Billie Sutton, the Democratic Senate Minority Leader from Burke, is uncontested in the June primary for his party’s nomination to be Governor of South Dakota. Sutton will be the 10th West River native to be nominated for Governor (some of whom were nominated more than once). Marty Jackley, a Sturgis native who is competing with Kristi Noem for the Republican nomination, would be the 11th.
Below is a look at the nine West River nominees for governor, prior to this year:
Kirk G. Phillips – Deadwood – 1898 – Phillips, a Deadwood pharmacist and Republican, was the state treasurer from 1895-99; he succeeded W. W. Taylor, who had stolen the state treasury and escaped to Latin America. Phillips was nominated for governor in 1898, opposing the incumbent Gov. Andrew E. Lee, a Populist who had been elected by a “fusion” ticket of Populists and Democrats. Phillips lost to Lee by 370 votes or 0.5%. By either measure this was the second-closest gubernatorial election in state history, following Lee’s election two years early, by 319 votes or 0.4%. Following his general election loss, Phillips considered contesting the extremely narrow result, alleging that votes for Lee that marked both the Democratic and Populist tickets had been counted twice. Republican leaders ultimately determined that a legal challenge would last past the end of the legislative session and was therefore not worthwhile. (In those days, there was a gubernatorial election and a legislative session every other year).
Chauncey L. Wood – Rapid City – 1910 – Wood was the Democratic mayor of Rapid City and prominent attorney; he had been a delegate to the 1889 state constitutional convention. He was nominated by the Democrats in 1910 to oppose incumbent Gov. Robert S. Vessey and lost badly, 58.4% to 35.9% with two minor candidates winning the rest.
Orville Rinehart – Rapid City – 1916 – Rinehart was a Democratic state representative and attorney from Rapid City; he narrowly won the Democratic nomination from Edmund Morcom, a Sioux Falls businessman. Rinehart lost badly to Lt. Governor Peter Norbeck, a popular progressive, 56.6% to 39.3% with two minor candidates accounting for the remainder.
Tom Berry – Mellette County – 1932, 1934, 1936 – Berry was a rancher and a former Democratic state legislator. He ran for governor in 1932, beating Lorenzo Corey, a Wagner newspaper publisher, for the Democratic nomination. In the fall, Berry rode the FDR Democratic landslide to victory, defeating incumbent Gov. Warren E. Green as Democrats in South Dakota won every statewide race except for U.S. Senate and won control of the State Legislature for the first time.
Two years later, Gov. Berry easily overcame a primary challenge from his own lieutenant governor, Hans Ustrud, who felt that Berry was too conservative, and then won reelection easily, winning 58.6% against William Allen, an Aberdeen newspaper publisher.
Gov. Berry ran a third time in 1936, seeking an unprecedented third term but lost to…
Leslie Jensen – Hot Springs – 1936 – Jensen was the owner of the Hot Springs telephone company, and was the only Republican willing to challenge Gov. Berry in 1936. He won a close, upset victory as South Dakota voters began in 1936 to return to the Republican Party. Jensen probably could have been reelected in 1938, but he instead ran for U.S. Senate, losing the primary to Chan Gurney.
(Jensen was also the only South Dakota governor to have served in World War I, which is why his Trail of Governors statue portrays him in a WWI-era military uniform. A longtime member of the South Dakota National Guard, Jensen also returned to active duty in World War II, serving in the Pacific theater.)
M. Q. Sharpe – Kennebec – 1942 – Sharpe was a Kennebec attorney and former attorney general. He was nominated by the State Republican Convention in 1942 after finishing second in a close four-candidate primary. Sharpe was elected in 1942, winning 61.5% against Lewis Bicknell of Webster. He was reelected in 1944, prevailing over Lynn Fellows of Plankinton with 65.5%. Against the advice of his friends and supporters, Gov. Sharpe sought a third term in 1946. He lost the Republican nomination to Attorney General George T. Mickelson. Mickelson won 44.8% to 32.4% for Sharpe and 22.8% for Millard Scott, an Artesian farmer and former Bushfield official who had also run in 1942.
(As an aside, for the only time in state history, from 1941 to 1943 the governor and the lieutenant governor were from the same town. Governor Sharpe and Lt. Governor A. C. Miller practiced law across the street from each other in Kennebec, a city of 390 people in the 1940 census. At the time the governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately and, although the parties typically tried to achieve geographic balance, Lt. Governor Miller had been an incumbent in 1940 and did not give way when fellow Kennebec resident Sharpe was nominated for Governor.)
Harold J. Volz – Winner – 1948 – Volz was the owner of an abstract company, and took on the unenviable task of opposing the reelection of Gov. George T. Mickelson. Mickelson won 61.1% to 38.9% for Volz.
Carv Thompson – Faith – 1972 – Thompson was a Republican state representative and a pharmacist from Faith; he also owned pharmacies in other West River towns. Thompson defeated Scotland legislator Simon Chance for the nomination, but lost to incumbent Gov. Dick Kneip 60% to 40%. Thompson’s 40% was, as a percentage, the worst-ever showing by a Republican nominee for governor, although very few Republican nominees have had to face an incumbent Democrat.
Bob Samuelson – Faith – 1990 – Samuelson was a state representative and rancher from near Faith, in Meade County. A Democrat, he challenged Gov. George S. Mickelson’s reelection and lost, 58.9% to 41.1%.
If nominated, Marty Jackley will be the third gubernatorial nominee from Meade County, following Thompson and Samuelson. Billie Sutton is the first gubernatorial nominee from Gregory County.