Abbott for governor? USD president weighs his political options after receiving letter

Abbott for governor? USD president weighs his political options after receiving letter by David Lias University of South Dakota President James Abbott has received a letter signed by 125 people from across South Dakota urging him to run for governor.

The show of support may be enough to compel him to seek the Democratic nomination for the office, which will be open in 2003 because Gov. Bill Janklow can't seek re-election.

"All I know is that a small group of people contacted a larger group of people, and at any rate, people ended up signing a petition asking me to consider running for governor, he said. "I am going to consider doing it. About a year ago, I indicated that I wouldn't, but I want to give it some consideration."

Abbott emphasized Tuesday, however, that he is still undecided about making a gubernatorial bid.

"The university has been the foremost thing on my mind for the past five years, and there have been some things that have not been completed, and that would be the main reason that I would decide not to run," he said. "On the other hand, we do have a number of initiatives that are ongoing, and nobody is irreplaceable."

Abbott said that many Vermillion people are responsible for the university's successful, ongoing $60 million capital fund drive.

He realizes, too, that university supporters may be particularly concerned if he decides to leave the presidency to run for governor.

"The university isn't dependent on any one person by any means, but I'm conscious of that. I've had a great opportunity here to lead to the best of my abilities, and I've enjoyed thoroughly almost every day of my job," Abbott said.

His growing interest in politics, he said, is not a sign that his devotion to the university is waning.

"I'm just as enthusiastic about the university as I was four years ago, and maybe even more," Abbott said. "The more I know about it, the more I really feel the university has a great future ahead for itself."

USD's bright future will make it difficult, he admits, to make up his mind, even after the show of political support he received in the letter.

"Six months ago, eight months, a year ago, I would have said the chances of my running are 10 to 1. Now they are some higher percentage, but I have by no means made up my mind," Abbott said.

He served in the state House of Representatives and was Jim Beddow's running mate when they lost the governor's race to Bill Janklow in 1994.

Abbott also lost a 1996 Democratic primary bid for the U.S. House of Representatives to Rick Weiland.

The former Yankton man was named president of USD in 1997.

With two statewide political campaigns already under his belt, Abbott knows what to expect should he seek the governor's chair.

"Campaigning in a state this size is in

once said about marriage � it's strange and wonderful," he said. "It's one of those things that's grueling, exhausting, very difficult and in its own way, it's very rewarding."

Abbott is glad he chose to run for lieutenant governor and for the U.S. House primary, even though the outcomes of those races weren't what he expected.

"I ran in two statewide races that I lost and I wouldn't trade a minute for it except that I would have preferred that I had won rather than lost," he said. "You learn about the state and it's people."

Not long after mentioning that USD has a bright future in store, Abbott mentioned that South Dakota's fate may not be as positive without proper leadership for the times.

"I have a great belief � and this is why running for governor is tempting � I have a great belief that in these next several years, with the low unemployment rate, with some difficulty economically on the horizon, we have to have a governor who encourages opportunity in education," he said. "My view is that education creates opportunity."

Abbott said his decision on whether to make a gubernatorial bid will not be dependent on other South Dakotans who may enter the race.

So far, State Sen. Ron Volesky, D-Huron, is the only Democrat who has said for sure he is seeking the governor's office.

Others mentioned for the Democratic nomination for governor are state Rep. Mel Olson of Mitchell, Watertown Mayor Brenda Barger and State Sen. Jim Hutmacher of Chamberlain.

"I tend to make my decisions pretty independent of others. I don't look at it as running against any particular person as I do seeking the office," Abbott said.

He said he has no timeline for when he will formally announce his intentions.

"I'm just going to think about it. I don't think the public is anxious to be saturated with political ads and campaigns any earlier than they have to," Abbott said.

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