MERCER: Newspaperman tried to run for Congress but didn'tThe filing deadline came and went last month without Bill Cissell turning in his petitions. It seemed out of character for the retired newspaperman from the northern Black Hills.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
The filing deadline came and went last month without Bill Cissell turning in his petitions. It seemed out of character for the retired newspaperman from the northern Black Hills.
It also left South Dakota’s congresswoman, Kristi Noem, possibly without a challenger in the June 5 primary.
Noem at this point is uncontested for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives. (Stephanie Strong, of Rapid City, is challenging the secretary of state’s ruling that she lacked sufficient valid signatures.) If that holds true, Noem can focus on her work in Congress this spring, while also preparing to face the Democrats’ candidate, either Matt Varilek or Jeff Barth, in November.
Cissell, if he had carried through with his plans, would have been a protest candidate. When this reporter talked to him at the gathering of South Dakota Republicans’ presidential delegates in early March, he said he wasn’t taking donations. He emphasized that he wasn’t running against Noem, either.
“She just happens to be the one there,” he said that Saturday morning.
He said he was using what’s left of a $4,000 disability settlement he received from the federal Veterans Administration to pay for his campaign travels, with his dog, in an older 34-feet camper. He wore a $600 suit that his girlfriend had purchased for him. On his head was a floppy hat with the words, “Vietnam Veteran.”
The suit and the hat weren’t exactly a matched set.
The hat might have been a reason that no one seemed overly interested in stopping to talk with him as he sat alone, with his laptop computer and suitcase, just off to the side of the registration area.
At one point state Sen. Tim Rave, of Baltic, the current chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party Central Committee, cordially spent some minutes with him. Rave answered a few basic questions about the state party organization’s roles, and non-roles, in party primary elections.
As we talked later Cissell explained he was running against a Congress that has, in his opinion, mishandled the nation’s affairs.
“They strut around like a bunch of peacocks displaying their feathers and run for re-election,” he said.
The conversation turned more illuminating. He said that, if elected, he would pursue treason charges against members of Congress who weren’t newly elected.
“What they’re doing to this country is just totally wrong. Totally wrong,” he said. “Others talk it. I’ll walk it.”
Crazy? Depending upon which coffee shops and bars and garages and church basements and service club meetings you might visit, his opinions weren’t out of line with some of what can be heard these days.
He said he would seek to repeal the Patriot Act’s provisions allowing detainment of U.S. citizens and he would work to uncap the Social Security tax that currently is limited to the first $125,000 of income.
He’d also push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandating that the nation’s president have military service. He said the same requirement would be good for Congress, too, as decisions are made about the U.S. armed forces and war.
“You should know what they’re going to face,” he said.
Cissell said he served from July 1970 through June 1975 in the U.S. Army. He said he enlisted and volunteered to go to Vietnam, where he spent eight-plus months as a clerk.
He said he didn’t really know what he was getting into. He hasn’t forgotten what he felt, such as learning to crawl with his rifle beneath live fire. He didn’t seem to regret those five years.
“It’s one of the most valuable experiences I ever had,” he said. He seemed proud that his father was in the service and that two stepsons were too.
Bill Cissell turned 64 on March 13. He lives on 20 acres overlooking Sheridan Lake. His life includes four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The 1966 Sturgis graduate worked 32 years covering government and politics for various newspapers in South Dakota and elsewhere. He said that prepared him to run for Congress.
“You get to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said about the common denominator between newspaper reporting and being in the U.S. House, “and that’s what I want to do again.”
He knew the answer when asked how many valid signatures he needed — 1,955 — on his petitions to qualify for the Republican primary ballot. He said a fellow had volunteered to help him as a campaign manager, but he couldn’t immediately recall the man’s name.
“I will be on the June ballot. I absolutely will be,” he said. “What happens from there is up to the public.”
He explained his plan to get the signatures. “I’ll stop in different towns and find people to sign my petitions.”
But that’s not how things turned out for Bill Cissell. He didn’t deliver or mail petitions to the Secretary of State’s office. And that seemed odd, at least for him. After a week passed, this reporter sent a note asking why he didn’t. He said he was sorry.
“I should have let you know. I simply didn’t even come close to getting enough and that was basically my fault but my brother was diagnosed with brain cancer and died March 19,” he wrote back. There was one more sentence. “I will return in 2014 and do things right this time.”