Old Bulls of the SD 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 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:

Joe Barnett

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 tempore 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

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.

Bob Duxbury

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 Halverson

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

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.

Lars Herseth

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.

Jerry Lammers

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

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

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

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 Poppen

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

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

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

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.

Bud Wood

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.