Rep. John Thune (R-At Large)|
Last Updated July 18, 2002
Born: Jan. 7, 1961,
Education: Biola U., B.A. 1983, U. of SD, M.B.A. 1984
Marital Status: married
- Professional: Legis. Asst., U.S. Sen. James Abdnor, 1985-87; Special Asst., U.S. Small Business Admin., 1987-89; Exec. Dir., SD Republican Party, 1989-91; SD Railroad Dir., 1991-93; Exec. Dir., SD Municipal League, 1993-96.
DC Office: 1005 LHOB
202-225-2801; Fax: 202-225-5823; Web site: www.house.gov/thune
605-622-7988; Rapid City,605-342-5135; Sioux Falls,800-755-5646.
- Agriculture (11th of 27 R): Conservation, Credit, Rural Development & Research; General Farm Commodities & Risk Management.
- Small Business (10th of 19 R): Rural Enterprises, Agriculture and Technology (Chmn.); Tax, Finance & Exports.
- Transportation & Infrastructure (17th of 42 R): Aviation; Highways & Transit.
South Dakota has had only one seat in the House since 1982. The congressman-at-large is John Thune, a Republican elected in 1996. He grew up in Murdo, on the dusty plains west of the Missouri River, where his father was a teacher and the family was Democratic; he went to college and business school at the University of South Dakota. As a high school freshman he met then-Congressman Jim Abdnor, when Abdnor spotted him at a grocery checkout counter and recalled that he had missed one of six free throws in the basketball game the previous night. They kept in touch and Thune got a job on by-then Senator Abdnor's staff in Washington in 1985; he stayed with Abdnor after he lost to Tom Daschle and was appointed to the Small Business Administration. As he recalls, "I was coming of age about the time that Reagan was coming on the national political scene. I just loved the way that despite what people thought or said about him, he stood by his principles and convictions." He returned to South Dakota in 1989, at 28, to become executive director of the state Republican Party. In 1991 he became state railroad director under Governor George Mickelson and in 1993 director of the state Municipal League. In his early 30s he had many contacts in Pierre, the nation's smallest state capital, and around the state.
Thune nevertheless entered the 1996 race for the House as very much an underdog. The favorite in the Republican primary was Lieutenant Governor Carole Hillard, who seemed to have Governor Bill Janklow on her side and was endorsed by the 1994 Republican nominee. A poll released in May 1996 showed her ahead of Thune 69%-15%. But Thune was escorted around main streets by Abdnor, he attracted the support of religious conservatives and presidential campaign leaders, fresh from organizing for the February 27 presidential primary. Hillard lent her campaign $140,000 but didn't raise much money, and Janklow eventually announced he was neutral. It turned out to be no contest. Thune carried 54 counties, Hillard 12; Thune won 59%-41%; it would have been more except that Hillard carried Rapid City. The Democratic nominee was Rick Weiland, a former state director for Senator Daschle, who carried 46 counties and led television executive Jim Abbott 42%-28%, well above the 35% needed in South Dakota to avoid a runoff. After the primary the Sioux Falls Argus Leader summarized the race: "November's option is crystal clear: choose a liberal or a conservative." Thune was for term limits, against all tax increases (and against Bob Dole's tax cut pending a balanced budget), and pledged to refuse the congressional pension; he promised to serve only three terms and had the support of Christian conservatives and cattlemen's organizations. Weiland attacked Newt Gingrich and Medicare "cuts" and called for an "impact fee" on big hog producers to build a loan fund for small hog producers. On agriculture, Thune called not for farm subsidies but for increasing exports and promoting value-added goods: "market solutions that can help keep prices high." Weiland carried only six counties (his home, a university county, and four Indian counties), and Thune won 58%-37%.
