LG selection through the years

The recent State Republican Convention in Watertown featured a rare contested ballot for the lieutenant governor nomination. Lt. Governor Larry Rhoden, the incumbent and the choice of Governor Kristi Noem, was challenged by former House Speaker Steve Haugaard, who earlier this month lost the gubernatorial primary to Noem 76% to 24%. Rhoden also defeated Haugaard, winning delegates by a weighted vote of 56% to 44%.

The convention vote has led people to ask me about how the lieutenant governor nominee is selected, and although I’ve written about aspects of this before, this post will be a broader description of how this has changed over time.

1889 to 1906: LG nominated at convention, separately elected

Dakota Territory did not have a lieutenant governor; it was a new office that was created by South Dakota’s statehood constitution and, like the governor or other state offices, was to be elected by the people to two-year terms. Beyond that, the manner in which candidates were nominated was a matter of state law. At statehood, there were no primaries for any office and all party nominees were selected at state party conventions. In addition, the governor and lieutenant governor did not run as a ticket; the general election ballot included separate votes for governor and for lieutenant governor.

James H. Fletcher

In 1889, Arthur C. Mellette, the final governor of Dakota Territory, was unanimously nominated by the State Republican Convention for Governor of South Dakota. There is no indication that Mellette expressed a preference for the lieutenant governor nominee. James H. Fletcher of Columbia won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, defeating John H. Patten of Miner County by a vote of 261 to 187. Mellette and Fletcher were both elected in the first statewide election in 1889; Mellette defeating Democrat P. F. McClure 53,964 to 23,840, and Fletcher defeated Democrat Anson W. Pratt 54,711 to 22,946.

As in that first election, the governor and lieutenant governor results tended to closely track. During this era, it was only during the governorship of Populist Andrew E. Lee that the governor and lieutenant governor were of different parties. Lee was a Populist and was elected by a “fusion” ticket that was also backed by Democrats and Free Silver Republicans. He was elected by extremely narrow margins, though – 319 votes in 1896, and 370 votes in 1898 – and in both years, the Republicans won the lieutenant governor’s office.

1908 to 1928: LG nominated by primary, separately elected

Coe Crawford, as portrayed on the Trail of Governors, ready to tangle with anyone who opposes partisan primaries.

In 1906, progressive Republican Coe Crawford defeated incumbent Governor Samuel H. Elrod, a conservative Republican, at the state convention. Crawford and his fellow progressives were critical of the convention process, which they believed was vulnerable to manipulation by moneyed interests and party bosses. A key part of Crawford’s progressive platform, therefore, was to create partisan primaries.

Gov. Crawford succeeded, and the first partisan primaries in South Dakota were held in 1908. Parties selected nominees for all offices, including lieutenant governor, by a primary ballot. For much of this time, the parties continued to hold “proposal meetings,” which were state conventions prior to the primary at which candidates would seek the party’s endorsement. That endorsement was not binding, however, and the nomination would ultimately be decided by the primary. (A similar system is used to this day in Minnesota). The lieutenant governor was still elected separately from the governor, and newspaper accounts from this time indicate that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor generally ran separate campaigns.

(There were many adjustments to the primary law in those days, which are beyond the scope of this post. A leading advocate of the primary system during this time was Richard O. Richards of Huron, and the South Dakota State Historical Society has written an overview of the many changes that came to the “Richards primary law.”)

This era brought about the only other time in South Dakota history that the governor and lieutenant governor were of opposing parties. In 1926, Democrat William J. Bulow defeated Governor Carl Gunderson for reelection. Gunderson’s loss was seen as a personal repudiation, as Republicans won every other office, including Hyatt E. Covey for lieutenant governor. Bulow was reelected in 1928, once again alongside a Republican for lieutenant governor, Clarence E. Coyne. Coyne died in 1929, however, and Bulow was finally able to select a Democratic lieutenant governor, appointing John. T. Grigsby.

