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POWERS: Stace Nelson not ‘South Dakota Nice’?

Pat Powers, S.D. War College blog  

A bit of a tempest erupted recently in state Republican politics when, during a candidate forum in Rapid City, U.S. Senate candidate Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, was asked “if he is not successful in the Republican primary, would he support the winner of the primary election in the fall general election?”

His response?

“Will I go out and campaign for them? Will I go out and tell everybody what great people they are? ... H---NO!”

Nelson is certainly welcome to his position and his opinions. And one can understand why a political candidate would not care to show what they perceive as weakness. But the problem is that in this instance, Nelson’s ambition for winning the political office butted up against an even more powerful force in our collective identity.

Nelson’s political ambitions butted up against the irresistible force known as “South Dakota Nice.”

South Dakota Nice is that collective identity of our state that has people stopping to help a stranded motorist or waving at someone as you pass them on the highway, even though you don’t know them. Because odds are that you are either related, or are guaranteed to know someone who knows them.

I don’t have to tell you that “South Dakota Nice” is mainly about a sense of fair play and being decent to one another.

If you’re looking for South Dakota Nice in politics, in 2002 when he was running for governor, Mike Rounds would give rides to and from events to his opponent (and now judge) Mark Barnett, who also resided in Pierre, as in some cases these political dinners were hours away.

Being a pilot, Mike often flew to save time, and invited Barnett to hop in. Rounds was going anyway, and an hour each way in a plane was better than three or four in one direction on the road.

When, against the odds, Rounds won the gubernatorial primary, Barnett was one of the first to show up with his support and a check. And their other opponent, Steve Kirby, did the same.

Yes, there were bumps and bruises along the way, and maybe some wounds took a longer time to heal than others, but they came together. Why? Because in South Dakota, we believe in sportsmanship and being gracious in defeat. We believe in being happy for the other guy, too. We believe in South Dakota Nice.

Nelson’s actions and his words last week seem to be a break in that tradition. Make no mistake, he can say and believe what he wishes.

But in a political sense for many Republicans, it’s allegorical to flinging over the Monopoly board because you landed on Boardwalk with a hotel. It says “If I can’t win, then no one else should.”

It’s up to the Republican voters whether they wish to select ambition, or to choose a path that reminds us of a better way to treat people who want the same job.