Presidential Cabinet members from SD

With the “Trump transition” in full swing, the political news is filled with cabinet appointments and speculation about unfilled positions.  Speculation has included several midwesterners for presidential appointments, but to date, no South Dakotans have received significant attention as potential members of the Trump Administration.

Clinton P. Anderson, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 1945-48.

In U.S. History, only one South Dakotan has served in a president’s cabinet.  Clinton P. Anderson served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1945 to 1948, during the administration of President Harry S. Truman.

Anderson was born in Centerville, SD in 1895.  He left the state to attend the University of Michigan, briefly returned and worked at the Mitchell Daily Republic, and then relocated to New Mexico to receive treatment for tuberculosis.  He remained in New Mexico for the rest of his life.  Anderson was a congressman at the time that Truman appointed him as Ag Secretary, and following that service, his fellow New Mexicans returned him to Congress as a U.S. Senator.

Although Clinton Anderson spent his early years in South Dakota, he made his home in New Mexico and spent his public career representing that state.  Therefore, he is typically counted as a New Mexican, not a South Dakotan (just as Doland-native Hubert H. Humphrey is typically considered a vice president and senator from Minnesota, not South Dakota.)


South Dakota came close to having a favorite son in the cabinet in 2008.  Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic Leader who spent 26 years representing South Dakota in Congress, was selected by President-elect Barack Obama to be his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Given Obama’s plans to reform the health care sector (what ultimately led to the Affordable Care Act, or “ObamaCare”), this was a significant appointment.

Unfortunately, Daschle withdrew his nomination in early 2009, after questions emerged about his failure to pay income taxes on chauffeur service he had received as compensation from an investment firm.  The appointment instead went to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.  One can only imagine how the history of the drafting, passage, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act would have been different, had Daschle rather than Sebelius led HHS during this crucial period.

Thus ends the short history of South Dakotans in the president’s cabinet.

Several other South Dakotans have received high-level presidential appointments.  This in not an exhaustive list, but to mention a few:

  • Former Governor George T. Mickelson was appointed by President Eisenhower to be federal district judge in South Dakota.
  • Eisenhower also appointed Former Governor Sigurd Anderson to be a member of the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Former Governor Nils Boe was appointed by President Nixon as White House Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs, and then as a federal judge on the U.S. Customs Court.
  • Governor Richard F. Kneip resigned to accept an appointment from President Carter as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore.
  • State Senator Mary McClure, the state senate’s president pro tempore, was appointed by President George H. W. Bush as White House Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs, the same position Governor Boe had held.

Kristi Noem: Six women who blazed the trail

kristi_noem_portraitCongresswoman Kristi Noem announced Monday evening that she will seek the Republican nomination for Governor of South Dakota in 2018.  Noem, who was handily elected to her fourth term in the U.S. House last week, enters a Republican field that will almost certainly include Attorney General Marty Jackley.  State Rep. Mark Mickelson, the son and grandson of former governors who was widely seen as a likely candidate, made a surprise announcement last week that he will not run.

If elected, Noem would be South Dakota’s 33rd governor, but the first woman to hold that office – certainly a historic milestone if achieved.  Six other women, however, have blazed the trail by running, albeit unsuccessfully, for Governor of South Dakota:

1922:  Alice Lorraine Daly, Nonpartisan League

The Nonpartisan League was a short-lived socialist-leaning party that was influential in South Dakota in the late 1910s and early 1920s.  The League came into the state from North Dakota, where it met with such success that it ultimately merged with the state’s Democratic Party, which to this day is still officially the “North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party.”  The League met only limited success in South Dakota, however, due to Peter Norbeck’s efforts to co-opt the most popular aspects of its agenda.

During this time, the Democrats and the NPL were near parity, with both well behind the Republicans.  In 1918, NPL-backed candidate Mark P. Bates ran for governor and finished in second place, with 26% of the vote, losing to Peter Norbeck but finishing ahead of Democrat James E. Bird.  Two years later, Bates again finished in second place, behind William McMaster but ahead of Democrat W. W. Howes.

Alice Lorraine Daly was the NPL candidate for governor in 1922, and although she was not nominated by one of the two major parties, hers was a serious candidacy.  That year, Governor McMaster was easily reelected with 45% of the vote, with the Democrats and NPL splitting the remaining vote almost easily.  Democrat Louis Napoleon Crill won 28.7% and Daly won 26.2%.

(You can learn more about the NPL in Insurgent Democracy:  The Nonpartisan League in North American Politics by Michael J. Lansing.)

1930:  Gladys Pyle, Republican

gladys-pyleGladys Pyle is a significant figure in South Dakota history.  Her father John served as attorney general from 1899 until his death in 1902, and her mother, Mamie was a leader of women’s suffrage in the state.

Gladys Pyle set several important milestones for women in South Dakota politics.  In 1922, she became the first woman to serve in the South Dakota State Legislature, winning her first of two terms representing her hometown of Huron in the State House.  In 1926, she was elected secretary of state, the first woman to hold statewide office in South Dakota.

