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Pressler: Sutton Offers Hope, Transparency, and Reform in Pierre

In the Dakota Free Press tradition of giving Republicans a fairer hearing than Democrats ever get from the SDGOP spin blog, I yield the floor to former United States Senator Larry Pressler, who yesterday urged all South Dakotans and especially his conservative Republican friends to elect Democratic State Senator Billie Sutton as South Dakota’s next Governor. Senator Pressler provides Dakota Free Press with this complete statement:

Sen. Larry Pressler
Sen. Larry Pressler

I am today endorsing Billie Sutton for Governor. I have been a lifelong Republican except for a brief period in 2014 when I mounted an Independent campaign for the US Senate. I served as Republican Congressman for four years (1975-1979) and as a Republican US Senator for eighteen years (1979-1997) during which time I served on the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and as Chairman of the Commerce Committee. I expect to be a registered Republican the rest of my life.

I decided to endorse Billie Sutton because his campaign has offered hope, transparency, and reform in Pierre.

It is true that I made contributions to and voted for Kristi Noem in the past, well before Billie Sutton had entered the race. I like Kristi, but her campaign has not developed the reform issues that I had hoped. If Kristi is elected, the same people, the same insider groups, and the lack of transparency will continue in our state government. Additionally, we desperately need a two-party system in Pierre. Billie Sutton offers a bipartisan, historic change in South Dakota state government.

Part of my twenty-two years in Washington was spent under a Democratic governor. Based on my eighteen years of experience in the US Senate, I always felt that Pierre and our state government was much more responsive when it had a two-party competition.

With Billie Sutton, we have a chance to vote for a moderately conservative Democrat—I myself am moderately conservative and I am very comfortable voting for him—he is quite different from the national Democrats.

Billie Sutton presents us with a historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change our state.

This fall, I have been asked to teach at the University of South Dakota, my alma matter in Vermillion. I will declare to the students:

The history of South Dakota has changed with the reforms of Billie Sutton and the return of two-party competition in Pierre. Billie Sutton is much different from the national Democrats—conservative Republicans support him because he is moderately conservative, and Republicans who have voted for Kristi or contributed to Kristi in the past could now comfortably vote for Billie Sutton [Former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, prepared statement, received by Dakota Free Press 2018.10.26].

Senator Pressler tells me he sees this election as a rare opportunity for Republicans to cross over and vote for a moderate Democrat for Governor. I would add to that and suggest to my Republican friends that, if Sutton wins, he may send a message to Democrats across the state that moderation is the route to electoral success and thus ensure a whole generation of moderate Democratic candidates with popular appeal (and ensuring that I would remain in the loyal opposition even if those conservative Democrats won a majority in the Senate!).

Senator Pressler says he has already received a lot of nasty responses from Republicans for this endorsement, much as local Republican Dan Richardt reports he has received “mind-boggling” blowback for declaring that he’ll vote for person rather than party and support Jenae Hansen for District 2 House over Republican candidates.

It’s conscience-check time, Republicans. Many of your own members are telling you that, in several races, including the race for Governor, Democrats are offering you superior candidates. In those cases, you can vote for the most qualified person for the job, or you must admit that you care more about party than about the good of South Dakota. Larry Pressler has made clear his priorities; how about yours?


  1. grudgenutz 2018-10-26

    Only an endorsement from Ron Wieczorek or Kurt Evans could carry more weight.

  2. Debbo 2018-10-26

    “[Sutton is a] moderately conservative Democrat—I myself am moderately conservative and I am very comfortable voting for him—he is quite different from the national Democrats.”

    There is a very well stated truth that any South Dakotan loyal to her or his state can honor. It’s not something Noem might recognize.

    Sutton is definitely “quite different” from national Democrats and this Democrat too. At any rate, Pressler proves the lie of what Noem says about Sen. Sutton.

  3. DR 2018-10-26

    Why did he donate to her campaign then?

  4. OldSarg 2018-10-26

    Pressler sees someone like himself in Sutton. Billie has shown he would say anything to get power including claiming the same values as conservative South Dakotans. Pressler did the same when he claimed to no longer be a republican in order to have a chance of winning. Sutton claimed he was anti-same sex marriage, ant-abortion and didn’t back Bernie after saying (on tape) he did. They are lying to gain power over YOU!