1930 to 1972: LG nominated by convention, separately elected

In 1929, the state legislature replaced the Richards primary law; the new law was signed by Governor Bulow and implemented by Secretary of State Gladys Pyle. The late 1920s were difficult in South Dakota, as a farm crisis and collapse in land values led to the end of the Progressive Era and to attempts to economize. The new primary law did away with partisan “proposal” meetings. As a cost saving measure, it also limited the use of partisan primaries for statewide offices to U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Governor.

Under the new system, nominations for the “down ticket” statewide offices, including the lieutenant governor, were returned to the state conventions, as it had been from 1889-1906. As during that earlier time, candidates for lieutenant governor ran separate campaigns for the nomination and were elected separately on the November ballot.

Under this selection method, party conventions would at times seek to “balance the ticket” by choosing a nominee for lieutenant governor from a different region than the gubernatorial nominee; however, this was imperfect and could lead to unusual anomalies. For example, in 1940 voters elected former Attorney General M. Q. Sharpe, a Kennebec attorney, as governor, while reelecting Lt. Governor A. C. Miller, who was also a Kennebec attorney and maintained a law office across the street from Sharpe’s. This was the only time in South Dakota history that the governor and the lieutenant governor hailed from the same city; Kennebec had 390 people in the 1940 census.

1970s: Kneip, Dougherty, Wollman, and reform

By the late 1960s, South Dakota was beginning to consider modernization of state government. The state moved to annual legislative sessions and annual budgeting, and created the state budget office. A Constitutional Revision Commission began to consider further ideas for reform. Democrat Richard F. Kneip, who as a legislator was a member of the Commission, was elected governor in 1970, defeating incumbent Frank Farrar, a Republican. Elected alongside Kneip as lieutenant governor was fellow Democrat Bill Dougherty of Sioux Falls.

Kneip and Dougherty were the last Governor-LG duo to be separately elected, and the reformist spirit of the 1970s led to a falling out between them. Governor Kneip was a strong advocate of tax reform, and the centerpiece of his reform proposal was the reinstitution of a state income tax. (South Dakota had had an income tax in the 1930s and 1940s). The income tax passed a closely divided State House in 1973. In the Senate, the bill died in a committee, but proponents successfully mustered the one-third of senators needed to “smoke out” the bill to the Senate floor. Procedurally, the next step is to calendar the bill, and that requires a majority vote. One senator was absent when the vote was taken, and the motion to calendar was a tie – 17-17. Dougherty, as lieutenant governor, was president of the senate, and it was within his power to break the tie. He declined to do so, allowing the income tax bill to die.

Bill Dougherty

A further breach occured the following year, as this blog has previously described, due to the constitutional revisions allowing Kneip to seek an unprecedented third term. The new executive article, passed by voters in 1972, made two key changes. First, it changed the term for the governor and other state constitutional officers from two years to four years, beginning in 1974. Second, it required that the governor and lieutenant governor be elected as a ticket, mirroring the system for electing the President and Vice President of the United States.

At the time that these changes were made, it was assumed that Governor Kneip would honor the two-term limit, and step aside in 1974 following his two two-year terms in 1970 and 1972. As described in the earlier post, however, Kneip successfully argued before the State Supreme Court that he was eligible to seek reelection in 1974 for a four-year term.

Kneip’s reelection bid in 1974 foiled the plans of Lt. Governor Dougherty, who had planned to run to succeed Kneip and said that Kneip had “broken faith” with the voters by seeking a third term. Dougherty ran anyway, but Kneip won handily with 66% to Dougherty’s 34%.

As described above, the 1972 executive article required that the governor and lieutenant governor be elected jointly, but in 1974, the selection of the candidate for lieutenant governor initially remained with the state conventions. On the Democratic side, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Wollman won the nomination against Grace Mickelson, a state representative from Rapid City.

Harvey Wollman, as portrayed on the Pierre Trail of Governors, perhaps wooing a delegate in his convention battle against Grace Mickelson.

I spoke to Wollman about the 1974 contest, and wrote about that in an earlier post. Wollman told me that, had Kneip not run for governor in 1974, he intended to run against Dougherty in the primary. He also told me that, after he decided to run for lieutenant governor, he met with Kneip. Kneip and Wollman had worked closely together – Wollman shepherded much of Kneip’s agenda through the legislature – and Kneip encouraged Wollman and gave him his blessing to run. Kneip did not, however, name Wollman as his running mate or publicly endorse him prior to the convention. Wollman won the nomination against Mickelson with just under 70% of the delegate vote.