In 1930, following two terms as secretary of state, Pyle announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor.  Incredibly for the era, Pyle finished in first place in a field of five candidates, winning 28.3% of the vote.  Unfortunately, state law at that time stated that, if no candidate won 35% of the vote, the Republican State Convention could choose a nominee from among the candidates.  At the state convention, Pyle could not achieve a majority, as the other candidates refused to withdraw in her favor.  After eleven deadlocked ballots, other candidates withdrew in favor of little-known Warren E. Green, who had finished dead-last in the primary with only 7.4% and had never led in the convention balloting.  Green went on to be elected in the general election.  (Like Kristi Noem, Green was a Hamlin County farmer and former state legislator.)

Had Pyle been elected, she would have been the first woman in the United States to be elected governor without being the wife or widow of a previous governor. That milestone was not achieved for another 44 years, when Ella Grasso was elected Governor of Connecticut in 1974.

Following her defeat, Pyle returned to her insurance business in Huron.  In 1938, she was elected to serve the final months of U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck’s term; he had died in late 1936.  Due to a flaw in South Dakota election laws, the parties were each required to nominate two different candidates – one to hold the new six-year term beginning in 1939, and the other to serve the two months between the 1938 general election and the seating of the new Congress.  Pyle was the Republican nominee for the interim seat, and her election made her the first woman to represent South Dakota in Congress.  The Senate did not meet during her brief tenure.

Pyle returned to Huron after her brief service in the U.S. Senate, dying in 1989 at the age of 99.  Her Huron home, in which she lived for her entire life, is open for tours.  A book also recounts her life:  The Incredible Gladys Pyle by Jeannette Kinyon and Jean Walz.

1946:  Jennie M. O’Hern, Democratic

Jennie M. O’Hern was the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor of South Dakota.  She was an active Democrat, with stints on the Democratic National Committee and as a Democratic presidential elector, and worked as a railroad telegrapher in Wakpala.  In 1946, O’Hern sought the Democratic nomination, finishing in third with 25.6% in a primary that was won by Richard Haeder.  Haeder lost the general election by a two-to-one margin to Republican George T. Mickelson, the attorney general and a former speaker of the house.

1986:  Alice Kundert, Republican

alice-kundertIt was forty years until another woman ran for governor.  Alice Kundert was a native of Mound City who had served as state auditor from 1969 to 1979 and as secretary of state from 1979 to 1987.  In 1986, she entered a competitive field for the Republican nomination for governor that also included Lt. Governor Lowell Hansen, former Congressman Clint Roberts, and former House Speaker George S. Mickelson, who was the son of former Governor George T. Mickelson.

It was a competitive primary, but Kundert ultimately finished in fourth place with 13.8%.  Mickelson won the primary narrowly over Roberts, and exceeded the 35% required to avoid a runoff by only 0.3%.

Following her defeat, Kundert traveled the state to speak at schools about South Dakota history, in conjunction with the state’s centennial.  She also served two terms in the State House, from 1991-95.

2014:  Susan Wismer, Democratic

wismerSusan Wismer was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for Governor of South Dakota.  Her grandfather, Art Jones, and her uncle, Curtis Jones, both represented Marshall County in the state legislature, and Wismer followed in their footsteps when she was elected to her first of three State House terms in 2008.

In 2014, Wismer sought the Democratic nomination, winning with 56% and achieving the historical milestone as the first woman to win a gubernatorial primary.  Wismer made additional history later that month, when she named former legislator Susy Blake of Sioux Falls as her running mate.  The Wismer/Blake ticket was the first all-woman ticket in South Dakota history, and only the fourth time in U.S. history that two women ran on a single ticket for governor and lieutenant governor, following Dawn Clark Netsch and Penny Severns of Illinois in 1994, Peppy Martin and Wanda Cornelius of Kentucky in 1999, and Barbara Buono and Milly Silva of New Jersey in 2013.

Facing an uphill battle against popular incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Wismer won 25.4% in the general election.  She was returned to the State House in 2016 without opposition.

2014:  Lora Hubbel, Republican

A single-term state representative and frequent candidate, Hubbel ran against Gov. Dennis Daugaard in the 2014 Republican primary.  Hubbel objected to the state’s adoption of the Common Core education standards and opposed the state’s efforts to comply with requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare.”)  She lost the primary to Daugaard with 19.1% of the vote.  In a bizarre twist, after the primary, independent candidate for lieutenant governor Caitlyn Collier withdrew from her place on a ticket with former professor Michael Myers, and after a court ruled that Myers could name a new running mate, he selected Hubbel.  The Myers/Hubbel ticket won 4.1% as Daugaard was reelected with 70.5%.

Looking ahead to 2018

Congresswoman Noem will be the seventh woman to seek South Dakota’s governorship.  Although other candidates may enter and much remains to be seen, Noem’s financial advantage, her four successful statewide campaigns, and her high profile in South Dakota politics make her a formidable candidate.

