Lobbyist Murphy leaves legacy of listening

Longtime Sioux Falls lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy died recently, and from some of the comments about him, you'd think the guy was superhuman. Well, he was, in a way. And yet, to describe him in that way diminishes the essential human spirit of the ma...

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Longtime Sioux Falls lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy died recently, and from some of the comments about him, you'd think the guy was superhuman.

Well, he was, in a way. And yet, to describe him in that way diminishes the essential human spirit of the man, and Jeremiah was an essentially human creature of God.

Jeremiah D. Murphy was 80 when he died after a lifetime as a lawyer and lobbyist. When his son Jeremiah M. Murphy began to lobby, the elder began to use his middle initial, as did the younger. That kept the record straight for those listening over the Internet.

Long before the Internet, though, and long before Jeremiah Murphy needed a middle initial to keep the record straight, he was a fixture in the state Capitol during the winter.

He learned about lobbying from his father, a successful lobbyist long before Jeremiah ever walked under the stained-glass dome of the Capitol rotunda. He also learned by trial and error and by watching other lobbyists interact with legislators. He told me once he learned much of what he knew about Pierre, the Capitol and the Legislature simply by talking and listening to the old-timers as they discussed wins and losses in the business of persuading lawmakers to make a decision or refrain from an action. A person can learn a lot by listening, he said.


I laugh to think of Jeremiah listening to the old-timers, since it suggests there was a time when he was young and green. I showed up to cover my first legislative session in 1970, and he already was a recognized force among what was a much smaller lobbying corps than exists today. I came to know Jeremiah through chance meetings in the halls while we killed time as legislators caucused or met in floor sessions. In such meetings, one exchanges a pleasantry about the fierce wind or inquires about the fate of a bill, that sort of thing.

I grew to know Jeremiah better when we talked in the evenings with a couple of senators of good heart and quick mind. Don Bierle, of Yankton, a Republican, and Curt Jones, of Britton, a Democrat, often could be found in the evening sitting in the Senate chamber, talking politics and farming and philosophy and fiscal policy. The two lawmakers took a liking to me and drew me into some of the discussions, even though I knew little about politics, philosophy or fiscal policy. Farming? I could hold my own.

Jeremiah was frequently part of the conservations. He was more than up to the challenge of Bierle's keen wit and Jones's earnest insights. Often in those conversations, I sat quietly and listened, learning a lot. As often happens, when people enjoy the company of the same people, they tend to enjoy each other's company as well. I enjoyed talking with Jeremiah, and he went out of his way to spend a few minutes each legislative day visiting with me. He did that with a host of people in the Capitol, so I shouldn't have felt special -- but I did.

After Jeremiah died, a photograph circulated of him and his son seated on a wooden bench in the area of the Capitol's third floor between the House and Senate chambers. The son is working a handheld phone. The father is using a small laptop computer. I smiled, because when I first came to Pierre, Jeremiah sat in that same spot, for very practical reasons.

Legislators crossing the Capitol from House to Senate passed the bench and could be hailed for a quick word. Besides, in the days before wireless communications, the pay telephone booths on either side of the benches connected lobbyists to their clients, their home offices, their families, the whole world. Where better to set up shop?

A few days before he died, Jeremiah slipped into a seat next to me as I watched my department's budget hearing. It was my first time in the Capitol this session.

Good to see me in the building, he said. Did I miss being around regularly?

Not the place or process so much, I said, but "I sure miss some of the people."


Jeremiah was one I miss.

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