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BOB MERCER: Better lives are leading some officials to resign

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By Bob Mercer

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Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE -- When Senate Republican leader Russ Olson officially steps down Sept. 30, he becomes the fourth member of the South Dakota Legislature to resign this year.

Not only is the number somewhat high, but the reasons for three of the departures from elected office are professional advancement.

Olson, 43, of Wentworth, accepted a promotion to chief executive officer for Heartland Consumers Power in Madison effective Oct. 1.

Their moves are part of a larger pattern in the past three years.

Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, age 27, stepped down so he can start law school this fall at the University of South Dakota.

Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, age 50, resigned for a new position with Sanford health system.

The wave started in late 2010. Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard selected Dusty Johnson as chief of staff for his new administration.

Johnson, a Republican, had won re-election to the state Public Utilities Commission in 2010. Rather than start his second six-year term, Johnson went to work for the new Republican governor.

Then in 2011 another PUC member, Democrat Steve Kolbeck, resigned with a year-plus left. He took a top job at Qwest in Sioux Falls.

To replace Johnson on the PUC, Daugaard selected Chris Nelson, the former secretary of state who had been term limited.

For Kolbeck's successor, the governor chose former Rep. Kristie Fiegen, R-Sioux Falls. Both Fiegen and Nelson won election last November.

Also in 2011 Sen. Cooper Garnos, R-Presho, relinquished his seat upon being hired as a school principal.

The governor selected Rep. Kent Juhnke, R-Vivian, for the Senate vacancy and appointed David Scott, R-Geddes, to the House opening. Juhnke and Scott lost in the 2012 elections.

The fourth legislative resignation was solely about family.

Rep. Patty Miller, R-McCook Lake, announced shortly after the 2013 legislative session ended that she would give up her seat.

Miller, 60, needed to give care to her husband, who had been spending winters in Pierre with her.

This year came another vacancy for statewide office. Republican Jarrod Johnson was term limited as school and public lands commissioner and wanted to spend more time at home at Crooks with his family and their agricultural operation.

All of the incumbents in the other constitutional officers are eligible to seek re-election to second terms in 2014. And all are Republicans. That left Johnson in a political box.

The Johnson resignation took effect Aug. 15. To replace him, the governor brought back Vern Larson, a 32-year veteran as state treasurer and state auditor, to serve the year-plus left of Johnson's term. Larson won't seek election.

Currently there are two candidates for the Republican nomination in 2014 for lands commissioner: Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, and deputy commissioner Ryan Brunner.

The governor meanwhile is accepting suggestions for Olson's successor.

Daugaard previously selected David Anderson, R-Hudson, for Miller's seat; Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids, for Hansen's; and former Rep. Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls, for Johnston's.

In 1969 Gov. Farrar faced six resignations by legislators. Gov. Mickelson had four in 1989 -- three for federal jobs. Gov. Janklow had four in 2002 -- one for a federal post and two for Sioux Falls government posts.

Times, and jobs, are changing.

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