The 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary pits Congresswoman Kristi Noem against Attorney General Marty Jackley. If elected, both would achieve certain historic milestones. Noem would be the first female governor. Jackley would be the first West River governor elected since the 1940s, as well as the first “Hardrocker” graduate of the SD School of Mines to serve as governor.
Neither Jackley nor Noem are the first candidates for governor to have held their respective offices, although there is far more history of attorneys general running for governor than members of Congress. This post looks at the history of candidacies by members of each office.
Members of Congress
Kristi Noem is only the third member of Congress to run for Governor of South Dakota. All three have been members of the U.S. House of Representatives; no U.S. Senator or former U.S. Senator has ever run for Governor of South Dakota. If elected, Noem would be the first member of Congress to subsequently serve as Governor of South Dakota.
Freeman T. Knowles, 1904 and 1906 – Knowles was an attorney and newspaper publisher from Deadwood. In 1896, the Populist/Democrat “Fusion ticket” swept state elections in South Dakota, and Knowles was narrowly elected to the U.S. House as a Populist. Among those he defeated was the Republican Attorney General, Coe I. Crawford. Two years later, Republicans regained the advantage in state elections, and Knowles was defeated.
After the demise of the Populist Party, Knowles refused to join one of the major parties. He ran as a Socialist for governor in 1904 and 1906. In 1904, he won 3% of the vote, finishing in third as Republican Samuel H. Elrod was elected. In 1906, he won 3.4%, placing last among four candidates as Republican Coe I. Crawford was elected.
Clint Roberts, 1986 – Roberts was a rancher from Presho. He had served in the State Senate from 1973 to 1979, including as assistant minority leader and as president pro tempore. In 1978, Roberts ran for governor, placing third in a primary that was handily won by Attorney General Bill Janklow, and he served in 1979 and 1980 as Janklow’s secretary of agriculture.
In 1980, Roberts was elected to the U.S. House from South Dakota’s Second Congressional District, the western portion of the state. In 1982, however, South Dakota lost its second district, and Roberts lost to the First District incumbent, Democrat Tom Daschle.
As a former Congressman, Roberts once again ran for governor in 1986. He was viewed as an early front-runner in Republican field that also included Lt. Governor Lowell Hansen, former House Speaker George S. Mickelson, and Secretary of State Alice Kundert. Roberts ultimately lost narrowly, winning 32.1% to Mickelson’s 35.3%. He went on to serve as director of the state energy office for Mickelson.
Kristi Noem, 2018 – Noem is the first sitting member of Congress, as opposed to a former member, to run for Governor of South Dakota. She is also the first candidate for Governor to have served more than one term in the U.S. House. Noem has served four terms in the U.S. House, following two terms in the State House, during which she served as assistant majority leader.
The office of Attorney General has been a common stepping stone to a gubernatorial candidacy since the 1940s. (In the first 50 years of South Dakota statehood, from 1889 to 1939, a current or former AG only ran for governor three times.)
Marty Jackley will be the 11th attorney general to run for governor; of the 10 who came before him, 6 were elected governor and 4 never were. Jackley’s is the 21st candidacy for governor mounted by a current or former attorney general; this includes bids by incumbent or former governor who were also former AG’s. Current or former AG’s are 12-8 in 20 previous campaigns for governor.
Every attorney general who has run for governor has been a Republican; there have only been four Democratic attorneys general in South Dakota history, and none them ever ran for governor.
Coe Crawford, 1904 and 1906 – Crawford, a former Hughes County state’s attorney, had served as attorney general from 1893 to 1897. In that office, he led the prosecution of former State Treasurer W. W. Taylor, who had stolen the state treasury and left the state for Latin America.
In 1896, Crawford ran for U.S. House; at that time, South Dakota had two representatives, who were both elected at-large in a “vote for two” format. Crawford’s candidacy was ill-timed, as it coincided with a statewide sweep by the Populist/Democrat “Fusion ticket,” and he lost narrowly.
