SDWC's top 10 political personalities of 2005

Damn, this was a tough list to come up with. I’m not just talking a little tough. I’m talking major league, going back and forth, and questioning if I should bring in outside experts.

How does one decide who the top ten political personalities are for a given year? What is the quality that makes someone the “it person for a moment?” Is it doing your job? Is it not doing your job? Is it garnering media attention? Is it flying under the radar? Is it that intangible quality that the French would refer to as “Je ne sais quoi” which literally translated means “I don’t know what.”

It’s all of that. And in the end, it’s the value judgement of the author where he or she ends up conveying what’s important to them through their selections.

To have it be meaningful, it also involves setting personal preferences aside. There are those who are on the list who do things I don’t care for, but they are on the list because in their own way they stood out more than others. Heck, I might be helping to campaign against one or two this next year, but let credit be given where credit is due.

For me, the choices are reflected in many ways. It’s those who went above and beyond the normal call of duty. It’s those who the media was fascinated with. It’s those who changed the way policy is conducted. It’s those who stood up and fought the tide because they thought it was the right thing to do.

And on this list, you’ll find people who are at the polar opposite ends of the same issue. But that makes them no less noteworthy. In fact, after compiling the list, aside from a few standard officeholders, I’d call 2005 the year of the rebel

So, without further ado, here are the South Dakota War College’s top ten South Dakota political personalities of 2005.

10. State Senator and Mainstream Coalition Executive Director Ed Olson
He’s not here for his leadership on the State Senate Education Committee. Its for that other thing he’s involved with.

As one of the principles involved with the formation of the upstart Mainstream coalition, he’s been there since the beginning, and helped to see this through from an organization of disgruntled State Senators into a fledgeling statewide political movement that’s continuing to garner attention as they move into the 2006 election cycle.

I might give them a poke a time or two, but they're still going strong. They very well might come out and surprise us all.

9. Kate Looby, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood.

One Word: Abortion. But there’s a little more to it than just that. Anyone can be pro-life or pro-choice, but Kate has taken a militant lead on the pro-choice side of things. It’s an unusual week when her name isn’t in the newspaper.

Listening to the meeting minutes, there’s no doubt she was the undisputed leader of the pro-choice faction on the Task Force to study abortion. Whether her dissention was within decorum or an aside from the presenter she contested every point until the point where she led the walkout.

At least from listening to the meetings, she gave the cues, and organized the strategy. She's probably never going to be able to be elected to anyting in conservative South Dakota after this job, but to the chagrin of the pro-life movement, she doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon.

8. State Senator Jerry Apa

You probably know Jerry as the man holding the pocketbook strings on the State Senate side of the Appropriations committee.

When anything comes up on government spending issues, an Apa quote seems to be a media standard requirement, whether he agrees with it or not. And his willingness to stand against the tide and disagree is what makes him sought after by the media for his input.

And he's the first in a triumverate of legislators who view it as their sacred duty to hold the line on the budget.

7. State Senator Brock Greenfield, Executive Director South Dakota Right to Life

The point to Kate Looby’s counterpoint, In addition to being a Senator of several years from Clark, Brock was one of the pro-life leaders on the State Task Force to Study Abortion.

In the years since former RTL Director Rachel Hansen had taken over, RTL has been showing more drive in their battle to limit abortion. This year, with Brock moving from RTL Board member to serving as their Executive Director, the gloves have apparently come off.

And to top it off, He’s also notable and notorious as the second of a troika of legislators who aren’t afraid to at least attempt to say no. Aside from the killing fields of Senate Appropriations, this past year Brock pointed out how ridiculous it was for legislators to have to even consider a vote on changing the State Dinosaur when the public demanded attention to other pressing matters.

I've said it before that Brock can be a devastating campaigner - fresh out of college he took the Seat from House member Doug Kazmerzak who was hoping to move up a chamber. The next year, he was redistricted with popular Senator Charlie Flowers - and denied him the seat as well.

