The recent State of the State Address symbolically began Dennis Daugaard’s final year as the 32nd Governor of South Dakota. In past posts, this blog has looked at historical milestones, or prospective milestones, set by the contenders to succeed Daugaard: Marty Jackley, Kristi Noem and Billie Sutton. This post will look at similar milestones set by Governor Daugaard. A number of election-related milestones are included below under a separate heading.
Daugaard is the 1st governor in the history of the United States known to be a child of deaf adults, or “CODA,” and is fluent in American Sign Language.
Taking the oath of office at the age of 57 years and 211 days, Daugaard was the oldest newly elected governor to take office since Warren E. Green in 1930. (Walter Dale Miller was 67 when he succeeded to the governorship in 1993, but he was never elected.) This blog looked at each governors’ age in an earlier post.
Daugaard is the only governor to hold degrees from two different universities, USD and Northwestern University. He is the 10th and most recent USD alumnus to serve as governor. USD has had more graduates serve as governor than any other school. As a graduate of Northwestern, Daugaard is the 7th and most recent governor to graduate from a current member of the Big Ten Conference. Daugaard is also the 1st governor to hold a doctoral degree. Earlier governors who were attorneys earned law degrees before American legal education transitioned to the juris doctorate degree in the 1960s.
Daugaard is the 7th and most recent lieutenant governor to be elected governor, and the 1st since the constitutional amendment that provided for the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a ticket.
Daugaard is the 22nd governor to have served in the State Legislature, and the 13th to have served in the State Senate.
Daugaard is the 4th governor from Minnehaha County, following Foss, Boe and Janklow. Minnehaha County is the only county to have produced more than two governors, and along with Day and Spink counties, one of only three to have produced more than one. Minnehaha County residents have run for governor 38 times – by far the most of any county.
Matt Michels, Daugaard’s lieutenant governor, is the longest-served presiding officer in the history of the State Legislature. Michels has presided in twelve legislative sessions – four as speaker of the house while he was a state representative from Yankton, and eight as president of the senate while serving as lieutenant governor. This blog looked at Michels’ record last year.
Daugaard’s 2014 general election vote margin of 124,928, as well as his percentage margin of 45.0%, are both the largest in state history in an election for governor. His 80.9% vote share and 61.7% percentage margin in that year’s Republican primary are the most ever in a primary election for governor.
Daugaard’s reelection was the tenth consecutive Republican victory in gubernatorial elections, continuing the longest streak of partisan control of the governor’s office in state history, going back to 1979. South Dakota has the longest current period of single-party control of the governor’s office of any state in the nation.
Daugaard was the 1st gubernatorial candidate to exceed 50% of the vote in a five-way Republican gubernatorial primary, joining Sigurd Anderson in 1950 as the only candidate to win the nomination outright in a five-way primary.
Daugaard’s 195,017 vote total in 2010 is the highest ever won in an open seat election for governor, as is his vote margin of 73,014 votes. Daugaard’s 61.5% of the vote that year was the largest for an open seat since George T. Mickelson in 1946.
The Republican Party reached a modern high-water mark in the state during Daugaard’s tenure, winning every statewide election from 2010 to 2016 and winning control of the state’s entire congressional delegation for the first time since 1962. In 2016, Republicans elected 89 of 105 legislative seats, the most since 1952.
Daugaard’s 2014 opponent, Susan Wismer, was the first woman nominated by a major party for Governor of South Dakota. The Democratic ticket of Wismer and Susy Blake was the first all-woman ticket in South Dakota history, and the fourth in U.S. history, 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. There has yet to be an all-female ticket elected in any U.S. state. This blog looked at the history of female candidates for SD governor in an earlier post.
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.
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.
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.
The last few years have brought talk in South Dakota about the resurgence of the Republican Party. In 2014, for the first time since 1962, the Republicans won control of the state’s entire congressional delegation, electing Senator Mike Rounds to serve alongside Senator John Thune and Representative Kristi Noem.
The Democrats have not won a statewide election in South Dakota since 2008, when Senator Tim Johnson and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin were both reelected. The Republican winning streak appears likely to continue tomorrow night, with the Trump presidential ticket, Thune, Noem, and Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson all favored to carry South Dakota.
