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Rhoden touts long record of public service

Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of a series of five profiles on the candidates running in the June 3 primary for South Dakota's Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

For Meade County rancher Larry Rhoden, his bid to become South Dakota's next U.S. Senator is a logical next step in his decades of community and public service.

"My entire adult life, I've served on committees and boards. It's just escalated from one thing to another," said Rhoden, who is one of five Republicans seeking his party's nomination in the June 3 primary.

Rhoden's elected offices have included the Meade school board and the South Dakota Legislature, and his other community posts have included volunteer fireman, coach, referee and church trustee.

During his 14 years in the Legislature, the 55-year-old was House majority leader for four years and Senate majority whip for the past two years.

Rhoden married his wife, Sandy in 1981. They have four sons - Jesse, Cody, Reggie and Tristen. He grew up near Sturgis and, after graduating high school in 1977, attended the ranch management program at Northwestern Vocation School, then located in Sturgis.

He enlisted in the South Dakota National Guard and graduated with honors from the Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) Academy.

For 32 years, the Rhodens have ranched near Union Center in Meade County, and he does custom welding.

His runs for the school board in the 1990s and for the Legislature in 2000 were last-minute decisions, he said, but he spent the better part of a year mulling a bid for the U.S. Senate after a group of people asked him to run.

"My wife asked me if I would be satisfied for the next six or 12 years having somebody else representing us knowing I didn't take the opportunity to get into the race," Rhoden said.

He declined to name those who recruited him, simply describing them as "a group of businessmen and friends from across the state who collectively came and met with us."

Rhoden said former House majority leader Bill Peterson, of Sioux Falls, and his wife, Sue, were among those early supporters. Sue Peterson is his campaign treasurer. He also said his campaign consultant Aaron Trost contacted him seeking to work for his campaign, and political director Aaron Pilcher had offered his services about a year before Rhoden entered the race.

"Our entire team has been a godsend," Rhoden said, saying the quality of his campaign staff might be his best accomplishment. "From our political director to our general consultant, our media consultant, our volunteers, our treasurer."

He said having such a team come together confirmed his decision to run a daunting statewide race.

In the Legislature, Rhoden has championed socially conservative causes. He championed the abortion bans passed in 2006 and 2008 that were overturned by voters.

In the 2014 session, he sponsored bills to outlaw gender selective abortions and to require the Pledge of Allegiance be recited each day in public schools plus a resolution calling for a national constitutional convention to require a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Rhoden vows to continue work on those same issues in the U.S. Senate.

"There are four qualities our next senator should posses -- integrity, conservative values, a backbone and leadership skills," Rhoden said. "I've been in a position over 14 years in the Legislature to develop those qualities and hone those skills. I think I'm the most qualified to represent the values of South Dakota and to really work toward fundamental reform in Washington."

Rhoden is running in the primary against former Gov. Mike Rounds, state Rep. Stace Nelson, lawyer Jason Ravnsborg and physician Annette Bosworth.

Voters will select one of the five Republican candidates running in the June 3 primary to move on to the general election, held in November. Other candidates to file for the race are former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler, an independent, and Democrat Rick Weiland.