Roger D. McKellips 1923-2017

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.

The McKellips family has operated the State Bank of Alcester for nearly a century; they acquired it in 1919. McKellips’ son, Gary, is the current CEO. The Bank features an excellent history on its website. McKellips’ obituary is also available online.

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State Senator Roger McKellips, as he appeared in the 1987 South Dakota Legislative Manual (or “Blue Book.”)
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