Noem is not the first woman to run for Governor of South Dakota.  She is not the first Republican woman to run, nor would she be the first woman to appear on a general election ballot or to be nominated by a major party for governor.  If she wins the primary, she would be the first woman to be the Republican nominee for governor.  And, if elected, Noem will make history as the first woman to hold the state’s highest office.

Presidential milestones, great and small: 2016

Every election offers a new opportunity for “firsts” and other milestones.  Some are historic in their nature; others are useful only if you are a contestant on JEOPARDY:

Donald J. Trump

  • Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.
  • Trump is the oldest newly-elected president. The previous record was held by Ronald Reagan, who was 69 years and 348 days old.  Trump will be 70 years and 220 days old, exceeding Reagan by 237 days.
  • Trump is the 1st president to have no prior political or military experience.
    • Four others had no elected experience: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower were all wartime generals.  Grant and Hoover had served in the cabinet – Grant as Secretary of War and Hoover as Secretary of Commerce.
    • Trump is the 2nd person lacking political or military experience to be nominated for president by a major party, following Wendell Willkie, a New York utility executive who was the 1944 Republican nominee.
  • Trump is estimated to be the wealthiest president of all time. Although Trump’s actual net worth has been the subject of some dispute, even $1 billion would make him #1.  John F. Kennedy stood to inherit $1 billion from his father, had he outlived him.  George Washington’s extensive land holdings would today be worth approximately $500 million.
  • Trump is the 1st president to be a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Trump is the 19th Republican to be president.
    • There have been 15 Democrats (including Andrew Johnson, who was elected on a “National Union” ticket with Republican Abraham Lincoln), 4 Democratic-Republicans, 4 Whigs, 1 Federalist, and George Washington, who was not a member of any party.
  • Trump is the 5th president to be born in New York state, following Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Only two states have produced more presidents:  Virginia (8) and Ohio (7).
    • He is the 2nd president to be born in New York City, following Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Trump is the 7th president to be a New York resident at the time of his election, following Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and the Roosevelts. This is the most of any state – the next following are Virginia (5), Ohio (5) and Massachusetts (4).
  • Trump will take office with five of his predecessors living: Carter, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama.  This is tied for the most ever, with Lincoln, Clinton, and George W. Bush.
  • Trump is the 2nd president born in the month of June, joining George H. W. Bush. His birthdate of June 14 follows by two days Bush’s June 12 birthday.  Until Bush was elected, June had been the only month not to produce a president.
    • Trump is the 3rd Gemini to be president, joining Bush and John F. Kennedy.
  • Trump was born in 1946, the same year as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. This makes 1946 the first year to produce three presidents.  Trump is actually the oldest of the three; he is 22 days older than Bush and 68 days older than Clinton.
    • Four other years have produced more than one president: 1767 (J. Q. Adams and Jackson), 1822 (Grant and Hayes), 1913 (Nixon and Ford), and 1924 (Carter and G. H. W. Bush).
  • Trump is the first president to have the first name “Donald,” and the first to have the middle name “John” (and obviously the first to have the last name “Trump.”)
  • Trump is of German and Scottish ancestry. His German ancestry follows Hoover, Eisenhower and George W. Bush.  His Scottish ancestry follows at least 15 other presidents.
  • Trump is the 8th president to be Presbyterian, following Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Wilson and Eisenhower.
  • Trump is 15 years older than his predecessor, Barack Obama.  This is the 13th time that a new president is older than the president he replaced, but it is the largest such difference in presidential history.  The previous record was Ronald Reagan, who was 13 years older than his predecessor, Jimmy Carter.
  • Many presidents have had famous residences, from Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello to Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill and Lyndon Johnson’s LBJ Ranch. Trump Tower joins that list.
  • Trump, at 6’3”, is among the tallest presidents. Lincoln was 6’4” and Lyndon Johnson was also 6’3”.
  • Trump is notable for three ways in which he is not historic. Unlike his general election opponent, Trump is male, like every other president.  He is of only European ancestry, like every other president except Obama.  He is a protestant Christian, like every president except Kennedy.

Melania Knauss Trump and the Trump family

  • melaniaDonald Trump is the second president to be divorced and remarried. The first was Ronald Reagan, who had divorced his first wife, Jane Wyman, and married Nancy Davis.  Trump is the first president to be twice-divorced, and the first president to have been married three times.  He divorced his first two wives, Ivana Zelníčková and Marla Maples, before marrying Melania Knauss.
  • Melania Trump is the 1st First Lady to not be a natural-born citizen, and the 2nd to be foreign-born. The first foreign-born First Lady was Louisa Johnson Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, who was born while her father was American Consul in London.  (Although she was foreign-born, Louisa was a natural-born American due to her father’s citizenship.)
  • Donald Trump is nearly 25 years older than Melania. This is the second-largest age difference between a president and first lady, following John Tyler and his second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler, who was 30 years his junior.
  • Trump was the second-youngest of five siblings. Eight other presidents came from families of five.
  • Trump’s parents are both deceased. Eighteen presidents had at least one parent living at the time of his inauguration.
  • Trump has five children: three sons and two daughters.  Three other presidents had five children:  John Adams, Andrew Johnson, and Grover Cleveland.  Adams and Johnson also had three sons and two daughters.
  • Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his youngest, Barron Trump, differ in age by nearly 30 years. This is not the longest such difference in presidential history – that distinction is held by the oldest and youngest of John Tyler’s 15 children, who had a 40-year age difference.

