My final greetings to everyone as I complete my eighth year serving as a state legislator for District 17, Turner and Clay counties.
Many times I have stated that being a legislator was a wonderful learning experience and a great way to network and meet people that have been able to help me in many ways both professional and personal. The part of the legislature that I enjoyed the most was being able to resolve problems before even having to draw up any legislation. Believe me, if you can bring your concerns up to the secretary of the departments that handle those types of complaints, they will do whatever is possible to fix the problem before they have to face you and the other legislators in the committees. If they cannot help, then they will point you in the direction of who can help.
It is hard to believe eight years have gone by already. I remember being down in Vermillion, taking seven days off from work, to walk the concrete sidewalks going door to door campaigning. My hips/legs hurt so bad, partly due to wearing my farm boots rather than some comfortable tennis shoes. The part I remember back then the most, was this mafia looking guy who drove past me and seen me walking. He backed up his car, parked in the middle of the street, and came over and introduced himself to me. This person was no other than Jim Abbott, president of the University of South Dakota. At that time, he had no clue who I was, and my chances of winning back then were very slim. However, this person, who I personally felt even to this day had more important things to do, took time from his schedule to stop and speak with me. He made me feel important and realize that running for the office was equally as important. For that I have the greatest admiration and respect for Jim Abbott and Vermillion is lucky to have such a person.
It goes as no surprise that Vermillion is pretty liberal in its political positioning, especially when it comes to education. It never fails that as Republicans, we get pounded on pretty hard at cracker barrels or other political meetings. The one time I remember was during my first year in the legislature, we were at a meeting and Representative Donna Schafer and myself were under major fire for our positions/stance on issues. It was so bad that even Democratic Senator Ben Nesselhuf stepped in to help defend us. I still laugh about that to this day. Despite many people in Vermillion (and even Turner County) not sharing the same beliefs, we were still treated with respect. People voiced their opinions but were never trashing us with names or other degrading comments (at least not while I was present or close enough to hear anyway). For that I respected the cracker barrel process and attended as many as I could, even though I knew what I was in for every time I went to one.
As for Superintendent Mark Froke of Vermillion and Larry Johnke of Irene/Wakonda, I cannot say I voted in their favor more that 10 percent of the time at best, and neither was afraid to let me know it. Mr. Froke was never afraid to use my cell phone to call me and give me his opinion about what I should have or shouldn't have done. Both were very familiar with the legislative process and our limitations as legislators and both gave me their opinions and positions but most importantly they also gave me respectful comments when I voted against them. I will miss my interactions with Mr. Froke, and miss crashing the South Dakota Realtors Association meetings with him when they are serving the oyster stew next year.
My other thank you goes out to all the newspapers in Turner and Clay counties, including Freeman, Sioux City and Yankton papers. In addition the Volante student newspaper from USD, in my opinion also deserves a big thank you. Any time I was ever interviewed for comments about certain current events or legislation, they never took me out of context and actually (in my opinion) made me sound much better than I actually felt I sounded or deserved. I never felt that I was being set up for a fall in my interviews, which was good, since I am the type who would have never done another interview had it happened. But my sincere "Thank You" to all the editors, staff and newspapers in our region.
In parting and my advice to the new legislators who attended SDSU be careful how you react to students down in Vermillion who make statements they are going to attend SDSU for college. I believe I was at a noon Lions meeting or city meeting, when all the candidates were up on the panel and listened to high school graduates state where they were going to school. When one of them said they were going to SDSU, I spontaneously yelled out, "Ya Hooo, Go Rabbits." Needless to say, the room got deafly quiet, and even my long time supporter David Lias from the Vermillion Plain Talk newspaper had to turn and sneak out of the room. The only thing I heard was Senator Nesselhuff, lean forward, laughing and said, "What did you sayyyy." Needless to say I did not repeat it and it was never brought up again (at least in Vermillion). So new legislators don't repeat that mistake.
Save the Lund Theater: This little theater in Viborg has been a great convenience to many people/children in the local region. For anyone who is able and willing to help preserve this historic attraction, please help them reach their goal to upgrade the community theater. Moving to digital is a costly and necessary process and all funds are appreciated.
My hats off to the economic directors and volunteers in Vermillion, Viborg, and Parker. Centerville's economic development has been getting stronger as are the other towns. I have always appreciated being invited to your meetings, and always wished there was more I could do as legislator. Unfortunately, we are not in position to help specific communities due to it being viewed as favoritism or "pork." Any legislation has to be (should be) drafted with a broad stroke so that all similar communities have the potential to benefit equally and not limited to only one specific town. That goes for all legislation including education, health care, etc., unfortunately.
Again, Thank You to all, believe me there are many times when being a legislator I wished that the other guy/gal would have won, but overall it is definitely an experience I will carry with me long into the future. I would be happy to help anyone interested in running for the district politics, (even you Dems, ha ha- I'll help you too, "trust me"). So continue to voice your opinions, just do so in a respectful manner because, the new people in the legislature for sure have so much to learn the first 2 years before they can start to feel comfortable with many of the topics, plus remember we are only in session for 2 months to learn basically all that there is to learn.
Soon to be former state representative for District 17.