    This is what you folks need to understand: “Party” is only a means of gaining power to these people. What you want or need is just secondary to these power hungry animals. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. . . They only want your vote to get the office so they have power over others. There is something wrong with people like this. I don’t like his political views but at least Cory is who he says he is.

  5. Adam 2018-10-26

    Billie vs. Kristi is the single most interesting race I have ever seen in South Dakota. I honestly did not think Billie had it in him to do as well as he is doing, but that was only because I didn’t know Billie all that well at the start of his race. After watching the last two Gubernatorial debates, I can now see that dude has every bit of what it takes to slay the dragon AND be a great Governor. It’s just a matter time (in every way, shape and form).

    Now, as for Kurt Evans, what a laughable numbskull. I mean… like… I thought Democrats had a hard time recruiting talent, but OMG, SD Libertarians have… like… no future AT ALL.

    Check out this article, it’s about political ideology, and it’s truly interesting.

  6. Porter Lansing 2018-10-26

    Good charts, Adam. More Americans should know where they and all of us stand in a world view.

  7. grudgenutz 2018-10-26

    Old Sarg is who he says he is; an ignorant, misogynistic, racist

  8. OldSarg 2018-10-26

    Evening grunde, must of been a tough wake up after the nap. . .

  9. grudgenutz 2018-10-26

    Since the collapse of the so-called “Constitution” Party of SoDak, the Libertarian Party offers the only alternative to the tired platitudinous rhetoric of the Ds and Rs.

    This also allows weirdos like Evans to have a front-stage forum to place crazy religious views as political planks for which the national Libertarian Party has no support.

    The LP has solid planks which, if enacted, would have a positive effect on economic viability in SoDak. Unfortunately, Evans’ advocacy does not reflect most of these planks.

  10. Debbo 2018-10-26

    Adam, those are excellent charts and accurately reflect the USA as we are currently afflicted. We have no Left in DC. Some states do have a real Left Wing in their Democratic Parties, but not many.

    I’d say Minnesota has a Moderate Left in our legislature, though the City of Minneapolis has a genuine Left.

    I don’t think SD has a Left at all. Other South Dakota watchers, what do you think?

  11. Porter Lansing 2018-10-26

    Debbo – I don’t know of any real leftists in SD. Maybe a couple 70 year olds in Vermillion. There’s no foundational reasoning of any sort that should make a conservative not want Cory elected. He sits slightly to the right of middle of the road.

  12. Donald Pay 2018-10-26


    I’m not a historian, but my past reading makes me think that there has ever been much of a traditional left in South Dakota. There were some individual socialists in the early days. Father Hare comes to mind and Sen. Pettigrew may qualify, but a few individuals does not a socialist cell make. Mostly what there might have been was a left tendency that was attached to a populist/progressive movement. That movement was anti-corporatist, mostly agrarian and came to be attached to the Republican Party in both South Dakota and Wisconsin. The populist/progressive tendency had a big impact on the South Dakota Constitution. In North Dakota this movement formed the Non-Partisan League. In Wisconsin there was a true socialist movement in Milwaukee, and there were a succession of Socialist mayors. It was a pretty light form of socialism, called “sewer socialism,” and when the last socialist mayor exited, Milwaukee started going downhill. It’s just beginning to rebound now. And, yes, Minneapolis was a hotbed of socialism for many years, though I don’t think they ever gained power in any municipality.

    Back to South Dakota, I was a Trotskyite for about a year in the early 1970s, if that counts. Some people thought McGovern was a leftist, but he was a fairly typical New Deal liberal. He spent a lot of time cultivating support in small businesses and Chambers of Commerce. He liked small business, but also liked big government approaches to social problems. It was a Midwestern approach that carries over to the Republicans wanting to keep state taxes low, but sucking off the federal teat.

  13. grudznick 2018-10-26

    Well, Mr. Lansing, even in Rapid City there’s that Robbinsdale Radical fellow, and don’t forget my good friend Bill. Few are more leftist than Bill.

  14. Debbo 2018-10-26

    Here, right here folks, is exactly the kind of senator you want representing you. This is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, schooling her challenger and standing up straight and proud for her state.