Mike Pence

  • pencePence will be the 48th Vice President of the United States.
  • Pence is the 3rd vice president to have been born in Indiana, joining Thomas R. Marshall (who served with Woodrow Wilson) and Dan Quayle (George H. W. Bush). Three more vice presidents were Indiana residents at the time of their election:  Schuyler Colfax (Grant), Thomas A. Hendricks (Cleveland), and Charles W. Fairbanks (T. Roosevelt).  With six residents as vice president, Indiana is second only to New York’s eleven.
    • Pence follows Hendricks as the second graduate of Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana to be vice president. Pence earned his law degree at Indiana University and follows Dan Quayle as the second vice president to be a graduate of that school, although Pence attended IU’s law school in Indianapolis rather than the main campus in Bloomington.
  • Mike Pence is the first governor or former governor to be elected vice president since Spiro Agnew in 1968 and 1972. (Pence’s opponent, Tim Kaine, would have also held this distinction as a former governor.)
  • As a former congressman, Pence will be the seventh consecutive vice president to have served in congress. The last to lack congressional service was Nelson Rockefeller, who had served as Governor of New York.  (Kaine, who is currently a U.S. Senator, would have also continued that streak.)

2016 election, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tim Kaine

  • 2016Trump is the fifth president to have won the electoral college but lost the popular vote. He follows John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), and George W. Bush (2000).   Although Adams was elected before the modern alignment of political parties, the others are all Republicans.
  • Although Trump lost the popular vote, his electoral college total of 306 is the largest for a Republican since George H. W. Bush, who won 426 electoral votes in 1988. Trump was the first Republican to carry Michigan and Pennsylvania since Bush in 1988, and the first to carry Wisconsin since Reagan in 1984.
  • Ohio continues to be a bellwether; it last supported a losing candidate in 1944, when Thomas Dewey won the state against Franklin Roosevelt. Dewey’s running mate that year was John Bricker, the Governor of Ohio.
  • Conversely, Nevada, by supporting Clinton, ended a streak of supporting the winner that went back to 1980; it last supported the loser when it voted for Ford over Carter in 1976.
  • Both candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were from New York. This is the sixth time that both major candidates were from the same state, following 1860 (Illinois, Lincoln and Douglas), 1904 (New York, T. Roosevelt and Parker), 1920 (Ohio, Harding and Cox), 1940 (New York, F.D. Roosevelt and Willkie), and 1944 (New York, F.D. Roosevelt and Dewey).
  • Assuming Barack Obama completes his final weeks in office, it will complete a span of three presidents each serving two complete four-year terms. The only other time this has occurred is Jefferson, Madison and Monroe from 1801-25.  In fact, at no other time have even two eight-year presidencies followed each other.
  • hillary-and-kaineHillary Rodham Clinton was the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party, as well as the first spouse of a former president to herself be nominated. Had she been elected, she would have likewise been the first president to hold either distinction.
    • Likewise, Bill Clinton would have been the first “first gentleman.”
    • Clinton also would have been the first president to be a graduate of Wellesley College (which is after all an all-women’s college).
  • Clinton also would have been the first former secretary of state to serve as president since James Buchanan; she was the first to be nominated for president since Republican James G. Blaine in 1884.
  • Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, would have been the third resident of Virginia to serve as vice president, following Jefferson and Tyler. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, he would have been the second vice president to be born in that state, following Walter Mondale.

The New Tom Dewey

o-dewey-defeats-truman-obamacare-570Mark Twain is said to have observed that “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”  We often try to understand current events through the lens of analogies with the past.  Over the past eighteen months, I have seen Donald Trump variously equated with (in no particular order):  Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Adolf Hitler, George Wallace, Huey Long, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Charles de Gaulle, Wendell Willkie, Richard Nixon, George Washington and Joe McCarthy.  (Obviously some of these are complimentary, some are deeply negative, and some are honest efforts to understand the Trump candidacy.)

I have seen considerably fewer attempts to equate Hillary Clinton with historical figures.  Perhaps this is because of the unprecedented nature of her candidacy, as the first woman to be nominated for president.  Perhaps her decades in the public eye make comparisons unnecessary to understand her.  (The only comparison that comes to mind is “Hillary as Nixon,” drawing on the paranoia and secrecy that motivated her private email server.)


