The Argus Leader reports that Roger D. McKellips passed away on Friday, August 18. McKellips, 94, was an Alcester banker and a longtime state legislator. McKellips served in the State Senate from his Union County district from 1977-79 and 1981-95.
In 1978, following his first term in the Senate, McKellips sought the Democratic nomination for Governor. His opponent was Lt. Governor Harvey Wollman. Early in 1978, incumbent Governor Dick Kneip had announced that he would resign to accept an appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore. As a consequence, at the time of the June primary, Lt. Governor Wollman was “governor-in-waiting.”
Despite that, McKellips narrowly defeated Wollman in that primary, with Pierre farmer John Bohr running a distant third. In fact, the Associated Press initially declared Wollman the winner, only to withdraw its call due to a tabulation error. Wollman subsequently served five months as governor, after Kneip left office that summer.
In the 1978 general election, McKellips was joined on the ticket by Gregory County rancher Billie H. Sutton, a fellow state senator. Sutton’s grandson, also Billie H. Sutton, is currently the senate minority leader and a 2018 Democratic candidate for governor. The younger Sutton’s campaign treasurer is Gary McKellips, son of Roger.
The McKellips/Sutton ticket lost to the Republicans, Attorney General Bill Janklow and House Speaker Lowell Hansen. Janklow/Hansen won 56.6% and McKellips/Sutton won 43.4%. It is the first of 10 straight gubernatorial wins by Republicans, which the younger Sutton hopes to end in 2018.
After losing in 1978, McKellips returned to the Senate in the 1980 general election and served from 1981-95. He immediately joined the caucus leadership, serving as assistant minority leader in 1981-82, minority leader from 1983-92, and majority leader in 1993 and 1994 when the Democrats won control of the Senate. As the Argus Leader noted, McKellips was the most recent Democrat to lead a majority caucus in either legislative chamber.
Roger McKellips was not the first member of his family to run for governor. His father, Ernest F. McKellips, a former mayor of Alcester, sought the governorship in 1954. He lost the Democratic primary to Buffalo County rancher Ed Martin, who lost the fall election to Joe Foss.
Monday’s special session will be the 26th in South Dakota history, each of which was called by the governor at the time. (Although a 1990 constitutional amendment created a process whereby the legislature can call itself into session, this mechanism has never been used. As a practical matter, it is much easier for the governor to call the session, meaning that the legislative mechanism would only be used if a governor refused to cooperate.)
Prior to 1963, the State Legislature only met every other year, in the odd-numbered years following a general election. Particularly during the activist Progressive era, this led to a few special “general sessions” – sessions called in the off-year to handle numerous legislative topics.
Here is a list of the past special sessions, with a brief description of the topics covered:
October 15-17, 1889 – Just days prior to South Dakota statehood on November 2, 1889, the first State Legislature met in special session to organize and elect officers.
February 8-11, 1916 – Gov. Frank Byrne called a special session to pass an amended primary election law, and to propose a constitutional amendment relating to state rural credit loans, a state coal mine, and state road construction.
March 18-23, 1918 – Gov. Peter Norbeck called a general session amidst U.S. entry into World War I. Legislators ratified the federal 18th Amendment enacting the prohibition of alcohol, provided for women’s suffrage and for voting by soldiers deployed overseas, abolished the right of resident aliens to vote in state elections, banned the teaching of foreign languages in public schools (an anti-German measure), and passed a constitutional amendment to fix defects in previous state-owned enterprise amendments.
December 2-4, 1919 – Gov. Norbeck called a special session to ratify the federal 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s suffrage.
June 21, 1920 – Gov. Norbeck called another general session to increase state spending and consider his proposals for state-owned enterprises.
June 22 – July 1, 1927 – Gov. W. J. Bulow, a Democrat, had vetoed the Republican legislature’s budget, which he believed overspent and was not properly balanced. The State Legislature failed to pass a budget before it adjourned, and challenged Bulow’s right to veto the General Appropriations Act. After the Supreme Court upheld Bulow’s veto, he called the legislature back into session to pass a state budget, successfully insisting on spending cuts.
July 31 – August 5, 1933 – With the federal repeal of the prohibition of alcohol, Gov. Tom Berry called a special session to legalize 3.2 beer and to tax its sale as a new revenue source during the depths of the Great Depression.
December 21-24, 1936 – Gov. Berry, a lame duck who had been defeated by Leslie Jensen in the November 1936 general election, called a special session to enact state legislation related to the implementation of the federal Social Security Act.
