Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians
From titans of power in Washington D.C. to workers in our own state capital in Pierre, to local doers, Sioux Falls has been blessed with a lineage of strong politicians that “make it happen!” Come with us and explore our list of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians! Some of our power brokers aren’t native to Sioux Falls but rather “Sioux Falls Politicians” by proxy as they worked from South Dakota’s biggest city during their years in office or perhaps settled here when they retired from public service. Be sure to let us know your reactions or if we missed someone below in the comments!
10. Joe Foss
Joe Foss is probably the most acclaimed and accomplished resident in the history of Sioux Falls. He was a WWII fighter pilot for the United States Marine Corps. Earning the moniker “Ace-of-Aces” being credited with shooting down 26 enemy planes, tying Eddie Rickenbacker WWI record for enemies shot down. Foss received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics in Guadalcanal. Brigadier General Foss would return home to become Governor Foss as he served two terms as the head of South Dakota’s executive branch. He would attempt a run at the US Senate but was defeated. Not missing a beat, Governor Foss went on to become the first commissioner of the American Football League (AFL) and was very instrumental in paving the ground for a merger that created the National Football League as we know it today. Commissioner Foss left football to pursue a career on the silver screen as the host of an ABC hunting and fishing show, which would segue into a stretch as the President of the National Rifle Association. General/Governor/Commissioner/Anchorman Joe Foss stayed busy with philanthropy and speaking engagements until he suffered a stroke in 2002 and passed away. Governor Foss was not much of a political force, but surely Joe Foss is a Sioux Fallsian (I know its not a word… but it should be) worth noticing! We would all be blessed to achieve just a fraction of what Joe Foss accomplished in his lifetime!
9. Nils Boe
Former Governor Nils Andreas Boe was a lawyer, a lieutenant in the Navy during WWII, a representative in the South Dakota State Legislature (including terms as the Speaker Pro Tem and Speaker of the House), Lieutenant Governor, Governor of the State of South Dakota, aid to the White House (appointed by President Richard Nixon) and Federal Judge (including 6 years as the Chief Justice of the United States Customs Court). What a fantastic way to kick off the list of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians. His time as Governor was characterized by an agenda to improve education as well as an emphasis on worker’s rights including passing laws that prohibited employment discrimination against women and guaranteeing equal pay for women. Governor Boe also instituted a pension system for state employees and the state’s educational television system. Nils Boe and the Boe Family established an endowment in 1971 at Augustana College for a non-partisan lecture circuit to bring world renowned politicians and leaders to Sioux Falls. The Boe Forum has lead to visits to our great city by the likes of: Colin Powell, George H. W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Major, Barbara Bush, Desmond Tutu, Queen Noor, Susan Dentzer, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, L. Paul Bremer, Al Gore, Vicente and Marta Fox, Sandra Day O’Connor, Pervez Musharraf, Madeleine K. Albright, Mary Robinson, Jared Cohen, Jon Huntsman, and Robbie Bach. Surely his political legacy and the impact of The Boe Forum can be felt by all citizens of Sioux Falls today!
8. Joe Kirby
Though not a politician per-se this self educated lawyer contributed more to the South Dakota legal system than anyone of his time… and quite possibly anyone since. As a young lawyer Joe excelled in arguing cases before appellate courts, and was invited by many law firms to advise or argue on their behalf. He developed his own law firm in Sioux Falls on the corner of 9th and Phillips Ave. where he served as a tutor and educator for many young men that would go on to become outstanding lawyers, congressmen, senators, state governors, judges, and presidents of local and international corporations. Kirby argued numerous cases in front of the South Dakota Supreme Court and also a fair number before the Supreme Court of the United States. He was the first lawyer in the country to argue the constitutionality of the 1917 Espionage Act, the ruling of which set a legal precedent for the interpretation of the first amendment that remains today. Joe Kirby was also an entrepreneur involved in the foundation in many businesses in downtown Sioux Falls. Upon his death at 62 years old it was said he had more pending cases before the State Supreme Court than every other South Dakota lawyer combined! His contributions certainly qualify him for inclusion as Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians.
