Press "Enter" to skip to content

Announcing for Governor out in the Sticks—Not a Bad Idea

As I hit the last gravel stretch of Highway 1806 on the way to the Sutton Ranch Wednesday, eating the dust of a fellow nick-of-timer from Lincoln County who was a bit less eager than I to punch along those gravelly curves, I questioned, as an eager reader did, the wisdom of announcing a statewide campaign out in what one may accurately deem several miles south of the boonies.

Then I saw the view from the Sutton Ranch gate:

View southeast from Sutton Ranch gate.
View southeast from Sutton Ranch gate.

The Sutton Ranch sits on the west bank of the Missouri River, straight across from the mouth of the Platte Creek, 30 miles upstream from the Fort Randall Dam, 75 miles downstream from the Big Bend Dam, 150 miles downstream from Pierre. First bill I want from Billie Sutton’s Governor’s office: appropriations to build locks around the four Missouri River dams in our state. Imagine the Governor boating from the ranch to the Capitol, or down to Yankton and Dakota Dunes. Steamboat Billie….

Visitors pass the working part of the ranch first, past the big barn and cattle lots, then drive another 500 feet to the big house in the clearing.

Sutton Ranch house, Gregory County.
Sutton Ranch house, Gregory County.

That big covered porch looks out at the valley of what my map calls the North Fork of the Whetstone Creek. Forget the Governor’s mansion: picture Governor Billie Sutton bringing legislators, fellow governors, CEOs, and other dignitaries to that porch, looking out at the grass and trees and uninterrupted sky and saying, “All right, let’s talk about what matters.”

View from the Sutton porch, south toward the North Fork of the Whetstone Creek.
View from the Sutton porch, south toward the North Fork of the Whetstone Creek.

A view like that helps one think… and think big.

One man offers to serve his neighbors under the big blue sky.
One man offers to serve his neighbors under the big blue sky.

It also makes one feel very small, as all of us mere mortals ought before the vastness of the prairie and a great green globe curving slowly away to the horizon.

I took no food selfies, but I can tell you the beef* sandwiches, baked beans with Sutton beef, potato salad (you were expecting greens? where do you think are, Minerva’s?), and pie served by the ranch ladies in the chow line at the big garage and eaten by the 130 guests in the sunshine beat whatever Il Duce’s servants dish at Mar-a-Lago.

A man launches his first campaign for Governor only once in his lifetime. He’s entitled to do it his way, how he wants, when he wants, where he wants. Billie Sutton announced his first bid for Governor in a place he rightly loves, the place that says who he is, what he’s about, what he sees when he looks around at South Dakota and wonders what’s on our big, big horizon. He spoke to us in a place that most of us have to drive a long way to get to, which reminds us how far Sutton and anyone else who wants to serve this state has to drive to meet and listen to people and learn what’s happening around our sprawling state.

A man is entitled to begin a momentous journey at home, with his family. So is a woman, like Billie’s wife Kelsea, who will be at Billie’s side throughout this campaign.

Kelsea Kenzy Sutton introduces her husband and other speakers at the Sutton gubernatorial announcement.
Kelsea Kenzy Sutton introduces her husband and other speakers at the Sutton gubernatorial announcement.

The Suttons staged a better campaign launch than they could have at any rented conference room (“ballroom” really exaggerates the grandeurless rectangularity of nearly every event facility in this state). Wednesday’s campaign launch at the Sutton Ranch showed just who Billie Sutton is and what kind of Governor he could be. It was most certainly worth the drive.

*     *     *

Of course, several miles south of the boonies, one would expect to see some open carry…

Sure, we open carry: pliers, phones, useful stuff!
Sure, we open carry: pliers, phones, useful stuff!

And when we town folk come out to the country in our Volkswagen Beetles, some of the locals still look at us a bit suspiciously:

Sutton horses minding the gate.
Sutton horses minding the gate.

Maybe we don’t need to build locks on the River; maybe the Suttons will ditch the Governor’s Hunt and organize a week-long trail ride from the ranch to the Capitol.

*Correction 2017.06.04 09:04 CDT: I have been contacted by two sources who point out that the sandwiches served were beef, not pork as I erroneously reported. I evidently was focusing on my ears rather than my mouth at those picnic tables. I regret the error.


  1. jim 2017-06-02

    If he puts that intro video on the air before the summer parades begin, watch what happens. Everyone will know who he is in a week. People will want to get a glimpse of him and his family. I would love to see him riding that horse through the parade routes. He generates hope and makes us feel that anything is possible.

    Amazing story coupled with sincerity and a humble touch. Watch out you naysayers. This guy might just be able to pull it off.

  2. Buckobear 2017-06-02

    Great article Cory. Let’s hope that the next time Billie announces it’s for RE-ELECTION.

