Jeff Barth, Minnehaha County Commissioner, announces U.S. House bidSIOUX FALLS — Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth will formally announce his candidacy for the state’s lone U.S. House seat today. He will be in Mitchell on Wednesday. Barth, a Democrat, is the first announced candidate for the party’s nomination for the seat now held by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
SIOUX FALLS — Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth will formally announce his candidacy for the state’s lone U.S. House seat today.
Barth, a Democrat, is the first announced candidate for the party’s nomination for the seat now held by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. He is in his second term on the commission.
“Obviously, I’ve had a long interest in American government and politics in general,” Barth said. “I think after this last, difficult election for Democrats, I’m the tallest blade of grass standing for the Democrats.
“I am the kind of guy who raises his hand and says, ‘Why not me?’ ” he said.
Barth will hold “official announcement events” in Sioux Falls today, Rapid City Wednesday, Brookings Thursday and Vermillion Friday. Milk and cookies will be served at all four events, according to his campaign.
His first announcement is at 2 p.m. today at the Sioux Falls Main Library, 200 N. Dakota Ave.
Barth will also stop in Mitchell. He will be at the Corn Palace Wednesday morning and will speak at a Democratic booth at 10 a.m.
He said he would describe himself as a moderate Democrat.
“You know, those terms are always difficult and I don’t always care for them,” Barth said.
“It’s hard to define a person in a few words, but I’m a fairly moderate Democrat,” he said. “I call myself a death penalty Democrat. I do favor the death penalty. I’m also pro-choice and I own a hand gun.”
Barth said he feels his views are as diverse as many people and he doesn’t agree with extremists in either party. There are a lot of Democrats in government who are also out of touch, in his view.
“The silent majority is not being represented and I am part of that group,” he said.
He said his re-election to the commission in 2010 was a sign of his ability to garner support.
2010 “was a fairly catastrophic year for most Democrats,” Barth said. “No Democrat currently holding office besides Tim Johnson has received more votes than I have.”
He said while he has been successful at the polls, he feels he has also done a good job working for the public.
“As a county commissioner, I have a lot of experience in making government work and making government work better,” Barth said. “Government will never be perfect but we can work to make it a bit better.”
That will separate him from Noem, he said. She can be defeated, he said.
“I think the fact that she’s a tea party person, ran as a tea party person and continues to support those policies” makes her vulnerable, Barth said.
“The tea party is, of course, most concerned with getting rid of President Obama instead of helping the country,” he said. “Those efforts to destabilize President Obama have destabilized the country.”
He expects a primary for the party’s nomination.
“I’m hoping to raise $100,000 to secure the Democratic nomination and I think there will be a race,” Barth said.
If he wins the nod, he plans to raise more than $1 million for the general election. Right now, he’s running a bare-bones campaign, with one paid staffer and said he is still figuring out how to be a statewide candidate.
He said if former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin decides to run, he will consider his future but wasn’t ready to say Monday that he would drop out if she runs.
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Barth said. “I’m running to get the Democratic nomination and oppose Kristi Noem and her extreme positions.”
Noem defeated Herseth Sandlin in 2010, knocking off the Democrat in her bid for a fourth full term.
On Monday, Noem’s spokesman, Josh Shields, said the 2012 campaign was far from her mind.
“Rep. Noem is focused on ensuring flood victims’ voices are heard and getting input for the next farm bill,” Shields said in response to a Daily Republic request for a comment. “There will be a time for politics, but right now, she is busy with the job South Dakotans elected her to do.”
It’s still unclear if anyone will challenge Barth for the Democratic Party nomination for the House seat.
Herseth Sandlin, who has taken a job as a principal lawyer with a Washington, D.C., law and lobbying firm, so far representing two South Dakota companies, has said she’s undecided about another run for Congress. She has told The Daily Republic the odds are slightly less than 50-50 that she will run.
Matt Varilek, a staff member for Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is also considering jumping into the race. A Facebook page encouraging him to run has more than 500 “likes.”
Varilek, 36, who is based in Sioux Falls, serves as an economic development adviser and speechwriter for Johnson. Barth said he expects Varilek to run.
“It’s still true that I’m very interested but haven’t yet reached a conclusion,” Varilek said.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, the son of Sen. Johnson, has been widely seen as a future Democratic candidate in the state, but has declined to discuss potential races.
South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf said Barth should prove to be a strong candidate for the nomination.
“He proved last year in a tough year he can get elected,” Nesselhuf said. “That says a lot.”
But he said he is certain there will be other candidates for the Democratic Party nomination.
“I get a call a week from people interested,” Nesselhuf said. “Frankly, it has become more frequent as Kristi Noem casts votes that put her outside the mainstream.”
Barth has lived in Minnehaha County since 1984.
His father was a diplomat and the family moved a great deal. Barth lived in Iceland, Germany and Belgium, the Republic of South Africa and in the Washington, D.C., area.
Barth attended five grade schools, five high schools and then went to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He has also taken classes at Sioux Falls University, Augustana College and Colorado Tech.
He was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve from 1976 to 1982.
Barth, 59, and his wife, Sherrie, have two married daughters and three grandchildren.
He retired from Qwest (Northwestern Bell, US WEST, Qwest) after 31 years. On his website, Barth noted he worked both as a union-contracted employee and as a manager.
Barth was elected to the Minnehaha County Commission in 2006.
According to his campaign website, Barth led an effort to add six new courtrooms to deal with the Second Judicial District’s growing backlog of cases.
Barth has never voted to give the commission a raise and has donated any increases exceeding the 2006 salary to charity. He has so far donated more than $5,000.
Barth said his commitment to openness in government extends to himself.
After responding to an “urgent” call for a meeting at the fairgrounds, he realized the meeting may have violated the South Dakota open meetings laws.
Barth reported the meeting to the Minnehaha County state’s attorney. The attorney general’s open meetings commission reprimanded all involved, including Barth.
“Open means open” is how Barth headlines a section on the incident on his website.