Republicans in 1974 also adhered to the old system, as gubernatorial nominee John E. Olson left the selection of a running mate to the state convention, which nominated Eddie Clay, the assistant house majority leader from Hot Springs.

1978 to present: Deference to the gubernatorial nominee

Beginning in 1978, both party conventions looked to the gubernatorial nominees to select a running mate, and by tradition the conventions have nominated the pick for lieutenant governor without opposition. That year, the Republican nominee, Attorney General Bill Janklow, selected House Speaker Lowell Hansen as his running mate, and the Democratic nominee, State Senator Roger McKellips, selected fellow legislator Billie Sutton (grandfather of the 2018 gubernatorial nominee).

In 2018, this blog analyzed the selection of running mates during this era in 2018, and that analysis included a list of each running mate selection from 1974-2014 and the various criteria gubernatorial nominees would consider in choosing a running mate. In each election cycle from 1978 to 2014, each party’s gubernatorial nominee selected a running mate who was nominated by the party convention without opposition. Running mates are generally announced following the gubernatorial primary, although this blog has written about exceptions to that rule.

Bill Janklow and Carole Hillard, after Janklow confirmed her as his running mate in 1998 (from the Argus Leader).

The first notable running mate controversy during this era occurred in 1998. That year spring, Governor Bill Janklow refused to commit to retaining Lt. Governor Carole Hillard as his running mate when he announced his reelection bid in late March. A few days later, HIllard told reporters that she wanted to remain on the ticket, but Janklow refused to comment. Lyndell Peterson, a Rapid City Republican, told David Kranz of the Argus Leader that if Janklow didn’t select Hillard, Pennington County Republicans would nominate her anyway and attempt to defeat Janklow’s selection.

Despite the threat, Janklow refused to commit to a running mate throughout the spring and into June. Kranz wrote that many believed Janklow favored House Majority Leader Larry Gabriel of Cottonwood for the spot, with other rumored candidates including Steve Cutler, Mike Rounds, Mike DeMersseman, Barb Everist and Ron Wheeler.

Finally, on the Friday of the Republican Convention, Janklow announced that he would retain Hillard on the ticket. Even that announcement was bizarre, though, as Terry Woster described in the June 27, 1998 Argus Leader:

Gabriel sat at the head table with Janklow and other convention dignitaries Friday. That had some of the earlier arriving delegates asking each other if the seating meant a change in the ticket would be announced. Instead, the governor introduced Gabriel, praised him for his years of service, and gave him a John Green painting. Janklow and Hillard posed for photographs after the banquet. In interviews later the governor said there’d never been any thought of dropping Hillard.

Janklow’s selection avoided a convention battle for lieutenant governor in 1998, and the tradition of the party convention deferring to the gubernatorial nominee has continued to the present day.

Larry Rhoden (right) with his two immediate predecessors as lieutenant governor, Dennis Daugaard and Matt Michels, at a picnic during the 2018 Republican Convention.

The first modern attempt to challenge a gubernatorial nominee’s running mate selection came in 2018. That year, Congresswoman Kristi Noem, who had won a hard-fought Republican primary against Attorney General Marty Jackley, selected as her running mate Larry Rhoden, a longtime legislative leader from Union Center. State Senator Stace Nelson launched a last-minute challenge to Rhoden at the State Republican Convention, but Rhoden prevailed with 78% of the weighted convention vote.

As noted at the beginning of this post, a similar scenario played out at the State Republican Convention last weekend, with Rhoden prevailing against challenger Steve Haugaard.

It remains to be seen if the 2018 and 2022 challenges to Noem’s selection of Rhoden are an anomaly, or signal a new era in which the gubernatorial nominee’s running mate preference is subject to greater scrutiny at the state convention. If the latter case is true, it will be yet another phase in the long evolution of the selection of South Dakota’s lieutenant governor.