Gov. Mike Rounds knows that some day soon, he will wake up one morning, and no longer be the chief executive of South Dakota. He admits he doesn't know what to expect.
"I've never done that before, so I don't know," he said, smiling broadly. "You start out with four years, and hopefully eight years, but you don't know for sure, and then you go through an election process again to hopefully be elected to a second term.
"You know that you have four years remaining then, and you almost start a countdown at that point, where you say, 'gee, I only have this much time left in which to get things done,' and at the same time," Rounds said, "you know you've got to be looking at when it's all over with. You wonder what it is all going to be like, because it's a new experience."
The governor made these comments to the Vermillion Plain Talk Dec. 9, shortly before appearing on a public affairs program at the South Dakota Public Broadcasting studio on the University of South Dakota campus.
Rounds, the 31st governor of South Dakota, first took office on Jan. 7, 2003 following a successful election bid in November 2002. He was re-elected to a second term in November 2006. That term expires next month.
"Jean and I have talked about it (returning to life outside of government). We know that we have our plans set in terms of we're going to go back into the (insurance) business," he said, "and we're going to be living in Ft. Pierre. We're in the middle of building a new home there on the river, and it's a spot we've always wanted to be in."
He admits it will be tough, in those first weeks of "civilian" life in January, to not be involved with the state Legislature in some way.
His history with the Legislature spans a greater time period than his role as governor. He was first elected state senator from District 24, which includes Pierre and the surrounding area, in 1991. In 1995, he became Senate majority leader. Because of legislative term limits, Rounds was barred from seeking re-election to the state Senate in 2000.
"I don't plan to be involved with the day-to-day stuff at the state level, and I'm not going to be offering commentary on it," he said. "I don't think a previous governor should do that. Bill Janklow was very good at staying away from it, I respected him for that, and I'm going to try to take the same approach.
"But at the same time," Rounds admits, "I don't know what that is going to feel like."
He doesn't expect a slower-paced lifestyle once he permanently moves out of the governor's office. "I'm expecting that I'm going to be looking for ways to divert energy," Rounds said. "I'll be able to exercise on a regular basis again, and I haven't been fishing since I'm been governor. I haven't been goose hunting since I've been governor. I haven't been duck hunting since I've been governor.
"And at the business level, I'm excited about getting back in it and producing again," he said. "I'm excited about working on making payroll and growing the business. Things will be of a different magnitude than we've done in the last several years, but there's still that excitement of making the deal. I don't think that ever gets tiring.
"Nor does Rounds tire from leading by example. It's a lesson that many of today's politicians seem to have forgotten, especially in the rancor-filled general election held last month.
When Rounds launched his bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2002, he had 5 percent name recognition across South Dakota. The two Republican front-runners appeared to be South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett and former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby. The contest between Kirby and Barnett soon became negative and in the meantime, Rounds kept his campaign positive.His positive image and knowledge of state government proved to factors that eventual led to both his primary victory in June 2002 and his general election win later in November.Rounds said he simply followed the same political philosophy that proved to be successful in the primary and five general election races he ran while a member of the Legislature.
"I never mentioned a competitor by name once," he said. "I never attacked a competitor. Not once. When I ran for governor, I knew both of my competitors, and I was friends with both of them, and I already made up my mind that I wasn't going into this to create enemies. I wasn't going into this to say why they shouldn't be governor. I made up my mind that I was going to go in because I thought I could do a good job as governor.
"I still think that people respond to that," Rounds said. "I know there are always armchair quarterbacks who think they know everything about politics, and they will tell you that history proves that you have to run a negative political campaign. And I think they're wrong. I think running a negative campaign is a cop-out.
"People running for political office should focus their energy on talking about issues, concepts, plans and goals, the governor said.
"I believe that people will respond if you do that," he said. Too often, professionals in the business of running political campaigns these day advise office-seekers that they must "position" the competition, Rounds said.
"That's just a political-rhetoric way of saying 'I'm going to attack my competitor.' And I just decided that I'm not going to do that," he said. "I'll disagree on issues with someone, and say that I do, but that doesn't make that person a bad person."Until such time as the public, the voters, decide that they aren't going to put up with it," Rounds said, "and until such time that you get people running for office that are willing to get in and make their own decisions about how they are going to run their own campaigns, you're going to have negative campaigns."
Rounds believes Dennis Daugaard, South Dakota's current lieutenant governor who was overwhelmingly chosen to become the state's next governor in November's election, is an example of the success that follows positive campaigning.
"He laid out facts; he laid out his vision," the governor said. "I think that's the right way to do it, and I think people responded because of that. I don't think you have to 'position' other people, and you don't have to take ugly pictures of your competitor … talk about what you want to do. I firmly believe that. The only way you to prove that, though, is to do it yourself. I've run three statewide races and six local races, and I think the results speak for themselves."