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On frigid winter days in the wind-blown city of Pierre, state Sen. Stan Adelstein has been known to skip into the South Dakota Capitol.

That's how happy he is to be serving in the state Legislature.

The 81-year-old multimillionaire businessman and philanthropist from Rapid City has the resources to be anywhere else during January and February, including his place in sunny St. Petersburg, Fla.

So why spend the worst of the winter on the cold prairies of central South Dakota?

"Because I can," Adelstein said. "Because I'm a free man. I have no obligations beyond those to my constituents. And in this environment I am free to speak my mind, not always successfully, but in a way that's always intended to move the state forward."

In fact, Adelstein loves the environment and the platform in the state Capitol so much, he has thoughts about taking things up a notch with a run for governor.

So far, it's only a consideration. And yet, with Adelstein one never knows.

"I guess I have given it serious thought," he said of a possible run for governor. "I don't want it. I'm going to be 83 by the time this Senate term ends. But I don't know how to get done what I want done. And people do ask, 'Why don't you run for governor?'"

Adelstein can think of plenty of reasons not to run, even beyond his age. He loves the job he has in Pierre. Few state senators take more pride in that position than Adelstein, or find more joy in legislative duties.

It seldom shows in his face, which flashes expressions that range from serious to slightly grumpy. But it does show in other ways at times, such one time when his wife, Linda, dropped him off in front of the Capitol.

"I literally skipped up the stairs in the Capitol," Adelstein said, speaking by phone from a legislative office. " I really love it here. I hate the weather; it would be much warmer at our place in St. Petersburg. But I want to be here."

Breaking party ranks

But that doesn't mean he's always in a skipping mood. A self-labeled compassionate conservative whose views run liberal on social issues, Adelstein has often come in conflict with Republican leadership and, especially, with the most conservative factions in the party.

He admits that he was shattered when he lost his 2006 District 32 Senate re-election bid when he was beaten in the Republican primary by cookie-baking conservative candidate Elli Schwiesow.

"It was a terrible thing on me, that loss. It really got to me," Adelstein said, noting that Schwiesow was supported by "the very people I dislike most."

Adelstein was so upset that he held a news conference to endorse Democratic candidate Tom Katus and then supported him in the campaign. By the time Katus defeated Schwiesow that November, many in the Republican Party were incensed by Adelstein's actions.

It didn't deter Adelstein, who argued that his greatest duty was to promote responsible leadership for District 32 constituents. It didn't hurt his chances of regaining the seat, either, since unseating a Democrat is easier than beating an incumbent Republican in Rapid City.

And two years later, Adelstein came back to win a three-way race against Katus and Schwiesow, who ran as an independent in the general election. 

He was back but not forgotten by those in his party who didn't like him. They included some former Republican colleagues in the House and Senate. Adelstein was in the House, where he served two terms, when he first clashed with GOP leaders over their push for an abortion ban.

Former state Sen. Lee Schoenbeck of Watertown said the abortion debate caused a lasting split between him and Adelstein.

"We were friends until the abortion bill came up in the Legislature the first time," Schoenbeck said. "And when we passed the bill through the Senate, he was so mad he actually contributed to my opponent. And over the next few years, I thought he went out of his way to try to embarrass members of the Legislature when he didn't need to."

Adelstein also made contributions to opponents of other incumbent Republicans senators, said Schoenbeck, who decided to travel to Rapid City to campaign for Schwiesow in the primary.

"I thought she was a substantially better candidate," Schoenbeck said. "Then Elli won the primary, and Stan funded a Democrat to beat her. He also gave plenty of money to other Democratic candidates, too."

Schoenbeck was in a leadership role as Senate president pro tempore when he came west to support Schwiesow. The move angered Adelstein.

"It was unheard of for a Senate president pro tem to drive all the way across the state to campaign against a seated member of his caucus," Adelstein said. "There's no way that would ever happen with the Republican leadership we have in the Senate today."

When Adelstein won back his Senate seat in the 2008 election, he found a Senate with more moderate leadership that was more welcoming to his ideas. And even with changes in leadership since then, Adelstein said he is a much happier man.

"My Senate leaders now are outstanding young men. They give me my head, don't try to rein me in," Adelstein said. "They might not agree on some things, but they give me respect."

One of those leaders is Sen. Tim Rave of Baltic, the assistant majority leader. Rave said he considers it an honor to know and work with Adelstein.

