The announcement this morning by Secretary of State Jason Gant that he won’t seek election to a second term in 2014 is probably good news for other Republicans. They can now look to a fresh face such as state Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, as their party’s candidate next year. Republican senators in the 2013 session rejected legislation by Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, that would have placed constitutional offices such as secretary of state under a primary-election system; Adelstein wanted to end the insider-campaigning of the Republican state convention process that has decided nominations for most constitutional offices since statehood. Adelstein’s target was Gant. The willingness of Krebs to step forward before Gant had announced his 2014 plans was bold; the added fact is she is treasurer for the U.S. Senate campaign of former Gov. Mike Rounds (and her husband, Mitch Krebs, is back as the Rounds campaign’s press secretary; he was one of Rounds’ press secretaries during his time as governor).
For this reporter, Jason Gant was difficult to fully understand. He accomplished some notable changes for more-open government and he seemed to be on the right track with the vote-centers concept as a way to make voting more convenient, yet he allowed his top aide to engage in side business as a campaign consultant and campaign supplier; got crossways with Sen. Adelstein because that top aide, Pat Powers, had relentlessly mocked Adelstein during Powers’ earlier blogging; went through an Adelstein-requested official investigation by state Attorney General Marty Jackley that found no evidence of criminal violations but happened to coincide with Powers’ exit back to blogging and real estate; went through staff at a rapid-fire pace; took his own car on state trips so he reportedly could smoke while using a state-paid driver; didn’t keep his office’s website up to date at times; disdained the state Board of Elections even though he was its leader; and perhaps worst of all, violated a basic sense of fairness when he, as the state’s chief of elections, nonetheless got involved in a Republican legislative primary with a public endorsement last year. Some people thought I was too tough on him, but I actually thought he had great promise after he won the office in 2010 and only through his repeated missteps did another impression form.
Rather than risk the office being won by a Democrat in 2014 — and there could have been some very capable candidates — Republicans now have one less problem. Likewise, the criminal complaint filed by former Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth against Republican activist Daniel Willard in the robo-calling attacks on some Republican legislators cleaned up another mess recently. Willard was found guilty by a Lake County jury of campaign-law violations for failing to disclose who was behind the anonymous telephone calls.
The Republican Party in South Dakota is going through some challenges as various wings push and pull from different directions. Republicans control nearly every statewide office and want to complete the sweep in 2014 by electing a Republican to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson who’s retiring. With near-total control has come near-total responsibility to police themselves, especially as Democrats falter in voter registration while Republicans make modest gains and independents grow like a thunderstorm building on the horizon. The efforts by Adelstein, the likely candidacy of Krebs and the responsibility of Olson are three examples of Republicans taking responsibility.