With the election now over, another comparison emerges:  “Hillary as Tom Dewey.”  (Dewey, the Governor of New York who the Republicans twice nominated for president, losing to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 and President Harry S. Truman in 1948).

The similarities are striking:

  • Both were native midwesterners who made their homes and political careers in New York.  Dewey was from Michigan; Hillary from Illinois.
  • Both had run before and lost to talented and charismatic liberal politicians.  Dewey lost in 1944 to FDR; Hillary lost in 2008 to Barack Obama.
  • Both were attorneys and establishment favorites.  Dewey had been New York County District Attorney and Governor of New York, and appealed to the urbane and sophisticated.  Hillary, of course, was First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of State, drawing support from urban populations and the coasts.
  • Both represented a united party, opposing a badly fractured party.  In 1948, Dewey was a heavy favorite and easily won the nomination.  Truman was an “accidental president” after succeeding FDR, and faced third-party splinter candidacies from both the left (former Vice President Henry Wallace) and the segregationists (South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond).  Likewise, Hillary overcame a challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders to represent a united Democratic Party, while Trump defeated 16 other candidates and struggled to win support of many prominent party leaders.
  • Both were known as cold and stiff – talented public officials but mediocre candidates. Dewey was famously pilloried by Alice Roosevelt Longworth as “the little man on the wedding cake.”
  • Both faced opponents who relied on fiery, populist, anti-Washington rhetoric.  Truman became known as “Give ’em hell Harry” for his plain-spoken, (mildly) profane speeches, often given from the back of a train car, and for denouncing “the do-nothing Congress.”  He was a farm kid who appealed to rural America.  Trump promised to “drain the swamp” as held huge rallies and traveled in his trademark airplane, and while his background is in New York City, he appealed to the rural electorate in the Rust Belt and “flyover country.”  (And one can only imagine what Truman – known to fire off an angry letter in response to criticism – would have done with Twitter.)

And of course, in both 1948 and 2016, the news media badly missed the mark in pre-election predictions.  In 1948, their mistake was blamed on flaws in public opinion polling, a science that was still in its infancy.  In 2016, polling was again to blame – today we are wondering if polling methods are out of date.

The 1948 election gave our nation the most indelible image of an election upset:  President Truman gleefully mocking the media by hoisting a Chicago Daily Tribune that reads “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” (At the top of the post).  Donald Trump’s victory was just as much of an upset, but so far has not produced a single iconic image to rival the Truman photo.  For the time being, perhaps a dismissive tweet from Trump must suffice:


Of course, neither the “Hillary as Dewey” or “Trump as Truman” comparison is perfect.  Dewey was among the youngest nominees for President; Hillary was among the oldest.  Dewey was widely-admired for his integrity and probity in office; Hillary was burdened by a long history of “Clinton scandals,” with varying degrees of severity and validity.  Dewey was a Republican, attempting to end sixteen years of liberal Democratic control of the White House; Hillary was a Democrat attempting to perpetuate her party’s control.

As for “Trump as Truman,” Truman was an incumbent president who had served in local office, had a notable career as a U.S. Senator, and had been selected to serve as vice president for an ailing President; Trump has no political resume at all.  Truman was an internationalist who oversaw the Allied victory in World War II, pushed for the creation of the United Nations and NATO, and laid the groundwork for the Cold War.  Trump’s rhetoric indicates that he will be the most isolationist and protectionist president since Hoover, and has been critical of the international order, including the UN and NATO.

History made in 2016

Every general election makes history, in some way.  Here are a few historical notes on the 2016 election in South Dakota.  (This post has been updated with the final canvassed election results):

Chris Nelson notches biggest win of all-time, with John Thune #6 all-time

Nelson’s 75.4% is the highest ever for a candidate in a statewide, partisan election in which both major parties fielded candidates.  He exceeded the previous record of 75.1%, set by then-Congressman John Thune in his 1998 reelection.  That entire list is posted here.

Nelson’s 268,948 votes was also the most all-time in a contested election.  Only Senator Thune’s uncontested reelection in 2010 earned more votes – 277,903.  In a contested election, the previous record was held by Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who won 255,971 votes against challenger Chris Lien in 2008.

John Thune’s record was broken, but he can take consolation in the fact that he is the only person to appear on the Top Ten list more than once – and in fact, he holds 3 of the top 6 spots on the list.

Kristi Noem won the most votes in her career

In her 2016 reelection over challenger Paula Hawks, Congressman Noem won 237,163 votes and 64.1% of the vote.  Her vote total is a career high, and her share of 64.1% is just short of the 66.5% she won in 2014 against Corinna Robinson.

Donald Trump wins South Dakota handily

The Trump/Pence ticket continued a streak of Republican presidential wins in South Dakota that now goes back more than 50 years – the last time South Dakota voted Democratic was in 1964, when it supported President Lyndon Johnson over Senator Barry Goldwater.  A prior post looked at South Dakota’s history in presidential elections.

