Kristi Noem’s pursuit of the Governor’s Office leaves an open seat in Washington. Three Republicans – former Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, and State Senator Neal Tapio – are seeking their party’s nomination in the June 5 primary. The winner will face Tim Bjorkman, a retired circuit court judge, in the general election.
Although Neal Tapio is running as an anti-establishment, Trump Republican, his pathway through the State Legislature is the most typical of the four candidates running for U.S. House. Of the 36 people who have served South Dakota in the U.S. House, 19 of them had experience in a state or territorial legislature.
Shantel Krebs, like Tapio, has legislative experience; she spent 6 years in the State House and 4 years in the State Senate from 2005-15. Since 2015, she has served as secretary of state, and Krebs would be the first secretary of state to be elected to the U.S. House from South Dakota.
In fact, in South Dakota history, the only secretary of state who has been elected to any higher statewide office was Gladys Pyle, who was secretary of state from 1927-31. Pyle was nearly elected Governor in 1930. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1938 to serve a brief two-month term following the death of U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck, but the Senate never convened during her brief tenure.
Likewise, as a former Public Utilities Commissioner, Dusty Johnson would be the first member of the commission to go on to be elected to the U.S. House; no commissioner has ever been elected to U.S. House, U.S. Senate, or Governor in South Dakota. (This includes the PUC’s precursor, the State Railroad Commission).
In addition to secretary of state and PUC, it’s worth noting that, in South Dakota history, no state treasurer, state auditor, or commissioner of school and public lands has been elected as Governor, U.S. Senator, or U.S. Representative. The only state-level offices that have been reliable stepping stones to higher office are lieutenant governor and attorney general. (Congressman William V. Lucas from South Dakota had been the State Auditor of Iowa.)
In addition to the PUC, Johnson also served for nearly four years as Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff. Since the evolution in South Dakota of the modern governor’s staff in the 1960s and 1970s, Johnson would be the first chief of staff to be elected to statewide office. U.S. Representative E. Y. Berry, from South Dakota’s 2nd congressional district, also served on a governor’s staff; he was Gov. M. Q. Sharpe’s “legislative assistant” in 1943 prior to being elected to Congress in 1950.
In the modern era, three other chiefs of staff have run for statewide office:
- Ted Muenster, Gov. Kneip’s first chief of staff, was the 1990 Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, losing a relatively close race to incumbent U.S. Senator Larry Pressler. Muenster was also a widely rumored candidate for Governor in 1994, but did not run.
- Ron Williamson, Gov. Janklow’s first chief of staff, considered a candidacy for Governor in 2002 and was included in early polling. He ultimately was elected to the State House that year instead. In 2004, following Janklow’s resignation from U.S. House, Williamson was one of a large field that sought the Republican nomination at the special state convention, which nominated State Senator Larry Diedrich from Elkton.
- Dave Knudson, who was Gov. Janklow’s chief of staff on two occasions during Janklow’s second tenure as Governor, served in the State Senate from 2003-11 and was the senate majority leader for four years. He ran for Governor in 2010, finishing third in a five-man field as Dennis Daugaard won the Republican nomination.
Finally, Tim Bjorkman’s experience as a judge is unusual, but not unprecedented for a Congressman from South Dakota. William Williamson, who represented the state’s 3rd district from 1921 to 1933, had also been circuit court judge. E. Y. Berry had served as a Corson County probate judge, a position that no longer exists in South Dakota’s unified judicial system.
Below is a summary of the political experiences held by those elected to U.S. House from South Dakota:
State or Territorial legislature (19)
Dakota Territorial legislature (5) – John Pickler, John Rankin Gamble, John L. Jolley, Robert J. Gamble, Eben W. Martin
SD state legislator (15) – John L. Jolley, John E. Kelley, Charles H. Burke, Philo Hall, William H. Parker, Charles H. Dillon, Harry L. Gandy, C. A. Christopherson, Fred H. Hildebrandt, Harold Lovre, E. Y. Berry, Jim Abdnor, Clint Roberts, Tim Johnson, Kristi Noem
Another state legislature (1) – John Pickler (Iowa)
Dakota Territorial delegate to Congress (1) – Oscar Gifford (this office was the precursor to U.S. Representative during the territorial era)
Governor (1) – Bill Janklow
Lieutenant governor (1) – Jim Abdnor
Attorney General (3) – Philo Hall, Royal C. Johnson, Bill Janklow
U.S. Attorney (2) – John Rankin Gamble, William H. Parker (Colorado district)
Judge (2) – William Williamson (circuit court judge), E. Y. Berry (probate court judge)
GFP Commission (2) – Fred H. Hildebrandt, Karl Mundt,
Board of Regents (2) – Francis H. Case, E. Y. Berry
Federal BIA regional director (1) – Ben Reifel
SD Secretary of Agriculture (1) – Clint Roberts
SD Railroad Director (1) – John Thune
Iowa State Auditor (1) – William V. Lucas
Local official (this list is probably not comprehensive) –
- John Pickler (Adair County MO state’s attorney),
- Oscar Gifford (Lincoln County state’s attorney and Mayor of Canton),
- John Rankin Gamble (Yankton County state’s attorney),
- John L. Jolley (Mayor of Vermillion),
- William V. Lucas (Mayor of Mason City IA; Brule County treasurer),
- Robert J. Gamble (territorial district attorney),
- Eben W. Martin (Deadwood board of education president),
- Philo Hall (Brookings County state’s attorney),
- William H. Parker (Lawrence County state’s attorney),
- Royal C. Johnson (Hyde County state’s attorney),
- C. A. Christopherson (Sioux Falls school board president),
- William Williamson (Lyman County state’s attorney),
- Theodore B. Werner (Mayor of Rapid City),
- Harold Lovre (Hamlin County state’s attorney),
- E. Y. Berry (Corson County state’s attorney, Mayor of McLaughlin),
- Frank Denholm (Day County sheriff)
No previous experience in public office (6) – Freeman T. Knowles, George McGovern, Jim Abourezk, Larry Pressler, Tom Daschle, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
Source: The principal source for this post is the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, which is available online and has excellent biographical sketches of every former member of Congress. It seems entirely possible to me that these sketches may, however, omit some local government service.