    I have no trouble seeing Cory Heidelberger doing the very same thing for all the citizens of District 3, nor Randy Seiler as AG and Sutton as governor in the same mold. Really I’d add all the Democrats running for statewide office and Toni Miller in Dist 9.

    I have no doubt there are many more Democrats of morals and spine, but I don’t know them. Democrats are not owned by and beholden to the DC Pootiepublicans and the Kochs, Mercers, Greens, Scaifes, etc.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-26

    There certainly was no left-wing challenge to Bjorkman or Sutton in the primary. There has been no measurable defection from the party over Sutton’s and Bjorkman’s play to the middle. I have seen no petitions for the formation of a new liberal party. For genuine left-wing aspirants in South Dakota, it is easier and healthier to move to Minneapolis or Denver than to stay here and fight both the GOP and the mainstream Dem leadership.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-26

    I take no umbrage at Porter’s characterization. But no matter how centerward I may really be, and no matter how far right Billie Sutton runs, as long as we oppose the power of the GOP club, they will mobilize their power-hungry base by painting us socialists and communists and babykillers. There’s no appeasing their drive for absolute power.

  17. Porter Lansing 2018-10-26

    The Catholic Church is leftist in every other country. The S.D. version doesn’t sync up with Rome or Pope Francis very much.

  18. jerry 2018-10-26

    Weird ad from NOem and even weirder with a heroin using addict, spooky stuff. I guess NOem is comfortable with a convicted drug user on team NOem. Just say NO to drugs NOem, don’t advocate their use with that kind of platform….kids and all.

  19. Rorschach 2018-10-26

    Where are all of the Democrats for Noem? Oh, there aren’t any.

    Noem is the lousiest governor candidate the GOP Party has put up in decades. She is hemorrhaging GOP party voters. They are flocking to Sutton because they’re tired of the nasty and shallow Washington-style campaign she’s running. When Noem loses she’ll abandon SD altogether and get some Washington lobbying job like Daschle did.

  20. Adam 2018-10-27

    Porter, I went to a Catholic school from 6 through 12th grade, in Michigan, and I can also attest to the fact that Catholics are a bit messed up, out here, in South Dakota.

    It’s actually one of the most glaring shortcomings in/of rural culture that I have seen.

    Time after time, over and over again, from all I have seen, Michigan Catholics continually put South Dakota’s TO SHAME, and I am very grateful for my unique experience in this regard.

    For years now, it has really seemed to me that SD Catholics are a micro cult, who are more non-reflective of the greater whole than any other in the whole state.

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-27

    Good clip, Debbo. Heitkamp talks facts while Cramer just tries to squawk over her.

    Include Amanda Bachmann in that honest Left caucus. How about Pat Cromwell in District 35? Joe Yracheta in D-23? Reynold Nesiba? Rachel Willson? Susan Kelts? Lilias Jarding?

  22. Scott 2018-10-27

    Noem reminds me of Pressler more and more every day. Just like Pressler, Noem has 3 common themes she just repeats over and over to her supporters. Eventually people wised up to Pressler and now they are wising up to Noem.

    The best government is when you have multiple ideas that come forth and are meshed together. Just think about designing and building a new house. When you gather ideas from multiple people and contractors, you end up with the better house.

  23. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-27

    Ror, good point: Noem has zero crossover appeal. The only point recommending her for Governor, like Ravnsborg, is the party label and the id-itches she offers to scratch.

  24. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-27

    Interesting, Scott: your negative comment about Pressler suggests that Sutton should win the votes of people who do like Pressler (Larry’s a good guy, and he says vote for Billie!) and the votes of people who don’t like Pressler (Pressler just says the same thing over and over, so I won’t listen to his endorsement… but dang, Kristi is just like Larry, so I should vote for Billie anyway).

  25. Jenny 2018-10-27

    The latest goofball Kristi Noem commercial is the the biggest cheap shot yet. Who bashes their neighbors in a commercial for being Democrats?
    What was That woman Saying about Billie living down in the river bottoms? Something about being flooded? What a goofy commercial!
    It screams of desperation.
    I repeat this again, Kristi represents everything that is wrong about politics.
    Vote Billie Sutton, not Kristi the divider.