Polling and projections before the election understated Trump’s support in South Dakota, just as they did nationally.  Polling indicated that Trump would win South Dakota with between 50% and 55%.

In fact, he won 61.5% of the vote.  Although this lagged Thune, Noem and Nelson, this is the third best finish for a Republican presidential ticket in the state’s history – following only the 69.3% won by the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket in 1952, and the 63.0% won by the Reagan/Bush reelection in 1984.

State Legislature gets even more Republican

A prior post looked at the history of control of the South Dakota State Legislature.  Several of the milestones mentioned in that post will be exceeded by the newly-elected legislature:

  • The 2017-18 legislature will have 89 Republicans and 16 Democrats.  This is now the most Republicans in the legislature since its current size of 105 was set in 1973; the 2015-16 legislature had held that modern record with 85 Republicans.
  • 89 Republicans out of 105 seats makes out to 84.8% of the total – that is the most since the all-time record in 1953, when the legislature had 108 Republicans and 2 Democrats (98.2%).
  • The earlier post had noted that the six-year average of legislative control during the Daugaard Administration was 78.1%, the most since the Farrar Administration (78.2%).  The 2016 results increase the Daugaard Administration average to 79.8%, which is now the highest average since the Sigurd Anderson Administration, which included the aforementioned 1953 legislature that was 108-2 and had a two-term average of 92.3% Republican control.

Top election performers, all-time: UPDATED

The following post has been revised to include the preliminary results from the 2016 general election. Both U.S. Senator John Thune and Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson broke into the top-ten list.

The following are the Top Ten highest percentages of the vote won in South Dakota statewide elections.  Results are only included if they meet the following criteria:

  • Must be a statewide election – South Dakota used to have more than one U.S. House seat, and elections within a district are not included.
  • Must include nominees of both major parties – this list does not include unopposed results, such as Thune for Senate in 2010, or elections where there was only major party nominee, such as Jackley for Attorney General in 2014.
  • Must be a partisan election – South Dakota used to elect a non-partisan “Superintendent of Public Instruction” and these results are not included.

Within those parameters, here are the top ten:

1.  75.4% – Chris Nelson (R) – 2016 Public Utilities Commission (new entry)

chrisbioAfter years as the state elections supervisor, Nelson’s career in elected office began in 2002 when he was elected Secretary of State, and he has been a reliably strong general election candidate.  He was reelected without opposition in 2006.  In 2010, Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed Nelson to the Public Utilities Commission to succeed Dusty Johnson, who had resigned to serve as Daugaard’s chief of staff.  Nelson won a special election in 2012 with 67.0% for the remainder of Johnson’s term, and won a full six-year term in 2016 with 75.4%, setting the all-time record.

Along with Senator Thune, Nelson made 2016 one of two elections to have two candidates finish in the top ten – the other was 1904.

2.  75.1% – John Thune (R) – 1998 U.S. House

220px-john_thune_official_portrait_111th_congressCongressman John Thune won the open U.S. House seat in 1996.  Incumbent Tim Johnson vacated the seat to challenge Senator Larry Presser.  In 1996, Thune defeated Democrat Rick Weiland with 57.7% of the vote.  Two years, later Thune was reelected in a record-setting fashion, becoming the only statewide candidate to exceed 75% in an election contested by both parties.  He won 75.1% against challenger Jeff Moser.

3.  74.5% – Larry Pressler (R) – 1984 U.S. Senate

Senator Pressler was an electoral dynamo early in his career.  He won reelection to his First District U.S. House seat in 1976 with 79.8% of the vote (not included in this list as it was not a statewide election).  Pressler won an open U.S. Senate seat in 1978, defeating former Rapid City Mayor Don Barnett with 66.8% of the vote.  Six years later, in 1984, he won reelection with 74.5%, defeating longtime Democratic staffer George Cunningham.

4.  73.4% – John Thune (R) – 2000 U.S. House

Following his record-setting reelection in 1998, Congressman Thune recorded another strong finish, defeating Democrat Curt Hohn with 73.4%.

5.  73.2% – Dusty Johnson (R) – 2010 Public Utilities Commission

Johnson was first elected to the PUC in 2004, defeating three-term incumbent Democrat Jim Burg.  In 2010, he recorded an overwhelming victory over challenger Doyle Karpen, winning 73.2%.  In a year when Senator Thune was reelected without opposition and Republicans won every statewide race, Johnson ran ahead of fellow Republican candidates Dennis Daugaard, Kristi Noem, Marty Jackley, Steve Barnett, Rich Sattgast, Jason Gant, and Jarrod Johnson.

6.  71.8% – John Thune (R) – 2016 U.S. Senate (new entry)

Senator Thune notched his third entry on the top ten list, defeating Democratic challenger Jay Williams with 71.8% of the vote.  This followed his earlier defeats of Jeff Moser in 1998 and Curt Hohn in 2000 in making the list.  Thune is also the only U.S. Senator to be reelected from South Dakota without opposition, in 2010.

