Can a Sioux Falls candidate get elected governor?

Joe Foss is one of two Sioux Falls candidates to be elected Governor. His statue stands at the entrance to the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.

South Dakota voters head to the polls in less than two weeks, and the marquee race is the contest between incumbent Governor Kristi Noem and her Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Jamie Smith. While recent independent polling indicates a wide lead for Noem, it has been a high profile campaign that has dominated the state’s airwaves.

This blog has already written about the history that Noem or Smith would make with an election win. One notable factor at play is Jamie Smith’s status as a “Sioux Falls” candidate – he was born in Sioux Falls, graduated from Sioux Falls Washington High School and Augustana University, and makes his home in Sioux Falls, representing the central District 15 in the State House.

In South Dakota history, only two “Sioux Falls candidates” have been elected Governor. The first was Joe Foss, the WWII ace and Medal of Honor recipient. Foss grew up on a farm northeast of Sioux Falls and, like Smith, graduated from Washington High School. After his war service, he went into business in Sioux Falls and was elected to the State House. Foss first ran for governor in 1950, losing narrowly in the Republican primary to Attorney General Sigurd Anderson. Four years later, he ran again to succeed Anderson, winning in 1954 and being reelected in 1958.

A second Sioux Falls governor followed a decade later, in 1964. Nils Boe was born in Baltic but grew up in Sioux Falls, where his father, a Luthern minister, helped to found Augustana College and Sioux Valley Hospital. After serving in the U.S. Navy, Boe entered private law practice in Sioux Falls and was elected to the State House, where he served as Speaker. In 1962, he sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate following the death of incumbent Francis Case. When that nomination went to Lt. Governor Joe Bottum, Boe instead ran to replace Bottum as lieutenant governor. Two years later, he won a narrow primary victory over former Governor Sigurd Anderson, and then defeated Democrat John Lindley, a former lieutenant governor, by only 3.4%.

Jamie Smith looks to be the third Sioux Falls resident elected governor, and the first Democrat. He is in a long line of Sioux Falls candidates who have tried for the Governor’s Office – and all but Foss and Boe have fallen short:

