After resounding defeats in November's election, the South Dakota Democrats were looking for a new voice and a new message.Some of the members of the party thought they had their man to lead the re-grouped party, and after a bit of convincing, Vermillion native Ben Nesselhuf agreed to run for the state's Democrat chairman.Nesselhuf did have some opposition in the race for the chairman's spot – Flandreau's Mitch Fargen. But on Saturday during one of the four meetings by the party held in Chamberlain, Nesselhuf defeated his good friend for the opportunity to lead South Dakota's Democratic Party into a new era."It's a significant way of changing things and I am excited to be leading the changes," Nesselhuf said. "It's really the biggest change to the party since 1954 when Ward Clark was named the chairman and brought in George McGovern as the secretary."Nesselhuf said Fargen would still play a pivotal role in the new direction of the Democratic Party."I thought it was great to have two people excited to take the helm of the party," Nesselhuf said. "He is a good friend and he has a lot to offer. He is the assistant leader in the House, so I will be relying on him heavily."Nesselhuf is no stranger to politics. The Vermillion resident served District 17 as both a member of the state House and Senate. He didn't seek re-election to the Senate this past election, and instead opted to run for the open South Dakota secretary of state position.Despite raising more money than his opponent, Jason Gant, and all the Democrats combined in the history of the secretary of state election, Nesselhuf lost at the polls in his bid for that state office.Nesselhuf wasn't the only Democrat in the state who suffered defeat. The South Dakota Senate ended the day with 29 Republicans and only six Democrats, and since then, District 17 senator-elect Eldon Nygaard, Vermillion, switched parties, from Democrat to Republican.Nesselhuf said Nov. 2 was a wake-up call for the Democrats, and he said the party has already responded this past weekend."I think after election results like that, there would be a tendency to hang your head," he said. "But I was amazed with the turnout on Saturday. I think we had the biggest central committee we have ever seen. These are people that are fired up and ready to re-engage and ready to step up and build the party."Nesselhuf officially takes the helm of the party on Jan. 1. His office is located in Sioux Falls, but the longtime Clay County resident will continue to live in Vermillion."I will be in Sioux Falls a few days a week, but with a laptop and cell phone, you can do about anything anywhere," he said.Nesselhuf has already made a significant change. The chairman has been a part-time position for a while, but Nesselhuf will take control in a full-time capacity."I will be the chairman and the executive of the party, and we are changing the platform of the party," he said. "This will allow me to have day-to-day operation and it gets more work out of the executive board."Nesselhuf's time as the chairman will be at least four years. His vice chairman will be Deb Knecht, along with Bill Nibbelink as the treasurer and Julie Bartling as the secretary."We have a great team in place, and we are ready to put our nose to the grindstone and make things happen," Nesselhuf added.He and his team already have their first task set. The group will sit down with the exiting Democrats and figure out the state of the party and the office right now.The Democrats won't have much time in between when he takes office and when the South Dakota legislative session starts on Jan. 11.Nesselhuf said even with limited numbers, it will be very important for the party to have its voice heard, not just by the Republicans but also for the people of South Dakota."We have the role as the minority party to hold the other party accountable, and that's our job," he said. "People need to know what's happening in Pierre, whether it's the budget issues or anything, but these are issues the public needs to know about."
By David Lias For most people in Vermillion, Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson have been merely images on newsprint. The … Read Article