Only foolish critics write him off easily.

6. State Senator and President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck

Often, when you read in the newspaper about someone who takes a leadership role on legislation, Lee’s name is the one that comes up. He’s notable and quotable, and some see him in a much bigger role in the near future.

Lee’s a conservative, and has a mind for cutting costs, but is considered as a bit more reasonable and amenable than the cost cutting appropriations committee. In fact, that affable friendly manner masks one of the single toughest campaign competitors you will ever find. A man who still holds a nearly ten year old record for raising money for a State Senate race. (Raising, not spending).

2005 saw him serving a new office as President Pro Temp in the Senate. But literally at the height of his power, he just announced he’s going to walk away. Just like Seinfeld on NBC, he's leaving on top.

Which leaves the rest of us to watch for him in 2010 – he just may be the 800lb gorilla in the Gubernatorial race.

5. Governor Mike Rounds

Governor Rounds is not on the list simply by virtue of being Governor. (But it doesn't hurt.) A continuing series of initiatives is what earned him the honor besides simply holding the office.

The continued success of his 2010 initiative, Homestake transferring into the hands of the state on the way to possibly becoming the Dusel site, work on saving Ellsworth, and recently hitting the high mark of being the most popular Governor in the nation has also contributed. Most recently, he's been held out as having a new "take charge" attitude in the wake of winter storms.

Randall beck at the Argus might not like him, but the Argus hating you is a rite of passage and a typical credential for a Republican candidate.

And attesting to that popularity, less than a year out, there's still not a candidate out there that the opposition is uniting behind.

4. Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth

Two Words: Media Darling. I had foolishly left her off of the original list, and then saw the Brookings Register from a few days ago. Hometown or not, who else gets a full page newspaper interview at the drop of a hat. The Governor? Not often. Senator Thune? Maybe on a good day. But Herseth? She gets it whenever she wants – and not just in Brookings.

Whenever she has time for an interview, count on it being a major story in whatever town she visits. I’ve seen it time and again all darn year. If she has time to sit with the reporter, she can just start docking the earned media from what she was planning to have to spend in 2006. She’s clearly South Dakota’s inheritor to the term “Political Rock Star.”

Women – especially young women – want to be her. Men’s reactions range from respect for her intelligence and sharp political sense to just wanting to be near her because she’s a little hottie. (She made the Hill’s 50 most beautiful people list in 2004).

And Republicans are struggling for a significant candidate against her, as much as the Democrats are struggling in the gubernatorial race. Nobody wants to take her on.

And that’s high praise in and of itself.

3. U.S. Senator John Thune

The man. John Thune is the man.

After a loss to South Dakota’s Junior Senator, he came back and made the decision to take on a tougher battle. And he beat the Senate Minority Leader. He’s largely credited with saving Ellsworth, because if it hadn’t been saved, he would have gotten the lion's share of the blame.

Sure, he’s taken his lumps from those he defeated. It’s expected. And its not going to let up. But 2005 was without a doubt, his year.

Among the power elite in Washington, after beating Daschle, for a short time he was the BMOC - a status he gave up when he fought the administration on Ellsworth. Almost overnight, he went from favored son, to fallen idol. But now, just a few short months later, they’re looking at him to take over the Senatorial Campaign Committee. From favored son, to wayward son… and now back to favored son again.

Others can look on in envy, but John is the man. And there’s no doubt about that.

2. State Senator Stan Adelstein

We’re getting up here on the list, and you might think – this is an interesting choice. He's not legislative leadership, and in 2005, several of his bills involved liberal social legislation or designating the state dinosaur. And most of them were promptly killed.

But make no mistake – at #2, Stan Adelstein seriously influences public policy in South Dakota.

Stan is kind of the Charlie Brown of Republican politics. In 2004 Stan spent thousands to help his candidates win in primaries. And on election day, the football was yanked away, and he took it in the shorts in those elections, which probably made him a bit of a pariah in the GOP Senate caucus this year.

