Inaugural pall: Democrats showed inexperience in '71An old photograph in a newspaper and the bitterly cold weather across South Dakota the last couple of days reminded me of the inaugural of the late Gov. Dick Kneip one January weekend in 1971. Kneip, a Democrat from Salem with a passel of sons and a passion for tax reform, served in the state Senate before he announced for governor in 1970.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
An old photograph in a newspaper and the bitterly cold weather across South Dakota the last couple of days reminded me of the inaugural of the late Gov. Dick Kneip one January weekend in 1971.
Kneip, a Democrat from Salem with a passel of sons and a passion for tax reform, served in the state Senate before he announced for governor in 1970. Times were less formal back then, and I believe he actually made the official announcement up on fourth floor of the Capitol building behind the Senate chamber one afternoon before or after a floor session.
These days, he’d have had a series of pre-announcement announcements to suggest that he was considering a run, was exploring financing a run, was lining up potential campaign supporters if he decided to run and then actually announced that he was running. Back then, it was little more than a quick aside to the reporters who covered the Legislature.
“Hey, gang, I have something I want to tell you,” he’d have said.
Anyway, it was a simple announcement, but audacious, too, because Democrats didn’t get elected governor of South Dakota often. This guy was going to challenge an incumbent Republican — then-Gov. Frank Farrar — who planned to run for re-election.
Kneip won, though, and in January of 1971, he came to Pierre with his family to move into the governor’s mansion and take the oath of office for what was then a two-year term. I helped cover the event as a reporter for the Associated Press. I don’t recall a lot of his inaugural address, but I remember the vicious cold that weekend. My goodness but it was a test of the condition of a lot of vehicle batteries. I’m not sure if wind chill had been invented by then, but any fool who had grown up on a farm knew that if the thermometer was registering less than zero and you were standing out in the wind, you were going to freeze your face off.
A nicely composed photograph from the day shows Kneip and his wife, Nancy, with their sons. All of the boys are dressed in tuxedoes. It’s just a cute picture that makes you look twice and smile both times.
The picture that brought back my memories, though, simply showed Kneip taking the oath of office. He did that in the Capitol building, and then the party faithful — not nearly as accustomed as Republicans to being involved in inaugurals — adjourned to the mansion for a reception.
At some point in the festivities, one of the new governor’s new staff people decided it would be a great thing to light a fire in the large fireplace that occupied the end wall of the formal reception room in the old mansion. I was at the reception looking for human interest stuff and color bits to flesh out an inaugural story, and I can verify that the fireplace was laid with logs and looked absolutely ready for a match to be applied.
I can also verify that, while the ambience of a crackling log fire might have been one of the motives for lighting the blaze, so, too, was the fact that the formal reception room was a cold place to hang out that afternoon, even when the mansion was crowded with celebrating South Dakotans.
The kindling caught rather handily, and the pile of logs began to burn merrily. A few minutes after ignition, the great room began to fill with thick smoke, and the new governor and his new staffer discovered that the chimney had been plugged or blocked. Folks had tears in their eyes from the smoke, a few people were coughing, and the excitement of the moment was in danger of wearing off before the first family hit the receiving line and the inaugural ball.
There was nothing to be done but open the doors and windows. That cleared the smoke, but with a brisk breeze coming off Capitol Lake and a low, low temperature, it also cleared the room.
It was about that time that I decided I had plenty of material for a decent story, and I left, too.