LG-stakes: What history tells us about 2018 running mates

With the 2018 gubernatorial campaign coming into full swing, it’s not too early to start speculating about the candidates’ potential running mates.

Traditionally, candidates announce a running mate shortly after the primary, so the choice can be nominated at the party convention. There have also been a few instances in which a candidate announced a running mate before the primary – I looked at those in another post.

The 1974 election was the first in which the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor ran as a ticket. Prior to 1974, a candidate for lieutenant governor ran at the party convention and appeared separately on the November ballot.

The lieutenant governor also serves as president of the State Senate.

In 1974, Gov. Kneip let it be known that he wanted the Democratic state convention to nominate Harvey Wollman, the senate majority leader, for lieutenant governor, but Wollman still had to overcome a challenge from Rapid City State Rep. Grace Mickelson. (A prior blog post looked at the Kneip-Wollman history.) The 1974 Republican nominee, John E. Olson, deferred to the state convention, which nominated Hot Springs State Rep. Eddie Clay. Beginning in 1978, gubernatorial nominees have “announced” running mates, which state conventions ratify without opposition.

This is a history blog, not a politics blog, so I am not going to “name names.” Instead, this post will look at the history of lieutenant governor running mates in South Dakota since 1974, and ask what that history can tell us about 2018.

There have been 17 distinct gubernatorial tickets:  6 Republican tickets, including five that were nominated for second terms; and 11 Democratic tickets. (They are listed at the end of this post). What do these lists tell us?

“Team of Rivals” is unlikely – Since 1974, no gubernatorial nominee in either party has ever selected one of his or her primary opponents to be running mate. This isn’t a factor for Billie Sutton, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, but history would tell us not to expect a Noem-Jackley or Jackley-Noem Republican ticket.

Regional balance – Of the 17 tickets, 9 had two East River candidates (East-East). 7 were East-West. Only 1 was West-East – the 1990 Samuelson/Halleen Democratic ticket. Not one has been West-West.

A tie to greater Sioux Falls is also important (defining “greater Sioux Falls” as Minnehaha and Lincoln counties). This region now has 28 percent of the state’s population. Of 17 tickets, 11 included at least one SF candidate. 6 had a SF gubernatorial candidate, 6 had a SF running mate, and 1 ticket – the 2010 Heidepriem/Arndt Democratic ticket – had both. There have been 6 tickets without a SF candidate.

One can therefore guess that Marty Jackley (a Sturgis native) and Billie Sutton (of Burke) will select East River running mates, likely but not certainly from Sioux Falls. Kristi Noem (Hamlin County) faces a decision between Sioux Falls and West River – she is unlikely to select a non-SF, East River running mate.

Political experience – All 17 tickets have included at least one candidate with experience in the State Legislature, and on 9 of the tickets, both had legislative experience. Of the 13 running mates with legislative experience, 5 of them had served in legislative leadership positions. Service in the legislative leadership is common among running mates, but is not a prerequisite.

Billie Sutton and Kristi Noem have both served in the State Legislature and “check this box.” Marty Jackley is likely, though, to select a legislator or former legislator.

Ag experience – Agriculture is South Dakota’s #1 industry, but the last farmer or rancher elected governor was Archie Gubbrud in 1960. Since 1974, only 2 tickets have featured a farmer or rancher on the top of the ticket – Lars Herseth (Democrat 1986) and Bob Samuelson (Democrat 1990). 4 farmers or ranchers have been nominated for lieutenant governor, but notably, neither party has included a farmer or rancher on the ticket since 1990. (Keeping in mind that several statewide candidates, including Dennis Daugaard, Jim Abbott, Susan Wismer and Carole Hillard had grown up on farms or had ag roots, even if their professional careers were not spent in agriculture.)

Billie Sutton will be the first farmer or rancher to appear on a statewide gubernatorial ticket since Democrat Bob Samuelson in 1990 and, should Kristi Noem win the primary, she would join him. Both Sutton and Noem have business experience as well – Sutton works in finance and banking, and Noem ran a small business. Marty Jackley, whose family owns a ranching operation, has made his career in the law.

