Harvey Wollman stands alone

Gov. Harvey Wollman and Gov. Dennis Daugaard, at the 2015 Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park.
It was good this week to see Gov. Harvey Wollman at the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park. Gov. Wollman was kind enough to introduce himself to my son, Henry, who is named after my grandfather, State Sen. Henry Poppen. Grandpa Poppen and Harvey Wollman sat across the aisle from each other in the State Senate in the 1970s.

Harvey Wollman is already SD’s only living Democratic governor or lieutenant governor. This week, Wollman also became the only living Democrat to have served as the SD Senate Majority Leader, due to the sad passing of Roger McKellips of Alcester last month, and of Homer Kandaras of Rapid City this week.

(I wrote recently about McKellips and other longtime legislators in the post, Old Bulls of the SD Legislature.)

McKellips had been Senate Majority Leader when the Democrats controlled the State Senate in 1993-94. Kandaras was Senate Majority Leader in 1975-76; he followed Wollman as Majority Leader after Wollman was elected lieutenant governor.

Like Wollman, there is only one living Democrat who has served as House Majority Leader, Larry Piersol of Sioux Falls. Piersol is now a federal judge on senior status. There is also only one living Democrat to have served as House Speaker, Gene Lebrun of Rapid City. Piersol and Lebrun both held their leadership positions in 1973-74. The House was split 35-35 for those two sessions, and House rules dictated that the Democrats, as the party of the sitting governor, were deemed to be the “majority” party.

Democratic majority leaders are rare in South Dakota because Democratic control of a legislative chamber is rare. Since statehood:

  • 1891: A coalition of Democrats and populist “Independents” controlled the State House. There were 20 Democrats and 44 populists in the coalition, and 58 Republicans in the minority.
  • 1897: The Populist/Democratic “fusion” ticket elected Andrew E. Lee as governor, and also won narrow control of both legislative houses. The Senate had 20 Populists, 2 Democrats, and 21 Republicans for a 1-seat majority. The House had 35 Populists, 10 Democrats, and 39 Republicans for a 6-seat margin.
  • 1933-37: The first time Democrats won control with a Populist coalition was during the Great Depression. In 1932, Tom Berry was elected governor and Democrats won control of both houses. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate in 1933 and 1935. (In this era, the Legislature only met every other year.) After the 1936 election, Republicans won back control of the House, but Democrats retained control of the 1937 Senate by a 1-seat martin.
  • 1959: Ralph Herseth was elected governor in 1958, and on his coattails Democrats won control of the Senate 20-15. Herseth had been the first Democrat to be considered “Senate Minority Leader,” and his successor Art Jones was the first Democrat to be the Senate Majority Leader. The House remained Republican and the House Speaker, Archie Gubbrud, defeated Herseth for reelection in 1960 as Republicans retook both houses.
  • 1973-76: Dick Kneip was elected governor in 1970, and in 1972 voters rewarded him with a Democratic legislature by the narrowest possible margin. Democrats held the Senate 18-17, with Harvey Wollman as Majority Leader. As noted above, the House was a 35-35 tie and Democrats won the “tie-breaker” of a Democratic governor. Larry Piersol was Majority Leader and Gene Lebrun was House Speaker. In 1974, Kneip was reelected, but Republicans won two House seats to take a 37-33 majority. Democrats picked up a Senate seat, expanding their narrow margin to 19-16. Wollman had been elected lieutenant governor and Homer Kandaras became Majority Leader. Republicans retook control of the House in 1976, and have held it ever since.
  • 1993-94: Democrats won a State Senate majority of 20-15 in 1992, with Lars Herseth becoming President Pro Tempore and Roger McKellips becoming Majority Leader. Gov. George S. Mickelson was in the final two years of his term; he died in 1993 and Walter Dale Miller served as governor during the 1994 session. Republicans retook Senate control in 1994, as Bill Janklow returned as governor, and have held it ever since.

In recent years, Democrats made gains in 2006 and 2008. They peaked in the Senate in 2007-08, with the Republican majority narrowed to 20-15. Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepriem, who had led the expanded Democratic caucus, ran for governor in 2010, but was defeated by Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard as Republicans retook strong legislative majorities: 30-5 in the Senate and 50-19 in the House. In the time since, Republican supermajorities have strengthened, most recently 29-6 in the Senate and 60-10 in the House.