7. James Abourezk
James Abourezk – Senator Abourezk is a South Dakota native but he didn’t become a “Sioux Falls Politician” until after he left office and moved here with his wife. A SD School of Mines and USD School of Law graduate, Sen. James Abourezk started his political career as a Congressman in the United States House of Representatives in 1970, the first democrat to win that seat in almost 40 years. He would go on to win a senate seat in 1972. Sen. Abourezk was the first member elected to the United States Congress of Lebanese descent. While “on the hill” the senator stood firmly against outdated foreign policy and was an especially strong critic of policies dealing with Palestinian and Israeli relations. As a member (and eventually chairman) of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, Senator Abourezk’s voice was equally as strong in fighting for the rights of Native American’s as it was in fighting for those in the middle east. He was present and at one point even held negotiations with Russell Means and other members of the American Indian Movement during an incident that has popular become known as the “Occupation of Wounded Knee” or the “Wounded Knee Incident” in 1973. Abourezk would go on to create the American Indian Policy Review Commission which would be the driving force behind many pieces of legislation targeted at fostering an environment of equal rights for Native Americans. He has continued to add voice to the political discussion regarding US Foreign Policy even after leaving office. Senator Abourezk lives in Sioux Falls with his wife Sanaa, owner of Sanaa’s Gourmet a local vegetarian, gluten-free, Mediterranean restaurant. Although he’s lived all over the state of South Dakota Jim now calls Sioux Falls home, and is therefore included in our list of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians.
6. Larry Pressler
This Humboldt native and graduate of USD, Oxford University, the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Harvard Law School, served 2 terms in the United States House of Representative and 3 more terms in the United States Senate including a 2-year stretch as the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Pressler would take up residence in Sioux Falls later in his career thus making him eligible for inclusion as one of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians. He is the first Vietnam Veteran in the nation to hold office in the United States Congress. Known for his honest and up-front nature Pressler was the only one of nine known members of congress to flatly refuse a bribe in the ABSCAM investigation, orchestrated by the FBI. Essentially undercover FBI agents offered financial bribes to members of government in exchange for legislative favors. Pressler is the only one on tape to deny the invitation. Federal Judge J. Pratt upon reviewing the entire operation would comment, “Pressler, particularly, acted as citizens have a right to expect their elected representatives to act. He showed a clear awareness of the line between proper and improper conduct, and despite his confessed need for campaign money, and despite the additional attractiveness to him of the payment offered, he nevertheless refused to cross into impropriety.” Upon retiring after the 1996 senate race Pressler has stayed very active in law and politics and has even ran for a few open seats! He has taught in universities around the world including stops in New York City, Paris, and Italy. He still maintains a residence in South Dakota and ran for the Senate seat vacated by Tim Johnson in 2014, at the age of 71.
5. Karl E. Mundt
Karl E. Mundt – This Humboldt native (close enough to Sioux Falls to be included as one of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians) served 5 terms as a member of the US House of Representative from 1938-1948, and four term as a Senator from 1948-1973 when he retired due to failing health after experiencing a stroke on November 23,1969. Senator Mundt completed his final term in the senate with aide from his wife. He passed away less than a year later on August 16, 1969. Mundt was a major player in federal investigation and prosecution of Nazi and Communists within the United States as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Senate Permanent Investigations Committee and chairing the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations for the Army-McCarthy Hearings. He was a part of major investigations including the Alger Hiss trial, the Hollywood Blacklist, and even a short-lived federal investigation into the Ku Klux Klan. Senator Mundt also made great strides for his home-state. It was on the back of his vote and power that EROS data center was constructed just outside of Sioux Falls, he was the force to push through the first stages of the Missouri River Project, and was a major player in the creation and execution of the South Dakota Interstate Highway System. Remember to thank Karl Mundt for the quick access to all of South Dakota’s prime vacation spots this summer!
4. Mike Huether
Mayor of Sioux Falls since 2010, Mike Huether has been one of the driving forces behind Sioux Falls’ forward push into the national spotlight. A graduate of SDSU with a degree in economics and a former executive of Citibank and Premier Bankcard, Mayor Huether has brought a very business-like focus to our city government. He has been recognized in international publications (and in the Sioux Falls Fun Page!) as being a CEO-like mayor, and propelling the economic development of our great city. During his tenure Sioux Falls has experienced a vast rebuilding of infrastructure, as well as growth in the job market, national engagement, and so much more. Some might consider his place so high on this list of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians, as a bit premature (he has yet to complete his second term as mayor), but the accomplishments Mayor Huether has achieved in Sioux Falls will echo for generations to come! With two years until his term expires in 2018, we are excited to see what else Mayor Mike is able to accomplish for our great city!
3. Bill Janklow
Bill Janklow – Having served 5,851 days as the Governor of South Dakota, (that is 16 years and 7 days), Bill Janklow held the record as the longest serving governor in United States History in the post-constitutional era. Janklow makes it on our list of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians due to practicing law in Sioux Falls during his “breaks” from public service. Janklow served as both the 27th and 30th Governor of our state, as well as 4 years as the state’s attorney general and just over 1 year as South Dakota’s representative in the United States House of Representatives. Though dogged by scandal for much of his career, Janklow did much for the prosperity of our great state. Policies enacted by Gov. Janklow lead to many banks moving their office headquarters to South Dakota and helping to add another dimension to economic stability outside of agriculture. Janklow has also pushed legislation for equal accessibility for disabled individuals. Janklow’s greatest achievement the raising of state funds while slashing taxes at the same time, while also preparing the state to embrace future economic growth for years to come. A gifted litigator and certainly a political leader, Bill Janklow’s mark will remain on SD for years to come.
