Daugaard hopes to carry on GOP tradition
Editor's note: This is the second of two profiles on the Republican candidates running in Tuesday's primary election.
If Dennis Daugaard earns re-election as South Dakota's governor in November, he will be continuing a 35-year streak of Republican leadership in South Dakota government.
As he completes his first term as the state's 32nd governor, Daugaard is running a low-key campaign.
"Like most incumbents, I'm running on my record. I hope people see I made promises during the 2010 campaign that we would balance the budget without raising taxes and kept those promises," Daugaard said. "I tried to be open and transparent, we encourage transparency and have had some success there. I hope people believe I've been honest with them. I haven't dodged issues or run from hard choices."
In Tuesday's Republican primary, Daugaard faces a challenge from Sioux Falls lawmaker Lora Hubbel, who argues Daugaard is not conservative enough. She cites his administration's support of the Common Core education standards and what she believes is not a staunch enough opposition to Obamacare.
Daugaard, 60, entered public life when he was elected to the South Dakota Senate in 1996. He served three terms.
"I really had no aspirations for political office when I first got involved," Daugaard said. "I was recruited to run for the Legislature, and that's how I got involved in politics."
He tells a similar story about becoming lieutenant governor to his predecessor, Mike Rounds, in the 2002 election.
"I wasn't intending to run for lieutenant governor. I was surprised when he called after he won his primary," Daugaard said. "It was a nice surprise that he invited me."
Before he could accept, Daugaard said, he had to clear the move with his wife, Linda, and with well-known South Dakota philanthropist T. Denny Sandford. Sanford had committed a huge sum to the South Dakota Children's Home, where Daugaard had recently been promoted from development director to executive director. Sanford gave $17 million to Children's Home between 1998 and 2007.
"I had made a commitment to the Children's Home that I would maintain my leadership there during a time he was making a pledge to us," Daugaard said.
Throughout his term as lieutenant governor, Daugaard answered questions about a future gubernatorial run, and he knew that would be an option for him. But he said he did not decide to run for certain until after a family meeting in 2007 around the dining room table at the Daugaard farmstead.
"We decided together and then started raising money that next month," he said. "I knew that it takes a lot of money. I thought, I don't have $1 million or $2 million. I said, 'If we're going to try this, we're going to have to start raising money now.' "
In 2010, including a competitive Republican primary and the general election, Daugaard spent $2.8 million. For his 2014 re-election bid, he so far has raised $2.3 million.
Daugaard grew up on a farm near Dell Rapids, the son of deaf parents and grandson of Danish immigrants. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1975 with a degree in government and from law school at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1978.
He worked as a lawyer in the Chicago area for three years, then returned to South Dakota where he worked in the banking industry until 1990, when he went to work for the children's home.
He and Linda married in 1981 and they have three grown children -- Laura, Sara and Chris.
On both his campaign website and the state website, Daugaard promotes how he handled the rocky start to his governorship as a strength.
"Throughout his term, Gov. Daugaard has emphasized job creation, sound fiscal management and efficient government operation. Days after taking office, Daugaard proposed and the Legislature passed a state budget that eliminated a $127 million structural deficit, without raising taxes," the websites read.
Daugaard cut that $127 million by cutting state spending by 10 percent, mostly across the board.
Perhaps his signature achievement came in 2013 in an overhaul of the state corrections system. Daugaard worked with the courts system and Legislature to reduce the amount spent on prisons and corrections. The reforms aim to lower the prison population in part through alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders, including expanded drug courts and intensive monitoring of drug and alcohol offenders.
He has pushed for more transparency in state government, presided over the state's response to massive Missouri River flooding in 2011 and been the personal face on the state's economic development efforts, including multiple trade missions to China.
"I've done things that are not popular, but I always thought if people disagree with me at least they will respect that I don't dodge but try to be forthright, and that people will respect that," Daugaard said.