7.  71.7% – Tim Johnson (D) – 1988 U.S. House

Johnson was first elected in 1986, defeating Republican Dale Bell.  In 1988, he defeated longtime Republican State Treasurer Dave Volk, recording the strongest-ever vote for a Democratic candidate with 71.7%.  Johnson’s electoral dominance continued with wins of 67.6% in 1990 and 69.1% in 1992.

8.  71.7% – Philo Hall (R) – 1904 Attorney General

Hall was first elected attorney general in 1902.  In 1904, Republicans swept the statewide elections in 1904, with Hall leading the ticket with 71.7% in a defeat of Democrat Edmund W. Fiske and two minor candidates.  Two years later, Hall was elected to U.S. House.  He served a single term, but failed to be nominated in 1908.

9.  71.4% – C. B. Collins (R) – 1904 State Treasurer

Collins was elected state treasurer in 1902 and was easily reelected in 1904, winning 71.4% against Democrat P. F. McClure.  The 1904 election is one of two to have two candidates make this top ten list – the other is 2016.

10.  71.0% – Robert Dollard (R) – 1889 Attorney General

Dollard was elected the state’s first attorney general in 1889.  Republicans won every statewide office in the first elections for the new state, with Dollard leading the ticket with 71.0%.  Dollard is the only candidate on the top ten list who was not an incumbent winning reelection.  He was reelected in 1890.

Now out of the top ten:

11.  70.9% – Bill Janklow/Lowell Hansen – 1982 Governor/Lt. Governor

The Janklow/Hansen ticket was elected in 1978, defeating a Democratic ticket of Roger McKellips and Billie Sutton.  In 1982, Janklow/Hansen easily overcame a challenge from Democrats Mike O’Connor and Willis Danekas.  Following his two terms as governor, Janklow unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Jim Abdnor in the 1986 Republican Primary for U.S. Senate.  Eight years later, he defeated Governor Walter Dale Miller in the 1994 Republican Primary for governor and prevailed in the general election against Dakota Wesleyan University President Jim Beddow.  Janklow became the first governor to return to the office, and following two terms was elected to a single term in the U.S. House.

Lt. Governor Lowell Hansen ran for governor in 1986, finishing third in the Republican primary behind former house speaker George S. Mickelson and former congressman Clint Roberts.

12.  70.5% – Dennis Daugaard/Matt Michels – 2014 Governor/Lt. Governor

The Daugaard/Michels ticket was first elected in 2010, prevailing over Democrats Scott Heidepriem and Ben Arndt in the midst of a Republican wave that saw the Republicans win every statewide election and gain 15 legislative seats.  Daugaard/Michels was easily reelected in 2014, defeating Democrats Susan Wismer and Susy Blake with 70.5% of the vote.

The Democratic ticket also made history, however, as Wismer was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for Governor of South Dakota, and the Wismer/Blake ticket was only the fourth ticket for governor/lt. governor in the nation to feature two women.

2016 Election Preview: South Dakota State Legislature

This is the fifth of several posts previewing the Tuesday election through a historical lens.  The first part was an introductionthe second part looked at South Dakota’s history of supporting Republican presidential ticketsthe third part looked at the six U.S. Senators from South Dakota  who have been elected three times; and the fourth part compared the Republican Party’s current winning streak in statewide races to other winning streaks in state history.

Among the other items on the ballot, South Dakota voters will elect today the 105 state legislators who will represent them for the next two years.  With so a total lack of polling in legislative races, one cannot say with certainty how the elections will turnout, but there is very little doubt that Republicans will continue to control both houses of the legislature. And, even if the Republicans margins slip, they are still likely to hold legislative margins that exceed any in the past fifty years.

photo-sep-20-12-18-35-pm-1The 2015-16 had, between the two houses, 85 Republicans and only 20 Democrat.  This is the most Republicans to serve in the State Legislature since the legislature’s current size of 105 (30 senators and 70 representatives) was set in 1973.

The current total of 85 Republican members equates to 81% of the legislative seats, the highest since the 1967-68 legislature, which had 93 Republicans and 17 Democrats (84.5% Republican).

Looking at gubernatorial administrations, the Republicans during the first six years of the Daugaard Administration have held, on average, 82/105 seats (78.1% of the total).  That administration average is the highest since the Farrar Administration, when Republicans controlled 86/110 seats, or 78.2%.

The most Republican legislature in state history was elected in 1952 – Republicans controlled the Senate 35-0 and the House 73-2, for a cumulate percentage of 98.2%.

The most Democratic legislature in state history was elected in 1932, the year of the FDR landslide.  Democrats controlled the Senate 29-16 and the House 70-33, holding 66.9% of the seats.  (At that time, the Senate had 45 seats and the House had 103; they were reduced to 35 and 75 in 1939).