Although the Republican’s winning streak is unusual to the modern observer, there have been several longer multi-year winning streaks in South Dakota’s history, all achieved by the Republican Party. (These streaks include statewide elections for President, federal offices, and state offices. They also include U.S. House elections that were conducted by district, at the time when South Dakota had more than one U.S. House seat).
Here are the longest winning streaks:
1. 101 Republican election victories, from 1938 to 1954.
The longest Republican winning streak began as South Dakota emerged from the Great Depression and continued for 9 general elections over 16 years.
In 1932, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt carried South Dakota, as Democrats elected Tom Berry as Governor and won control of the legislature. Only Republican Senator Peter Norbeck bucked the trend. Democrats also won every federal and statewide election in 1934.
By 1936, Republicans began to bounce back. The party ran a vigorous general election campaign, led by State Party Chairman Harlan Bushfield. Although the Roosevelt presidential ticket still carried South Dakota, Republican Leslie Jensen defeated Governor Tom Berry in his bid for a third term, and Republican Francis Case defeated Democratic incumbent Theodore Werner for the “west river” Second District U.S. House seat.
This solidified in 1938, as Republicans won every federal and statewide election on the ballot. Bushfield was elected Governor, Chan Gurney was elected to U.S. Senate, and Karl Mundt won the “east river” First District U.S. House seat.
The winning streak continued with the Republicans winning every federal and statewide election in the 1940s, including the election of Governors M. Q. Sharpe and George T. Mickelson, the election of Governor Bushfield to the U.S. Senate, and the election of Karl Mundt to Bushfield’s seat in 1948. South Dakota also returned to the Republican column in presidential politics, supporting FDR’s Republican opponents – Wendell Willkie in 1940 and Thomas Dewey in 1944 – and Dewey against President Truman in 1948.
The 1952 election was the high-point for the Republicans. In that year, Eisenhower carried South Dakota with 69%, Governor Sigurd Anderson was reelected with 70%, Congressmen Harold Lovre and E.Y. Berry were both reelected with 69%, and the new state legislature had 108 Republicans and only 2 Democrats.
The end of this winning streak was due to the efforts of George McGovern. Shortly after the 1952 Republican landslide, McGovern became the Democratic Party’s executive secretary, and began the slow work of rebuilding the party from rock bottom. His efforts paid off in 1956, when McGovern ended the GOP winning streak by defeating incumbent Congressman Lovre for the First District U.S. House seat. That same year, Ralph Herseth won 46% in a competitive challenge to incumbent Governor Joe Foss. Two years later, McGovern held off a challenge from outgoing Governor Foss, and Herseth was elected to succeed Foss as governor.
2. 83 Republican election victories, from 1900 to 1912.
This streak began with the demise of the “fusion” between the Populist and Democratic parties, which had elected Governor Andrew E. Lee and Congressmen Freeman Knowles and John E. Kelley in 1896. The state legislature elected in 1896 was split between the three parties, with the tenuous Populist/Democratic coalition holding control. By 1898, the “fusion” coalition was already fraying – Governor Lee was reelected by a margin of 370 votes, but the Republicans won every other federal and statewide election and recaptured legislative control.
The Republican resurgence was completed in 1900, as Republican Charles Herreid was elected Governor. In 1896, the state had supported Democrat/Populist William Jennings Bryan for president over Republican William McKinley, but in 1900 the state supported McKinley in rematch against Bryan.
This streak continued through the early days of the Republican rift between conservatives and progressives, as conservative governors Herreid and Elrod gave way to progressive governors Crawford and Vessey.
It ended in 1914, which was the year of the first direct election for U.S. Senate in South Dakota. Progressive Coe Crawford, who had been elected to the Senate in 1908, lost in the primary to conservative Congressman Charles Burke. Many angry progressives abandoned the Republican ticket to support Democrat Edwin S. Johnson, who defeated Burke 48% to 45% with three minor candidates winning the balance. Democrat Harry Gandy also captured the open Third District U.S. House seat, which at the time covered west river.
3. 48 Republican election victories, from 1889 to 1894.
At the time of statehood, Republicans were the dominant party in South Dakota. From the time of Dakota Territory’s creation in 1862, Republicans had controlled the White House for all but four years, and this meant that the territorial officials, who were appointed by the President, were all Republican. Republicans also earned credit for pushing through statehood for North and South Dakota – Democrats had blocked statehood because of the states’ Republican bent.
