The Venhuizen 2034 Campaign begins!
Tony Venhuizen, who has served various roles in the Executive Branch for almost 20 years and was perhaps the only sign of intelligent life in the Noem Administration, has declared his candidacy for District 13 House.
Venhuizen’s conveniently multipurpose URL, tonyforsd.com*, is refusing my repeated requests for connection this morning, but on his political history blog SoDak Governors, Noem’s former chief of staff mentions the recent history of chiefs of staff seeking public office:
Ron Williamson was Bill Janklow’s chief of staff during his first term beginning in 1979. Williamson later served as adjutant general. In 2002, he considered a candidacy for governor, but instead ran for State House, serving one term from 2003-04. He didn’t seek reelection.
Dave Knudson served on two occasions as Bill Janklow’s chief of staff, in 1995 and in 1999. Knudson was elected to the State Senate in 2002 and served eight years from 2003-10. For the last four years, he was senate majority leader. Knudson ran for governor in 2010 and lost the Republican primary to Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard.
The most politically successful former chief of staff is South Dakota’s current congressman, Dusty Johnson. Johnson had already served in the Rounds administration and as public utilities commissioner when he joined the Daugaard administration as chief of staff, serving from 2011-14. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and is currently seeking his third term.
Another former chief of staff, Ted Muenster, who served Governor Dick Kneip from 1971-4, ran for U.S. Senate in 1990. He was the Democratic nominee and lost to incumbent Larry Pressler [Tony Venhuizen, “A Personal Note,” SoDak Governors, 2022.03.01].
Venhuizen is a committed history nerd and policy wonk. He loves policy, politics, and power, and since his Briggs Scholar days at SDSU, he has made sure he is close to the seat of power in Pierre. He worked as Mike Rounds’s Black Hills campaign field director in 2002; in 2003, Governor Rounds appointed Venhuizen to the student seat on the Board of Regents in 2003, a position he held for a remarkable five years as he completed his undergraduate studies in political science and history at SDSU and then his law degree at USD. Venhuizen married lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard’s daughter Sara in 2004. In 2010, Venhuizen ran his father-in-law’s gubernatorial campaign (the one where he helped keep former chief of staff Knudson from returning to the Second Floor) and then served Governor Daugaard as an advisor and chief of staff. In 2019, Venhuizen signed on with Kristi Noem’s favorite law firm, Matt McCaulley’s Redstone in Sioux Falls. He served as policy advisor and third chief of staff to Governor Noem before she appointed him to his current position as grown-up Regent last April.
Venhuizen is the first House candidate to submit nominating petitions and qualify for the ballot in the newly drawn District 13. The Sparrow map kept Republican incumbents Sue Peterson and Richard Thomason in District 13, and neither Peterson nor Thomason is term-limited. Both have indicated they plan to run again. The entry of such a well-connected opponent could make either of the incumbents reconsider, but then again, they may recognize there’s a difference between running successful campaigns for other candidates and winning an election for oneself. They may also recognize that there’s a difference between winning the favor of a few powerful patrons and winning the confidence of voters at large.
But if Venhuizen can get voters on his side, then we are just twelve years (four in the House, four in the Senate, four as Marty Jackley’s second-term Lieutenant Governor) away from Venhuizen’s surely long-planned bid for Governor of South Dakota.
*Web Update 08:42 CST: Ah, Tony and I both got a little overexcited. On his blog, he linked to www.tonyforsd.gov. His campaign website is www.tonyforsd.com, which displays the campaign photo I want to see on every postcard: