Never say never: SD’s political comebacks

Dennis Daugaard says he is done.

No run for the Senate. No return to the Capitol in eight years. Done. Retired. Call it a career.

Daugaard, coming off a 22-year run as a state senator, Mike Rounds’ lieutenant governor and then governor, didn’t seek another elective position last fall, and swears he won’t in the future. No, the 65-year-old Republican says he and his wife Linda moved back to the Dell Rapids home they built in 1985 and plan to focus on their family.

Daugaard is a nice, modest, decent man. You have to wish him well and hope he enjoys a long, pleasant retirement.

Of course, Rounds also insisted he was done with politics when he left the governor’s office. He told that to my face in 2010, and I replied by saying that he would run for the Senate in 2014, and of course, he did. He called me right before announcing, admitting he had changed his mind. Well, that’s one word for it.

I didn’t blame Rounds then and I don’t now. It’s difficult for politicians to leave the stage, to stop hearing the cheers, doing media interviews, discussing and deciding policy. After that, buying groceries or watering the lawn is a bit of a comedown.

That’s why a lot of them never stop running, or keep trying to make a comeback after “retiring.” Boxers, singers and politicians often leave the stage, but seldom does it stick.

Gov. Frank Farrar was defeated in a bid for a second term in 1970 and never ran again. Instead, he bought a series of small-town banks and built an impressive career as a competitive athlete into his 80s.

Govs. Walter Dale Miller and Harvey Wollman served short terms in office and never returned to public life, although Wollman did run, and lose, in a legislative primary. Gov. George S. Mickelson, a popular figure with a bright future, may well have had a congressional career, but his death in a 1993 plane crash left that an unanswered question.

Bill Janklow made a successful comeback in 1994. He finished two terms as governor in 1986 and lost for the only time in his career that year when he sought the Republican nomination for Senate against incumbent Jim Abdnor. Janklow was only 47, so a return to politics seemed likely.

It happened in 1994, when he ran for and won a third term as governor. I covered that race, and remember spending a morning with Janklow in Madison shortly after he announced, as he made the case for his return to the statehouse. He won with ease, and I think was he was a better governor in his second eight-year run.

Abdnor never tried to return to politics, nor did Democrat Jim Abourezk, who served one term in the U.S. House and one in the Senate before leaving elective politics 40 years ago this month.

Another successful governor, Dick Kneip, tried to come back in 1986. He was governor from 1971-78 before taking the post as ambassador to Singapore, allowing Wollman to serve a short term as governor.

Kneip lost a close race to Lars Herseth for the Democratic nomination. Less than a year later, he died at just 54. Herseth knew of political comeback attempts, since his father Ralph was elected governor in 1960, lost a bid for a second term in 1960 and then was defeated in a comeback attempt in 1962.

His granddaughter Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has said she is done with politics after more than six years as our congresswoman. She was defeated by Kristi Noem in 2010, and after looking at comebacks, has accepted the presidency of Augustana University. However, she is still in her 40s, and many South Dakota Democrats hope she reconsiders and seeks office again someday.

Three prominent Democrats, George McGovern, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, had different ends to their careers. McGovern and Daschle both lost bids for a fourth Senate term. Johnson retired after three terms, despite expressing some interest in taking on Rounds in 2014.

McGovern never ran for the Senate again, but he did seek the presidency in 1984 and considered a final White House bid in 1992. Daschle pondered a presidential bid in 2008, after also considering a run in 2004, but he has left elective politics. Johnson, his health greatly diminished by a brain bleed in 2006, is leading a quiet retirement, although he was at the Democratic election night gathering in November.

Another three-term senator, Larry Pressler, ran for the Republican nomination for Congress in 2002, and as an independent for a Senate seat in 2014. He finished well back both times, and his political career is almost assuredly over.

Of course, you never know ...

South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.

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