Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard urged members of the Vermillion Rotary Club to think of the traits they want the next governor of South Dakota to possess.
"I think in your next governor, you want someone who is honest. I can tell you that I'm honest, but I know you are going to have to make those judgments for yourself," he said, addressing the Rotarians' noon luncheon meeting at the Neuharth Media Center on the University of South Dakota campus. "But I ask you to talk to people who know me, that grew up with me, that went to school with me here (at USD), that served with me in the Legislature. I believe that they would say that I'm honest."
Daugaard, a Republican who has served the past eight years as South Dakota's lieutenant governor, wants to succeed Gov. Mike Rounds and be the state's next chief executive. He is being challenged in November by Democrat Scott Heidepriem.
Daugaard said Tuesday that he has the business and legislative experience to serve the state well as governor.
"I have a unique mix of experience – agriculture experience, it's our main economic driver in South Dakota, business experience, after 10 years in banking and nearly 20 years at Children's Home Society, I know what it's like to sign the front of a paycheck. I know what it's like to balance a budget, to cut programs where you need to … things that every business person needs to deal with."
Daugaard said his political experience would also serve him well, should he win the governor's race on election day next month.
"I've served six years in the state Senate, which has given me a legislative perspective, and eight years as lieutenant governor, which has given me an executive branch perspective," he said.
Daugaard said his campaign has featured specific proposals for dealing with the issues South Dakotans will face in the future.
"You need a good leader who is a good listener, because the world is too complex to think that your ideas are always going to be the right ones, and always precisely be the best ones," he said. "After offering a specific idea, you need to listen to people on the ground, involved, who are knowledgeable in that more narrow area of specialty than you might otherwise be."
Daugaard devoted the first portion of his talk to a homespun accounting of his life growing up on a farm in South Dakota, where he did the type of chores so familiar to others who state residents who spent their childhoods helping their parents raise crops and livestock.
He paid his own way to attend the University of South Dakota, doing everything from washing dishes to sandblasting and painting water towers. After graduation, he attended law school at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he earned money to pay for his expenses by working as a security guard "armed with a pencil," and driving a transit bus.
He returned to South Dakota in the early 1980s after graduating from law school and working in the Chicago area for three years. He was employed as a trust officer at a Sioux Falls bank until 1990, when he began to work full-time as developmental director of the Children's Home Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the Children's Home Society.
Under his tenure, the Children's Home Society's finances improved drastically, allowing it to construct new facilities, hire more staff, and serve more children in need.
The various experiences and accomplishments he's mustered so far in his life, Daugaard said, have prepared him for the challenges of the office of governor.
"I think South Dakota faces some economic challenges and budget challenges that are going to require some difficult decisions in the near term," he said. "I'm not afraid of making those decisions. I've had to do that at Children's Home Society; I had to it in my own life. The principles of fiscal discipline are all the same, whether there are lots of zeros behind the numbers or there aren't so many zeroes behind the numbers."
South Dakota, Daugaard said, needs a governor who cares about people.
"Those who can make their own way, and take care of themselves, must … but there are people in our society who can't. There are people like the kids at Children's Home Society, or fragile elderly in nursing homes that can't. Those people count on us, and we act to help them through our government.
"You need someone who believes in that government, who does truly care about people. And I do," Daugaard said. "I don't care about money, and I don't care about power. That's why I left my job in banking to take a job with Children's Care, because I knew I could make a difference there."
If elected governor on Nov. 2, he said he would spend the two months leading up to the next legislative session taking steps necessary for the transition into his new role, including planning an agenda that involves economic development initiatives.
"The top priority for the next governor must be job creation and economic development. Dealing with the budget deficit is going to be the most urgent and short-term need," Daugaard said. "My aim is to balance the budget through cuts to government without raising taxes."
From his personal observations and conversation with business people on the campaign trail, he said he is beginning to sense that South Dakota is starting to climb out of the recession that has gripped the nation for nearly two years. If those improvements continue, it could mean greater employment and a greater generation of tax revenues which may help with some of the state's budget challenges.
It is Daugaard's belief that revenue enhancements to the state budget should be driven by economic activity. "I'm loathe to raise taxes, because I think that's an solution that's an easy solution for some states … in South Dakota, I think we can increase our revenue through increased economic activity."
He noted that he realizes that it may take time for the economy to rebound in the state, but Daugaard notes that doesn't mean the solution to future budget problems comes from spending the state's reserve funds.
"I did agree with the Legislature in their refusal to use reserves during the last session, because revenue was still falling. Tax receipts were still declining, and when you can't see the other shore, you shouldn't use rainy day funds as a bridge, because you don't know how far away that other shore is.
"If the revenue rebound continues, and starts to show a good pattern, then the projection for revenue in fiscal year 2012 can be improved, and that will