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OPINION: Noem and Sutton next pick the running mates

PIERRE — South Dakota is one of 26 states where voters choose a team for governor and lieutenant governor.

They include five neighbors: Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Nebraska.

Wyoming goes another way. Its secretary of state is next in line of succession. That's true too for Oregon and Arizona. Oregon adds a twist, electing secretary of state in a different year than governor.

Four states have the presiding officer of the Senate as successor. And 17 states elect lieutenant governors separately.

Holding distinct elections was how South Dakota chose governor and lieutenant governor until 1974.

That year Lt. Gov. Bill Dougherty launched what became a Democratic primary against incumbent Gov. Dick Kneip.

Kneip won easily. He became the first (and only) governor three terms in a row.

That backstory was voters in 1972 had changed the term length to four years from two years; voters in 1972 also approved a limit of two consecutive terms for governors.

Since Kneip's win 44 years ago, South Dakota hasn't elected a Democratic governor. Dougherty remains the last non-legislator elected lieutenant governor.

Since then, voters chose six lawmakers as "LG":

Sen. Harvey Wollman of Frankfort (w/ Kneip);

Rep. Lowell Hansen of Sioux Falls (w/ Bill Janklow);

Rep. Walter Dale Miller of New Underwood (w/ George S. Mickelson);

Rep. Carole Hillard of Rapid City (w/ Janklow);

Sen. Dennis Daugaard of Dell Rapids (w/ Mike Rounds); and

Rep. Matt Michels of Yankton (w/ Gov. Daugaard).

Wollman was a Democrat; since then, all Republicans.

With her win Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem of Castlewood became the first woman to earn the Republican nomination for governor.

As many now know, South Dakota has never elected a woman as governor. In 2014 Democratic legislator Susan Wismer of Britton was the first female major-party nominee for governor.

Noem served four years in the state House before beating two Republicans in the 2010 primary and defeating U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the Democratic incumbent.

Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke is Noem's main opponent Nov. 6. His grandfather, also named Billie Sutton, was a six-year state senator from Bonesteel and the 1978 Democratic lieutenant governor candidate.

The elder Sutton ran with Sen. Roger McKellips of Alcester, who outhustled Wollman to win the primary. McKellips-Sutton lost to Janklow-Hansen. McKellips came back as a senator in 1980 and was re-elected six more times.

Treasurer for young Sutton's campaign is Roger's son, Gary McKellips of Alcester.

Noem was born Nov. 30, 1971. Sutton was born March 16, 1984. Both look sharp in Western wear. She loves to ride a horse. So does he, having competed on the pro rodeo circuit; a bronc reared one day in 2007, however, and he now gets around by wheelchair.

As of this writing Wednesday evening, neither had made a choice for No. 2. Those decisions can't wait much longer. The Democrats convene June 16 in Sioux Falls; Republicans meet June 23 in Pierre.

Then it's let 'em buck, straight into November, and for one, the state's biggest office.