Debra Anderson, SD’s only female House Speaker, passes on

Debra Anderson

Debra Anderson, a former South Dakota state representative and the only woman to serve as speaker of the South Dakota State House, died on November 10.

Anderson was a graduate of Bryant High School and Augustana College. She served in the State House from 1977-89, representing Sioux Falls. From 1981-89, her father Dean Anderson served alongside her as a state representative from the Bryant area. (Dean died in 2009.)

Following the 1986 general election, Anderson was elected by her peers to be speaker of the house. She had not served previously as speaker pro tempore; the previous holder of that office, Scott Heidepriem of Miller, had run unsuccessfully for U.S. House, and therefore did not return to the State House.

In 1988, South Dakota attracted national attention with an early presidential primary. Most prominent South Dakota Republicans, including Governors Bill Janklow and George S. Mickelson, endorsed U.S. Senator Bob Dole. Anderson, though, backed Vice President George Bush, who defeated Dole and was elected that fall. President Bush appointed Anderson to serve in his administration as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs; she resigned from the State Legislature in 1989 to accept the appointment, and named as her deputy Mary McClure of Miller, who had been the first (and to date only) woman to be President Pro Tempore of the South Dakota State Senate.

Following her time in the White House, Anderson served as Commissioner of Administration in the administration of Gov. Arne Carlson of Minnesota. She also married John Milne, a Minnesota native who had a long career at 3M and in government affairs. The couple eventually settled in the DC area.

Anderson’s obituary is posted here. She is a important figure in the history of women in South Dakota politics.