Sutton Would Beat Kneip for Youngest SD Governor by Three Years

If Democratic Senator Billie Sutton has any trouble connecting with young urban voters, perhaps he can remind them of what Tom Lawrence observes—Sutton would be South Dakota’s youngest governor:

Sutton, a state senator from Burke, announced last week he is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for governor in 2018. If he can gain the nomination and win the general election, he would be governor at the tender age of 34 [Tom Lawrence, “Billie Sutton: It’s Time for Change in Pierre,” Prairie Perspective, 2017.06.05].

34 years, 9 months, 20 days, to be exact.** The youngest man so far to win election to the Governor’s chair is Dick Kneip, who was 37 years, 11 months, and 29 days when he took office in 1971. Kneip was also a Democrat, and his lieutenant governor in his first two terms, Bill Dougherty, was only nine months older than Kneip.* (Hmm… so to replicate Kneip’s success, what early-30-something does Sutton choose as his running mate?)

Sutton’s main Republican rivals are no old geezers, but Sutton still has them beat by a fair chunk. On Inauguration Day 2019, Kristi Noem will be 47.10** years old. Marty Jackley will be 48.23**, nine days older than Mike Rounds when he took office in 2003. Both of the GOP leaders would be older than the ever youthful George S. Mickelson, who swore his oath a month shy of 46 in 1987.

Governor birthdate took office age at start (days) years months days
Arthur Calvin Mellette June 23, 1842 March 22, 1889 17074 46 8 30
Charles H. Sheldon September 12, 1840 January 3, 1893 19106 52 3 22
Andrew E. Lee March 18, 1847 January 1, 1897 18187 49 9 14
Charles Nelson Herreid October 20, 1857 January 8, 1901 15785 43 2 19
Samuel H. Elrod May 1, 1856 January 3, 1905 17778 48 8 2
Coe I. Crawford January 14, 1858 January 8, 1907 17890 48 11 25
Robert Scadden Vessey May 16, 1858 January 5, 1909 18496 50 7 20
Frank M. Byrne October 23, 1858 January 7, 1913 19799 54 2 15
Peter Norbeck August 27, 1870 January 2, 1917 16929 46 4 6
William Henry McMaster May 10, 1877 January 4, 1921 15944 43 7 25
Carl Gunderson June 20, 1864 January 6, 1925 22114 60 6 17
William John Bulow January 13, 1869 January 4, 1927 21174 57 11 22
Warren Everett Green March 10, 1869 January 6, 1931 22581 61 9 27
Tom Berry April 23, 1879 January 3, 1933 19613 53 8 11
Leslie Jensen September 15, 1892 January 5, 1937 16182 44 3 21
Harlan John Busfield August 6, 1882 January 3, 1939 20603 56 4 28
Merrill Quentin Sharpe January 11, 1888 January 5, 1943 20082 54 11 25
George Theodore Mickelson July 23, 1903 January 7, 1947 15874 43 5 15
Sigurd Anderson January 22, 1904 January 2, 1951 17147 46 11 11
Joe Foss April 17, 1915 January 4, 1955 14507 39 8 18
Ralph E. Herseth July 2, 1909 January 6, 1959 18085 49 6 4
Archie M. Gubbrud December 31, 1910 January 3, 1961 18266 50 0 3
Nils Andreas Boe September 10, 1913 January 5, 1965 18745 51 3 26
Frank Leroy Farrar April 2, 1929 January 7, 1969 14525 39 9 5
Richard Francis Kneip January 7, 1933 January 5, 1971 13877 37 11 29
Harvey Lowell Wollman May 14, 1935 July 24, 1978 15777 43 2 10
William John Janklow September 13, 1939 January 1, 1979 14355 39 3 19
George Speaker Mickelson January 31, 1941 January 6, 1987 16776 45 11 6
Walter Dale Miller October 5, 1925 April 19, 1993 24668 67 6 14
Marion Michael Rounds October 24, 1954 January 7, 2003 17607 48 2 14
Dennis Martin Daugaard June 11, 1953 January 8, 2011 21030 57 6 28

The median age of the 31 men who have governed this state at their first inaugurals is 48.98 (Coe Crawford, born 1858, governed 1907–1909).

