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Six Strong Endorsements for Six Chair Candidates: Bring ‘Em All Together, Paula!

Paula Hawks marches for women's rights in Sioux Falls—where were you, Kristi Noem? (Photo by Tory Stolen, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2017.01.21).
Paula Hawks, ready to bring everyone together? (Photo by Tory Stolen, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2017.01.21).

Democrats from 33 counties elected Paula Hawks as their new South Dakota Democratic Party chair and Randy Seiler as their new vice-chair yesterday at their state central committee meeting in Oacoma.

Paula Hawks and four other Democrats—John Kennedy Claussen, John Cunningham, Tom Cool, and Allison Renville—challenged incumbent Ann Tornberg to lead their party for the next four years. Hawks and Tornberg won the most weighted votes in the first round; in the runoff, Hawks landslid to the chair with 73% of the weighted vote.

Hawks and every other candidate recognizes the same simple imperatives of the South Dakota Democratic Party: we need to recruit donors, volunteers, and voters. Neither Hawks nor any other chair candidate will save Democrats from risible sidelinery without thousands of grassroots Democrats standing up to join the fight.

What impressed me yesterday were the six Democrats who stood up to nominate the chair candidates.

Larry Lucas from Pickstown stood to nominate chair Tornberg. Larry Lucas is a good smart Democrat. He served in the Legislature. He’s won elections. He has good connections. He knows how to get things done. And he said Ann Tornberg had gotten things done (like expanding the Founders Club from 160 to 400 ongoing donors) and would continue to get things done.

Kathy Tyler from Big Stone City stood for Hawks. Tyler served in the Legislature. She has taken her lumps for standing for Democrats and Democratic principles. I know and respect her and her family. She wants nothing but the best for the Democratic Party, and she said Paula Hawks would be the best for our party.

Frank Kloucek from Scotland stood for John Kennedy Claussen. Republicans and some Democrats ridicule Kloucek, but in his 22 years in the Legislature, Kloucek won more elections than probably anyone else at the Central Committee meeting and won them in some of the deepest reddest territory in the state. The party needs to work its butt off the way Kloucek did year in, year out, to keep the Democratic voice at the table in Pierre. And Kloucek said Claussen, with his plan and institutional knowledge, was the best man on the ballot to lead that hard work.

Kasey Olivier from Sioux Falls stood for John Cunningham. Olivier is a smart young lawyer from Sioux Falls. At lunch at Al’s Oasis yesterday, she appeared to be working on legal briefs with her law partner (either that or reconfiguring a really complicated NCAA bracket). With her seriousness and savvy, she nearly toppled then-Majority Leader R. Blake Curd in the District 12 Senate race in her first run for public office. Olivier said Harvard-educated Cunningham had the best plan for the party. (Cunningham also had charts!)

Randy Seiler from Fort Pierre stood for Tom Cool.

Hold on a moment: Randy Seiler stood for Tom Cool. Randy Seiler, the hardest-charging second-tier statewide Democratic candidate of the 2018 cycle, the most qualified candidate from any party for Attorney General in recent memory, the man whose loss to a Republican crony cipher was the most dispiriting Democratic defeat of 2018, returned to the floor of a Democratic event, looking as rested and ready to fight as he did on the campaign trail, stood and said the man I consider the mildest-mannered of the six chair candidates was the right choice for party chair.

Just for standing up, Seiler received a spontaneous round of applause, longer and stronger than the applause any chair candidate received. “Losing sucks,” said Seiler in knowing acknowledgement. “I’m a poor loser, but I’m trying to move on.” His admirers (i.e., everyone in the room) laughed. Seiler went on to say that Tom Cool campaigned harder than any other statewide candidate in 2018.

When Randy Seiler says someone campaigned hard, that means something.

More than anything, the Democratic Party needs hard work. Randy Seiler said Tom Cool would work hardest as party chair.

As if Seiler for Cool weren’t enough of a surprise, Nick Nemec from Holabird stood for Allison Renville. Nick Nemec is a fixture of the South Dakota Democratic establishment. The farmer/Marine has served in the Legislature. He’s run for Public Utilities Commission. He’s served as national committeeman. He has done his duty time and time again. In his latest expression of toughness and tenacity, he locked horns with yesterday’s meeting parliamentarian, the formidable Judy Kroll (and thus forged in my mind the certainty that our 2022 Democratic gubernatorial ticket needs to be Nemec and Kroll… and we’ll let them fight for Gov/Lt. Gov order).

Nick Nemec on face embodies the older (sorry, Nick, but we’re all getting older!), white, rural, McGovern-era Democratic Party establishment. And he stood to nominate the youngest, only non-white, Sanders-era Renville who promised more than anyone else to upset the establishment apple cart (at the Aberdeen forum, Renville spoke of turning our party into a non-partisan league, à la North Dakota—but wait a minute) and throw some of the spilled apples really hard at anyone who didn’t welcome her to the show.

I was ready to dismiss Renville as not temperamentally suited to chair the party. But Nick Nemec, who knows and has done more good for the Democratic Party than I have, said Renville would be the best party chair.

The proper takeaway from yesterday’s chair election is not that Kathy Tyler is the political voice of the Gods and that Larry Lucas, Frank Kloucek, Kasey Olivier, Randy Seiler, and Nick Nemec are all devil-minion idiots who should sit down and shut up along with their loser nominees. The proper takeaway is that six people offered their services for the Herculean if not Sisyphean task of helping Democrats win in South Dakota. Each of those six people offered character and ideas that six intelligent and dedicated Democrats could sincerely conclude and publicly state would serve the Democratic Party well.

That’s a lot of good smart people with good smart ideas and hope for our party.

