OPINION: A look at the heart of the Legislature

The last couple of days of any legislative session are quite slow. While waiting for the Appropriations Committee to finish up the general appropriations bill, it's a time consuming process that leaves a majority of the legislators with a fair am...

The last couple of days of any legislative session are quite slow. While waiting for the Appropriations Committee to finish up the general appropriations bill, it's a time consuming process that leaves a majority of the legislators with a fair amount of down time if they are not on the Appropriations Committee or assigned to a conference committee to hammer out the remaining issues with a few pieces of legislation.

While we wait at ease for Speaker Wink to sign a pile of bills, I sit here at my desk in the House chambers and look at the people who I have had the privilege of getting to know over the past two years as a representative, and in some cases, six years as a staffer.

Rep. Mickelson is working the floor, his glasses perched on the end of his nose as he visits with Rep. Peterson. They are probably talking about some ag-zoning related issue. Not far from him stands Rep. May, who is visiting with Reps. Qualm and Campbell-they're probably discussing the education changes we've made this year. They are concerned about how the new plans will affect the smaller school districts, and that's most likely the subject of their conversation.

I have served alongside Rep. Qualm as his vice-chair on the Ag and Natural Resources Committee. He has been a great mentor and friend who has helped me immensely throughout this session, and for that I'm grateful. To my right, although separated by an aisle, sits Rep. Rozum. The constant worker, if she's not responding to emails, she is probably poring over a spreadsheet or some other calculation. It is unusual to have two district mates sit so close together, but it has been helpful to have her knowledge of numbers and the district so readily available for consultation. Rep. Feickert just announced his seatmate, Rep. McCleery's, birthday, and Rep. Tulson led us in singing "Happy Birthday" to him. As I look to my left, Rep. Gibson sits kitty-corner from me, and while we rarely agree on most issues, I find her to be a charming and fun person to visit with, and who has a real passion for the causes she believes in.

We've taken a few votes on small things today, like next year's legislative calendar and reports on conference committees. The voting display board shows the names of all the legislators. They change green when we vote yes and red when we vote no; when a member is excused, their name appears as white.


Rep. Kaiser's name has been displayed as white all session because his young son, Jaxson, is battling cancer and has been doing chemotherapy. He is doing well and has a good prognosis. Rep. Muensterman's name is also displayed in white. He has been here most of the session, but his wife, Mary Jeanne, is also battling cancer and, unfortunately, is not doing as well. She has been here with him and has even been watching us from the gallery. Last week while she was watching the debates with her daughter, she suffered two strokes, and I haven't seen Rep. Muensterman since.

To my far right sits Rep. Dryden. He is a main force on the Appropriations Committee and often throughout session would be in the Capitol before my arrival at 6:45 every morning. What most of us didn't know was that Rep. Dryden has also been taking chemo for cancer every weekend during session for the last two years.

Many of the legislators have other personal and family issues that have to be dealt with alongside the issues of the state. The stresses that accompany this job undoubtedly carry over onto our families, who help us carry the mental and often emotional load. I've been told by several veteran legislators that if you don't lose sleep over this job at some point during session, you're not doing it right.

Regardless of what you may think goes on here in the Capitol during session, I truly have come to believe that every person in the Legislature wants to do their absolute best for South Dakota. We all have differing ideas about the correct way to do that, but at the end of the day, this is a very diverse family who cares about each other regardless of party affiliations and no matter the outcome of the issues. South Dakota is fortunate to have such an incredibly dedicated group of individuals who are willing to give of their time and fortune to serve their state.

It has been an honor to serve as your representative for the past two years, and as I see you throughout the summer, I look forward to visiting with you.

If I can be of any service, contact me at or (605) 770-9708.

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