There are many politicians for whom I hold little regard. Craig Tieszen was not one of them.
I first met Craig after he retired and joined the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board. As committee manager, I got to know the 16-member board well. Craig stood out — not for his intimate knowledge of forestry, but for his demeanor, cool and steady as the tides of critical issues ebbed and flowed. He was at once young in his enthusiasm and old in his wisdom. Others did not interrupt him. And he listened. In time, he became a key voice for practical forest management. Then, I retired.
As a legislator, Craig was widely respected and represented the West River with tenacity and endurance. Of course, he was a practical man like most leaders, and his popularity rose and fell depending on whose dogs were fighting. I will leave it to others to talk about his accomplishments in the Capitol.
As is often true, I was not interested in every facet of lawmaking in dark corridors, but I was critically interested in certain laws and their impacts on me and my family. And so my time with Craig took a new turn, deeper, more urgent. I desperately needed him to understand our plight and to help us. He listened and reserved judgment on matters about which he held strong views.
As a senior lobbyist for a wood products company, I had worked with many lawmakers and bureaucrats — local, state and federal, good and bad. Craig was in a special class, considerate and open, characteristics for which I was very grateful. I was warned that he may not be able to maintain his stated positions on certain bills, especially if popular fervor resulted in hog-housing a bill in January that had widespread support, but I didn’t care. I felt that he would try, that he heard me, and that was enough.
I had lunch with Craig in October. We sat together talking and sharing stories. Craig had little vignettes he would recount, not to his personal glory, but matters off the record and behind the scenes that illustrated his views, at least for those with ears to hear. They could be taken several ways, but they were direct and factual. He could be ambivalent. He could be passionate. He could be considerate. He was always attentive and thoughtful.
We talked about our “lives of leisure” in retirement and laughed. He was headed to some far-off island in the deep blue sea and greatly looked forward to it. My wife and I had just returned from the United Kingdom with our oldest grandchildren. He celebrated the joyful moments I recounted. He had a great laugh and a sharp mind. And he didn’t take himself too seriously. I thought he was a good legislator. I’m certain he was a good cop. I know he was a good man.
The news of his death was shattering. Coming on Thanksgiving Day, it left me at ends. What? It was only yesterday, just a moment ago, we shared “on-the-side” information most sincerely. What was I to make of this, I wondered as the day went on? I felt grief for his daughter and family, for his brother-in-law and his family. I tried to imagine his last moments, racing to the rescue, sacrificing himself and all that we leave behind for the sake of others.
I felt grateful for his service. It’s what he signed on for all those years ago. It’s what I hoped any of us would do. I was not in any way surprised that he did it. Unequivocal. Without doubt.