The session was overshadowed by U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck’s death on December 20, and by speculation about how Berry would fill Norbeck’s seat. Berry was widely known to have ambitions to serve in the U.S. Senate himself, and hoped to resign as Governor so that Lt. Governor Robert Peterson could succeed Berry as Governor and then appoint Berry to the Senate. The plan was derailed, however, when Peterson was arrested for embezzling from his Centerville bank. Instead, Berry appointed Herbert Hitchcock, a 69-year old former state senator, with the understanding that Hitchcock would step aside in Berry’s favor at the next election. Hitchcock ran for reelection in 1938, however, and Berry had to run in the Democratic primary against his own appointee. Although Berry defeated Hitchcock, he lost the general election to Yankton businessman Chan Gurney, a Republican.
June 10-12, 1944 – Gov. M. Q. Sharpe called a special session to enact legislation allowed deployed soldiers to vote in the 1944 election.
February 6-16, 1950 – Gov. George T. Mickelson called a special session to create public power districts and to authorize additional funds for highway construction.
May 18, 1981 – After 31 years with out a special session, Gov. Bill Janklow called three. The first authorized a state subsidy for the first year of operations of the new state-owned rail lines.
September 23-24, 1981 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to approve his plan to sell Missouri River water to Energy Transportation Systems Inc. (ETSI), to be used in a coal slurry pipeline from Wyoming. The pipeline was ultimately never built, but the state received over $5 million in payments before it was canceled.
May 2-3, 1984 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to abolish the state’s nine water conservancy subdistricts and replace them with six water development districts. The State Legislature had rejected a similar plan during the 1984 legislative session, but adopted the plan in the special session.
July 16, 1987 – Gov. George S. Mickelson called a special session to finalize South Dakota’s bid to host the Superconducting Super Collider, a massive proposed particle accelerator complex. The project was ultimately awarded to Texas but was cancelled in 1993.
October 3, 1991 – Gov. Mickelson called a special session to allow the state legislature to pass a redistricting plan in response to the 1990 census. This was the first time that a special session was called to pass a redistricting plan.
November 26, 1991 – After a few errors were discovered in the redistricting plan passed by the October 3 special session, Gov. Mickelson called a brief special session in conjunction with the Governor’s Budget Address to fix the errors.
May 25, 1993 – Gov. Walter Dale Miller called a special session in the wake of the death of Gov. Mickelson in the state plane crash. The State Legislature unanimously confirmed Miller’s appointment of Sioux Falls businessman Steve Kirby as lieutenant governor and appropriated funds for a new state airplane and for construction of the Fighting Stallions Memorial. Miler also used the special session to request funds for prison security in the wake of a riot at the state penetentiary.
July 11-12, 1994 – In response to a Supreme Court ruling that held video lottery to be unconstitutional, Gov. Miller called a special session to place a constitutional amendment on the 1994 general election ballot authorizing video lottery.
September 9, 1994 – Gov. Miller called another special session to authorize budget cuts and the use of reserve funds, due to the loss of video lottery revenue. Legislators rejected a proposal from Miller for a temporary one-cent sales tax to help address the shortfall.
The budget adjustments had not been made at the July special session because a pending appeal sought to allow video lottery until the election, but by September the Supreme Court had rejected that appeal.
April 14, 1997 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to impose a temporary gasoline tax to fund emergency road repairs as a consequence of massive flooding in northeastern South Dakota.
December 28-29, 2000 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to authorize the sale of the state cement plant and to create a trust fund with the proceeds of the sale.
October 23-24, 2001 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to allow for legislative redistricting.
June 26-27, 2003 – Gov. Mike Rounds called a special session to create a health insurance high risk pool. The risk pool replaced an earlier system called “guaranteed issue,” whereby health insurance companies were each required to accept a share of high-risk insureds. Several health insurance providers had left the South Dakota market rather than continue to accept high-risk insureds, and the new risk pool was allowed more health insurers to operate in South Dakota.
October 14, 2005 – Gov. Rounds called a special session to appropriate $19 million to the Science and Technology Authority for construction of a laboratory facility at the former Homestake Mine in Lead.
October 24, 2011 – Gov. Dennis Daugaard called a special session to allow for legislative redistricting.
June 12, 2017 – Gov. Daugaard has called a special session in order to consider recommendations from an interim legislative committee on the authorization of recreational uses of non-meandered waters. The longstanding issue gained urgency after a Supreme Court opinion prohibited state game, fish, and parks officials from facilitating access to these waters.
Daugaard had in fact called another special session, to be held on June 22, 2013, to appropriate $10 million to complete construction of a new veterans’ home in Hot Springs. The special session was canceled after the federal Veterans Administration gave the state more time to use federal funding, which allowed for the project design to be modified in a way that reduced costs. This is the only time that a special session has been called, but canceled before it was held.
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)
After 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
Congressman 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.