Schieffer’s broad experience helps win regent appointment

By Bob Mercer

State Capitol Bureau

With his selection of Kevin Schieffer this week, Gov. Dennis Daugaard placed a third new member on the state Board of Regents that governs South Dakota’s public universities and special schools.

Schieffer replaces Carole Pagones, who retired this summer after 10 years on the board. Both are from Sioux Falls.

Schieffer brings perhaps the widest experience of the nine board members.

The University of South Dakota graduate first was an aide and later chief of staff for then-U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler in the 1980s and early 1990s.

He earned a law degree from Georgetown University while working for Pressler. The senator subsequently secured Schieffer’s appointment as U.S. attorney for the district of South Dakota in 1991. Schieffer stepped down in 1993.

While working for Pressler, Schieffer became experienced in federal railroad issues. After leaving the U.S. attorney’s office, he rose to be chief executive for the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad.

During 12 years at DME, Schieffer attempted to build a coal-hauling line from Wyoming through South Dakota and Minnesota. When that project fell through, the railroad was sold to Canadian Pacific, and Schieffer left the company in 2008.

He resurfaced in a public role last year, when the governor appointed him to the state Transportation Commission. Schieffer is now leaving the commission in order to accept the regent appointment.

Daugaard, in a statement announcing the selection, said Schieffer understands the value of higher education.

“It allowed him to come from a modest background to achieve success in government, law and business,” Daugaard said.

In the past year, Daugaard also appointed Bob Sutton of Pierre as a regular member of the regents and named as student regent Joseph Schartz of Montrose, who attends South Dakota State University.

“I have known Kevin for several years, and my interaction with him has always been positive,” Sutton said Thursday. “As a new regent myself, I fully understand the learning curve that goes along with the appointment.

“Kevin will get up to speed quickly, and will work with other regents on critical issues in the ever-changing world of higher education,” Sutton said.

Daugaard’s campaign finance reports show Schieffer wasn’t among the regular contributors who gave money for years to his gubernatorial effort.

Instead, after Daugaard, who was lieutenant governor, won the Republican nomination in the 2010 primary, Schieffer donated $4,000 to his general election campaign that year.

Since then, Schieffer contributed $2,000 in 2011 and $4,000 in 2012 to Daugaard’s re-election campaign. Daugaard hasn’t formally announced yet whether he’ll seek a second term in 2014.

Schieffer meanwhile isn’t walking into a ceremonial post. Regents typically find their workload equivalent to at least a half-time role or, depending on the year and the issues, a full-time job.

Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s director of policy and communications, is a former student regent who knows first-hand the hours and days spent by members.

“He (Schieffer) expressed an interest in the regents a couple years ago, shortly after Gov. Daugaard took office. There wasn’t a vacancy at the time, but the governor kept him in mind for the future,” Venhuizen said.

One day after announcing the appointment of Schieffer to the board, Daugaard issued a statement Wednesday that he had officially requested an inquiry by the Federal Railroad Administration into whether Canadian Pacific was fulfilling its promises made at the time of the DME purchase.

CP officials have said publicly they are contemplating the sale of the line across South Dakota, a move that could greatly affect the grain trade and other shippers.

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