Crawford left politics and moved to Huron, where he became the in-state general counsel for the Chicago & North Western Railroad. At this time, he was a “Stalwart Republican,” meaning that he was a supporter of the Republican “machine” that was led by “boss” Alfred B. Kittredge. In 1901, U.S. Senator James H. Kyle died. Crawford wanted the appointment, but Kittredge instead arranged to be appointed himself. Crawford, disenchanted, resigned from the railroad and became a “progressive” Republican.
At this time, parties selected their gubernatorial nominees at state party conventions. In 1904, Crawford became the first candidate to openly campaign for the nomination, barnstorming the state and running on a progressive, anti-machine platform. Despite that, he was soundly defeated at the state convention by Samuel H. Elrod, a Kittredge ally, by a vote of 778 to 226.
Crawford never stopped running for governor, and he began to also campaign for a primary system to nominate candidates, rather than the convention system. In 1906 he once again challenged Elrod at the state convention, and this time Crawford won easily, 893 to 476.
Crawford served a single two-year term as governor, during which he signed legislation creating primary elections for statewide offices. In 1908, he forewent a second bid for governor, and instead challenged U.S. Senator Kittredge, winning the primary with 51.5% of the vote. Crawford served a single term in the U.S. Senate and lost reelection in 1914.
Buell F. Jones, 1928 – Jones, an attorney from Britton, had been elected to three terms as attorney general, in 1922, 1924 and 1926. In 1926, W. J. Bulow, the former mayor of Beresford, had become the first Democrat elected Governor of South Dakota; he defeated incumbent Gov. Carl Gunderson for reelection. The 1928 election was therefore the first time state history that an incumbent Democratic governor was seeking reelection.
Gov. Bulow had attempted to govern as a “non-partisan,” working with a Republican legislature and retaining many Republican appointees. His efforts were enough to win his reelection as he narrowly defeated Jones. Bulow was reelected with 52.5% to 46.9% for Jones and 0.6% for John Sumption of the Farmer-Labor Party.
M. Q. Sharpe, 1942, 1944 and 1946 – Sharpe was a Kennebec attorney and former Lyman County state’s attorney. He was elected attorney general in 1928 and reelection in 1930. During his four years, he developed a reputation for independence, as he investigated embezzlement in the state banking department and investigated mismanagement of the Rural Credits state farm loan program during the Norbeck and McMaster administrations. Despite that, Sharpe lost his bid for a third term in 1932, amidst the Democratic sweep led nationally by Franklin D. Roosevelt and in South Dakota by Tom Berry.
Sharpe retired from politics, refusing entreaties to run for governor in 1934 and 1940. He became a senior statesman within the State Bar, chairing the Supreme Court commission that codified state statutes in 1937, and becoming Gov. Bushfield’s personal emissary to the Missouri River States Committee, which negotiated the Pick-Sloan Plan for Missouri River dam construction and water development.
Sharpe ran for governor in 1942 as an outsider, opposing three “insiders” of the outgoing Bushfield administration: State Taxation Director Joe Bottom, Attorney General Leo Temmy and Rural Credits Director Millard Scott. The primary was extremely close: Bottom won 28.8%, Sharpe won 25.7%, Temmey won 24.5% and Scott won 21.0%. Because no candidate won 35%, the decision was made at the State Republican Convention. At the convention, the “Statehouse Trio” failed to coalesce around a single candidate, and Sharpe won the nomination on the third ballot, as Temmey and Scott’s supporters gradually moved to his candidacy. Sharpe was handily elected in the fall, defeating Webster Democrat Lewis Bicknell, an attorney. Gov. Sharpe was easily reelected in 1944, winning 65.5% against Lynn Fellows, a Democratic attorney and former legislator from Plankinton.
In 1946, Gov. Sharpe ran for a third term as governor. No previous governor had been elected three times; the only other governor to try it, Tom Berry, lost his reelection bid in 1936 to Republican Leslie Jensen. The attempt was also ill-fated for M. Q. Sharpe, as he was defeated in the 1946 Republican primary by Attorney General George T. Mickelson, who was also a former house speaker. Mickelson won 44.8% to Sharpe’s 32.8% and 22.8% for Millard Scott, who had also run against Sharpe in 1942.