  • Burre Lien, Fusion 1900 – Lien was the mayor of Sioux Falls and chairman of the Board of Charities and Corrections, the state board that used to administer the prisons and other state institutions. He sought to succeed Andrew E. Lee, who had been elected on a “fusion” ticket supported by Democrats and Populists, but lost in the general election to Republican Charles Herreid.
  • George W. Egan, Republican 1910, 1912, 1916, 1922 – Egan was a disbarred Sioux Falls attorney and colorful orator who ran against establishment political figures. He sought the Republican nomination four times, losing each time.
  • M. G. Opsahl, Independent 1910 – Opsahl ran on a socialist platform.
  • Samuel Lovett, Socialist 1912 – Lovett was a Sioux Falls businessman.
  • Edmund D. Morcom, Democrat 1916 – A Sioux Falls businessman and insurance agent, he lost the Democratic primary to Rapid City State Representative Orville Rinehart, who lost the general elected to Lt. Governor Peter Norbeck.
  • Eric J. Ellefson, Democrat and Farmer-Labor 1924 – Ellefson is the only candidate in South Dakota history to seek the nominations of two parties at the same time (the law would no longer allow this).
  • David A. McCollough, Democrat 1930 – Following William J. Bulow’s two terms as the state’s first Democratic governor, his Rural Credits commissioner, McCollough, sought to succeed him. McCollough won the Democratic nomination but lost the general election to Republican Warren E. Green by 6.8%.
  • Blaine Simons, Democrat 1938 – A Sioux Falls attorney, Simons sought the Democratic nomination but lost by a wide margin to Oscar Fosheim, a state representative and farmer from Howard.
  • Adolph N. Graff, Republican 1940 – In 1940, progressive Republicans sought a challenger to incumbent Gov. Harlan Bushfield, a conservative. After former Governor Leslie Jensen and former Attorney General M. Q. Sharpe both declined to run, progressives backed Adolph N. Graff, a former Sioux Falls mayor, who lost badly to Bushfield.
  • Almer O. Steensland, Democrat 1940 – A former state representative, he lost the Democratic nomination to Lewis Bicknell of Webster.
  • Joe Foss, Republican 1950, 1954, 1956 – As described above, Foss lost the Republican primary in 1950 before being elected governor in 1954 and 1956.
  • Sherman Iverson, Democrat 1952 – Iverson was the mayor of South Sioux Falls, which was a separately incorporated city until it merged with Sioux Falls in 1955. As the Democratic nominee, he lost to incumbent Gov. Sigurd Anderson by 40.4%, the largest margin at that time.
  • Charles Lacey, Republican 1958 – A Sioux Falls attorney and state representative, he was also a cousin of outgoing Gov. Joe Foss. (Foss’s mother had been a Lacey.)
  • Nils Boe, Republican 1964, 1966 – As described above, Boe was elected in 1964 and reelected in 1966.
  • Bill Dougherty, Democrat 1974 – Dougherty, a Sioux Falls livestock dealer, was the incumbent lieutenant governor. Although he served alongside Gov. Richard F. Kneip, he was the last lieutenant governor to have been elected separately, not on a ticket with the governor. In 1974, Dougherty assumed that Kneip was term-limited after having served two two-year terms. However, because the State Constitution had been amended to provide for four-year terms, Kneip successfully challenged the term limit law, winning to right to run again in 1974. Dougherty accused Kneip breaking his commitment to serve only two terms, and challenged the incumbent. Kneip won easily, 66% to 34%, and Dougherty went on to a long career as a leading lobbyist in Pierre.
  • John E. Olson, Republican 1974 – Olson was a Sioux Falls businessman who had served as state highway director in the Boe administration and as manager of the South Dakota Rural Electric Association. He won the Republican primary but lost the general election by 7.2% to incumbent Gov. Richard F. Kneip, who was seeking a four-year term after having served two two-year terms.
  • Lowell Hansen, Republican 1986 – Hansen was the incumbent lieutenant governor and the owner of Jackrabbit Bus Lines. He finished third in the Republican primary, behind winner George S. Mickelson and former Congressman Clint Roberts.
  • Richard F. Kneip, Democrat 1986 – Former Governor Kneip sought a comeback in 1986; after serving as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, he had moved to Sioux Falls, where he was president of Nelson Laboratories. Kneip was the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, but lost by 4.1% to Lars Herseth, a Houghton farmer and the house minority leader.
  • Steve Kirby, Republican 2002 – Kirby, a businessman and member of a prominent Sioux Falls family, had been named lieutenant governor in 1993 by Gov. Walter Dale Miller, following the death of Gov. George S. Mickelson. Kirby ran in a heated primary in 2002 against Attorney General Mark Barnett; the winner was ultimately dark horse Mike Rounds, the senate majority leader.
  • James P. Carlson, Independent 2002 – A Sioux Falls native, he advocated for reform of state divorce and custody laws.
  • Jack Billion, Democrat 2006 – Billion was an orthopedic surgeon and former state representative from Sioux Falls. He won the Democratic primary against former Farmers Union president Dennis Wiese, but lost the general election by 25.6% to incumbent Gov. Mike Rounds.
  • Steve Willis, Constitution 2006 – Willis was a Sioux Falls businessman.
  • Dave Knudson, Republican 2010 – Knudson, a Sioux Falls attorney, was the senate majority leader and a former chief of staff to Gov. Bill Janklow. He finished third in the Republican primary, finishing behind the winner, Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard, as well as Brookings Mayor Scott Munsterman.
  • Scott Heidepreim, Democrat 2010 – Heidepriem was a Sioux Falls attorney and the senate minority leader. A former Republican, he had previously represented his hometown of Miller in the State House. Heidepriem won the Democratic nomination without opposition, but lost the general election to Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard by 23%.
  • Lora Hubbel, Republican 2014 – Hubbel, a right-wing activist and one-term state legislator, challenged incumbent Governor Daugaard, losing by 61.8%.
  • Steve Haugaard, Republican 2022 – Haugaard, a Sioux Falls attorney, was a state representative and former House Speaker from Sioux Falls. He challenged incumbent Governor Kristi Noem, losing by 52.8%.
  • Jamie Smith, Democrat 2022 – As mentioned above, Smith is the a Sioux Falls real estate agent and the house minority leader; he represents District 15, which includes much of central Sioux Falls. He is the Democratic nominee for governor.
  • Tracy Quint, Libertarian 2022 – Quint, the Libertarian nominee, works for Volunteers of America in Sioux Falls as an outreach coordinator.