With the “Trump transition” in full swing, the political news is filled with cabinet appointments and speculation about unfilled positions. Speculation has included several midwesterners for presidential appointments, but to date, no South Dakotans have received significant attention as potential members of the Trump Administration.
In U.S. History, only one South Dakotan has served in a president’s cabinet. Clinton P. Anderson served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1945 to 1948, during the administration of President Harry S. Truman.
Anderson was born in Centerville, SD in 1895. He left the state to attend the University of Michigan, briefly returned and worked at the Mitchell Daily Republic, and then relocated to New Mexico to receive treatment for tuberculosis. He remained in New Mexico for the rest of his life. Anderson was a congressman at the time that Truman appointed him as Ag Secretary, and following that service, his fellow New Mexicans returned him to Congress as a U.S. Senator.
Although Clinton Anderson spent his early years in South Dakota, he made his home in New Mexico and spent his public career representing that state. Therefore, he is typically counted as a New Mexican, not a South Dakotan (just as Doland-native Hubert H. Humphrey is typically considered a vice president and senator from Minnesota, not South Dakota.)
South Dakota came close to having a favorite son in the cabinet in 2008. Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic Leader who spent 26 years representing South Dakota in Congress, was selected by President-elect Barack Obama to be his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Given Obama’s plans to reform the health care sector (what ultimately led to the Affordable Care Act, or “ObamaCare”), this was a significant appointment.
Unfortunately, Daschle withdrew his nomination in early 2009, after questions emerged about his failure to pay income taxes on chauffeur service he had received as compensation from an investment firm. The appointment instead went to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. One can only imagine how the history of the drafting, passage, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act would have been different, had Daschle rather than Sebelius led HHS during this crucial period.
Thus ends the short history of South Dakotans in the president’s cabinet.
Several other South Dakotans have received high-level presidential appointments. This in not an exhaustive list, but to mention a few:
- Former Governor George T. Mickelson was appointed by President Eisenhower to be federal district judge in South Dakota.
- Eisenhower also appointed Former Governor Sigurd Anderson to be a member of the Federal Trade Commission.
- Former Governor Nils Boe was appointed by President Nixon as White House Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs, and then as a federal judge on the U.S. Customs Court.
- Governor Richard F. Kneip resigned to accept an appointment from President Carter as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore.
- State Senator Mary McClure, the state senate’s president pro tempore, was appointed by President George H. W. Bush as White House Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs, the same position Governor Boe had held.