Noem vs. Herseth Sandlin for governor? Better than a new fly rod and the time to use it

It’s time, of course, for a woman governor in South Dakota. Past time, really.

Are you listening, Kristi Noem? How about you, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin?

Interested in having a rematch in 2018? I’d love to cover that, provided I haven’t moved off into the land of Social Security and fly fishing.

What else is there, at this point, for Noem to target politically? Presuming John Thune doesn’t end up on a successful presidential ticket (at least one of my Democratic friends still considers him to be the best presidential candidate the GOP has) and leave the Senate, and assuming Mike Rounds will run again, what’s left for Noem? Trying to hold on to her House seat, in perpetuity?

I doubt that works for her. She has already expressed serious interest in the governor’s chair, where she could have a much bigger impact on the daily lives of South Dakotans than she has in the U.S. House. The House is a great launch pad. But for her, there’s no place to launch toward.

Except the governor’s office.

I heard the other day that Noem has told people on deep background that she plans to run for governor next time around. That could be a rumor, or simple conversational wandering on her part, but the source was pretty good. And it makes sense.

Truth or lie, it’s something to get the attention of the big Republican bench, which has some heavy bats and prominent names considered likely to take a swing at higher office — Mark Mickelson, Marty Jackley, Matt Michels, to name a few.

I have trouble betting against Noem in a GOP primary, as I did in 2010. She knows how to raise money. She knows how to campaign. She stays on message as well as any politician I have covered, even when being called a “Boehner-loving liberal RINO.” (Just in case you had any doubts about how conservative “conservative” can be in South Dakota…)

And she’s a woman, with the potential to make history.

Herseth Sandlin has that same potential, although she’d be making history again. She made it the first time when she won the special election in June of 2004, becoming the first woman elected to the U.S. House from South Dakota. The real miracle there was that she completed the short-lived Democratic takeover of the state’s three-person congressional delegation, along with Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who would lose to John Thune that November, and Tim Johnson, who would retire mostly on his own terms a decade later.

After beating a credible Republican candidate in Larry Diedrich, narrowly in the special election and by a wider margin that fall for her first full two-year term, Herseth Sandlin seemed ready for a long stroll through the House and, eventually, into the Senate — or the governor’s chair. But after two easy reelections, she ran into Noem — the perfect candidate storm for the perfect GOP year, and into compounding failure of her own party to give her full support.

Five years later, she’s successful in the private world and getting more financially secure with each paycheck and stock offering as, last I checked, general counsel and vice president of Raven Industries in Sioux Falls. She has a husband, a son and a pretty fine life. It’s hard to imagine, when you think about it, what could make that better.

Well, being governor wouldn’t be bad. It worked for her grandpa, whom one of my more liberal Democratic friends recently referred to as a “Republican masquerading as a Democrat.” This particular friend and others have said that about  SHS herself, by the way, although I guess I think the Blue Dog Democratic label Herseth Sandlin prefers fits pretty well. Whatever Ralph Herseth was philosophically, his registration said  Democreat, which might have been why he only had one two-year term as governor. And he compounded the negative impacts of wearing the scarlet D by initiating a commission to study ta….ta…. taaaaaaax reform. Yeow!

Herseth Sandlin’ dad, Lars, a long-time legislative leader in Pierre known for his inclinations toward bipartisan agreements, was a competitive candidate for governor who lost to Republican George S. Mickelson in 1986. So Herseth Sandlin’s family knows political wins and losses. Her 2010 defeat still stings, not just because of the loss but also the fragmented support and some public criticism from her own party.

It’s pretty clear that Herseth Sandlin would prefer to raise her son, Zachary, in South Dakota. And I doubt her husband, former Texas Congressman Max Sandlin, would mind trips to Pierre, where he’d find the hunting and fishing to be just this side of amazing.

But there’s this little problem: Noem. OK, she’s a big problem. Huge, really.

And that’s to say nothing of state Rep. Mark Mickelson, son of the late governor and a still-young man (to me, at least) remembered by many as the 20-something oldest child who became the pained-but-resolute face of a grieving family — and in many ways of a grieving state — after George S. Mickelson died with seven other South Dakotans in an April 19, 1993 airplane crash.

Mark Mickelson looks like his dad and sounds like his dad, which is a good way to look and sound in South Dakota politics. He could raise money. He could revive the family name ID, and a lot of the historical connections for those old enough and aware enough to remember his admirable role in that awful crash aftermath.

I don’t mean to sell Marty Jackley short. He brings former U.S. attorney credentials, as well as accessibility for reporters and a carefully manicured public image as South Dakota AG that carries well beyond the law-enforcement community.

Lt. Gov. Matt Michels brings his multiplicity of admirable work as Dennis Daugaard’s lieutenant and his witty charisma to any campaign.

State Rep. Lee Schoenbeck? Forget about him. He’s got other priorities, in particular a new Labrador retriever.

There are others, of course. And on the Democratic side, former USA Brendan Johnson and current state Sen. Billie Sutton are both legitimate challengers for any statewide office — at some point in the future.

But this thread started with women and should end there.

Noem vs. Herseth Sandlin? You know, I’d probably put off my retirement for that.










Posted in Politics In KELOLAND.


  1. Kevin, I just read an article written by you, calling out Stephen A. Smith on his talking about something he “heard”. Now you say, in this article, and I quote, “I heard the other day that Noem was telling people…..”. Are you not guilty of the same thing that you challenged Smith on?

    • Wade: Thanks for raising that point. It’s a fair one. I think the difference is I actually had a source for what I heard, and mentioned it. And it was a pretty good source. Also, I was saying something that seems logical, beyond what I heard from a source I trust. And I was relaying something, from a source, that could hardly be considered a negative, or a negative allegation. In fact, while some might consider running for governor, or planning such a run, a negative, I don’t consider it such. It’s perfectly legal and perfectly understandable. In the case of Smith’s offhand comment, he was was “throwing it out there” that Brady did something clearly illegal, committed a crime, on a very high-profile case, in a very deliberate way. I guess I see a big difference between the two, while admitting there are some similarities. KW

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