  26. Timoteo 2018-10-27

    I am enjoying Adam’s political spectrum chart.

    Mr. Cory, where (on Adam’s chart) would you place yourself on the political compass, as of 2018?

  27. Jenny 2018-10-27

    This commercial Actually brings back A time when I was in high school when Reagan was president and Almost all of the students in my classroom were Republicans. One day in English class, (the topic must have bee current events) my teacher looked at my sister and I in a shocking way and exclaimed “your parents are Democrats?”
    I hate to admit it, but I felt a little shame and embarassment For being targeted insuch a direct way in front of the class. Mind you, I was very shy back then and that certainly didn’t help any. I look back on it now, wishing I had spoken up and proudly said “yes my parents are Democrats !” “ You have a problemwith that?”
    Being young as I was, until that incident happened, I didn’t realize how mean and partisan politics could get, And especially when you live in an area of the country where it’s extremely lopsided to one side.

    Never be ashamed To admit you’re a Democrat, South Dakotans! Or a libertarian, or an Independent!

  28. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2018-10-27

    When Democrats run anti-choice, pro-gun, pro-NRA, and pro-2nd Amendment candidates, I would not call that “middle of the road,” rather I would call that right of center….. even in South Dakota….I am just saying.

    Additionally, Senator Pressler’s endorsement of Billie Sutton proves that South Dakotans from all parts of the political spectrus want change in Pierre; and the reality of this change has more to do with the compelling story of Suttons life and recent Republican corruption in Pierre, than any value in a right of center campaign by a Democratic nominee in this state…..

    That said, the real question becomes, that if Sutton, and even Bjorkman, win, what will be the future of the South Dakota Democratic Party? Will it become right of center, or will it recognize that its political successes have more to do with a compelling story than the credibility of a reinventing of a political party’s philosophy? The ability of the SDDP to be honest on how it got there, if successful in 2018, will do more to maintain its validity, than the whimsical belief that by moving to the right that it has somehow found its credible place.

  29. jerry 2018-10-27

    Whatever place the SDDP should move to, it is clear that what was in the past, was not working. We still had murder in a cornfield with blatant theft by elected officials that oversaw the corruption and applauded it. Don’t forget that NOem had a leadership role during these times.

  30. Debbo 2018-10-27

    I haven’t seen the ad you reference Jenny, but it absolutely shows Noem’s and SDGOP’s ignorance.
    “Billie living down in the river bottoms”

    EVERYBODY West River with any brains at all lives near the creek/stream/river bottom. That’s how you get water to your home and livestock and avoid the searing wind! Duh. Apparently no one talked to Rhodent before the ad was concocted.

    So Noem just took a cheap shot at EVERY West River rancher. Also ranchers living within 50 miles +/- of the east side of the Missouri River. Way to campaign Noem!

  31. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-27

    John KC, here’s a scary thought: what if the willingness to vote for Billie is less about any real desire for change in Pierre and just a desire to signal virtue by voting for a tolerably moderate young man with a compelling life story? What if none of the Sutton Republicans (or at least, a vast majority of those GOP Sutton voters) really care about real bipartisan conversation and negotiation in Pierre and thus don’t mark a single Democrat down-ticket to support him?

  32. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2018-10-28


    I think you are on to something there, definitely. That could very well happen. If Sutton breaks 55%, then he’ll have Democratic friends, or more of them, in Pierre come January, but if he wins in a squeaker, it will just be Billie and the Republicans (Wasn’t that a group from the 60’s? ;-) ). And if it is just “Billie and the Republicans,” then the cautious and conservative Billie will be even more “C & C” in the future, in order, to hold on beyond 2022….


  33. Adam 2018-10-28

    Every career politician leverages their experience in government, and every challenger says they’re, “going shake things up,” but when the rubber meets the road, Good Old Boys will obstruct Billie at every turn and start building their case against his ‘wild-eyed liberalism’ immediately after his election (if we are all so fortunate to make him SD Governor). In essence, they’ll give him the Obama treatment – because they’ve melded Racist-Grade intolerance(s) with the foundation of their political thoughts.