Chair-elect Paula Hawks’s task is now to listen to Tyler, and Lucas, Kloucek, Olivier, Seiler, and Nemec, identify their best points, and fuse them into an inclusive, engaging, and effective strategy for the South Dakota Democratic Party.

(The subtakeaway: the five who finished behind Paula and their endorsers and partisans need to listen to Randy’s words: losing does suck, but even if you’re a piss-poor loser, you move on and continue to look for ways to serve the greater good.)


  1. Travis Wicks 2019-03-24 10:18

    Excellent takeaway from the events of yesterday… I’ve been saying it all along, whoever wins, we need to unite behind, and each one of us dems need to step up and support the party & our candidates.

  2. grudznick 2019-03-24 10:44

    I sure wish somebody would have nominated Mr. Kloucek.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-24 12:41

    Grudz, among the main themes Democrats must remember: if you want something to happen, don’t sit there wishing; make it happen. Join us!

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-24 12:42

    Travis is right: we all have to step up. Good to see you there, Travis!

  5. jerry 2019-03-24 12:59

    Good for Paula Hawks! I read this article from Briahana Joy Gray, the new press secretary for Bernie Sanders and can see how the article fits into South Dakota Democratic policy as well.

    “Having an “identity politics” is incredibly beneficial. Identity politics, which emphasizes the unique concerns of different communities and demographic groups, shows how historical inequities have been distributed across different races, genders, religions, abilities, and sexualities. In doing so, it allows us to better understand how to critique and reform the systems that replicate those inequities. It reveals how the foreclosure crisis disproportionately hurt black home owners, how health issues manifest differently across populations, and how various forms of “hidden taxes” penalize women in professional life. To ignore identity is to ignore injustice. Yet there are risks to viewing the world through the prism of identity. If people are defined by their demographic characteristics, they can be reduced to those characteristics in a way that obscures differences within groups. If “identity” becomes synonymous with “perspective,” dissenting members within the identity group risk having their viewpoints erased and their humanity diminished. And when used cynically, as a political weapon, a simplistic view of identity can allow people of a particular political faction to wrongly imply that they speak for all members of their racial or gender group.”

    I think Paula Hawks can overcome the identity politics that will continually be used against Democratic candidates and especially, Native candidates. The very fact that 50,000 South Dakota voters for Sutton did not support Native candidates, shows she has work to do.

  6. MaryD 2019-03-24 15:10

    We need a like button so I can agree with Grudz

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-24 16:21

    Mary, the last thing you want to do is push Grudz’s button.

    But if it brings Grudz to a Democratic Central Committee meeting to make a speech, I’m all for it. The theme of our party is to bring everyone to the table.

  8. grudznick 2019-03-24 16:53

    grudznick does like being at the table. Do you fellows have breakfast meetings?

  9. Curt 2019-03-24 19:00

    Cory – Will you make a trip to RC so we can have breakfast with the Grudz? I’ll buy your breakfast (Grudz is on his own) and whatever fuel you need to get here. You can pick up Kloucek along the way if you like.

  10. Joe Nelson 2019-03-24 20:18

    The most recent picture of Hawks you have is from January of 2017? No photo from the state central committee meeting?

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-24 20:26

    Joe, sorry about the dated pic. I was fully occupied Tweeting and and collecting signatures. My phone also takes rotten pictures in almost every conference hall in this state. Cedar Shores, Ramkota… all dimly lit.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-24 20:27

    Curt, thanks! My time budget is tighter than my money budget. Perhaps I’ll work in a combination vacation/circulation/breakfastication trip in the summer when we can all get together. Maybe we can get Paula to come with to re-register Grudz as a Democrat.

  13. Debbo 2019-03-24 23:23

    Curt, Grudz/Jeremiah Murphy will back out. He’s all talk and the biggest liar on DFP by far.

    Cory, it sounds as though there was optimism and energy at that meeting. That’s great! Go get ’em, SDDP!

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-25 12:25

    Debbo, I believe there is cause for hope in Saturday’s results, if people maintain the proper frame of mind and commit to taking action themselves, regardless of who’s in charge and who wins or loses little internal elections. Who runs the party is meaningless if the party does not manifest itself in the spirit and action of thousands of grassroots Democrats.

  15. ACB 2019-03-25 13:59

    Even having been a legislator, Mr. Kloucek would have struggled to distinguish himself from the 3 other men that were in the running. Those three effectively split the vote between themselves, and had they been one candidate might have come closer to second place.

  16. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2019-03-25 16:23

    Amanda is right. The election this past weekend involved three women and three men, but silly me saw it as an election involving six good Democrats.

    As far as Mr. Kloucek, well, if you do not know Mr Kloucek, then you do not know South Dakota, and if you do not know South Dakota, then you cannot win statewide.

    I have known Frank for 27 years, we don’t agree on everything, but we do agree that the Democratic Party needs to be a full service party once again, and when it is, then Democrats will win, and then people of all sexes, orientations, faiths, or no faith, and races will win, too, through sustaining Democratic leadership.

    With that said, I wish Paula and Randy the best. Fore, it is time to unite and not divide. And this summer, when I begin my voter registration drive, I would be honored to have ACB’s help and constructive criticism with my efforts.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-25 18:04

    I’ve spoken only to the public speeches and outcomes easily observed at Saturday’s event in Oacoma. Who has a sense of the lobbying that took place behind the scenes? Did Hawks win by a cleverly orchestrated campaign of locking in enough votes from enough counties to ensure at least a second-place finish in the first round? Did the candidates who missed the runoff fall short in campaigning? Or were the campaigners evenly matched on tactics, and did Hawks prevail simply by dint of her message and the general sentiment of the large (though weighted!) majority of the voting members in attendance?

  18. 96Tears 2019-03-26 19:29

    Dude. “Fore”?

  19. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2019-03-26 22:21

    96Tears, I did that for you and Cory. ;-)

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