SD GOP looks to November

The South Dakota Republican Party held its state convention in Watertown June 23-25, 2022. News outlets have noted a record-setting attendance as delegates decided contested races for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, while also making unanimous nominations for other statewide offices. South Dakota Democrats will follow with their convention in two weeks, in Fort Pierre, which will set the stage for the fall campaign. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jamie Smith will presumably name his running mate prior to that time.

I have written a longer blog post about Rhoden’s renomination and the history of the election of lieutenant governors in South Dakota. Here are a few other historical notes, though, coming out of the Republican convention:

Republicans look to extend winning streak

As I wrote most recently in 2020, South Dakota Republicans are on a winning streak that began in 2010. That year, U.S. Senator John Thune won reelection unopposed – a first for a U.S. Senator from South Dakota. Kristi Noem defeated incumbent Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dennis Daugaard won his first term as Republicans made big gains in the State Legislature.

That winning streak currently stands at 38, with Republicans winning every election for presidential electors, U.S. Senate and U.S. House, and statewide office since 2010. This is still only the 5th longest such streak in South Dakota history, with the longest being 101 such victories from 1938 to 1954.

This year, Republicans will look to extend that streak with another 9 victories (contesting races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Governor/Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Commissioner of School and Public Lands, and Public Utilities Commissioner). If Republicans wins all nine, the current winning streak would increase to 47, moving into 4th place and surpassing the 41 Republican wins from 1920-24.

Barnett defeat a rarity for an incumbent

Secretary of State Steve Barnett was upset in his bid for a second term on Saturday, losing the nomination to Monae Johnson, who touted her experience working for former Secretaries of State Chris Nelson and Shantel Krebs.

Barnett, whose grandfather was a legendary State House leader from Aberdeen, had prevailed in three previous convention contests, for state auditor in 2010 and 2014 and for secretary of state in 2018. His loss to Johnson makes him the first elected incumbent to lose a convention battle for renomination in more than fifty years. In 1968, South Dakota Republicans rejected two incumbents, as State Auditor Lloyd Jorgensen lost to Alice Kundert and State Treasurer Al Hamre was defeated by Neal Strand. (In 1986, Commissioner of School and Public Lands Sheldon Cotton, who had been appointed to fill a vacancy, lost his bid for a full term at the Republican convention to Tim Amdahl.)

Barnett’s loss also means that the Secretary of State’s office will turn over for the fourth straight term in 2022. Chris Nelson is the most recent two-term secretary of state, serving from 2003-11. Jason Gant was elected in 2010 but did not seek reelection in 2014. He was succeeded by Shantel Krebs, who ran for U.S. House rather than seek a second term in 2018. Krebs was followed by Barnett, who will now depart after one term as well, giving way to Republican Monae Johnson or to her Democratic opponent.

It’s an usual period of instability for the office; in contrast, South Dakota had only three Secretaries of State in the thirty-two years from 1979-2011: Alice Kundert 1979-87, Joyce Hazeltine 1987-2003, and Chris Nelson 2003-11.

Jackley seeks a return as attorney general

Jackley addresses convention delegates

Marty Jackley, who previously served as attorney general from 2009-19, won the nomination to return to his old office, and will be a heavy favorite to be elected in November. Assuming he succeeds, Jackley will be the first attorney general in South Dakota history to return to the office. (Governor Noem has appointed Mark Vargo to complete the current term as attorney general).

A Jackley victory would put him on track to become the longest-serving attorney general in state history. That distinction is currently held by Mark Barnett, who held the office for 12 years – three four-year terms from 1991-2003. (Beginning in 1994, the position is limited to two consecutive four-year terms). Jackley’s first stint as attorney general last 9 years and 4 months, from his appointment in September 2009 through January 2019. Returning to the office in January 2023, he would surpass Barnett in September 2025.

Jackley, of course, was a candidate for governor in 2018, losing a hard-fought Republican primary to Kristi Noem. That’s in the past now, as the two former rivals endorsed each other earlier this year. It remains to be seen if a Jackley return to the attorney general’s office would pave the way for a second gubernatorial bid for Jackley in 2026. Five South Dakota governors have been elected following earlier, unsuccessful bids for the office: Charles Herreid, Coe Crawford, William J. Bulow, Joe Foss, and Ralph Herseth. Herseth is the most recent; he was elected governor in 1960.

Thune, Nelson and Greenfield seek to join 25 Club

Last year, this blog wrote about the “25 over 25” – the twenty-five people in South Dakota history have served in a federal or state elected office for 25 years or more. (This includes service in Congress, statewide elected office, and the state legislature. It does not include judicial positions or local offices.)

Three more South Dakotans could join the 25 Club if they are elected in 2022 and serve out their new term:

U.S. Senator John Thune has served 6 years in the U.S. House and 18 in the U.S. Senate, for a total of 24 years. If he is reelected in November, he will serve a fourth six-year term in the Senate, joining Karl Mundt as the only South Dakotan to serve four Senate terms, and accumulating a total of 30 years in federal office.

Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson has served 8 years as Secretary of State and 12 years on the Public Utilities Commission, for a total of 20 years in statewide office. A third six-year PUC term would mean Nelson would accumulate 26 years of service.

Brock Greenfield has served 22 years in the State Legislature, serving 11 terms since his first election to the State Senate in 2001. He is now the Republican nominee for commissioner of school and public lands, and a four year stint in that role will increase his total years in elected office to 26 years.