Age – Age is not usually a significant factor on gubernatorial tickets; the overwhelming majority of candidates have been in their 40s, 50s or early 60s.

Dick Kneip was the youngest governor when he was elected in 1970 at age 37. He was 41 when reelected in 1974, and his running mate, Harvey Wollman, was two years younger than Kneip, aged 39.

In 1978, Bill Janklow was elected governor at age 39. He selected a running mate, Lowell Hansen, who was also 39 – in fact, Janklow and Hansen were born exactly four weeks apart.

Age is not a significant factor for Kristi Noem, who would take office at age 47, or Marty Jackley, who would be 48. Billie Sutton, however, would break Kneip’s record and be South Dakota’s youngest governor at age 34. It remains to be seen if Sutton will balance his youth with an older running mate, or “double-down” on youth like Kneip-Wollman in 1974 and Janklow-Hansen in 1978 (both winning tickets).

Other factors – Other attributes of running mates are less common in history, and therefore trends cannot really be perceived:

  • Elsie Meeks (Democrat LG 1998) is the only Native American to appear on a statewide gubernatorial ticket. No other member of a racial or ethnic minority has been nominated.
  • Meeks is also one of four women to be nominated for LG, along with Shirley Halleen (Democrat 1990), Carole Hillard (Republican 1994, 1998) and Susy Blake (Democrat 2014).
  • Susan Wismer (Democrat 2014) is the only woman to be nominated by a major party for governor. Wismer’s selection of Susy Blake as her running mate created an “all woman” ticket, only the fourth in U.S. history when the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket. All four lost the general election.
  • Since 1974, 15 of the 17 gubernatorial nominees had prior experience in elected office, either as lieutenant governor, attorney general, or in the State Legislature. The two exceptions, John E. Olson (Republican 1974) and Jim Beddow (Democrat 1994) both lost.
  • 4 nominees for lieutenant governor, all Democrats, have lacked experience in state elected office: Ted Thoms (Democrat 1986), Elsie Meeks (Democrat 1998), Eric Abrahamson (Democrat 2006) and Ben Arndt (Democrat 2010). At least two of them had served in local office – Thoms on the county commission and Abrahamson on the school board. All four lost.
  • In 2010, Scott Heidepriem, himself a former Republican, selected a registered Republican, businessman Ben Arndt, to be his running mate. Under state law, Arndt had to re-register as a Democrat in order to accept the nomination.

With the exception of John E. Olson and Carole Hillard, all of the aforementioned candidates in this section were on the Democratic ticket. This could be because the Democratic Party attempts more aggressively to appeal to women and minorities, or it could be because the Democratic nominees have typically been underdogs, and therefore more likely to choose an unconventional running mate.

As a woman herself, Kristi Noem is unlikely to select a female running mate. Marty Jackley and Billie Sutton may or may not select a woman.

If an otherwise unconventional running mate is selected – a Native American, a non-politician, or a member of the opposing party – it is likely to be on the Democratic ticket with underdog Billie Sutton. (Sutton himself is “unconventional” in another way. He is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a rodeo accident – a condition that would be unique about South Dakota governors.)

In summary – Any candidate for governor selects a running based primarily on one factor: “Who would I want to be governor of something happened to me?” Beyond that, however, a number of other factors weigh into the decision:

Kristi Noem – Her selection is the most wide open based on these historical factors:

  • Unlikely to select her primary opponent, Marty Jackley.
  • Likely to select someone from Minnehaha or Lincoln county, or from West River.
  • Needn’t select a running mate with legislative experience, but easily could.
  • Professional background is not a primary consideration, given Noem’s background in ag and small business.
  • Age is not a factor.
  • Unlikely to select female running mate.
  • An otherwise “unconventional” choice is possible but not to be expected.
  • Update June 20, 2018Noem selected Larry Rhoden, a rancher and longtime legislative leader from Meade County.

Marty Jackley:

  • Unlikely to select Kristi Noem.
  • Almost certain to select a running mate from East River, likely but not certainly from Minnehaha or Lincoln county.
  • Almost certain to select a current or former legislator, likely but not certainly a legislative leader.
  • An agricultural background is possible but not certain.
  • Age is not a factor.
  • A female running mate is possible but not certain.
  • An otherwise “unconventional” choice is possible but not to be expected.

