Mitchell native has passion for politics

Current affairs always fascinated Kim Olson. The 1996 Mitchell High School graduate, then known as Kim Juffer, began following elections in elementary school and loved Ronald Reagan's speeches. A critical issues class taught by Mel Olson, and par...


Current affairs always fascinated Kim Olson.

The 1996 Mitchell High School graduate, then known as Kim Juffer, began following elections in elementary school and loved Ronald Reagan's speeches.

A critical issues class taught by Mel Olson, and participation in debate and extemporaneous speaking further deepened her passion for politics. And they were particularly relevant to her decision to enter the political field later in life.

"I'd have conversations with classmates I'd known since I was 5 and find they had different opinions than me," she said. "They think so differently than you. That sticks out as an influential class for me."

Olson's career took another step recently when she joined the staff of U.S. Senator-elect Mike Rounds. After serving 10 years in state government, Olson is now the Central South Dakota director in the Pierre office.


Government's role in society, her interest in people and what balance there should be between people and the government are what pushed her into politically based positions.

After graduating in 2000 from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., with a political science degree, Olson found she enjoyed the policy side of politics -- which includes protecting the interests of individuals, health care, immigration, and Game, Fish and Parks, among other things.

For two years, she worked at a Chicago firm called Aon Services Corporation. She was a real estate analyst for tenant representation and negotiation, among other duties.

"I think it's important if you're going to be involved in government, then you need to understand private companies," she said.

Just one year after the Sept. 11 attacks, Olson used her connections in Chicago to make connections in Washington, D.C., and landed a job on Capitol Hill. She waitressed for a while as she interviewed with prospects in the area.

In 2003, she spent six months overseeing federal elections and the day-to-day operations of the U.S. House of Representatives for the Committee on House Administration. She also oversaw management of the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Capitol Police. She was also a staff assistant, which included giving tours of the Capitol building.

"This made me realize I like interacting with people more than only doing government and legislative work," she said. "Then I had the opportunity to go back to South Dakota and work in Gov. (Mike) Rounds' office. It was a better fit for me."

She began serving in the governor's office in 2003 and served in several capacities, including constituent services manager and a policy adviser.


"When Gov. (Dennis) Daugaard came into office, I worked for him, too," she said.

It was during her time working for Rounds that Olson met her husband, Ryan, who was a state legislator from 2002 to 2010. The two now have four children and live near Onida, where Ryan is a farmer.

"We are very similar in the political sector, but at times we disagree," she said.

In May, Olson took a personal break to get her house in order and work on finding a new job.

"I'd been in state government for 10 years," she said. "I've done work that's important, but it was time for me to try something else. With Rounds moving to the Senate, I thought I'd try something in the same field of government, but slightly different."

Olson is excited about her role in Rounds' Pierre location as central director for the state.

She will be in Pierre to serve the citizens of South Dakota, she said. Her specialty in Pierre will be the state Capitol with interaction heavily focused on state government issues, the department of labor and federal funding. She will also help Rounds better understand what can be improved in the state.

"I will deal with a lot of associations that represent constituency issues," she said. "I will make sure Senate-elect Rounds is informed on all their issues and what their needs are."


What excites her most about her new position is she is able to continue working with the public.

"I'm a people person," she said. "I enjoy the people I work with and the bosses I've worked for, but all the people, co-workers, the citizens I've helped serve, have made me proud to be from a state that has such great people and personalities."

She said the people have helped her better understand how government serves the people.

Olson still credits her early days of public speaking and debate at Mitchell High School for fostering her interest in politics. She said the extensive research and high expectations of classes and extracurricular activities inspired her.

Mel Olson wasn't only Kim Olson's teacher in high school. He also served in the legislature while she was in state government. Mel Olson said Kim has curiosity, intelligence and a will to succeed.

"Kim was endlessly researching the various debate topics and extemporaneous speaking subjects she had to converse on," Mel Olson wrote in an email to The Daily Republic.

He said Kim Olson was engaged and a prepared student, able to debate him on any subject, which he highly encouraged.

"It gives them practice in disagreeing with authority and the proper way to do it in real life," Mel Olson wrote. "It engages them in the material and makes them think."


He particularly recalls Kim Olson, a conservative Christian, often arguing over current affairs with a fellow student who was a practicing Wiccan, a modern pagan religion.

"Often I would start a topic and those two especially would be off to the races," he wrote. "One time I thought they were going to come to blows, but the bell intervened and the period was over."

Kim Olson recalls those discussions as being insightful.

"I still remember the discussions from Mel's class," she said. "It was so interesting and so pivotal."

Her work in state government launched her understanding of how the people and government are intertwined. Having network connections with constituents in different fields will not only help her better understand issues at hand, but help her keep Rounds grounded in knowing the people of South Dakota while he is in Washington.

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