Lowe and the Democrats

Joe Lowe, the former wildfire chief now running for South Dakota governor, is a “solid Democrat” who wants to help increase teacher pay and worker wages.

But he wasn’t always a Democrat. In fact, his partisan affiliation has shifted several times over the years, reflecting both his evolving values and the changing political landscape.

Lowe was born into a “solid Democratic family” in Joplin, Missouri. But as he grew up, he drifted to the right, ultimately becoming a Republican sometime around 1991 (though Lowe said he was hazy on the dates).

That’s about the time Lowe entered politics in Orange County, California — a conservative stronghold in a liberal state. When he ran for the Mission Viejo city council in 1992, he espoused a generally center-right platform: “ensure that the city doesn’t overspend… more business growth within the city… (study) an increase in the police force to address major crimes such as homicide and rape.”

But by the middle of the 1990s, as the Newt Gingrich Republicans gained power in Washington, D.C. and clashed repeatedly with President Bill Clinton, Lowe saw the Republican Party “getting to extremes” and became an independent.

He stayed an independent for around a decade, during which time he accepted Gov. Bill Janklow’s offer to come to South Dakota and lead the state’s anti-wildfire efforts. But in the first part of the 2000s, Lowe shifted back to the Republican Party. He remained in the GOP for a number of years before in 2008, having a similar reaction as he did in 1995.

"I felt the (Republican) Party left me and it wasn’t what I wanted to be," Lowe said.

That’s when he became a Democrat. At the time, he was still working for Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, and stayed on working for Rounds’ GOP successor Dennis Daugaard, all as a Democrat.

In addition to believing the Republican Party had drifted to the right, Lowe said he was also partially inspired by meeting and working with prominent South Dakota Democrats through his anti-wildfire work.

"I admired Stephanie Herseth. I admired Tom Daschle, when he’d come to the fires and he’d really try to help," Lowe said. "I admired some of the other folks, like Tim Johnson. I found myself, at that point, starting to move into the Democratic camp."

Now Lowe is trying to become a Democratic standard-bearer like Herseth, Daschle and Johnson. The state Democratic Party was measured in its support for Lowe, with executive director Zach Crago praising him as a “good, well-qualified candidate” but also arguing that Daugaard’s record might inspire other Democrats to run, too.

Lowe had stronger support from some West River Democrats. Among the people who urged him to run was former Rapid City Mayor Don Barnett, he said.

SD GOP chair says he saved woman in car wreck (updated)

The chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party helped rescue a woman from a fiery car crash last week in northern Minnesota.

Craig Lawrence was driving with his wife on Minnesota Highway 113 near Waubon on the morning of Sunday, June 30, when he saw an oncoming vehicle lose control, flip over and burst into flames.

"If you’ve ever seen anything like from the Indy 500, where they have a crash and the car rolls and pieces fly — that’s exactly what it was," Lawrence said Friday. “I thought, ‘No one can possibly survive.’"

But the car’s driver and lone occupant, a 19-year-old young woman from Bloomington, was alive — but trapped in her seat as flames began to lick over the car.

Lawrence said a surge of adrenaline coursed through him, and he managed to tear open the stuck car door and help the woman to safety.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol report, the woman was hospitalized with serious, non-life-threatening injuries.

Lawrence said the incident is seared in his mind, especially as he tries to sleep at night. But he said he only did what anyone would have done.

"Anybody pressed into a situation where you get a rush of adrenaline, that’s how ordinary people do things," Lawrence said. “I never thought I’d do that. But it was so weird, the flames were going up. I thought, ‘I don’t care if this blows up, I’m not going to let her die.’"

He told the story in an email to the South Dakota Republican Party mailing list Friday evening, using it as an allegory to urge political action to help the country.

Here’s Lawrence’s account of the accident, as emailed to the Republican Party mailing list. Lawrence changed the name of the victim in the crash:

As I was driving along Minnesota Highway 113 last Sunday the car approaching me drifted into the ditch, then lurched back onto the road. The driver turned the wheel too sharply causing the car to careen back onto the highway nearly sideways. It passed 50 feet behind me and then rolled violently over and over, about 6 times, as I watched in horror. The vehicle disintegrated. Parts and pieces flew onto the highway. The vehicle then rolled one final time into the ditch and immediately burst into flames.

