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Nelson touts record, public service in bid for US Senate

State Rep. Stace Nelson, of Fulton, discusses his decision to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat Wednesday at The Daily Republic's office. (Luke Hagen/Republic)

FULTON -- State Rep. Stace Nelson describes himself as a public servant, not a politician.

"Folks want honest public servants working for them," he said in an interview Wednesday with The Daily Republic. "They don't want politicians."

Nelson, of Fulton, announced Tuesday that he plans to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who is not seeking re-election.

Nelson said he felt a duty to run for the position after receiving an "avalanche of requests" from people who urged him to get into the race.

"I'm not running to be the Republican nominee. I'm not running to be the Republican legislator," he said. "I'm running to serve my fellow South Dakotans."

Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, state legislator Larry Rhoden, of Union Center, and Sioux Falls physician Annette Bosworth, a Plankinton native, have also announced their candidacies for the Senate seat on the Republican side.

Rick Weiland, a former aide to Tom Daschle, is the only announced Democratic candidate for the Senate seat.

Nelson, 46, was in the U.S. Marines from 1985 to 1999 and was a special agent in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service from 1999 to 2008. The expertise acquired in those fields, Nelson said, would be valuable in reducing the size of the federal government.

"I know that there are areas we can cut without harming our national defense," he said. "I think it's imperative we look at all options in trying to cut our national government."

Nelson was first elected to the state House in 2010, and was re-elected last November as a representative for District 19, which includes Bon Homme, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson and McCook counties. While Nelson's experience running for public office is limited to his two successful campaigns to be a state legislator, it means he has never actually lost an election.

"When I ran in 2010, I really didn't concentrate on winning or losing," he said. "I was just concerned with the state of affairs in South Dakota."

Nelson's outspokenness and large physical stature attracted lots of media attention during his time in the state legislature. In 2011, Nelson and several other lawmakers accused Republican leaders of asking legislative staff to reveal confidential information about research and bill drafting done for other lawmakers, but an investigation found those charges were unfounded. Nelson and House Republican Leader David Lust, of Rapid City, accused each other of being liars during a committee hearing last year.

Nelson said he has consistently opposed new taxes, spending increases and government expansion during his three years as a state legislator. Rounds and Rhoden, Nelson said, increased the size of state government when Rounds was governor and Rhoden was state legislator.

"I have an actual conservative voting record," Nelson said. "I don't have to recreate that."

Nelson was openly critical of Rounds' goal to raise $9 million for his campaign.

"You don't need that much money for folks to know who you are," he said. "You need that much money to cover up who you are, or what your record was."

Campaigning, Nelson said, is the best part of running or holding public office.

"For 23 years, I dreamt of nothing but coming home," he said, referring to his careers with the Marines and NCIS. "Getting out there and seeing the people that I put my life on the line for all those years makes that worthwhile."

On Sunday, Nelson plans to hold an event from noon to 2 p.m. at Hanson High School in Alexandria, located about 15 miles east of Mitchell, to formally kick-off his campaign. Nelson said he chose Alexandria, a town of 625 people, to make his formal announcement for sentimental reasons, rather than political reasons.

"Alexandria is the center of my life at this point," he said. "It is where my kids go to school and it's my community."

Nelson also plans to hold another event from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Mountain time Sunday in Rapid City.

The primary election to choose a Republican candidate -- and also a primary on the Democratic side, if other candidates emerge -- will be in June. The general election will be in November 2014.