Libertarians and the modern history of minor party candidates for SD Governor

This weekend, the Libertarian Party of South Dakota made itself the first in 2018 to complete a gubernatorial ticket, nominating Kurt Evans for governor and Richard Shelatz for lieutenant governor.

LibThe Libertarian Party of South Dakota first nominated a ticket for Governor and Lt. Governor in 1994. The 1994 SD gubernatorial election was the first to feature a minor party or independent candidate since 1934. Since that time, every gubernatorial election but one has featured at least one third party or independent ticket. Here is a look at those tickets:

  • 1994 – Nathan Barton, an engineer from Rapid City, was nominated for governor; his running mate was Brian Liss. The Barton/Liss ticket won 4.1%, to 55.4% for Republicans Bill Janklow and Carole Hillard and 40.5% for Democrats Jim Beddow and Jim Abbott.
  • 1998 – Bob Newland, a Belle Fourche writer and marijuana legalization advocate, was nominated for governor; his running mate was James Christen. The Libertarian ticket fell back significantly from 1994, winning only 1.7%. Republicans Janklow/Hillard were reelected with 64.0% over Democrats Bernie Hunhoff and Elsie Meeks with 32.9%. Independents Ron Wieczorek and Jeannie Hanson won 1.4%.
  • 2002 – Nathan Barton was once again nominated for governor, on a ticket with Eric Risty. The Libertarians had their worst showing to date, winning 0.6% as Republicans Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard won 56.8% and Democrats Jim Abbott and Mike Wilson won 41.9%. Independents James Carlson and Robert Rosch won 0.7%.
  • 2006 – Thomas Gerber, a retired technology consultant from Sturgis, was the Libertarian nominee for governor on a ticket with Bette Rose Ryan. The Libertarians won 1.0% as Republicans Rounds/Daugaard were reelected with 61.7% over Democrats Jack Billion and Eric Abrahamson. The Constitution Party nominated its first ever ticket, with Sioux Falls businessman Steve Willis on a ticket with Larry Johnsen; they won 1.2%.
  • 2010 – There was no minor party or independent gubernatorial ticket in 2010. Republicans Dennis Daugaard and Matt Michels won 61.5% against Democrats Scott Heidepriem and Ben Arndt.
  • 2014 – Neither the Libertarian nor Constitution parties nominated a gubernatorial ticket in 2014. There was an independent ticket, however, led by retired law professor Michael Myers of Centerville. Myers’ original running mate was Caitlin Collier, a former state representative and attorney from Vermillion. Collier dropped out, and Myers replaced her with Lora Hubbel, who had lost the Republican primary to incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Republicans Daugaard/Michels were reelected with 70.5% to 25.4% for Democrats Susan Wismer and Susie Blake and 4.1% for Myers/Hubbel.
  • 2018 – The Libertarian Party has nominated Kurt Evans, a teacher and musician from Wessington Springs. Evans ran for U.S. House as an independent in 1996. He was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in 2002 and for state auditor in 2014. Evans’ running mate is Richard Shelatz, the party’s vice chair from Rapid City. The Constitution Party is meeting in July to consider whether to nominate a gubernatorial ticket. Republicans have nominated Kristi Noem and Democrats have nominated Billie Sutton; both major party nominees are expected to name running mates in the coming weeks.

2018 is the beginning of a new era for SD third parties. As a result of a federal lawsuit and a statutory change during the 2018 legislative session, minor parties no longer need to follow the petition-and-primary process that the Republican and Democratic parties must use to nominate candidates for Governor, U.S. Senator and U.S. House. Rather, parties that stay below a certain size can use a state convention to nominate. This will make it easier for the Libertarian and Constitution parties, and potentially new minor parties, to put forward candidates in future elections.