Crossing the finish line with a new job title – lieutenant governor-elect for South Dakota – Yankton resident Matt Michels is excited to get back to work in Pierre and for the state.
Three days after Dennis Daugaard and running mate Michels earned a decisive victory in Nov. 2'a gubernatorial election, he was still overwhelmed and humbled by the support received throughout the duo's campaign.
"This whole process, from Dennis asking me to be his running mate to traveling across the state shaking hands and visiting with people to experiencing the amazing scene in Sioux Falls Tuesday night, has been fun," Michels said in an interview with the Press and Dakotan Friday. "This whole process of running for office has been just like my experiences running for local office here in Yankton. People want to meet the candidates. You have to go out and visit with them and listen to them. That is the only way to do it – meet the people and travel – and I have enjoyed it, but now we have to get to work."
On Thursday, Gov.-Elect Daugaard named his transition team and, according to Michels, he will be firmly entrenched in the process.
"I expect to be very involved in the transition team," said Michels, who is a native of Vermillion. "We had our first meetings (Thursday, Nov. 4), and next week we have meetings planned all week to get started working on the issues."
The transition team will be working with Gov. Mike Rounds and his team on developing a budget that will be presented to the Legislature, transitioning offices and assigning new people in key cabinet positions in the state's government.
The website detailing the process was expected to up and running on last week at www.sd.gov.
Michels said that everything he has seen on the campaign trail has led him to believe that the new executive branch of the state government has a mandate not before seen in South Dakota.
"In all my years of being involved in the state's government, this is the first time I have felt or seen the sheer number of people who understand the issues facing the state in terms of budget issues," he said. "The fact is, balancing the budget should be easy. The public expects and deserves to have us deliver on the promises we made during the election process and we can do no less than just that.
"Lawmakers must find a way to balance the state budget, which is looking at a projected $100 million shortage, primarily due to the slowed economy and new regulations facing Medicare and Medicaid. The $100 million sounds terrible until you compare it with say, Minnesota, which is facing a $5.7 billion shortage.
However, the federal government is still the largest nemesis facing the state budget," Michels said.
He added that one huge advantage that South Dakota has is the state's constitution, which requires the budget to be balanced every year. It also helps that state legislators are citizens first and legislators second.
"Because being a legislator is not their job, not how they pay their bills at home, there is a sense of being there to serve the state rather than play politics," Michels said. "The ethics of South Dakota is to have limited government maintained by people who are called to serve others not themselves, regardless of political party affiliation. And that was reflected in the election this year. People voted based on their core values. They evaluated on who they saw and felt would do the best job, and voted on issues they believed in, no matter Republican, Democrat or Independent."
He added that the people who are interested – the ones who go to the polls and vote – are looking for trustworthiness and leadership, and they deserve good service.
Michels also commented on the "furious anger" he encountered from people all across the state in regards to the federal government's uncontrolled spending.
"South Dakotans are at heart optimistic people," he said. "But, I cannot tell you how many business owners, home owners, employers, just the common person on the street, who were saying they were hesitant to hire new people, take family vacations even to the Black Hills, or make simple purchases with the economy the way it is right now."
He believes that anger played into the overwhelming night experienced by the state Republican party Nov. 2 at the polls.
"I know people looked at the Dennis Daugaard/Matt Michels ticket and saw that we are going to run the government the same way we would if we were running our family farm, ranches or businesses," Michels said.
"Most humbling has been the sheer number of people who have come up to us during the campaign supporting Dennis and me from all walks of life, from Yankton and across the state saying, 'Not only have you worked hard, but we believe in you.'"