2. R.F. Pettigrew
RF Pettigrew – Surely one of the most influential voices in early South Dakota Politics and one of the movers and shakers of Sioux Falls in his day, RF Pettigrew has quite the impressive resume. If nothing else shows his political stature during his time, it would be enough to say RF Pettigrew was “pen pals” with the Queen of Hawaii – while most everyday people didn’t even know Hawaii had a Queen (a whole royal family for that matter!) Pettigrew was in regular correspondence with her! He was a delegate to the House of Representatives for the Dakota Territory, the first Senator from the newly formed State of South Dakota, a lawyer, surveyor, land developer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Surely you cannot make a list of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians without including basically the father of the city! Pettigrew is responsible for pushing for government funding for the first federal building in Sioux Falls (located at 12th St. and Phillips Ave.) and for its construction using native Sioux Quartzite. Pettigrew was instrumental in bringing as many as 5 different railroads to run through the Sioux Falls area as well as a building the first city trolley system. There is even evidence of a plan to build a transcontinental railroad that would hook up with existing railroads from the east coast and run from Sioux Falls to Seattle. Time spent in Washington D.C. as a senator changed Pettigrew, seeing the corruption and self-serving interests of many of the leaders of his day, pushed Pettigrew to try to make a difference rather than following the herd. In 1896 Pettigrew and 22 other Republican Senators walked out of the Republican National convention in St. Louis, opposed to the self serving interests voting to pass a gold standard as opposed to a silver standard to back US Money. Pettigrew would eventually leave the Republican party and join the Populist party, in turn bringing the Populist Party National Convention to Sioux Falls in 1900. Pettigrew’s again “bucked the establishment” in vocal opposition to the what he characterized as the highly illegal annexation of Hawaii. His continued oppositionist view put Pettigrew out of favor with the national powerful elite and in turn with the local community. Pettigrew would continue to fight against capitalist gain at the expense of war and illegal activities until his death in 1926. This would include vocal opposition to WWI as a capitalist scheme, for which he was brought up on felony charges for violation of the 1917 Espionage Act. Pettigrew would acquire Clarence Darrow (of the Scope’s Monkey Trials), after many delays charges were eventually dropped.
1. John Thune
In addition to being the “fastest man in Congress” as reported by a 2012 issue of “Runner’s World Magazine,” John Thune find himself at the top of the Sioux Falls Fun Page’s list of Sioux Falls’ Most Amazing Politicians! Congratulations Senator Thune! Senator Thune can trace his years of public service all the way back to 1985 when fresh out of USD Business School he became a legislative aide to Senator Abdnor. He would continue in that capacity as well as taking positions within the state government and state republican hierarchy until his first personal race for public office in 1996. Thune entered the Republican Primary for South Dakota’s lone seat in the United States House of Representatives as a 69%-15% underdog to the sitting Lt. Governor Carole Hillard. After a long up-hill battle Thune would win the primary race with 59% of the vote. He would go on to win the general election and become South Dakota’s voice in the House of Representatives. Congressman Thune would go on to win ensuing races in 1998 and in 2000 by large margins. His years in the House of Representatives would be characterized by legislation looking to strengthen both agricultural and Native American communities. In 2002 Thune passed on the opportunity to run for state governor and instead elected to challenge incumbent Senator Tim Johnson. Senator Johnson would win the race by less than .15% of the vote (about 500 votes). In 2004, apparently with a taste for long, hard political races, Thune challenged incumbent senator and current Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (who had surprisingly declined to run for president in 2004). After another difficult campaign, including support from Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, and George W. Bush, the President of the United States, Thune would emerge victorious, capturing 51% of the vote. Thune’s popularity and job performance rating were so high in South Dakota in 2010 that the state Democratic Party didn’t sponsor a candidate to run against him, leaving Senator Thune to be re-elected with 100% of the vote! In his time in the Senate, Senator Thune has risen through the ranks of the Republican leadership, with stretches as the Chief Deputy Whip, Republican Conference Vice-Chairman, Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, and in 2012 the Republican Conference Chairman (the third highest ranking position in the Republican Senate), making Senator Thune the highest ranking Republican ever in South Dakota politics. Although a lot of whispering could be heard by both hopefuls and experts about a possible presidential bid, as primary races kicked off in 2012 and 2016 Senator Thune has yet to jump into any race for the nation’s highest office. Here in South Dakota we’d love to one day support a “Thune for President” ticket – but we are quite content to enjoy and reap the benefits of our beloved Senator John Thune!
Did we miss someone? Is our list out of order? Tell us in the comments below! Don’t Forget To Share With Your Friends!