Leo Temmey, 1942 – As discussed in the Sharpe narrative above, Attorney General Leo Temmey sought the Republican nomination to Sharpe. Temmey was a Huron attorney and had been elected attorney general in 1938 and 1940.
George T. Mickelson, 1946 and 1948 – Mickelson was a Selby attorney who had served as Walworth County state’s attorney. He served six years in the State House, including two as House Speaker, and was elected attorney general in 1942 and 1944. As described above, Mickelson ran for governor in 1946, defeating incumbent Gov. Sharpe in his bid for a third term. Mickelson handily won the general election, winning 67.2% against Democrat Richard Haeder, a Wolsey farmer and president of SD Rural Electrification Association. In 1948, Mickelson was reelected with 61.1% against Democrat Harold Volz of Winner.
Mickelson declined to seek a third term or to run for U.S. Senate in 1950; he would have had to challenge incumbent U.S. Senator Chan Gurney. Mickelson chaired the Eisenhower presidential campaign in 1952 and turned down several posts in the Eisenhower administration. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Mickelson as a federal district judge, based in Sioux Falls. Mickelson held that position until he died in 1965.
Sigurd Anderson, 1950, 1952 and 1964 – Anderson was a Webster attorney and former Day County state’s attorney; he also had worked as an assistant attorney general. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving form 1943 to 1946, and was elected attorney general in 1946 and 1948.
In 1950, Anderson won the Republican nomination for governor in a five-man field, narrowly avoiding a decision by the state convention as he won 35.3% of the vote. His closest competitor was Joe Foss, who won 33.0%. Foss was a state legislator and war hero who would ultimately succeed Anderson in 1955. Anderson handily won the general election, winning 60.9% against Joe Robbie, a Mitchell attorney and state representative. Robbie later distinguished himself as the founding owner of the Miami Dolphins in the 1960s. Anderson was overwhelmingly reelected in 1952 with 70.2% of the vote, at the time a record, defeating Democrat Sherman Iverson of South Sioux Falls (which at the time was a separate municipality). Republicans that year won a 35-0 majority in the State Senate and a 73-2 majority in the State House, both records to this day.
Anderson left office in 1955 and accepted appointment to the Federal Trade Commission from President Eisenhower later that same year. He served on the Commission until 1964. In 1962, he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, following the death of U.S. Senator Francis Case. That nomination went to Lt. Governor Joe Bottum, in a crowded field that also included former governor Joe Foss, House Speaker Nils Boe, Congressman Ben Reifel, and A. C. Miller, the attorney general and a former lieutenant governor.
Following that loss, Anderson sought a return to the Governor’s Office in 1964; he lost a close Republican primary to Lt. Governor Nils Boe, with Boe winning 53.5% to Anderson’s 46.5%. In 1967, Governor Boe appointed Anderson as a circuit court judge, based in Webster, and Anderson held that position until 1975.
Phil Saunders, 1958 – Saunders was a Milbank attorney and had served on the staff of Gov. Sigurd Anderson. He was elected attorney general in 1954 and reelected in 1956. In 1958, Saunders handily won the Republican primary in an open election to succeed Gov. Joe Foss. Saunders won 61.6% to 26.8% for Lt. Governor Roy Houck, a Gettysburg farmer and former legislator, and 11.6% for Charles Lacey, a state representative from Sioux Falls.
Saunders narrowly lost the general election, however, to Democrat Ralph Herseth, the senate minority leader and a farmer from Houghton. Herseth, who had challenged Foss in 1956, capitalized on discontent about the reassessment of agricultural property for taxation valuation purposes.
Frank Farrar, 1968 and 1970 – Farrar was a Britton attorney and Marshall County state’s attorney, and he became the youngest attorney general in South Dakota history when he was elected in 1962 at the age of 33. He was reelected in 1964 and 1966, and then won the Republican nomination for governor without opposition in 1968. Farrar handily won the general election, winning 57.7% against Robert Chamberlin, a Hecla farmer and Democratic state party chairman.