I ran to the burning auto, sure in my mind that no one could have survived the crash. But a young woman was inside, still strapped securely in place by her seatbelt. The fire was gaining strength under the hood, the flames lapping up the windshield. I tried to open the driver’s door but it was smashed, jammed shut. I ran to the other side. Same story. This woman was about to die and her life had been handed to me in this moment of time at this place. I had to act.

Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. It’s like electricity, lighting your mind and muscles with clarity and energy for the task at hand. Giving you superhuman strength. I grabbed the passenger door once more and with all my might wrenched it open.

Inside, Megan Smith sat unconscious, blood pouring from her wounds. I crawled inside to unbuckle her seatbelt. I could feel the warmth of the fire. I said aloud, “Lord, help me. I don’t care if this car blows up. This woman is not going to die, not today.”

She was perhaps 150 pounds, made even heavier being pinned against the seat. I had to drag her by the arms, over the center console and out the passenger door. As I did, she screamed loudly, suddenly awake. I told her, “I’m sorry, I must hurt you to get you out. But if I do not, you will die.”

I dragged her through the ditch, far enough away so the fire couldn’t hurt us, and sat covered in her blood, holding her hand and praying. In a few minutes the driver’s seat was ablaze but Megan Smith was free.

Forty five minutes later the ambulance arrived. Megan’s collar bone was broken, ribs cracked, a concussion, and a broken right hand. But she was alive.

Tony Post leaving GOP job for American Cancer Society

The executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party is leaving for a new job.

Tony Post, who has run the state GOP since June 2011, will become the South Dakota governmental relations director for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society.

Post will start his new job on July 22.

News of Post’s move was first reported by Pat Powers of the South Dakota War College.

Post said Republican politics is an enduring passion for him and something he’ll probably always be involved in.

"This is probably the one opportunity that I’d leave the party for, to be honest," Post said. "It’s personal because I’ve had (cancer), and I’ve seen cancer kill a lot of my old friends."

As governmental relations director, Post will lobby legislators and officials, as well as working with the group’s grassroots.

John McCalley, the Midwest governmental relations director for the ACS-CAN, said Post had unique talents.

"He’s got the depth of experience and the breadth of contacts that would serve any organization looking to influence public polciy in South Dakota," McCalley said. "Tony’s special in that he’s got a deep understanding of our issues, he cares about access to health care, controlling tobacco and making sure that kids don’t start smoking, and that we all breathe clean air."

Post, originally from Minnesota, says he now doesn’t think he’ll ever leave South Dakota. He’s bought a house in Sioux Falls, and will be getting married later this year.

"The last two years were completely insane, but just a blast," Post said. "I love the people here. I’m glad I’m staying here in South Dakota."

Lawrence elected SDGOP chair

Adman Craig Lawrence, Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s pick to lead the South Dakota Republican Party, was elected this morning to be the party’s next chair.

Lawrence was elected by the state GOP’s central committee, overcoming a challenge from activist Daniel Willard. He replaces outgoing chair Tim Rave, a state senator from Baltic.

The co-founder of advertising and marketing firm Lawrence & Schiller, Lawrence has long been involved in Republican politics, though never before in a leadership position like this one.

Also elected to the GOP leadership team Saturday were vice-chair Kim Vanneman, secretary Sara Frankenstein and treasurer Justin Bell.

Vanneman is a former Republican legislator from Tripp County. Frankenstein, a Rapid City attorney, recently representing the Pennington County Republican Party and Rep. Brian Gosch in a lawsuit over Gosch’s ballot eligibility. Bell is a Pierre attorney.

All four leaders elected Saturday are new to their posts. In addition to Rave, the former party leadership team was vice chair Kristi Wagner, secretary Matt Konenkamp and treasurer Brett Koenecke.

Daugaard picks Craig Lawrence for GOP chair

Lawrence & Schiller founder Craig Lawrence has declared he’s running, with Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s support, to be the chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party.

Lawrence, who reportedly sold his interest in his advertising firm last year, sent out a news release this morning announcing his candidacy.

In February, the party’s central committee will vote to choose a chair.

Traditionally, the pick of the state’s Republican governor has won the job. The only other announced candidate for party chair is activist Daniel Willard.