Therefore, in the first state elections in 1889, Republicans dominated with outgoing territorial governor Arthur Mellette winning the governorship of South Dakota with 69% and Republicans winning every other state office by a like amount. The first state legislature had 143 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 6 others (the bodies were initially much larger – 45 senators and 124 representatives).
Republicans continued to win against divided opposition in 1890, 1892 and 1894. The Democratic Party frequently finished third to the candidates of the “Independent Party,” which was a forerunner of the Populists. In 1890, Mellette’s share of the vote fell to 45%, but his nearest opponent was populist Henry L. Loucks with 32%. After two terms, Mellette gave way to Governor Charles H. Sheldon, another Republican.
This streak ended in 1896, when the Populists and Democrats finally agreed to unify behind a single “fusion” ticket, as was described in the previous entry.
4. 41 Republican election victories, from 1920 to 1924.
This three-election streak was ushered in by Governor Peter Norbeck, whose broad Republican support ended years of infighting between conservative and progressive Republicans. In 1918, Norbeck was reelected and Republicans won every federal and statewide election, save one: Democratic Congressman Harry Gandy was reelected in his west river Third District seat.
In 1920, Norbeck left the governor’s office and ran for U.S. Senate. The incumbent, Democrat Edwin S. Johnson, opted to retire rather than face the popular governor. On a ticket led by Norbeck, Republicans retained the governor’s office with Lt. Governor William McMaster, defeated Congressman Gandy with challenger William Williamson, and won every other federal and statewide race.
The streak continued in 1922 and 1924. In 1922, McMaster was reelected governor. In 1924, he joined Norbeck in the U.S. Senate, and Lt. Governor Carl Gunderson succeeded McMaster as governor.
It was Gunderson’s election that led to the end of this streak. Gunderson was a conservative and his election reignited the progressive-conservative rift. He initiated investigations into alleged “maladministration” during the Norbeck and McMaster governorships, and ended several of their progressive state-run enterprises.
The backlash against Gunderson surfaced in 1926. That year, Norbeck handily won a second term in the U.S. Senate, winning 60% despite the attacks from his fellow Republican. Gunderson, on the other hand, lost reelection to the first Democrat elected governor, W. J. Bulow. Bulow owed his victory to the crossover votes he won from angry progressive Republican supporters of Norbeck and McMaster.
5. 22 Republican election victories, from 2010 to 2014 (and counting).
Following the 2003 special election to replace Bill Janklow in the U.S. House, Democrats briefly held all three seats in Congress with Senator Tom Daschle, Senator Tim Johnson, and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth. That ended in 2004, when former Congressman John Thune defeated Senator Daschle. In 2008, both Johnson and Herseth Sandlin were easily reelected. That same year, Barack Obama was elected President, with his opponent John McCain carrying South Dakota.
Obama’s election sowed the seeds for the current Republican streak, as he proved unpopular in South Dakota and drove voter registration trends toward the Republicans. In 2010, John Thune was unopposed in his Senate reelection bid – a first in South Dakota history. Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard was easily elected governor. And state legislator Kristi Noem rode the Republican wave to an upset of Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Republicans also won every down-ticket statewide election and gained 15 legislative seats.
The streak continued through 2012 and 2014, with Governor Daugaard winning reelection by a record-setting margin in 2014, and Congresswoman Noem being easily reelected in both years. The Romney/Ryan presidential ticket easily carried the state in 2012, and Democrats failed to field candidates for several down-ticket races in 2014.
The Republican Party is likely to extend the current streak to 26 wins on Tuesday night, but it will be some time before this streak moves up the list. Barring a special election, Republicans will need to win every federal and statewide election in 2018, 2020 and 2022 to move ahead of the 1920-24 streak into fourth place. (South Dakota used to elect statewide candidates every two years, which made elections more frequent). If Republicans hope to surpass the overall record of 101 set from 1938-54, the party will need to win every federal and statewide election until 2042, which would set a record of 108. That’s certainly possible, but a 32-year streak is unlikely given the cyclical nature of politics, and would be unprecedented in the history of the state.
(There are other ways to measure relative support for one party or the other. One way, which reporter Bob Mercer has written about extensively, is party registration. Another is seats held in the State Legislature, which will be the subject of a future post.)