Farrar ran for reelection in 1970. He overcame a vigorous primary challenge from Frank “Rudy” Henderson, a Rapid City attorney and state senator, but lost the general election to Senate Minority Leader Dick Kneip, a Salem businessman who won 54.8% of the vote to Farrar’s 45.2%. Farrar retired from politics and began a successful career in banking.
Bill Janklow, 1978, 1982, 1994 and 1998 – Bill Janklow was a Flandreau native and former Rosebud legal aid attorney. He served as an assistant attorney general, then in 1974 resigned to successfully challenge the reelection of his boss, Democrat Kermit Sande.
Janklow capitalized on a brash and direct style to easily win the 1978 Republican gubernatorial primary, winning 50.9% to 32.9% for State Representative LeRoy Hoffman, a Eureka farmer, and 16.2% for State Senator Clint Roberts, a Presho rancher. In the general election, Janklow won 56.6% against his Democratic opponent, State Senator Roger McKellips, an Alcester banker. Janklow was overwhelmingly reelected in 1982, winning a record 70.9% against Democrat Mike O’Connor, a former state senator and businessman from Brandon. After two terms as governor, in 1986 Janklow unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Jim Abdnor in the Republican primary; Abdnor went on to lose the fall campaign to Congressman Tom Daschle.
Janklow came back in 1994, challenging incumbent Gov. Walter Dale Miller, who had succeeded to the office the previous year after Gov. George S. Mickelson died in a plane crash. Janklow defeated Miller, 54.0% to 46.0%, and won the fall campaign against Democrat Jim Beddow, the president of Dakota Wesleyan University, with 55.4%. Janklow was easily reelected in 1998, defeating Senate Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff, a Yankton publisher, with 64.0% of the vote. In 2002, Janklow was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, making him the only South Dakota governor to subsequently serve in the U.S. House, but he resigned in early 2004 following an accident in which he killed a motorcyclist in a collision.
Mark Barnett, 2002 – Mark Barnett was a Sioux Falls native and a former Hughes County state’s attorney. He was the longest-serving attorney general in state history, winning election to four-year terms in 1990, 1994 and 1998. In 1998, Gov. Bill Janklow delayed his decision about seeking a fourth term due to health reasons, and Barnett was prepared to run if Janklow did not. Ultimately, Janklow ran again, and Barnett was reelected without Democratic opposition.
Barnett was the Republican front-runner for governor in 2002 after Congressman John Thune decided to run for U.S. Senate rather than governor. For most of the primary campaign, Barnett’s principal opponent was former Lt. Governor Steve Kirby, a Sioux Falls businessman and investor. The campaign between Barnett and Kirby became extremely negative, as both candidates spent multi-million dollar war chests on a competitive primary. This opened the door to the third candidate, Mike Rounds, who was a former senate majority leader and Pierre businessman. Running a low-budget campaign and refusing to go negative, Rounds benefited from the public backlash against the negativity, and ultimately won the primary with 44.3% to 29.5% for Barnett and 26.1% for Kirby.
Barnett deserved some credit for Rounds’ victory; the two were friends who often traveled together to primary events, and Barnett refused to attack Rounds, even when it became apparent that Rounds posed a threat to his candidacy. Following the primary, Barnett helped to encourage his campaign network to support Rounds, who won in the fall with 56.8%, defeating University of South Dakota President Jim Abbott. Barnett returned to the AG’s office, serving as chief deputy to his successor, Larry Long, and was appointed as a circuit court judge in 2007.
Marty Jackley, 2018 – As noted above, Jackley is the 11th attorney general or former AG to run for governor. Of the previous 10, 6 were elected at some point and 4 were not. Jackely’s career path, therefore, is a tried-and-true stepping stone to the Governor’s Office, although not one that guarantees success. Kristi Noem’s, in contrast, would be a new path, as she would be the first member of Congress elected governor.