Gov. Mike Rounds (R)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd term.
Born: Oct. 24, 1954, Huron .
Education: SD St. U., B.S. 1977.
Family: Married (Jean); 4 children.
Elected office: SD Senate, 1990-2000; Maj. ldr. 1994-2000.
Professional Career: Businessman, 1979-2002.
Mike Rounds, a Republican, was elected governor of South Dakota in 2002. He grew up the eldest of 11 children in Pierre, the state’s tiny capital. His father was director of the Office of Highway Safety and worked as a lobbyist for the petroleum industry. Rounds graduated from South Dakota State University, the first governor to do so. He worked as a partner in an insurance and real estate agency in Pierre. In 1990, he was elected to the state Senate, and in 1995 he became Senate majority leader. He was prevented by term limits from running for re-election in 2000. In December 2001, he announced he was running for governor. Rounds sought to replace the governor who had dominated state government for the past quarter-century, Republican Bill Janklow. A former state attorney general and governor from 1979 to 1982, Janklow ran for the U.S. Senate and lost in 1986. In 1994, he ran to get his old job as governor back, and defeated Gov. Walter Dale Miller in the Republican primary. He won the general election 55%-41% and four years later was re-elected 64%-33%.
|Mike Rounds (R)||206,990||(62%)|
|Jack Billion (D)||121,226||(36%)|
|Mike Rounds (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (57%)
In the Republican primary, Rounds faced two much more well-financed opponents, former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby and Attorney General Mark Barnett. Rounds ran on property tax relief and opposition to an income tax and abortion rights. “No gimmicks, no grandstanding, just good government,” was his slogan. He took some positions in opposition to popular viewpoints, and was credited with being straight with people. Rounds told a truckers’ group that he might favor a higher gas tax if it would bring in significant federal money, and he was the only candidate in either party to oppose mandated use of ethanol fuel, despite the state’s many ethanol plants and corn growers. He told the South Dakota Education Association that there were “very limited funds” for education spending increases. And he refused to pledge to oppose all tax increases.
Kirby and Barnett bitterly attacked each other on economic development and spent a lot of money on their campaigns. Kirby spent over $2.5 million and Barnett $1.75 million. Rounds spent just $147,000. But he had a strategy. “For the time being, I haven’t minded being considered by the other two candidates as this fly buzzing away over in the corner,” he said, and aimed his advertising “right between Kirby and Barnett.” In a small state where voters expect to see candidates in person, candidate forums held in small towns can make a difference. While Kirby and Barnett attacked each other, Rounds always seemed to be smiling. In the June primary, Rounds won 44% of the vote, to 30% for Barnett and 26% for Kirby. It was a classic illustration of the rule in politics that it is not wise to launch a negative campaign in a multi-candidate race.
The Democratic nominee was Jim Abbott, a businessman who served in the Legislature, lost races for lieutenant governor in 1994 and the House in 1996 and was on leave as president of the University of South Dakota. This was a gentlemanly race between old friends. After the primary, Abbott said, “Mike Rounds is just a good guy. I really think the people of South Dakota like the idea of a positive message for the future.” Abbott called for state-sponsored research for economic development and for higher education to partner with the private sector to create jobs. While negative ads were hitting the air in the hard-fought Senate race between Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson and Republican challenger John Thune, the dialogue in the governor’s race was positive. Rounds led in polls from the primary on, and in November won 57%-42%.
After the election, Rounds went to work on the state budget problems. In December, Janklow had presented figures showing spending requests $54 million higher than projected revenue, with $90 million in the state reserve. In 2003, Rounds angered conservatives by proposing tax increases on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages and making more interstate phone calls subject to the sales tax. Though the Legislature failed to pass his proposed tax on alcohol, it ended up passing 19 of the 22 bills he proposed. He successfully cut the cost of prescription drugs for senior citizens and managed to increase state aid to school districts by $15 million. He also got a 2% pay raise for state workers, though it was 1% less than he sought. But the big news story that year was Janklow, who had by then become the state’s at-large representative in the U.S. House. In August, Janklow, well-known for his aggressive driving, blew through a stop sign in his car and killed a motorcyclist. In December, a jury in his hometown of Flandreau convicted him of felony manslaughter. He announced his resignation from Congress the same day.