There are a few other instances where the Republicans did not hold control of the legislature:

  • In 1891, the State House had 58 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 44 Independents, who were a populist party.  The Democrats and Independents joined together to organize the House.
  • Likewise in 1897, a Democrat/Populist coalition controlled both houses.  The Senate was 21 R, 2 D, 20 Populist; and the House was 39 R, 10 D, and 35 P.
  • Democrats next took control in the aforementioned FDR landslide of 1932.  They controlled both houses in 1933 and 1935.  In the 1937 session, Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans retook the House.  (Note that, prior to 1963-64, the legislature only met in odd-numbered years.)
  • In 1958, Democrats took the Senate 20-15 as Democrat Ralph Herseth won the governor’s office.  Republicans retained control of the House, and in 1960 House Speaker Archie Gubbrud defeated Herseth for reelection.
  • In 1973-4, during the Kneip Administration, Democrats controlled the legislature by the narrowest of margins:  An 18-17 margin in the Senate, and a 35-35 tie in the House.  Under House rules, in the case of a tie, the Governor’s party organizes the House.  In 1975-6, Democrats retained control of the Senate, 19-16, but lost the House.
  • Finally, in 1993-94, the Democrats won control of the Senate, 20-15, during the final two years of the Mickelson/Miller Administration.

Below are two line graphs, visualizing partisan control of the Senate and House since statehood.  Following those graphs is a chart of partisan control, listed by year and with the governor who was in office for each two-year legislative term.


1889 Mellette REP 37 7 1 106 13 5
1891 Mellette REP 22 8 13 58 20 44
1893 Sheldon REP 35 4 4 69 4 10
1895 Sheldon REP 35 3 5 69 2 13
1897 Lee POP 21 2 20 39 10 35
1899 Lee POP 31 4 10 61 9 17
1901 Herreid REP 39 1 5 79 5 3
1903 Herreid REP 41 3 1 76 6 5
1905 Elrod REP 41 2 2 87 2
1907 Crawford REP 38 7 80 9
1909 Vessey REP 39 6 95 9
1911 Vessey REP 33 11 1 99 4 1
1913 Byrne REP 33 11 1 88 14 1
1915 Byrne REP 35 10 85 18
1917 Norbeck REP 35 10 91 12
1919 Norbeck REP 43 2 90 10 3
1921 McMaster REP 44 1 94 4 5
1923 McMaster REP 34 9 2 84 10 9
1925 Gunderson REP 34 10 1 85 11 7
1927 Bulow DEM 29 16 81 21 1
1929 Bulow DEM 33 12 83 20
1931 Green REP 31 14 79 24
1933 Berry DEM 16 29 33 70
1935 Berry DEM 14 31 40 63
1937 Jensen REP 22 23 66 37
1939 Bushfield REP 30 5 62 13
1941 Bushfield REP 31 4 65 10
1943 Sharpe REP 31 4 69 6
1945 Sharpe REP 35 0 72 3
1947 Mickelson REP 35 0 71 4
1949 Mickelson REP 27 8 64 11
1951 Anderson REP 29 6 66 9
1953 Anderson REP 35 0 73 2
1955 Foss REP 29 6 57 18
1957 Foss REP 18 17 48 27
1959 Herseth DEM 15 20 43 32
1961 Gubbrud REP 23 12 57 18
1963-64 Gubbrud REP 26 9 58 17
1965-66 Boe REP 18 16 1 45 30
1967-68 Boe REP 29 6 64 11
1969-70 Farrar REP 27 8 59 16
1971-72 Kneip DEM 24 11 46 29
1973-74 Kneip DEM 17 18 35 35*
1975-76 Kneip DEM 16 19 37 33
1977-78 Kneip DEM 24 11 48 22
1979-80 Janklow REP 24 11 48 22
1981-82 Janklow REP 25 10 49 21
1983-84 Janklow REP 26 9 54 16
1985-86 Janklow REP 25 10 57 13
1987-88 Mickelson REP 24 11 48 22
1989-90 Mickelson REP 20 15 46 24
1991-92 Mickelson REP 18 17 45 25
1993-94 Mickelson-Miller REP 15 20 41 29
1995-96 Janklow REP 19 16 46 24
1997-98 Janklow REP 22 13 48 22
1999-00 Janklow REP 22 13 51 19
2001-02 Janklow REP 24 11 50 20
2003-04 Rounds REP 26 9 49 21
2005-06 Rounds REP 25 10 51 19
2007-08 Rounds REP 20 15 50 20
2009-10 Rounds REP 21 14 45 25
2011-12 Daugaard REP 30 5 50 19 1
2013-14 Daugaard REP 28 7 53 17
2015-16 Daugaard REP 27 8 58 12
2017-18 Daugaard REP  ? ? ?  ?

The party or coalition controlling each house is designated in bold.  In 1973-74, the State House was evenly divided at 35-35, and by rule the governor’s party, the Democrats, organized the chamber.