This Friday, June 16, the Trail of Governors is unveiling four new statues: Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss. In anticipation of the unveiling, this blog is featuring short biographical sketches of the four governors. The sketches were originally written for the Trail’s website.
(Updated with a picture of the new Tom Berry sculpture.)
Governor Thomas M. Berry was born in Paddock, Nebraska in 1879 and attended public schools in O’Neill, Nebraska. In 1905, he married Lorena McLain and they had four children: Baxter, Nell, Faye, and Paul.
Berry came to South Dakota as a young man, first to Gregory County and then in 1912 to a homestead south of Belvidere in Mellette County. Eventually Berry built his ranch to 30,000 acres, raising Hereford cattle and saddle horses under his “Double X” brand.
Berry served in the State House of Representatives from 1925 to 1931, chairing the livestock committee and the Indian affairs committee. He also served on the Custer State Park board. In 1932, Berry challenged incumbent Governor Warren E. Green and was elected in the Democratic landslide that also elected Franklin D. Roosevelt as president. Berry was reelected in 1934.
Governor Berry was the first governor from West River, and he was known for his folksy, western humor. He took office during the depths of the Great Depression, as massive dust storms created “black blizzards” on the South Dakota plains. Wielding an axe to demonstrate his intentions, Berry cut state spending 25% and ended progressive programs such as the state coal mine, state hail insurance, and the state bonding department. He eliminated the state property tax, created a state income tax, and instituted a state ore tax to take advantage of the Homestake Gold Mine.
Governor Berry was the only governor in the country to personally direct federal New Deal programs in his state. Berry directed the construction of a new Governor’s Mansion on Capitol Lake, as well as hundreds of stock dams throughout the state. After prohibition was repealed, Berry called a special session to write new alcohol laws and institute a tax on alcohol.
Berry sought an unprecedented third term in 1938, but was narrowly defeated by Republican Leslie Jensen. Berry returned to his ranch and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1938 and 1942. He eventually retired in Rapid City, where he died in 1951. He was interred at Belvidere Cemetery.
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 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.)