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'Speaker' deserves a bust: Senate agrees with House

South Dakota's Capitol as pictured in this file photo. (Daily Republic file photo)

PIERRE — The South Dakota Senate came to agreement Monday: The life of George Speaker Mickelson should be remembered at the state Capitol, and it should be forever.

The senators concurred 34-0 with a resolution the House of Representatives sent, praising South Dakota’s only governor to die while in office.

The resolution further calls for a bronze bust resembling Speaker to be placed in the House lobby.

From there, people look out the big arched window across Capitol Lake.

On the far shore stands the new governor’s residence, in the same spot where the old governor’s residence had been for seven decades, the place where Speaker first lived as a boy, and then as a man.

House members unanimously approved the resolution 67-0 Thursday afternoon.

Because it is a legislative resolution, rather than a proposed law, Gov. Dennis Daugaard doesn’t have an official role.

But in a statement, he had good things to say the day after the Senate took final action.

"I admired Gov. Mickelson and I think this is a fitting way to remember him in the State House, where he and other members of his family have served with distinction," Daugaard said Wednesday.

Speaker Mickelson was governor from 1987 until April 19, 1993. That afternoon the state airplane snapped a propeller hub and rapidly lost thousands of feet of altitude. State pilots Ron Becker and David Hansen tried to reach an Iowa airport for an emergency landing.

Instead, the aircraft smashed into a farm silo as it came out of the clouds. All eight men on the plane died, including Mickelson.

The state Department of Transportation main building in Pierre is now named for Becker and Hansen. The Fighting Stallions memorial on the Capitol’s main grounds honors all eight.

In memorializing Mickelson, the resolution notes he had been “a Speaker of the House, son of a Speaker of the House, father of a Speaker of the House, distinguished state representative, and Governor.”

George Speaker Mickelson received his middle name from the state House of Representatives shortly after his birth Jan. 31, 1941, at Mobridge.

His father, George Theodore Mickelson, was speaker of the House for the 1941-1942 term.

His three older sisters all called him ‘Speak,’ to differentiate him from his father, according to Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls. Mark Mickelson now is the third generation of the family to be House speaker.

Now 51, he was a university student when George Speaker died. Mark opened a campaign for governor two years ago but then reconsidered and returned the campaign’s donations.

During the consideration Monday, Senate Republican Leader Blake Curd noted that 2018 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the deadly crash.

“Certainly the Mickelsons have a long history of public service in this state,” Curd said.

The Mickelson bust will complement a similar replica of Peter Norbeck that stands in the Senate lobby.

Norbeck began as a state senator in 1909. He was chosen as lieutenant governor in 1915. He became South Dakota’s first ‘native son’ to be elected governor and began his first term in 1917. He won a second term, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1920.

Norbeck won re-election twice as U.S. senator. He died Dec. 20, 1936, at his home in Redfield, midway in his third term.

Curd looked forward to the Mickelson likeness in the lobby.

“I think it will be a tremendous addition to the Capitol,” he said.

George T. Mickelson, a Republican from Selby, won the 1946 election for governor. He served as South Dakota’s chief executive from 1947 through 1950.

George Speaker Mickelson, a Republican too, opened a law office at Brookings. He served 1975 through 1980 in the state House. He presided as House speaker for the 1979-1980 term.

Speaker won the four-candidate Republican primary for governor in 1986. He faced Democrat Lars Herseth of Houghton, who was in the House from 1975 through 1986 and had won the June 1986 Democratic nomination for governor in a three-way battle.

One of Herseth’s opponents was Dick Kneip, the state’s last elected Democratic governor. Kneip won a third consecutive term in 1974.

Herseth, now 71, was the House Democratic leader from 1979 through 1986, overlapping with Mickelson’s time as House speaker.

His father, Ralph Herseth, a Democrat, was governor for one term in 1959-1960.

Lars Herseth’s daughter, Stephanie Herseth, won a special election in 2004 for South Dakota’s one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

She won three more general elections, married Max Sandlin along the way, and eventually lost in 2010 to Republican challenger Kristi Noem.

Herseth Sandlin now is president of Augustana University in Sioux Falls.

Terms for governors were two years until South Dakota voters approved changes to the state constitution in 1972.

Among those amendments were longer terms of four years for South Dakota constitutional officers, including governor, that took effect in 1975.

That change allowed Kneip, through a favorable ruling from the South Dakota Supreme Court, to seek a third straight term in 1974 and win.

Kneip had previously been a state senator from 1965 through 1970. Ralph Herseth also had been elected as a state senator for the 1951-52 and 1955-56 terms.

Less than three months into Speaker Mickelson’s first term as governor, Kneip died March 9, 1987, from cancer. He was 54.

The 1986 general election had marked the first — and so far only — time in South Dakota history that two sons of previous governors squared off.

Speaker Mickelson won the very competitive race. Lars Herseth returned as a legislator, winning a Senate seat in 1988. He served as a senator through 1996.

That period included the 1993-94 term when Democrats took control of the Senate again. Herseth was president pro tem, the chamber’s top senator, when the state plane went down.

Herseth returned for the 1995-96 term as Senate Democratic leader. This time, he was back in the minority. After that, he didn’t seek another term and chose to retire after 20 years in the Legislature.

The resolution for Speaker Mickelson recognizes that, as governor, he “reinvented the state's economic development and tourism promotion efforts, declared a year of reconciliation among people of all races, and led the celebration of the state's centennial.”

The unveiling of his bust later this year promises to be a significant day.

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