Nesselhuf hopes to help Dems rebuild

The night Ben Nesselhuf lost to Jason Gant in South Dakota's secretary of state race, he thought he was done with politics.

All Nesselhuf had on his plate was to take a long nap the next day, spend time with his fiancé and find a job.
However, the job may have found him.

The day after the election, many people wanted Nesselhuf back in politics and asked him to run for chairman of South Dakota's Democratic Party.

"I was dead serious about finding myself a good desk job and keeping my head down," said Nesselhuf, who spent 10 years as a South Dakota legislator. "By the time I woke up from my nap on Wednesday, there were plans already in place that I had nothing to do with."

Nesselhuf didn't consider the idea at first, but as various people around the state kept calling, he knew he couldn't walk away from politics.

"I was pretty dismissive at first, but I continued to receive such strong encouragement and people started campaigning for me," he said. "We started brainstorming, and the fire started to burn again. The next I know, I'm running for the state chair."

Nesselhuf was able to catch the attention of many Democrats in South Dakota. During his campaign for secretary of state, Nesselhuf raised just more than $200,000, which not only set a new record for campaign money, but also trumped the entire total Democrats had ever raised for that race.

Because of the support he received, Nesselhuf felt it was his duty to continue to serve the South Dakota Democratic Party.

"To me, walking away from the support I received would've been selfish," he said. "There were a lot of people that were supportive of my campaign, both financially and by volunteering. When they call me up to do this, it's tough to say no."

Nesselhuf officially announced he is running for chairman last Thursday.

According to a report by the Rapid City Journal, one of his opponents is Mitch Fargen of Flandreau.

The election is set for Dec. 4, and Cheryl Chapman is the current chair of the state's Democratic Party.

If he is elected chairman, Nesselhuf said its time to bring the South Dakota Democratic Party back to its roots.

"It's a matter of a back-to-the-basics approach," he said. "The party needs to be focused on fundraising. The candidates need money to win.

"We also need to make sure our message it getting out there by talking to the press at every opportunity and building an online presence," Nesselhuf added. "We need to re-engage the party with a grassroots campaign."

Right now, the Democratic chairman is a volunteer job for whoever gets elected. But Nesselhuf would work to change that because a job that would require this much work would be more than a volunteer job.

"If you are going to do this right, it would have to be full-time, working every-day to build the party," he said.

"There are a lot of states that elect a chair that acts as a director, and that's what we would do with it."
Nesselhuf would be taking over as the party chairman at what he considers one of the party's lowest moments, but that didn't keep him from seeking the chairman post.

"I think this is a job you take when things are going really good, or it's at rock bottom," he said. "They way things are going now, we are allowed to have a little fun. We can get creative and get some new ideas."

The Republicans firmly control the South Dakota Legislature, and even though the state's Democrats may not have enough votes to help curb legislation they don't see as fair, they will still try and hold the Republicans accountable, Nesselhuf said.

"We can't overrule bad ideas because we don't have the votes," he said. "Part of it will be bringing to light anytime they overreach or do something that's not in the best interest of the state.

"Instead of fighting in the capital, we need to bring it to the street," he added.

Nesselhuf said the Democrats aren't trying to create more partisanship through those actions.

"We need to do everything we can to hold them accountable; that's the responsibility of the minority party," he said. "That is just part of the healthy debate."

Even though the Democrats won't have much power with their votes, Nesselhuf said the party can still offer plenty to the state.

"I think there is a role to be played for the Democrats; we are the party of ideas," he said. "There was a joke that a Republican bill was as good as the Democrat who wrote it. There is a long history of a Democrat bill that is rewritten two years later by a Republican."

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