from the longer sketches on the Trail of Governors website:
William H. McMaster was South Dakota’s 10th governor, serving from 1921-25. He was born in Ticonic, Iowa in 1877 and was raised in Sioux City. McMaster came to Yankton County, South Dakota in 1901, where he went into banking. He was elected to the first of three terms as a state legislator in 1910, was elected lieutenant governor in 1916 in 1918, and was elected governor in 1920 and 1922, succeeding Peter Norbeck.
Governor McMaster, who led the state during the post-World War I farm crisis, was a progressive Republican and continued Norbeck’s progressive program. He memorably took on high retail gasoline prices by selling gasoline from state highway shops for 2 cents per gallon above wholesale cost, forcing retail prices down by as much as 10 cents a gallon – an incident South Dakota Magazine recalled in 2013.
Governor McMaster supported highway construction. The first concrete state highway, connecting Sioux Falls to Dell Rapids, was built during his administration, as well as five Missouri River bridges, including the Meridian Bridge in Yankton.
Following his service as governor, McMaster was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served alongside Norbeck. After the Great Depression struck, McMaster was defeated for reelection in 1930 by Governor W. J. Bulow. He moved to Dixon, Illinois, where he was president of a local bank. McMaster died in 1968 and was buried in Dixon.
Interest in McMaster has been revived recently thanks to efforts by Bernie Hunhoff to erect a South Dakota Historical Society Marker near the Meridian Bridge in Yankton to memorialize McMaster.
M. Q. Sharpe was the 17th Governor of South Dakota, serving from 1943-47. Sharpe was born in Kansas and served in the U.S. Navy. He came to South Dakota in 1911 to attend USD, where he earned his law degree, and opened a legal practice in Lyman County and served as state’s attorney.
Sharpe was elected attorney general in 1928 and reelected in 1930. During his four years, he investigated embezzlement in the state banking department, as well as mismanagement of the Rural Credits state farm loan program. Despite that, Sharpe was defeated in the FDR Democratic landslide of 1932. He served as Governor Bushfield’s delegate to the Missouri River States Committee in the early 1940s, and helped negotiate the Pick-Sloan Plan to build Missouri River dams.
Sharpe was elected to succeed Bushfield in 1942. He had finished second in a four-way Republican primary, but because no candidate received 35%, the nomination was made at the State Republican Convention. Sharpe prevailed at the convention because his three opponents, all of whom served in the Bushfield administration, failed to coalesce around one candidate.
As governor, Sharpe continued his work to develop the Missouri River dams. Following World War II, he initiated an aggressive post-war building and development plan, founding the state park system, building a state office building, revitalizing the teacher pension fund, and creating the state police radio system. Sharpe also supported repeal of the state income tax.
Sharpe had been reelected in 1944 and in 1946, he sought an unprecedented third term as governor, losing the Republican primary to Attorney General George T. Mickelson. Sharpe returned to his Lyman County practice, and chaired Governor Herseth’s citizen tax study commission in 1959. He died of a heart attack at his home in Kennebec in 1962. Today, the capital city of Pierre is on the shores of Lake Sharpe, which was created by the Big Bend Dam and named in Governor Sharpe’s honor.
Ralph E. Herseth was South Dakota’s 21st governor, serving from 1959-61. He was born on his family’s farm near Houghton and spent his life operating the farm. Herseth also was a businessman, operating a farm store in Hecla, and a leader in many community organizations.
A Democrat, Herseth was elected to the State Senate in 1950 and in 1954. In 1955, he became the first Senate Minority Leader. In 1956, Herseth challenged Governor Foss’ reelection campaign. Herseth did not defeat Governor Foss, but when Foss left office two years later, Herseth successfully sought the open seat, winning the office in 1958.
Governor Herseth established a state retirement system for teachers, proposed a conservancy law to promote water development projects, and created Fort Sisseton State Park. He named Native American artist Oscar Howe as the state’s first artist laureate.
In 1960, Herseth sought reelection, but was narrowly upset by Republican House Speaker Archie Gubbrud. Two years later, Herseth ran for governor one final time, unsuccessfully challenging Governor Gubbrud’s reelection. He is the only South Dakotan to be nominated for governor in four consecutive elections.
Herseth suffered a heart attack and died in 1969 at the age of 59. His family has continued to be active in South Dakota politics. Herseth’s widow, Lorna, served as South Dakota Secretary of State from 1973 to 1979. Herseth’s son, Lars, followed him to the State Legislature and was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1986, losing narrowly to George S. Mickelson, another son of a former governor. Herseth’s granddaughter, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004, serving until 2011 and making her the first woman to represent South Dakota in the U.S. House. She was named president of Augustana University earlier this year.
To date, South Dakota’s thirty-one governors have all considered themselves to be Christian. Twenty-nine of them have been members of Protestant churches.
Lutheranism is the most common affiliation, in large part because the 1950s and 1960s saw the election of four Norwegian Lutheran governors: Sigurd Anderson, Ralph Herseth, Archie Gubbrud and Nils Boe. Earlier governors had been members of other mainline Protestant churches, reflecting their roots in the American northeast and Great Lakes regions. As old religious divisions have faded away, South Dakota has seen two Roman Catholics elected governor: Dick Kneip in the 1970s, and Mike Rounds in the 2000s.
Here is the complete list:
Lutheran (8) – Peter Norbeck, W. J. Bulow, Sigurd Anderson, Ralph Herseth, Archie
Gubbrud, Nils Boe, Bill Janklow, Dennis Daugaard
Methodist (7) – Samuel Elrod, Robert Vessey, Warren E. Green, Tom Berry, George T. Mickelson, Joe Foss, George S. Mickelson
Presbyterian (4) – Charles Herreid, Coe Crawford, Harlan J. Bushfield, Frank Farrar
Congregational (3) – Arthur C. Mellette, Frank Byrne, M. Q. Sharpe
Baptist (3) – Charles Sheldon, Andrew E. Lee, Carl Gunderson
Episcopalian (2) – William H. McMaster, Leslie Jensen
Roman Catholic (2) – Richard F. Kneip, Mike Rounds
Mennonite (1) – Harvey Wollman
Non-denominational Protestant (1) – Walter Dale Miller
(These classifications are made based on the best available biographical information. It is possible that some governors changed affiliations during their lives. No attempt has been made to distinguish, for example, specific denominations of “Lutherans.”)
Looking ahead to the major contenders for governor in 2018, Marty Jackley would follow Kneip and Rounds as the third Roman Catholic governor. Billie Sutton would be the fourth Baptist, although the first since Carl Gunderson served in the 1920s. Kristi Noem attends a non-denominational evangelical church, and so like Walter Dale Miller would be considered “non-denominational Protestant.”