In the House, Thune has a very conservative voting record and serves on the Agriculture and Transportation committees; he was chosen the freshman class representative to the Republican leadership. In May 1997 he criticized the House leadership for attaching other issues to the bill for relief of floods that had devastated much of North Dakota and Minnesota and damaged much of South Dakota that spring. When Dakota Democrats criticized Speaker Newt Gingrich and Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston for refusing cash payments to local communities, Gingrich asked Thune to come up with a way to do so; ultimately the House passed a $500 million amendment. In June 1998 he proposed to make it easier for the government to buy property in flood prone areas. As farm prices started plunging in 1998, Thune proposed to increase price supports, but admitted, "This is a tough pull even in the Agriculture Committee itself, not only among Republicans, but among Democrats as well." Instead he proposed a bill to allow farmers to receive the present value of Freedom to Farm Act transition payments due up to 2002. He said he was pleased with the ultimate $6 billion emergency aid package, which allowed farmers to claim 1999 payments early.
On Transportation and Infrastructure, Thune worked on the May 1998 transportation bill, which raised South Dakota's payments from roughly $120 million to $180 million. As a committee member, he got $60 million worth of earmarked projects, and put some into the Heartland Expressway Phase 1 and Eastern Dakota Expressway, and bridges in Hell Canyon, Yankton and Vermillion. He worked for the Lewis and Clark Water Project, with a total price tag of $273 million, to provide a steady water supply for fast-growing Sioux Falls and the nearby area in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa; it passed the House in May 2000 but with amendments which made it difficult to reconcile with the Senate version. Thune has worked for the funding of other South Dakota water projects--the Mini Wiconi project, the Mid-Dakota Rural Water system, the buyout of flooded homes in Pierre and Fort Pierre. He got House support for the six-state pilot project, backed by Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, to allow farmers to enroll plots of five acres and less of wetlands into the Conservation Reserve Program: good for South Dakota pheasant habitat. He opposed the ban on watercraft in the Missouri River on the South Dakota-Nebraska border and backed country-of-origin meat labeling for animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States. He won reelection in 1998 and 2000 by overwhelming margins: 75%-25% and 73%-25%.
After winning reelection in 2000, Thune did not flinch from keeping his promise to run for no more than three House terms. Instead the question is whether he would run to replace Governor William Janklow or against Senator Tim Johnson. National Republicans hoped he would run for the Senate. Johnson had been elected by only 51%-49% in 1996, and Thune led him in Republican polls by 48%-41% in March 2001. But Thune's wife and daughters, after trying life in metropolitan Washington, had chosen to live in Sioux Falls, and Thune seemed to be opting for a run for governor. In December 2000 he set up an exploratory committee for the governor race, and by April it had raised $250,000--money not eligible to be used in a Senate race. But on his trip to South Dakota in March 2001 and in a White House dinner in April, George W. Bush urged Thune to run for the Senate; and in December 2000 Thune had $483,000 in his House campaign treasury, which he could use for a Senate run. Bush had carried South Dakota 60%-38%, and there were rumors that Bush associates promised Thune two October 2002 appearances in the state if he ran against Johnson. The outlook for the race for South Dakota's at-large seat are also unclear, but here there would certainly be a strong advantage for the Republican nominee.
Competitive. Thune's decision to abide by his term-limits pledge has opened the floodgates for what could be a once-in-a-political-lifetime shot at this at-large seat. While South Dakota has a serious Republican lean at the national level (Bush won here with 60% in 2000), Democrats have been successful at the congressional level.
Update: July 18, 2002
On October 8, 2001, Rep. Thune announced his bid to challenge Sen. Johnson in the fall election. Both candidates easily won their respective primaries, but the race to the general is expected to be extremely competitive.
|National Journal Ratings|
Key Votes of the 106th Congress
|1. Patient Bill of Rights
|2. Accelerate Min. Wage
|3. Strike Ban on Ergo. Stnd.
|4. Ovrd. Estate Tax Veto
|5. Bar RU-486 $ for FDA
|6. Display 10 Commandments
| 7. Gun Show Bkgrnd. Checks||N|
| 8. Ban Part.-Birth Abortion
| 9. NATO War in Serbia
|10. Perm. Trade with China
|11. Debt Relief for 3rd World
|12. Drop Cuba Econ. Embargo
||John Thune (R)
|Curt Hohn (D)
||John Thune (R)
||John Thune (R)
|Jeff Moser (D)
|2000||Receipts||Receipts from PACs||Expenditures|
|John Thune (R)
|Curt Hohn (D)
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