Daugaard touted Lawrence as someone “who has not been widely known as a Party insider” in his announcement.

Lawrence & Schiller has received several key advertising contracts from the state under both the Mike Rounds and Daugaard administrations, drawing occasional fire from Democratic critics.

Lawrence worked on Daugaard’s 2010 election campaign, as well as prior GOP campaigns including those of Bill Janklow, Jim Abdnor and Larry Pressler. He’s also been active in volunteer projects such as the Campus Crusade for Christ.

In his announcement, Lawrence promised to work with current party executive director Tony Post if elected.

SDGOP not standing with Minnehaha County GOP

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a state party throwing its county affiliate under the bus.

I just got this email from Tony Post, executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, responding to the decision of the Minnehaha County Republican Party to boycott legislative coffees sponsored by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and set up their own, competing forums:

The South Dakota Republican Party is happy to partner with the Sioux Falls Chamber if the local party is not. A couple of rogue elements in the Minnehaha group certainly does not not speak for the party at large. 

In fact, this latest episode from Lora Hubbel speaks volumes. The chamber provides a forum for accountability and disparate views, which the SDGOP certainly supports. 

We are working with the Sioux Falls legislators and Chamber and will look forward to the regularly scheduled program. 

The vote at the Minnehaha County Republican Party central committee to set up their own legislative forum was reportedly unanimous among the people there, though not all voting members were present.

This keeps getting more interesting.

My colleague Jonathan Ellis has the scoop this morning that state Sen. Tim Rave will not seek another two years as party chair.


Republican Party Chairman Tim Rave will not seek another two-year term as the party leader. Rave confirms that he is handing over the reins to somebody else.

His successor will be chosen by party officials, but typically the governor’s choice gets the nod.

Rave had a pretty successful tenure….

Read it here.

Tags: Tim Rave SDGOP

A legislative landslide, by the numbers

(Note: The original version of this post contained incorrect numbers that decreased the number of Democratic votes, due to a spreadsheet formatting error. The post has been updated to reflect the correct numbers.)

Across South Dakota, Republican state Senate candidates received a total of 233,530 votes. Democrats, and Democratic-leaning independents, got a total of 117,776 votes.

If this were a two-person race, the Republican would have received 66.6 percent of the vote, to 33.5 for the Democrat.

That’s almost as high as Chris Nelson got in his landslide victory over Nick Nemec.

But you might say that’s not fair, since there were 11 Senate seats with only Republican candidates, and only two Senate seats where Democrats ran unopposed. (You might also say that’s the Democrats’ fault for not running candidates, but let’s set that aside for now.)

If you look only at races with candidates in both parties, the Republicans lose 86,000 votes, and the Democrats lose the 12,000 votes Jason Frerichs and Jim Bradford racked up between them.

But even subtracting this, Republican senate candidates in contested races received 146,857 votes, to 94,368 for the Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

That’s a 60.9 percent to 39.1 percent victory for our amalgamated Republicans, or a worse performance for the consolidated Democrats than Matt Varilek had statewide.

But there’s a lot of really conservative districts across the state, even discounting the ones so red the Democrats didn’t run anyone.

What if we look at just the very closest races in the state — the 10 races where the winner’s margin of error was the smallest.

In those races, Democratic candidates earned 45,697 votes, to 48,484 for the Republicans. That’s a 51.4 percent win for the Republicans, compared to 48.5 percent for the Democrats.

Of the 10 closest races, Democrats won four.

Here’s those close races:


At the GOP party

I’m at the Ramkota in northwest Sioux Falls, where the South Dakota Republican Party is hosting its Election Night celebration. The room is about one-third-full with Republican faithful and elected officials. Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff Dusty Johnson is MCing, and a band is playing.

But most of the bigwigs aren’t in the room. The GOP has a war room upstairs where they’re monitoring election returns. Once things become clearer, those people will come downstairs and join the party.

There are three four TVs in the room. One is on Fox News, one is on KDLT, one is on KSFY and one on KELO. Though I think some of them are changing a bit.


Examples of GOP “slate cards”: Parties send these out all over the place to try to get the party faithful to vote a straight ticket. The law allows these without counting them as in-kind contributions to the candidates featured if there are a certain number of candidates featured on the card.

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