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Woster: SD governors have boasted about world's 'best job' being theirs

Past governors have loved the job in good times and bad

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I wouldn’t be a good governor, and no thinking person would vote for me, but during my newspaper reporting days I sometimes envied the people who held that office.

I didn’t dwell on it. I was happy being a reporter. I wasn’t bad at it, either, and when the annual personnel reviews arrived, I’d put “Capitol reporter’’ in the blank after the question, “What would you like to do as your next assignment?’’ I didn’t aspire to a different job, see?

Every so often, though, I envied how happy each of the governors I covered seemed to be with the office. They said they had the best job in the world, every one of them. Frank Farrar, Dick Kneip, Harvey Wollman, Bill Janklow, George Mickelson, Walt Miller and Mike Rounds. Best job in the world, I heard each of them say at one point or another. I don’t know if they thought that when they ran for election. I just know that once in office they said it.

Gov. George Mickelson said it in exactly those words. “I have the best job in the world,’’ he’d say in that booming voice of his. His eyes would sparkle and his grin would widen when he said, too, and you just knew he meant every word of it. I know from numerous interviews that he always saw the job as a way to help the state of South Dakota and the people he served.

Gov. Dick Kneip used to say the governor’s office was the place where a person could provide some solutions to people’s problems. Anyone who wanted to be governor should care about the people he served and spend every day in office trying to make things better for them, I heard Kneip say more than once.

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Although Kneip was a Democrat and Mickelson a Republican, they were similar in their enthusiasm and energy, the comfortable way they approached groups of citizens and their belief that fortune had blessed them when it gave them the opportunity to be governor.

Gov. Bill Janklow often said he loved the job, too. He ran for and won a third term after sitting out for eight years. I guess that shows there was something about the position that called him. I think maybe his appreciation for the office of governor grew even stronger after he won a seat in Congress. The pace of Congress frustrated him.

The first time I interviewed him after he’d been in Congress for a couple of months, he talked about that frustration. In so many words, he said that as governor, if an emergency arose, he could order up a bulldozer or two with one phone call. As a first-year member of Congress, if a situation arose, the typical response was to call around to find the right person to set up a meeting with the necessary people to talk about a response. Setting aside for the moment a discussion of whether a governor should be jumping over the communications chain in the incident command structure, there’s no way that making some phone calls to see about a meeting could be as rewarding as taking direct action in response to a situation.

I never covered Dennis Daugaard as governor, but I worked as a state employee during his first term before I retired for good. I was around him during floods, blizzards and tornadoes. My observation was that his focus in those times of crisis was on using his office to help the people who needed help.

During the Missouri River flooding of 2011, I’d stand at my bedroom window with a cup of coffee before reporting to the Emergency Operations Center at 7 a.m. Many mornings I’d see Dennis and Linda Daugaard turning out of the mansion driveway across the street as they set out to drive the levees and talk with responders on site before heading to the EOC, where they spent long hours in the early days of the response.

Janklow often quoted Ronald Reagan or whoever said anybody can be governor in good times. The people I covered seemed to think they had the best job in the world in good times and bad.

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