Billie Sutton:

  • Almost certain to select a running mate from East River, likely but not certainly from Minnehaha or Lincoln county.
  • Needn’t select a running mate with legislative experience, but easily could.
  • Professional background is not a primary consideration, given Sutton’s background in ag and banking.
  • Age is a factor, but could go for balance with an older running mate, or “double-down” with youth.
  • As an underdog to the Republican ticket, most likely to make an “unconventional” choice – a Republican party-switcher, a non-politician, or a Native American or member of another racial or ethnic minority.
  • Update June 14, 2018Sutton selected Michelle Lavallee, a marketing consultant and former Republican from Sioux Falls.

Final takeaway – I can guarantee one thing. No candidate will select Lt. Governor Matt Michels as running mate. He’s constitutionally ineligible – lieutenant governor is subject to a two-term limit.


1974 John E. Olson – Sioux Falls – A businessman who had served as state highway director in the Boe administration. Eddie Clay – Hot Springs – Assistant house majority leader and businessman.
1978, 1982 Bill Janklow – Flandreau – Attorney general. (Incumbent ticket renominated in 1982). Lowell Hansen – Sioux Falls – Speaker of the house and a businessman.
1986, 1990 George S. Mickelson – Brookings – Former speaker of the house and attorney. (Incumbent ticket renominated in 1990). Walter Dale Miller – New Underwood – House majority leader and former speaker, and a rancher.
1994, 1998 Bill Janklow – Brandon – Former governor. (Incumbent ticket renominated in 1998). Carole Hillard – Rapid City – State representative and volunteer; her family owned Rapid Chevrolet. First woman elected lieutenant governor.
2002, 2006 Mike Rounds – Pierre – Former senate majority leader and businessman. (Incumbent ticket renominated in 2006). Dennis Daugaard – Dell Rapids – State senator and non-profit executive.
2010, 2014 Dennis Daugaard – Dell Rapids – Lieutenant governor and non-profit executive. (Incumbent ticket renominated in 2014). Matt Michels – Yankton – Former house speaker and attorney.
1974 Dick Kneip – Salem – Incumbent was a former senate minority leader and businessman. Harvey Wollman – Frankfort – Senate majority leader and a farmer.
1978 Roger McKellips – Alcester – State senator and banker. Billie Sutton – Bonesteel – State senator and rancher. (This is the grandfather of the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor).
1982 Mike O’Connor – Brandon – Former senate president pro tempore and businessman. Willis Danekas – Raymond – state representative and farmer.
1986 Lars Herseth – Houghton – House minority leader and farmer. Ted Thoms – Sioux Falls – county commissioner and businessman.
1990 Bob Samuelson – Faith – State senator and rancher. Shirley Halleen – Sioux Falls – former state representative and teacher. First woman to appear on a gubernatorial ticket.
1994 Jim Beddow – Mitchell – President of Dakota Wesleyan University. Jim Abbott – Yankton – Former state representative and businessman.
1998 Bernie Hunhoff – Yankton – Senate minority leader and owner of South Dakota Magazine. Elsie Meeks – Interior – businesswoman and economic development official. First Native American to appear on a gubernatorial ticket.
2002 Jim Abbott – Vermillion – President of the University of South Dakota, former state representative and businessman. Mike Wilson – Rapid City – former state representative and attorney.
2006 Jack Billion – Sioux Falls – Former state representative and orthopedic surgeon. Eric Abrahamson – Rapid City – School board member and historian.
2010 Scott Heidepriem – Sioux Falls – Senate minority leader and attorney; he had represented Miller in the state legislature as a Republican. Ben Arndt – Sioux Falls – Businessman. A Republican when he was selected; he changed registrations to accept the nomination.
2014 Susan Wismer – Britton – State representative and accountant. First woman nominated for governor by a major party. Susy Blake – Sioux Falls – Former state representative and retired nurse.

Disclaimer: This blog post was written based solely on historical information and conjecture, without any inside information from any of the candidates or campaigns. Given my position in Governor Daugaard’s office, I don’t want readers to assume otherwise.