Sutton would be South Dakota’s fifth 30-something governor, along with Kneip and 39-er (on Day 1) Republicans Joe Foss, Frank Farrar, and Bill Janklow. Sixteen men have taken the office in their 40s, nine in their 50s, and two—Warren Green and Walter Dale Miller—in their 60s.

Add to Sutton’s agenda figuring out whether his historic youth can drive some historic youth voting in 2018.

Update 18:53 CDT: Which counties have the youngest populations in South Dakota? Minnehaha, Lincoln, Pennington, Meade, Brookings, and Clay—our two metro areas and our two biggest university counties.

*Correction 2017.06.06 09:49 CDT: I incorrectly stated that Harvey Wollman (also a young man then, serving in the Senate at age 35) was Kneip’s LG in 1971. Tony Venhuizen reminds me that Dougherty served under Kneip from 1971 to 1975; Kneip tapped Wollman as his running mate after Dougherty tried to primary Kneip in 1974.

**Correction 2017.06.06 09:55 CDT: I originally calculated age at inauguration based on the second first Tuesday after the first Monday in January. Venhuizen calculates inaugural ages from the first Saturday in January, the traditional inaugural date. I have changed my numbers to reflect this traditional date, which in January 2019 will be three days earlier than the first post-Monday Tuesday.


15 Responses to Sutton Would Beat Kneip for Youngest SD Governor by Three Years

  1. He is a young fellow indeed. He seems wiser than his years, but I wonder if the youth thing is really a weight strapped to his waist. How old is Ms. Noem, is she in her 30’s? Mr. Jackley, while youthful looking, must be 40ish.

  2. No offense intended, Mr. H. I realize you are probably late 30’s and you seem wiser than your years as well.

  3. Noem just graduated from college a few years ago so she must be about 25-27 now.

  4. Roger Cornelius

    grudz
    If you actually read the blog post you would learn how old Noem and Jackley are.

  5. Indeed, Mr. C. They are still young pups indeed.

  6. BlackHills76

    Billie Sutton has something else in common with Dick Kneip and that is IMHO the best candidate the Dems have put up since Kneip. Of course I was 2 years old when Kneip left office, but my parents remembered him as a young man who connected well with voters across party lines.

    It’s going to be a tough race, but if anyone can pull it off after 40 years it’ll be Billie Sutton. Don’t underestimate this young man.

  7. Greg "Comrade" Deplorable

    I agree, this the best level headed candidate the Dems have put for Governor in some time.
    Shaping up for an election with some very qualified people.

  8. Porter Lansing

    Thousands of people every week would pass by Kneip Implement Co. in Arlington every week … on their way to the big town of Madison. You can’t buy publicity like that. :0)

  9. Don Coyote

    @PorterLansing: I thought Kneip owned Kneip Sales, a dairy equipment wholesaler, in Salem SD. Also he was a State Senator from McCook County while Arlington is in Kingsbury and Brookings County.

  10. Porter Lansing

    You’re probably right, Don. The Arlington Kneip’s must be related. It’s not a very common name. Let me GOOGLE it.

  11. Porter Lansing

    From the “Things Old Retired Men Do On A Tuesday Morning” file … I found an obituary from an Arlington Kneip who was Governor’s brother. ~ Tom enjoyed politics and managed his brother Dick’s campaign for Governor. Tom was a member of St. Thomas More Parish, the VFW, and the American Legion. He enjoyed SDSU athletics and had a true passion for visiting and meeting new people.

  12. If I were running for Governor (hmm… Billie might benefit from a primary challenge), I’d tell my brother to put up a big “HEIDELBERGER PAINTING” sign in Madison and paint the name big on every vehicle in the paint crew fleet. Whether my brother would do it is a separate question… :-D

  13. Porter Lansing

    Billie would NOT benefit from a Heidelberger challenge in a primary because he’d lose to said Heidelberger. lol 🗳 Having watched exchanges between the Heidelberger boys on the blog I’d wonder if he’d vote for his bro Cory? He’d probably be served the chicken back and neck at the next family dinner.

  14. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Porter. But you haven’t seen my brother here. Maybe you’re thinking of my radical right-wing cousin Aaron?

  15. Porter Lansing

    Sorry, Brother Painter. I am referring to your radical right-wing cousin AAAron. It’s none of my business but are you and your brother adopted? If so, your parents did a great job. If not, your parents did a great job. lol PS … this is research into my assertion that SoDak’s biggest opportunity is accepting, embracing and exploring it’s German heritage.