"He's right. We don't always agree, but more importantly we have a mutual respect and admiration," Rave said. "You have to respect someone who brings such a vast background and such experience to the Legislature."

Forging his own path

It's not a traditional resume by South Dakota political standards. Adelstein was born in Sioux City, Iowa, lived and attended school in Rapid City but graduated from high school in Denver after his family moved there "because they wanted my brother and I to have more opportunity for Jewish education."

Adelstein graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a degree in civil engineering and business. He served in the Army and decided he wanted to come back to South Dakota and work at his father's company, Northwest Engineering.

"I never really fit out in Denver," Adelstei said. "This was where I belonged."

He has belonged in a big way ever since. Adelstein became president of Northwest Engineering in 1968, expanding its reach into quarries, and commercial and rental properties. Property management is its main function these days.

Adelstein has been active as a donor and fundraiser or promoter for a variety of projects, from the Dahl Art Center and The Journey Museum to Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. He has served on the National Council on Economic Opportunity, an advisory council for the Federal Reserve Bank and an advisory committee for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

He was on the transition teams for former governors Archie Gubbrud, Bill Janklow and Mike Rounds.

And he created a home for the Synagogue of the Black Hills in northwest Rapid City. He also protected its surroundings by selling at reduced price more than 30 acres to the state for the adjoining Outdoor Campus-West, an outdoor education center.

Given that and more, Adelstein might be expected to take things easy at his stage in life. But he still has plans, many of which involve lawmaking — the work that sometimes puts a lilt in his step.

Having served two terms in the House and one in the Senate prior to his defeat, Adelstein is now in his third consecutive Senate term. The state constitution limits legislators to four consecutive terms in one house. Adelstein said he'll "probably" run for that fourth Senate term in 2014, "depending on how he feels."

Some enduring frustrations

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Right now he feels good but is often frustrated by what he considers to be failed state policies. Troubling issues need addressing, he said, including finding more funding for education and helping the low-income citizens that Adelstein has come to know in door-to-door campaigning and coffee-shop meetings in District 32.

Adelstein is "absolutely rabid" on the need to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor in South Dakota, something Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he won't support this year.

"These are hard-working people who simply can't afford their health care costs, and the rest of South Dakota is paying a hidden cost because rates go up covering those who don't have insurance but must be taken care of in emergency rooms of community health clinics," Adelstein said. "This is something we must address."

The process of addressing them makes Adelstein feel younger than his years would suggest. Rave said the elder statesman continues to inspire by his passion and energy.

"I've never seen him skip, but he brings a youthful exuberance to his work," Rave said. "I think it's easier to stay young when you're active and involved in the process."

Adelstein is that. He serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, a relentless numbers job that makes other committee assignments impossible.

"It's a lot of long hours," Adelstein said. "It doesn't give me much time to work on other things."

He still finds time, though.

Last week, that included pushing his own bill to require party nominees for constitutional offices including the attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state to be picked by voters in primary elections. Currently, the parties pick their nominees for those positions at conventions.

That tends to be a benefit to influence of Republican leadership at the conventions, since the GOP tends to win those fall elections.

Adelstein said the bill would "return us to a fair primary for everyone," as they have now for governor and congressional offices. The bill died in committee, with leaders praising Adelstein for his efforts.

The bill was amended from its original form, which would have made the secretary of state's office nonpartisan. There was no secret what that was about.

Adelstein is a harsh critic of Republican Secretary of State Jason Gant and his management. Adelstein also has a running spat with former Gant deputy Pat Powers, a frequent critic of Adelstein's.

Adelstein called for an investigation of the office last year. The inquiry by the attorney general's office never identified wrongdoing. But Powers resigned from the office, much to Adelstein's delight.

Adelstein has dropped an initial push for Gants' impeachment but continues to criticize the secretary of state. He also continues to butt heads with the conservatives in his party.

On Friday, the South Dakota House approved a bill to provide prenatal services to pregnant women who are illegal immigrants. The House sponsor is Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton.

Adelstein is the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate, a point that some conservatives noted on the House floor during debate. The bill passed nonetheless.

So while Adelstein has more than his share of losses in Pierre, he has wins often enough to feel like skipping.

And maybe even running for governor? Adelstein downplays the possibility, without rejecting it.

"I would rather find a younger man or young woman who wanted to be governor," he said. "But I'm really not pleased with what's going on these days. Running for governor would give me a statewide platform to discuss those issues."


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