    I don’t think Billie’s success will translate into down ticket votes. When Republicans vote for him, it’s all about choosing the lesser of two evils (even though Billie is obviously a perfectly stand up guy). South Dakota conservatives go out of their way to make Democrats feel like a hated racial minority, and I can see no end to this backward mentality.

  34. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2018-10-28

    No doubt the Republicans will attempt to “obstruct Billie” as governor, but Billie is sharper than the average bear or bull. He appears to have a heightened form of emotional intelligence, which matches his scholastic intelligence, that will in turn play the Republicans in Pierre quite well. But in so doing, the Democratic Party philosophy will be less played and more discarded as the Republicans become herded like cattle by a cowboy from Burke who knows better than them.

  35. Debbo 2018-10-28

    Adam, this is so sadly on the money, “[SDGOP have] melded Racist-Grade intolerance(s) with the foundation of their political thoughts.” There is no Republican Party in the USA any longer. There is a NationaIist/White Supremacist party that Hitler and Pootie would be proud of.

    BTW, until this summer, I regarded the Hitler and Nazi comparisons over the top and not helpful. However, the Pootiepublicans have come shamelessly out of the closet, naming themselves and clearly demonstrating their racism in more ways than I can keep track of.

    They are just now cranking up their homophobia and rank misogyny is certain to follow.

  36. Debbo 2018-10-28

    JKC, I agree with you about SD. “the Democratic Party philosophy will be less played and more discarded.” However, the reverse is happening nationally as the rank and file Democrats become more and more aware of the great danger posed by the Pootiepublicans. Perhaps some of that Democratic move away from center right will seep into SD. I’m not holding my breath, but it could happen. I know there are real, liberal Democrats all across SD. I hold out hope.

  37. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-28

    On obstruction: what do you think a Republican Legislature will do to the budget for state government and FTEs under a Governor Sutton?

  38. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2018-10-29

    They’ll try to cut FTEs to make state government move less smoothly in hopes of making Gov. Sutton look bad. Unless the moderate Republicans and all of the Democrats in Pierre can carve out a majority to make government work. I guess it really depends on how “Republican” the moderate Republicans in Pierre will be and whether any of those moderate Republicans have gubernatorial ambitions…

    But then again, done right, cutting some FTEs proactively by a Sutton administration, which they are confident will not negatively affect state government, could work to Sutton’s advantage and put all Republicans in a painted corner…

  39. Debbo 2018-10-29

    Based on what JKC says, I’d add that South Dakotans will find out if the SDGOP are Republicans, or Pootiepublican traitors.

  40. Timoteo 2018-10-29

    Most of the Republicans that I know do not have the vitriol attributed to them. They don’t want to see state government become ineffective in the hopes of making Billie Sutton look bad. (Maybe there are some people like that out there. They’re just not the people I know.)

  41. Donald Pay 2018-10-29

    The last Democratic governor pushed modernization of government after it became clear that the old systems were leaving South Dakota behind. Republicans had run out of ideas, and were running, then as now, on the “R” after their name, not on accomplishment or vision. Republicans weren’t as corrupt back then, but they were so tied to policies and systems that weren’t working that the state was sputtering. Back then Republicans generally went along. Kneip had a better Legislature than Sutton is going to have.

    We will see. I think some of the conservative folks will be happy to see some needed turnover in the upper level bureaucracy. A little more honesty and transparency out of upper level management would be welcome by all.

  42. PAUL ZIMMER 2018-10-31

    Larry Pressler was once the big star in the GOP sky over SD. I was a supporter of him. Never again! That star burned out a long time ago. After losing his Senate seat to Tim Johnson in 1996 he has become a bitter little man toward the Republican Party. Even endorsing Obama and Clinton. He ran as an Independent in the 2014 Senate race only because he knew SD voters would not support him over Rounds in the primary. In that general election he came in a very distant third behind Rounds and Weiland. Now Pressler and Weiland and bitter buddies endorsing Sutton together. Isn’t that nice? Pressler is a has been politician and Weiland is a never was. Pressler’s endorsements carry no weight! Don’t fall for him endorsing Sutton as a plus for Billie Sutton’s campaign. It’s not! In matter of fact it probably raises eyebrows of those on the fence and for sure turns off real Republicans which Pressler is not anymore. He’s a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Leaping Larry’s endorsement MEANS NOTHING!!!

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