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WOSTER: Legislature can be a family affair

Terry Woster

It occurred to me the other day that sometimes the South Dakota Legislature is a family affair.

The notion struck as I was visiting the Capitol building for just the second (and final) time of the 2013 legislative session. As a reporter, I'd be there morning to evening each legislative day. My current position only requires a couple of visits. A midweek day late in the session was one of those times.

I've often said that I don't miss much about reporting or the newspaper business. I covered the South Dakota Legislature from the opening gavel of the 1970 session to the closing gavel of the 2009 session. That was probably more than enough for one lifetime.

What I have missed, and what I continue to miss, are the people drawn to the Capitol building for each lawmaking session. From first session to last, I enjoyed the legislators, lobbyists, Legislative Research Council staffers, executive branch employees and officials, interns, pages and messengers, custodians and assorted others who scurried through the halls, filled the wooden seats in the spectators' galleries and whispered in the corners of the building.

One of the first people I met when I arrived in Pierre for the 1970 session was a farm-country senator named Art Jones. He hailed from Britton, up in Marshall County, was a huge supporter of the REA, and he tended to speak common sense in committees and floor sessions. He was serving his last year that year, so I only had that one session to talk with him.

The next year, though, his boy, Curt, showed up to represent the northeast corner of the state, Marshall County, Britton and the Jones family. Curt was as soft-spoken as his dad and about the nicest legislator I ever knew. He was bright, too, with deep insight hidden behind an "aw-shucks'' manner.

I recalled those two fellows during my Capitol visit this year when I bumped into Rep. Susan Wismer. She's a Democrat representing Marshall County and the northeast, and she's the niece of Curt Jones. I'm not saying they keep a legislative seat up there in the family, but they keep it in the family.

Not so long after Rep. Wismer and I talked, another third-generation lawmaker walked past. Rep. Mark Mickelson from Sioux Falls is serving his first year in the House. I was still a pretty young reporter when his dad, former Gov. George Mickelson, came to Pierre for the 1975 session as a freshman legislator.

George S. Mickelson was a freshman who moved quickly. Speaker Joe Barnett from Aberdeen often called on the freshman to preside over portions of the floor session. The next term, Mickelson was speaker pro tempore, and by his third term, he was speaker of the House. His father, former Gov. George T. Mickelson, also served as speaker.

After talking with Rep. Mickelson in the Capitol rotunda for a bit, I scanned the third floor area, visible from a floor below. It took only a couple of seconds to add to the "All in the Family'' theme of my day when I saw Jeremiah M. Murphy, of Rapid City, and Tim Dougherty, of Sioux Falls.

Jeremiah's father, Jeremiah D. Murphy, was already among the most successful of lobbyists when I arrived in the Capitol for the 1970 session. His son is following in that tradition. It wouldn't have been a complete visit to the stately old building if I hadn't climbed the stairs to greet him.

Dougherty's father, former Lt. Gov. Bill Dougherty, came to Pierre in 1971 with the new administration of Dick Kneip. He served two terms, lost a primary to Kneip for the governor's seat in 1974 and came back for years and years as a lobbyist.

The elder Murphy and the elder Dougherty were close during sessions. There's an old-fashioned couch near the third-floor rail between the House and Senate. That's where those two lobbyists spent any time they weren't talking to lawmakers, other lobbyists or citizens. Where the fathers had sat so many years, that's where I found the sons.

My chance encounters with the current representatives of each of those storied statehouse families made me smile the rest of the day.