“So you’re telling me there’s a chance … yeah!!!!”
— Lloyd Christmas, Dumb and Dumber
First, Paula Hawks is no dummy. She knows how to feed cattle, combine corn and introduce high-school students to the intricate world of the mitochondria.
Unlike the aforementioned Lloyd Christmas, Hawks is not desperate for a date. She has one, for life. Her husband, Steve, is an SDSU physics graduate with a West-River-ranch upbringing and East-River-farm expertise.
They’re a pretty good team these days, as Hawks — a two-term Democratic state House member — runs for the big House in Washington, D.C.
In our first interview, there were two things I really wanted to know from Hawks, beyond her answer when I invited her to the Requiem to Mount Blogmore Invitational Pheasant Hunt & Charitable Chili Feed this October (she said “yes”):
- Will she be a one-and-done congressional candidate after she loses to Kristi Noem in November.
- In the event that she doesn’t lose – beating some pretty substantial odds — would she move to the D.C. area?
Her answers: No, and yes.
I liked both of them.
One: Any Democratic candidate for South Dakota’s lone U.S. house seat should be prepared to lose. That would include former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, although she could also be prepared to win, because she’d be close to an even bet.
Anybody else this side of say, Tom Daschle, would be in the position Hawks finds herself in: Trying to make a good showing, and almost certainly not winning.
But would she then disappear like, with respect, Matt Varilek did after the 2012 race and Corinna Robinson did after the 2014 campaign. That’s not how the Democrats are going to retake that seat.
Our Saturday morning Old Man’s Breakfast Club had concluded by consensus – there’s no such thing as unanimous at the club, with the possible exception of mass concern over PSA levels – that any Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat in South Dakota should prepare to run a four-year campaign.
Two to get things started, and two more to get serious about winning.
So when Hawks joined us for breakfast and political chatter (Kristi Noem, John Thune, Mike Rounds, we’ve got a seat waiting for you!), that was one of the first things we asked.
Hawks said what she had to say first: “I’m in it to win. And I believe I can.”
Yeah, OK, whatever. But here’s the answer that mattered: She’ll be around next cycle.
“Elections come and elections go and people jump into elections and out of elections,” Hawks said. “But I’m here to help build a stronger Democratic Party in South Dakota. And if I win, that’s a wonderful way to get there. But even if I lose it’s still a start to building up a greater party.”
It’s also a way of getting started on the House race in 2018 that will really matter to Hawks, if she’s really serious about the House seat and about building a greater party. (At this point in South Dakota, I’m using “greater” out of a spirit of generosity)
Build a base. Expand name ID. Develop funding sources. And be prepared to run against, oh, maybe Shantel Krebs or Dusty Johnson in 2018. You know, somebody like that.
Noem? Naw. She’ll be running for governor, possibly in a three-way primary with Attorney General Marty Jackley and state Rep. Mark Mickelson of Sioux Falls.
OK, I’m not entirely certain on that. But this is a blog, where running off at the mouth is expected. Even so, I’ll be surprised if Noem doesn’t run for governor, and Mickelson and Jackley are likely GOP candidates for that primary.
Whatever happens there, Hawks will be a more experience, more competitive Democratic candidate in the general, if she’s in it. That’s good, and not just for Democrats but for the state.
I don’t know that the ridiculous imbalance of power in South Dakota created an environment where EB-5 and Gear Up could happen. But it didn’t help.
Ridiculous imbalances tend to be, well, ridiculous.
So suppose Hawks would win in 2018. Next up is the where-to-live decision.
It used to be assumed that people who ran for Congress in South Dakota were prepared to move themselves and their families to the D.C. area. That was a life’s commitment that everybody in the family had to make.
That ended, pretty much, in 2004, when John Thune beat Tom Daschle with a barrage of criticism that included Daschle’s D.C. residency (the Jaguar in the driveway didn’t help, either, I suppose) and allegations that he was out of touch with South Dakota.
That’s a debatable point, perhaps for a later thread. But since defeating Daschle, Thune has played the “I’m a resident of Sioux Falls …” game, with his family living in Sioux Falls in reality and him living there in a sort of dreamy mix of reality and political theater.
Meaning he spends a lot of time on planes, flying to and from his home in Sioux Falls to his residence and job in D.C. Many weeks there. Most weekend here.
Noem has done the same thing — at some cost, I think she would admit, in time she’d want to spend with her family. Rounds, without kids at home, came into the “I’m a Fort Pierre resident…” routine without quite as much to sacrifice.
But he’s away from his wife and adult children and his grandchildren during the week, as Noem is away from her husband and at least one child at home.
Is it worth it? I wonder. Hawks thinks not.
“I have three children ages 15, 12 and 5, and I have no intention of being a part-time parent or a part-time legislator, when it comes to serving as the single voice for South Dakota in the House,” she said. “So the best option for me that my husband and I can see is to move to Washington, D.C., to have them there all the time, so I can be a full-time parent while being a full-time congresswoman.”
Noem would argue that she’s more than part-time at both responsibilities. And I know she has worked hard and flown often to make as many of her kids’ events as possible, while trying to keep in fulfill work obligations here at home and in D.C. Thune did the same.
Still, it’s kind of part-time parenting. It has to be.
Is the sacrifice worth it? Only they can say. But Tim Johnson, whose family joined him in the D.C. area, where Johnson was a resident for most of his 28 years in Congress, wanted to be home with his family during the week, not just on weekends. He also thought connections between congressional members – including those of the opposite party – were easier to keep when more people stuck around on weekends, sometimes socializing together with their families.
I suppose these days that would be considered evil socialization.
But living there subtracted those rushed flights on Friday and Monday, or sometimes Tuesday and Thursday, allowing – Johnson argued – more work time and some personal connections. And he never seemed to lose touch with what we were living with and hoping for here in South Dakota.
So it worked pretty well, it seemed to me, before 2004, for Democratic and Republican congressional members. Hawks thinks it could work well again.
“If we look back to representatives and senators who moved to D.C., they were doing a good job of representing the state and still coming back to do constituent work,” she said.
There’s quite a bit of time for that, during what seems like an endless array of congressional breaks. And Daschle, for example, worked to maintain both the appearance of being connected at home and the reality of it by trying to hit all 66 counties every year and by making his annual, extended driving tours – often by himself, or with a reporter – across the state.
I rode along on a few of those. And I can tell you, they meant something — to him and to the South Dakotans he spoke to along the way.
Hawks likes that idea, or something similar. And she’d love a chance to give it a try.
Which brings us back to that pesky, expensive, uphill U.S. House campaign – the one that will really matter, in 2018.