But Stan influences policy. Pure and simple. Since 2001 he’s put over $175,000 into PAC's funding political races other than his own. Stan does it the old fashioned way - he donates to candidates he supports. And some people don't like it.

In a sea of conservatives, Stan survives as a pro-choice liberal legislator successfully swimming against the tide by use of philanthropy and supporting those who support him. And in 2005, he set his sights on moderation. That is, Mainsteam moderation…

The Mainstream Coalition would not have come into existence without his financial backing. Stan is the man who made it possible for it to happen and was a driving force behind the movement. Many people, however, aren't aware that his generosity doesn’t end there when it comes to influencing critical issues and/or campaigns.

Stan also knows how to win over those he might have opposed. After spending over $5000 to try to beat him less than a year before, he helped State Senator Jim Lintz form a board to promote the Black Hills, area American Indian Reservations, and Badlands National Park as ideal film locations.

Adelstein provided $10,000 in seed money. And the bottom line is that it's a shrewd way to win over someone who might have been an opponent. In addition to that, Stan has also provided immeasurable support for local Rapid City charities, the arts, and other worthy statewide causes.

Stan was also the sole pro-choice legislator on the Task Force to Study Abortion, and joined the crew who walked out in protest of the report that was eventually approved.

Love him or loathe him, you have to admit he’s consistently reported and quoted on in South Dakota media. Leaving no doubt that Senator Adelstein knows how to influence politics in South Dakota

1. State Senator Bill Napoli

Appearing in the media more often than Kate Looby, and espousing the conservative mantra, Bill Napoli has earned out #1 spot of our first annual list of political personalities.

He’s the third member of the budget cutting trinity of Apa – Greenfield – Napoli. He’s unabashed, unashamed, and unleashes scorn on those he thinks wastes the public’s money. And he’s unapologetic for it as well.

Who else criticized the “Save Ellsworth” effort for not being spendthrift enough? State Fair needing an appropriation year after year? He’s done with them. Mainstream Coalition? There’s the door for those who can’t follow the platform of the party.

Property taxes? Well, Napoli didn’t see a solution coming out of Pierre, so he created his own. And against all odds, despite many naysayers, it’s on the ballot and starting to gain supporters.

He’s number one because of a couple reasons. He’s not a member of leadership, but when he speaks, it’s written. When he legislates, it’s debated. In the latest incident when he criticizes the state fair, it’s been editorialized for and against on a statewide basis.

He’s already been put on notice that he’s going to face a primary election this next year, but has that muted his approach? No way. If anything, it’s going to make him fight twice as hard.

Bill is one of those unique politicians anymore who doesn’t stick his finger in the air to check which way the wind is blowing. He’s not pretty, blow-dried, and smooth talking. “No compromises” would be the words of the day. On one of the few occasions I’ve spoken with him personally, he freely admitted that sometimes he gets into trouble for what he says.

With an admission like this, we might be tempted to ask ourselves “God help us, an honest politician?” And I’d answer, “well unequivocably, yes.”

Looking at it historically, Bill might not be the kind of person you’d send to negotiate a delicate trade agreement with the Chinese as Nixon did. But if you were set on taking San Juan Hill, and needed someone to blaze a path, Bill is the kind of person you’d send. Unafraid, straight talking, and if needed, carrying a big stick.

In a former time, he’s the type of person we made into a president.
Well, that's it. My list of the top ten political personalities of the year. I might come back with those who were honorable mentions because I had a number of them. Some would shift back and forth from this list to that one before I finally ended up wrting the darn thing.

But regardless, there it is - if you agree, disagree or just feel inclined- leave a comment.

And that's the way it is until next year.


Anonymous said…
Maybe she is just good at what we want her to do. Do not let your views miss a great leader. Hope your family is doing well, stop in sometime.
Anonymous said…
Just to make sure I am clear, I am speaking of Congresswoman Herseth. Some on your site have not given her the respect she has earned.
Anonymous said…
Where's Sen. Frank Kloucek?

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