Can you get partied out? The Class of 1986

I was working on the official SD War College T-Shirt tonight, but I screwed up the screen for the front. So, because I had to wash it out and let it dry before I could try again, I did some Blog reading...

I see Don Frankenfeld's name mentioned in the Blogosphere quite a bit. From the recent post by SDBWM, to his extensive writing on Mt. Blogmore, Don's been pretty active lately.

Although, I'm not sure how many GOP Lincoln Day Dinners he's going to be welcome at nowadays. Appearing in a Daschle Commercial as probably the biggest Republican supporting the Tom Daschle during the hottest senate race in the nation is not going to necessarily endear Don to the GOP loyalists. It also got me thinking about Don's first statewide race in 1986, the election where Abdnor beat Janklow by 10,000 votes for victory in the Senate seat primary.

Don, Ron Volesky, and Scott Heidepreim all came out on the downside of the contentious 1986 Congressional Primary with Dale Bell. In the intervening years, the primary winner, Dale Bell has disappeared from the scene of South Dakota politics entirely. Those left behind are active to varying degrees, but what's probably more interesting is the transformation of those "left behind."

Don Frankenfeld, Ron Volesky, and Scott Heidepreim were always looked upon as favored children of the GOP. Don was apt to take on the Governor on issues of principle, so he might have been slightly less favored on the second floor. Although, it's a tradition continued today with more recent Rapid City Legislators. All were destined and even groomed for higher office. And there was Dale Bell standing in the way, having come off a loss to Tom Daschle the previous year.

I'm not going to go into any detail for lack of direct knowledge about the time. But suffice it to say, Dale Bell, as the most conservative candiate won. The more moderate candidates did not. And this marks the start of their transformation.

Ron Volesky literally disappeared off the political scene entirely, for 6 years. When he reappeared in 1992, he was re-energized, extremely vocal, and a dyed in the wool Democrat. No longer one of the favored sons of the GOP, if anything, he was a nemesis to the party that gave him his political start.

Scott Heidepreim returned to the State Senate in 1989 as a GOP appointee to fill the term of Mary McClure. And he moved over to the Senate and ran the next year, but gave it up by 1992. I personally watched debates in the Senate that year where Scott was nearly a lone Republican arguing against resolutions condemning flag burning, and bills restricting abortion. Clearly, Scott's liberalism was moving him away from what had become the mainstream of the GOP.

And at some point around 2002, Scott completed his transformation from Republican to Democrat. It was really odd watching him on one side of Steve Hemmingsen during First Monday on KELO one month, and then having him on the opposite side on the next.

Don Frankenfeld's path has kept him more with the mainstream of the GOP than his compatriots of 1986, having been nominated as the party's choice to take on Tim Johnson in 1990. But clearly, Don's political leanings are more dictated by personal beliefs and friendships than party identification.

I don't have any experience with the opposite party, for obvious reasons. But it leads me to personally wonder - On either side of the aisle - if you've held the party banner for just so long, and taken a few for the team, does party burnout set in? If you've been so strongly associated with a political party, does walking away for a while lead one to believe that a strong party identification and affiliation loses it's personal value?

Clearly, all these men once held some of the strongest party identification. But now 2 are Democrats, and the other appeared in Tom Daschle's commercials.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to take issue with their personal choices or beliefs. But I'm just wondering if there's a burnout factor that sets in with party activists. Admittedly, I just had to walk away for a while myself. And if it is Party burnout, what causes it? Actvism or conflict with those involved?

Similar to the introspection of Jimmy Buffet's pirate looking at 40, are the changes in affiliation and identification driven by regrets and could-have-beens, once candidates reach a certain point in their lives? Have ideological shifts within the party moved it that far away from the belief structure of those who once identified with it? Or are there other factors which take hold?

Take a look around, and take stock. And let me know what you think. I think it makes for an interesting topic in light of the upcoming 20 year reunion of the election class of 1986.


Anonymous said…
I'd bet you can find all sorts of examples like those you site. Things change in peoples lives all the time.
The opportunity to participate in politics, or any other of a variety of volunteer activities changes as your life changes.

I'd bet your own involvement changes as your children age and then leave home.

Though I've been on the "dark side" for some thirty years, I appreciate your thoughts and the thoughtful manner in which you express them. Keep it up.

And welcome to Brookings.

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