Abbott throws hat in the ring

Abbott throws hat in the ring Jim Abbott by David Lias If everything goes as James Abbott plans, he eventually will have a new title.

No longer will he be president of the University of South Dakota.

He will be governor of South Dakota.

"I intend to tell the regents at their meeting this week that I plan to run for governor in 2002," Abbott told the Plain Talk Monday.

The South Dakota Board of Regents gathered on the campus of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City Thursday and Friday for a regular business meeting.

The regents were scheduled to meet in executive session Dec. 13 to discuss collective bargaining, contractual matters and personnel issues.

Abbott likely participated in Thursday's executive session to discuss his future with the regents, and inform them that he plans to seek the state's Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002.

Abbott began his official duties at USD on July 1, 1997. Named USD's 17th president by the board of regents on Feb. 12, 1997, Abbott has two degrees from USD. He received his bachelor of arts degree in 1970, and a juris doctorate degree in 1974.

He is the first alumnus president of USD, the state's flagship institution that was founded in 1862.

While political pundits have spent the past few months speculating about Abbott's future, he has struggled with that very issue.

He admitted recently that deciding whether or not to seek the governor's office is particularly difficult because he still loves his job as university president.

Before being named USD president, he had served as a USD Foundation Trustee and was on the board of The Shrine to Music Museum.

His family has close ties to the university. All seven of his brothers and sisters attended USD. His wife, Colette, also attended USD as did four of her siblings.

Abbott grew up in Irene and Yankton and has taught, practiced law, and actively managed various businesses. He is the former president and chief executive officer of Zylstra Communications Corporation in Yankton.

Abbott served in the South Dakota House of Representatives in 1991-92 and is a former Yankton City Commissioner. He has served as a board member of many state and community organizations including the South Dakota Community Foundation, the South Dakota Lottery Commission, the South Dakota Economic Development Finance Authority, Dakota Wesleyan University, and United Way.

He and Colette are parents of three daughters, Sara, Lyndsey and Nancy.

Abbott noted Monday that state law protects regental

employees from losing their jobs if they decide to run for political office.

According to the statute, no instructor, teacher or other employee of any institution under the jurisdiction of the board of regents shall lose his job or status on the job for becoming a candidate for any public office if it does not entail neglect of duty.

Abbott voiced uncertainty, however, on his ability to run an effective gubernatorial campaign and still maintain a management role at the university.

"In essence, any regental employee can run for office. That having been said, I don't know if I would feel comfortable retaining my job so that's something I'll have to talk to the regents about," he said.

Abbott said he believes the regents will make a decision this week after he discusses his plans with them.

He wouldn't comment specifically Monday on when he may end his services at the university and begin his campaign for governor.

"I know what I want, but I don't know what the regents are going to say," he said, "so I don't really think I can say much more.

"The statutes of the state of South Dakota state clearly that a regental employee may run for public office, and shall not lose his or her job or status on the job as a result of becoming a candidate," Abbott said. "So, I'm not required to resign. However, I feel it would not be in the best interest of the university that I conducted a campaign while I was simultaneously acting as president of the university."

Abbott said he believes the regents will either suggest that he resign, or take a leave of absence.

"It will be one of the two," he said, "and I'll be happy to abide by their wishes."

Abbott said he has set no specific date for the formal launch of his gubernatorial bid.

"I'm assuming later in the spring," he said. "I see no reason to campaign (now). My belief is that the public does not need to be subjected to campaigns any earlier than they have to have them. I'm anxious to begin the process, but I don't want to impose upon people any earlier than I have to."

Other Democrats who have announced their intentions to seek the nomination for governor are two state senators, Ron Volesky of Huron and Jim Hutmacher of Oacoma.

On the Republican side, Mike Rounds, a Pierre businessman and former state Senate Majority Leader, scheduled press conferences Dec. 7 to formally begin his gubernatorial campaign.

Steve Kirby of Sioux Falls, a former lieutenant governor, is already in the GOP race for governor. Attorney General Mark Barnett is expected to join the race soon.

Term limits prevent Gov. Bill Janklow from running for re-election next year.

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