  3. jerry 2017-06-02

    Indeed Buckobear, indeed. Billie is just exactly what South Dakota needs and especially during these days.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-02

    “exactly what South Dakota needs”—you know, this business of Sutton’s image and life story selling him as a candidate could grow on me. His rodeo career, life-changing injury, and recovery seem to make a cleaner, more honest story of triumph over adversity in a way that Kristi Noem’s sob story about her father’s grain bin accident and the ensuing estate tax woes do not. Sutton doesn’t have to twist his personal adversity into some kind of political policy pitch (“My rodeo injury showed me how important it is that government regulate sporting events”—that wouldn’t fly!) Billie took known risks as a rodeo rider, suffered, then overcame that suffering by sheer grit and the help of his friends and families, not by whining about estate tax (and, as seems to be Noem’s case, failing to take the simple and well-known good business steps that would have prevented her family from facing any great adversity from the change in farm ownership).

    As far as I know, the Sutton family also then didn’t fleece the government for over $3 million in farm subsidies while preaching Republican limited government. (One entry on EWG’s farm subsidy database lists Bill Sutton of Burke receiving $434,340 from 1995 through 2014.)

    Sincerity and humility—as Jim says, those qualities pitched right could hit the South Dakota electorate right where it needs to be hit.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-02

    And Buck, thanks—I enjoy the chance to write photo-essays like this every now and then.

  6. BlackHills76 2017-06-02

    I know that Mike Huether changed to Independent, but honestly if Huether agreed to run as Sutton’s Lt. Governor that would really balance the ticket.

  7. Miranda Gohn 2017-06-02

    Huether running as Sutton’s LG could be a huge liability in my opinion and I highly doubt Mayor Huether would want to be below anyone in public office. He would only desire the top spot.

  8. Don Coyote 2017-06-02

    @cah: “First bill I want from Billie Sutton’s Governor’s office: appropriations to build locks around the four Missouri River dams in our state. Imagine the Governor boating from the ranch to the Capitol, or down to Yankton and Dakota Dunes. Steamboat Billie….”

    I assume you’re joking but at Ft Randall Dam you’d need a lock (actually a system of locks) capable of lifting a boat 120′ exceeding the Panama Canal’s elevation difference of 90′. Imagine the amount of private land the government would have to confiscate to build this monstrosity. With the total lack of commercial shipping on the upper Missouri, there is no way on Earth that pleasure boat traffic could support the costs of such a system.

    And I’d take dinner at Mar-a-Lago any day over a picnic (Really? pork? I thought the Sutton’s were cattle people. Where was the brisket and short ribs?) overlooking the Missouri River. The Treasure Coast/Palm Beach seafood is to die for. And how can you beat the magnificent view/sounds/smells of the Atlantic Ocean?


  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-02

    Lock. Boat elevator. Relay boats. As I said, think big! :-D

    Sutton Ranch picnic vs. Mar-a-Lago: As Leslie suggests, at ~1500 feet above current sea level, the Sutton Ranch will be available for dining and beef production long after Mar-a-Lago is a USS Arizona-style memorial to American hubris and selfishness.

    And read more closely: I referred to the Sutton beef in the baked beans.

    All meals have their merits, and I won’t argue culinary taste. I will note, however, that a distinguishing feature of the Sutton Ranch is that the operation is not owned by an a–h–e. Much more pleasant dining company.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-02

    Strangely, I’m with Miranda. Huether as LG would rev up my desire for a primary.

    Besides, the Democratic Party doesn’t need to make a deal with an opportunist whose immediate response to the Trump victory was to run from the Democratic Party and style himself à la Trump. Huether’s on his own. Sutton can win without him… and he can find other urban business and policy experts to provide the same advantages Huether might but without Huether’s negatives.

  11. Jason 2017-06-02

    That view is heaven on earth. I do not know of a more beautiful place in this great state. Go Billie!

  12. Kim 2017-06-03

    Those were roast beef sandwiches not pork

  13. Rorschach 2017-06-03

    An accident like Sutton’s makes a person do a lot of thinking about who they are and what’s really important. He has found his voice, and he’s the real deal. As long as he is himself and doesn’t try to be somebody he’s not, he will do fine in this race.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-04

    Really? Dang! Shows how much attention I was paying. Thanks for the menu correction, Kim!

  15. Don Coyote 2017-06-04

    Beef? LOL. I await your further culinary reviews Cory. Maybe you could make them a regular feature on your blog. ;-)

  16. mike from iowa 2017-06-04

    Cost Coyote nearly a quarter mil to get into Drumpf Dump South before he can partake of any scraps. Imagine the number of picnics that could be had and in much better, less snooty company. Red ants versus anally retentive wingnuts? I’m going with the ants.

  17. Myrna Freeman 2017-06-04

    Such nice photos of the ranch and river!! Am happy to hear that we are having a west river young man running for our governor. Billie will make our gorgeous state a greater place to live!!! best of luck in the race Billie!

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-05

    I’m glad you like the photos, Myrna! It’s nice to get out, see the world, and share it with others.

Comments are closed.