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Ending the session; a tradition continued

When I began covering the South Dakota Legislature, each session ended with a short message from the governor. The Legislature would inform the governor they were ready to leave, and the governor would make an appearance in each chamber to tell t...

Terry Woster

When I began covering the South Dakota Legislature, each session ended with a short message from the governor.

The Legislature would inform the governor they were ready to leave, and the governor would make an appearance in each chamber to tell them they'd done a good job - or not, sometimes.

As with most things the Legislature does, a committee is appointed to see if the governor wishes to chat at the end of session. The appointment is among a host of messages read during the final day. Messages are read from the House to the Senate, from the Senate to the House, from the governor's office to the Legislature and so on. I suppose it seems an unnecessary exercise in today's world. Legislators could pass those messages electronically, texting or emailing or posting to a website. Before computers, everything was announced in front of the members in open session and then printed in the House or Senate journal to create a written record that arrived the next day.

Legislative messages about the governor refer to "his Excellency.'' That seems rather monarchical. Didn't we fight King George to get away from that stuff? Even so, South Dakota legislators call the governor Excellency in formal messages.

Look in the legislative journals on the last day of most any session. You'll find a message creating the committee to invite Gov. Excellency to drop by and have an inter-branch of government chat before everybody says "Dude, it's been real'' and books for home. Pretty sure that's true. I was looking through a 1997 House journal the other day, and they did it then. Slow as the Legislature is to embrace change, I'm guessing they still do. The message on the final day of the 1997 legislative session went like this:

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"Your Joint-Select Committee appointed to wait upon his Excellency, the Governor, to inform him that the Legislature has completed its labors and is ready to adjourn sine die and to ascertain if he has any further communications to make to the Legislature, respectfully reports that it has performed the duty assigned to it and has been informed by his Excellency, the Governor, that he will not appear for the closing of the Seventy-second Legislative Session.''

Pretty dramatic, don't you think? I picture then-Gov. Bill Janklow sitting in his second-floor executive office. He hears a tapping at the door. A raven, perhaps? He strides over and throws open the door to find a group of legislators - the joint select committee referred to above. The lawmakers, although wise, kind and of stout heart, seem a bit timid. It's Bill Janklow, after all. After some hemming and hawing and foot-scraping, one of them stammers, "Excellency, we have completed our labors and we're just wondering if you have anything to say to us before we get out of Dodge.''

"Naw, I'm good. All talked out. You have a safe trip home.''

The legislators hurry up the grand staircase to their respective chambers to tell their colleagues, "We performed the duty assigned to us, pretty much told his Excellency not to bother showing up. Let's split.''

Here's an interesting aside from that House journal of 1997:

When the House convened that last morning, a page named Betsy Wick sang the Irish Blessing, "May the road rise to meet you,'' and so on. That doesn't happen every day in the Capitol. My mother would have loved it.

It's been a long while since I've seen a governor/Excellency actually deliver a last-day message. The one I remember best happened when Democrat Dick Kneip was governor. Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature at the time. Don Osheim, a quiet, disciplined lawmaker from Watertown, was speaker. I'm pretty sure it was 1972. A Kneip tax bill had died late in the session. The Democrat governor blamed the Republicans.

In fact, he said something like, "The mangled corpse of tax reform lies at the feet of the Republican Party.'' The message didn't go over all that well. Osheim, for one, was furious and said so before he left town.

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That was one time when legislators probably wished they hadn't named a committee to "wait upon'' the governor. Or at least that the committee had told the governor, "Just tell us good-bye, Excellency. We really need to get on the road.''

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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