Janklow wasn’t the only national story in 2004. A restrictive abortion bill, which passed both the House and Senate, would have banned almost all abortions in the state; the only exception was to save the life of the mother. The bill’s sponsor acknowledged that the measure would be challenged in court but had hoped for it to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where it might be used to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing most abortions. Abortion rights advocates, as expected, harshly criticized the bill. But many abortion opponents also opposed it, convinced that it could not survive legal scrutiny and might have the unintended effect of spurring a decision that strengthened abortion rights. Rounds said he supported overturning Roe but he issued a “form veto,” which suggests changes and clarification of some of the bill’s provisions. The Senate rejected the revisions and the bill died.
In 2006, strong economic growth enabled Rounds to propose a $3.2 million budget with a $130 million increase in spending. He outlined an ambitious education initiative aimed at making South Dakota first in the nation in the percentage of students who go on to college, technical school or advanced training. But for a governor with high approval ratings and a Legislature controlled by his own party, Rounds ran into considerable resistance on some high-profile initiatives. Several of his 2010 education proposals foundered, including a requirement for mandatory kindergarten and an increase in the age of mandatory school attendance from 16 to 18. He called for raising the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6, the first raise since 1997, but it died in committee. He took a tough stance and vetoed a bill that eased the penalty on high school students caught using drugs—under an existing law, students were suspended for a year from high school activities—but the House and Senate voted to override.
Abortion again dominated the headlines. In February 2006, the Legislature revisited the issue, passing a law criminalizing abortion and providing no exceptions for rape and incest—the nation’s most stringent abortion law. Rounds signed the bill in March and called it a “full frontal attack” on Roe v. Wade. Ironically, anti-abortion forces outside the state criticized the South Dakotans for fashioning a test case of Roe when it seemed obvious that the votes were lacking on the Supreme Court to overturn it. But the strongest opposition came from inside the state. Petitions began circulating to put the bill on the ballot in November, and Democrats suddenly found they had many more legislative candidates than in previous years. Some Republicans opposed the bill as too restrictive and confrontational. There was an immediate affect on Rounds’ poll ratings. For much of his time in office, his job approval ratings were at or above 70%, among the highest in the nation. In the aftermath of the bill signing, his approval rating dropped to 58% while his disapproval rating spiked from 23% to 38%.
Even so, Rounds was in a solid position for re-election. His opponent was Jack Billion, a former state legislator and a retired Sioux Falls surgeon. Rounds touted his work on economic development and education. Billion criticized the “rigid, no exception” abortion law. Rounds emphasized that the ban included an exception for the life of the mother and permitted the use of emergency contraception before a pregnancy is detected. The abortion law roiled state politics, but not Rounds’ re-election. He held a steady lead in the polls throughout the campaign and won a landslide 62%-36% victory. Rounds carried all but four counties. As in 2002, his Democratic opponent carried Indian reservations and the area around the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Opponents of the abortion ban prevailed as well. South Dakotans voted 56%-44% to repeal the abortion law. Democrats gained five seats in the state Senate but only one in the state House.
Rounds started his second term by calling for the creation of a pilot preschool program in Sioux Falls as part of his long-term goal to increase school retention. He won enactment of a bill to cut the tax on biodiesel fuel blends, which consist of diesel fuel and soybean or corn oil, by 2 cents per gallon. And in March 2009, Rounds signed legislation banning smoking in South Dakota restaurants and bars.
Like other governors around the country, Rounds faced potential budget shortfalls as the 2007 recession worsened. In early 2009, Rounds proposed cutting $46 million from the state budget, cuts that threatened a number of cherished programs, including the South Dakota School for the Deaf and the state fair. He and the Legislature agreed to use $71 million from the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program to balance the 2009 budget. An additional $300 million of stimulus money was allocated for road construction, education and other state projects. The Legislature trimmed Rounds’ proposed cuts to $37 million, and with the governor’s approval, restored funding for the school for the deaf and the fair.