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.
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.
This week, the Trail of Governors announced its class of 2018. Statues of William H. McMaster, M. Q. Sharpe and Ralph Herseth will be unveiled in June 2018 and thereafter placed on the Trail.
As of today, 15 statues are placed along the Trail, which runs from the Pierre business district to the State Capitol complex. Four more statues – Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss – were unveiled in June 2017 and will be placed this fall, once construction on Capitol Avenue is completed. Once the 2018 statues are placed, the Trail will include 22 statues, with 9 more to be completed by 2021.
Below are brief biographical sketches of McMaster, Sharpe and Herseth, which are adapted from the longer sketches on the Trail of Governors website:
William H. McMaster was South Dakota’s 10th governor, serving from 1921-25. He was born in Ticonic, Iowa in 1877 and was raised in Sioux City. McMaster came to Yankton County, South Dakota in 1901, where he went into banking. He was elected to the first of three terms as a state legislator in 1910, was elected lieutenant governor in 1916 in 1918, and was elected governor in 1920 and 1922, succeeding Peter Norbeck.
Governor McMaster, who led the state during the post-World War I farm crisis, was a progressive Republican and continued Norbeck’s progressive program. He memorably took on high retail gasoline prices by selling gasoline from state highway shops for 2 cents per gallon above wholesale cost, forcing retail prices down by as much as 10 cents a gallon – an incident South Dakota Magazine recalled in 2013.
Governor McMaster supported highway construction. The first concrete state highway, connecting Sioux Falls to Dell Rapids, was built during his administration, as well as five Missouri River bridges, including the Meridian Bridge in Yankton.
Following his service as governor, McMaster was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served alongside Norbeck. After the Great Depression struck, McMaster was defeated for reelection in 1930 by Governor W. J. Bulow. He moved to Dixon, Illinois, where he was president of a local bank. McMaster died in 1968 and was buried in Dixon.
Interest in McMaster has been revived recently thanks to efforts by Bernie Hunhoff to erect a South Dakota Historical Society Marker near the Meridian Bridge in Yankton to memorialize McMaster.
M. Q. Sharpe was the 17th Governor of South Dakota, serving from 1943-47. Sharpe was born in Kansas and served in the U.S. Navy. He came to South Dakota in 1911 to attend USD, where he earned his law degree, and opened a legal practice in Lyman County and served as state’s attorney.
Sharpe was elected attorney general in 1928 and reelected in 1930. During his four years, he investigated embezzlement in the state banking department, as well as mismanagement of the Rural Credits state farm loan program. Despite that, Sharpe was defeated in the FDR Democratic landslide of 1932. He served as Governor Bushfield’s delegate to the Missouri River States Committee in the early 1940s, and helped negotiate the Pick-Sloan Plan to build Missouri River dams.
Sharpe was elected to succeed Bushfield in 1942. He had finished second in a four-way Republican primary, but because no candidate received 35%, the nomination was made at the State Republican Convention. Sharpe prevailed at the convention because his three opponents, all of whom served in the Bushfield administration, failed to coalesce around one candidate.
As governor, Sharpe continued his work to develop the Missouri River dams. Following World War II, he initiated an aggressive post-war building and development plan, founding the state park system, building a state office building, revitalizing the teacher pension fund, and creating the state police radio system. Sharpe also supported repeal of the state income tax.
Sharpe had been reelected in 1944 and in 1946, he sought an unprecedented third term as governor, losing the Republican primary to Attorney General George T. Mickelson. Sharpe returned to his Lyman County practice, and chaired Governor Herseth’s citizen tax study commission in 1959. He died of a heart attack at his home in Kennebec in 1962. Today, the capital city of Pierre is on the shores of Lake Sharpe, which was created by the Big Bend Dam and named in Governor Sharpe’s honor.
Ralph E. Herseth was South Dakota’s 21st governor, serving from 1959-61. He was born on his family’s farm near Houghton and spent his life operating the farm. Herseth also was a businessman, operating a farm store in Hecla, and a leader in many community organizations.
A Democrat, Herseth was elected to the State Senate in 1950 and in 1954. In 1955, he became the first Senate Minority Leader. In 1956, Herseth challenged Governor Foss’ reelection campaign. Herseth did not defeat Governor Foss, but when Foss left office two years later, Herseth successfully sought the open seat, winning the office in 1958.
Governor Herseth established a state retirement system for teachers, proposed a conservancy law to promote water development projects, and created Fort Sisseton State Park. He named Native American artist Oscar Howe as the state’s first artist laureate.
In 1960, Herseth sought reelection, but was narrowly upset by Republican House Speaker Archie Gubbrud. Two years later, Herseth ran for governor one final time, unsuccessfully challenging Governor Gubbrud’s reelection. He is the only South Dakotan to be nominated for governor in four consecutive elections.
Herseth suffered a heart attack and died in 1969 at the age of 59. His family has continued to be active in South Dakota politics. Herseth’s widow, Lorna, served as South Dakota Secretary of State from 1973 to 1979. Herseth’s son, Lars, followed him to the State Legislature and was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1986, losing narrowly to George S. Mickelson, another son of a former governor. Herseth’s granddaughter, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004, serving until 2011 and making her the first woman to represent South Dakota in the U.S. House. She was named president of Augustana University earlier this year.
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.)