It appears that 2018 will see Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton, a Democrat from Burke, attempt against long odds to win the Governor’s Office and to increase Democrat influence in the legislature.


Roger D. McKellips 1923-2017

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.

The McKellips family has operated the State Bank of Alcester for nearly a century; they acquired it in 1919. McKellips’ son, Gary, is the current CEO. The Bank features an excellent history on its website. McKellips’ obituary is also available online.

State Senator Roger McKellips, as he appeared in the 1987 South Dakota Legislative Manual (or “Blue Book.”)

On Kneip and Wollman

Earlier today, Cory Heidelberger at Dakota Free Press had a post about the fact that, if elected, Billie Sutton would be South Dakota’s youngest governor, exceeding Richard F. Kneip’s record by about three years.  This blog had noted this potential milestone after Sutton announced his candidacy last week.

Heidelberger’s post, though its history is for the most part accurate, included one small inaccuracy.  At one point, Heidelberger wrote:

The youngest man so far to win election to the Governor’s chair is Dick Kneip, who was 37 years, 11 months, and 29 days when he took office in 1971. Kneip was also a Democrat, and he teamed with a Democrat two years his junior, Harvey Wollman. (Hmm… so to replicate Kneip’s success, what early-30-something does Sutton choose as his running mate?)

The aside about Wollman is not quite correct, insofar as it implies that Wollman was Kneip’s running mate in 1970.

25 Kneip
Gov. Richard F. Kneip on the Trail of Governors

In fact, when Kneip was first elected in 1970, South Dakota still elected the governor and lieutenant governor separately.  Kneip was the Democratic nominee for governor, defeating incumbent Republican Gov. Frank Farrar.  The Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor was Bill Dougherty of Sioux Falls, who defeated the Republican nominee, Dr. Bob Bartron of Watertown.

At that time, South Dakota still had two-year terms, and in 1972 Kneip and Dougherty were both reelected, again on separate tickets.  That same year, voters approved a new executive article to the constitution, which changed the term for the governor and other state constitutional officers to 4 years, beginning in 1974.  The amendment also provided for the governor and LG to be elected on a ticket.
Originally, it was assumed that Kneip, having served two 2-year terms, was not eligible to run again in 1974.  In fact, Lt. Governor Bill Dougherty ran for governor in 1974, originally on the assumption.  Kneip went to court however, and the South Dakota Supreme Court held that he was entitled to two 2-year terms AND two 4-year terms – in short, the court held that the term-limit reset because the term changed.  (The case is Kneip v. Herseth.  “Herseth” was Secretary of State Lorna Herseth, who refused to place Kneip on the ballot.  She was a former first lady and wife of Gov. Ralph Herseth, mother to Lars Herseth, and grandmother to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.)
So Kneip sought a third term – his first four-year term – in 1974, and easily defeated Lt. Governor Dougherty in the Democratic primary.
26 Wollman
Gov. Harvey Wollman on the Trail of Governors

Not surprisingly, Dougherty did not run as Kneip’s running mate following that defeat.  Harvey Wollman, who was the Democratic Leader in the Senate, let Kneip know that Wollman would seek the Democratic nomination at the state convention, and Kneip gave him his blessing.  The Democratic convention nominated Wollman over State Sen. Grace Mickelson of Rapid City, and the Kneip/Wollman ticket prevailed in 1974 over a Republican ticket of John Olson of Sioux Falls and Eddie Clay of Hot Springs.

Kneip resigned in 1978 to become U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, and Wollman served for five months as governor.  A month before he succeeded to the governor’s chair, Wollman had narrowly lost the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial primary to Roger McKellips of Alcester.  McKellips’ running mate was State Sen. Billie H. Sutton, grandfather and namesake of the current Democratic candidate.  The McKellips/Sutton ticket lost in November to a ticket of Bill Janklow and Lowell Hansen, beginning the Republican gubernatorial winning streak that the younger Sutton now seeks to end in 2018.